Saturday, June 30, 2007

Woody Woodpecker: An "Andy Panda" Spinoff?

Sean Gaffney has the titles and descriptions of all 75 cartoons in the upcoming Woody Woodpecker set.

Woody was introduced in an Andy Panda cartoon, hence the subject heading. He's hardly the only popular cartoon character to start out in someone else's cartoon. Popeye's debut cartoon, "Popeye the Sailor," is sort of an early version of a stealth spinoff pilot -- since it launched the character in a Betty Boop cartoon. Daffy Duck, of course, made his debut in a Porky Pig cartoon.

What other theatrical cartoon characters (as opposed to TV cartoons like Yogi Bear) made their debuts with established series cartoon stars?


A handy compilation of most of the Pinky and the Brain "Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?" responses. (There are probably a few missing, but not many.) And if you don't like Pinky and the Brain you can always listen to the music (a Rossini overture).

Update: Corrected with a version that doesn't have the music drowning out the dialogue.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Don't Be a Fool, Stryker!

After writing my post on Zero Hour and Airplane!, I found this transcript of Zero Hour that highlights the lines that were re-used in Airplane!. Example:

TRELEAVEN: All right, Harry, let's face a few facts.  As you know, I flew with this man Stryker during the war.  What you don't know is, that doesn't make my job any easier here tonight.  Frankly, I think you'd be a lot better off if you got somebody else who doesn't know him at all.

BURDICK: I don't think that has anything to do with it.

TRELEAVEN: It has everything to do with it.  In the first place, I think it's a mistake if he knows that I'm the man who's talkin' 'im in.  He'll have a million things on his mind without being reminded of those days when ... well, when things weren't so good.

BURDICK: Right now, things aren't so good.  And while we're talking, there are 38 lives waiting on us for a decision.

TRELEAVEN: Let me tell you something.  Ted Stryker was a crack flight leader up to a point, but he was one of those men who ... well, let's just say he felt too much inside.  Maybe you know the kind.  Ate his heart out over every name on the casualty list.

BURDICK: Well, what's wrong with that?

TRELEAVEN: I'll tell you what's the matter with that.  He went all to pieces on one particular mission.  I've never felt there was the slightest excuse for it.  The upshot of it all was that ... everything turned sour ... he left some mighty fine men behind him.  Now I may be wrong, I hope I am, but my feeling is that when the going gets really rough upstairs tonight, Ted Stryker's gonna fold up.  That's all I can tell you.

BURDICK: Look, Martin, I want you to get on the horn and talk this guy down, no matter what you think.  Now you're gonna have to let him get the feel of this airplane on the way.  You'll have to give him a landing check.  You'll have to talk him onto the approach.  And so help me, you'll have to talk him right down to the ground.

TRELEAVEN: All right, Burdick, I just want you to know what we have to contend with.  ... Very well, it's settled.  Who's got the cigarettes?

JOHNNY: Here. ... Matches?

TRELEAVEN: Yeah.  Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smokin'. [lights up]

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hawks and Hawkins

The new DVD of Howard Hawks' Land of the Pharaohs looks all right, though it certainly could look better (the process shots in particular show their age). Peter Bogdanovich's commentary, with interview excerpts of Hawks, is surprisingly good: he doesn't like the film much, and that seems to make him more inclined to say interesting things and less inclined to name-drop.

Hawks didn't like the film either, though a lot of that may simply have been due to the fact that it failed at the box-office. (I don't think Hawks believed in the concept of a worthy failure: if the public rejected a movie, that was his cue to figure out what was wrong with it, not to defend it.) The Hawks cult that developed in the '60s also didn't spend much time on this movie, even though it's really quite a bit better than some of the later Hawks movies that the auteurists defended. It is coming in for a bit of a re-evaluation lately, as you can see in this positive review from DVD Savant, and I think people who see it in the "Cult Camp Classics" collection will be surprised at how un-campy it is.

I like Land of the Pharaohs a lot, and had a good time watching it last night. It isn't one of Hawks's best movies, of course. The plot structure is very confused, with plot points drifting into and out of the movie almost at random. While the dialogue is better than a lot of these '50s sand epics, Hawks and the writers (including William Faulkner) felt compelled to respect the convention of having slightly flowery, stilted dialogue -- which meant that Hawks couldn't let the actors improvise lines of dialogue on the set. (Though there are some bits of dialogue that sound very natural: people mock Joan Collins' cries of "I don't wanna die!", but that's exactly what you would expect a person to say in that particular situation.) And as Hawks pointed out, the main character (Jack Hawkins) is such a selfish jerk that we have no one to root for in the film.

But there are a lot of really strong scenes. Almost everything involving the building of the pyramid, and the engineering technique for sealing it (which when we see it in action, is almost like a serious take on a Rube Goldberg device), is excellent. The sets by Alexander Trauner are very imaginative, not gaudy or trashy like the sets in most films of this type. The murder scene with the cobra and the flute, while a bit implausible, is very suspenseful, and it's a great Hawks touch to play the mother's sacrifice matter-of-factly, without sentimentality or pathos. Joan Collins is in a different, campier movie from everyone else -- and, being a Hawks leading lady, is contractually required to speak about an octave lower than she normally does -- but she's a lot of fun, and because she's so evil she's almost more likeable than Hawkins (who does equally horrible things but thinks he's the good guy).

All his career, Hawks had tried to make movies that copied whatever kind of picture was popular at the time, but put his own spin on them. If Casablanca was a hit with its combination of wartime propaganda and romance, Hawks would make To Have and Have Not, a combination of wartime propaganda and romance. After The Robe came out, it was only natural that he would try to put his own stamp on the vogue for widescreen epics. He did this, as usual, by borrowing heavily from his previous work: as co-writer William Faulkner was the first to point out, Hawks just wanted to do Red River again, with the building of the pyramid replacing the cattle drive.

But the thing that really makes Land of the Pharaohs different is that whereas all these other ancient-world epics were religious, or at least metaphysical and philosophical, this is a movie about practical issues: how do you build something, how do you solve an engineering puzzle, how does an architect (whose job is very much like a film director's in this context) continue to supervise the work when his eyesight is failing? Though the Pharaoh is sort of religious in that his whole enterprise is based on a belief in life after death, the enslaved people led by James Robertson Justice don't seem to have any religion (Justice says only that he doesn't believe in life after death). And the conclusion the movie comes to is that what survives us is not our reputation, nor our wealth, but our work: if we work hard and create something really good, then that will be what keeps us alive after death. It's a theme that's so obviously related to the movies -- after all, what's keeping Hawks alive now is his work, the stuff he "built" -- that I'm amazed the auteur critics preferred to focus on a less interesting Hawks movie like Hatari! instead of this one.

It's also the last movie where Hawks really tried something different: all the movies he made after Pharaohs were in genres he'd tried before, and borrowed heavily from his earlier movies. Even if Pharaohs doesn't completely work, and it doesn't, it still is enjoyable to see Hawks doing a type of film he'd never done before -- and going much darker than he would ever go again. (I suspect that the negative reaction to this film was one of the things that put Hawks off ever making another movie that wasn't basically light-hearted, hence his unfortunate decision to rewrite Leigh Brackett's dark, tragic first draft of El Dorado into a Rio Bravo rehash.)

Oh, and one more thing: people often talk about Hawks's tendency to try and turn pretty young actresses into stars instead of casting his films with experienced leading ladies (unlike many people who tried this, he usually made good choices, as he did with Collins in this film). But he also tried to do this with young, inexperienced male actors too, and his biggest push for stardom was clearly with Dewey Martin. He cast Martin in three movies: The Thing, The Big Sky (why isn't that on DVD yet) and this one. It didn't work out, obviously.

Act 1: You Really Know How To Hurt a Guy, Don't You?

Good news: after its superb work on the Get Smart set, Time-Life has announced that it's doing another complete series set for a '60s spy show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.. Who would have thought that Time-Life would be on its way to becoming classic TV's answer to the Criterion Collection?

(Subject heading comes from the Mad magazine parody of the show, "The Man From A.U.N.T.I.E," which made fun of the practice of giving each act its own title.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

O Mio Direttorino Caro

The announcement that Woody Allen will be directing a production of Puccini's Gianni Schicchi (William Friedkin will direct the other two one-act operas that make up Puccini's trilogy Il Trittico) seems to me to make a lot of sense. Placido Domingo's attempts to get big-name movie directors at the L.A. Opera has been dismissed as a publicity stunt, and sometimes it's just a bad idea (see Marshall, Garry). But generally I'd rather see a good movie director's take on a classic opera than many of the people who direct operas on a regular basis.

A movie director, even one without opera experience, knows how to do two things: co-ordinate a big production with a lot of elements to it (even a low-budget production like most of Woody Allen's movies is "bigger" than the average stage play), and how to fit action to music. When you cut action to pre-recorded music, as Allen does in both his good and bad movies, that's training for opera, where the director has to understand how to stage action that goes with the music instead of fighting against it.

There have been many major movie directors who also directed a lot of opera -- Visconti, most famously, also Tarkovsky, Bergman -- but not so many U.S. directors. Or at least it seems that way offhand. John Ford once told a story that the Metropolitan Opera asked him to direct a production of Puccini's The Girl of the Golden West. He turned them down, he said, because he thought Girl of the Golden West was "a lousy opera," but he told the management that if they wanted him for another opera, like La Boheme, he was available. He never heard back from them, he said; they were willing to let a director of Hollywood Westerns loose on Girl of the Golden West, but nothing else. Of course, as with many stories told by Ford and other Hollywood directors, it's an open question as to how much of that is true (it certainly sounds plausible, though).

Crazy Woody

Watching the preview of the Woody Woodpecker DVD set at, it occurred to me that the early, crazy Woody -- the one with the long beak, red chest and absolute pride in his own insanity -- always seems strange to me. The early, crazy Woody cartoons are the best, I know that. But because I grew up mostly watching the later Woody Woodpecker, with his more streamlined design and toned-down personality, that is established in my mind as the definitive version of the character. Not the best version, but just the one that comes to mind whenever I think of him.

I think that with any cartoon character who went through multiple designs or developments, we tend to think of one version as the definitive version, even if that's not the one we like best. With Daffy Duck, for example, I prefer the '40s Daffy, but the greedy, nasty late '50s and '60s Daffy is the one who still feels the most "real" to me because that's the characterization I saw most often when I was a kid. Someone who grew up watching Daffy cartoons in the '40s would probably think of that as the "real" Daffy. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are people who instinctively think of Daffy as the character who chased Speedy Gonzales; no matter how good or bad the cartoons are, they create an image of the character for people who watch them as children.

The One Where the Dad Has a Beard

Season 2 of Family Ties is on the schedule, but I wouldn't get too excited until we find out which episodes Paramount has cut up for music-related reasons. And when they get to the later seasons, the results will be horrific; I'm not saying "At This Moment" is a great song, but I can't imagine this episode (from season 4) without it:

Something to note about all this music-licensing business is that whether you actually like a particular song has very little to do with whether it works in the context of a show. I've seen some shows where I thought the showrunners must have appalling taste in music, but nonetheless, it's their show, they used the song for its emotional or thematic value, and it's entirely possible for a very good scene to be built around a mediocre song.

Speaking of Failed Pilots

YouTube has the first part of an unsold pilot (burned off on a Failure-Theatre show called "Vacation Playhouse") that I've always been a little curious about: "Three On an Island," a 1965 sitcom pilot with Pamela Tiffin, Julie Newmar and Monica Moran (Thelma Ritter's daughter). It was produced and directed by the veteran director Vincent Sherman, of all those Warner Brothers movies of the '40s.

With that cast and director, I wondered how it could have failed to sell. Now I know, and it's what you would expect: the script, Hal Kanter, isn't very good. From the section excerpted here, it comes off as a slightly more modern-feeling variation on How To Marry A Millionaire or Tiffin's just-completed The Pleasure Seekers, the only difference being that the three girls appear to have some other interest than just landing a husband. It also seems like if it had been picked up as a series, it would have been the Charlie's Angels of its time. The first few minutes are just Tiffin and Newmar stretching a lot, and it's proof that this is, in fact, not enough to make a show entertaining.

Moran, who I suppose would have been the Kate Jackson of the series, didn't do much after this pilot failed (I think she understudied some parts on Broadway). She comes off as a younger, cuter version of her mother. Tiffin could be a terrific comedienne when given the chance (see One, Two, Three, where she delivers the best and funniest performance in the movie), but she doesn't have much material to work with here and falls back on looking cute and befuddled. And Newmar is, heretically, the weakest link: she can play robots, Catwomen and other cartoon characters, but delivering one-liners was not her thing.

Probably not worth watching all the way through, then, but worth a look if you want to know a) Why this show didn't get picked up, b) What Vincent Sherman was doing by 1965, and c) What Thelma Ritter's daughter looks like.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sequences That Belong In Another Movie

As part of my neverending quest to find obscure Tashlin movies, I stumbled on a VHS of the 1954 Susan Slept Here at Sam the Record Man's going-out-of-business sale. (Yes, I did feel like a vulture, thank you.) This is the one where writer Dick Powell somehow gets talked into letting juvenile delinquent Debbie Reynolds stay over at his house at Christmas; this leads to misunderstandings, complications, a paper marriage and a Red Skelton cameo appearance.

It's based on a play by RKO writer-producer Alex Gottlieb and Steve Fisher (who was better-known for crime novels like I Wake Up Screaming); Gottlieb is credited with the screenplay, and it feels like Tashlin must have come into the project fairly late, because whereas most Tashlin movies have almost nothing to do with their source material, this is a pretty stagy movie, taking place mostly in Powell's house. You can hear Tashlin's uncredited rewrites in a lot of moments at the margins -- having the film narrated by Powell's Oscar statuette, or some moments for Glenda Farrell that were basically repeated in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

What obviously interested Tashlin about the material was the bad taste aspect of having Powell romance a girl less than half his age, and who (in the story) is under the age of consent; instead of trying to make it more palatable as any other filmmaker would do, he goes out of his way to make it even ickier than the writers could possibly have imagined, and mine comedy from our discomfort.

But the strangest part of the movie -- and this finally brings me to what this post was supposed to be about -- is a six-minute sequence about two-thirds of the way through, where Debbie Reynolds has a dream. The scene really has no business being in this movie at all: it's a weird combination of fantasy, dance and psychology. It seems to be at once a parody of pop-psychology dream sequences and, well, a pop-psychology fantasy sequence. (It may also be a spoof of the vogue for fantasy ballets in movies like An American In Paris and plays like Oklahoma!) It is related to the themes of the movie -- Reynolds dreams up appropriate roles for herself, Powell, Anne Francis (as Powell's bitchy fiancee) and the young Alvy "Hank Kimball" Moore (as Powell's buddy). But it seems to belong in another movie altogether, and I have no idea what 1954 audiences must have made of this bizarre interlude in the middle of a stagebound romantic comedy.

So watch the sequence -- apologies for the scratchy print (I imagine that a better print would look really good, since it was photographed in Technicolor by RKO's great cinematographer Nick Musuraca) -- and answer the question for the day: are there any sequences you've seen that simply seem to be out of whack with the rest of the movie? I'm not talking about dream sequences that sort of fit the tone of the movie, like in Vertigo; I'm talking about scenes where the movie just becomes another kind of movie entirely, like Susan Slept Here suddenly morphing from a romantic comedy to a weird psycho-babble fantasy.

Friday, June 22, 2007

"Stewardess, I think the man sitting next to me is a doctor."

With Zero Hour coming out on DVD, I wonder: does anyone else find it kind of shabby that Airplane! didn't give any credit to the writers of Zero Hour?

It's often said that Airplane! is a parody of the 1957 film, but it's actually a remake, and a very faithful remake at that: Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker followed Zero Hour almost scene for scene, and a majority of the dialogue comes directly from the three writers of the original script. (Zero Hour was based on a CBC television drama written by Arthur Hailey, Flight Into Danger; the movie script is credited to Hailey and the film's producer and director.) Airplane! is, in essence, a longer, more expensive version of an old staple from live comedy, which is taking the script of a "serious" movie or play and playing it for laughs. But as Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker have acknowledged, it also helped them because they didn't have any experience with story structure; by using the story and dialogue of Zero Hour, they had a decently-structured plot that they could pump full of jokes. When they had to actually create a story and characters from scratch, in Top Secret!, it was a huge flop (I love Top Secret!, but I'm not surprised it failed, because there's no story for the audience to hang onto). I think, on that basis, that Paramount should have given credit to Arthur Hailey and the other writers, because their work isn't just being spoofed in Airplane! -- their work helped make it successful.

Here are side-by-side comparisons of a few bits from Zero Hour with their remakes in Airplane!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Don't Call Me Pallie. You Can Call Me Pal, But Not Pallie.

You know that guy who posts in the comments section of every blog post, anywhere, that mentions a Dean Martin movie? The one who always writes in Rat Pack-ese? The one whose comments are always something like "Hey, pallie, thanks for posting about Dino, the king of cool," etc.?

Well, he has a blog. Where everyone, writer and commenters, writes like that all the time. It's really rather terrifying, though I suspect it's tongue-in-cheek.

I like Dean Martin, but I'm of the opinion that many Dean Martin cultists like him for all the worst things he did. That is, much of his TV, movie and recording work is the product of a very talented actor and entertainer who didn't want to do much with his talent. (Or as Homer Simpson put it: "Screw you, Dino! You squandered your gifts!") I don't blame him for that; it was his life, and his talent, and to do consistently good work would have required that he be a workaholic, spending all his time and energy on his profession. I don't get to tell anyone how hard they should or shouldn't work. But I find it odd that the Dean Martin cult -- and there is one, even if that blog isn't serious -- primarily celebrates the stuff he did when he wasn't working very hard.

By the way, this gives me a chance to bring up something I've been thinking about for a while. A friend who watched Rio Bravo for the first time was surprised to find how good Dean Martin was in it; I explained that in this movie, and a few others (mostly in this late '50s period where he was trying to prove he could succeed on his own), he really did buckle down and work hard, and when he did that, he was an excellent actor. But that got me to thinking: are there many actors today who clearly show whether or not the material engages them, or who clearly work less hard in some movies than others? And I don't think there are, to the same extent. Of course, you can still tell if an actor isn't fully engaged with the material, but there's a certain baseline level of professionalism that most modern stars bring to everything they do.

In the past, and especially when the Rat Pack ruled, this was not the case. You could actually get the amazing sight of a highly-paid star in a big-budget movie who clearly, obviously and ostentatiously didn't give a damn about the project at all, and wasn't even trying a lot of the time. Martin was the king in that respect; if the script didn't interest him, he'd just zone out. But think of Sinatra, or Cary Grant in some of his later movies, or Sean Connery in Diamonds Are Forever. We may never again get the perverse thrill of being able to say that a star is sleepwalking through the role; today, even in bad movies, you can sort of see that the star is working hard (maybe not working well, but probably working harder than Dean Martin is working in the average Matt Helm movie).

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Don't Be Silly, Husbands Are Blind!

Just to see if it would work, I tried taking music from the Viennese operetta A Waltz Dream by Oscar Straus, which Ernst Lubitsch made into the film The Smiling Lieutenant, and cutting it into an excerpt from one of Lubitsch's silent films. The Marriage Circle was his first big hit in America and the movie where he started doing the kind of upscale romantic comedies (inspired in part by Chaplin's A Woman of Paris) that he would mostly stick to for the rest of his career.

It's set in Vienna, and I think the music works OK (the recording, a Munich production from 1970 with Anneliese Rothenberger, Edda Moser and Brigitte Fassbaender, is as far as I know the only recording of A Waltz Dream available), though of course a real score for this scene would have to include "I Love You" by Grieg, since it's referred to and sung by one of the characters.

If you've seen The Smiling Lieutenant, you'll recognize some of those tunes, because they were used as background music in that film.

Lubitsch remade this film in the sound era as One Hour With You, a musical with (of course) Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, and with some of the music written by none other than Oscar Straus. It's interesting to look at the same scene in the remake and compare it to the scene from the silent version. By the sound era, Lubitsch had gotten much wackier and more whimsical, sort of like his early German silent films; he included, and encouraged writers like Samson Raphaelson to include, more bits of business like talking to the camera, and more risqué jokes. Also he was increasingly indulging his love of ellipsis, of suggesting things instead of showing them: so while The Marriage Circle gives us the scene where Mitzi ("Mizzi" in the original) takes the doctor's cab, One Hour With You shows most of the scene from a distance. Part of the reason for that, of course, is that it allows Lubitsch to do the scene very quickly and without much dialogue; in sound movies he had to resort to trickery to avoid including dialogue where he didn't want it.

Ford At Fox

If this is Home Theater Forum post is correct, this sounds like one of the more ambitious classic-films-on-DVD projects a major studio has taken on:

Now set for release for December, 2007, the collection, to be titled “Ford at Fox,” will consists of 25 features that Ford made for Fox, including five silents, 18 of which will be new to DVD.

The box will list for $299.98 and also contain a new documentary on Ford by Nick Redman, a book of photographs featuring an essay by Joseph McBride and a reproduction of the program book for “The Iron Horse.”

Update: Credit where due; the original source of this information is Dave Kehr.

Monday, June 18, 2007

"Failure Theatre"

Oh, good -- Ken Levine is writing about the old network practice of burning off unsold pilots in the summer. I don't know about you, but I loved that, and for the reasons he mentions: it allowed us to see what the networks had rejected, speculate on why these things got rejected, and in some cases, decide that they were better than the things that got picked up.

Actually, when I first came upon some of these pilots, I thought they were previews of actual upcoming shows, and expected to find some of them on the fall schedule. That might be another reason why networks stopped airing these things; viewers might have mistakenly assumed that these shows had been picked up, and (if the pilot was any good) feel disappointed not to find them again.

I suppose we all can remember one or two of these pilots if we think back hard enough. I can remember two, neither of which was any good. One was a Cosby-style family sitcom about a recent graduate who takes a corporate job that he hates, just to please his dad. His girlfriend gives him some lecture about how he shouldn't pretend to be what he's not, and so he quits the job, and argues with his dad about following his dreams and stuff, and they make up or something. I remember two lines of dialogue. One was the hero singing "I'm hating my job, I'm hating my life, I'm hating my job." The other was their idea of a great joke:

GIRLFRIEND: You did great things in school. You even got one of the Jacksons to appear at our prom.
HERO: Well, to be fair, it was Tito.

The other one was about a woman who marries into a family of witches. It was like The Cosby Show meets Bewitched, and the only line I remember is a bit where the Rudy-ripoff little girl tells the nice widower father that one of the sons doesn't want to go out in the rain:

NICE WIDOWER FATHER: Son, I told you, you won't melt if you go outside!

I suppose I could find out actual titles for these pilots if I consulted one of the books on unaired and unsold pilots, but somehow I prefer letting them live in my memory as vague but painful experiences.

There's also one other pilot I remember, about a bunch of people working as ushers at an old movie theatre called The Majestic. The plot of the pilot was that the theatre was going to be torn down, and the act break line was "They're gonna destroy the Majestic!" Everyone looks shocked, fade to black. I don't remember how they got out of that one. (Update: it turns out that this was actually a series, albeit one that only lasted six episodes.)

Any bad (or good) burned-off pilots that you remember seeing?

Buy Bonds, Everybody!

The only other piece of memorabilia that I was directed to because of my recent post (so you don't have to worry about other posts like that; there's not much rare material left to find) was one of those promotional films that were made for U.S. Savings Bonds.

I don't know the story behind this, but around 1980 the Treasury Department decided to promote a new Savings Bond plan by having popular sitcoms do ten-minute films explaining, in character and on the actual sets, why buying Savings Bonds are a great idea. The WKRP one is the only one I've seen. Taxi did one a year later called "Louie, a Patriot," and three years later Cheers did one called "Uncle Sam Malone" (the gang tries to explain to Diane why she should invest in Bonds). These were done as if they were mini-episodes of the series; the showrunners wrote the scripts themselves, and they have opening titles, and some jokes in between the sales pitches. No studio audience, though.

If anyone knows where to find the Taxi or Cheers films, or knows if any other shows did this besides these three, I'd be interested to know. In the meantime, here's the last couple of minutes from the scratchy WKRP one, which offers, yes, an expensive-to-license piece of music ("For the Love of Money" by the O'Jays).

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Eartha Kitt's big number from the revue New Faces of 1952, and the next-to-last number in the 1954 movie version.

While most of the young performers in the 1952 edition of New Faces went on to have successful careers -- Paul Lynde, Robert Clary, Alice Ghostley, Carol Lawrence -- Kitt was the only one who became a breakout star, and the movie emphasized this by letting her do some songs that she didn't sing in the stage show (like her big hit "C'est Si Bon"). Unfortunately, to make room for her extra songs, the movie dropped one of the best songs from the show, "Guess Who I Saw Today?" originally sung by June Carroll (who also wrote the lyrics for "Monotonous" to Arthur Siegel's music).

Note: the original lyrics of this song had "Harry S. Truman plays bop for me"; this was changed to "Toscanini" in the movie because Truman was no longer President.

Share the Profit

In case you're wondering whether we're going to see Parker Lewis Can't Lose again (one of the best comedies of the early '90s), probably not, accrding to this interview with the series star:

“I was actually working with Shout! Factory to license the rights from Sony for the DVD set,” Corin [Nemec] said. Sony wasn’t willing to license the rights because the[y] didn’t want to share the profit. My excitement was to be able to work with Shout! Factory and be hands on making the extras and be the actual guy to interview the producers, the writers and the cast members. We couldn’t get the nod from Sony so now we’re in a holding pattern.”

"They didn't want to share the profit" is a pretty good summation of why companies don't give independent distributors the rights to distribute shows they're not releasing themselves. There was a brief period where they seemed a bit more willing to do this -- Fox licensed out Doogie Howser and a few other titles to Anchor Bay a couple of years ago. But now it seems that while companies are willing to license out older features, especially to Criterion, there's an extreme unwillingness to let a company like Shout! Factory handle TV product. (To take another company, Fox has almost completely given up releasing shows from the MTM catalogue -- leaving a bunch of shows half-finished -- but has taken no steps to let an independent distributor complete the shows.)

Friday, June 15, 2007

I Like This Meme

I just noticed that in the YouTube comments for the Freakazoid! cartoon "Candle Jack" (Paul Rugg at his craziest as a performer and writer), there's a months-old meme where commenters discover that Candle Jack is real and are cut off in mid-word.

You know: "I'm tired of this Candle Jack meme, I said Candle Jack and nothing hap"... That kind of thing. Nice to see that a quickly-cancelled cult cartoon can inspire a pointless comments-section game.

Joe Dante on Looney Tunes

This interview with Joe Dante includes some thoughts on the Looney Tunes movie, his never-made "Termite Terrace" project, and the collapse of the Looney Tunes franchise:

Like you, I am a huge Warner Bros cartoons fan. But do you think they should just stop doing new stuff with the Bugs Bunny cast of characters?

Joe: Frankly, that would be okay with me. That era was over in 1960. The theatrical cartoons that they produced after 1960, which I remember having to suffer through at the movies, were just abominable. They weren’t funny, they were badly animated, they were sub-television level and almost everything they’ve done since is just a pale shadow of what the great cartoons were. I can tell you from experience that the people currently running Warner Bros have no interest or understanding of that period or those characters. I was making a movie for them with those characters [Looney Tunes: Back in Action] and they did not want to know about those characters. They didn’t want to know why Bugs Bunny shouldn’t do hip-hop. It was a pretty grim experience all around.

I did read about an old project of yours that never came to fruition about the animators at Warner Bros called Termite Terrace.

Joe: Yeah, they made Space Jam instead. Termite Terrace was a comedy but it was about Chuck Jones’ early years at Warner Bros in the 30’s. Back when the unit was actually part of the lot with movie stars and stuff. It was a hilarious story and it was very good except that Warner Bros said “Look, it’s an old story. It’s got period stuff in it. We don’t want that. We want to rebrand our characters and we want to do Space Jam.” So they went and did Space Jam and Termite Terrace is just sitting in a vault somewhere and it will never get made.

Make it for HBO, it’s owned by Warner Bros.

Joe: No, you’d be surprised. When it comes to those characters, they have people who are elected custodians. They have to sign off on every single use of the characters. They’re very protective of what they think of as a money making brand. But there’s a lesson there and the lesson is, you don’t develop a script based on characters you don’t own.

(The interview was conducted by Daniel Robert Epstein, whose tragic death this week deprived us of a very talented entertainment interviewer. The Comingsoon link has more links to tributes to DRE.)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

TV Themes Shouldn't Sound Hip

Did you notice that in the '60s and '70s, there was a tendency for shows to change the arrangements of their theme songs to fit in with changing musical trends? And that this usually made the theme songs worse, not better?

Take The Patty Duke Show. The theme song is one of the most famous of the entire "song with lyrics that explain the whole premise" genre. The music is by Sid Ramin, who was a bandleader as well as the orchestrator for Broadway shows like West Side Story and Gypsy, and the first season's arrangement stuck to Ramin's big-band sound:

But then they rearranged the song to make it sound a little hipper and with a little bit more of a '60s beat -- and I don't think it fits as well; the music and the song are just too square (in a good way) for an orchestral backup that sounds like it was brought over from Batman.

And then there's The Bob Newhart Show. I like Lorenzo and Henrietta's original theme, from the first three seasons, much better than the disco-ish version they used for the last three seasons:

Are there any shows you can think of where they re-arranged the theme to make it sound more contemporary, and it actually worked better?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Blackface Gags in MGM Cartoons

Thad Komorowski has an interesting post and comments thread about MGM cartoons and blackface jokes. In short, while every studio included racial stereotypes in their cartoons, MGM had a ton of gratuitous blackface gags where the only joke is that a character sort of looks black. (Whereas when Warner Brothers did the "turning black after an explosion" gag, they'd usually have the character talk like Eddie Anderson or some other celebrity.) It's common to all MGM directors and series, and it does bring a lot of these cartoons to a dead halt when screening them with an audience.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Warren Batchelder

Via Golden Age Cartoons, it appears that a classic Warner Brothers animator may have passed away recently: Warren Batchelder died this past February.

I recall Greg Duffell saying that Batchelder was Virgil Ross's assistant for a number of years, but it took him a long time to be promoted to animator; he finally joined the Bob McKimson unit as an animator in 1958 and stayed there until the studio shut down. Unfortunately I'm not familiar enough with his style to pinpoint which scenes he animated (maybe someone else can help), but if I'm remembering Greg correctly, some of the best animation in those 1958-1964 McKimson cartoons are probably his. Certainly the animation quality of McKimson's cartoons, which had been quite poor ever since he lost his top animators in the mid-'50s, improved quite a bit in 1958, and by the end, his cartoons were probably better-animated than Friz Freleng's. Batchelder deserves a lot of the credit for that, especially since he appears to have become the workhorse of the unit, able to turn out a lot of footage very quickly (again, according to Greg's alt.animation.warner-bros posts from a few years back).

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Those Little Eyes So Helpless And Appealing

One good consequence of my mammoth post about the butchering of WKRP in Cincinnati was that a very kind collector read it and sent me -- in exchange for copies of some episodes I'd taped -- copies of some rare stuff he taped in the early '80s. When the show first went into syndication, it had all the music, even the bits that were changed in the mid-'80s (I'm not talking about the wholesale changes that occurred later on, but even before that, MTM changed a few pieces of music because of rights issues or various other problems).

The most notorious change, and the first really horrible music change that WKRP suffered, was the end of an episode where Mr. Carlson's wife announces she's pregnant. (She was played by Allyn McLerie, from the musicals Where's Charley? and Calamity Jane; she'd played a regular role for many of the same production people on MTM's The Tony Randall Show, which Ken Levine wrote about recently.) The closing scene had them deciding, as sitcom couples always do, that they want the baby; to celebrate, Mr. Carlson asks Venus to play something "soft and sweet."

In the original broadcast, Venus plays "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" from Gigi. This is a joke that plays off several things that have been said or done earlier in the episode, which I won't describe here, but anyway it works perfectly for the scene.

In the mid-'80s, MTM suddenly redubbed this scene and replaced the song with "We've Only Just Begun" by the Carpenters. This kills all the jokes related to the "Little Girls" theme of the episode, as well as the joke of the extreme inappropriateness of playing this song on a modern pop/rock station. And of course Venus is holding the Gigi album at the end even though the song is no longer from Gigi. Kind of kills the episode, really.

I've never found out why this happened. Normally music changes occur because the original music is too expensive, but I doubt that that applies in this case. Someone has suggested that because "Thank Heaven" is (mistakenly) thought to be a song about pedophilia, someone at MTM might have decided to remove it for fear of getting complaints. I have no idea if this is true. When the commercial DVD comes out, of course, they'll probably just solve the problem by cutting the scene altogether.

All this detective work to track down the missing music -- there are some pieces of music and footage that may just be lost forever unless someone locates a copy of the original CBS broadcast -- may explain why some of us feel more strongly about WKRP than about many other good shows. No other show exists in so many different, incomplete versions; assembling a complete version is like going through different folios to assemble the Authoritative Text. You don't usually get that with TV.

Two other, less boring, notes:

1. Allyn McLerie, who was on Tony Randall and then WKRP, is an example of how production companies in '70s and early '80s often used to have a "stock company" of guest actors. MTM, Norman Lear, Paramount, Universal Television and other big content providers all had certain actors whom they particularly liked and would use whenever they got the chance, on different shows for different networks. In the '80s, this changed a bit; by then it seemed that the networks became more involved in the casting of guest parts, with the production companies having a bit less leeway over whom to use. (Brandon Tartikoff at NBC had certain people he would constantly re-use in guest spots on every show, no matter which company was technically producing it.)

2. For fellow cartoon obsessives, the way music was used on WKRP may seem quite similar to the way music was used in classic Warner Brothers and MGM cartoons. A lot of times, a song snippet is there because the title or theme of the song has some kind of connection to what the scene is about. So after the famous Turkey Drop, we originally heard about ten seconds of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "It Came Out of the Sky." It's what Carl Stalling would have done if he'd been using rock songs.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


In comments on the post I linked to earlier, Paul Dini also talks about something I've mentioned many times before: the marketing people could never adjust to the fact that the '90s cartoons appealed to people who were too old to buy My Buddy or even Kid Sister. They saw the sizeable adult audience as a sign that these shows had failed.

Exactly. At the time they premiered, both TINY TOONS and BATMAN were deemed failures by the marketing department because their appeal went beyond their target audiences. TINY TOONS was intended for babies, so the commercials that aired on the show were for little kids toys. When they realized they had a show that was getting a lot of teen and even adult viewers, the marketing department did not try to attract new advertisers for that market, just whined that the show "played too old." Same with BATMAN, which was positioned for six to ten year old boys only.

Grudge Matches I'd Like To See: Fantasy Island vs. the Love Boat

"Da plane, Boss! Da plane!"

"No, my English-mangling little slave, that's not a plane, that's a boat."

"Ahoy there!" calls Captain Stubing. "We hereby claim this Island in the name of the Pacific Princess! Surrender now!"

"On the contrary, my cueball-pated friend," retorts Mr. Roarke. "I am afraid that your ship is now mine, now that it is on Faaaaaantasy Island property."

And that's how the Love Boat goes to war with Fantasy Island. Who wins? And which has-beens and sitcom supporting players are the guest stars this week?

IGN (I Got Nothin')

I keep trying to come up with some longer posts, but I haven't had the time (hopefully soon). I'll have to fill the space with something I compiled a while ago but didn't thing was worth posting: to illustrate my contention that Artists and Models is basically a study in leg fetishism, I strung together a bunch of clips and set them to the music of the title song. Just to illustrate what was really important to the film's writer-director:

By the way, after evaluating all the films in the new Martin and Lewis set, I and most others agree with Dave Kehr's excellent review: the two movies that look best in the set are the two that were remastered from the original VistaVision elements, Artists and Models and Pardners. While Hollywood or Bust looks and sounds a lot better than the VHS (which not only was panned-and-scanned but had a terrible sound mix), it's not in that league.

Someone suggested on another board that Paramount spent the money to restore Artists and Pardners before the company essentially pulled the plug on classic movie releases, which happened in late 2005. (This is why Paramount now releases almost no non-recent movies and only releases television shows with all the music scrubbed out.) This may also be an explanation of why Money From Home isn't in the set, apart from the rights issues: as one of the few movies shot both in 3-D and three-strip Technicolor, it would probably cost quite a bit of money to create a DVD master.

Fortunately Paramount has made a deal to let Criterion release movies from its catalogue, so at least we'll be getting decent special editions of films like Ace in the Hole and Days of Heaven.

P.S. - Remind me to avoid YouTube until they ditch that stupid new "feature" of putting other links within embedded clips. Really distracting as hell.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Here At The Studio's New Animation Department...

With the shuttering of Warner Brothers' animation building (well, it was semi-deserted before that, but now it's official), Paul Dini, who spent over a decade working there, has some thoughts.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Stunt-Cast News

Ken Levine has a post up about stunt casting and the experience of writing and shooting a Johnny Carson guest shot on Cheers. (He'd done very brief guest appearances on "Newhart," "Night Court" and -- unseen -- "Mary Tyler Moore" -- but this was probably his longest guest appearance since the inevitable "Here's Lucy" appearance.)

I think my favorite kind of stunt cameo is where the celebrity is cast as someone other than himself, and the joke is the absurdity of seeing this person playing a character he or she would never play under normal circumstances. I'm not talking here about having a celebrity play an actual character in the story, complete with learning his or her lines, rehearsing, etc.; I'm talking about very brief walk-on appearances where the casting is the whole joke. Paul Henning was one writer/showrunner who liked to do this sometimes, as in this bit from "The Beverly Hillbillies."

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Love Is a Wondrous Adventure

Just watched Warner Brothers' 1947 production Escape Me Never, which is a reminder of how horribly uneven that studio was in the late '40s and '50s; their best writers, producers and directors were all leaving them for other studios (Hal Wallis had already split, and people like Michael Curtiz, John Huston and Jerry Wald would soon follow) and the result was a lot of movies with weak scripts and direction. This movie, a remake of a 1935 movie that wasn't all that good to begin with, has Errol Flynn playing a complete asshole, Ida Lupino miscast, and Eleanor Parker given -- as usual, as I've mentioned before -- nothing to do except look great.

What the film does have going for it, apart from fine camerawork by Sol Polito, is the last original film score by Erich Korngold. (After this movie, he, too, would leave Warners.) Flynn plays a composer, so Korngold gets to compose examples of the character's songs, operas and ballets, including an original song called "Love For Love," sung by Peg La Centra (dubbing Ida Lupino). It's a fairly typical Korngold melody, with echoes of Richard Strauss and Puccini, but somehow when his melodies have words put to them, you can more clearly hear his enormous debt to Viennese Operetta. Though his operas have some very fine things in them, none of them really work overall, due in part to atrocious librettos; but it's too bad he never wrote an operetta, because he was in many ways more like the next Lehar than the next Richard Strauss.

Friday, June 01, 2007


Will Finn, on his new and most welcome blog, makes an excellent point about the UPA blogtroversy:

When he and I were kids UPA was an absolute sacred cow and you were ordered to love it or else by people who hated Bugs, Popeye and even Disney. Later in the 70's intelligent authors like Joe Adamson, Leonard Maltin and John Canemaker started covering the other side of the story and the playing field evened up, maybe to the point of overcompensation. Now it seems like Amid Amidi's excellent book CARTOON MODERN is almost overdue.

We don't always realize that the acceptance of WB, MGM and Fleischer cartoons as classics is a recent development. Up until the '70s, books on animation routinely dismissed all non-Disney Hollywood studio cartoons in about a paragraph.

UPA was formed in an atmosphere where the kind of work being done at Hollywood studios was seen as limiting, lacking in artistry, and too beholden to comedy formulas, broad movements, violent gags and funny animals. But now, the perception is different: the cartoons UPA was rebelling against have become canonized as the great masterpieces of animation. And so this has created a backlash against UPA cartoons, precisely because they were intended to be the exact opposite of the Bob Clampett/Tex Avery type of cartoon. I think that some animators who straddled both camps were a little taken aback by these reputation shifts.

But backlash is a poor basis for evaluating anything, and I don't think we can hold it against UPA for changing the look and approach of animated cartoons. By the time UPA got started, the basic template for a funny cartoon (funny animals, silent-movie-style physical comedy) had been pushed as far as it could go and somebody had to look for new things to do. I think many UPA backlashers incorrectly blame UPA for killing the Clampett/Avery-style cartoon, when UPA was really responding to early signs of the eventual death of that type of cartoon (including the fact that, with the studio system collapsing, a cartoon studio had to learn more from industrial/commercial animation in order to stay afloat).

Mildred Piercing

In my post on Eleanor Parker, I said I hadn't seen her version of Of Human Bondage. But "Canadian Ken" has seen it, and he has a lot of interesting things to say in its defense.

This Mildred’s apocalyptic trashing of Philip’s apartment plays out with a fury no other Mildred has matched. She’s scary, mean and damaged – and Parker’s not afraid to show it all. Blunt and complex at the same time – a Hollywood harbinger of neo-realistic intensity. A tragic scrap-heap monster – and, in her way, just as worthy of sympathy as Philip. Entirely too complicated a creation for 1946 audiences to digest. They didn’t. And Parker went without the acclaim (and Oscar nomination) she clearly deserved.