Saturday, March 31, 2007

On a Happier Note...

Here's the finale from Paramount's Variety Girl, the last of the all-star studio revues where the studio's contract players gather together for a good cause. Most of these films were made during the war, but this is from 1947, and the good cause this time was the charity organization Variety Clubs International.

Almost every Paramount star except Betty Hutton is in this film. In the finale, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby sing "Harmony" by Crosby's regular songwriting team, Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, and then the other stars all come on to sing a bit of it. I would suggest that you try to identify which stars are in this picture, but the person who uploaded this has put in the opening credits, where most of the stars are identified with caricatures by T. Hee.

By the way, the same person has uploaded another bit from Variety Girl, a scene with Burt Lancaster, William Demarest and Lizabeth Scott that may have the unfunniest punchline in history.

Friday, March 30, 2007


I got a copy of the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati and the news is not good. Which is disappointing to say, because I was lobbying for this release and believed – and still believe – that it would have been possible to reduce music costs without damaging the integrity of the show. That’s not what’s happened here.

Below I have compiled a list of music changes on the new DVD. As you can see, it’s pretty similar to the list of music changes from the late ‘90s syndication package; some of the generic music and overdubbing is the same in both versions. But I was prepared to be OK with this set if it was better, or no worse, than that syndication version. Unfortunately, it’s worse in two ways. One, there were a number of songs that were retained in that syndication package (which ran on Nick at Nite and elsewhere) that are replaced here. Songs like “Dogs” by Pink Floyd and “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley are now gone. And second, because most of these episodes don’t allow the music to be separated from the dialogue track, they’ve dealt with this problem by cutting footage from several episodes.

I’m not making Fox out to be a mustache-twirling villain here. WKRP is a tough property to bring to DVD. First, the original elements may no longer exist, so the copies they were working from were probably the same copies created for the late-‘90s syndication package; that’s why some of the generic music from that package is heard here. (On the other hand, while the original elements may not exist, the original soundtracks certainly do, for the most part. All you have to do to put a song back is take the same scene out of the older syndication versions, which are easily available. So if Fox had had the budget to put back these songs, they could have done so.) Second, music licensing costs are just insane these days. Third, other MTM properties have not sold well for Fox of late, which probably made them unable to justify much of a budget for WKRP.

But ultimately, this isn’t a good way of dealing with the music problem. I felt, and still feel, that you can create a legitimate DVD release of WKRP by changing songs at the margins (songs played only in ten-second snippets; songs that aren’t identified by name or timed to the scene) and leaving in the “essential” songs. But in this DVD release, there's little more half-a-dozen real musical recordings left in. There's the songs performed on the show by Detective and Hoyt Axton, and two or three songs played by Venus, and that's about it.

It's possible that Fox meant well. They’d been getting requests from fans to release it, so they did. And many of the songs that were cut are just incredibly expensive, like Pink Floyd. But ultimately, if they couldn’t afford to release the show with more music than they've included here, this might be one of those cases when they should have turned a deaf ear to fan requests. After all, they knew they couldn't afford to keep the music; we fans didn't. Or perhaps it would have been better to start with a best-of disc, focusing on episodes without much music (good sales of that disc could have justified a bigger budget for the first season).

There are two positive things to be said for this set: There are some extras (two audio commentaries by cast members and creator, and two featurettes), and the episodes look pretty good for videotaped late ‘70s episodes. Since it's cheaply priced, it might be worth buying if you want DVD-quality copies of some of your favorite scenes. Most of the best-known scenes didn’t have rock music in them, so the turkey drop, the Chi Chi Rodriguez report, the Ferryman’s Funeral Home commercial, etc, are here, and if you haven’t seen them in a while, you can see them here.

But still, this isn’t exactly “WKRP in Cincinnati: The Complete First Season” as it says on the box. It’s more like “WKRP in Cincinnati: Extended Highlights from the First Season.” To get the complete first season, we’ll need to wait for the copyrights to expire, or for Fox to give up and license the show out to a smaller company.


WKRP in Cincinnati, Season 1 DVD
List of Music Replacements and Cuts

“Queen of the Forest" by Ted Nugent replaced with generic music.

Pilot Part 2
“That Old Time Rock n’ Roll” by Bob Seger replaced with generic music.

Les on a Ledge
Song at the beginning replaced.

Hoodlum Rock
The songs (by the band Detective) are intact, but the episode is a cut 22-minute syndication version. The original full-length version is available at the Museum of Television and Radio.

All songs replaced.

Bailey’s Show
All but one song replaced. Footage is cut from two scenes.

Turkeys Away
“Dogs” by Pink Floyd replaced. Much of the scene has been cut out entirely.

Love Returns
Rock songs replaced. Part of a scene has been cut.

Mama’s Review
The clip of Venus in the booth, which was the only "cutaway" clip taped especially for this episode (this is a clip show) is cut and replaced with a clip from the pilot.

A Date With Jennifer
“Hot Blooded” by Foreigner replaced. 22-minute cut syndication version.

The Contest Nobody Could Win
All songs replaced. Someone has re-dubbed the people calling in about the song identification contest, so that they're now identifying fake songs and groups.

Elvis Costello song "Goon Squad" replaced. Some footage cut.

Goodbye, Johnny
“Surfin’ U.S.A.” by the Beach Boys replaced.

Johnny Comes Back
All songs replaced with generic music.

Never Leave Me, Lucille
“Everybody Rock n’ Roll the Place” by Eddie Money replaced, with some dialogue cut. The episode originally started with Les singing “Heartbreak Hotel”; that scene has been cut.

I Want to Keep My Baby
All songs replaced except one Bob Marley song. Some footage cut from several scenes.

A Commercial Break
All rock songs replaced. Johnny singing "So Long for a While" has been cut.

Who is Gordon Sims?
One song replaced.

I Do… I Do… For Now
Jennifer’s doorbell, which played “Fly Me to the Moon,” is replaced with a public-domain song.

Young Master Carlson
All songs replaced, even the theme from Patton, a Fox film. Some footage cut from one scene.

Fish Story
All songs replaced. A scene of Venus singing is cut.

All songs replaced.

Update: I wasn't clear about how many episodes in this set are from 22-minute syndication masters (not counting the episodes that have had some footage cut from the full-length 25-minute masters.) There are two: "Hoodlum Rock" and "A Date With Jennifer."

Update 2: A couple of people in comments have wondered how I got a copy this early, which is a fair question. The answer is that Fox sent out advance review copies this week. I believe other writers/reviewers got their copies of this set at the same time I did; I was just the first to write a review.

Update, April 13: - I added a few music changes and cuts to the list that I didn't catch before.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"The only thing I did at RKO of any note was lose my Texas accent."

After writing my post on Dorothy Malone, I found her 1985 interview with Gerald Peary, which gives a good overview of her career and features her recollections of working with Liberace ("He asked me out. I liked him a lot"), Howard Hawks, and Douglas Sirk.

But the article says she did three films with Martin and Lewis. I thought she did only two -- Artists and Models and Scared Stiff (see below). Was there one I'm forgetting?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

How Odd

Season 2 of The Odd Couple will come out on August 28, from CBS/Paramount Home Video; as the link explains, Time-Life got first dibs on the first season, but not the others. I'm glad we'll get more than the first season, but I wish Time-Life had done the whole series the way they did Get Smart; given Paramount's corner-cutting I doubt Paul Brownstein will get to provide special features for all the seasons, the way he did for the season 1 set. Maybe I'll be wrong.

Also, Paramount is the most notorious studio when it comes to music replacements -- the latest surprise is that they've cut "Rock Around the Clock" out of Happy Days season 2 -- so if The Odd Couple had any music or singing in it, there's reason to be nervous. Does anyone remember if there were any episodes that used music in any prominent way?

The good news is that Paramount's re-release of the first season (April 24) will carry over Brownstein's special features. It will also have a bonus disc of favorite episodes from the later, better seasons.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Random Musical Number

The greatest gambling system of all time, from Bells Are Ringing.

We'll be rich! We'll be rich! We'll be riiiiicch!

Of course the authors of Bells Are Ringing, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, knew that Beethoven's sixth symphony is not his Opus 3. A major plot point hinges upon the fact that some of these "bets" don't co-relate to real pieces of music.

I think my favorite composer/racetrack correlation (apart from the Handel one, which was probably the whole point of doing this subplot in the first place) is "Sibelius is Sportsman's Park."

Well, That's Good

I (and others) complained that the first two Animaniacs DVD sets focused entirely on the writers and voice actors and had absolutely nothing about the animation, so the special features listed in this press release are a good sign:

* They're Totally Insan-y "In Cadence with Richard Stone" - Composer Richard Stone -His music and influence on how he made Animaniacs come alive.
* They can't help if they're cute - They're just drawn that way - This is about the animation and how they came up with the characters. (25 minutes)

I know that these shows are not considered notable for their art or animation, and I'm not saying they necessarily should be. By the time Animaniacs came along, a certain tension between writers and artists, which started on Tiny Toons, had in some cases turned into outright hostility. This isn't, as John Kricfalusi will always insist, because all animation writers are talentless hacks. It is, if anything, a sign of the opposite: the instinct of scriptwriters, on any show (live-action or animation) is to write their material and then fight for it to be done exactly as written. Writers are suspicious of the attempts of the actors to deviate from it; but though animators are actors, they quite rightly consider themselves more of a creative part of the process than a live-action actor. The result is that you get writers who consider their material to be sacrosanct and artists who don't like being told to put their own creativity on hold.

I recall an animator once told me about directing on a '90s cartoon show (not Animaniacs, and not one of the Spielberg/WB shows) where he suggested to the writer that they cut something to make the episode easier to animate. The writer objected: "Listen, there's a lot of me in that script." Which may sound kind of egomaniacal, but in fact it is what you'd expect a writer to say -- whether it's a good script or a bad script, a good show or a bad show, writers are naturally protective of what they've written. This becomes much more of a problem on an animated series, though, especially because writers have been known to write stuff without much thought to how the artists are supposed to execute it.

But I happen to think that Animaniacs would never have been a success if the animation, direction and boarding hadn't been of a high quality (if nothing else, once the art aspect of the show started to go downhill, it was a lot less fun to watch), and I hope that this DVD will bring in some of the people who were involved with creating these cartoons -- Rusty Mills, for example, or Rich Arons.

Also, the last Pinky and the Brain special feature is:

* It's All About The Fans! -Although the show has stopped airing, the fans are still blogging and supporting their return to the air. There are fans that go to AOL chat rooms and those who go to ComicCon to hopefully catch a glimpse of Maurice LaMarche (the Brain) and Rob Paulsen (Pinky) and to get autographs. What better way to pay tribute to this Emmy ® winning show. Rob and Maurice sit down and share some of their most memorable fan encounters, letters received and reveal some celebrity fans who loved the show.

Monday, March 26, 2007

'80s Flashback

Did you know that there was a two-part Trix commercial (didn't you just love those cereal commercials that were, if you'll pardon the expression, serialized?) where Bugs Bunny tried to help the Trix Rabbit get some Trix from those rat-bastard kids?

Part 1:

Part 2:

Of course this completely disproves the theory of WWWF Grudge Match's Brian Wright, in the epic Lucky the Leprechaun vs. the Trix Rabbit match, that "Bugs is just too cool to in anyway associate with Trix."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

In Like...

I spent a very happy weekend with the new DVD of Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Don Juan, the definite highlight of the new Errol Flynn collection and the only one with a commentary track (by the director, the late Vincent Sherman, supplemented by facts n' figures from the ubiquitous Rudy Behlmer). Fortunately it's available separately.

Though I'm a fan of Flynn's big three swashbucklers, Captain Blood, Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk, I hadn't previously seen this 1948 picture, which was based on an idea that had been considered as early as 1939. (As Behlmer explains, Warners mostly stopped making period costume pictures during the war because they depended on the foreign market to turn a profit, and much of the foreign market wasn't available any more.) By the time the project finally got off the ground, under the studio's star producer Jerry Wald, Flynn was pushing 40 and Warners had not made this kind of movie in almost a decade.

This should have been a big disadvantage, but Wald actually made it work by approaching the film as a conscious pastiche of Flynn's earlier films, with a hint of self-parody. In 1948 nobody was making films with shout-outs for movie buffs, the way directors do now, but Don Juan comes close to being a film-geek picture, with tongue-in-cheek nods to the other swashbucklers (like a sideways reference to the plot of The Sea Hawk when the King of Spain mentions what happened to the Spanish Armada), and "hey, it's that guy!" casting, like bringing back Una O'Connor as yet another lady-in-waiting. There are also meta-references; when we hear about Don Juan's reputation as a lady's man and the question of how much of the gossip is true, we can't help thinking of Flynn himself, and giving Flynn's then-wife a cameo appearance just adds to the connections.

The way the plot is set up is also a satisfying way of dealing with an older, heavier Flynn: he starts the film as a wastrel interested only in living it up and chasing women (like Flynn himself, or his own public image). As the movie goes on, he's drawn into fighting for something more important, namely the stuff swashbucklers are always fighting for: doing his duty by the Queen and dispatching a treasonous schemer in a big climactic duel. On a meta-level, it's Errol Flynn being called back to do what he hasn't done for a while, namely be the costumed swordfighting hero that we all love.

The script, by two writers who specialized in comedy (George Oppenheimer and Harry Kurnitz) is very funny, with some great jokes in the three different set-pieces about Don Juan being interrupted by a young lady's husband and/or fiance. Sherman's direction is efficient, the costumes and Technicolor photography are outstanding, the fight choreography is exciting. The sets have that fun minimalist look we associate with Warners productions -- as the most cost-conscious of the big studios (they re-used stock shots from Robin Hood in this picture to save some money), even their big-budget productions used no more props or set areas than were absolutely necessary to film a scene, and the result is an entertainingly unreal look, where you know it's just a set -- maybe even a set you've seen used for something else -- but it's more fun to look at than a more elaborate set.

The weakness of the film is the love story of Juan and the one woman he can't have, the Queen, played by the beautiful Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors. She was a fine actress, and you can see why Warners was hoping she would be their answer to Garbo or Bergman, but she didn't have any real star quality, and so you don't really buy that Flynn would reform because of her. It's not her fault, though; it's an under-written part. Sherman mentions on the commentary track that he would have liked to emphasize the love story more, but in making a Flynn swashbuckler it was considered essential to play up the fights and the fun. But the result is that the character who should be a big part of the story -- the woman who finally wins Flynn's heart -- isn't much of a part. And because it's not much of a part, that meant it wasn't something that could be offered to a really big star like Bergman or (at that point in her career) De Havilland.

But the other stuff more than makes up for that weakness, and this is a highly recommended film and DVD. I have to admit, though, I don't quite share the enthusiasm for Max Steiner's score (Erich Korngold, who usualy scored this type of film, was no longer with the studio and had had a heart attack). His main theme is a good one, but he repeats it way too many times.

Song of the Speculation

USA Today has a new article on Song of the South and the Disney company's continued head-scratching over whether or not to re-release it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Carte Blanc

J.E. Daniels posts a 1986 Starlog interview with Mel Blanc, along with a few comments from Friz Freleng. You can't always believe Blanc's stories, nor his evaluations of people he worked with, but it's still an interesting read.

One thing I hadn't quite caught before was that unlike today's voice actors, who tend to prefer recording radio-style with other actors, Blanc disliked that method of recording a cartoon because it took longer. So the way he tells it, he eventually switched over to just recording each character separately. Or at least, he was doing this by the time the cartoon studio was winding down, because you can hear him doing it on the '60s recording-session excerpts on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections, where he announces which character he's doing and then does a few takes of each line.

One Angry TV Producer

Barney Rosenzweig, producer of Cagney and Lacey (a show I have to admit I'm not very familiar with), spent two years trying to get his show on DVD... only to find that, after the DVD set had been announced, it had to be pulled because the copyright owners hadn't negotiated the music rights.

This was announced on his blog and then on TV Shows on DVD, and that same day, everything was worked out:

Back to the Internet. Your response was instantaneous. Within a half hour of the posting on the East Coast, the intercom lines between MGM and FOX were already buzzing on the West Coast. Columnists on the Internet and at various major papers, including my own Miami Herald, dropped everything to jump onto what was a pretty interesting story of a pissed off producer and some clumsy handling of interior PR by a couple of major corporations.

Proving that the Internet is a great organizing tool for those of us who collect old television shows. For the other stuff, like saving the world and so on, maybe not, but the television shows thing -- we're organized.

When, Said the Prairie Hen?

I mentioned "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" in my post below, and I figured I might as well embed the number, just for you Bing Crosby/Jane Wyman/Frank Capra completists.

The thing to note about this number is that unlike the other song I posted, and unlike most numbers in movie musicals, this was recorded "live" on the set, instead of lip-synched. I don't know if it was Crosby or Frank Capra who wanted it done this way, but it's nice to actually hear the singing take place in the actual acoustic of the room. As I understand it, Crosby and Wyman were outfitted with earpieces so they could listen to the rhythm (Wyman seems to be putting her hand to her ear to test it at one point).

When movie musicals started, most songs were in fact recorded on the set; this was phased out sometime in the early '30s. For the most part, this was a good decision (you just couldn't get really good quality of performance or sound when recording songs on a movie set), but sometimes you do miss it -- especially in musical scenes with a lot of dialogue, where you could frequently see the directors and technicians struggling to figure out how to record the dialogue in the middle of a musical number. (M-G-M musicals may have jumped the shark when they started turning off the sound for the entire number and post-dubbing the dialogue as well as the singing. If you're going to film the whole movie without direct sound, this might as well be a Sergio Leone picture.) Peter Bogdanovich tried returing to direct-sound musicals for At Long Last Love; no one will ever know whether this was a good idea or not, because the movie starred people who shouldn't have been singing at all.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ye Olde Groaner

One thing about Bing Crosby as a film performer is that while he didn't make the very best musicals, he was probably the very best at a particular kind of number that everybody tried to do. I'm talking about the "clowning around" number, where the leads act all goofy, mug a lot and do silly business while singing a silly song. Crosby has one of these in almost every movie he did, and he's very good at them. He was good at making lines and business seem spontaneous, even if they weren't, and at getting a "live" feeling into the very canned process of shooting a movie musical number.

A lot of performers had a fondness for this type of number but rarely did it well; Gene Kelly is an example of a guy who always had to have a three-minute mugging/clowning scene that almost always is a low point in the movie (like "By Strauss" in An American In Paris -- though the "Moses Supposes" number in Singin' in the Rain actually does work). The Rat Pack types always tried to do this kind of thing in their movies, and it was usually not very good -- but Sinatra did pull it off when he clowned through "Well, Did You Evah!" with Crosby in High Society. Bing was just good at this kind of thing.

Here he is with Jane Wyman in Just For You, in the movie's big number "Zing a Little Zong." The song and the number are obviously an attempt to repeat the success of the Crosby-Wyman duet "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" from Here Comes the Groom, but Crosby and Wyman seem like they're having fun, and the tune is another one of those insidious Harry Warren tunes that you can never get out of your brain.

Incidentally, Jane Wyman is an example of how little a movie actor is helped by being able to sing. In the theatre, a good actor who can also sing is extremely valuable and has an expanded range of options, because it means that he or she can do straight plays and also do musicals. But movie musicals were for the most part built around specifically musical performers, who didn't usually do non-musical films. So it was pretty rare for someone to go back and forth between musicals and non-musicals, as they would in New York.

This meant that once a musical performer's non-musical career started to take off, he or she would start to phase out musicals almost entirely (Irene Dunne, for example, made very few musicals after the mid-to-late '30s). So though Jane Wyman could sing, she didn't usually; she built herself up to a star in non-musical films, then did a few musicals in the early '50s, and then went straight back into doing exclusively non-musicals. Strict separation.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


It's not her birthday and thank goodness, she's not dead, but for some reason I was just thinking about Dorothy Malone.

She's always been one of my favorite actresses from Hollywood's "transitional age" -- the era from the late '40s through the early '60s when the studio system was collapsing, the production code was slowly crumbling, and the whole business was in an identity crisis. She was a Warner Brothers contractee, but whereas she might have moved up the ladder if she'd come along earlier, in the postwar studio system there was no real process for this. So even after she blew everyone away with her one scene in The Big Sleep, it took her years to move up from bit roles; as late as 1953, released from Warners, she was still playing a very small part in a Martin & Lewis movie, Scared Stiff. (That's the one where she says "I'm just an average girl" and Dean replies: "Honey, if you're an average girl, I've been going out with boys.") She finally made a breakthrough by winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Douglas Sirk's Written On the Wind, but by then it was almost too late for her to move up to leading lady roles: she was only 30, but in Hollywood, a 30 year-old actress is considered slightly over the hill. She did get a couple of lead roles, like playing John Barrymore's daughter Diana in Too Much, Too Soon (with Errol Flynn playing his old friend John Barrymore), but instead of Too Much, Too Soon, her career was a case of Not Quite Enough, Not Soon Enough.

Of course she had a very fine career, even if she didn't always get the roles she deserved. She's one of those actors whom you can always count on to be good, no matter how bad the movie may be. She was sexy and smart and somehow more "real" than most Hollywood starlets; even when she was very young, she seemed like an actual human being rather than a factory product. And she had these unique facial expressions that I always associate with her; she always looks like she's breathing heavily and trying to repress her passionate feelings (feelings of love, rage, whatever), with her mouth slightly open and her eyes sort of looking sideways.

Like most people, I first became a Malone fan with The Big Sleep. I also remember liking her when watching Warner Brothers' endless, toothless war epic Battle Cry (not one of Raoul Walsh's better war movies). The cast was huge, but by far the best thing in it was Dorothy Malone as an unhappy wife who seduces young Marine Tab Hunter. (She even gets to repeat her glasses on, glasses off routine from The Big Sleep.) Malone is as she always was, and just by being as good as she usually was, she outdoes everyone else in this creakily-acted movie. But she only has like three scenes in the picture; Hunter dumps her and then she's forgotten, unless she has another scene I didn't catch. But this was one of those movies where I said: forget about the war, let alone these other soap-opera relationships; bring back the Dorothy Malone character.

By the way, off topic: notice that that entire scene is underscored with music. Max Steiner always seemed to want to put in as much music as he could into a picture, and he (and Erich Korngold, when he was at Warners) would essentially treat a dialogue scene as a sort of opera, with the orchestra as accompaniment to the actors' voices.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Our survival hinges on one thing - finding someone who not only can fly this plane, but didn't have fish for dinner."

Warner Home Video deserves credit for putting out some of the titles in their Cult Camp Classics Collection. Some of these movies are important for reasons other than their camp value: Zero Hour! of course was basically remade (with intentional humor added) as Airplane!; Land of the Pharaohs is Howard Hawks' only CinemaScope movie and his only attempt at an ancient-history epic (writer William Faulkner basically admitted that he and Hawks were just ripping off Red River and setting it in ancient Egypt); and Hot Rods to Hell is, well, it's a movie called Hot Rods to Hell and Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain are in it. And it inspired a Freakazoid! episode called "Hot Rods From Heck!"

My one objection is including Caged in this collection, though I'm very glad to see it getting released -- it's never even been on VHS. But while it's an early women-in-prison movie, it's really not campy; it's a serious Warner Brothers social-problem picture, with excellent acting, and doesn't belong in a collection of movies with not-so-great acting.

Oh, well. Still a good collection, even if the commentary on Land of the Pharaohs is by Peter frickin' Bogdanovich. Here's a brief clip from Hot Rods to Hell:

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Squaw No Dance! Squaw Get-Um Firewood!

Thad Komorowski has a mini-tribute to the Disney animator Ward Kimball, with this post and also this one.

Thad writes that Kimball was Disney's "most original animator" and I think that's definitely true, though I don't think it's always a compliment. Kimball had a unique style; he did the cartooniest animation of any of Disney's "Nine Old Men". And whereas the other animators toned down as they went on, Kimball actually got broader, so by the '50s his scenes and characters (like Lucifer in Cinderella) are all goofy moves and rounded shapes.

The result is that some of Kimball's scenes seem to belong in a different movie -- though I hasten to add I'm not talking about the crow scene in Dumbo. But the stuff he handled in Cinderella, all the stuff with the cat and the mice, really doesn't seem like a full-fledged part of the movie. Though, of course, it probably would seem that way no matter who animated it: the cat/mice stuff is the weakest part of the film, not because of Kimball but because it's what you see when you look up the word "padding" in the dictionary.

Amid Amidi's piece on Kimball makes it clear that his work didn't completely fit in with the way Disney's features were developing, and other films utilized his talents better:

While Kimball brought to life many of the now-classic characters and moments from the Disney features, it became increasingly apparent by the late-Forties that Kimball's talents were not being utilized to their fullest extent as an animator. It wasn't until the Fifties, when he made the switch over to directing and producing films, that his sophisticated graphic sensibility and humorous and intellectual tendencies found a receptive home.

I should add here that I have a lot of admiration for the less cartoony animation in Disney's early-'50s features -- a lot of people seem to think it was just a matter of duplicating the live-action reference, but I think there's more to it than that, and there are many touching and beautiful moments in the animation of the human, drawn-from-life characters. I think some of these characters, because they are based on live-action acting, are a bit underrated today.

Addendum: I just found Kimball's "What Makes the Red Man Red" sequence from Peter Pan -- dubbed in Arabic.

I find it odd, by the way, that the Disney company doesn't feel obliged to include some kind of disclaimer before Peter Pan on account of this sequence. Not that I want a disclaimer, mind you (and I was horrified when I heard someone argue that Disney should have cut this scene out to make the movie less "offensive"), but it's weird that the company includes all kinds of disclaimers for any other racial stereotypes, and still doesn't have the guts to release Song of the South, and yet this particular set of stereotypes doesn't seem to worry them at all.

Oh, and one other thing: is this the first time someone had used the gimmick (later to become an animation cliché) of the tracking shot into a character's mouth?
Update: It wasn't the first time, as Thad explains in comments. But Kimball sure seemed to like that particular gag.

Gilligan's Island: The Food Runs Out

Let writer-director David Mirkin (Get a Life, The Simpsons) teach you about what a network executive does in this episode of Newhart, where Michael (Peter Scolari) dreams he's running all the networks.

This isn't at the wrong speed; Mirkin intentionally had this segment speeded-up (sped-up?) to make it sillier.

Attacking the Film that Attacked Boston

Jerry Beck doesn't like the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie.

Hopefully this will supplant my "Why I Hate Family Guy" post as the animation post that inspires the most angry comments.

I don't have strong feelings either way about Aqua Teen Hunger Force the series (I haven't seen the movie). I think that like a lot of Cartoon Network's stuff, it has that Family Guy problem of thinking that a comedy show needs to have something weird or wacky every ten seconds. (Remember, Cartoon Network is where Family Guy first became a breakout hit, and a lot of its original material is aimed at a similar audience.) Instead of creating non-stop hilarity, it's actually less funny because the funniest jokes -- even in nonsensical, absurdist comedy -- are often the ones you take time to set up, and there's no time for that here.

But as Comedy For Stoners (tm Spike Feresten) goes, it's not bad. And at least it's not smug and annoying (like Robot Chicken). And it didn't start out with a good premise and then decline into pointless absurdism (like Harvey Birdman, which started as a great deadpan Hanna-Barbera parody in the vein of Robert Smigel's TV Funhouse cartoons, but has more or less forgotten its original premise). It is what it is.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Most Important Creative Question in Animation History

Which Harlem Globetrotters cartoon by Hanna-Barbera is the greater creative achievement?

Is it the first venture into Saturday morning cartoons by the Harlem Globetrotters, called "Harlem Globe Trotters?"

Or do you prefer the second show, where somewhat younger-looking Globetrotters got super powers and became the Super Globetrotters?

This isn't like saying that Josie and the Pussycats were better than Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space. This is serious stuff. It requires thought.

Kidding aside, the first one is better because a) The theme song is cooler and b) The Hanna-Barbera rule up until the mid-'80s or so is that the earlier a show is, the better it is (H-B shows from 1969 are superior to H-B shows from 1970; a nine-year gap is almost unfathomably large in this context).

Good Neighbor

Enjoy Carmen Miranda and Don Ameche in the opening number of That Night in Rio, one of roughly 978 early '40s Fox musicals set in South America. The number goes on too long, but the Harry Warren tune is a good one.

One thing to watch for is the shot around the middle of the number, just after the singing ends and we cut to the band members, all dressed in red. Of course you can't get the full impact online (or even on the less-than-spectacular DVD transfers), but it's a great example of how Fox's cinematographers used Technicolor: cutting to a screen full of red, after a sequence without very much red in it, has a nearly physical impact. People have said that a Fox Technicolor movie is almost like 3-D; the colors leap off the screen, and one reason for that is that photographers like Leon Shamroy and Ray Rennahan (the two credited cinematographers on this film, though I don't know which one did this scene -- that bathed-in-red shot looks like Shamroy, though) knew how to save certain colors for maximum effect.

Another observation: I sometimes wonder what Don Ameche could have done if he'd been given a real movie musical to star in, in his prime. He made a lot of films that were technically musicals, but Fox's musicals (as I've written in an earlier post) had very little singing or dancing that was even marginally related to the story; usually the films are about entertainers, and Ameche or Grable or Faye or whoever sings a song on a stage, playing a nightclub performer. Ameche did very well in the '50s when he went to Broadway to do musicals -- like Cole Porter's Silk Stockings. But in Hollywood, a popular leading man who could act and sing would have been a real asset to an actual "book" musical if the studio had given him one.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Kirk Duplicitous

The Criterion Collection newsletter came out today, and as usual contains a hint about an upcoming release. Actually, this one isn't exactly a hint, more like a straightforward announcement, probably because this news was already mentioned in the press. The "hint" is:

Extra! Extra! Billy Wilder finally caves! Chuck Tatum's got the scoop!

This refers, of course, to Chuck Tatum, the venal reporter played by Kirk Douglas in Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole. The Criterion DVD will likely be out in July; as a warm-up, TCM is running it this Saturday at noon (eastern time).

This film is as good a candidate for the Criterion special-edition treatment as any as-yet-unreleased movie; it's a genuine cult classic, its targets are timeless, it's based on a true story (cue the inevitable "the real Floyd Collins" special feature) and it was a major turning point in the director's career.

Not a good turning point, though. It was the first film Wilder produced himself -- all his other movies as a director except Double Indemnity had been produced by his writing partner, Charles Brackett -- and after two straight movies that were very dark and sardonic (A Foreign Affair and Sunset Blvd.), this was even darker and meaner, draining out any trace of redemption or suggestion that there is good in mankind. As Self-Styled Siren wrote in her essay on the film, Wilder used to try to have one major character who was basically good, but not here:

As scalding as he is, Wilder doesn't leave audiences utterly without hope. A Wilder picture almost always has at least one character who acts as moral grounding--Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity, Arlene Francis in One, Two, Three, Nancy Olson in Sunset Boulevard. You can measure the movie's cynicism by the amount of respect and exposure that character gets. The Apartment, often called bitter, is one of Wilder's most optimistic films, in that the character whose essential decency anchors the movie turns out also to be the protagonist, Jack Lemmon.

In Ace in the Hole, the last good man is the editor Boot. He has about four brief scenes. He may believe in truth, so much so he has his secretary cross-stitch "Tell the Truth" on a sampler, but he is badly outnumbered.

After the movie bombed, Wilder had to regroup; his next few movies were all based on successful stage plays -- a sure-fire way of making sure he wasn't handling material that the public would reject (since the public had already accepted Stalag 17 or The Seven Year Itch in another form). With one or two exceptions, he would stick almost exclusively to comedies and happy endings from that point on. I'm not saying the rest of his career has no value; obviously he did a lot of fine things. But I think it's fair to say that this was one movie, and one failure, that made its creator a bit more cautious from that point on.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Motion Picture Simul-Cast

Some YouTuber has dug up something interesting: the last part of this clip (around the mid-point of the embedded clip) is an excerpt from the French version of The Merry Widow (1934). Early in the talkie era, before it became easy to dub movies into other languages, studios sometimes experimented with shooting two or more versions simultaneously, in different languages. With The Merry Widow, they brought in a separate French cast to support the two stars, Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald.

The clip presents three versions of this scene: one in the censored post-Code print (see here for details), one in the uncensored print used on Turner Classic Movies and elsewhere, and finally the scene from the French version, with a French actor replacing Edward Everett Horton.

Jeanette MacDonald's French isn't great, but it's no worse than a lot of actors who try to speak English.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Fields of Honey

Paul Dini has some good comments about Geena Davis's recent speech about the lack of female characters in cartoons.

It seems while selectively ignoring or alternately dwelling on the past, Ms. Davis has also ignored current female characters like Kim Possible, Juniper Lee, the girls on THE PROUD FAMILY, many more from contemporary children's anime (TOTORO, anyone?) and even Sandy the squirrel on SPONGEBOB. Are they favorite characters of mine? Not really (well, except for TOTORO) but they certainly seem to fit the roles that Ms. Davis says TV and animated movies are currently lacking. And they are an encouraging sign to show that attitudes toward female characters, especially lead heroines, are changing. In feature films, Elastigirl AKA Mrs. Incredible is smart, funny, caring and tough, one of the best heroines in live action or animated films, period.

I also found it both amusing and depressing that not one word was mentioned about the deluge of contemporary negative sterotyping aimed directly toward young girls, such as those freakish poster girls for baseless entitlement The Bratz or the grotesquely overmerchandised Disney Princesses. Today's girls sure live in a schizoid society -- prodded by their parents to be proactive doers and thinkers like Dora and Kim, yet encouraged to act like spoiled celebrities and princesses and magically "have it all!"

I just find it weird that Davis, or whoever wrote the speech, didn't seem to have any specific references to recent cartoons, anything more recent than The Smurfs. (Okay, she cites Dora the Explorer, but doesn't say anything about it beyond the fact that the title indicates that there's a female with a cool job.) Yes, she cites some data about the percentage of female characters in "family entertainment," and obviously that could be a lot better -- but as the above examples show, there are more good female characters in cartoons than there were in the Smurfs era. It doesn't make sense to talk about cartoons today without addressing that, if only because you'd think she would be naming some characters as positive examples, examples that should be emulated. Instead there's a lot of talk about the way things used to be, and very little talk about where we go from here.

So it's true that Looney Tunes cartoons characters were all male and that no one seemed to think of creating a female cartoon star. Paul Dini knows this, because when he was working on Tiny Toons he story-edited an episode that directly addressed the lack of female characters in old cartoons. But that was the '30s, '40s, and '50s. What should we be looking for now? This speech doesn't tell us -- and by giving no specific examples of modern cartoons (good or bad), it suggests that the speaker isn't really all that interested in the issue.

Could You See It as a Betty Hutton?

Betty Hutton, the unbelievably energetic star whose energy and commitment were almost too big for the screen, has died at the age of 86.

Here she is singing her trademark song, "Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief."

And here she is in one of the linking scenes from the '40s all-star revue Star Spangled Rhythm. In these bits (bookending a Harold Arlen song performed by Mary Martin and Dick Powell), she meets up with her future Miracle of Morgan's Creek director, Preston Sturges.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Joe MacDonald

The Art of Memory has a tribute to one of my favorite cinematographers, Joe MacDonald.

MacDonald, who worked mostly at Fox, shot films like My Darling Clementine (John Ford), Pickup On South Street (Sam Fuller), Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (Frank Tashlin) and Viva Zapata! (Elia Kazan). Clementine, which looks great even for a Ford Western and includes some interesting applications of noir techniques and lighting to the Western genre. He was also one of the few cinematographers who could bring some visual imagination to movie comedy; even a silly comedy like A Guide For the Married Man looks better than it should because MacDonald didn't make it look flat and over-bright like the typical '60s comedy.

This Is Just Sad, Yet Instructive

So you remember how I wrote about how good Happy Days was in its first couple of seasons (the single-camera years), and then posted a clip from the fifth season (the Mork From Ork episode) to show how far the show had fallen by then? Well, one additional thing I didn't really remember was that the show fell even further the year after that.

The thing about the Mork episode was that even though it was stupid and aimed entirely at kids, it was funny. Not good, but funny. But someone has posted a clip from the show's big sweeps stunt episode from the following year -- where Fonzie apparently fakes his own death and the Laverne and Shirley characters attend his funeral -- and it is stupid and aimed entirely at really dumb kids and is not at all funny. It gets especially bad after the L&S characters leave and the plot kicks in: Everybody's overacting, especially the guest villain, and the music, jokes and characters are all right out of a bad Saturday morning cartoon. If Saturday morning cartoons had a studio audience with screaming kids.

And yet it's always interesting to chart the downward slide of Happy Days, for this reason: with a Garry Marshall show, every decision, every change, was driven by what the network wanted and/or what Marshall thought the public wanted. Marshall's a fine comedy writer and a true comedy professional -- listen to his commentary on an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, where he even evaluates the impact that clothing choices have on the delivery of a joke -- but he was always willing to make changes to his shows, either to keep the network happy or to fit in with prevailing trends. Every comedy pro is primarily concerned with audience response, but Marshall would go out jogging and shout out ideas for character names to passers-by, just to see if the man on the street (literally) responded well to the name "Fonzarelli."

Because of Marshall's eagerness to adapt to whatever was "in," Happy Days is like a television lab where Marshall and his cohorts test out every trend of the '70s. The unsold pilot (which aired as an episode of Love, American Style) is in the mold of Summer of '42, because that movie had just made a splash. When the show was revived, it was because of the success of American Graffiti, so the first season is heavily influenced by that movie in look, feel and tone. In the second season (which was still one-camera), the network wanted more "hard" comedy -- meaning big laughs instead of observational chuckles -- so there was suddenly much less exterior shooting and broader comedy. Then came the third season and the famous re-tool.

But Marshall kept on adapting the show to the needs of the times. He told an interviewer that he tried to have a quota of episodes each year aimed at different tastes (some Howard-Marion episodes for the parents, some "lesson" episodes, some episodes for people who liked '50s nostalgia, an episode with singing, and so on). The "family hour" came in, with Happy Days' 8 p.m. slot becoming specifically aimed at kids -- so Marshall made the show more kid-friendly. Jaws was a huge hit that changed the entertainment industry, and that's why Fonzie jumped over a shark. Mork appeared on the show because Star Wars was the biggest hit in the world and Marshall's kid suggested that they should do an episode about somebody from outer space. Whatever you're seeing on an episode of Happy Days is based on an attempt to cash in on some trend, somewhere.

So by the 1978-9 season, which is the season of the clip featured above, the biggest hits on TV tended to be broad farces like Three's Company and Marshall's own freshman hit Mork and Mindy. So Happy Days went even broader and became an out-and-out cartoon farce, at least during an important sweeps episode like this one. By the time Ron Howard left, the wacky trend had burnt itself out, so the show gradually became a little more down-to-earth. The new characters weren't only introduced to replace the ones who left, but to reflect changing tastes in entertainment (movies like Grease had shown that kids and teenagers liked slightly less wholesome entertainment, so some mildly non-wholesome jokes were introduced through new featured players like Cathy Silvers). When Marshall thought that the old Arnold's set looked too uncool for the current generation of kids, he did an episode where the place burnt down and was rebuilt as a more grown-up looking place. Whether Happy Days was good or bad, and it was pretty bad for large portions of its run, Marshall was always adapting it to whatever he thought the audience wanted to see.

I kind of like that about him. Even if the results are often embarrassing.

Friday, March 09, 2007

La Cava Arcana

Here's another scene from Greg La Cava's Primrose Path, which I wrote about earlier. The thing most people remember about the film -- of the relatively few who have seen it -- is the way La Cava managed to get away with things that you wouldn't expect in a 1940 movie: portrayal of prostitution as a business like any other, a heroine (Ginger Rogers) whose mother was a prostitute and who chooses to go into that business herself (though she is of course saved from actually having to go through with it), and a sympathetic portrayal of her client (Charles Lane). Another thing about the film is its mixture of comedy and melodrama, a La Cava staple from Stage Door onward.

But the best scene in the movie is probably one of the simplest: Rogers and Joel McCrea, after they're married but before he's found out what her mother was, tease each other and wind up rolling around on the ground (while he playfully threatens to dab paint on her nose). La Cava was one of two directors of this era who preferred to work without finished scripts and encouraged his actors to improvise; Leo McCarey was the other. And like McCarey (or Jean Renoir, an admirer of McCarey), La Cava coaxed unusually natural performances out of his actors; people don't seem like they're "acting" in a La Cava picture, even usually studied and stilted performers like Katharine Hepburn. Ginger Rogers, one of the most natural and direct of Hollywood actresses, was a perfect fit with La Cava's style. Look at the way she says "It's all right with me, whatever he said" at the midpoint of the clip: whether or not she's making it up on the spot, it feels like she is making a spontaneous comment. (It also sounds like members of the crew might be laughing offscreen along with the actors who are supposed to laugh; the guy who plays the cook seems to be looking toward someone off-camera.)

The Original Version

You may think this is odd, but I actually enjoy finding out that TV shows I grew up with were ripped off from another source. Most television shows lean heavily on something else for inspiration (Arrested Development would not have existed without The Royal Tenenbaums, for example), so it's not really an indictment of a show to say that its premise is borrowed from something else. But it had escaped my notice where Remington Steele came from: Theodore Tinsley's "Carrie Cashin":

A former department store detective, Carrie now runs the Cash and Carry Detective Agency, whose standard fee is a whopping $1000. Mind you, she gets the job done, never letting little things like the law get in the way. Breaking and entering, lieing to the police, even a little armed robbery or kidnapping, if that's what it took. Posing as her boss, and fronting the agency is Carrie's partner, muscular Aleck Burton, a tough, but easy-going guy... but it's Carrie's show all the way.

Robert Butler, the veteran director who came up with the idea for Remington Steele, was obviously trying to re-do Carrie Cashin, but without actually calling it that.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Babs Bunniwalski OverSmith

Here's a nice piece of animation from a source where you don't always expect to see good animation: early '90s TV.

This is from the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Thirteensomething," animated by the now-defunct StarToons in Chicago; Startoons' founder, Jon McClenahan, directed the episode and animated this sequence (which includes a very long uninterrupted shot of Babs Bunny), with clean-up and inbetweening by Mary Hanley. On a TV budget and schedule, of course, it's not "classic" animation, but it has a lot of character and precise, funny acting, like all McClenahan's stuff for his own studio and, earlier, for Kennedy Cartoons. It does a good job of referencing a movie (When Harry Met Sally without ripping it off.

The set-up for the scene is that Babs has become a success on a prime-time TV show by pretending to be a human; feeling lonesome, she calls up Buster, who is going to pieces without her.

I just like calling attention to this scene because it is a strong piece of TV animation and it's not often that we can single out the animator in a television cartoon (I think some of the animators at overseas studios do surprisingly good work on short notice, but they don't really get credit for it).

McGarrett vs. Hippies

The first season of Hawaii 5-0 came out this week. This show is not really my thing, but the DVD set is very well done: good quality prints and transfers, and, as a bonus feature, a long making-of documentary originally made for Hawaiian TV.

The impression I get from watching Hawaii 5-0 is that CBS is airing very similar shows today; the network hasn't changed much. It's a Dad type of show, where a stern and grim hero battles against all the annoying people in the world. Like CSI, it's very violent -- the first season has plenty of blood and beatings, people expiring in extreme close-up, that sort of thing. And while it has lots of violence, it has very little sex; it doesn't even have many women in bikinis (unlike the show that took over its Hawaii crew, Magnum P.I.). It's a show for people who want to see justice done as brutally and efficiently as possible. That's not my kind of show, as I said, but it's a decent example of the type.

Here's a scene of McGarrett (Jack Lord) telling off a bunch of hippies and thereby competing with Joe Friday (from the Dragnet revival) for '60s TV's greatest hippie-teller-offer.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Good News And Bad News

Earl Kress says there will be a third Tom and Jerry Spotlight Collection.

Considering all the problems with the first two collections -- inadequate prints, cut and re-dubbed cartoons included by mistake -- that's both the good news and the bad news. As Earl puts it:

Personally, I advised against this. I thought it would be better to first put out a Complete Tom and Jerry, in chronological order, with all the mistakes of the first two sets corrected. But the powers that be, and they don’t be me, decided to go ahead with Volume 3.

Oh, Yeah

June 5 brings us The Fall Guy: The Complete First Season. Does life get any better?

Well, probably. But I think The Fall Guy may well be the ultimate, definitive cheesy '80s action show. More than The A-Team, even. This show had:

- Non-stop chases and crashes
- Heather Thomas (and starting in season 2, Markie Post)
- Lee Majors singing the theme song himself
- Scowling, growling, glowering villains
- Scowling, growling, glowering henchmen
- Lots of re-tooling and cast changes
- Actors, including regulars like Thomas, who are clearly on coke
- Plots like (from the first season episode guide): "Colt is sent to the Mohave Desert to bring back a biker wanted for drug dealing, rape and assault. He infiltrates the biker club and competes with them in difficult stunts." Or "A pretty jewel thief hops off to Mexico with Colt and his friends, joined by insurance investigator Kay Faulkner, hot on her trail."

Oh, and a writer for the show once said that he agreed with commenters that The Fall Guy jumped when they stopped putting Heather Thomas in bikinis in every episode. He claimed that this was Lee Majors' idea, because he'd gotten it into his head that he'd get more women if he became a sensitive guy. Oh, the '80s.

Update: And on the same day, we get an announcement (via's new masters at TV Guide) for a key work of '70s TV cheese: Banacek: the Complete First Season.

I don't know if you remember when A&E used to show all the old NBC Mystery Movie shows, but I do, and it seemed like Banacek was on all the goddamn time. And here's the thing: Banacek may have been the least likable hero in television history. I like George Peppard, but I hated the smug, arrogant, smirking Banacek and the I'm-better-than-everyone attitude with which he solved mysteries that eluded the police and rival insurance investigators.

Maybe it's just that it's hard to sympathize with a guy whose job it is to save money for the insurance companies -- Edward G. Robinson pulled it off in Double Indemnity, but only by comparison with a couple of murderers.

Monday, March 05, 2007

I'm Not Gonna Hurt Him

Rio Bravo is finally getting a special edition DVD, and I like who's doing the commentary:

Commentary by John Carpenter and Richard Schickel (Renowned director Carpenter and film critic Schickel explore how this legendary Western was an extension of Hawks’ own personality and why it’s considered such an influential classic today).

Okay, Schickel's kind of a boring commentator, but John Carpenter does great commentaries on some of his own films, and he is a huge Hawks fan who has re-made Hawks films (The Thing) or paid tribute to them (Assault on Precinct 13 pays tribute to Rio Bravo). I'm glad it's not Peter Bogdanovich.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Simpsons Guest Cameo, Standard Version

Here's the Stephen Sondheim guest-voice spot from tonight's episode of The Simpsons.

The way they incorporate celebrities playing themselves has, sad to say, become kind of tiresomely predictable. It always seems to involve several of these jokes:

- Regular Simpsons character hasn't heard of guest
- Regular character thinks guest is famous for something someone else did
- Guest acts like a total suck-up
- Guest, if he's highbrow, does something lowbrow (or vice-versa)
- Guest turns out to be a total sell-out

In fairness, a lot of these things were fresh and different at the time The Simpsons -- and a few other shows -- started doing them. When famous people guest-starred as themselves, it was traditional for them to be treated very respectfully. Look at all the guests on Lucille Ball's various shows: they poked mild fun at themselves, but basically they were shown to be as wonderful as we'd expect them to be, and Lucy would freak out with glee at every celebrity appearance. Or look at Sammy Davis Jr. on All in the Family: that's a great episode, but Sammy is never the butt of the joke at any moment; Archie is always the butt of the joke.

So in the late '80s and early '90s, in a sort of backlash, guest stars started being asked to play themselves as mean, or selfish, or miserly, or stupid. Instead of being sucked up to by the regular characters, the guests would suck up to them. Instead of being happy to see the stars, the regulars would find them annoying or claim they'd never heard of them. And that's how you get Leonard Nimoy as a crazy freak on The Simpsons, or Homer threatening to punch out Dick Cavett for being so boring. But what used to be a reversal of the standard prime-time guest star appearance is now, in itself, the standard prime-time guest star appearance. Maybe if a show went back to doing Here's Lucy-style guest shots, that would be considered fresh and different now.

The Fuller Brush Man

This isn't really an analytical post, but I'm surprised that the movie The Fuller Brush Man and its follow-up, The Fuller Brush Girl, aren't better-known. I know that Red Skelton, the star of the first film, isn't all that well-remembered today, but Girl stars Lucille Ball (Skelton has a cameo), who is well-remembered, and yet it's not even on DVD.

The two movies were both scripted by Frank Tashlin (he co-wrote the first film and then wrote Girl himself), and even though he didn't direct them, they come off as embryonic Tashlin films, whether it's Skelton's encounter with the statuesque and skimpily-dressed Adele Jergens or the borrowings from cartoon, silent, and radio comedy or the combination of comedy with gangsters and murder.

The long climax of Fuller Brush Man is half live-action cartoon, half silent slapstick homage. It also has some great "cutaway" gags where Skelton is accidentally broadcasting over people's radios, and we keep cutting to different people's reactions to what he's saying. Here's the sequence in two parts:

Part 1

Part 2

Wow, They're Getting Faster

So here's the timeline:

At midnight last night, Mark Evanier highlights a YouTube video of an interview with Charles Schulz.

This morning, a few hours later, the video can't be accessed because it has been taken down "due to terms of use violation."

Pretty soon YouTube will be able to take things down within thirty seconds of anybody finding out about them.

Actually, there are quite a few things remaining on YouTube that would, normally, be yanked by the copyright holder. What the uploaders do is make sure not to include certain key words in the description or the title -- words that the copyright owners use when searching for stuff to yank. What that means, ultimately, is that YouTube and other services are still useful as a way for people to upload stuff and then send them to friends, or embed them on their websites. But if you want to upload things so other people can find them in the search engine, remember that that means that The Man can find them too.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Kip, Kip, Kipelangelo

The first season of Bosom Buddies looks okay on DVD, though it really should have been a lot better: there's no excuse for not getting the surviving cast members in for special features. (I feel confident that Tom Hanks would do it if they asked him; he's quite rightly proud of the show.) But the episodes are uncut and look okay.

The theme song used on the DVDs is not Billy Joel's "My Life" but the theme that replaced it in most syndication versions: "Shake Me Loose," a vocal version of the closing-credits theme. "Shake Me Loose" actually was written by the series creator, Chris Thompson, and it appears to have been the song he wanted there in the first place (to get royalties, if nothing else). But I realize many people strongly associate "My Life" with this show and may be disappointed that it's not there.

As always, the best parts of the show are the ones that have the least to do with the ostensible premise of two guys dressing in drag. As the season goes on, the drag element was de-emphasized, and by the second (and better) of the two seasons, they would go whole episodes without donning the dresses. It's not just that Hanks and Scolari were funnier in their own clothes, with the freedom to ad-lib and make up physical business -- the women's clothes restricted their feedom to move around. But as this mini-history of the show mentions, the elaborate costume changes slowed the show down and killed the spontaneous feel that made it fun:

"They made up a lot of business," says [staff writer Leonard] Ripps about the duo's repartee. "They were very active in suggesting ideas because they're very creative guys. The drag was the most difficult part of the show. They tolerated it for a season. It's just a problem doing a half hour of drag every week. It took a long time getting them in and out of wardrobe, which meant it was tough maintaining any kind of momentum in front of a live audience."

The thing about the very loose, free style of Bosom Buddies, which allowed even so-so scripts to be elevated by the cast's energy and improvised bits, is that it's a kind of style you don't see in multi-camera sitcoms today. A lot of them tend to be stop-start affairs where the actors do a lot of takes, hit their marks robotically, and don't get the filming done until late at night. Which may be part of the reason why multi-camera, live-audience shows are dying out: what's the point of doing them if not to let talented comic actors cut loose in front of an audience?

I hope the first season sells well enough to justify the other season coming out; that's the season that has the real gems, like the flashback episode to the characters' high school days ("You're a fascist!") or the episode where the characters drop a water balloon on Richard Nixon's car. But the first season has some fine moments too, like anything with Ruth Dunbar (Holland Taylor) or Scolari's date with a punk rocker ("Cecily is dead -- my new name is Andrea Pus").

Or this art show, which is a pretty standard sitcom bit in terms of writing (pretentious art critics, wacky conceptual artists, blah blah blah) but which builds up to one of those Bosom Buddies lines that makes no sense out of context and is hilarious in context: "It's the flag of Japan!"

Friday, March 02, 2007

Errol Flynn Sings!

Just another reason why I wish someone would reissue Thank Your Lucky Stars, the weirdest and most enjoyable of the all-star wartime movies. The song, by Arthur Schwartz and Frank Loesser, is a pretty funny and cheeky application of an old stereotype -- the guy in the bar telling ridiculous tall tales about his supposed war experiences -- to the war that was going on at the time. It's like an amalgamation of a Victorian scene with '40s details. And it's kind of cool both that Schwartz and Loesser could get away with gentle ribbing of the home-front experience (in a movie that was all about how big a contribution we're making on the home-front) and that Flynn would lampoon his own non-serving status.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Cried the Scout From Universal: "What a Juicy Little Mersel!"

The Digital Bits' Rumor Mill has some news on upcoming DVD releases from Universal, including several movies that you shouldn't buy on DVD now because a special edition is coming soon:

- Serenity special edition (July)
- Flash Gordon (the Sam J. Jones version) special edition (August)
- Psycho special edition (September)
- The Birds special edition (September)

Also a bunch of current shows with their first (and hopefully not last) seasons coming to DVD in August-September, like 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights.

And, just to show you that no show is ever permanently off the DVD schedule, the second season of Stephen J. Cannell's Baa Baa Black Sheep (aka Black Sheep Squadron) comes out in July.

The subject line is from a Cole Porter song, "Pretty Little Mrs. Bell," that was cut from a bad Broadway show and that nobody has ever heard of.

You Can't Write a Drawing

Lately the question of whether writers can write animated cartoons -- always a hot and heated topic online -- has been coming up for discussion again. See Mike Barrier and Mark Mayerson for two examples.

One of the better posts taking the anti-script position is this Eddie Fitzgerald post. He points out what is true not only of animated cartoon scripts but all scripts: they tend to emphasize dialogue over everything else because dialogue is easier to read. As an example, he presents a couple of pages from an unproduced Animaniacs script he wrote.

Stage directions just aren't fun to read; they're flat descriptions of stuff that might happen in the show, whereas the dialogue is, literally, what's going to happen in the show. There's no doubt that there's an advantage to presenting the story in pictures instead of just words: you can actually give a real idea of what is going to happen onscreen, and make it enjoyable.

Incidentally, this is probably the reason why most of the writers who did get a lot of material accepted for Animaniacs were improv comics from the Groundlings and such. (On one of the DVDs, Tom Minton, one of the few writers on that show with an actual animation background, takes a sardonic dig at the invasion of the improv people: referring to himself and other animation people, he says: "We weren't hip, you see. We weren't the hip people.") Being a performer gives you an advantage in pitching a story because you can act out the visual stuff and make it sound funny. Artists are supposed to be able to do that by sketching out the story and presenting it that way, but that's not an option that's available to them in much TV animation, where you just submit a script to read.

Fitzgerald's comments section also includes the inevitable contributions from John Kricfalusi, who as always seems to assume that all animation writers are hacks and frauds because he worked on some bad shows at Filmation and Hanna-Barbera. He also seems convinced that because Fitzgerald is a cartoonist, his Animaniacs script is better than any of the regular writers' scripts, which, frankly, I don't see.