Plan 9 From Outer Space (January 31, 2021; 27th segment appearance)

I’m about to tell you and your listeners to go out and see the worst film I’ve ever seen. Ironic as that may sound, there is good reason. I think to appreciate even the most mediocre of filmmaking endeavors one needs to see how bad it could go if someone knows absolutely nothing about making a movie. And the producer, director and writer of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, Edward D. Wood, Jr. knows absolutely nothing about how to make a movie. As a fellow colleague put it – and I paraphrase – Mr. Wood tried to create something intelligent and meaningful and failed miserably every step of the way.

Every facet of this movie is worse than the next – the directing, writing, acting, photography… too many missteps to cover in depth in one review – so I have chosen to focus on a couple. The first is continuity, which in filmmaking is defined as the practice of ensuring that details in a scene or sequence are consistent from shot to shot. For example, if someone is running for their life in a scene with wildly unruly hair, and then in the next shot their hair is miraculously well-combed… that is a failure in continuity: no one would stop to brush their hair whilst running for their life.

In PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, continuity mistakes are… well… continuous…. There is a scene where a picture on a wall changes each time the camera comes back to that wall. In another scene, a woman is running for her life – like in my example… she is barefoot, but when she stops running she is now wearing shoes. And no, she wasn’t carrying them. That would make some sense. But my favorite sequence containing continuity calamity shows a police car racing from one place to another, and during the race, which is supposed to take barely a few minutes, we go from night to day and back to night, not to mention the car changes model years and colors during the short drive! Now, in case you’re wondering NONE of these inconsistencies can be attributed to the story being told; they are simply examples of shoddy filmmaking by the terrifically untalented Ed Wood.

This film was obviously made on a very small budget, if any. Which brings me to design elements. First, there are headstones in a cemetery that are easily knocked over or moved by people simply brushing past them. Patio furniture used on the patio – well, that makes sense – is in the next scene, the bedroom furniture. Then… there’s the shower curtain. That’s right, a shower curtain is ridiculously used as the barrier between a plane’s cockpit and the passengers!!! Then we see it covering up the bomb brought by aliens to destroy earth. And lastly as an actual shower curtain.

Sadly, this was the last film to feature Bela Lugosi, the original Dracula. Actually, credit must be given to Ed Wood, at least as a human being, for his attempts to befriend Lugosi and help rid the actor of his drug addictions. Wood’s reward was for Lugosi to agree to appear in a few of his films. Well, something must’ve happened during the filming of PLAN 9, because it is obvious that someone else is playing Lugosi’s character in several scenes. The person in question is noticeably taller and presumably because he didn’t resemble Lugosi, he is shown with a cape drawn across his face whenever he is onscreen.

From the flying saucers with clearly visible lines holding them from the ceiling… to those same flying saucers and actors and film equipment like boom mikes casting shadows on the sky!!!… to mini-skirt and shiny lamé-wearing aliens… to actors obviously reading from scripts in their laps… to lines like “Future events such as these will affect you in the future”… to a corpse who blinks his eyes… it’s all here for you to see just how bad a movie can be. This wannabe sci-fi horror film is instead a laugh riot!

I rate PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE no bags of popcorn due to it’s lack of technical and dramatic merit, but 3 bags of popcorn as a perfect example for wannabe filmmakers on how not to make a movie. Dizzyingly delightful dreck. This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW! Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!

DID-YOU-KNOWs:

Bela Lugosi actually passed away a year before this movie was begun. In fact, the footage in which he appears was filmed by Ed Wood before he’d even concocted the cockamamy script. Wood had no plot in mind at the time of filming this footage of Lugosi; ditto, apparently, in the completed film.
Cast members included horror movie TV hostess Vampira, former pro wrestler Tor Johnson who sometimes wrestled under the name “King Kong”, members of the Baptist Church which funded the film, the husband of Ed Wood’s chiropractor as the faux Lugosi, and a couple a guys who happened to be non-actor house guests of one of the other actors in the film – yup, casting was an issue too…

Real-life psychic Criswell, whose introduction and narration for PLAN 9 is unintentionally hilarious, had his own local TV show in California and appeared on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson and its precursor The Jack Paar Program – while he is known for his numerous erroneous predictions, it is claimed that he did predict that JFK would not run for re-election in 1964 because of something that would occur in November of 1963…

Pillow Talk (January 24, 2021; 26th segment appearance)

It may not be cool to say, but here goes… I LOOOOVE Doris Day. Hey, it’s not as If I said I LOOOOVE Sandra Dee!!! Now that would be embarrassing! I’ll gush on Miss Day in a bit. But first a little about her latest movie, PILLOW TALK.


PILLOW TALK is a new romantic comedy with a very funny screenplay by the 4-man team of Clarence Greene, Russell Rouse, Maurice Richlin and Stanley Shapiro. Doris day plays Jan Morrow, a successful interior New York interior decorator. Rock Hudson co-stars as Brad Allen, a composer of Broadway musicals. Unfortunately, when Jan tries to conduct business on the phone line she shares with him, Brad is on the other end, wooing yet another woman, usually with his music. Jan is trying to rein him in, until they can get separate phone lines, by getting him to agree to an arrangement concerning phone usage. There is bickering and bantering, generally with sexual undertones, which is fun to witness. The filmmakers use split screens so we can see these two go it simultaneously. It’s a device that’s used to great effect, especially in one fairly suggestive instance.


Jan and Brad, who have never met in person, have another connection in the form of Jonathan Forbes, played by Tony Randall. Jonathan is a Broadway producer working with Brad on a new show and Jan is Jonathan’s interior decorator. The fun begins when Brad by happenstance discovers Jan’s identity. Being that she is extremely attractive and he is a voracious wolf, he is immediately attracted to her but knows she wouldn’t give him the time of day if she knew his true identity. So he, on the spot, takes on a new persona as chivalrous Texan Rex Stetson. Being that he is very attractive and, in the form of Rex Stetson, the opposite of Brad Allen, Jan is immediately attracted to him. We are in on the joke, and if it weren’t for the lightheartedness of the goings on, we would be appalled by Brad’s behavior. Well, maybe we are a little appalled…

But that’s okay because Brad a/k/a Rex eventually and deservedly gets his comeuppance and all ends well – – it is a romantic comedy after all.
The film is visually appealing with great set design and wonderful outfits for Miss Day, designed by Bill Thomas. Mention must also be made of the performance of the marvelous Thelma Ritter as Doris Day’s maid, Alma. She is part of a recurring funny bit involving a misfunctioning elevator. And there’s a scene where Rock Hudson’s character Brad attempts to get her drunk and give up some information on her employer. It hilariously backfires because Alma is – – let’ say, accustomed to the drink. The musical score is by Frank De Vol and it is very comical in many instances. The only downer here is very minor: the title song, sung by Miss Day. It’s a little drippy; another song later in the movie is not much better. They should not have Doris Day sing anything even faintly resembling rock and roll.

But filmmakers should by all means give her many more chances with this kind of material. She is a natural comedienne! I can’t say she is at the top of my list of the best film actresses. But she is at the very top of my list of film comediennes. She knows how to deliver a line and her timing and reactions are pitch perfect. She is especially effective and memorable in a scene early in the film with Nick Adams as an overly amorous escort. It’s a riot. Doris Day probably deserved an Oscar nomination for her highly dramatic turn in 1955’s LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, but she definitely deserves serious consideration for PILLOW TALK. I know comedic performances are too often overlooked; I hope this year the Academy will change their ways and give Miss Day some recognition.


I rate PILLOW TALK 4 bags of bountiful buttery popcorn. It’s a fun and funny fluffy frolic; enjoy!

This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for THE BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!

DID-YOU-KNOWs:


Among this film’s distinguishing elements is its innovative use of the wide-screen format, specifically split screen optics which contribute to the sexual innuendo. The most famous scene using the split screen shows Doris Day and Rock Hudson seemingly sharing a bathtub – they are actually in their separate apartments and facing each other so that when they each extend a leg to the wall they seem to be touching feet, and Hudson’s toes slide down the wall and appear to tickle Day’s instep. Pretty sexy…


Rock Hudson apparently turned down the role 3 times, considering the screenplay to be too risqué and fearing it would harm his masculine image – ironic Rock, right?


Day had to talk Hudson into doing the film, and it became one of his biggest hits. Day and Hudson had immediate on-screen chemistry and remained lifelong friends, making 2 more films together, both with Tony Randall in tow.


A 1980 sequel was talked about and both stars were interested but nothing came of it… too bad.

Ben-Hur (January 17, 2021; 25th segment appearance)

When it comes to religious-themed films, I use 1943’s THE SONG OF BERNADETTE as the standard-bearer. It was gloriously photographed, earnestly directed, and featured a sumptuously beautiful score by Alfred Newman and a luminous performance by Jennifer Jones. I was moved even though I am not a religious person in the least bit. The same cannot be said of BEN-HUR, which I saw recently. The technical merits of BEN-HUR, including the special effects and Miklos Rosza’s stirring musical score are quite exceptional. But the acting falls short and the story interlacing the destinies of Jesus Christ and the fictional Judah Ben-Hur did not move me. Everything in the storytelling felt superficial. I expected more from one of my favorite directors, William Wyler, who has moved me many times previous to this.

BEN-HUR is the story of Judah Ben-Hur and Messala, played by Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd, respectively. Judah is a wealthy Jewish merchant living in Judea at the time of Jesus’ emergence; Messala is a Roman Tribune now assigned to police the Jewish population in Judea. The reunion of these 2 men, years after they’ve gone their separate ways is only moderately emotional. The scene is strangely reminiscent of a scene in 1946’s THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – – also directed by Wyler. Perhaps you remember it? Fredric March’s character has returned home from World War II and sees his wife, played by Myrna Loy, at the other end of the hallway; they walk/run to each other to embrace and kiss.

Sounds corny, but it is a scene that has stayed with me; it was very moving because it was understatedly filmed and scored. The staging of this similar scene in BEN-HUR uses the same camera set-up and angle, and a similar walk/run; it even takes place in a hallway! Judah Ben-Hur and Messala do not embrace or kiss, but rather engage in an uneasy and anti-climactic wrist-to-elbow handshake of sorts.

Problems begin when Messala asks Judah to reveal the names of Jewish troublemakers in the region. Heston refuses and that doesn’t sit well with Messala. Soon, an unfortunate accident is used by Messala to frame his old friend; he has Judah, along with his mother and sister, arrested. The latter are sent to prison with disastrous results, and Judah becomes a Roman slave bound for the galleys.

En route to his enslavement as an oarsman, Judah and his fellow slaves pass through a village where we are made aware of Jesus’ presence. Judah, in shackles, is refused water though he desperately needs it and he collapses in agony. When then see Jesus’ hand lift Judah’s head, pouring water over his face and then giving him some to drink. Judah looks up to see who is helping him and there is something of a revelatory look on his face. It is perhaps Heston’s best scene in the whole film, and the only time I was moved. You see the wonder in his face; he continues to look back as he is being led away, mesmerized by Jesus’ countenance. Not to be funny, but Heston’s best scenes in BEN-HUR occur when he is silently showing emotion. It’s when he talks that he betrays himself.

The rest of the 3½-hour film – with intermission – depicts how Judah saves a Roman admiral during a sea battle and becomes his de facto son and a champion charioteer in the Roman Circus. But what consumes him is his desire to avenge his and his family’s fate at the hands of Messala. He finally gets that chance in the arena via an exciting – if overlong – chariot race sequence, which to be fair features some pretty spectacular filmmaking.

Unfortunately, the inner battle of Judah Ben-Hur between his need for revenge and his acceptance of Jesus’ love-thine-enemy doctrine just didn’t move me.

I rate BEN-HUR 2 – – maybe 2½ – bags of barely edible popcorn; the ½ bag is for technical merit and Heston’s one good scene. This is a movie only for the truly faithful.

This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for THE BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!


DID-YOU-KNOW:

BEN-HUR, while not breaking the record for most nominations ever by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences did win a record 11 competitive Oscars; it was nominated for 12 Academy awards, deservedly losing only in the screenplay category.

The previous record was set by GIGI, the year before, with 9 wins on 9 nominations. BEN-HUR’s record number of wins has never been bettered but was matched in 1997 by TITANIC and then 6 years later by the 3rd installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, THE RETURN OF THE KING, which went 11 for 11! The record number of nominations by the way is 14, set by 1950’s ALL ABOUT EVE, and then matched by TITANIC in 1997 and LA LA LAND in 2016.

Some Like it Hot (January 10, 2021; 24th segment appearance)

It’s been a great decade for Billy Wilder. It started in 1950 with SUNSET BLVD., which I believe will be considered one of his best and one of the best films of all time. He followed it with the devastating ACE IN THE HOLE, the near brilliant STALAG 17, the wonderful romantic comedies SABRINA and THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, the engaging THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS, and the Hitchcockian WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION. And now comes a raucous, wonderfully wacky wonder: SOME LIKE IT HOT. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun at the movies!


SOME LIKE IT HOT stars Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and in a performance that is perfection, Jack Lemmon. Curtis and Lemmon play musicians Joe and Jerry, a sax player and a bass player respectively, in 1920’s Chicago. They are eking out an existence between gigs, pawning off their overcoats in the deep freeze of February. When they go to retrieve an acquaintance’s car for another engagement, they are witness to a mob hit at the garage. The scene is a reference to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that took place in Chicago on St. Valentine’s Day in 1929. They escape with their lives and some machine gun holes in Jerry’s bass fiddle. But in order to truly be safe, they decide to take a gig that will take them to Florida for a week or so. The problem is that the orchestra for the engagement is an all-girls band. Enter their alter egos, Josephine and Daphne, Curtis and Lemmon, respectively, in drag.


On the train, they meet the orchestra’s chanteuse, Sugar ‘Kane’ Kowalczyk – Marilyn Monroe’s character. Both of course are drawn to her. Lemmon’s attempts to quell his wolf-ish desires for Sugar, whilst in drag, are hilarious. An impromptu after-hours party in Daphne’s upper berth is lots of fun. But the story really gets going once the band arrives in Miami.

Sugar is obsessed with finding a rich millionaire while she is in Florida. By now, she has admitted she has a weakness for saxophone players. Curtis’ character, Joe, plays the tenor sax, and he comes up with a plan to woo Sugar by becoming a yet another character, a handsome young oil magnate. This is where Cary Grant comes into the picture – not as a character, per se, but… well, you’ll see what I mean when you see the movie. And you MUST run out to see this wonderfully funny romp.


The screenplay, By Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, is so full of delightful deceits and snappy one-liners. It’s a marvel. The supporting cast features 3 Hollywood veterans. From so many crime dramas of the 30’s and 40’s there’s George Raft as ‘Spats’ Colombo, the head of the Chicago mob still looking for the musicians, and Pat O’Brien as the lawman hunting him down. And the comic genius of Joe E. Brown is in full flower as he plays Osgood Fielding, III, a millionaire who becomes infatuated with Daphne, Lemmon’s female alter ego. His well-known personas and antics are perfect for this role, and he gets to deliver one of the best last lines from a film, ever. Period.


Tony Curtis is very good as the… straight man, and Marilyn Monroe is engaging and alluring, but this film belongs to Jack Lemmon. His is simply one of the best comedic performances I’ve ever seen. The way his character deals with his female side – – and his masculine desires while in drag, not to mention the amorous advances of Joe E. Brown are letter perfect. I certainly hope he will be remembered at Oscar time. It is rare for the Academy to recognize a comedic performance, but I hope they will this time around. Lemmon is very deserving of the honor.


Lastly, the technical merits of the film are deserving of mention as well: the glorious black and white cinematography of Charles Lang and the costumes of Orry-Kelly are standouts; the production design is excellent. And the music is pretty darn good too; the singing of Miss Monroe is just right.


SOME LIKE IT HOT rates 4 bags of overflowing, extra-buttery popcorn, and a Malomar, or maybe even two!! Get up and drag – wink, wink – yourself to the theatre for a riotously fun time!

This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!

DID-YOU-KNOWs:

This movie is notorious for the difficulty director Billy Wilder and the her co-stars had with Ms. Monroe. She required 47 takes to get the 3-word line “It’s me, Sugar” correct, instead saying either “Sugar, it’s me” or “It’s Sugar, me.” After take 30, Billy Wilder had the line written on a blackboard. Another scene required Monroe to rummage through some drawers and say “Where’s the bourbon?” After 40 takes of her saying “Where’s the whiskey?”, “Where’s the bottle?”, or “Where’s the bonbon?”, Wilder pasted the correct line in one of the drawers. After Monroe became confused about which drawer contained the line, Wilder had it pasted in every drawer. Fifty-nine takes were required for this scene.


Jack Lemmon wrote that the first sneak preview had a bad reaction with many audience walkouts. Many studio personnel and agents offered advice to Billy Wilder on what scenes to reshoot, add and cut. Lemmon asked Wilder what he was going to do. Wilder responded: “Why, nothing. This is a very funny movie and I believe in it just as it is. I don’t panic over one preview. It’s a hell of a movie.” At the next preview the audience stood up and cheered.


Upon its original release, Kansas banned the film from being shown in the state, explaining that cross-dressing was “too disturbing for Kansans.” Yeah, right – check your closets, Kansans… SOME LIKE IT HOT was produced without approval from the Motion Picture Production Code a/k/a the Hays Code because it plays with the idea of homosexuality and features cross-dressing. I guess they thought the 2 MUST go hand-in-hand.

The Hays Code had been gradually weakening in its scope since the early 1950s, due to greater social tolerance for previously taboo topics in film, but it was still officially enforced until the mid-1960s. The overwhelming success of Some Like It Hot is considered one of the final nails in the coffin for the Hays Code.

Earthquake (December 27, 2020; 23rd segment appearance)

I just saw the movie EARTHQUAKE. And it was BAAAAADD!!! So bad that I felt it!

EARTHQUAKE depicts the catastrophe that would ensue if California, specifically Los Angeles, ever gets hit with the big one. The movie opens with information that tells us a disaster is about to happen. It’s the name of the performers: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Genevieve Bujold, and Lorne Greene.

After that shock, we get more scenes of impending doom: a crack is discovered in a dam above the city; some workmen in a trench are suffocated when a cave-in occurs; and a rookie seismologist determines something bad is about to happen – of course he is ignored. We are also subjected to scenes unrelated to the disaster that are nonetheless disastrous, involving the failing marriage of Heston and Gardner. All of this is boringly typical for a disaster movie, and it only gets worse.

There are laughable scenes in which L.A. policeman George Kennedy attempts to alone rescue the entire population of the city and seemingly single-handedly tries to keep law and order.

There is also a needless and somewhat offensive side story of a psychotic National Guard-like weekend soldier terrorizing a young woman – – played by Victoria Principal – – in the midst of the disaster. But the worst scenes feature Walter Matthau, uncredited, at a pool hall getting increasingly drunk as a bar fight and then, of course, the earthquake happen around him. He sports a big floppy pink hat and loud shirt. Is he an aging pimp or just a really bad dresser? Every so often Matthau lifts his shot glass and spouts out the name of an infamous person: Spiro Agnew… Bobby Riggs… Matthau must’ve owed someone a favor, or more likely lost a bet… WHATEVER the reason, it is a supremely strange element in this very awful flick.

Now, for the non-special special effects. First, there was the brilliant idea of portraying the trembling of the earth by shaking the camera side-to-side – oooooh!!… did someone get paid for this? Next was the stunning effect of portraying unsteady buildings by distorting the camera lens to make buildings look like they lean 45 degrees to the right, return to upright, and then lean 45 degrees the other way, and still NOT collapse! But the effect that takes the cake for me is when a bunch of people in a skyscraper crowd into an elevator – – just the place you want to be as a 30-story building is literally shaking its sides off – – and when they – – surprise, surprise – – plummet to their death a cartoon blotch of blood is splatted on the screen. I kid you not! I almost splatted my Coca-Cola on the back of the head of the person sitting in front of me!

I’ll waste no more time on this terribly torturous and tedious tommyrot. Earthquake barely rates 1 bag of stale, saltless, unbuttered popcorn. It gets one bag only because that’s as low as I go.

This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW.

DID-YOU-KNOW:

This is the first movie to use the gimmicky Sensurround. Sensurround produced a low frequency sound vibration along theater seats giving the audience the feeling of being in an actual earthquake.

Unfortunately, the speaker system was a custom job that often required removing a couple of rows of seats, and it was expensive. When the idea of Sensurround was put forward, there was serious consideration on having chunks of polystyrene drop on audience members from above during the earthquake sequence. This idea was jettisoned. Ironically enough, a theater Chicago was forced to shut off the Sensurround speakers when small pieces of plaster from the ceiling actually did fall on audience members. The same thing happened at a theater in Phoenix, Arizona.

Sensurround was used for a few more films throughout the rest of the 1970s, but after theaters received structural damage, patrons got ill from the experience, and nearby businesses complained of noise pollution, it was halted. There were documented cases of nosebleeds occurring amongst audience members because of the Sensurround system.

White Christmas (December 20, 2020; 22nd segment appearance)

There haven’t been a lot of well-known musicals that take place during the end-of-year holiday season. In 1942, there was HOLIDAY INN whose last scenes took place during Christmas and on New Year’s Eve. In 1949, there was IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME which, despite its title, had a significant portion take place during Christmas. Now, finally, we have a big Hollywood musical which takes place entirely during the holiday season. It is WHITE CHRISTMAS or as it appears on the title screen Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS.

The film stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen, with smaller supporting roles filled by Dean Jagger and the marvelous Mary Wickes. All the performances are engaging, though none are staggeringly auspicious. Bing brings his usual casual cool and does well delivering the comedic lines and ballads. Mr. Kaye does some graceful dancing in between his comedy schticks. I actually love the multi-talented Danny Kaye, but you can’t deny his over-the-top-ness a fair amount of the time. The very-rarely-seen-in-movies Miss Clooney is lovely and sounds great on her ballad “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me”. Vera-Ellen is her usual lithesome and limber self.

Of course, as the full movie title tells us, all the songs are by Irving Berlin. He has written so many memorable melodies. WHITE CHRISTMAS features a few of his Tin Pan Alley chestnuts: “Blue Skies”, “Heat Wave”, and an oldie but goody “Mandy”. And of course, there’s his Best Song Oscar-winner from the 1942 film HOLIDAY INN, “White Christmas”. There are also a couple of new songs written or re-worked for this film. The best of which are “Snow” and the lovely “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)”, sung by Bing, with a later assist from Miss Clooney.

Aah, music to fall asleep to – and I mean that in a good way.

The screenplay by Melvin Frank, Norman Panama, and Norman Krasna is better than the usual musical-comedy fare. A prelude shows how the Crosby and Kaye characters met during WWII. Moving to present day, we see that they are now the very successful stage act Wallace and Davis. Kaye’s character, Davis, is trying to get Bing’s character, Wallace, to find a life outside the theater, so he frequently tries to fix him up with women. Enter the Haynes Sisters, played by Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Through some mischievous machinations by Kaye’s character, they all end up at a lodge in Vermont where the sisters have a holiday engagement.

The struggling country inn just happens to be owned and run by Wallace and Davis’s WWII commander, General Waverly – – played by Dean Jagger – – who is now a somewhat unhappy and forgotten soul. The guys devise a plan to help the general and his inn, and it causes some problems, but all ends well of course, and Crosby gets Clooney and Danny gets Vera… Ellen. Could you imagine a Christmas movie without a happy ending? The finale, featuring… wait for it… “White Christmas” is visually sumptuous and, for me, somewhat moving.

Mention must be made of another highlight of the film. It is a performance of the song “Sisters”, which is first introduced by Clooney and Vera-Ellen. But then, somewhat ingeniously and hilariously, Crosby and Kaye reprise the number, lampooning the girls’ moves and mouthing their vocals. Imagine Crosby and Kaye performing a fan dance. At one point, Crosby loses it due to Kaye’s clowning and starts laughing. I have a feeling this was not planned or scripted but so natural it was kept in the finished product, and it really works.

The whole film works. I rate WHITE CHRISTMAS 4 bags of buttery popcorn. It’s a wonderful early Christmas gift. This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!

DID-YOU-KNOWs:

According to Rosemary Clooney, Crosby and Kaye’s “Sisters” performance was not originally in the script. They were clowning around on the set, and director Michael Curtiz thought it was so funny that he decided to film it. In the scene, Crosby’s laughs are genuine and unscripted, as he was unable to hold a straight face due to Kaye’s comedic dancing. Clooney said the filmmakers had a better take where Crosby didn’t laugh, but when they ran them both, people liked the laughing version better.

One of the dancers accompanying Rosemary Clooney is George Chakiris. He went on to earn the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, as “Bernardo”, in West Side Story (1961).

WHITE CHRISTMAS was 1954’s most successful film at the box office.

The film was heavily into pre-production when an injury forced Donald O’Connor to withdraw from the role of Phil Davis. Danny Kaye was quickly drafted into the role.

The “I’d Rather See a Minstrel Show” sequence points to changing times in terms of Hollywood’s sensitivity to racial norms. The set design, props, costuming and musical arrangement are all typical of vintage minstrel shows, but the performers are not in black-face. This was progress, as Holiday Inn (1942), which inspired this production, featured a black-face number only twelve years earlier.

101 Dalmatians (December 13, 2020; 21st segment appearance)

Disney has released another animated gem, and just in time for my birthday! I’m sure that was the motivation behind the timing of the release, in that I am a big time animal lover. The film is 101 DALMATIANS, and it is a delight. Disney is back to featuring animals as the leads; this is the second animal-centric film in 6 years, the last being 1955’s wonderful LADY AND THE TRAMP.

The film is based on a novel by British author Dodie Smith. The story takes place mostly in London, En-ga-land and features dalmatians Pongo and Perdita, who get their pets – as they call, respectively, their human companions Roger and Anita – to meet, fall in love and wed. Soon thereafter, Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor) and Perdita (voiced by Cate Bauer) have a litter of 15 puppies, each more adorable than the next.

But before the pups arrive we meet one of the best and most villainous villains Disney has produced, Miss Cruella De Vil. De Vil, whose last name is spelled D-E-space-V-I-L (you get it) is an old school chum of Anita and is very interested in the birth of the dalmatian puppies – – she loves those spotted coats. And she loves wearing fur. Uh-oh. Of course, Pongo and Perdita, as well as Roger, very much dislike Cruella and do not trust her intentions… and as we find out shortly, for good reason.

But the best part of having Cruella De Vil as a character is the song written for her. The character of Roger is a songwriter and has written a tune, which we hear early in the movie, but without lyrics. That is, until Cruella drives up, and Roger gets inspired! – which is what I believe songwriter Mel Leven was when he wrote this delightful song for the movie – in my opinion, one of the best songs from a Disney cartoon to date.

In the opening credits to the film, there is a credit given to Mel Leven for Songs. However, the film has only 2 more or maybe more to the point 1½ songs. This is one of my few disappointments in the film: after “Cruella De Vil” I was looking forward to more. But we only get a very short ditty used as a TV commercial in one scene, and a short, rather forgettable song at the very end of the film. Too bad. Anywho, the film works regardless of the lack of songs; not every animated film has to be a musical!

Back to the plot. Cruella has two hapless henchmen dognap the puppies one night and the rest of the film concerns their rescue and return. We learn of an animal network reaching from London to the countryside and the efforts of many dogs, some cows, and one courageous cat – GO, CATS! – to find the puppies, and Pongo and Perdita’s rescue of their brood along with 84 other dalmatian pups – hench the film’s title – that Cruella has taken to make a spotted coat. HORRORS!

There is actually a lot of genuine humor in the goings-on, much of it supplied by the cute puppies, one of whom is always hungry and one, with constantly wagging tail, who is a slave to television. And more humor is supplied by the henchmen, Horace and Jasper, the latter voiced by J. Pat O’Malley who has appeared on dozens and dozens of TV shows – you’d recognize his face. The winner, though, for best voice performance in 101 DALMATIANS is Betty Lou Gerson who is great as Cruella De Vil. We last heard Miss Gerson’s voice in a Disney movie as the narrator of 1950’s CINDERELLA. She is nothing like that here. Her characterization nearly steals the film.

I rate 101 DALMATIANS 4 bags of popcorn, each with at least 101 kernels of buttery deliciousness.

This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz I oughtta be in pictures!

DID-YOU-KNOWs:


Novelist Dodie Smith loved dogs and kept Dalmatians as pets; at one point she had nine of them. The first was named Pongo which became the name she used for the canine hero of her, novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Smith had the idea for the novel when one of her friends observed a group of her Dalmatians and said “Those dogs would make a lovely fur coat”. Uh…get a new friend, Dodie – that’s gross! P.S. The birth of 15 puppies, like in the film, actually happened to the author Dodie Smith. And, like in the film, one was born lifeless and her husband revived it.

The dog barks in 101 DALMATIANS were provided by Clarence Nash – – best known as the voice of Donald Duck, for over 50 years!

Due to the commercial failure of 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, production costs needed to be cut. As a result, this was the first Disney feature film to use photocopying technology – – or Xerography, courtesy of the Xerox company – – which made an animated film with so much visual complexity possible and affordable. This technique set the visual style of Disney animation for more than 15 years until technology advanced enough to allow a softer look than the rather scratchy look of the Xerography.

Characters from 1955’s LADY AND THE TRAMP are seen in a sequence featuring the Twilight Bark animal network. Look quickly!

Butterfield 8 (December 6, 2020; 20th segment appearance)

Schlock, drivel and tripe! No, that’s not a law firm – – it’s my description of the film BUtterfield 8, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher and Laurence Harvey, which I list in order of their performance proficiency in this cinematic slop. Just how bad does Laurence Harvey have to be, to be worse than Eddie Fisher? And if Lassie were in this film, she’d go in front of Miss Taylor.

This is the worst kind of claptrap – – it’s almost unwatchable, unless you like train wrecks wrapped in a lot of gloss. It’s not surprising considering the source: John O’Hara’s novel of the same name. His tragic, tawdry tome tells the tale of Gloria Wandrous, an upper echelon model and socialite by day and high-class call girl by night. Liz plays Gloria in the film version. Gloria’s living the high life until she falls for married man Weston Amesbury Liggett – – now, that sounds like another law firm. Weston is played to imperfection by Laurence Harvey; he is unhappily wed and unhappily employed, but happily well off. In an early scene, he goes home from the office to his suburban home, where he and his wife enjoy a relaxing round of shooting skeet. Don’t we all?

Mildred Dunnock – – pretty much the only person who could be accused of acting in this film – – plays Gloria’s mother. She obviously disapproves of her daughter’s sinful lifestyle but can’t seem to broach the subject with Gloria. It’s actually a little heartbreaking, and the only bit of subtlety in the flick.

Eddie Fisher actually receives third billing, above the title, in BUtterfield 8. Yes, it’s that Eddie Fisher – the singer with an impressive string of Top Ten hits in the early 50’s, like “Thinking of You”, “Any Time”, “Tell Me Why”, and “Oh! My Pa-Pa” and a top 30 tune which I’m hope wasn’t dedicated to Debbie Reynolds.

As we all know, Eddie left his wife Debbie Reynolds for her best friend Elizabeth Taylor. Strangely enough, art seems to imitate life in BUtterfield 8 because Eddie plays Steve, who is romantically promised to Gloria’s best friend Norma, but in love with Gloria. The film also features Dina Merrill who plays Mrs. Weston Liggett, still in love with her sinful unfaithful husband played by Laurence Harvey, who’s… in love… with Gloria… who’s not… in love with her friend… Steve… – who’s… yikes… That’s pretty much all there is to this dreck.

Viewers are forced, having purchased a ticket, to nearly 2 hours of sad, desperate people in love with other sad, desperate people. Just how much do we have to endure as we watch Gloria/Liz trying to become a better person and make something worthwhile of her life and Wes/Larry trying to become a better husband and make something worthwhile of his life – – but, at least we are treated to a tragic ending! Oy! At the very least, you should leave the theater feeling a little better about your own life. On that note, let’s have Eddie remind us…

I rate BUTTERFIELD 8 one sad, desperate bag of stale and unbuttered popcorn. With this much sinning, somebody has to pay. Just don’t let it be you.

This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures.

DID-YOU-KNOWS:

Before Elizabeth Taylor could start 1963’s Cleopatra for which she was being paid $1 million, she was legally bound to finish her MGM contract by doing BUtterfield 8, which she hated, for her standard $125,000 salary. Liz stated many times over the years that she disliked this movie and felt she won the Oscar for it in 1961 because of her recent illness, rather than for the quality of her performance.

Prior to the advent of digital technology, telephone exchanges were named instead of being numbered. Thus, BUtterfield 8 – generally written with the B and U in uppercase – stood for BU8 or 288 which was the name of the exchange that provided service to ritzy precincts of Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Not only is the name “Ben Hur” listed on a directory in an office building seen briefly in the movie BUtterfield 8, it’s also the movie clearly seen on the marquee at a downtown theater in the film. “Ben-Hur” was MGM’s big hit and BIG Oscar winner from the previous year.

The Jungle Book (November 29, 2020; unaired segment appearance)

Animated theatrical films are a rarity. And usually – – hopefully – – a treat. And for me, Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK is a treat. Now, it’s not as delicious as say DUMBO or CINDERELLA, but it is a treat. The film is inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s book of the same name, which is a collection of stories featuring the feral man-cub, Mowgli, and his animal friends who help him learn life’s lessons. The film is an animated musical and features a handful of nice songs, a couple of them very nice. More on that later.

The excellent voice cast of THE JUNGLE BOOK includes comedian Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot of the TV hit “Family Affair”, bandleader Louis Prima, Oscar-winner George Sanders, and Sterling Holloway, who has one of the most easily identifiable voices that I know of, and of course is the voice of everyone’s favorite bear, Winnie the Pooh. In THE JUNGLE BOOK, Mr. Holloway voices Kaa the hypnotizin’ python.

The movie itself is a series of adventures via vignettes involving Mowgli and his best animal friends Baloo the bear (voiced by Phil Harris) and Bagheera the panther (voiced by Mr. French…er, Sebastian Cabot). At the beginning of the movie, the orphan infant Mowgli is found by Bagheera the panther, who instead of enjoying a nourishing neonate nosh, decides to bring Mowgli to new mother wolf, Raksha. She raises Mowgli with her cubs, and after 10 years or so, Mowgli is jungle-wise, and it is determined that he must return to live with his own kind. And this is wherein most of the film takes place: Baloo and Bagheera helping Mowgli to reunite with humankind and avoid the treacherous Shere Khan, the man-eating Bengal tiger (wonderfully voiced by George Sanders). Along the way Baloo and Bagheera attempt to impart their knowledge of the world and the way things are.

The film is episodic and could almost work as a series of animated shorts. There’s not a lot to hold it together. That, I feel is its major shortcoming. And for as much is made of the threat of Shere Khan, the confrontation between him and Mowgli is quite anticlimactic. Perhaps the filmmakers were wary of making the film too heavy and dark for children, as the source material tends to be.

As for technical merits of the film: the animation of the characters, especially Mowgli, is quite wonderful. He is moves very naturally and age-appropriately. There are some background scenes, like a waterfall towards the beginning of the film, that are quite lovely. And scenes where the camera, so-to-speak, goes into deep focus shots are exceptionally cinematic.

All but one of the songs were written by the wonderful Sherman Brothers, who wrote the Oscar-winning song score for Disney’s MARY POPPINS. The best of these is “I Wanna Be Like You”, superbly performed by Louis Prima, who is the voice of the orangutan King Louie. In a reprise, he is joined by Phil Harris and their scatting is one of the musical highlights of the film.

The best song – for me – is the only one, ironically, not written by the Brothers Sherman. It is “The Bare Necessities”, written by Terry Gilkyson. Gilkyson might not be a well-known name. He wrote some pop hits in the early 50’s and sang with The Weavers, but I will remember him fondly for co-writing the Dean Martin hit “Memories are Made of This”.

But “The Bare Necessities” is oh, so toe-tappingly hummable! It’s a wonderful song and a wonderful sequence in the film.

I rate THE JUNGLE BOOK 3 bags of buttery popcorn. It might not rise to the level of SNOW WHITE or DUMBO, but it’s getting pretty close. This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!

DID-YOU-KNOWs

THE JUNGLE BOOK was the 19th animated feature in the Disney animated features canon. It was the last animated feature to be personally supervised by Walt Disney and was the first Disney film to be released after Walt’s death in 1966, just prior to the film’s theatrical release. The film was dedicated to his memory. Many people wondered what the studio’s fate, particularly the animation division, would be after Walt’s passing. THE JUNGLE BOOK performed extremely well at the box office, ensuring that the animators would not be put out of work. Had the film failed, it was thought at the time that animation would have been closed down at the Disney studio.

When Gregory Peck was the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he tried his hardest to get a full-length animated feature film – – most notably 1967’s The Jungle Book – – not only nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, but also to actually win the award. He resigned as president in 1970 when other members didn’t agree with him about animated films being nominated for the award. It would be over twenty years later before the Academy would reconsider, allowing another animated film – – and incidentally a Disney film, 1991’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) – – to be nominated.

Terry Gilkyson, composer of ‘The Bare Necessities’ had apparently written a full score initially, but Walt Disney found it too dark, so at the last minute, he threw it away and asked the Sherman brothers to replace it with a more ‘fun’ score. However, The Bare Necessities’ stayed on at the insistence of others involved in this film, and went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song. The song apparently provided some inspiration for Elton John for his composition “Hakuna Matata” from 1994’s The Lion King.

According to Elsie Kipling Baimbridge, Rudyard Kipling’s daughter, “Mowgli” is pronounced “MAU-glee” (first syllable rhymes with “cow”), not “MOH-glee” (first syllable rhymes with “go”). She reportedly never forgave Walt Disney for the gaffe. Let it go, Elsie, let it go…

Planet of the Apes (November 22, 2020; 19th segment appearance)

Well, it was bound to happen. I have at long last seen a Charlton Heston film that I enjoyed. Quite a bit, as it so happens. The film is a sci-fi gem, PLANET OF THE APES.

It was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, mostly known for his TV work on THE DEFENDERS and PLAYHOUSE 90 and the 1964 political drama THE BEST MAN with Henry Fonda. PLANET OF THE APES is based on a novel by Pierre Boulle, who also wrote the novel ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’. The screenplay was co-written by Rod Serling of TWILIGHT ZONE fame. Serling’s writing partner on the film was Michael Wilson, who last scripted the 1965 Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton stinker THE SANDPIPER. He is now forgiven.

The pre-credits opening of PLANET OF THE APES lets us know that Colonel George Taylor (Charlton Heston’s character) is the captain of a U.S. spaceship that left earth 6 months prior and, thanks to a wormhole, has traveled 700 years into the future. While the crew is in a hibernation-like sleep, the auto pilot steers the ship into an unknown planet’s gravitational pull, where the ship crashes – – luckily into water. The 3 surviving astronauts determine the air is breathable and they leave their sinking ship to explore their new home, which they believe to be in the Orion star system 320 light years (whatever that means) from earth. They need to find out if and how long they will survive. On their hike, they talk science and existentialism, and the leader, Taylor, lets on that before leaving the spaceship, he noticed that timeclock showed they woke up in the year 3978! Wow, these guys look good for being over 2000 years old!

Any who, the 3 spacemen soon discover there is intelligent life (so-called) on the planet and means for survival; their anxiety lessens. So, when after several days of hiking, they come upon a refreshing pool ‘neath a waterfall, they deciding to go skinny-dipping. I could have gone the rest of my days without seeing Mr. Heston’s bare backside, but there it was: Ben-Hur’s be-hind. Whilst they are bathing, they spot someone stealing their clothing and the naked chase is on. They soon find themselves in the midst of mute, rather primitive humans, after which my favorite line in the movie is delivered by Heston: “If this is the best they’ve got, in 6 months we’ll be running the place.” Not so fast, Mr. Heston, because then comes the big surprise, the sight for which the film is named. Apes – – gorillas to be exact – on horseback, talking in English!

And the apes are rounding up the humans. In the midst of the ensnarement, Col. Taylor/Heston is shot in the throat, making him mute. Well, for about 30 minutes or so… it was my favorite ½ hour of the film.

Now, I have been having some sarcastic fun with this review, mostly at Heston’s expense; but to be honest, the movie is very good. Inventive sets and costumes, and ASTOUNDING makeup for the apes, created by John Chambers. It must’ve taken hours for the multitude of actors to get into their get-ups. And even at that, cast members portraying the lead apes, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans – – which include Roddy McDowall and Oscar-winner Kim Hunter – – are still recognizable. An amazing feat! I also must mention the atonal music score by the Jerry Goldsmith, composer of the scores for LILIES OF THE FIELD, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, and last year’s IN LIKE FLINT to name way too few. His use of unusual instrumentation, including kitchen utensils, in addition to the atonality heightens the overall unsettling feeling of the film.

And lastly, I must mention that the ending shot of PLANET OF THE APES may blow your mind! I rate this excellent entry in the sci-fi genre 4 bags of buttery popcorn. No monkeying around here! This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!


DID-YOU-KNOWs

Makeup artiste John Chambers spent many hours watching the apes at the Los Angeles Zoo, studying their facial expressions. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave Chambers an Honorary Award for make-up (which was not a yearly Oscar category until 1981).

Veteran actor Roddy McDowall recommended to his companions in makeup that they should frequently add tics, blinks and assorted facial gestures to add a sense of realism and keep the makeup from appearing “mask-like”.

All the ape actors and extras were required to wear their masks, which took around 3 hours to apply, during all breaks, so all their meals were liquified. In those days, a lot of the actors were smokers too, so they were all issued cigarette holders. Now, there’s an image…

Allegedly, Jerry Goldsmith wore a gorilla mask while writing and conducting the score to “better get in touch with the movie.” His was the first completely atonal score in a Hollywood movie.

One of the first films to have a major large scale merchandising tie-in. Merchandise related to the film included toys and collectibles, action figures, picture and story books, trading card sets, books, records, comics, and a series of graphic novels from Marvel Comics.

Moonraker (November 15, 2020; 18th segment appearance)

This week I viewed perhaps what will prove to be the most insipid in the James Bond series of films, MOONRAKER. Boy, this is bad – – Bad Bond. This is the 11th film in the Albert Broccoli-produced series and the 4th outing for Roger Moore as the world’s most famous British spy. With each successive outing, contrary to the famous adage, Moore is less. Mr. Moore does not have Sean Connery’s swagger, suavity and sophistication. He seems to me like that sad unmarried uncle who everybody thinks drinks a little too much. But, to be fair, not even Sean Connery could save this featherbrained flick from its preposterous plot.

While I am not a huge James Bond film fan, I have enjoyed a good number of them. MOONRAKER cannot be included in this group. Let me elaborate… When we go to a – – Bond, James Bond – – film, we expect certain elements: an exciting stunt-filled opening, followed by a new – – usually catchy – – song over some inventive albeit often sexist opening credits, fun gadgets and gizmos, double entendre humor, pretty women with pretty awful names, and – – of course – – an evil genius mastermind. MOONRAKER fails on almost all these levels.

The opening sequence is a bit lame, made worse by a stunt double that is obviously NOT Roger Moore. The sequence involves skydiving and there are shots where Bond, thrown out of a plane sans chute, is trying to wrestle the bad guy for his parachute and the positions in which these two men find themselves entwined whilst plummeting towards earth are unintentionally comical. Ruined the whole thing for me. The awful opening credits sequence, by the usually inventive Maurice Binder, is embarrassingly amateurish and somewhat sloppy. And the title song underneath the credits, is pretty forgettable, even though it is performed by Shirley Bassey.

I found so-called humor unfunny and flatter than Roger Moore’s lifeless locks. There is a plethora of underdressed females – the producers overdid it here perhaps to make up for the rest of the film’s failings. Michael Lonsdale barely shows up for his portrayal of the non-evil evil mastermind Hugo Drax. The lovely Lois Chiles plays Bond’s lead lady, Dr. Holly Goodhead. And at 7’2” tal,l Richard Kiel portrays a rather unfortunate henchman, mouth full of metal-munching menace, unoriginally named “Jaws”.

Besides this cheap reference to the film JAWS, MOONRAKER rather shamefully hints at other recent flicks, including CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and THE MAGNICENT SEVEN.

Some awful costuming and overdesigned sets remind me of already outdated LOGAN’S RUN from only a couple of years ago and there is an absolutely absurd sequence featuring a motorized gondola racing through the canals of Venice, which at the flip of a switch transforms, a la CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, into a street-worthy hovercraft. Laughable lunacy!! Once again it feels like they’re trying to use anything to distract the audience from realizing what an awful movie this is.

Too much of the plot is ridiculous, from a hidden? underground lair in Brazil large enough to house 6 space shuttles, to the launching of the shuttles NOT being noticed by the U.S. military, to an outer space shootout between astronauts and evil underlings on jetpacks, complete with laser guns a la STAR WARS. And there was also Bond – – ‘Tarzan’ Bond – – wrestling a giant fake snake.

I give MOONRAKER 1 stale, saltless and unbuttered bag of popcorn. Fans will be shakin’ their heads, because this film’s not stirring!

DID-YOU-KNOWs The opening skydiving sequence, except for a few brief close-ups, was shot in free fall. After factoring in the time needed to get the stunt performers and skydiving cameraman into position after leaving the plane, only a few seconds of film could be shot per jump. Therefore, the entire sequence required eighty-eight jumps, and five weeks to film, just to produce the two minutes of footage in the final movie.

The cost for MOONRAKER movie was $30 million, nearly as much as the first 8 films combined. That’s nearly $108M today.

This was Bernard Lee’s final appearance as M, the head of the Secret Intelligence Service and Bond’s boss. The actor died when the next entry 1981’s For Your Eyes Only was in pre-production.

“Moonraker” has a few dictionary definitions and/or other references. It is a synonym for a moonsail, which is the highest sail of a ship. It is also a term from a folk story, where smugglers, trying to hide contraband, pretend to rake the water in a pond, so as to catch the reflection of the moon. It is sometimes used to refer to a man of extreme ambition, which could apply to either James Bond or Hugo Drax. It is also a British term for someone considered simple-minded, like the screenwriters and director of MOONRAKER.

To date, Shirley Bassey is the only singer to have performed more than one Bond title song over the opening credits.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (November 8, 2020; 17th segment appearance)

“It’s more than spectacular! To use the vernacular, it’s wizard! It’s smashing!! It’s keen!!!” That’s how I feel about the song score for the movie I just saw, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG!

This children’s musical is based on the book of the same name by Ian Fleming. That’s right, the author of all those James Bond novels. It was directed by Ken Hughes, whose previous movie was last year’s spoof of James Bond, CASINO ROYALE. And it was produced by Albert Broccoli, responsible for the 5 James Bond movies released since 1962.

While I do have issues with some elements of this film, I have to say they are all so unimportant in light of the amazing song score by Richard M. & Robert B. Sherman, the brothers that gave us the Academy Award-winning score to MARY POPPINS. And for my money, this is an even better score. All of it is oh, so hummable. For me, not one clunker. I don’t know how the Sherman Brothers do it, but they’ve given us one memorable toe-tapping melody after another.

The film stars Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts, the father of two precocious children, Jemima and Jeremy. The director and/or producer wisely decided that Mr. Van Dyke would NOT attempt a British accent in light of the drubbing he took for his cockney attempt in MARY POPPINS. Never mind that he is the father of two obviously British children and his father is British, and the story takes place in England…. Just ignore this and listen to the songs! The lovely Sally Ann Howes portrays – no eye-rolling please – Truly Scrumptious. “Truly Scrumptious” is also the name of one of the best songs. The delightful Lionel Jeffries portrays Grandpa Potts, who gets one of my favorite ditties in the flick, “Posh!”

This is livin’, this is style – this is elegance by the mileOh, the posh, posh traveling life – the traveling life for meFirst cabin and captain’s table: regal companyWhenever I’m bored I travel abroad, but ever so properlyPort out, starboard home – POSH with a capital P-O-S-H, Posh! As the creepy Child Catcher, there’s Robert Helpmann – – who you might remember from THE RED SHOES. Lastly, as the bumbling rulers of the country of Vulgaria, Baron and Baroness Bomburst, Gert Fröbe (Gairt Fru-bih) and Anna Quayle. Their number, “Chu-Chi Face” is a delight. Mr. Fru-bih, of course, is best known for his portrayal of the bond villain Goldfinger in the James Bond film of the same name.

Goldfinger…He’s the man, the man with the Midas touch The kid-centric plot allows for a lot of outlandish episodes and situations, but also some great production numbers. The excellent choreography is by Boston native Dee Dee Wood, who did excellent work on MARY POPPINS. Her routine for “Me Ol’ Bamboo” is athletic, inventive and exciting, and one of my favorite moments in the movie. The score features 2 lovely ballads, the best of which is “Hushabye Mountain”.

A gentle breeze from Hushabye MountainSoftly blows o’er Lullaby Bay(It fills the sails of boats that are waitingWaiting to sail your worries away)

Other stand-outs are “The Roses of Success”, “Toot Sweets” – – another wonderful production number – – and “Doll on a Music Box” which is expertly interposed with “Truly Scrumptious” and features some great visuals.

Of course, the star of the film is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the wonderful – – and magical – – car Mr. Potts refurbishes for his children. And it gets the best song:

“Chitty Bang Bang, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (3x)

Oh, you, pretty Chitty Bang Bang,

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang we love you

And in CCBB, CCBB what we’ll do

Near, far, in our motor car – Oh, what a happy time we’ll spend

Bang Bang CCBB – our fine four-fendered friend (2x)


This tune puts a great big smile on my face!

I rate CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG – almost totally because of its song score – 4 bags of buttery popcorn. It’s wizard! It’s smashing!! It’s keen!!!

DID-YOU-KNOWs:

Seven different Chitties were built, including the dilapidated version and the fabulously restored version. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – – CCBB hereafter – – is currently owned by Peter Jackson, director of the LORD OF THE RINGS and HOBBIT trilogies. Mr. Jackson paid just over $800K for CCBB. He was known to drive cast members of THE HOBBIT trilogy around the film facility in the car while playing the title song through a sound system!

The castle seen in the film as the castle of the Baron and Baroness Bomburst of Vulgaria is actually the famous Schloss Noy-schwaan-stine (Neuschwanstein Castle) – pardon my German – built by King Ludwig II, a/k/a the Mad King of Bavaria. P.S. The entire story concerning Vulgaria is not from the original novel, but a creation of the co-screenwriter, Roo-all (Roald) Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He also created the character Truly Scrumptious for the film.

Dick Van Dyke has said he only accepted the role on the condition that he would NOT have to attempt a British accent. Smart move, Richard!

This is the only film Heather Ripley, who played Jemima, ever made. Adrian Hall, who played Jeremy, did some other acting – mostly on the tellie – but nothing of any interest to pretty much anyone.

With a running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes this is one of the longest children’s film of all time. It wasn’t until the Harry Potter films came along that movies of this length would be made for child audiences.

Lionel Jeffries plays Dick Van Dyke’s father despite the fact that he was, in real life as they say, 6 months younger than Mr. Van Dyke.

The director of CCBB, Ken Hughes, hated children according to Dick Van Dyke. Dick had to often tell Hughes to not curse in front of the kiddies.

The screenplay, very much for the kiddies, was co-written by the author of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, Roo-all Dahl. That’s right, I’ve been recently schooled that Roo-all is the correct pronunciation of Mr. Dahl’s first name, which looks like Ronald sans the “N”, and I’ve been pronouncing it Ro-ald ald these years.

Not in the original novel, the character of Truly Scrumptious was the creation of co-screenwriter Roo-all Dahl. The name Truly Scrumptious may be a tribute to some of Ian Fleming’s female characters, like Honey Ryder, Kissy Suzuki and Ms. Galore. The role of Truly Scrumptious was offered to Julie Andrews. When she declined, the producers went with Ms. Howes as she had replaced Ms. Andrews in MY FAIR LADY on Broadway.

The Haunting (November 1, 2020; 16th segment appearance)

If, like me, you enjoy being a little scared at the movies, enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention every once in a while, but NOT scared enough that you have to look away from the screen almost the whole flick, you might truly enjoy THE HAUNTING.

This excellent haunted house ghost story is the work of director Robert Wise, who gave us the phenomenal WEST SIDE STORY a couple of years ago, and writer Nelson Gidding, who wrote the screenplay for 1958’s I WANT TO LIVE!, which featured Susan Hayward’s Oscar-winning performance and was also directed by Mr. Wise. THE HAUNTING is based on the frightening novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

The story of THE HAUNTING concerns a small group of people who have descended upon a 19th century mansion somewhere in New England that is supposedly very haunted. This group includes 2 women who have proven psychic abilities, played by British actress Claire Bloom and in the starring role, Julie Harris as Eleanor Lance.

There’s no one like you Elenore, really.

Elenore gee I think you’re swell . And you really do me well . You’re my pride and joy et cetera .

The other members of the group are portrayed by British actor Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn, who played Riff in WEST SIDE STORY. Johnson plays a professor of psychic phenomena and leader of this expedition of sorts who is hoping to prove the existence of ghosts. Tamblyn plays a distance relative of the original owner of the evil house, along to make sure the others are well-behaved as he is the heir to the edifice.

The story actually centers around the character of Eleanor, a sad and somewhat repressed woman who sleeps on the couch in her sister’s apartment and longs for something exciting to happen to her.

All the lonely people. Where do they all come from? All the lonely people . Where do they all belong?

Eleanor gets that for which she wishes – which is not always a good thing. There is an immediate disturbing connection between the house and Eleanor as soon as she arrives at the mansion. The intensity of house’s obsession with Eleanor and her reciprocal obsession with it, or more exactingly, her romanticizing of the whole experience keeps growing and it is more and more disturbing.

You got a thing about you . I just can’t live without you. I really want you Elenore near me.

I won’t give away too many more details, but, suffice it to say this is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, and the opening narration sets the mood: “Silence lays steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walks there… walks alone.” But my favorite sequence of dialogue includes some memorable lines delivered in a understated matter-of-fact almost monotone manner by the mansion’s housekeeper Mrs. Dudley: “I don’t stay after it begins to get dark. I leave before the dark. There won’t be anyone around if you need help. We couldn’t hear you. No one lives nearer than town. No one will come any nearer than town. In the night. In the dark”. Creeee-py!

THE HAUNTING was photographed in glorious black and white using curved lenses and angled perspectives which certainly suits the atmosphere and keeps the audience off-balance and maybe even a little unnerved. But for me, the most impactful contributions to the film’s eeriness come by way of the visual and sound effects technicians. Creepy moaning and childish giggling get under your skin, as the camera pans over wallpaper in which you discern an angry face. Booming echoic footsteps and creaking wood chills you as the camera pans over the door jambs and transom window as you wonder if something evil will get into the room. The scene in which something definitely tries to get into the room where our four brave investigators are gathered for group safety is especially memorable and will long be remembered! Loved it! I can’t think of a better way to spend your Halloween than taking in this movie!

I really think you’re groovy. Let’s go out to a movie. What do ya say now, Elenore can we?

I give THE HAUNTING 4 overflowing bags of extra-buttery popcorn, AND a SkyBar.

But I may be too scared to eat it all…

Did-You-Knows:

This is Martin Scorsese’s favorite horror film.

Russ Tamblyn was not very interested in appearing in THE HAUNTING until MGM threatened to resign his contract. Years later he confirmed that the film gave him his best role by far for years. Julie Harris agreed to do the film in part because she had a long-standing interest in parapsychology.

This story was remade in 1999 as THE HAUNTING and starred Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones (and was AWFUL! – substituting stupid and graphic violence for any real scares). It was made into a well-received 2018 TV series using the title of the original novel. Lastly, there was a 1973 film called THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE. While this film is based on a 1971 novel by Richard Matheson, it sure feels similar, including having 4 people – – 2 men/2 women – – staying in a haunted house, including a distant relative of the original owner; the only difference is that one of the characters with psychic abilities is male and played by the stalwart Roddy McDowall.

Robert Wise made THE HAUNTING film as a dedication to the memory of his mentor, Val Lewton. Val Lewton produced some well-known and well-regarded 1940’s thrillers and horror films, such as ISLE OF THE DEAD, and 2 early films directed by Wise, THE BODY SNATCHER, and CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE. Robert Wise called THE HAUNTING one of his favorites among the more than 30 films he made, commenting that it was his favorite filmmaking experience.

Amityville Horror (October 25, 2020; 15th segment appearance)

Just in time for Halloween comes THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. And a horror it is, but not in a good way. Purported to be based on a true story, the film starts out somewhat promisingly. A short prologue depicts why the lovely little house on the water in Amityville on New York’s Long-gg Island has some… let’s call them issues. We’ll leave those reasons for the viewer to discover. The action then moves to a year later, where newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz have decided because it such good deal, they will buy the self-same house, even though they know its troubled history, and they have 3 kids from Kathy’s first marriage. Well, they get what they deserve for being such cheapskates and putting their kids in peril. After this opening, the movie pretty much goes downhill.

The Lutz’s are a devout family; at least Mrs. Lutz is. She has a relative that is a nun and a close family friend that is a priest. And one of the first things they do in the house is prominently display a crucifix. The priest has been asked to come bless the house, but we are not made aware of this until he drives up and pretty much just walks in the house. He calls out feebly for George and Kathy, once, and when he hears no response, decides to head upstairs and after barely knocking, enters the room at the top of the stairs, where there happens to be a lot of bad juju. He starts to bless the house. The door to the room closes by itself. He is perplexed. The priest begins to show signs of feeling ill. Then a creepy disembodied voice shouts, “GET OUT” and he does. Well, he gets what he deserves for just walking into someone’s house announced and traipsing around. This scene actually made the hair on the back of my neck come to attention. Unfortunately, this was the first and last scary moment of the film, with nearly ¾ of the film yet to go. That is, unless you count James Brolin’s hair and beard which get increasingly frightening in direct proportion to the film getting less and less scary, and more and more silly.

Actually, Brolin’s hair might be the most interesting character in the film. He starts out handsome, very full head of hair, nicely feathered, and a very full beard and mustache combo, neatly coifed. But as events spiral out of control he gets more and more red-eyed, and his hairiness more wild and woolly. He is a hirsute harbinger of horrible happenings happening henceforth. Actually, Brolin looks as if he were about to audition for Grizzly Adams, as one of the bears. But I digress. More about the movie and less about hair… though that might be more interesting…

Besides Brolin the film also stars Margot Kidder, who at least gets to display a range of emotions in her portrayal of Kathy Lutz. Brolin just gets to look haggard and angry. And that hair! Digressing…

The here-to-forementioned priest is played by the never subtle Rod Steiger. Rod needs a strong script and direction to reign in his oft times out-of-control theatrical pyrotechnics; he received neither here. His acting in his final scene, when he inexplicably becomes blinded by a disintegrating angel statue whilst praying in his church, is embarrassingly bad. Well, you get what you deserve for casting Rod Steiger in… a movie.

And a couple of devices used in the film are irritating. After or before an eerie event at the house, we are shown the outside of the house all shot through a red filter. Are we supposed to be frightened by the crimson house and trees? And then there was the counting down of days the Lutz’s have been in the house: Tuesday: the 2nd Day; Saturday: the 14th Day… This went on for about 20 days… whatever… Query: do we really need to know the day of the week? Were we supposed to notice if more bad things happened on Mondays than on Fridays? All I can say, is that by the time the 12th day rolled around, I was convinced that was how long I’d been in the theater.

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR rates, barely, one bag of stale unbuttered popcorn. Well… I guess I get what I deserve for having bothered with this one.

Did-You-Knows:

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR was released by American International Studios, which gave us such enduring classics as THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, and VOYAGE TO THE PLANET OF PREHISTORIC WOMEN.

Due to all the unwanted fame the book and film had brought upon the real house in Amityville, the current owners have replaced the “evil eyes” windows with normal rectangle-shaped windows.

James Brolin said he didn’t get a job for two years after doing this movie because of the cruelty of his character: however, because the movie was made on a relatively modest budget, Brolin took less money up front, instead opting for 10% of the gross sales after its release. After the movie became an unexpected blockbuster, he eventually received about $17 million. That would be over 64 million dollars in 2020.

Even though James Brolin became friendly with George Lutz and his children, he was highly doubtful of their story. Co-star Margot Kidder also went on record saying she didn’t believe the Amityville story either.

Margot Kidder was cast on the strength of her performance in the previous year’s Superman, a film in which her co-star Brolin auditioned for the title role. Christopher Reeve who played Superman, was considered for Brolin’s role in this film. About 20 minutes into the film, while washing the dishes, Margot Kidder’s character is heard humming the love theme from Superman (1978). Not sure it’s worth watching again to catch that oddity…

Hello Dolly (October 18, 2020; 14th segment appearance)

I have mixed feelings about the movie I saw this week: HELLO, DOLLY! What I like about the movie is the source material and the quality of the production; what I didn’t like was the casting of its two leads, Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau.

First a little about the good: This big movie version of the Broadway sensation by composer and lyricist Jerry Herman was directed by Gene Kelly and is a 20th Century-Fox release. It was filmed on the 20th Century-Fox backlot and looks FANTASTIC. After the opening number, “Just Leave Everything to Me” – – which is different and better than the opening number of the stage version – – we are transported to a city square near the railroad station in Yonkers, New York circa 1890 and the Vandergelder’s seed store; all periodically resplendent. Later, there is a spectacular Fourteenth Street parade featuring thousands of extras, not to mention lots of horses, while Streisand belts out “Before the Parade Passes By”. The costumes and settings are glorious and the choreography by Michael Kidd is very lively, athletic, and enjoyable, and unfortunately sometimes overlong.

While the story is very dated for 1969 – a lot of male chauvinism – I do find it nostalgically fun. And I do love the score by Mr. Herman. For me, there are no clunkers in this film version. Besides those already mentioned, there is the lovely “It Only Takes a Moment” and the wonderfully staged “Elegance”. Another pretty song in the film that was not in the stage version is “Love is Only Love”, which is performed by Streisand in a scene just before she makes her way to the Harmonia Gardens – – the set of which is nothing short of gorgeous – – for the show-stopping title number, “Hello, Dolly!”. A special mention must be made of this number which features a short but exceptional duet between Streisand and Louis Armstrong, who makes a surprise cameo, reprising the song that was a huge hit for him several years ago.

Now as to the casting of the two leads. Though Ms. Streisand sings the hell…o, dolly out of the score, she is WAY too young.

Dolly should be close to middle-aged, if you heed the source material; Streisand is only 27. Due to her phenomenal popularity, the producers plopped her into this movie purely to bolster the box office receipts. But then they added in Walter Matthau, who can act, but can’t sing and can barely move let alone dance. Not that Streisand is Margot Fonteyn. There is a rumor that Matthau was cast because he resembled the actor that initiated the role on Broadway. Not a good enough reason. But the biggest problem is that there is absolutely no on-screen chemistry between these two leads, who have a 22 year age difference. This makes some of their scenes, especially those that intimate at romance, awkward. The lack of chemistry is undoubtedly due to the fact that there was animosity between them off-screen, as it is rumored that Matthau complained a lot about Streisand to anyone who would listen.

The supporting cast includes British movie star Michael Crawford, who gets above-the-title billing along with Streisand and Matthau, and newcomers Marianne McAndrew, E.J. Peaker, Danny Lockin, and the very tall and very thin dancer Tommy Tune in small but important roles. There are also a few faces from yesteryear you may recognize by face if not by name, Fritz Feld and J. Pat O’Malley.

So, because of the dichotomy between the visuals and the casting, I can only give HELLO, DOLLY! 2 bags of unbuttered popcorn. Not that tasty!

Did-You-Knows:

HELLO, DOLLY! was the first film released on home video (VHS and/or Beta), in the fall of 1977.

It took a month to film the title number Calendar Girl

All of the following were considered to play Dolly: Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, Carol Burnett, Shirley MacLaine, and Julie Andrews, who was apparently offered the role and turned it down; Carol Channing, who won a Tony for the stage version, was NOT offered a chance to star in the film version.

The “Before the Parade Passes By” sequence required several HUNDRED makeup artists and wardrobe people, almost 150 horses and 5,000 extras and crew.

Walter Matthau disliked Streisand so intensely that he refused to be around her unless the script required it. He is reported as having said about her: “I have more talent in my smallest fart than she does in her entire body.”

But here’s the kicker: On a break from filming, Matthau and co-star Michael Crawford visited a nearby racetrack and saw a horse named Hello Dolly. Crawford placed a bet on the horse, which won the race. Infuriated, Matthau refused to speak to Crawford for the rest of the shoot unless absolutely necessary. When Matthau reportedly complained to Richard Zanuck, the head of 20th Century-Fox, about working with Barbra, Zanuck listened politely until Matthau had finished whining and replied: “I’d like to help you out, but the film is not called Hello, Walter.”

Parts of the Grand Central Station and Harmonia Gardens sets were reused for the mutants’ city sets in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. The ornate glass windows in the background at Harmonia Gardens were refurbushed and used as the dining room skylights in The Poseidon Adventure! Remember when the guy falls and crashes on top of one of the skylights and then everything goes dark… The fountain in the Harmonia Gardens was reused as the fountain in the top-floor restaurant in The Towering Inferno.

The Ten Commandments (October 11, 2020; 13th segment appearance)

Ceecil – sorry, CE-cil, B. DeMille – the epic epic-maker, has given us another of his over-the-top – – but not in a good way – – entertainments. The film is THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. This biblical epic is plagued – see what I did there? – with bad performances and an embarrassing script.

After the “Overture” – – you know you’re in for an ordeal when they have an overture – – Mr. DeMille emerges from behind a huge curtain to introduce the film. You really know you’re in trouble when they feel they need to explain things to you. Mr. DeMille proceeds to explain how the scriptwriters came up with all the stuff they came up with to explain the 30-odd years of Moses’ life that the Holy Bible omits. At the end of this sermon… er, speech, Mr. DeMille tells us the running time of the film – – well over 3½ hours – – oy, vey! – – but comforts us with the assurance that there is an Intermission… a/k/a an early exit.

So… what, if anything, is good about the film? The visuals. They usually are in a DeMille film. Some of the Special Effects are actually special. The parting of the Red Sea is pretty impressive.


And some of the production design effects are also very good. The costumes and settings are very ornate and colorful. One element I truly enjoyed was the depiction of how the Pharaoh’s city was built.

One of my scenes is at the beginning of the movie when the infant Moses is placed in a wicker basket and sent down… or was it up?… the Nile, and his sister, Miriam, follows the basket, wading in the Nile, all the way to Pharaoh’s palace. The baby Moses, and Miriam, make it… guess those famous Nile crocodiles had the day off….

This “outdoor” scene was necessarily, and unfortunately obviously, filmed indoors at the Paramount studio in a large swimming pool, with the requisite Nile reeds added for authenticity. Think Esther Williams… in a swamp.


So, what was so bad about the film? The acting and the writing. DeMille is certainly not known for drawing out great acting from his epic casts, but some of these performances are epically bad. Anne Baxter plays Nefretiri, the beloved of both Rameses and Moses. Someone should have told Ms. Baxter she isn’t in a silent movie and she should tone down the dramatics and mugging a wee bit. Charlton Heston as Moses gives a wooden performance, until he becomes religious and then goes to the other extreme. Someone should tell Mr. Heston that there is more to acting than just jutting out his chin. Cedric Hardwicke as Moses’ adoptive father looks bored, almost as much as I was. Judith Anderson and Vincent Price are wasted. And then there’s Edward G. Robinson. I kept seeing him as the gangster Rico he portrayed in “Little Caesar”, replete in an Egyptian headdress… but no cigar. I guess Yul Brynner as Rameses fares the best. I enjoyed his numerous proclamations of “So it is written – so shall it be done”, arms placed akimbo on his impressive legs.

Now… a cast has to have something of quality with which to work if they’re going to have a chance. This script definitely failed them. But I will give the writers this much… they demonstrated why the Bible omitted 30 years of Moses life: It isn’t that interesting and it lends nothing to the overall story Moses’ importance to those of faith. Mr. DeMille: you have broken the 7th Commandment – Thou shalt not steal. You have stolen nearly 3 and one quarter hours of my life and 75 cents of my hard-earned cash. Never again. So I have written – so shall it be done.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS barely rates 1 bag of stale and unbuttered popcorn. I’d rather have boils.


Did-You-Knows:

No one is officially credited with being the voice of God in the scenes that depict the burning bush and the etching of the commandments. Whoever it was, the voice was altered with sound effects. Rumors and claims abound. Possibilities include DeMille and Heston, among others. In his 1995 autobiography, Heston maintained he was the voice of God; not in the movie, just in real life.

The effect of the hailstones was accomplished by using spray-painted popcorn, and not as it has been reported, by theatergoers who ran out of tomatoes. I refrained from adding to the effect with my stale popcorn.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, Cecil B. DeMille’s biggest commercial success, was also his final film; he died 3 years later.

According to Edward G. Robinson, his career was saved by his being cast in this movie, as offers for work had dried up due to his left-wing politics. The hiring of Edward G. Robinson, by DeMille, therefore, undermined the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950’s. Bravo for that, Mr. DeMille!

Psycho (October 4, 2020; 12th segment appearance)

For me, seeing an Alfred Hitchcock movie is an event. Everything… from the opening credits and the director’s now-signature cameo appearance… to the last line or shot is so expertly and exactingly planned. Hitchcock’s newest film is PSYCHO, and I dare say it may be his best, with very sincere apologies to REAR WINDOW and NORTH BY NORTHWEST and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and VERTIGO and… I could go on… Obviously, I am a BIG Hitchcock fan.

After stumbling a bit with 1956’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and 1957’s THE WRONG MAN, Hitchcock returned in fine form with VERTIGO in 1958 and NORTH BY NORTHWEST in 1959. And now there’s PSYCHO.

As usual with suspense thrillers and mysteries, I can’t reveal too much of the plot. Suffice it to say you have NEVER seen a movie like this… from anyone. The movie opens with an exciting musical theme by the genius Bernard Herrmann over an avant garde geometric titles display by the talented Saul Bass – – reminiscent of those he designed for the opening credits of NORTH BY NORTHWEST – – all of this expertly sets the mood for what is to come.

The performances of the 2 leads, Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh, are terrific. Perkins has the nervous nerdy nebbish down pat. And you just know there’s something creepy concealed behind that quirky countenance. Janet Leigh is also excellent as the slightly-less-than pure protagonist. The film also features John Gavin, Vera Miles, Martin Balsam and, in a scene right at the end of the movie, Simon Oakland as a psychiatrist whose monologue almost brings the momentum of the film to a halt – – Almost, but not quite – – phew… And I must mention in a small role, a character actress with one of my favorite names: Lurene Tuttle.

The film is atmospherically photographed by John L. Russell in glorious black-and-white and SUPERBLY edited by George Tomasini. The most horrifying scene in the film, which comes about midway, is so effective because of these two men’s expert contributions and Bernard Herrmann’s shocking and screeching musical score. I was shocked and I LOVED IT! It will be, I promise you, a scene to be remembered for a long time to come, and it may just be something to haunt your sleep.

To say anything more would be to say too much and take away all the fun you’re going to have crouching in your seat.

PSYCHO rates 4 huge bags of overflowing buttery popcorn, and a luscious Malomar bar.

Did-You-Knows:

Movie theaters – pre-PSYCHO – would just play shows on rotation all day long. People would frequently come in the middle of a movie and stay till the middle of the next showing; leaving when they came in. But Hitchcock made all the movie theater owners sign a contract that they would not let anyone in until the start of the film. Once they were late; they would not be let in until the next showing. This started formalizing the whole process of mandatory seating times at theaters which continues until today.

The famous, or is it infamous, shower scene is reported to have taken seven days to shoot, using seventy different camera angles, but only lasts forty-five seconds in the movie.

PSYCHO was released 60 years ago in September and is the oldest movie in release to carry an R rating; it was given that rating in 1984. FYI: Ratings were not given prior to 1968, so older films are somewhat regularly rated.

Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh said that they did not mind being stereotyped forever because of their participation in this movie. They said in interviews they would rather be stereotyped and be remembered forever for this classic movie than not be remembered at all. And they were right, especially Perkins!

Saul Bass also designed the end credits for WEST SIDE STORY which is one of the best end credits sequence ever, in my humble opinion.

One of the biggest issues for the censors was the fact that the film shows a toilet bowl and we hear a toilet flush in the movie. Talk about a repressed society!

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (September 27, 2020; 11th segment appearance)

Did-You-Knows:

This film, expected to probably bomb, was a smash hit upon initial release, recouping its original budget in only 11 days, and eventually grossing $9 million. In adjusted 2020 dollars, this would be equivalent to well over $75 million.

Joan Crawford once said in an interview that she and her arch-rival Bette Davis had nothing in common. Reality check: they both had fathers who abandoned their families at a young age; they both rose from poverty to success while breaking into films during the late 1920s and early 1930s; both had siblings and mothers who milked them financially once they became famous; both became Oscar-winning leading ladies, were staunch liberal Democrats and feminists; both had four husbands, both had adopted children, and both of them had daughters who wrote books denouncing them as bad mothers.

Bette Davis had a Coca-Cola machine installed on set. This was to deliberately provoke Joan Crawford, who was married to the chairman of Pepsi.

Bette Davis was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in this movie; Crawford was not. According to some Hollywood insiders, the jealous Joan actively campaigned against Davis winning the Oscar, even calling other nominees to let them know if they were not able to be in Hollywood to accept the Award, she would be happy to do it in their stead. On Oscar night, Davis was standing in the wings of the theater waiting to hear the name of the winner. When it was announced that Anne Bancroft had won for The Miracle Worker, Joan marched past her and accepted the Oscar on Anne Bancroft’s behalf.

Towering Inferno (September 20, 2020; 10th segment appearance)

This week I have the distinct displeasure of reviewing yet another disaster movie – or to be more to the point – another soap opera taking placing during a catastrophic event. In 1970 it was AIRPORT – a soap opera on a doomed plane. In 1972 it was THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE – a soap opera on a doomed ocean liner. To end this year, we’ve had disaster duds. In October it was AIRPORT 1975. Then in time for Thanksgiving we were given EARTHQUAKE; thankful we were not! Now, just in time for Christmas, we have been gifted a soap opera in a doomed skyscraper: THE TOWERING INFERNO. I’d rather get socks! Or even coal!

ALL of these movies have the same m.o.: all-star casts, needless soapy side stories and intrigues, and worst of all… insipid dialogue. This particular all-star cast includes Paul Newman as the building’s architect; Steve McQueen as the head firefighter; William Holden as the building’s owner; and, Faye Dunaway as Newman’s girlfriend. In smaller roles there’s Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn, Richard Chamberlain, and Susan Blakely. Even O.J. Simpson shows up as a security guard whose biggest moment comes when he rescues a cat, tucking it under his arm and heading for the end zone.

Two screen legends – Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones – are totally wasted with a confusing storyline. It involves some sort of unrequited romance going on. Maybe I missed something…??? Who cares. Digressing a bit: why is it that filmmakers are still pairing Mr. Astaire with ladies 20 years or more his junior. You would think they could have found a screen legend closer to his age (75) to play his love interest. But we get to see him dance…. There’s a surprise!

During the opening credits, the producer of THE TOWERING INFERNO, Irwin Allen, dedicates the film to firefighters. Firefighters are true heroes. And as commendable as the dedication is… it would’ve been even more commendable had he given them a better movie. Unfortunately, the best he can do is give the viewer a lot of unnecessary filler via firemen sliding down poles, loading fire engines, unfurling hose, and racing through the streets of San Francisco. There is also a half-hearted attempt to make this a “message movie”, which comes pretty much at the end of the movie when McQueen’s character tsk-tsk’s Newman’s architect for not consulting with the experts regarding the fire safety of their skyscrapers.

The main gist of the plot, if you will, is that on the day of its inauguration, a small fire begins in an electrical closet of sorts on or near the 80th floor of the world’s newest and tallest skyscraper. AN electrical closet that is also storing cans of paint. A real no-no. Because of faulty alarm systems and malfunctioning fire prevention devices, it isn’t discovered until it is out of control and after the mayor and a U.S. senator arrive with 300 or so other guests for the gala inaugural party which takes place on the 135th floor. And is it just me or did we go hours from afternoon to evening with no one discovering this fire? It is beyond reasonable logic and belief.

The rest of the nearly 3-hour movie is spent trying to stop the fire and rescue people from the party. And it seems highly implausible to me that the fire-chief (McQueen) allows the party to go on when there is an out-of-control fire in the same building, necessitating the need for somewhat ludicrous rescue attempts. If only I had been rescued from this cinematic senselessness! The solution they come up with for stopping the fire seems at best unconvincing and at worst just plain stupid. And the playing out of this event goes on endlessly. While some of the rescue attempts are hair-raisingly scary, most are, at the same time, brain-numbingly unbelievable.

The screenplay is adapted from two novels: “The Glass Inferno” and “The Tower”. I know nothing about these tomes, but I kept thinking: they had the use of 2 books and they still came up with this? Apparently, the insipidness of the screenplay inspired the writers of the film’s theme song, “We May Never Love Like This Again”, to try to top them. “We may never love like this again – don’t stop the flow – we can’t let go – while we’re here, let’s leave a mark – there’s a candle in the dark…”. Actually, a big freaking building is lighting up the dark!

THE TOWERING INFERNO rates 1 bag of stale, unbuttered and saltless popcorn. Awful! This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Award aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures.

Did-You-Knows:

Final film of Jennifer Jones.

After seeing this film, novelist Roderick Thorp had a dream that same night about a man being chased through a skyscraper by gun-wielding assailants. This was the inspiration for his 1979 book “Nothing Lasts Forever” which eventually was made into the film “Die Hard.”

There was much consternation in the Steve McQueen camp when it was discovered that Paul Newman had 12 more lines of dialogue than he did.

Desperate to capture a truly surprised reaction from the cast, Irwin Allen actually fired a handgun into the ceiling without warning the actors, who were understandably “surprised”. The trick worked and he got his shot.

This film marked the first joint production by 2 major studios: “Warner Bros.” and “20th Century-Fox.”

Paul Newman later regretted his decision to co-star with Steve McQueen because of the rivalry between the two, created by Steve. As a result, the fireman role dominates Newman’s architect. Three contributing factors are 1) Both characters have the same number of lines (at McQueen’s insistence); 2) McQueen’s character doesn’t appear until 43 minutes into the film. As a result, Newman had used almost half his lines before McQueen enters. And 3) the fire chief is the authoritative hero who outranks and captures center stage over all other characters. During filming, Newman was quoted as saying, “For the 1st time, I fell for the goddamn numbers. I did this turkey for a million and 10% of the gross, but it’s the 1st and last time, I swear.” He later collaborated with Irwin Allen on “When Time Ran Out… (1980).”

Based on two novels: “The Tower” by Richard Martin Stern, and “The Glass Inferno” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. After the success of The Poseidon Adventure (1972), disaster was hot property and “Warner Brothers” bought the rights to film “The Tower” for $390,000. Eight weeks later Irwin Allen (of “20th Century Fox”) discovered “The Glass Inferno” and bought the rights for $400,000. To avoid two similar films competing at the box office the two studios joined forces and pooled their resources, each paying half the production costs. In return, “20th Century Fox” got the US box office receipts and Warners the receipts from the rest of the world.

William Holden referred to the film as “lousy”.

This film and “Earthquake” – another all-star disaster film – were both released almost a month apart in 1974. Some theaters showed both movies on a double bill promoted as “The Shake and Bake Double Feature”.

What's Up, Doc? (September 13, 2020; 9th segment appearance)

If you’re a fan of 1930’s screwball comedies, rush out to see WHAT’S UP, DOC?,. This tribute to the genre of yesteryear is absolutely terrific. SO GOOD, I saw it twice! The film’s director, Peter Bogdanovich, gave us last year’s excellent THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, a heavy and somber drama. He does a 180 here.

The film stars Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. This is Ms. Streisand’s best role since her debut in FUNNY GIRL and she gets to show us her significant comedic talents. Mr. O’Neal channels Cary Grant, albeit much more deadpan. Actually, much of the film owes its genesis to a specific classic Cary Grant screwball comedy, BRINGING UP BABY, which co-starred Katharine Hepburn. Try to catch it and you’ll see some similarities…

While the leads are very appealing, I must say that the standouts in this film are the supporting cast and characters. They nearly steal the film from Barbra and Ryan. And the biggest scene-stealer is newcomer Madeline Kahn – remember that name! Ms. Kahn’s comic timing, physical demeanor, and delivery of lines is flawless. I couldn’t get enough of her.

Ms. Kahn plays Eunice Burns, the pragmatic, prim and proper fiancée of Ryan O’Neal’s musical professor Howard Bannister. Eunice and Howard are in San Francisco for a musicology convention and the awarding of a grant by millionaire Frederick Larabee, played to perfection by Austin Pendleton. In a hilarious performance, Kenneth Mars plays Howard Bannister’s obnoxious competition for the grant, and Mr. Mars employs an accent that is both vague and somewhat familiar as he butchers the English language while he pompously speechifies. There are several other fun supporting performances – too many to mention them all, but I must single out Liam Dunn’s Small Claims Court judge near the end of the film.

The main thrust of the film is the confusion caused by 4 identical plaid suitcases coming together at one hotel. One bag contains priceless jewels, which the desk manager and hotel detective plan on stealing. A second bag contains top secret government papers over which 2 different spies vie. The third and fourth suitcases contain, respectively, Howard Bannister’s musical igneous rocks and Streisand’s character Judy Maxwell’s clothes. The fun begins when they get mixed up. The other plot device is Judy Maxwell’s attempts to steal the handsome Howard Bannister, whom she prefers to call “Steve”, from the hapless Eunice Burns.

The very funny and creative screenplay is by Buck Henry, David Newman and Robert Benton, who worked from a story by Bogdanovich. The dialogue is often hilarious. A lot of quick-fire rapid exchanges. I have to share at least one… perhaps my favorite…

The desk manager Fritz is instructing the hotel detective Harry regarding stealing the rich lady’s precious jewels:

You will enter Mrs. Van Hoskins’ room, through the adjoining room and you will take the jewel case to the basement.

What if she wakes up and sees me?

You will tell her you are smitten with her, that you have followed her all night, and you will make passionate love to her.

Couldn’t I just kill her?

There’s plenty of slapstick and visual gags as well. Over the opening credits La Streisand sings Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top”. Towards the end of the movie she sings a bit of another standard in a scene that is a bit contrived and maybe out of place, but nevertheless enjoyable. There’s also some dialogue at the very end of the movie that pokes fun of Mr. O’Neal’s breakout film, LOVE STORY.

WHAT’S UP DOC? is a wonderful new-fangled screwball comedy. Thank you, Mr. Bogdanovich.

WHAT’S UP, DOC? rates 4 overflowing bags of extra buttery popcorn. Yum-Meee!

This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!

Did-You-Knows:

This 1972 movie was Madeline Kahn’s film debut. She would go on to receive nominations for Supporting Actress for 1973’s Paper Moon (also directed by Bogdanovich) and 1974’s Blazing Saddles, by Mel Brooks of course. Ms. Kahn left us WAY too soon.

Ryan O’Neal (who was romantically involved with Streisand prior to this film’s release) is the only actor to be her leading man in more than one film. He also co-starred with her in THE MAIN EVENT. Omar Sharif, Barbra’s leading man in FUNNY GIRL was also in FUNNY LADY, but only in a cameo; Barbra’s leading man in FUNNY LADY was James Caan.

WHAT’S UP DOC? is the first American film to list stunt people in the credits!

Cary Grant, the inspiration for Ryan O’Neal’s character, has often been impersonated by using the line, “Judy, Judy, Judy” which Cary Grant never said in any film. However, at the end of WHAT’S UP DOC?, Ryan O’Neal’s character is searching the airport for Barbra’s character, and says: “Judy? Judy? Judy.” Niiice….

The Sound of Music

(September 6, 2020; 8th segment appearance)

I know I am courting the wrath of some of my friends and family when I say I did not love THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which opened a couple of weeks ago at the Temple Theater. I also did not hate it. It was just kinda… eh. If for no other reason I should help along this big movie musical – my favorite genre, which is getting rarer and rarer. Alas, I cannot. So… at the risk of engendering the wrath of family, friends, and fans… here I go…

THE SOUND OF MUSIC is the musicalized story of the singing Von Trapp family who left Nazi-occupied Austria for Italy… and eventually Stowe, Vermont. It tells of how a novitiate of the Nonnberg Abbey named Maria came to be governess of the Von Trapp tikes and changed their lives forever. Events and names have been altered per artistic and dramatic license and to protect the guilty.

The song score is not all that bad. It is not my favorite of Rogers & Hammerstein who are far from my favorite musical theatre writers. Insert hissssss here. For me, Richard and Oscar are somewhat overrated. That being said, “Edelweiss” is a lovely folk-song-like tune. “Do-Re-Mi” is begrudgingly infectious. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is quite stirring. Lyrically quite cliched, but musically quite stirring.

Unfortunately, “My Favorite Things” – perhaps my favorite song from the show – is far from my favorite number in the film. The seven Von Trapp tots invade Maria’s privacy en masse during a frightening thunderstorm. The number is claustrophobic and goes on too long. Even Maria felt that way: at one point, she turns to face the children thinking she’s calmed their frayed nerves with her clever little ditty. But they want to know more of her favorite things and her expression is one of bemused exasperation, as she launches into a repeat of what she’s already listed. After the number, Maria suddenly discovers her bedroom curtains, and then and there decides they will make wonderful outfits for the children to romp around the Alps whilst do-re-mi-ing ad nauseum. Not since Scarlett O’Hara has someone so fabulously fabricated frocks from dowdy drapes.

As for the cast: Julie Andrews gives a very engaging performance, but the rest of the cast don’t seem as engaged. Maybe it’s his characterization, but Christopher Plummer doesn’t seem to want any part of this flick. The children are appropriately cute… precocious… annoying. The Nazi’s are nasty and the nuns are nice. I will admit the production values – cinematography, art direction – are above par. The film just didn’t grab me like I want a musical to do.

I think the light-heartedness of the musical goings-on clashes with the seriousness of the political goings-on, and it is too incongruous for me. And what is a musical without dancing? Or at least some inventive staging. Which brings me to “So Long, Farewell”, the number that ends the first half of this LO-OO-ONG almost 3-hour movie. Never have so many taken so long to say “good night”. And the last “good night”, sung by the guests at the ball as they wave to the bed-bound kids…??? I literally felt my eyeballs rolling back, perhaps never to return.

So, I MUST give this less than engaging cinematic experience only 2 bags of popcorn – unbuttered. Definitely missing something for me. Sorry friends…

Doctor Strangelove AKA How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (August 30, 2020; 7th segment appearance)

At the Bijou East this week I saw Stanley Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE: OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB. While I am doubtful that I will ever love the bomb, I did LO-OO-OVE this movie. It is, in my opinion, a work of near genius.

First and fore-most must be mentioned the performance – or more appropriately the performances – of Peter Sellers. In the film he portrays 3 characters: the bald and bespectacled U.S. President, Merkin Muffley…, a very proper and mustachioed British army captain named Lionel Mandrake…, and the eccentrically mad German scientist Dr. Strangelove. Sellers’ performance is a tour de force and it ought not be forgotten at Oscar time!

The story begins at Burpelson Air Force Base, where U.S. General Jack Ripper (marvelously played by Sterling Hayden) asserts that the Soviet Union is poisoning Americans’ bodily fluids via fluoride in the drinking water. According to Ripper: “Fluoridation is the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.” So, he takes it upon himself to start a nuclear war by deploying B-52 bombers to attack the Soviets. That he is able to do so without the knowledge or authority of his superiors is what makes this film – a dark comedy – a little bit of a dark horror story as well.

Soon U.S. President Merkin Muffley is in the War Room at the Pentagon. He is now aware of the unauthorized attack and is attempting, with the help of his advisors, to stop the bombers from reaching their targets. One of his advisors in the War Room is hawkish Joint Chief of Staff, General Buck Turjidson (hilariously played by George C. Scott). Turjidson wants to see how the attacks play out. Another advisor is the former Nazi scientist Dr. Strangelove…, who knows that the Soviets have a Doomsday Device which will be automatically triggered should an attack on the USSR take place. At one point during the goings-on, Turjidson and the Soviet ambassador have a physical confrontation, at which point the President utters one of the best lines in the movie: “Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”

A third part of the story takes place upon one of the B-52’s, commanded by Major T.J. “King” Kong (played by Slim Pickens). Kong continually refers to the enemy as “those Rooskies.”

The President’s phone call to the Soviet leader, Premier Kisov, to inform him of the attack, is a highlight of the film. It is one-sided – we only hear the President’s part of the conversation – and it is genius delivery by Sellers. He explains to Premier Kisov “well, you see… one of our American generals… well, he went a little… funny in the head…, and… he did a… silly thing…”. Back at Burpelson Air Force Base – yes, I like saying “Burpelson” – Captain Mandrake, who has now obtained the codes that will recall the bombers and stop the attack, struggles to obtain a couple of dimes to phone the White House.

Finally, I must say that the funniest moments come during Dr. Strangelove’s speeches. With his wild blond hair and tinted glasses, Sellers is priceless as the ex-Nazi scientist. Sellers’ somewhat high-pitched German accent through clenched teeth is uproarious, and I laughed the loudest at the physical comedy. You see, Dr. Strangelove is increasingly losing control of his right arm and hand, which seem to have minds of their own as they try, respectively, to “Seig Heil” Die Führer and strangle their owner.

DR. STRANGELOVE rates 4 big bags of overflowing buttered popcorn, and a Skybar. It’s Wünderbar!

King Kong (August 23, 2020; 6th segment appearance)

This week at the Strand Theater I sat through almost 2½ hours of the biggest cinematic dud in recent memory, KING KONG. I adore the 1933 original and I thought – hoped – with advances in technologies here in 1976 that the effects would be superb, and the script and acting would be more sophisticated! Boy, was I wrong! WHY remake a classic unless you can build on its legend or say something new? KING KONG should be pure escapism but this version decides to impart a message or two. One is about the greed of big business, as the impetus in this script for going to Kong’s island is the belief that there is a huge oil reserve to be drained there. The film also touches on ecology and feminism, on both fronts barely and poorly.

The cast includes Jeff Bridges as the ecologically-minded hero, Charles Grodin as the oil company executive/bad guy who decides to capture Kong, and in a less-than-impressive debut – much less – Jessica Lange as the girl sacrificed to Kong. Bridges is too good for this malarkey and Grodin overacts to distraction. As for the lovely Ms. Lange, well… – catch her here as she may not get another acting job after this.

To be fair, the cast doesn’t have much to work with as the script is easily the worst I’ve had to listen to this year. It is by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., and it is a BIG disappointment from the guy who wrote last year’s excellent THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR. The dialogue borders on atrocious. I had to jot down some lines while viewing this mess just to be sure that I heard correctly. Here are a couple of examples.

“There is a girl out there who might be running for her life from some gigantic turned-on ape!”

“Any sign of a monkey bigger than 4 feet, send him bang-bang”

Really?

But the worst was saved for poor Ms. Lange who plays a shipwrecked wannabe actress rescued by the oil company’s tanker on its way to Kong’s island. Her character’s name is Dwan – that’s D-W-A-N – as she explains: it is like Dawn but I switched 2 letters so it would be more memorable! Oh, dwear me!

Our Dwamsel in Dwistress also gets to call King Kong “a male chauvinist pig ape” and wonders if Kong is an Aries…. She’s a libra.

And lastly, let me mention the film’s un-special effects. Kong is mostly portrayed by a man in a monkey suit – no lie. And it looks like it. The miniatures for the scenes when we see the man-Kong stomping around look like miniatures. In many other scenes we see one of Kong’s hands pick up and hold Ms. Lange. The giant robot hand looks pretty good, actually. But when they superimpose the hand with Dwan dwangling therein against Kong’s face the juxtaposition is jarring – obviously fake. As are scenes of man-Kong in front of almost anything, including the sky. And for some mind-blowing and undoubtedly budget-blowing reason they use a giant ape puppet thing-y that just stands there in the scenes where Kong is presented to the public.

If it weren’t for the music score and some good cinematography, I would go hungry… but, I begrudgingly score this gargantuan gorilla goof one stale, unsalted and butter-bereft bag of popcorn. It’s DWEADFUL!

Ghost and Mr. Chicken (August 16, 2020; 5th segment appearance)

Last week at the Strand Theater a new Don Knotts movie opened: THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN – it is silly and simple and sweet – and I loved it.

Don Knotts plays Luther Heggs who lives in Rachel, Kansas and is a typesetter for the local newspaper. Luther longs to be a reporter. The paper’s editor (played by Dick Sargent) decides to drum up newspaper sales by having someone spend a night in the Old Simmons House on the 20th anniversary of an infamous murder-suicide that took place there. The Old Simmons House – or, as it is referred to frequently… THE MURDER HOUSE… is a mansion purported to be haunted. The playing of a pipe organ is allegedly heard by some people, at the “stroke of midnight”.

The assignment to spend a night in… THE MURDER HOUSE… is given to Luther – it might be his big break. During his night at… THE MURDER HOUSE…, there are some moments that genuinely make you jump… then laugh with your fellow theater-goers… all part of the fun.

Luther’s newspaper article about his experience in… THE MURDER HOUSE… is a sensation, and Luther becomes an overnight celebrity and the darling of the local chapter of psychic phenomena aficionados, led by imposing character actress Reta Shaw. Luther is asked to give a speech at the Chamber of Commerce picnic luncheon, where a banner on the bandstand proudly announces that the town of Rachel, Kansas is “The Home Plate of Wheat and Democracy”. Look and listen for little touches like this throughout the movie. For example, Luther drives an Edsel, the famous Ford flop. Of course he does!

Luther’s speech at the picnic luncheon is probably my favorite scene in the film. The awkwardness of Luther’s oration and the physical discomfort portrayed is classic Don Knotts, and it’s pretty hilarious. This scene is also where we first hear a disembodied voice shout out “Atta boy, Luther!”. This device is used several times throughout the rest of the movie but we never see the speaker.

The small-town newspaper and Luther are sued by an ancestor of the Simmons family – who wants to tear down… THE MURDER HOUSE… but can’t, due to the publicity and sensationalism Luther has caused. There is a trial and eventually everything is, of course, happily resolved.

Mr. Knotts is a genius of physical comedy. The body language and facial expressions are pricesless. This film also has a wonderful supporting cast. Besides those already mentioned are a bunch of familiar faces from film and television. To name a few: Lurene Tuttle as Luther’s landlady, Charles Lane as the crusty prosecutor, and Ellen Corby as Luther’s grade school teacher. I should also mention Joan Staley who plays Luther’s love interest Alma. Their scenes have a genuine sweetness that adds greatly to the charm of this movie. Kudos to director Alan Rafkin for that.

I also must mention the film’s music score by Vic Mizzy, who is responsible for the themes of the TV shows GREEN ACRES and THE ADDAMS FAMILY. The score is reminiscent of the latter. The haunted organ theme is appropriately spooky and the background score is quite catchy and memorable – you might leave the theater humming the main theme.

So… scare up a couple of bucks for a ticket and some popcorn and go have a frighteningly good time at THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN, which rates 3 bags of buttery popcorn – delish.

The Greatest Show on Earth (TBA; 4th segment appearance)

Yesterday, at the Bijou East, I witnessed a spectacle of epically BAD proportions. The name of the movie is THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH – what a misnomer.

This is the latest – and least – from the master of cinematic spectacles, Cecil B. DeMille. The plot centers around the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus – and all the intrigue behind the scenes: competition between acts, competition with a rival circus, the secret lives of clowns… and of course, the requisite love triangle – in this case between stars, Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton and Cornel Wilde.

Heston plays the circus manager. His chiseled features deliver the lines with more dignity than they deserve. The circus IS his life. Heston is… o.k. Cornel Wilde, also chiseled, as a daredevil trapeze artist, is also… o.k. As for Miss Hutton – well, I’ve never been a huge fan. I can’t deny she plays her parts with a lot of gusto – it’s just that not all of her roles call for it. She has the subtlety of a 4th of July fireworks extravaganza and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade combined. Her delivery of lines borders on the frenetic. She is always OVER-THE-TOP. In this case, OVER-THE-BIG-TOP; insert groan here.

The film moves between scenes involving the afore-mentioned plot specifics and intrigues, and what looks like stock footage of the world-famous circus’ acts. Visually, it’s somewhat jarring. It is also somewhat boring. Hmmm…. The Ringling Brothers and Jarring & Boring Circus. Perhaps a more appropriate title for this fiasco.

Also in the cast are a few well-worn – ur, well-known faces: Gloria Grahame, Dorothy Lamour, Lawrence Tierney, and Henry Wilcoxon – remember him? – he’s been around for a while and was in a couple of DeMille epics from the mid-30’s – there was 1934’s Cleopatra – oh, and he was also in The Crusades – not the film but the actual Crusades… in the 12th and 13th centuries?? Get it?? Okay, enough of that… with apologies to Mr. Wilcoxon. There is also a surprise cameo by a big-name star in the role of a clown and real-life clown Emmett Kelly in the role of himself. Lastly, be on the look-out for a couple of famous faces among the circus spectators, a couple of big names on the roster at Paramount, the studio that released this turkey in a tent.

At over 2½ hours, this movie is too long by about 2½ hours. Aah… but if you REALLY enjoy the circus, you might be entertained. And you’ll be over the moon if you especially enjoy a hopped-up, overly-stimulated Betty Hutton performance.

Now…for those of you unfamiliar and/or new to the show, my rating system is basically from 1 to 4 bags of popcorn – the worst is one bag of stale, saltless, unbuttered popcorn; next comes 2 bags, but they still forgot the butter!; next is 3 full bags of adequately buttered popcorn; lastly, there is 4 overflowing bags of extra buttery popcorn – now if I happen to throw in some Milk Duds with a 3-bagger that means it JUST missed the best rating and if I throw in a candy bar – like a Malomar or Skybar with a 4-bagger – it is something spectacular!

Based on that criteria what do I rate THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH? This sorry cinematic senselessness sputters and stalls, and scores a shameful single sack of stale, saltless, and sadly, unbuttered popcorn. Blech!

The Manchurian Candidate (July 11, 2020; 3rd segment appearance)

Yesterday at the Bijou East I saw an excellent political thriller – THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.

The film stars Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh and, in a brilliant performance, Angela Lansbury. The film was directed by John Frankenheimer, who also directed the prison biopic of earlier this year, BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ. The screenplay is by George Axelrod – who scripted BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S and THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH. It is adapted from Richard Condon’s novel of the same name. I will try not to give too much away in this review as I want you to be as surprised and shocked as I was several times during the movie.

Sinatra plays Major Marco, a U.S. Army intelligence officer who served in the Korean War and is suffering from recurrent nightmares in which one of the men in his squad, Sgt. Shaw (played by Laurence Harvey), executes 2 other members of the squad. He decides to travel to New York to visit Shaw. On the train there he meets Rosie, played by Janet Leigh. This part of the story, to me, is unnecessary; there is no need for a side love story which has absolutely no bearing on the plot. BUT, this is only a minor misstep in an otherwise excellent film.

Laurence Harvey’s Sgt. Shaw has a domineering mother, Eleanor Iselin. In the role of this monster mama – and I do mean MONSTER – Angela Lansbury gives a chilling performance. Eleanor Iselin is a dyed-in-the-wool, red-baiting, ultra right-wing, would-be kingmaker. Yeah, not in Angela’s wheelhouse, right? Wrong – just wait until you see her take charge – it is amazing. Mrs. Iselin is attempting to get her husband, Shaw’s stepfather Senator John Iselin, the nomination for Vice-President at her party’s upcoming convention. She wants to use her son’s recent win of the Medal of Honor to help achieve her goal. Convincing and maddening as the dopey Senator Iselin is character actor James Gregory.

Soon enough, Sinatra’s Major Marco discovers that other members of his squad are having the same nightmares as he, and he begins to discover why. This is where my synopsis must end because this where the plot and events get wild. The story involves brainwashing, political intrigue, and sinister doings, and has lots of twists and turns, which I love! It will keep you on your toes, and I think it will cause goosebumps from time to time.

Technically, the cinematography is at times fuzzy and skewed off center, and the editing is choppy – all this intentionally creates disorientation and discomfort. Besides Angela Lansbury’s out-of-character performance, the depiction of the squad members’ nightmares is one of my favorite elements of the film – it is, at the same time, frightening and funny. You won’t understand that paradox until you see the movie. And I strongly encourage you to see it.

In closing, an observation and a suggestion – neither of which will make sense until you’ve seen the movie. Number 1: you may never look at the Queen of Diamonds playing card in the same way again. AND, number 2: until you leave for the theater, “Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?” I hope I have piqued your interest enough to purchase a ticket to see THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE rates 4 full bags of buttered popcorn. Yummy!

Love Story (July 4, 2020; 2nd segment appearance)

I am the first to admit I can be overly sentimental and can easily shed a tear over a touching story or scene. But the movie I saw yesterday, LOVE STORY, playing locally at the Strand Theater, goes beyond the realm of sentimentality and into the territory of mawkishness.

From Paramount Studios, LOVE STORY stars Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw (both quite new to movies) as young college students, Oliver and Jenny – they come from different worlds – socially, economically – he rich, she poor – you’ve seen it before. Oliver – actually Oliver Barrett the 4th no less! – and Jenny Cavilleri meet in Cambridge, Massachusetts – he’s at Hahvahd and she’s at Radcliffe – and they fall IMMEDIATELY and deeply in love (always a bad omen). The rest of the movie concerns their battles with his father, played by Oscar winner Ray Milland – “She’s not our kind of people, Son!” – and something unforeseen that happens to her. To say more would ruin it for those of you unwise enough to invest even a buck and a half of your hard-earned money for a ticket to see this film. But I, OH! SO! MUCH! want to ruin it.

The performances of Mr. O’Neal and, especially, Ms. McGraw left me wanting more: that being competent acting. Apparently, the producers felt their attractiveness – and they ARE attractive – would be enough. WRONG! I wanted to feel for them, to root for their relationship. Alas…I did not! Ms. McGraw has very little charisma or screen presence – imagine a stick of wood just lying there. Sorry if that sounds cruel, but her energy ranges from sluggish to lethargic. And for some reason she often looks like she’s going to whine about something. Maybe it’s catching – now I’M whining. Mr. O’Neal fares slightly better in his poor-little-rich boy role; I predict he will have a brighter future in the movies than Ms. McGraw.

Of course, all the blame cannot be laid at the feet of these two young, relatively inexperienced film actors. Some must be saved for screenwriter Erich Segal and director Arthur Hiller. The screenplay was published in book form back in February of this year – released on Valentine’s Day – how original! It’s been a huge bestseller for Mr. Segal and I’m sure a lot of people, having read the book, have saved up their tissues for the movie to finally open. My issue: too much of the film’s dialogue just doesn’t sound like it would be uttered by two college students, so it comes off as false, sometimes pretentious and often a bit silly. As for Mr. Hiller – well, maybe he isn’t a strong enough director to bring out better performances; maybe he’s never worked with a stick of wood before…

One performance does impress – that of John Marley, who portrays Ms. McGraw’s father. His brief appearance engenders sincere empathy. Or maybe the fact that he plays a baker just made him more appealing in the moment – sometimes when I’m bored I think about food… In the small role of Oliver’s roommate, actor Tommy Lee Jones made a favorable impression; hope to see more of him.

The film’s musical score is appropriately cloying and maudlin. It was composed by Francis L — A — I – that’s how it’s spelled – not sure how it’s pronounced – Lay, Lie – who cares. Lastly: one unusual aspect – but the kind of trivial thing I seem to notice – is that after the title of the film appears on screen, the movie just begins – there’s no mention of cast nor crew – not even the Paramount logo. That all comes at the end of the movie, when it’s too late for you to care and you’re too listless to start taking names…

Not sure I want to spend much more time or energy on this one. LOVE STORY rates 1 bag of stale and unsalted popcorn.

Singin' in the Rain (June 27, 2020; debut / 1st segment appearance)

If you haven’t yet seen the new Gene Kelly musical, SINGIN IN THE RAIN, run out tonight and see it. You MUST, especially if you are a lover of musicals. This is the best movie musical I’ve seen in a long time, and that includes Mr. Kelly’s triumph of last year, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. That one might have won all those Academy Awards but SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN wins the award for out-and-out charm.


The film also features Donald O’Connor, who is amazing with Mr. Kelly in the numbers “Fit as a Fiddle” and “Moses Supposes” and spectacular in a solo number, “Make ‘Em Laugh” which showcases his abilities as an acrobat and clown as well as a top-notch hoofer. And that’s Debby Reynolds (in only her sixth film) dancing toe to toe with Kelly and O’Connor in the amazingly enthusiastic “Good Mornin’” number.


The surprise of the movie is the role inhabited by Miss Jean Hagen – giving the most hilarious – that’s right, I said HILARIOUS – performance of the year. Nothing she’s done before will prepare you for this. She nearly steals the film – except for the fact that it is difficult to single out anyone or anything from this film because it is so well-balanced between great dancing, funny dialogue, and well-known songs.


All the songs but one are chestnuts of Tin Pan Alley, written by the team of Nacio Herb Brown and the film’s producer, Arthur Freed, including the short and oh-so-peppy “All I Do is Dream of You” (which features the perky Ms. Reynolds) and the ballad “You Were Meant for Me” performed by Kelly and Reynolds. The film is filled with tunes you will leave the theatre humming, including the only new tune “Moses Supposes” by Oscar winner Roger Edens and the screenwriters Comden and Green – more about their contribution in a sec.


The big number is a highly stylized version of that old standard “The Broadway Melody”. The sequence – a little movie within the movie – features the gorgeous Cyd Charisse and some imagery reminiscent of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS.


But if for no other reason, you MUST see this movie for Mr. Kelly’s performance of the title number. I got a little lump in my throat during the “Singin’ in the Rain” number – just from the sheer joy and inventiveness of Mr. Kelly’s choreography. It is movie magic! The talents of Mr. Kelly are almost immeasurable – besides dancing, singing, acting, and choreographing the film he also co-directed with Stanley Donen – their second effort together.


The script is another star of the movie, ranging from funny to hilarious. It was written by the brilliant Betty Comden and Adolph Green – who also wrote Kelly and Donen’s last film, TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME. Comden and Green took a very real episode in the history of Hollywood – the studios’ and stars’ difficult transition from silent to sound films – and ran with it. And because of their excellent script, here’s something you can say about this film that you rarely can say about a musical – you actually learn some history – imagine that!


I cannot think of a recent musical’s screenplay that is as witty and humorous as this; I’m not sure it can be bettered. I only hope the screenplay, along with the magical performances of Ms. Hagen and Mr. O’Connor will be remembered at Oscar time. Go tonight to see SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN; I’ll probably go again for my third time! It’s that good!! SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN rates 4 overflowing bags of popcorn AND a mallomar!!! My highest rating ever!!!