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I was stoned out of my mind when I saw this thing. It's truly stunning. Note that Hollywood Squares staple Bruce Vilanch was one of the writers. (This show bears odd similarities to his other opus, "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour".) By the time this creation, which I call "Episode 4.5" was in its zenith, so was I; the pipe was empty. I felt as though Princess Leia's voice was vibrating in my spine. At one point she looked right at me and I saw her with my entire face, not just my eyes. The best moments are with Bea Arthur. I rewound the exchange between her and "Ludlow" and "Thorpe" about twenty times. "Short memory, eh, Thorpe? SHORT MEMORY!" By the time the Wookies were walking through outer space in red robes towards what appears to be the sun I felt as though I was with them. I don't remember the cartoon, but I do recall Mark Hamill looking like he was auditioning for the Gay Ice Capades. Also, you will find out several things you may have wanted to know about "Star Wars":
How do Wookies entertain themselves? Why is Grandpa Wookie named "Itchy"? What is the warm, cuddly side of Han Solo? What would a love scene between Bea Arthur and Harvey Korman REALLY look like? What are the lyrics to the "Star Wars" theme? And what would they sound like if Princess Leia sang them? What would it be like for an aged, portly Art Carney to engage in a familiar "Honeymooners" routine with an Imperial Guard as his Ralphie-boy? But it stll leaves several questions: Why does "Lumpy" so resemble the kid from "Eight is Enough"? Why do the characters from "Star Wars" never change their clothes until "The Empire Strikes Back"? What was the story behind the "Short memory!" crack? Was there a romance between Bea Arthur and "Thorpe"? If so, what are the long-term consequences to the Cantina atmosphere? Was Bea Arthur just filling in that day for the big ugly fellow who ran the bar in "A New Hope"? Or does she own the place? Why do Imperial Guards adore "Jefferson Starship", and why do old Wookies have a fetish for African-American Humans?
I hope Lucas creates another one of these. I would love to see Jar-Jar Binks exchange puns with Kelsey Grammar or Ray Romano.
Way Out West (1937)
That's All Some Ball
These guys were just plain nutty. Along with "Chumps at Oxford" I think this was their greatest feature. Any movie with a hillbilly band is okay with me. One of the funniest moments in film history is when Stan and Ollie hear the band and slowly groove into the nuttiest dance ever captured on film. I could watch that damn nutty dance a thousand times. (I think I have, maybe.) The story concerns Stan and Ollie having to deliver the deed to a gold mine to an innocent young damsel. Hillarity (and villainy) ensue. The apex of this film, (other than the dance) is when they attempt to rescue the damsel by tying a mule to Ollie via a pully and then Stan hoisting Ollie up to the second floor. "Wait a second 'til I spit on me hands."
I could hear Ollie scream "OOOHHHHH!" until the day I croak. If you dig a tasty comedy, then check this out. It's only an hour long, and you will never laugh louder. And for dessert, Stan and Ollie sing (and quite well, too) "On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine."
Another Froggy Evening (1995)
An unseen masterpiece
Apparently this terrific short has not been given a proper release due to a squabble between Chuck Jones and Warner Bros. This is a shame, because this film is terrific.
This is a sequel to the classic, "One Froggy Evening", in which a poor demolition man finds a singing frog in the cornerstone of an old building. The only problem was that the frog would only sing for him, and no one else would believe that he had found such a rare animal. The man's life is eventually ruined and he puts the frog back into the cornerstone of a new building. Centuries later, when a space-suited demolition man is vaporizing the same building he comes across the singing frog and runs off with him, dollar signs floating over his head.
The new film depicts the adventures of "Michigan J. Frog" throughout history. We discover that his secretive vocal gifts and the human misfortune resulting from them have been repeated throughout the history of mankind. At each epoch of human civilization we see a dim-witted, would-be impresario trying to make money off of a frog that will sing only for him. A caveman, a Roman and even Robinson Crusoe all fall victim to greed upon discovering the frog with a taste for turn-of-the century songs. Each of them meets a fate similar to the poor schmuck from the first film. In fact, the money-mad characters in this film even resemble the character from the original.
The animation is first-rate, with none of the plastic-looking, digital sheen of recent Warner Bros. animation. It looks exactly like a classic 50's Warners cartoon short. Chuck Jones really outdid himself with the story, direction and animation found in this film. Even Michigan J. Frog sounds exactly the same as he did in the first film, although another actor must have sung the part, because this cartoon includes several all-new songs.
If Warners is not going to release this film in theatres they should at least put it out on video or give it a big build-up on the Cartoon Network. A hell of a lot of work obviously went into the making of it, and it shows Jones at the peak of is talent. Audiences would fall in love with this film; it really is that good.
The Last Hurrah
It is with some melancholy that I saw this film recently, as it was the final appearance from the classic Universal monsters. But after the mediocrity of "House of Frankenstein" and "House of Dracula" this film sends them all out with a bang. After seventeen years of Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolf Man films, Universal brought them back to save the careers of Bud and Lou, who were on a slow ride downhill. The plot is no more ridiculous than the previous two films in the series, and the music, effects, production design and performances are actually a bit superior. The film was a surprise hit and although the monsters never returned, Bud and Lou went on to meet the Mummy, The Invisible Man, several ghosts, and ended up as aged men Lost in Alaska. It's great to see Bela back as Dracula, and he is in fine form reprising the role that made him famous. Cowboy actor Glen Strange played the monster for the third and final time, and Lon Chaney Jr., the only actor ever to play Larry Talbot, is terrific as the haunted, guilt-ridden Wolf Man.
How the monsters survived what happened to them in "House of Dracula" is never mentioned, but Drac is back with the monster in tow and Talbot on his tail. Dracula heads to Florida so that he can revive the Frankenstein monster (why he wants to do this is never made clear) and good old Talbot wants to stop him. Talbot seems to have given up on his hope of finding a cure for his lycanthropy, but he is hell bent on stopping Drac and Frank from their fiendish plans. Unfortunately for him, Bud and Lou get in the way. The supporting cast is strong, with Jane Randolph and Ingrid Bergman lookalike Lenore Aubert playing the opposing human forces of good and evil. Randolph is an undercover insurance agent looking into the mysterious disappearance of two "exhibits" from MacDougal's House of Horrors. Aubert plays a mysterious European sexpot doctor who is seducing Lou so that Dracula can put his brain into the skull of the monster. Oddly enough, this crackpot exposition takes up little screen time and we have a fine grande finale in a magnificent castle where the three monsters all meet their doom. I especially love that the Wolf Man commits suicide by leaping from the castle into the sea, and he takes Dracula down with him. Chaney plays the part as sincerely as he always did, which was probably not easy for him since he had many scenes in the film with Bud and Lou. In effect he teams up with them, but he never loses his sincerity nor his haunted look.
Lugosi had seventeen years of film acting experience between the original Dracula and this movie, and he plays the part much more naturally. But he is still Dracula, and those hands and eyes are perhaps even more effective in this film than in the original.
I always liked Strange's portrayal of the monster. All of Karloff's pathos was long gone by the time this film came out, but Strange gives the monster one damn creepy lumbering walk. Also, Bud Westmore had taken over Universal's makeup department by this time, so the haunting, Jack Pierce design was well on its way into becoming the face of Herman Munster. Even so, he looks grotesque and scary.
Bud and Lou are far funnier in this film than in most of their movies. They have a hysterical routine about "the two girls last week" that goes by in a matter of seconds. And I swear after several rewinds that at one point Bud threatens to beat Lou's "anus off." Look at it yourself and tell me if I'm crazy.
Frank Skinner's music is truly fantastic. He creates unique and effective themes for all three of the monsters and a dopey leitmotif for Lou. And look closely at the scene in which the monster hurls Aubert from a laboratory window: that's Lon Chaney Jr. doing the hurling. Glen Strange injured his foot and was unable to do the scene, and Chaney, who had played the part of the monster before, donned the makeup, hoisted Aubert's stunt double and pitched her out the window. A true trooper. My only regret was that Universal had their classic monsters survive fires, explosions, drowning, staking, freezing, sulphur pits, quicksand and the passage of centuries only to be finally conquered by Abbott and Costello.
A Superior Dracula!
This movie was shot on the same sets as the Bela Lugosi/Tod Browning version, and it used the same script translated into Spanish. It is a vast improvement. Just about everything is superior; the cast, the shooting, the sound effects and the editing. In fact, many of what appear to be hideous continuity errors in the Lugosi version are revealed to the result of sloppy editing when viewed against this film, which is around thirty minutes longer. George Melford, director of Valentino's "The Sheik", directed, and Carlos Villarias stars as Dracula. Although Villarias somewhat pales next to Lugosi, his performance is devoid of Bela's stylized hammings. He is not as frightening, but is much more sympathetic than Lugosi. Lupita Tovar plays Eva, (Mina) and she gives her character a strength and vitality that escaped her English-speaking counterpart. But the show is stolen by Pablo Alvarez Rubio, who is far and away the best Renfield I have seen. He is much more natural than was Dwight Frye of the Lugosi film. He is much more interesting and sympathetic in the early scenes, (he appears genuinely frightened in the castle) and he is riveting once he goes hideously mad. He has a truly dramatic and tragic climax with the evil Count on the castle steps. You also get to see entire scenes, subplots and even sets that were dropped from the English spoken version. If you like the Lugosi film, this is a must-see. If you were left unmoved by the English version, (as I was) this movie will offer you a pleasant surprise. Fear not, it has been given subtitles by the producers of the video.