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Friday, May 31, 2013

'The Courtship of Eddie's Father' S1: You Would Like Bill Bixby When He Gets A Son

Courtship of Eddie
As promised in my review of the Warner Archive DVD release of the truly delightful 1963 feature film "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," I am sharing my thoughts on the 1969-70 first season of the television series of the same name.

A review of the second season of "Father" will appear after I complete my homework assignment of watching every episode on the DVD set of the second season  FEATURING LANA TURNER of the '80s prime time soap "Falcon Crest" in preparation for reviewing the recently released DVD set  of that program's third season.

The final "very important message" before returning to our story is that readers are welcome to follow this site at @tvdvdguy on Twitter.

A truly awesome part of "Father" S1 is that it meets the criteria that I established when beginning collecting DVDs of television shows in 2006. "Father" is a good but lightly syndicated show from my childhood, and the DVD set is fairly priced.

Watching the first six of the 26 episodes in the set made me wish that I had chosen reruns of that series on WLVI Channel 56 in Boston over competing fare on WSBK Channel 38 more frequently in the dark days before even VCRs.

The simple premise behind the film and television series is that widower Tom Corbett is doing an awesome job raising his young son Eddie, and the two are engaged in a ongoing search to find Tom a new wife.

As the television show's highly addictive theme song states, the pair is each other's best friend. Despite Liberace's stated desire in the recently reviewed "Behind the Candelbra" to have a younger man as his son, I would pick Tom or his portrayor Bill Bixby over Mr. Showmanship as my dad any day of the week. (Bixby had me at his "My Favorite Martian" character Tim O'Hara.)

The series pilot is a nice transition from the film in that both incarnations of the Corbetts' story have Eddie macing on an aspiring actress named Dollye Daly as a "wife" candidate. Eddie does so on a father-son outing to an arcade in the movie and on a father-son movie studio tour in the pilot.

It seems that series producer and co-star James Komack of "Welcome Back Kotter" and "Chico and the Man" fame chose that episode as the pilot to help attract fans of the movie. A later episode regarding Eddie's really rough first few days in the first grade seems to be a more natural pilot, especially considering that Tom dates Eddie's teacher in an early offering.

The conflict in the episodes regarding a search for the mother revolve around the effect of the romantic relationship on Eddie. For example, Tom dating the teacher gets Eddie branded "Teacher's pet."

The third episode is particularly memorable both for having Diana Muldaur play an absolutely fabulous model who is light years away from Muldaur's Dr. Pulaski character from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in terms of looks and personality. Seeing the childless "It Girl" try to care for a sick Eddie is hilarious.

"Father" is also a perfect show for its era in which networks were transitioning from supernatural, sci-fi, and rural shows to more realistic fare. There are undertones of understated sexual content, including Eddie not understanding why his father cannot pollinate childless housekeeper Mrs. Livingston in the same manner as bees pollinate flowers, and Bixby is a perfect mix of  an O'Haraesque overwhelmed straight man and a father who truly knows best.

The show is further notable for having some of the more creative aspects of broadcast network sitcoms; the theme song's singer provides a one-man off-screen Greek chorus in terms of commenting on the action in the episode. Examples include the chanteur singing "bless you" one time that Tom sneezes and "remember your son is in the other room" when Tom begins to escort a woman into Tom's bedroom merely to have a private conversations.

Further, episodes begin and end with Tom and Eddie having heart-to-heart talks while having a great time doing things such as horsing around on the beach, enjoying fun park rides, or pedaling a two-person bicycle. The sad part for many of us is that those conversations and activities are just as fantastical as harboring a martian who is stranded on earth.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding the film or television incarnations of "Father" is welcome to email me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

'Behind the Candelabra:' 'Boogie Nights' Meets Newt Gingrich

This review of the HBO bio docudrama "Candelabra," which premiered May 26, 2013, is the second of two Liberace-themed posts this week. The first shared thoughts on Liberace's 1955 film "Sincerely Yours." The contrast between these two films is as sharp as the differences between Joan Crawford's 1945 film "Mildred Pierce" and 1981's "Mommie Dearest."

In the cases of "Candelabra" and "Dearest," someone with a legitimate axe to grind provides the base material for deliciously campy pulp about a fading beloved star from yesteryear. Although the highly acidic melodrama in both productions is great fun, "Candelabra" unfortunately does not hold a candle to "Dearest."

"Candelabra" stars Michael Douglas as legendary pianist and "Mr. Showmanship" Liberace during that celebrity's declining popularity; Matt Damon plays Scott Thorson, who was Liberace's boy toy twink lover from the late '70s to the early '80s. The film is based on Thorson's book of the same name.

Damon's remark years ago in reference to big-screen adaptations of television series that he would not play Gilligan because that might cause him to miss an opportunity to appear in a Steven Soderbergh film echoed my sentiment regarding that former auteur.

As my review of Soderbergh's artistically disasterous "Magic Mike" from last summer states, Soderbergh has experienced a decline and fall since Damon made those remarks. "Candelabra" is a truly sad end to an awesome career. 

One serious, but not fatal, flaw with "Candelabra" is that, ala John Travolta's horrible attempt at drag in "Hairspray," Douglas simply does not relate to his character. He seems more like an SNL or SCTV variation of Liberace than the man himself near the end of his career and his life. Douglas slightly redeems himself with a few great lines. The comment "so, its repugnant only when I do it to you" is the most memorable of these musings of that cartoonishly flamboyant character. Having Thorson undergo plastic surgery to look more like Liberace is one of the more darkly funny segments.

Damon does a better job as the young star-struck not-so-bright 18 year-old who quickly replaces Liberace's latest young lovah. One sad aspect of this Gingrichesque technique of rapidly replacing someone who is is nearing his or her expiration date with someone younger and cuter is that the replacer never recognizes that he or she will almost certainly become the replacee.

Although clearly too old for the role of the 18 year-old Thorson, Damon at least shows some emotion. His initial glee when he is introduced to Liberace as a member of his audience and nervousness on being invited to Mr. Showmanship's dressing room after the performance is believable and reminiscent of the playfulness between Damon and childhood chum Ben Affleck regarding rumors that their friendship has benefits.

The serious shortcoming regarding Damon's performance is that his overall deadpan performance is at odds with his young allegedly bisexual character during the early days of gay liberation. He never really seems  to enjoy even the good times or his uniform that is almost as flamboyant as the military garb in the "Sgt Pepper" film.

Nor does Damon show much anger or other emotion as his cocaine use increases and his relationship with Liberace crumbles. The tone in which he tells Liberace "you must be getting it from somewhere" after two months of celibacy between the couple is the same that he would use for stating that he did not want Chinese food for dinner.

The truth that is almost as sad as the outcomes for the real Liberace and Thorson is that this entertaining film would have been a special one if Damon and Soderbergh had made it 15 years ago and had a different leading man. Patrick Stewart comes to mind based on his prior gleeful portrayal of gay characters and proven ability to play the range of emotions that Liberace experienced in his later years.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Candelabra" or Liberace is welcome to email me.

Monday, May 27, 2013

'Sincerely Yours:' Liberace In Front of the Closet Door

Sincerely YoursLee Liberace with Joanne Dru and Dorothy Malone in
This review of Warner Archive's recently released DVD of the 1955 film "Sincerely Yours" is the first of two Liberace-themed reviews this week. Wednesday's post will be a review of the HBO docudrama "Behind the Candelabra," which premiered last night.

The spoiler alert is that the wonderfully campy "Candelabra" is a terrifically dark version of "Boogie Nights," complete with heavy cocaine use and delusions of grandeur.

Liberace's role in "Sincerely" is that of a wildly popular pianist who is a highly accurate fictional version of the real Liberace. As the product description on the DVD states, his repertoire in the film ranges from Chopin to "Chopsticks." Both that film and "Candelabra" include segments in which Mr. Showmanship plays an audience-participation version of a boogie-woogie song.

Liberace's character Anthony Warrin is at the top of his career when the film starts. He sells out large venues, is regularly recognized when he is out in public, and is also courted to play a concert at Carnegie Hall.  Warrin's enthusiastic confidence that he can appeal both to the general populace and the high brows who only like classical music truly is delightful.

An early scene in which Warrin playfully gets an older woman in the audience into the act is textbook charming and illustrates Liberace's appeal among the Geritol (Google it millenials) set. One can easily imagine the Golden Girls attending a Warrin concert and having him nicely tease innocent Rose Nyland in the same manner as the woman, who looked like she was ready to faint from excitement, in the film.

Warrin is also having a great time with his adoring secretary Marion, played by Joanne Dru, and his live-in and equally adoring personal assistant Sam, played by William Demarest. Other reviewers have commented on the similarities between Sam and Matt Damon's much less chaste character Scott in "Candelabra." The Uncle Charley (Google it millenials) that Demarest's character inspired are not fit for this relatively family-friendly site.

The trauma that propels much of the action in "Sincerely" comes in the form of Warrin experiencing career-threatening deafness early in the film. Rather than releasing an album entitled "Going Deaf for a Living," ala Fischer Z (Google it millenials), Warrin retreats from the limelight and sequesters himself in the fabulous Manhattan apartment that he and Sam share.

Warrin soon turns his attention to helping strangers who he observes from his balcony. A very nice "Mildred Pierce" segment has Warrin helping the middle-class mother of a woman who had married into society fully re-enter her daughter's life. This quest involves a hilarious and spirit-raising segment in which Warrin serves as a very expensive human jukebox at a charity event.

Other drama consists of Warrin's romance with Linda, played by Dorothy Malone, who Warrin meets in a very cute way while he is in San Francisco for a high-profile gig. The deafness complicates this relationship, which in turn complicates Warrin's relationship with Marion. This aspect of the film would have made a great plot for a "very special" two-part episode of "The Love Boat."

One awesomely nice thing about "Sincerely" that helps make it "unreal" is that it is an entertainingly hookey story even aside from what modern audiences know generally about Liberace's sexuality and specifically about the relationship behind "Behind the Candelabra." It truly is a feel-good film.

Anyone with questions regarding "Sincerely Yours," "Behind the Candelabra," or are curious regarding the R-rated riffing that both films inspired is welcome to email me.

Friday, May 24, 2013

'Without A Trace' S6: Recovering Missing Persons With Destinations Unknown

Without a Trace: The Complete Sixth Season
The recently released 22-episode 5-disc DVD set of the 2007-08 sixth season of the primetime Jerry Bruckheimer procedural drama "Without A Trace" is notable for being one of the few current shows to earn the honor of being added to the awesome Warner Archive catalog.

Before discussing this series, it is worth mentioning that anyone who would like to track "Unreal TV" is welcome to go to @tvdvdguy on Twitter. 

The twist in this series about the investigations of the Missing Persons Unit (MPU) in the New York City FBI office is that flashbacks depict many events relevant to investigating the disappearance of the subject of the week.

A typical "Trace" episode begins with an incident that seemingly relates to the disappearance on which the MPU focuses. Examples include a workplace shooting and a local news producer arguing with the subject of a probe.

A character vanishing from the screen indicates that said person is the one who has gone missing. Captions that appear periodically throughout the episode help the audience follow the investigation's timeline.

The flashbacks come in the context of interviews or interrogations of witnesses or suspects related to the disappearance. For example, a witness reporting that he or she had lunch with the missing person the day before the disappearance leads to a scene that depicts that lunch. Of course, the action in every flashback provides clues regarding the disappearance.

Anthony LaPaglia plays team leader Jack Malone whose pursuit of justice occasionally prompts him to go slightly Jack Bauer. The fact that he chokes and otherwise is rough on one uncooperative witness and openly harasses the owner of a gambling club but stops an even rougher interrogation that is getting out of hand shows his limits.

Poppy Montgomery does just as well as tough but caring team member Samantha Spade. Her unplanned and unwanted pregnancy from a one-night stand with a bartender makes a good season-long story arc.

A more compelling multi-episode story arc involves investigating a human trafficking, a.k.a. white slavery, ring that abducts and savagely brutalizes 20-something women and forces them to work in brothels. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" James Marsters does a great job as a detective who joins that hunt, and "E.T.'s" Henry Thomas appearing in a segment in that arc shows that Elliott is all grown up.
A statement from a character in another series, and that Malone expresses in a conversation with "CSI's" Gil Grissom in an awesome cross-over episode, shows how "Trace" is set apart from other procedurals. Those remarks noted that working missing persons offers a hope for a happy ending that does not exist regarding most law-enforcement work.

The ratio of happy endings not-so-positive outcomes is roughly 1-to-5 in the sixth season's first10 episodes. A few missing persons are found relatively unscathed, but the team always gets their man or woman.

Related twists are that the missing people and the people who cause the ultimate disappearance fall along a range from total innocence to complete villain that depicts the human race.

The wide range of missing persons also adds to the series' appeal. The season premiere focuses on an apparent kidnapping of a young boy. Other episodes involve searches for a college student, a 20-something office worker, a crime-scene cleaner and his daughter, and a middle-aged ex-con who had committed a white collar crime.

It really is interesting to see the relationship between what seems to motivate the disappearance and the actual cause of that event, how truly unexpected twists after an initial fleeing plays a role, and how those significant events sometimes never play a role. Two of the deaths turn out to be entirely accidental and truly tragic for the characters who cause them.

The Christmas episode that involves a mall Santa is one of the season's best and deserves a place on a list of top 25 Christmas episodes ever.

One element of this story involving the most adorkable Santa ever is very predictable, but the highly likable nature of this earnest emo and the rare amount of humor in the episode make it exceptionally entertaining. (It is no surprise that this Saint Nick has a highly coveted lap.) It is also an episode in which justice prevails in nice ways.

Another episode has a great TV Land element by having "The Facts of Life" Nancy McKeon and "Star Trek: The Next Generation's" Michael Dorn play the parents of a missing college student whose racial remarks end up in a viral video. This offering is hardly a "The Love Boat" plot but seeing two beloved '80s actors roughly 20 years after their shows ended is a treat. 

The bottom line is that Bruckheimer dos his usual good job making a procedural interesting and watching the DVD episodes easily passes the "one more" test.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Trace" is encouraged to email me.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

'Popeye The Sailor The 1960s Classics' V1: Humor Survives Transition From Film to TV Shorts

Popeye: The 1960’s Animated Classics Collection (1960)
The good folks at Warner Archive really helped with this review of the recently released DVD set "Popeye the Sailor The 1960s Classics" Volume One. Their observation on the back of the set that "the TV incarnation of Popeye made up for its scaled-back animation with a broadened narrative scope and scale while still staying true to the source" describes this great offering well.

"Staying true to the source" includes recruiting animators and voice actors who produced the theatrical shorts for the TV versions. Most importantly, Jack Mercer provides the titular character's voice in both the large and small screen versions.

The premise of Popeye, which succeeds as well as  a cat chasing a mouse or a diverse group of late-teens solving mysteries, is that this sea-faring man quickly finds that wham bam he's in a jam, chugs down spinach that temporarily bestows him extraordinary strength and super-speed, defeats his current nemesis, and then toots his pipe in the same manner that Porky Pig stutters "Thaaats All Folks" at the end of Looney Tunes cartoons from the same era.

There is no doubt that the theatrical  Popeye shorts, which Warner released in three truly awesome volumes, have much richer animation and are more historical significant than the latest collection. This is particularly true regarding the 1941-43 "war years" Volume 3.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed the gaggle of cartoons that I watched from the 72 shorts in the "60s Classics collection." The more modern elements and a less-dated feel than the theatrical classics add to their value.

The '60s sensibility begins with "Hits and Missiles," in which Popeye and his best gal Olive Oyl accidentally launch themselves into space. On landing on the moon, which is made of cheese, Popeye battles the tyrannical king of the moon. That leader is a literal cheese head.

I am not sharing any of the wonderfully corny puns in that episode and several other cartoons only to allow viewers to experience this timeless humor first-hand. I will provide the teaser that the moon king's castle is located on the rind.

Another '60s-themed cartoon has Popeye undergoing psychoanalysis to understand his compulsion to fight. A cartoon that depicts prize fights as popular mainstream entertainment also reflects the era.

More traditional plots, which reflect the "broadened narrative scope" of this incarnation of everyone's favorite cartoon sailor, have Popeye returning to school only to be busted down to kindergarten and have mischievous ghosts torment him when he and Olive seek refuge in a haunted house.

Good sight gags include Popeye's pipe blowing heart-shaped smoke when he is on his way to visit Olive, schtick involving Popeye's nemesis Brutus putting rubber cement in a bowling ball's hole, and hamburger addict Wimpy operating a small grill on top of his head to ensure a steady supply of beef.

Another early offering in this series introduces the character Eugene the Jeep from Thimble Theater, which is the comic strip that introduces Popeye to the world, into this series. Fellow Theater characters Sea Hag and King Blozo follow Eugene into the series.

Eugene is introduced in this Popeye incarnation in "A Jeep Is A Jeep." This comes in the form of a friend of Popeye from India mailing the sailor this magical creature who can turn invisible, make other objects disappear, and walk through walls. This is akin to the Doctor sending former companion Sarah-Jane K9 the robotic dog in the pilot for the never developed "K9 and Company" "Doctor Who" spin-off series.

Seeing Popeye slam into walls and otherwise face obstacles that Eugene's powers allow him to evade is laugh-out-loud funny.

The news that is even better than this TV version of Popeye being so worthwhile is that labeling this collection "Volume One" indicates that the sofa spud gods at Warner Archive will release a second volume of these animated shorts.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding any incarnation of Popeye is welcome to email me. Also, please feel free to follow me on Twitter @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

'Eight is Enough' S3: Classic Family Dramedy Scores a 10

Eight is Enough: Season Three
One of many great things about the recently released eight disc two- volume third season set of the 28-episode '70s ABC family dramedy "Eight is Enough" is that it truly is a show that Xers will enjoy revisiting and millenials will like discovering.

Before sharing some of the trials and tribulations that the eight-child Bradford family discovered that, ala the Keatons of the '80s sitcom "Family Ties" there "ain't no nothin'" they couldn't love each other through, the significant change to the previous seasons' instrumental theme song deserves notice. Dreamy teen idol Grant Goodeve, ala dreamy teen idol Wesley Eure of '70s kids show "Land of the Lost," sang his series' theme song.

Goodeve took over the role of eldest son David after original cast member Mark Hamill left out a belief that a low-budget sci-fi film in which Hamill starred during the same period would launch (no pun intended) his career.

Two elements about the pilot (again, no pun intended) that make owning the first season of "Eight" worthwhile are seeing Hamill play suburban middle-class David EXACTLY the same as he played Luke Skywalker, and a scene in which family patriarch Tom Bradford essentially stated "David, I am your father."

"Eight" qualified as "Unreal TV" because it modified the premise of the chaos associated with a large family to depict entertaining timeless and relevant stories without turning preachy. The Bradford kids were far less whiny than the Brady offspring (and scored future "Karate Kid" Ralph Macchio as their "Cousin Oliver" in a later season), did not form a family rock group like the Bradys and the Partridges, and did not live forty years in the past like the Waltons.

One reason that "Eight's" episodes seemed realistic was that the series was based on life of syndicated newspaper columnist Thomas Braden, who was prolific at work and home.

Many plots revolved around the lack of privacy, financial pressures associated with large families, scarcity of telephone time in this era decades before smartphones, and sibling competition for parental attention and other resources that have an inverse relationship with the number of children in a family. However, "Eight" did an "unreal" job taking things further by giving the individual challenges of family members airtime in a way that make us smile and/or empathize.

The gamut of seriousness ranged from nine-year-old Nicholas, played by fan favorite Adam Rich, dealing with new feelings of affection for girls (and his fourth grade teacher with a Princess Di hairdo) to the older kids dealing with issues related to what they wanted to be when they grew up. Additionally, future Broadway star Betty Buckley's character fairly new step-mother Abby contended both with fitting in with the large well-established family and taking graduate-level courses while teaching school.

Buckley's real-life experiences flying between California and New York for Broadway auditions on weekends while filming "Eight" showed that she could relate to Abby willing to work hard to have it all. Abby did just as well as Buckley in that regard.

Although the five daughters had their moments, and some of them thrived in later seasons, "Eight" was still a boys' club during its third season. Each episode typically began with a vignette in which Nicholas and another cast member had a cute moment; the real action would start after the opening credits that followed the vignette.

Dreamy teen idol Willie Aames played Tommy, a typical "Lembeck" (Google it millenials). This 16 year-old boy was simultaneously horny, goofy, conniving, relatively lazy,  played in a garage band, and was an overall benign bullying older brother.

Tommy helped get the season off to a good start by putting "Man of Steel" Clark Kent to shame regarding his ingenuity in changing back and forth between the unbuttoned to the navel red polyester shirt and skin-tight black slacks that he wore to disco dance (presumably at Studio 18 and Under) with one girl and earth-toned fringe loose-fitting clothes on dates with the earth child that he was simultaneously dating.

A later episode in which a trench-mouth infected Tommy comically tried to conceal that embarrassing condition from his sibs had some of the season's best moments. I remembered a "taco orgy" scene from that episode from the original broadcast.

Older brother David, who was the only Bradford who did not live in the family's colonial house, played the ideal older brother. He was generally in good humor, was not above participating in hi-jinks, was very gracious and kind when he caught a  fully clothed Tom and Abby on his water bed, and took some of the parental load off Tom. He definitely is the Bradford who I would chose as my sib.

The two-part season three finale reflected Goodeve's popularity by having very limited unresolved plots that involved other Bradfords and that focused heavily on construction worker David's engagement to attorney Janet. The facts that one plot had newly graduated Elizabeth doing a high school assignment and that Goodeve did not appear in the episode in which Elizabeth graduated suggested that the season finale episode was intended to run earlier in the season.

Conflict with his fiancee prompted David to take an extended road trip at the end of Part One. Part Two entirely revolved around David helping an elderly amateur hang glider designer who he met in his travels.

This episode was an apparent pilot for a spin-off starring Goodeve. This effort was abandoned when he returned to the fold at the beginning of the fourth season.

Depictions of serious issues that did not devlove into "very special episodes" included Tom's concern that the family would learn that the stresses of raising such a large family drove him to see a psychologist. His evasiveness resulted in two separate comedies of error but ended with nice shows of support from the family.

Drama also came in the form of Abby having reason to believe that she was pregnant, middle-daughter Nancy deciding whether to drop out of college, and Abby's parents considering a divorce.

The late in the season episode "The Final Days" deserves special mention both for guest-starring the then-elderly and still kicking Abe Vigoda as a union organizer whose picket line outside the Bradford home during school finals creates hilarious chaos and because of an equally funny technical flub.

The shadow of a boom mike clearly appears on the refrigerator of the Bradford kitchen for several seconds during the episode's epilogue. There additionally are hints that Aames had a 4:20 p.m. call regarding a scene in which he gave Tom feedback on a speech.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Eight" is encouraged to email me.

Monday, May 20, 2013

'Forbidden Hollywood' V7: Pre-marital, Extra-marital, and For-profit Sex

Forbidden Hollywood Collection: Volume 7
This review of the recently released four-film DVD set "Forbidden Hollywood Volume 7" coincides with Warner Archive announcing the upcoming release of the the third season of the '80s primetime soap "Falcon Crest." That companion to "Dallas" the Original Series had almost as much adultery, evil doings, and just plain ole sin as the "Forbidden's" pre-code classics. However, the "Forbidden" films lacked a mahvelous hirsute Speedo-clad leading man.

The relevant "code" was the "Hays Code," that established content standards that Warner Brothers and other Hollywood Studios adopted under the philosophy that self-regulation was preferable to the feds stepping in and imposing stricter guidelines. These new standards softened the depictions of free (and not-so-free) love, violence, and alternative lifestyles that make the '20s and '30s era "Forbidden" films so awesome.

The 1933 Bette Davis classic "Ex-Lady" in the set prompted craving a cigarette despite being a tobacco virgin. Peanut butter M&Ms did the trick.

"Ex-Lady" started with Davis' successful career gal Helen Bauer  and Gene Raymond's Don Peterson enjoying a very happy and relatively discrete "friends with benefits" relationship. A scene in which Peterson's shadow on the bedroom wall "the morning after" is one of the more clever ways that filmmakers left enough to the imagination to not completely shock Depression-era sensibilities. All for "Forbidden" films had several cut-away scenes soon after a couple entered a bedroom.

Don persuades Helen to make a honest man out of him and to have a modern partnership that extends to her being the well-qualified art manager at his small advertising agency. Personal and professional setbacks related to the marriage lead to soul searching by both Don and Helen.

"Pre-code" King, and original "Star is Born" director, William Wellman directed Depression-era cinema god Edward G. Robinson in the compelling but unintentionally amusing "oh so wrong" melodrama "The Hatchet Man" that "Forbidden" included.

A badly made-up Robinson played an "Oriental" hatchet man, who followed the tradition of inheriting the role of a "Chinaman" who used a small chopping implement to dispense justice on behalf of the Chinese tong, which essentially was equivalent to a mafia family, of which he was a member of the governing council.

A raging war between rival tongs when the film opened required that Robinson's Wong Low Get snuff his BFF with whom Get had immigrated to San Francisco from China. Knowing both that his death was imminent and that Get would cause it, said BFF arranged in his will that Get marry the BFF's young daughter Sun Toya San when she reached an appropriate age.

The action then fast-forwarded to Get and San, played by an equally badly made-up Loretta Young, falling in love and entering a truly consensual marriage.

The problem started when San fell in love with a bodyguard who was assigned to protect Get. On virtually catching the young lovers in the act, Get chose to not break her stride and to let them go off together despite the high price in monetary and status related to that largese.

On learning that San had run off to China with said bodyguard and become a "serving girl" in a high-class Chinese brothel, Get travels to China (but did not sail in a little rowboat) to tend to San's dirty laundry. Said bodyguard, who faced a real risk of getting axed, was no longer feeling cocky and did see his past in Get. These well-played scenes were far from junk.

Archive provided the additional treat of wonderfully sleazy early Mac Daddy Warren William in "Skyscraper Souls" and "Employees Entrance." In both cases, William played highly successful business executives with an eye for the ladies and a disregard for their feelings.

Scenes in "Entrance" in which ruthless department store manager Kurt Anderson coerced a department store employee to whore herself out to a business rival and later promised her the earth, the moon, and the stars only to send her packing minutes later were wonderful. "Dallas'"J.R. Ewing could not have done it any better.

Another great scene in "Entrance" had Anderson's newly appointed right-hand man asking his marriage-adverse boss if he liked women. Anderson replied that he did, but also insisted that his underling always be (sexually?) available to him and demanded that said underling move into the hotel rooms next to where Anderson resided. Whether Anderson desired a J. Edgar Hoover/Clyde Tolson style clandestine homosexual relationship was left to the audience's imagination.

The most cool element regarding "Souls" was that legendary Hollywood gossip columnist  Hedda Hopper played Ella Dwight, who was the wife of William's David Dwight. Ella was glad to let David dip his pen in as much company ink as he liked so long as he allowed Ella to continue enjoying the lavish lifestyle to which she had become accustomed.

The retribution that David experienced regarding his extra-marital activities related to playing Tarzan to Maureen O'Sullivan's Jane in that her character was a reasonably chaste, but perhaps not "innocent," newcomer to the big city.

The frequency with which the men and women in "Souls" changed their presumed bed partners as the financial fortunes of said partners rose and fell was entertaining. Additionally, both sexes enjoyed at least a field's worth of tobacco during this 98-minute film.

One of the best exchanges in the entire "Forbidden" set was between O'Sullivan's female boss and a male diamond merchant. The merchant remarked that he practiced an old profession, and the working girl replied that she did as well.

These recaps of this awesome films showed both how filmmakers succeeding in conveying sex and sensuality without foul language, exposing naughty bits, or even showing a couple between the sheets. Theses films truly are an important part of our cultural heritage.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Forbidden" is welcome to email me. I would also like to announce that I recently joined Twitter under @tvdvdguy.

Friday, May 17, 2013

'The Courtship of Eddie's Father:' 1963 Version of 'The Bachelor (Father)' Dynamite Dad's Day Donation DVD

Courtship of Eddie's Father, The
Staying up past my bedtime to watch the DVD of 1963 Vincent Minnelli, Liza "The Other Lucille" Minnelli's father, film "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" was consistent with this genuinely delightful film centered around eight-year old Ron "Opie" Howard.

With all due sympathy to his fans and family, giggling this morning on learning that there was a race car driver named Dick Trickle was also in the spirit of the wonderful humor in "Father." 

The simple plot of "Father" was that Howard's titular character Eddie wanted his very recently widowed pop Tom Corbett, played by Glenn Ford, to remarry so that Tom would be happy. The Bobby Bradyesque problem was that Eddie did not want a step-mother.

Watching the interaction between Ford and Howard evoked thoughts of Howard's incredible talent for interacting with his screen sires. The relationship between Tom and Eddie was very similar to that of Opie and his widowed dad Andy Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show." The "Father" relationship also had shades of the chats between Howard as Richie Cunningham and his father Howard on the early seasons of the '50s-based '70s sitcom "Happy Days."

This terrific element of Howard's character stole the show. I laughed out loud when he tentatively told his father his theory that a woman's bust size determined her character. Howard pointed out that the evil women in comic books always had large busts and slanty eyes. This became a hilarious recurring theme.

A similar conversation later in the film revolved around Howard wanting to use a tape measure to determine the dimensions of one of the bachelorettes.

This aspect of "Father" and the film's overall awesomeness prompted a rare direct endorsement of buying this film as a Father's Day gift for the special male parental figure in your life. The WBShop's current graduated (no pun intended) sale and the delay associated with this film being a Made on Demand title are good reasons to order the film sooner rather than later. (My cats are not taking the hint.)

"Father" is noteworthy as well for being an early example of a critically and commercially successful film that spawned a successful sitcom of the same name. Other examples include "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and "M*A*S*H." 

Complete candor requires confessing limited knowledge of the "Father" sitcom. The only reason for this was that WLVI Channel 56 in Boston ran it against all-time favorites on WSBK Channel 38 in the dark ages before even VCRs. I loved the episodes that I watched and looked forward to the epilog "man-to-man" walk on the beach scenes between the beyond awesome Bill Bixby and his TV son Brandon Cruz when I flipped to Channel 56 to watch "Father" film co-star Shirley Jones in "The Partridge Family."

The large difference between the "sleep out" housekeeper character Mrs. Livingston in the film and the series was one distinction. Additionally, Tom went from being a program manager at a radio station to being a magazine executive. Seeing the genuinely good guy cub reporter Tim O'Hara from "My Favorite Martian" stay in journalism was nice.

The "Father" film inspired adding the two released seasons of the three season show to my collection. Keep a look out for reviews of those episodes.

Jones played the first bachelorette in the "bachelor" competition in "Father." She was a blonde grass widow (Google it millenials) who lived across the hall from fils' et pere's envy-worthy Manhattan apartment. Jones' character Elizabeth was a good friend of the deceased Mrs. Corbett and a second mother to Eddie. Seeing Shirley Partridge nurse and counsel Opie Taylor was a real treat.

The wonderfully funny Stella Stevens played the sweet but dim redhead beauty contest loser Dollye Daly who Howard maced on at an arcade. This country girl new to the big city was a genuine hoot.

Bachelorette number three was the frontrunner. Brunette sophsticate Dina Merrill played the Holly Golightly type character Rita Behrens. Behrens was a "chic designer" who enjoyed the glamor of New York nightlife with the elder Corbett and had a yappy poodle rather than a wonderfully wild orange tabby cat.

The feel of  "Breakfast at Tiffanys," which was released two years before "Father," extended beyond the Golightly like character.  Both films had the wonderful feel of live theater, revolved around the relatively glamorous life of New York City's upper-middle class in the early '60s, and had perfectly executed very revealing dramatic scenes at the end. (I still do not know if George Peppard or the cat prompted Golightly's transformation at the end of "Tiffanys.")

The cautionary note regarding "Tiffanys" is that, pop songs aside, recalling that you "kinda" liked any film does not provide a solid basis for a lasting relationship any more than a common fondness for pina coladas and getting caught in the rain but not being into yoga. (Google it millenials).

Please feel free to email any thoughts or questions regarding the "Father" film or series.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

'The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez:' Ernest (Borgnine) Goes to Shady Pines

The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez (2012) Poster

The 2012 indie flick, which is newly available on DVD and VOD, "The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez" is most notable for being the last film that stars Ernest Borgnine. Although Borgnine's career included appearing in "From Here to Eternity" and winning an Oscar for his starring role in "Marty," he is best known for playing Lt. Commander Quintin McHale in the '60s military sitcom "McHale's Navy" and the awesome follow-up films the ORIGINAL "McHale's Navy" and "McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force."

Borgnine's participation alone, this being his last film, and the respectable results of his efforts make this film worth owning if only to watch when you need a light Borgnine fix.

"Man" is a clever variation of the spaghetti Westerns of the '60s in which an earnest (pun intended) lone gunman defeats a gang of Old West malfeasors who are oppressing and terrorizing the local populace. In the case of "Man," Barry Corbin is a Maurice Minnifield type (Google it millenials) who has become the dictator of the second-tier Rancho Park convalescent home where he is a resident.

Like Shady Pines of "The Golden Girls" fame, the physical accommodations and care at Rancho Park are not so horrible, but corners are cut. No, Borgnine does not torch Rancho Park.

"Ugly Betty's" Tony Plana plays Dr. Dominguez who is in league with Corbin's Mr. Walker. Dominguez adds a telenovela element to the film by relentlessly and aggressively macing on 20-something nurse Solena. Dominguez's power over Solena extends beyond the power to terminate her employment to the threat of evicting her grandmother from the home.

Borgnine's Rex Page rides into town after a back injury that he sustains under very embarrassing circumstances requires a rehabilitation period. His back story is that he is a wannabe actor who allegedly was edged out for a role in a spaghetti Western that he constantly watches on a VHS tape. Not making it as an actor leads to Page becoming a local '70s era DJ.

Page's initial pain and his overall Archie Bunkeresque blue collar biases result in he and the latino nursing staff getting off on the wrong foot. Another telenovela element is introduced when thawing relations become very warm after said staff learns that Page once met (and shook the hand of) idolized Mexican singer Vicente Fernandez. Page entrances the staff and some of his fellow "guests" with stories of his encounter with Fernandez.

Personal significance regarding this plot point is that I once met (and shook the hand of) Borgnine's McHale co-star Gavin MacLoed.

The nice element of that encounter was that my intense chagrin immediately showed when I reflexively remarked that "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," in which MacLoed played Maury Slaughter, was much better series than "The Love Boat," in which MacLoed played Merrill Stubing. MacLoed just as immediately gave me a brilliantly white smile and stated "I know exactly what you mean."

Now back to our story. Having always envisioned himself as the hero of the spaghetti Western in which he did not get the role, Page soon takes on Walker and Dominguez on behalf of the nursing staff and the "guests." Rancho Park's day room plays the role of an Old West saloon for the showdowns; Walker drinks prune juice from a juice box, rather than high-proof rotgut from a dirty glass.

Perhaps the nicest element of this fable is that it provides a look at how McHale's life could have played out after he left the navy. Page married a good woman, had a daughter, and lived a relatively comfortable middle-class life. It is nice to think that things turned out alright for a beloved childhood favorite television character.

The entire decent and entertaining production, which has a few wonderfully surreal segments, has the feel of a higher-quality family-oriented Hallmark Channel movie; the plot and production values are similar, but the above-average story and performances regarding that genre do not prompt the incessant mocking that adds to the enjoyment of a typical film from that genre.

Anyone who would like to share thoughts regarding "Man" or Borgnine is encouraged to email me. Folks who wish to idolize me based on meeting MacLoed are also welcome to drop a line.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

'Laverne and Shirley' S6: 'Lost' Episode and Groovy '60s Era Guest Stars Make Season Memorable

The DVD release, which is coming out on May 21, 2013, of the sixth season of the '70s/'80s comedy set in the '50s/'60s "Laverne and Shirley" wildly exceeded all fairly high expectations.

"Laverne and Shirley" was a spinoff of "Happy Days," and both series were part of ABC's "must see" Tuesday night line up in the late '70s and early '80s. "Three's Company" followed them in the 9:00 p.m. slot, and other less successful series followed "Three's Company." The 9:30 p.m. programs included the Madeline Kahn sitcom "Oh Madeline" and the Walter Mittyesque (Google it millenials) show "Reggie."

"Days" and "Laverne" creator, and brother of "Laverne" star Penny Marshall, Garry Marshall has stated that setting the series in an earlier period prevented them from looking dated. That succeeded and added to the enjoyment of the "Laverne" sixth season episodes, which were set in 1965.

The premise of "Laverne" was that the titular characters were high school friends who became roommates after graduating and split their time off from dead-end blue collar jobs dating men in the hopes of finding their princes and generally trying to literally move up from the cellar. This often led to hijinks that have fairly been compared to the antics of Lucy and Ethel on "I Love Lucy."

The sixth season was one of the more pivotal for "Laverne" because it was the one in which the 20-something Milwaukee girls packed up and moved to "beautiful downtown" Burbank, which was not very far from Beverly. Hills that is.

Watching the episodes on DVD was a real treat because many of them seemed a bit longer than syndicated versions. Several episodes had epilogues that I had not remembered despite having watched them on the Hub network last year, there were other scenes that I had not recalled, and the great placement shots seemed more numerous. It seemed too that a brief shot of new regular Sonny (more on him below) that will excite his fans was excluded from the opening credits on the syndicated versions.

The sixth season DVD set was also unusual in that it included special features, which later season sets of series generally lacked. A gag reel of joking, flubs, and curses was entertaining. Episodic previews added a nice nostalgic touch.

Rather than being a jump the shark moment, moving to California gave the series a great jump start and an awesome new opening credit sequence to the series' truly iconic theme song. Hearing the catchy optimistic "Making Our Dreams Come True" at the beginning of the season premiere evoked a nice smile.

Buyers of the DVD should watch the credits for the first three episodes to see the transition in them.

On arriving in California, the girls moved into a one-bedroom apartment that was much nicer than their dreary Milwaukee digs. The duo also quickly made friends with their new neighbors, who became series regulars.

Hunky, rather than dreamy, Sonny managed the building and was a professional stuntman. It was nice to see this thoroughly charming hunk o' beefcake portrayed as being perhaps the smartest character on the show. Adding him to the cast also provided veteran character Carmen "The Big Ragoo" Ragusa a buddy and roommate.

The girls' next door neighbor was a blonde statuesque party girl/wannabe starlet named Rhonda. Rhonda was not evil but was so self-absorbed that she took advantage of the girls' kind natures largely without being aware that she was doing so.

The very weird and not-so-bright fan favorites Lenny and Squiggy moved into the building's fourth apartment. The writers substituted an interconnected doggy door for the dumb waiter that had run between the girls' and the boys' Milwaukee apartments.

Many sixth season episodes retained the slapstick schtick nature of previous seasons. Early episodes had Laverne wreaking havoc after getting drunk from eating rum-filled candy during her first day as a gift wrapper at a department store and getting stuck out on a ledge. Another episode had the girls thrashing about when an earthquake hit their apartment building.

This was also the season in which the girls planned and executed a complex "Mission Impossible" style caper to retrieve a nasty letter that they had written their boss.

Similar episodes had Shirley working as a knife thrower and Laverne being the target of said projectiles at the grand opening of the barbecue restaurant that Laverne's father and stepmother Frank and Edna DeFazio had purchased. That scene was hilarious, and an ongoing bit regarding the characters being too frantic to properly welcome Carmen to California in that episode was equally amusing.

Some other episodes had more mature themes. A surprisingly dark one had the gang deeply hurt each other while playing a game that required brutally honesty in answering questions about other players. The "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" vibe got so strong that Laverne began the process of kicking Shirley out of their apartment.

A rarely syndicated "lost" episode entitled "I Do I Do" involved the girls attending a party at which "Mary Jane" was in the absurdly smoky "jolly" room, there were several explicit references to smoking marijuana, and the girls inadvertently ate several pot-laced brownies. Until watching that episode, I never thought that I would have seen Lenny and Squiggy get stoned.

Another episode had "The Dating Game" contestant Squiggy using bleeped out explicit language to describe how he would incorporate honey into a date if the female contestant chose him. This was offset with scenes of Laverne, Shirley, Carmen, and Sonny hilariously positioning themselves with tin foil to get decent reception on the girls' television set.

The "I Do" and "Dating Game" episodes also had some of the great '60s era guest stars from sixth season episodes. Peter Noone of the '60s pop group "Herman's Hermits" and Eric Idle of the "Monty Python" comedy troupe played the British pop duo who hosted the party in "I Do." "The Dating Game" host Jim Lange played himself in the episode that revolved around that game show.

Additionally, dreamy '60s matinee idol Troy Donahue played himself in a classic episode in which the girls, who had never performed a stunt, conned their way into jobs as stunt women in a low-budget pre-historic film that starred Donahue.

The changes described above showed that Garry Marshall generally had good instincts aside from making "Days'" Fonzie a water-skiing daredevil, and that Marshall was not afraid to add mature themes to his bubble gum shows.

Any with questions or comments regarding "Laverne," or "Days" is encouraged to email me.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

'Gunsmoke' S8 V1 & V2: Tribute to Mom Regarding Awesome Classic Western


Reviewing the recently released DVD sets of Volume One and Two of the 1962-63 Eighth Season of "Gunsmoke" on Mother's Day is particularly apt for reasons provided below. Incidentally, the American public had decided that eight was not enough regarding this awesome drama. This exceptionally extraordinary show's 20-year run inspired Kelsey "Frasier" Grammer to try to beat James "Marshal Matt Dillon" Arness' record of playing his character for that many years.

I had decided before watching "Gunsmoke" for this review and "Have Gun-Will Travel" for a review earlier this week that I did not like Westerns despite never having watched one. (The one obvious exception was loving the '60s Western sitcom "F Troop.") I had thought that they would have been boring and unduly violent for my taste. Boy, was I wrong.

As an aside, watching "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (TNG) roughly 20 years ago proved me similarly wrong regarding "Star Trek" specifically and science fiction generally. Long-time readers and you folks who only read my recent review of  the Blu-ray release of "TNG" S4 and review of  the Blu-rauy of  "TNG's" "The Best of Both Worlds" know that I am one of the biggest fanboys out there.

The relevance of all this to Mother's Day is that moms all over the world telling kids that they do not know that they will not like something until they try it is an example of Mother often knowing best. Remember that when faced with eating the cold slimey cabbage-reeking concoction that I call cole slop, and admittedly have never tried, at the Mother's Day picnic later today.

In addition to giving Mom a nod on her special day, this review of "Gunsmoke" wraps up this week's coverage of "Western Spring" titles that are being released in May and June 2013.

As mentioned above, "Have Gun-Will Travel" the Final Seasons V1 and V2 were recently released. The Western mini-series "James A. Michener's Texas" was also recently released and received a positive review on this site. Next week's review of the upcoming DVD release of the sixth season of the sitcom "Laverne and Shirley" will mark the return of this site's focus on sitcoms, cartoons. sci-fi, and dramas.

The June 4, 2013 Sixth Season V1 and V1 DVD releases of the early Clint Eastwood Western series "Rawhide" will round out "Western Spring."

"Gunsmoke" focuses on the efforts of tall, handsome, and intelligent Marshal Dillon to keep and restore peace in 19th century Dodge City, Kansas. The little help from his friends that allows Dillon to get by includes goofy and not-so handsome Deputy Chester Goode serving as his gofer and providing highly amusing comic relief, Doc Adams patching up and healing upright citizens and scoundrels with equal dedication and compassion, and saloon owner Miss Kitty offering the great perspective of a truly wise independent frontier woman.

Seeing Dillon's relationship with Chester was particularly interesting because it provided the model for virtually every live-action and animated small-town sheriff-deputy relationship since then. Andy and Barney of "The Andy Griffith Show" were a well-known example, but even the short-lived '70s sitcom "Carter Country" had a very competent (if not so handsome) sheriff and cut but-no-so bright deputy.

Dillon's stronger interest in achieving justice, rather than merely upholding the law, is very appealing. Examples from the eighth season include not arresting a stableboy who apparently runs off with a ranch owner's horse to whom said boy has become attached, helping a half-breed 20-something whose violence against white men is somewhat justified escape mob justice, and overall acting based on his instincts regardless of whether it seems that someone committed the crime of which he or she is suspected.

An early eighth season episode  is one of the best of the mind-blowing total of 38 hour-long ones from this season. The story of an feisty 18 year-old orphan accidentally injuring one of her keepers during the orphan's escape from that genuine 19th century sweatshop for parentless girls has the mix of drama and humor that makes great television. Special appeal relates to that character's similarities to Barbara Eden's portrayal of Jeannie in the sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie."

On breezing into town, the orphan unintentionally wreaks havoc due to the lethal combination of her lack of book or street smarts and burning desire to experience life. She prompts a couple of bar fights and inadvertently gets mixed up with a married man whose wife is about to give birth. Seeing Miss Kitty try to set this girl on the right path is a particularly nice scene. The girl's first trip to a saloon is one of the season's funniest.

For his part, Dillon shows the girl the proper compassion and provides everyone a predictable but still heart-warming happy ending.

Another good episode that involves a young, but less innocent, femme fatale has the daughter of a man who is dragging his offspring across the frontier try to trap Chester into marriage so that said (not so violent) femme can settle down. She would have gotten away with it to if not for that meddling marshal and his saloon owning friend.

Eighth season guest stars include Burt Reynolds as the aforementioned half-breed, an appearance by Adam West, and a couple of guest shots by Leonard Nimoy.

The bottom line is that "Gunsmoke" is an awesome show that continues enjoying popularity today, and the remastering of the 50 year-old production looks very clear. These attributes make it well worth adding to a DVD collection.

Any with thoughts regarding "Gunsmoke" is encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, May 10, 2013

'Have Gun-Will Travel' S6 V1 & V2: Relevance Extends to Boston Marathon Bombings

The recent DVD releases of "Have Gun-Will Travel" the Final Seasons Volumes One and Two are one reason that May and June 2013 can be considered the "Western Spring" regarding DVD sets. It is possible that the upcoming "Lone Ranger" film with Johnny Depp prompted this renewed interest in the Old West.

"Travel" was released on the same day as the mini-series "James A. Michener's Texas," which received a positive review on this site, and "Gunsmoke" Season Eight Volumes One and Two. "Gunsmoke" will be reviewed next week.

Volumes One and Two of the Sixth Season of the early Clint Eastwood Western "Rawhide" with one of the catchiest theme songs ever are being released on June 4, 2013.

The first thing that required mentioning regarding "Travel" was the incredible quality of the remastered episodes of this awesome Western anthology series, which represented both of those popular genres from its late '50s/early '60s era very well. The images from the 50 year-old production were exceptionally crisp, and even background sounds were very clear.

As the multi-Emmy nominated "Travel's" title suggested, Paladin's gun was for hire. He did dance in the dark and was in a series that Sparks produced. (Google it millenials.)

A typical episode began with a telegram from a client prompting Sparks to travel from his luxury late 19th century suite at San Francisco's Carlton Hotel to the Old West location where he was needed. The hooks were that Paladin was a well-bred man whose quest for redemption prompted restricting his work to just causes. Many episodes ended with Paladin literally riding off into the sunset.

Repentant vampire Angel of his eponymous series and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was a modern example of that persona.

Seeing that the portrayed themes in "Travel" related to today's world was expected. A "ripped from the headlines" episode that DIRECTLY and fairly specifically related to an element of the Boston Marathon bombings that was playing out while I was watching Volume One episodes was surprising.

The plot of "A Place for Abel Hix" involved retired gunfighter Abel Hix hiring Paladin to retrieve (presumably legitimately acquired) funds on his behalf. On arriving to complete his mission, Paladin discovered that a wealthy landowner had recently killed Hix in a gun fight.

An early scene had Hix's diminutive widow, Hix's loyal hired hand, and a relatively frail minister attempting to carry Hix's coffin to a cemetery for burial. The townspeople who arrived on the scene within seconds of Paladin merely watched as the widow dropped her corner of the coffin on the church steps.

The unanimous attitude of the townspeople was that they did not want the body of someone with as reprehensible a past as Hix to be buried with their friends and relatives. These "good" folks would not even help the widow et al carry the coffin back into the church.

The relevancy of this aspect of "Hix" to the Boston Marathon bombing was that the body of deceased bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev was stored at a Worcester, Massachusetts funeral home for more than two weeks because Boston mayor Tom Menino numerous other public and private officials refused to allow the body to be buried in cemeteries under their jurisdiction. This included a cemetery that the Massachusetts Department of Corrections operated. 

The stalemate ended just yesterday when it was announced that Tsarnaev would be buried at an undisclosed location.

There is virtually no doubt that Baby did a bad bad thing and deserved appropriate punishment. However, there is a strong argument that common decency and the pain of the relatives who loved Tsarnaev entitled Tsarnaev to at least quietly being put to rest in the same manner as many before him who have caused far worse mayhem than the truly despicable bombings that justified hating the perpetrators of that deed. 

It seemed that Paladin recognized the principle described above in advocating reasonable treatment of Hix's remains.

As an aside, Boston's NPR station WBUR ran a related story regarding the bombing-related anger of Boston this morning. The interviewed psychiatrist stated both that people did not respect people who did acts such as the bombing because the malfeasors did not respect them. The psychiatrist described the challenge as channeling the anger in a healthy manner.

The prescription for properly channeled anger prompted thoughts of comedy legend Mel Brooks remarking that he ridiculed Nazis in films such as "The Producers" and "To Be or Not to Be" to take away the fascists' power. This technique prompted me to make jokes regarding Curious George's man in the yellow hat a few weeks ago.

Returning to "Travel," the sixth (and final) season premiere had minor shades of "Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade" in that it involved rather Freudian daddy issues (watch the closing credits carefully) and had Paladin assume protector duties from a predecessor. This origin story started with Paladin beating down a would-be assassin who ambushed him in his hotel suite.

Paladin then related how a gambler, played by episode director William "Frank Cannon" Conrad, had coerced Paladin into going after a man who had taken all of the gambler's property and banished that character from his community. This incidence essentially made Paladin the man that he had become.

"Star Trek" god Gene Roddenberry wrote the second episode of the sixth season. Unintended humor in that one had the shrew who a wealthy ranch owner hired Paladin to drive away style her hair in braided buns on the side ala Princess Leia in the "Star Wars" films. Watching Paladin's low key style of tormenting this woman was hilarious, and seeing him display his well-known honor at the very end was great. 

A Christmas episode had Paladin finding shelter for and protecting a woman was due to give birth. 

Like "Hix," other episodes had Paladin defending less than reputable sorts. One assignment near the end of the series' run had Paladin transporting a murderer from a prison to a mental hospital. More typical stories along these lines put Paladin in the role of protecting folks who were accused of heinous acts against other folks who did not take kindly to those deeds.

Aside from the well-acted great dramas in "Travel," this series was special because it showed both that supposedly upright citizens did not have as much compassion and love for their fellow man as they asserted to possess and that there was at least one man out there with the integrity to go to extraordinary lengths to do what was right and honor his commitments.

Anyone with questions regarding "Travel" is encouraged to email me.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

'James A. Michener's Texas:' Equal Parts Docu and Drama Mini-series

The most amusing thing about the recent DVD release of the 1994 ABC mini-series "James A. Michener's Texas," which expertly chronicled the battle of Texas settlers for independence from Mexico, was that the disc was manufactured in our south of the border neighbor. No, resolving that 19th century conflict did not directly lead to NAFTA.

It is worth mentioning as well that this mini-series did not support the theory that adding an auteur's name to a movie's or television program's title was camouflage designed to make a bad production seem good. Every aspect of this mini-series, including the wonderful cinematography and perfect narration by Charlton Heston, was terrific.

The auteur aspect of Michener was that he was a well-known and highly respected author of novels that depicted the historical development of different areas from the perspectives of characters who experienced those events. The numerous subjects of these very lengthy works extended beyond Texas to include places such as Alaska and the South Pacific.

This well-produced DVD was also timely both because it was released during the May sweeps period and because it came a few months after PBS' documentary series "The Pioneers of Television" ran an episode on epic mini-series such as "Texas. " These series were sweeps staples before cable television diluted the audience numbers that justified the big budgets for these lavish productions.

Trademarks of these events, which typically ran between two and five nights, were big names and large-scale sets that reflected the epic nature of their often decades-long stories.

"Texas" was reminiscent of the earlier and lengthier mini-series "North and South," which depicted the events leading up to the American Civil War from the perspectives of the families of a son of a plantation owner and a son of a Pennsylvania factory owner who became best friends while rooming together at the West Point military academy. Patrick Swayze was that series' big name.

A primary similarity between "Texas" and "North" was that characters who began as friends ended up on opposite sides of a conflict that genuinely changed America forever. There was also the inevitable love triangle.

Casting "Dallas" original series and 2.0 star Patrick Duffy as Texian, a.k.a. Texican, settler and Mexican government liaison turned rebel leader, rather than test pilot turned Bionic-powered government agent, Steve Austin was interesting in a good way. Not only had Duffy starred in a series set in Texas 150 years after the events of "Texas,'" but "Dallas" was originally conceived as a mini-series that principally (of course, pun intended) around the Romeo and Juliet romance between Duffy's Bobby Ewing and Victoria Principal's Pam Barnes.

"Dallas" was transformed into a long-running weekly series when the evil schemes of Bobby's older brother J.R. captivated audiences.

No one would confuse Steve Austin with Bobby Ewing, but Duffy played both characters in similar manners. Austin initially peacefully enforced the regulations that the Mexican government imposed on the young men and women who had gone west to settle on then Mexico-owned land. A critical event that occurred roughly one hour into the mini-series convinced Austin to actively join the fight for independence from Mexico.

Austin also initially had the same form of sibling rivalry with the unrelated Sam Houston, played by classic actor Stacy Keach, that Bobby and J.R. never really resolved in the original series despite periods of detente. Houston's objectives in coming to Texas from Virginia included inciting the rebellion that lead to the famous battle at the Alamo.One truly could say "Houston we have a problem" regarding his personal conflict and the larger one.

Keach did a particularly good job with an entertaining PG, as opposed to even PG-13, homoerotic scene while still in Virginia. Houston and legendary frontiersman and future Texas resident Jim Bowie were quietly sitting by themselves when Houston asked Bowie if "it" was as big as people said that "it" was.

Bowie replied that "it" was pretty big. He then reached into the waistband of his pants when Houston asked to see "it." Bowie reached further into his britches when Houston asked to see "all of it." Anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of old west history knows that "it" was the knife that was named after Mr. Bowie.

Another great homoerotic moment involved a prolonged shot of mini-series "Lonesome Dove" and "Return to Lonesome Dove" star Rick "Don't call me Ricky" Schroder's bare back 40 as he finished bathing in a river. Schroder played Otto, the adult son of a settler, in "Texas."

Schroder's character was interesting on many levels that extended beyond his well-formed hindquarters. He served as a tough but loving unrelated older brother to Yancy, who was the less rugged son of strong-willed frontier widow Maddie Quimper. Otto also had a compellingly odd father fixation (man crush?) on Mexican native Benito.

Seeing  a very vulnerable Otto's heart break when Benito, who Benjamin Bratt portrayed, literally rode off to war may have broken the heart of more sensitive audience members.

The aforementioned love triangle involved Austin competing with Benito for the heart of Maddie. Although Benito and Austin had been friends, Benito added to the conflict between them when he joined the campaign by Mexican general Santa Anna to drive most settlers off the land.

Maddie remarking to Benito that the settlers wanted to fight for their land and Benito responding with well-controlled anger that the land used to be his was an awesome scene that depicted the series' central conflict. Benito added the further relevant observations that Mexicans respected land and that Americans only wanted to possess and exploit it.

Rather than continuing on to create a review that rivals a Michener novel in length, this analysis will end with sharing that the extras include a very good "making of" feature and an always entertaining trailer and equally worthwhile extended promo.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Texas," or "Dallas," is encouraged to email me.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

'Love Sick Love:' Edna Garrett Loses Her Mind

Love Sick Love (2012) Poster
The DVD release, which is coming out on May 21, 2013, of the "thriller" "Love Sick Love" was a nice surprise. This wonderfully dark and perverse tale of a woman with more baggage than an airliner's overhead compartments tormenting her latest womanizing boyfriend is much more dark comedy than suspense flick.

Having Charlotte Rae, who was (sometimes incredibly annoyingly) earnest surrogate mom Mrs. Garrett on the '70s and '80s sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes" and "The Facts of Life" play an incredibly unstable grandmother attracted me to the film. "Love's" lead actor saying "F*** you, Grandma" to Rae's character was plain ole good entertainment.

The fate of Rae's character was equally interesting and makes the subheading of this review hilarious. That outcome also likely delighted Rae's nemesis "Dynasty" star Joan Collins if Collins saw the film. The nature of the Rae/Collins feud was that Rae referred to Collins as a "b****" in an interview a few years ago. Collins' response was to ask who was that "old cow" in reference to Rae.

The Rae/Collins exchange has greatly added to the enjoyment that my significant other and I obtain from my "The Facts of Life" DVDs. (Yes, rich brat Blair Warner gets the worst of it.)

Rae's spot-on "Baby Jane" style performance and the terrific warped sensibility of the film that genuinely made me believe that a missing pet bunny would be found in a crock pot (Google it millenials) showed that a good production did not require matinee idols and special effects budgets that would feed a continent's population for a year.

This example of an awesome limited budget movie is particularly relevant at the beginning of a blockbuster season in which "Man of Steel" is the only film that excites me. I decided to pass on "Iron Man 3," despite going to the first two entries, even before reading the mediocre reviews publicized the stark (of course, pun intended) reality of this one.

"Love" spins an entertaining yarn with only a handful of characters, actors who currently lack strong star power, and most of the action occurring in a nice upstate New York country home. There is nary a superstorm, CGI creature, or alien landscape in sight.

The condensed version of the plot is that boy meets girl, boy beds girl, boy is done with girl, girl is not done with boy, girl persuades boy to go away for a long weekend, boy does not return girl's love, girl's dark side is unleashed, girl shackles boy, girl forces boy to play daddy to her previously unknown offspring and to experience a year's worth of holidays in a few days.

A scene in which boy is shackled to a bed with a pair of Easter Bunny ears on his head and girl's panties crammed in his mouth alone makes this film worth watching.

Perhaps the funniest thing is that the theory of Dori, played by Katia Winter, that seeing how a potential spouse handles holidays provides a sense of the probability that a marriage will succeed has merit. Holidays can be stressful, and seeing how someone responds can be very telling.

Winter plays the role well; she appears quite normal at the outset and plays menacing without going over the top. I happily would have accepted an invitation to her country home if I had not known that doing so would have placed my pets at risk of becoming kitty tartar. 

"Gossip Girl's" Matthew Settle is the unfortunate cad who macs on the wrong babe. Like Winter, he does a nice job and keeps his head while those around him are losing theirs and even after the real fireworks begin. (This will also be hilarious after you see the film.)

Anyone with questions regarding "Love" is encouraged to email me.

Monday, May 6, 2013

'Flashpoint' S5: Canadian S.W.A.T.

The DVD set, which is being released on May 7, 2013, of the fifth season of Canadian police drama "Flashpoint" is one of the few shows that I have reviewed blind in that I had not seen nor heard of it.

The press release for "Flashpoint" that included the description that "the SRU [Strategic Response Unit] is a team of elite police officers trained to take on anything including rescuing hostages, defusing bombs, scaling buildings and profiling suspects all to diffuse highly dangerous situations and save lives" evoked images of the mid-70s ABC police drama "S.W.A.T."

Further research revealed that the SRU was modeled on the Toronto Police Emergency Task Force and that  "Flashpoint" aired over the ion television network in the United States.

A great deal of reflection, and a strong interest in being fair, led to concluding both that this season of "Flashpoint" was average and that being average is just fine. Further contemplation led to realizing that average shows only seem not-so-great because we fanboys compare them to favorite shows that we immensely enjoy.

Remembering a strong fondness for the wonderfully quirky Canadian series "Slings and Arrows," "Trailer Park Boys," "Corner Gas," and "Todd and the Book of Pure Evil" waylaid any concerns regarding any subconscious bias regarding shows from north of the border. 

This police procedural simply does a nice job following the procedure each week. In this case, the procedure typically involves the team jumping into action on learning of the bad guy of the week capturing an "innocent" or "innocents" of the week. One hook is that not every hostage is as pure as initially believed.

The team then develops a plan that will capture the malfeasor while protecting the innocent against further peril. It is just as typical that something goes awry roughly fifteen minutes before the finale but that the team prevails in the end.

This formula has successfully worked on television for roughly 50 years. Average shows such as "Flashpoint" present the stories in a way that keeps the audience's attention for roughly one hour; below average series depict contrived situations, suffer from horrible acting, and/or have laughably deplorable production values.

The only laughable element in "Flashpoint" was that Vancouver-born surfer dude type and "Final Destination" dreamy actor Dave Paetkau did not really pull off playing elite team member Sam Braddock.

Paetkau's manner was fine, but his intonation was all wrong for the role of hard-core hero. The few times that he spoke, the audience expected him to call a colleague either "dude" or "bra" or refer to the bad guy as "bogus." This supported the theory that Paetkau's main purpose was to stand there and look pretty.

Superman fans can only hope that Paetkau did better in a role as a threat analysts in "Man of Steel."

The miscasting of Paetkau demonstrated that the primary elements that make a procedural above average relate mostly to the characters. Cop shows in the '70s were wildly popular because the titular characters had quirks that included regular consumption of lollypops, parking their car in their living room, or often having a cockatoo on their shoulder. (This provides a bonanza of Googleable opportunities for you millenials.) In other words, the cops had strong personalities that made them more interesting than the people in our everyday lives.

More modern examples of interesting television detectives are the brilliant Temperance "Bones" Brennan of "Bones" unintentionally amusingly being sharp and condescending much of the time and the team members on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" having extraordinarily interesting individual and group histories as well as hobbies that range from the history of the mob in Las Vegas to characteristics of different mushroom types.

I have written many times that I loved awesomely dreamy and goofy lab rat Greg Sanders, who once danced around in a Carmen Miranda (Google it) fruit hat, over the more stoic field investigator that he became.

Conversely, the "Flashpoint" team always seemed very calm. Additionally, I did not get a very strong sense of them as people or their individual roles on the team despite watching the first four and last three episodes of the eleven fifth season episodes. (I never learned the last names of a few main characters and never learned the first name of one.) Virtually all of the action occurred while the group strongly focused on the task at hand.

Watching the situations unfold kept me on my couch, but not on its edge. The season premiere pitted the team against hijackers who had taken control of a passenger jet to obtain the release of the leader of their group that did not acknowledge the government's authority regarding any aspect of their lives. The twists were whether any hijackers were concealing themselves among the passengers and the fate of an all-American (or Canadian) teen.

A more personal episode revolved around an undercover drug investigation in which a former colleague of SRU lead sniper Ed Lane participated. Ed's presence at an apparent revenge assassination attempt directed at the colleague got his team involved. An above-average moment in that episode had Ed channeling Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry character. In the case of "Flashpoint," the "punk" was not lucky.

Other plots involved an interesting look at many facets of the practice of capturing American executives for very little fun but a great deal of profit and the risks associated with biohazard labs.

An episode, which was the season (and likely the series) finale, that involved an investigation of a serial arsonist is one of the season's best. It provides looks at both training exercises in which firefighters participate and a somewhat insightful glimpse at the stress that these professionals face.

More personal aspects of the arson episode includes a rare crack in the confidence of top negotiator Greg Parker, played by Enrico "Veronica Mars' dad" Colantoni, and a resolution of a surprisingly little mentioned ongoing plot line regarding a forbidden clandestine relationship between team members.

The bottom line is that "Flashpoint" is a good show that had the potential to be more "NYPD Blue" than"The Mob Doctor."

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Flashpoint" is encouraged to email me.

Friday, May 3, 2013

'The Roman Holidays;' Empirical Evidence of Collosally Great Comedy

The Roman Holidays Complete Series (MOD)
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1972-73 Saturday morning cartoon series "The Roman Holidays" should remove any doubt regarding Hanna-Barbera (H-B) earning the title of "All-time King of Saturday Mornings." Like the similar recently released DVD set of "Help!...It's The Hair Bear Bunch," "Holidays" is even better than remembered.

Greater "Holiday" cheer is likely attributed to its primary target audience of Gen Xers having a much better understanding of the humor of this "Flintstonesesque" series set in 63 A.D. Rome than they did 40 years ago.

I doubt that I understood the joke "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" back in the day. I know that I did not understand the humor regarding a Centurion traffic cop asking "Where's the fire, Nero" when pulling over a speeder.

The combination of great humor and lack of a laugh track in "Holidays" also evoked memories of Alan Spencer, who created the hilarious '80s cop show spoof sitcom "Sledge Hammer!," successfully lobbying for removing the laugh track from the episodes in the DVD release of "Sledge." Spencer plainly stated that the audience did not need to be told when something was funny.

"Holidays" followed the highly successful "historical context" formula that H-B utilized in "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons."

In the case of "Holidays," the middle-class nuclear Holiday family lived an early '70s American style life in ancient Rome. Dad Gus mowed the lawn and watched football, mom Laurie kept house and guided Gus and the couples' two children through life, teen son Happius (a.k.a. Happy) played in a band and had a steady girl, and tween daughter Precocia was the golden child who begged Laurie to allow her to wear a mini-toga.

Rather than a lovable dinosaur ala "The Flintsones" or a wonderfully dopey dog ala "The Jetsons," the Holiday family pet was a tame accident-prone lion named Brutus who loved Gus as much as Dino and Astro adored their "daddies."

"Holidays" also supported the theory that Hanna and/or Barbera had a thing for Gingers that might have rivaled Alfred Hitchcock's preference for blondes. Laurie Holiday, Wilma Flintstone, Jane Jetson, Josie of "Josie and the Pussycats," Tina of "Goober and the Ghost Chasers," and Daphne of "Scooby-Doo" were all red-heads. This percentage of women in the H-B universe with that hair color far exceeds the norm in the general real-world population.

Just as the Flintsone family put a stone age spin on their vernacular and household possessions and the Jetson clan transformed everything into a space motif, the Holidays geared everything to the society of their days. This often took the form of adding "ius" to celebrity names. Stefano McQueenius was a popular star, and Naderius was a consumer advocate.

Examples of tricking out everyday items Roman style included sundial and hour-glass watches, televisions that displayed numbers in the Roman numeral style, and newspapers coming in scroll form.

Similar to Fred Flintsone and George Jetson, construction worker Gus Holiday worked for a hot-tempered boss who regularly threatened to fire him and ultimately withdrew awarded raises and promotions. Gus had the additional woe of appropriately named Mr. Evictus, who was as tempermental as Gus' boss and often threatened the family with eviction from their home in the amusingly named Venus De Milo Arms apartment building.

Evictus' threats prompted one of the series' most amusing moments. Precocia asked during a ride in the family's chariot if they could take a detour through the park so that she could see where they will be living. 

Like "Bear," "Holidays" also benefited from an awesome group voice cast.

Stanley Livingston, who provided the voice of Happy right after finishing a phenomenonal 12-year run as middle-son Chip Douglas on the sitcom "My Three Sons," is tied with veteran comedian Dom DeLuise for most recognizable name to Gen Xers. DeLuise did the same awesome job portraying Mr. Evictus as he did with his better-known roles.

H-B voice god Daws Butler, who brought Brutus to life, is almost as well known as Livingston and DeLuise. Butler made this scene-stealing character a cross between "The Wizard of Oz's" cowardly lion and Butler's portrayal of classic H-B character pink mountain lion Snagglepuss.

Character actor Dave Wilock provided Gus' voice; his other high-profile H-B gig was as the narrator of the hilarious late-60s series "Wacky Races." "Races" is notably for leading to the equally good spinoffs "Dastardley and Muttley in their Flying Machines" , which had the very catchy theme song with the lyrics "Stop that pigeon; stop that pigeon; stop that pigeon now, and "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop."

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Holidays" is encouraged to email me.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

'A Monster in Paris:' Flea Cirque du Paris

The unique story behind the "unreal" feature-length animated film "A Monster in Paris" makes it very appropriate for purveyor of the wonderfully rare and/or quirky Shout Factory to offer it in separate DVD and Blu-ray releases.

The film was made and released in France, and "Shark Tales" director Bibo Bergeron had it dubbed in English for lovers of  high-quality animation on this side of the pond.

This production truly is one of the best French imports since the croissant au chocolat. It is a rare case in which even adults care about the fates of animated characters.

"Monster" is set in a beautifully animated 1910 Paris; protagonist Raoul is a very energetic and likeable, if somewhat egotistical, deliveryman and amateur inventor. His prohibited playing with chemicals in a scientist's laboratory transforms an ordinary flea into a very good-natured seven-foot tall creature. As an aside, the greenhouse-style laboratory is a particularly well animated fantasy land.

Politically ambitious police Commissioner Maynott views the "monster's" creation and ramblings around Paris as an opportunity to use the pursuit and capture of him as a path to being elected mayor of Paris.

Maynott's scheme prompts Raoul and his BFF Emil to chase the "monster" for the purpose of protecting him. Emil is a diminutive mild-mannered projectionist and amateur filmmaker whose psychical appearance and attire make him look like a leprechaun.

The "monster's" trek through the City of Lights brings him into contact with music hall star Lucille, who is a childhood friend and requited love interest, of Raoul. The "monster's" gentle nature and sweet singing voice persuade Lucille to disguise him for the purpose of protecting him and to name him Franc.

Proverbial wacky events lead to Lucille and Franc appearing together and becoming their generation's Donny and Marie. (This is this week's first Googleable moment for you millenials.) Fairly soon after that, Lucille joins Raoul's and Emil's effort to protect Franc.

Particularly hilarious moments include the pompous Maynott suffering from "helium speak," highly evolved monkey Charles holding up a card that reads "not guilty" when accused of involvement in unleashing Franc on the world, and a clever version of the dropping trou scene that seems to be a staple of this genre.

The casting choices for the American version voice actors show as much integrity as the film itself. Rather than populate the cast with highly recognizable former and current sitcom stars, Bergeron keeps original Lucille portrayor Vanessa Paradis as that character's English-speaking and singing voice and fill out the cast with talented "B List" American actors.

Adam Goldberg, who is the "seventh" Pete Bestesque friend on the '90s sitcom "Friends," brings great energy and intonation to the role of Raoul. It is very nice that he checks his violent and creepy character persona at the door.

Jay Harrington plays Emile in a way that makes us feel his pain. Seeing his expressions as he recorded his part would have been a special treat.

John Lennon's and Yoko Ono's son Sean Lennon expertly provides the singing voice of Franc. It is nice to think that the humor regarding having the offspring of a Beatle provide the voice of a flea is intentional.

It is worth noting that Franc does sit by a river and plays guitar but does not do so simultaneously. (This is this week's second Googleable moment for millenials.)

Considering that "Monster" is a kids' film, which really should appeal to all from 8-to-80, saying that the good guys win and that the boys get the girls is not a spoiler. How "Monster" gets there is much more than half the fun.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Monster" is encouraged to email me.