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The Not-So-Peaceful Conference
Betty Leonard is kidnapped & hypnotized into drugging an ambassador trying to prevent a worldwide crisis involving radiation technology. Before things are over, an impostor tries to disrupt the peace conference by instilling distrust among the delegates attending. Naturally, this is all the work of Dr. Fu Manchu, who never does anything the simple way when more complex methods are available.
I've seen many different versions of the characters in this series, but I have to admit, after seeing only 4 episodes of this TV series, the actors and their portrayal here of Sir Denis Nayland Smith & Dr. John Petrie MAY be my favorites! The TV series stresses Nayland Smith's role as a representative of law enforcement, while Petrie's role as a doctor is at the forefront.
Betty Leonard, who was Petrie's assistant throughout the series, is introduced here in a way that made me suspect this may have been her first time working with Petrie. I had the same feeling when Sir Denis described in vivid language Dr. Manchu to the conference delegates. So I wasn't surprised to find this episode listed FIRST-- even though, strangely enough, the DVD I have has this one LAST. Go figure.
Glen Gordon is adequate as Fu, although his manner of speaking is so clipped and unnatural, it keeps reminding me of the rumor that Fu may not actually have been Asian at all-- but an evil Englishman POSING as a Chinese villain! Gordon doesn't really measure up to Christopher Lee-- or Boris Karloff-- yet the show is so well done, I find he is at least acceptable.
Laurette Luez as "Karamaneh" is suitably beautiful, seductive, and treacherous.
This episode features Leonard Strong as Professor Hugh Yan and his impostor. A decade later he played "The Claw", a Fu Manchu-like villain on 'GET SMART"! This TV series apparently inspired the short-lived comic-book "THE YELLOW CLAW", which featured stories by Al Feldstein & Joe Maneely, and Jack Kirby. I was very surprised when I first saw the TV series, as the title sequence, with Fu playing CHESS, was paid tribute to by Jim Steranko when he brought The Yellow Claw back in 1967-68 in the "NICK FURY" series.
Several elements in this series, including the portrayal of Sir Denis & Dr. Petrie, the use of kidnapping & hypnotism, and the presence of Karamaneh, were all later reused in the "MASTER OF KUNG FU" comic-book series, by Doug Moench & Paul Gulacy. It surprised me that this series seemed the most similar to "MOKF" of all the various "Fu" films I've seen.
And what really cracked me up was that some of the episodes were directed by William Witney, whose work I have also been watching this week on "THE WILD WILD WEST", a series where Fu Manchu would have fit right in!
Doctor Who: Logopolis: Part One (1981)
Right Off A CLIFF
In my latest DOCTOR WHO marathon-- this time, watching the individual episodes for the 1st time since the 80s (I have "Inferno" up to "Terminus" that way). I just reached the point where I was painfully reminded that the writing FELL RIGHT OFF A CLIFF.
I swear... Christopher Bidmead is like the exact opposite of Eric Saward. He's a MUCH better story editor than he ever was a writer. Plus, this was his first of ONLY 3 scripts he ever did on his own. And it was a rush job. What you get is a mixture of fascinating ideas... and REALLY terrible characterization and dialogue. Tom Baker, Mathew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, Anthony Ainley... all were wonderful in "The Keeper Of Traken". Yes, even "Adric". And NONE of them come off good in this one. In fact, more than ever before, I was reminded of what a WONDEFFUL character "Tremas" was... so intelligent, reasonable, warm... he deserved better. He deserved a return appearance... not to be MURDERED so that a ONE-dimensional erratic bad parody of Roger Delgado should take his place.
Frankly, I think they only come off looking acceptable because Janet Fielding-- who I KNOW is a nice person off-camera-- came across as such a TOTAL B**** as "Tegan" (my LEAST-favorite WHO companion of all time).
I swear, the ONLY actor in this who comes across well in this is, surprisingly, John Fraser as "The Monitor".
Looking back, I wish to God that John Nathan-Turner had left after this one year. Because I KNOW... as wonderful as Peter Davison is as a person and as an actor... the BULK of his 3 years was EVEN WORSE than this. BAD writing, BAD directing, BAD acting across the board.
This time around, I've been skipping any stories I just don't like. I managed to get all the way through Tom Baker's 7 years and ONLY skip one single story (one that I simply have seen too damn many times for something that horrifically downbeat and disturbing). I'm wondering if I'll even watch HALF of Davison's stories? I know one thing... as soon as I'm done with his, I'll be pulling out CAMPION to watch again. Man, I LOVE that show!!!
I've seen WORSE!
This movie has a TERRIBLE reputation... but, frankly, I've seen far worse, and, lately! (I know, hardly high praise-- heehee.) I was mainly interested because it featured 2 of my favorites-- William Katt & Alexandra Paul (SIGH!), plus, with Monte Markham as the slimy corporate developer baddie, it wound up with no less than 3 PERRY MASON alumni (I can't believe that was a coincidence). Katt played Paul Drake Jr. in the first 8 Raymond Burr TV-movies in the 80s, Paul was in the first 2 movies after he left (along with William R. Moses-- I was always surprised that she didn't stick around longer), and Markham starred in the ill-advised revival in the early 70s.
All I can say is... it HELD my attention, and I managed to plow through it with fewer breaks than a LOT of Corman-produced films. (It was funny how they actually made reference to several of his 70s films in the dialogue, including one of the "women in prison" films.)
King of Kings (1961)
A Study in Contrasts
Just finished KING OF KINGS (1961). This is a study in contrasts. It reminds me a bit of another film Harry Guardino was in-- MADIGAN (1968). Now let me explain that. MADIGAN is-- supposedly-- a story about a tough detective and his partner trying to track down an insane killer, while the main character's marriage slowly disintegrates. But more than half the film focuses on the Police Commissioner and HIS problems, and except for a couple of very brief scenes where they cross paths, the two parts of the film have nothing in common. Perhaps it was an early example of "parallel" storytelling. All I know is, the first time I saw it, it left me very frustrated.
With KING OF KINGS (which, as someone rightly pointed out at the IMDb site, is, in NO way a remake of the Cecil B. Demille silent film of the same name!!) more than half the film is a "Roman Empire" movie, all about opulence, excess, depravity, evil, etc. Until about the time of the "sermon on the mount" scene, Jesus is reduced to a bit player in what is allegedly "his" movie. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the same was done in THE ROBE and BEN HUR (the latter appears to be the film MGM most deliberately was trying to copy in style, right down to the movie poster art). But depending on what you're looking for, this film can be baffling, maddening, frustrating, or simply inspiring. Take yer pick.
For example... virtually all the miracles are described, not shown. The scene where the crowd shouts to free "Barrabus!" --is DESCRIBED, not SHOWN! (When that happened, my jaw dropped, even though today was probably the 5th time I've seen this over the years.) Even the death of Judas-- Barrabus finds his body just as the tree branch breaks, you don't actually see him kill himself.
It is interesting how they expanded certain characters, like Lucius (Ron Randell), the Roman Centurion, who we wind up seeing all the way back to the slaughter of the newborns, the tax census-check-up 12 years later, in Pilate's court, and in charge of the crucifixion. (I've only seen Randell in one other movie-- THE LONE WOLF AND HIS LADY, which was really bad, even by "B"-movie mystery standards.)
Barrabus, as someone said at the IMDb, is expanded from a mere murderer to a freedom-fighting rebel leader (like Judah Maccabbee), and is virtually the main character in the entire film. As for Harry Guardino, I've lost count of how many times I've seen him in DIRTY HARRY or THE ENFORCER.
One of the most prolonged scenes in the film involves Herod Antipas, his wife, and their daughter (his wife apparently hadn't bothered to get a divorce from HIS BROTHER at the time). Someone noted it's almost surprising that after going to such lengths to show Salome's erotic dance for her father, and then the long, long, dramatic scene where she asks for the head of John The Baptist ("HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND???") they don't follow-up and show what happened to HER, afterwards. During the trial of Jesus, she's sitting there on the side, looking as if she has lost her mind. She seems totally in a trance or something, as if all life has gone out of her...
Pilate (Hurd Hatfield, who some years back I finally got to see in THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY) turns out to be a real bastard. They totally skipped the scene where Jesus is interrogated by the Jewish elders, but the trial before Pilate is shown in more detail than in the Bible, with Lucius arguing in Jesus' defense. When Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate, his anger & annoyance grows and he seems to relish having him whipped just for getting on his nerves, rather than breaking any law.
What's interesting is... I read that some 45 minutes of footage was CUT just before release. Makes me wonder, WHAT did they cut? Could it have been any of the scenes merely described in remaining dialogue?
It's still a fascinating film, but now I'm really looking forward to sitting thru Jesus OF NAZARETH again. I remember at the time that was made, it seemed the whole point to it was the do the "definitive" Jesus movie-- and in many ways, I think they succeeded. Even if it has the strange thing where they DON'T actually show any miracles on screen-- and you never see Jesus after he dies. It struck me the person who did the film may have aimed it at atheists-- to show them it doesn't matter if you believe he was the son of God or not-- his words and his actions were what counted.
Caine decides to stay
With Tan & Chan out of the picture (but not gone forever), a smaller-time racketeer, "Clarence", decides to make Chinatown HIS now. Standing in his way are a Shaolin priest (Kwai Chang Caine) & his detective-son (Peter Caine). So first Clarence decides to plant a bomb in the previously-firebombed building Caine is in the processing of rebuilding, hoping to take out Caine and "make an example" of him to the community. When that doesn't work (thanks to Peter), he & his thugs, including a couple of crooked cops on the take, lure Peter to a notorious drug den, ambush him, and pump him full of enough drugs to kill ten men. This time, Kwai Chang returns the favor and saves Peter's life.
Before it's over, Clarence, his thugs, and the crooked cops all converge of Caine's new home, determined to kill both father and son. You can guess how this ends.
First and foremost, this episode SHOULD, by all means, be watched immediately after the 2-hour pilot. As far as I can tell, it was probably filmed immediately after the pilot. Why it was "held back" to 2/3rds of the way into the season, and presented as a "flashback" to a framing sequence where Peter is ambushed again and winds up in a hospital, well, the logic of this escapes me. Watching it in broadcast order does nothing except to confuse the viewer on many levels.
Among the best scenes in the story are when Peter asks Blaisedale why he has so much trouble talking with his father, when he can ask Blaisedale anything; when Blaisdale refuses to believe the alleged "common knowledge" rumor (spread by the crooked cops) that his adopted son Peter is a drug addict; and the scenes with the little girl sent to deliver a "good luck" cricket to Caine (hoping he'll decide to stay in Chinatown), and later, when she comes to warn him of the approaching killers, and winds up hiding in a closet for her safety. She's such a sweetie!
I was surprised to check the IMDb credits and see that this was (apparently) Clarence's only appearance. That can't be right... can it? (I know a lot of series listed at this site have a LOT of info missing... until someone adds it in.)
At the end of the (alleged) "flashback", Peter gives his father a ceremonial dagger he says he saved from their temple after it was destroyed. It figures in a later episode (though I don't recall which one at the moment).
Just a suggestion for any fans wanting to re-watch...
1-2 -- (PILOT)
3 -- "THE LACQUERED BOX"
4-5 -- "SATURDAY AT THE HOTEL WITH GEORGE"
6 -- "SHADOW ASSASSIN"
Why couldn't they run this show more in an order that made sense???
Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)
Hammer does "Robin Hood"
A real oddity from Hammer Films, SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1960) is their only film based on a popular UK TV series which actually features the star of the show in the movie. The rest of the cast has still been replaced, however, and because of the nature of the story, it almost has to be an "alternate universe" continuity as I see no way it could fit into the run of the TV show.
Robin Hood (Richard Green) faces off mostly against the Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Cushing), which means you've got "Sir Henry Baskerville" fighting "Sherlock Holmes"-- although Cushing comes across more like "Baron Frankenstein" in this one.
Also in the cast, I realized on my 3rd viewing, are no less than 3 actors who were in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS-- Little John is Nigel Green (Hercules), the Archbishop of Canterbury is Jack Gwillim (King Aeetes of Colchis), and Friar Tuck (the film's comic relief) is Niall MacGinnis (Zeus). Of course, having Richard Green & Nigel Green together also means you have 2 different "Sir Dennis Nayland Smiths" side-by-side for most of the picture!
Oddly enough, the REAL villain turns out to be "Edward, Earl of NewarK", played by Richard Pasco, who I've never seen in anything else, but apparently played baddies in 3 different episodes of the TV series.
Also in the cast are Derren Nesbitt (WHERE EAGLES DARE) in one of his rare "good guy" roles, Edwin Richfield ("The Sea Devils") as a minor villain, and Oliver Reed (THE BIG SLEEP) as a total bastard, who, inexplicably, had his entire performance dubbed by another actor.
It's a "nice" film, but not a great one, as the plot tends to ramble and never quite builds any kind of momentum, resembling more than anything a 30's serial with the cliffhangers removed. Richard Green was one of the producers, and it's not by one of Hammer's regular writers, either. Still, anything with Peter Cushing, directed by Terrence Fisher is worth a look.
Night of Dark Shadows (1971)
Haunted by the Past
As has been pointed out over the years, the 2nd DS feature, "NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS", starts out as a loose variation of the show's "1970 Parallel Time" story. In that, Quentin & his new bride Maggie arrive at Collinwood, where everyone is obsessed with Quentin's late wife Angelique, and are convinced she will return from the dead. That story itself was a variation on "REBECCA"-- right down to a "Mrs. Danvers" character (mentioned in NODS), though with a supernatural twist, in that Quentin's dead wife actually does come back, murders her twin sister and takes her place. On the show, it was one of the best-structured and paced story lines they ever did... until its rather ABRUPT ending, which left me unsatisfied and frustrated.
As for this movie... while elements of "REBECCA" and "1970 Parallel Time" definitely find their way in here, I find this is much more of a remake of the Roger Corman classic, "THE HAUNTED PALACE" with Vincent Price & Debra Paget as the married couple who inherit a mansion with a spooky housekeeper (Lon Chaney Jr.). Price's character, Charles Dexter Ward (the film was a very loose adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story) sees a portrait of an ancestor who he is a dead ringer of-- and the spirit of his ancestor spends most of the film trying to POSSESS his descendant. (There is a difference between reincarnation and possession, which sometimes got blurred on the DARK SHADOWS TV series.) The scene where David Selby roughly embraces his wife Tracy, leaving her in tears, then says, "I'll touch you ANY way I like, WHENEVER I like, and if you don't like it, you can always LEAVE!", is straight out of the Corman flick, when Price-- POSSESSED-- tells Debra Paget he wishes "to exercise my husbandly prerogative"-- and then almost RAPES her!! (I'm surprised no one else has brought up this blatant comparison before.)
Another Corman POE film that found its way into this one is "THE TOMB OF LIGEIA", where Verden Fell (Price again) marries Rowena (Elisabeth Sheppard), but is haunted by the memory of his late wife Ligeia (also Sheppard). The multiple camera shots of the tower where Quentin is drawn by Angelique are almost IDENTICAL to the shots of the tower of the abbey where, each night, without his own knowledge, Fell goes to tend to his DEAD wife-- who placed him under hypnotism before she died.
I've always thought "HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS" was too short, and should have been at least 2 hours long, to allow for better pacing and character development of its huge, complex cast. By comparison, the first time I saw "NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS", I thought it was painfully slow, dull and too long for its own good. When I discovered that a full 35 MINUTES had been cut from it before release, I could hardly believe what I was reading. But on further investigation, it appears this film would have been MUCH better if the story as originally written had been allowed to see release without being butchered.
Even so, from reading in detail about what was missing, something tells me that EVEN the uncut version of this film is actually missing its "3rd act". If even the uncut version still ends with Angelique coming back, Quentin fully possessed, and everyone else DEAD, what's the point?
Try watching this-- then "THE HAUNTED PALACE" back-to-back. The moment Price is about the leave the house-- but then stays for "one last thing"-- and becomes FULLY possessed-- is where that film REALLY starts to get interesting! "NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS", in either form, ends TOO SOON for its own good.
Mike Hammer: Dead Pigeon (1986)
What, No Jury?
A possibly-crooked cop Hammer never liked is killed (a real change from it being one of Mike's "best and oldest friends") and HE's framed for the murder! After an increasing number of episodes in which Larry Barrington was slowly getting more mellowed-out, he's back to his old tricks again, OBSESSED with nailing Hammer to a wall, no matter what it takes. Pat Chambers is angry, more than usual-- at Mike for not staying off the streets while HE tries to clear him, at a group of crooked cops for assaulting Mike outside a bar, and at Barrington, for letting his personal feeling totally cloud his judgment.
And in the midst of this is the dead man's sort-of widow (they were never officially married), who was once Mike's EX... and who seems to want him back in her life again-- among other things.
Elaine Wilkes plays Mike's defense lawyer Nancy, looking far too young to have actually graduated both college AND law school (in fact, the actress was only 21 when she appeared in this episode-- having been in SIXTEEN CANDLES 2 years before). Robin Curtis (the 2nd "Saavik", from STAR TREK 3 and 4) plays Peggy Ryan, another cop who's being blackmailed by the real killer. And Randi Brooks (THE LAST PRECINCT) plays Sheila Forbes, one really HHHHHOT number who winds up appearing in the sexiest scene ever filmed for this TV series!!! (When I saw this, in the 8-9 PM time slot on a Saturday night, I knew "Family Viewing Hour" was dead and gone.)
Fred Freiberger, infamous as the producer of STAR TREK's 3rd season (and SPACE: 1999's 2nd) wrote this, and even wide awake, I still couldn't quite make sense of the ending. Why is it so hard to keep track of the logic on this show's mysteries sometimes? The most memorable thing was the climax-- a direct SWIPE from Mickey Spillane's "I, THE JURY". Only without the "How could you?" and "It was EASY."
One thing that baffles me about the 3rd season-- apart from the really STUPID name-change to "THE NEW MIKE HAMMER"-- is how, while the show got MUCH more serious and intense and stylish, the theme song became more upbeat and frivolous. If anything, the slower, moodier version from seasons 1-2 would have been a much better fit here, and vice-versa.
Who Mourns For KULKULKAN?
HOW SHARPER THAN A SERPENT'S TOOTH was yet another "variation on a theme" regarding aliens who were either obsessed with Earth in the past or had visited there and had an impact on Earth's history: THE SQUIRE OF GOTHOS, WHO MOURNS FOR ADONAIS?, THE MAGICKS OF MEGAS-TU, or, in DOCTOR WHO terms, THE DAEMONS. Here's it's the winged serpent Kulkulkan, who influenced the Mayan civilization (and apparently also influenced The Toltecs and The Chinese). The closest parallel here would be "Apollo", and this almost feels like a remake of his story, only with more "sci-fi" elements, and about a hundred times the budget (if it had been live-action instead of a cartoon).
Once more "predicting" much-later developments (despite incessant protests, it seems painfully clear the people who worked on the various STAR TREK spin-offs were influenced by THESE CARTOONS) is helmsman "Ensign Walking Bear", a member of the Cherokee tribe who says he's studied the history of many Native American cultures. ("Chakotay" on VOYAGER is rather similar-- a Native American turns up, and his whole personality seems to be summed up by being the "expert" when it comes to "Native American" things. George Takei objected to that sort of thing-- it's why in THE NAKED TIME he used a rapier and was obsessed with D'Artagnon, instead of using a samurai sword as originally suggested.)
Once again we have an alien being who "helped" mankind in the distant past, is bugged that they have "forgotten" him, and still insists on thinking of them as his "chidren". It takes quite a bit of effort of Kirk's part, but, EVENTUALLY, he convinces Kulkulkan that mankind has "grown up", that while still a violent species they use their minds and put every effort into living in peace, and that "any intelligent species cannot be simply led by the hand".
Some of the design work in here is impressive, including Kulkulkan's spaceship, the Mayan city (presumably some sort of holographic creation), and the "zoo" which collects various animals in such a way they they each believe they're in their natural environments, and are unaware they're really in tiny glass enclosures).
Perhaps the most annoying thing in this episode (apart fro Kulkulkan's general attitude for most of it) is the way William Shatner MIS-PROPNOUNCES Kulkulkan's name every single time he says it (as "Ku-KLU-Kan"-- did he think the serpent was wearing a white robe or something?).
I got a laugh when Kirk injects the savage "power cat" with a tranquilizer and is knocked aside, then McCoy asks him, "Did you inject the cat, or yourself?"
The ending of the story manages to find an excuse to squeeze in yet another Shakespeare reference, which is where the story gets its name-- "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have an ungrateful child."
Writer David Wise has had a long career, mostly writing cartoons, while his collaborator, Russell Bates, only ever did this and an episode of ISIS. In both cases, this was their first TV work.
Not one of my favorites, but I still wish this series had continued on a lot longer than it did. It's just disgraceful that Filmnation only did 6 episodes the 2nd season, and then that was it.
McCloud: The Park Avenue Rustlers (1972)
One of my favorite McCLOUDs begins with Sam assigned to a "pilot program" where for the first time in NYC, women patrolmen are teamed with men for patrol car duty. "Who are you? WHAT are you?" asks his new partner, Margaret Sareno, played by spunky Brenda Vaccaro. Within 15 minutes, he saves her from being run over by a car-thief, and has a high-speed pursuit interrupted by an 18-wheeler, sending their car thru the front window of a clothing store.
Next, Sam winds up on late-night stake-out with a longtime veteran of the stolen car unit, Lt. Ed Feldman (Norman Fell). But when Feldman turns up murdered the next day, McCloud proposes what turns into one of the most outrageous undercover scams he ever pulled in his career. Stealing cars from the stolen car-ring, he quickly gets their attention, then, gets hired by them, in an attempt to find out as much about the ring as possible, and discover the identity of the top man. Along the way, he's watched like a hawk, forcing Officer Sareno to pose as his girlfriend so they can pass information along.
I remember watching this when it was first-run, and being delighted from the start, especially with Vaccaro. It seems a shame that, like so many characters on shows like these, they never brought her back for further appearances. The 70's was also a time when the endless flood of cop shows saw many actors known for playing good characters turned up as crooks, killers or worse. So it was that Eddie Albert (the former star of GREEN ACRES) played Roy Erickson ("middle-management", as Sam put it), while Roddy McDowell (PLANET OF THE APES) played Phil Sandler ("psychotic hit-man"-- actually a misnomer, the proper word here would be psychopathic).
Also in the cast were Lloyd Bochner (the top man, Glen Larson would bring him back for "NIGHT OF THE SHARK" and 2 episodes of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA); George Murdock (who would later become a recurring character on BG), and Diana Muldaur (Sam's on-again/off-again girlfriend Chris Caughlin, who shows up at JUST the wrong time and place, to blow Sam's cover!! --OOPS).
Writer Sy Salkowitz, in his only McCLOUD episode, manages the proper tone and balance to things, getting the relationship between Sam & Chief Clifford "just right". The following season, Glen Larson would push Clifford further and further into apoplectic fits of rage, for comedy's sake. This was fun to watch, but it could undermine the believability of things, as the longer the two worked together, the more confidence Clifford should have had in Sam and his way of doing things. As seen here!
Midway thru the story, when it looks like Sam may have been found out (his "references" didn't check out), he suddenly switches gears and ups the odds by "revealing" to his crooked employers that he actually runs a huge car-rental operation in the southwest. The fact that he managed to con the crooks so successfully was somewhat astonishing, and would have made Simon Templar ("The Saint") proud.
The most memorable set-piece is no doubt when the jig is up, and as Sam pursues the baddies, he winds up hanging underneath a helicopter flying over Manhattan. This became one of the scenes used when the opening credits became a montage of flashbacks starting in the 4th season. I also note that during the flight, one of the places they flew over was the remains of the New York World's Fair-- which would be the site of the climax of the following episode!
Finally, the "new" theme song only turns up briefly near the end of the story, while the end credits, strangely, use ANOTHER theme song I've never heard before or since. I wonder how many shows take until their 4th year to finally settle on a theme song they like?