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The Worker (1965)
If black and white movies can be timeless classics, why not TV series?
This is a British comedy show I remember fondly from my childhood. Charlie Drake played a 'little man' character whose attempts to find an honest job were always scuppered by fate. Henry McGee, best known today for his appearances in The Benny Hill Show, was his long-suffering employment officer.
I would very much like to see this series again, if only to see if it's as good as I remember, but despite the proliferation of channels these days it seems as if nobody wants to show black and white series anymore. ITV, the network that commissioned the series, never shows anything over ten years old nowadays, and I'm not even sure the recordings still exist. Because Britain never had syndication (at least not until satellite TV provided something similar) old shows just weren't seen as having any commercial value and often got wiped. But if people regard black and white films like Casablanca as all-time classics, why shouldn't black and white TV shows be treated with the same respect?
These not-so-magnificent men (and dog) are strangely compelling viewing
OK, let me see if I've got this straight...
It's World War I, and retired Wacky Racers Dick Dastardly and Muttley the dog have got together with a couple of eccentric aviators, Klunk and Zilly, to form Vulture Squadron. Zilly is a devout coward whose catchphrase is "oh-h-h de-e-ear", and who frequently tries to hide by ducking his head inside his roll-neck sweater like a human tortoise. Klunk, the team's inventive genius, speaks in a mixture of English and bizarre noises which are accompanied by the most extraordinary facial contortions. Between them this not-so-intrepid crew spend all their time manufacturing incredibly elaborate machinery and aircraft designed to block American war reports by catching...wait for it..._a single homing pigeon_. And week after week Vulture squadron are easily outwitted by the bird's superior speed and manoeuvrability, as well as the fact that it has more brains than the lot of them put together. This always results in their planes colliding or blowing up in midair, which leads to some nasty falls for Dick Dastardly. Luckily his old sidekick Muttley has learned how to fly by spinning his tail like a helicopter, and is always willing to use this talent to rescue - in return for a medal or two.
I don't know about you, but it all seems a bit silly to me. But of course that's the point: the show's wild combination of loopy ideas and corny gags combined with cheap and cheerful animation, not to mention those patented Hannah-Barbera sound fx, make these not-so magnificent men (and dog) in their flying machines a strangely compelling viewing experience in a sixties cartoon kind of a way. (And the voice cast always sound as if they're having a lot of fun even if their characters aren't.)
I still think it would have been cheaper to buy a hawk, though....
Magical Mystery Tour (1967)
Buy the CD and forget the movie
I recently had a chance to see this film for the first time since its original BBC screening on December 26 1967. I'd seen all the reviews, of course, pointing out what an awful, shambolic mess the film was and how the Beatles had been forced to apologise to viewers after its first screening. But then, I thought, it was the sixties and maybe the passage of time will show the film in a more favourable light. And let's face it, nothing by the Beatles could be a *complete* disaster, could it?
Well, I'm sorry to say...yes it could. The film has a pretty weak concept to begin with - a couple of middle-aged people fall in love on a bus tour of the English countryside. (Of course, in this day and age they'd probably be jetting off to the Bahamas instead.) Right from the beginning the acting is weak, the dialogue isn't remotely funny and the attempts at surrealism seem forced. Admittedly there is some minor amusement to be gained from watching a drill sergeant bellow gibberish orders at a cow, but the scene where Ringo's "auntie" dreams she has to eat a huge plate of mud in a restaurant is just plain embarrassing, and the scenes where the Beatles dress up as wizards and run around a laboratory are totally pathetic. At one point Ringo's narration informs us that "already the magic is starting to work", but unfortunately he's wrong.
All right, but what about the music, you cry? Well, yes, this movie does feature some of the Fab Four's best work - "The Fool On the Hill", "Flying", "Blue Jay Way", "Your Mother Should Know", "I am the Walrus", and of course the title song, as well as the jazzy "Death Cab for Cutie" by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. But the songs are let down by the visual presentation. "The Fool on the Hill", for instance, features Paul McCartney...um...on a hill. That's it?! Afraid so. Likewise "Blue Jay Way" features George sitting on a rug, while the instrumental "Flying" features the kind of colour-distorted landscapes that Kubrick later used in "2001: A Space Odyssey". At least "Your Mother Should Know" is accompanied by a dance routine, albeit a slightly lacklustre one, and "I am the Walrus" has some nicely surreal imagery (John's idea?). For the most part, though, you'd probably get more out of the music by listening to it with your eyes shut. And if you're going to do that, you might just as well buy the Magical Mystery Tour CD, which also includes "Hello Goodbye", "Penny Lane", "Strawberry Fields Forever", "Baby You're a Rich Man" and "All You Need is Love"....
If in spite of these comments you still feel compelled to watch the film, it has been released in Australia on DVD. It's Region 0, which means that it should play on DVD machines everywhere.
At Last the 1948 Show (1967)
Tragically only fragments of this pre-Python sketch show survive
Contrary to popular belief, Monty Python's Flying Circus did not spring fully-formed out of thin air. In the heady days of the early sixties lots of young British comic performers were coming up with ideas for shows that, like radio's Goon Show of the fifties, would break the mould of the rather stuffy sitcoms of the time. In 1967, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke-Taylor got together, with "the lovely" Aimee McDonald as presenter, to create 1967's "At Last the 1948 Show" (the title was based on the idea that TV executives would sit on shows for years before finally broadcasting them). The result was a surreal comic sketch show that can hold its own against the best Python material. Indeed, one sketch involving four impoverished Yorkshiremen, was later incorporated into Python's live routine, and some other 1948 Show sketches were used in the Pythons' two German TV specials. Other highlights include a rather strange English-for-beginners playlet in which Cleese refuses to stick to the script, and a Newhart-style single-header in which Cleese plays a neurotic headmaster (shades of Basil Fawlty already!) The show was produced for the commercial ITV Network, and the copyrights were held by David Frost's production company. Sadly after a few years this company decided to wipe the series, and only two complete episodes out of 26 survived. Some best-of-series compilations were later found in an archive in Sweden, of all places. While the loss of the complete series is a tragedy for students of TV comedy, I can only hope that the surviving material will someday be released on video, so we can all have a good laugh at what's left.
Mowgli's Brothers (1976)
See where Disney got it wrong
Kipling purists might quibble over the fact that Shere Khan becomes a white tiger and regains the use of his bad leg, or the fact that some of the animal characters look as if they belong in one of Jones's Road Runner cartoons. On the other hand, this is the only adaptation from the Mowgli stories that actually sticks closely to Kipling's original plot and dialogue. So if you want to see where Disney got it wrong, this 25-minute film is definitely worth checking out.