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Cell 2455, Death Row (1955)
A big surprise to me
****MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***** I just finished watching Cell 2455; it was shown on TCM the other night (September 2012). Wow--not what I was expecting, not cheesy, not cliché ridden, but well acted, exciting, and amazingly of all, the protagonist's voice-over is far from boring. I well remember Chessman's case; Governor Brown (father of incumbent CA governor) finally permitted the execution, in 1960, I think it was. The movie was made before then so the "hero's" fate is left hanging. There are some very interesting legal aspects briefly touched upon in the film. For one thing, they executed a non-murderer (my coinage!). Under CA's "LIttle Lindbergh Law" (little because there was a federal similar statute), injury to a kidnap victim can warrant the death penalty. As the criminal complains, what kind of "kidnaping" involves moving the victim (the women he raped, at least one into insanity) only a few steps? Note: New York's highest court ruled, in the 50s or 60s, their kidnap statute did NOT cover moving a victim a short distance in aid of another motivating crime such as robbery (victim was driven around a bit in a car and robbed).
Another strange aspect was that the trial court reporter died before transcribing his shorthand notes. At a hearing the head of a national association of certified shorthand court reporters testified the notes were unreadable by anybody but their original (now deceased) writer. Chessman lost the hearing nonetheless, and had to appeal on a transcript made by a substitute reporter.
Chessman published three or four memoirs before execution. The first one -- the eponymous title -- got him huge publicity. In my long experience with crime and Liberals, let me just say a favorite "victim" of anti-capital punishment people is the brutal criminal who can write decent books. (Recall Jack Henry Abbott, a two-time killer championed by Normal Mailer for his prison writing. Mailer's influence helped him get parole; within a year or so he killed a harmless waiter in an alley fight. So there's no mistaking my beliefs, I do not blame Mailer for Abbott's release: that was the responsibility of the New York Parole Board. Mailer eventually expressed contrition for his role.)
Chessman dragged out his execution for about twelve years from sentence to asphyxiation in the gas chamber. This was a remarkable feat, because in those days-- 1948-1960--there were nowhere near as many tricks and tips, dodges and feints, to drag out executions as there are now. Chessman was mainly responsible for fighting and winning his own legal battles along the way. I think I read his IQ was 140 or thereabouts.
One last oddity: the introducer of the film on TCM said they changed the name of the character from Chessman to avoid legal entanglements (with his family? victims?). That seemed plausible until the opening credits, which featured a big blow-up of the dust jacket of Chessman's book, obviously identifying him as the subject of the film. Prior to that, a credit said it was based on his book. Yet there was, in tiny type, the usual "no persons living or dead, etc.". You can't beat these Hollywood studio lawyers.
Abie's Irish Rose (1946)
Ethnic war curio
This was based on a 1920s Broadway play that was panned by the critics but ran for about five years, setting a record at that time. It is something of a Romeo and Juliet acted out by the Jews and the Irish. Was shown on TV in the early 1950s. Don't remember much about its quality; couldn't grasp the tension between the families because living in Brooklyn I thought that just about everybody was Jewish anyway. Bizarrely, Art Baker, MC of the popular "You Asked for It" TV show, played the rabbi. As a kid I couldn't compute how this rather serious MC on a documentary-type show had wound up in a farce (which preceded his run on the show, of course). Yes, the early days of TV were confusing.
Make Me Laugh (1958)
Better of the early TV shows
I only saw the "modern" version for about a minute but I did see a lot of the 1950s short-lived version (a summer replacement)? And somehow I've got a commercially sold tape with one segment. The idea was so good I am surprised it wasn't a big hit. Beginning in grade school the better students (by my standards) were always on the edge of breaking up, and because laughing was a serious crime, keeping a straight face while somebody in the row next to you was trying to crack you up was exquisite torture. (For an inside view of the class clown who delights in getting you in trouble, see George Carlin's posthumous memoir.) Watching my air check of the show one is struck by 1) the cigarette commercials, which are insanely upside down in terms of what cigarettes do to smokers and the role of the American wife, whose vacuuming annoys her husband, who is trying to listen to a cigarette commercial on TV; wife apologetically interrupts her labors and makes nice with hubby and 2) what a generic character Robert Q. Lewis was. (I had seen him on a variety of shows.) A pleasant enough man, he seemed devoid of all talent other than being genial and congenial.
A singular talent
I saw this show probably several times at the age of 9 going into 10. I recall clearly a "talent" Henry unearthed: a man who could say what you were saying seemingly simultaneously, so that the two speakers sounded like one. The capper was when Morgan called in a man who spoke Japanese, and if memory serves the talent guest kept up. Despite a life devoted to trivia I have never come across a reference to this guest but in the 1980s, I think it was, I did see on TV somebody who could pull this feat off for English speakers, at least. Don't know what the skill is called. Morgan himself had a deserved cult following but when I obtained a CD of some of his radio shows they didn't cut the mustard, a frequent occurrence when we walk down memory lane. By contrast, the Bob and Ray material released by the official foundation or whatever it is that is run by Larry Josephson stands up very well indeed.
The Komediant (2000)
Priceless trove of Yiddish show biz
I neither have the knowledge nor any reason to disagree with the careful, detailed comment above (or is it below) as to the mediocrity of most of this family's material, or any of the rest of the comment. I would simply say while interesting to know, the criticism is no reason at all not to see this movie. There just isn't that much easily accessible film on Yiddish or Jewish show biz, outside of some theatrical movies kicking around out there but not in Blockbusters. I worked in the Catskills in the summers of 1957 and 1958 and to me there is no subcategory of schlock (cheaply made) within Yiddish entertainment. It's all good, the good and the not so good, at least now that it's hardly available. Critical distinctions don't matter at this point, and certainly should not to younger people who are unfamiliar with but curious about the Yiddish genre. Sure, there were better actors and mediocre actors, better plays and unoriginal skits, performers with originality and marginal journeymen just able to earn enough to eat, and I say so what? See this film and get a taste of the unfamiliar. You probably have seen enough crap from Hollywood to last a life time and gotten nothing out of it; with The Komediant you'll at least see something different, a world of show biz that at one time was huge and now is mostly a memory.
Once and Again (1999)
I panned Thirtysomething on this site, so I'm duty bound to give praise where due...the same people made Once and Again. I saw an episode or two on TV and remembered it fondly enough to get the DVD, which I proceeded to devour in about 4 nights. (I now know why DVD TV shows are so popular: you don't have to wait a week to see each episode.)
I thought the situations and dialogue were completely realistic. My wife, a divorce attorney, saw the show years ago and remembers it as completely unrealistic. But isn't that the master craft of entertaining TV and movies -- making the unrealistic appear realistic? I'll bet there is some good writing on this point...please send me a message if you know of any.
The Apology Show
For a few seasons I compulsively watched this show the way one might keep checking a closet to see if the bad smell is still there. Who can explain what drives us to watch what annoys us? After a few months I figured out that the spine of the story was based on apologizing. Subtract apologies between these characters the day after they find miniature ways to offend each other, and you've hardly got a plot.
My favorite bit was when Timothy B-something, I think his name was (the red-headed actor) got his big chance to direct a commercial, and showed a black guy how he wanted a 'hood walk performed.
Worst moment was when a most annoying woman character went ballistic because on a date the guy (the boss at the ad agency) tried to kiss her! Imagine trying to steal a kiss from your thirty-something date! Take back the night, and keep this show.
Must have had a following in his day
It is not so odd that I have seen this short, as I'm always curious about the old one or two-reelers, and used to catch some back in the late 1940's and early 1950's in my neighborhood movie houses. Hence I immediately bought the laser-disc box sets when they were issued (I think they go for $500 now or some such ridiculous price). Movie Mania is on Vitaphone Shorts: A 70th Anniversay Celebration, a/k/a Cavalcade of Vitaphone Shorts Volume 2 (MGM/UA ML 105220).
Anyway, to get to the point: it is always strange to see an old-timer one has never heard of, when it is evident from the setting that he had a following back in the day. One assumes that if you've heard of Eddie Cantor, Pete Smith, and a few dozen others, you know the lay of the land. But people like Dave Appolon keep popping up. (One of my laser shorts collections has an extended one-man slapstick vaudeville act done by a man so obnoxious, not to mention unfunny, that it's hard to believe he would be invited for dinner, let alone cut a swath in show biz.)
Can't say I like Mr. Appolon. He is clearly master of his instrument, the mandolin, which puts me in mind of one of my friend's favorite put-downs: "it's like being the world's best accordianist". Of course, I don't want to sound or even be a philistine; all music is good, right? Then there's Appolon's personality; he projects himself as an imperious Russian. Just how large was his following? Not worth researching, to me. Now compare a team unknown today: Olson and Johnson. Geniuses who anticipated all the fancy post-modern doo-dads that wow the college circuit -- just catch Hellzapoppin.
Broadway Open House (1950)
In 1950 this was worth watching.
I saw Broadway Open House at least several times back in the day, when I was 9. Even at that age Dagmar, of the large chest, made an impression. (Faye Emerson around the same time was a TV sensation with her "plunging neckline" dresses. But I digress). The occasion for this comment is my recent viewing of some old kinescopes of the show. It is barely tolerable now, but with a little imagination I can see why it would have been popular in 1950. It was slightly racy, had a lot of (phoney?) ad-libbing, and Jerry's impish personality was perfect for a ten inch screen. I don't hold with the school of criticism that enjoys something and then puts it down years later for being old-fashioned or otherwise not up to current standards. Unfortunately, Dagmar became the star attraction and drove Lester to despair. There's a little about this in The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows.
These scenes were deleted mostly for good reason
Well, I just watched my new DVD of Hidden Hollywood (I have a Vol. II not seen yet); Anyway, the deletion of these scenes of the great and near-great (Durante, Temple, Power, Faye, Bojangles Robinson, Ethel Merman, and others) reflects sound judgment of the great movie moguls. One notable exception is a Durante-Temple duet. But don't reject this compilation too quickly: there are many brief shots of what the stars do just before and after the scene is acted (cameras are rolling a bit before and after); also some newsreel footage of premieres I hadn't seen despite a decent familiarity with that kind of material. I'm not sorry I sat through it, but it's certainly miles away from many other compilations I've seen, but then again, those have excerpts from available movies, while this one is a unique source. In short, only you know how big a movie nut you are, so only you know whether you want to obtain and watch this film.