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Murder was only a preliminary, 22 July 2016

Lately the Hallmark Channel has been having all kinds of amateur female detective heroes in their films. It's all in the grand tradition of that most famous and successful amateur sleuth of the female gender Miss Jane Marple.

Erica Durance is our detective here and as you see by the title she's a wedding planner. Right now she's planning her rich friend Chelan Simmons's wedding. But there are a lot of complications like a feud between her father and his former business partner, both of whom are under investigation. And then there's the death of a cousin of Simmons in a car crash where the car was tampered with.

While all this is going on Durance is also being courted by reporter Andrew Walker and lawyer Brandon Beemer. Who will she choose?

As it turns out that murder was only part of a greater scheme hatched by members of the cast. That's what Durance has to foil to get this wedding back on track.

Wedding Planner Mystery was a pleasant enough mystery with some good performances by the ensemble. Hallmark with its PG programming is providing some good entertainment with these films.

Dy-No-Mite, 22 July 2016

On the Maude series, the Findlays up there in Tuckahoe had a maid played by Esther Rolle named Florida Evans. I'm sure a lot of even the most liberal thinking people have no conception of the fact that the help which was what Florida was go home to a whole different world. When Norman Lear who just dominated television in the 70s decided to give Rolle her own series, he took her character and moved them to the south side of Chicago where they lived in the projects.

This was the first black centered comedy series which had its characters in a poor environment. Still the Evans family faced life on the edge with grit. John Amos was the father who was a working stiff raising with Rolle three kids.

Going in ascending order was Ralph Carter who was developing a social conscience and wanted to be lawyer to devote himself to betterment of his people and environment. Bernadette Stanis the middle child was a pretty, but also very intelligent young woman who was going to have a career and marry the man of her dreams. If he was rich or had prospects so much the better.

The heart of the show was the oldest Jimmie Walker. He's a comedian and to him the laughs devolved. He was having a bit of trouble growing up and drove his parents a bit nuts. And he brought that one word catchphrase of his to the English language. When something was good it was Dy-No-Mite.

The show lost something when Amos was killed off. It got even worse when Rolle took a hiatus. The kids were fending on their own with a look in from their neighbor Janet Dubois.

Top show when it started. But as a family show they usually lose something when the family unit is disrupted. Good Times was no exception.

The father of Whiplash Willie, 22 July 2016

Seeing The Nuisance for the first time cured me of at least one illusion I had. That Walter Matthau in his Oscar winning performance as Whiplash Willie Gingrich had created something original. Billy Wilder when he did The Fortune Cookie must have seen this undeservedly forgotten MGM film with Lee Tracy in the title role.

In fact I'll bet Matthau probably clerked in Tracy's office before taking the bar and learned everything well. Tracy is the shyster lawyer that shyster lawyers make jokes about. But he's cleaning out the insurance companies and in those Depression years they've decided to do something about it.

What they've done is hire Madge Evans, a female PI to fake an accident and become a Tracy client. But as things go in these films of course she falls for the guy.

Some other familiar faces populate the cast. Most familiar are Frank Morgan as an alcoholic doctor who treats Tracy like a son and helps Tracy with his fraudulent injury cases. And also there's the ever droll Charles Butterworth who makes a living faking being hit by automobiles for insurance settlements. He's running out of big cities to pull that racket.

Still if you watch The Nuisance you'll know what inspired Billy Wilder in The Fortune Cookie.

Crabtree Family Values, 21 July 2016

You have to wonder at times why people would sign on to appear in a show like My Mother The Car. What could possibly have attracted someone like Ann Sothern to have in her resume the role of the voice of an antique car?

This TV show which actually ran for a full season has Sothern recently dying and coming back to earth as the voice of a 1928 Porter which her Jerry Van Dyke owns. The family name was Crabtree and not only did the car with his mother's voice speak to Van Dyke, but it spoke to no one else. I guess we didn't want word to get out that the Crabtree Family owned a talking car.

Someone knew something was fishy with this car. The villain of the show was Avery Schreiber who was hatching schemes every episode to get the Porter. But he was as effective as Mr. Bluster on the old Howdy Doody Show. Who wouldn't want a talking car?

In fact the show was 10 years ahead of its time. When Knight Rider premiered we had a talking car with William Daniels's voice. But it was a state of the art futuristic new car which housed a computer which could do all.

So the concept was bought with different packaging.

Did anyone EVER ask Ann Sothern how she got into this show.

"It's the big one now", 21 July 2016

Watching Sanford And Son back to back with the Amos And Andy shows from the Fifties and I defy you to tell me the differences. The difference and it's a big one is that Amos And Andy originated on radio by white performers Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. In there rare big screen appearances they were in black-face. That's what makes Amos And Andy unacceptable today.

Because seeing those episodes there's not too much difference between George 'Kingfish' Stevens and Fred Sanford. Both were continually trying to get rich quick with some kind of wacky scheme. Both had a rather slack worth ethic, Fred Sanford's case he had a dutiful son, with the Kingfish it was always his gullible pal Andy whom he hooked into his endeavors. The dialog was such it could be interchangeable.

Fred at least had a business, it was the junk business. Fred Sanford was a role tailor made for nightclub comedian Redd Foxx who while black always worked blue in his act. I did see him once on stage and he was as sexist as could be. A black version of Andrew Dice Clay.

Sanford was a widower and his wife must have been something wonderful to put up with him. Getting under his skin and a great share of the laughs was LaWanda Page who was his late wife's sister Esther. They were the spark of the show.

Providing a moral balance to Fred's lazy incorrigible ways was Demond Wilson as his son. Who definitely took after his mother. You can picture her through him. Aunt Esther was married to Raymond Allen and he took an occasional drink. What did this poor man ever do in a previous life to have that harridan for a wife?

The great catchphrase when Foxx was caught in a lie or one of his schemes blew up was him clutching his chest and moaning "I'm having the big one now". Ironically Foxx did have the big one on the set of another show he had just debuted with. Life does imitate art.

But I defy anyone to tell the difference between the humor of Sanford And Son and the television Amos And Andy.

Ms. Romano, Mrs. Romano, Miss Romano, 20 July 2016

One Day At A Time is how Bonnie Franklin took it with her new life as a liberated woman and divorcée. This show is one of the first where women predominate and they weren't scatterbrained fools like Lucy Ricardo.

Still there was a lot of humor in this show with Bonnie Franklin trying to raise a family of two daughters on more than just her divorced husband Joe Campanella. She got herself a job and was around as much as possible for her two daughters Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli.

The daughters were as different as could be. Phillips was a wild child and Bertinelli a good girl. That was an interesting part of the show, that two very different personality types could be with the children. Happens in a few million families across the globe. Over 9 seasons the girls went through a few boyfriends and got married, Phillips to Michael Lembeck and Bertinelli to Boyd Gaines.

Making an occasional appearance was Franklin's mother Nannette Fabray. She was an old fashioned woman, who tried very hard to understand the new feminist philosophy.

The janitor of their building was Pat Harrington, Jr. who was an alpha male, but over 9 seasons kind of softened his rough edges. I remember him addressing Franklin, Fabray, and Bertinelli as each preferred, Ms. Romano, Mrs. Romano, and Miss Romano. That summed up each of their outlooks on life.

A lot of humor and a realistic look at the problems of single mothers with kids is what One Day At A Time is remembered for.

The Dice Man, 20 July 2016

Jonathan Silverman who in his younger days played nice guys got a chance to stretch his acting chops with a performance on SVU as an Andrew Dice Clay type comic. Silverman's shtick includes jokes about rape and reminds me so of back in the day when ABC weatherman Tex Antoine who got fired after making a joke about how women if they're going to get raped should just relax and enjoy it. His career ended quick.

Not Silverman's though who makes a career of playing the college circuit to a bunch of drunk horny frat guys who think this is hot stuff. It's not so funny when a college student gets attacked by a couple of recent audience members after she accuses Silverman of fostering a climate of fear for women.

It's that old issue of speech versus action. Silverman gets his share of action though sometimes the partners are less than willing. In the end one of the rape activists takes some direct action of her own.

Jonathan Silverman is really good in this one.

False pretenses?, 20 July 2016

The first season Lee Majors came to the Barkley household and announced he was Tom Barkley's illegitimate son. That was quite a handful for the other Barkleys to swallow. But accept him they did. Heath's illegitimacy gradually died down as an issue.

Now it comes roaring back in this episode when ne'er do well Buddy Hackett replete with Irish brogue comes with a couple of gunmen, Bruce Dern and John Milford, on his trail. He says he was both Heath's mother's husband and his real father.

This episode belongs to Lee Majors and Hackett as Majors is taken aback and feeling like he's been pulling a con on the Barkleys just as Hackett has done his entire life to get by. He even faked his own death and Heath's mother thought herself a widow until the day she died.

A bit of Barkley history comes to light in this story.

Quite a challenge, 20 July 2016

Back at the turn of the last century Ginger Rogers and Carol Channing strike a blow for women's equality by stepping into a man's profession. They become traveling salesladies.

Now that's not a profession truly open to women. If you remember The Music Man and that famous scene of all the salesmen talking to the rhythm of the train wheels or Elmer Gantry where Burt Lancaster hung out in all kinds of disreputable places before he started selling religion it is clear that this is a male preserve.

But if you sell things like corsets back in the days when women really wore them I guess it could be tolerated. But Rogers and Channing in The First Traveling Saleslady take on a real challenge. They're going to sell barbed wire in Texas. Rancher James Arness is going to stop them selling the wire David Brian's company makes. Both of them would like to make Rogers though. But a funny thing, Barry Nelson in that new horseless carriage contraption keeps showing up just when Rogers and Channing need help.

As for Channing she's got an admirer in newly returned Rough Rider Clint Eastwood in one of his early screen roles. As for Channing she never quite made it on the big screen so this is a rare opportunity to see a unique performer. Pity she never did do one of her noted stage roles for movies.

A pity a lot of talent gets wasted here in The First Traveling Saleslady. It's not a really bad film, but it is a mediocre one.

His particular white whale, 19 July 2016

I got to see Antonio Sabato, Jr. fresh from his appearance at the Republican convention in this film. It should better be titled Shark Destroyer because that's the mission Sabato is on.

You can't really blame him, this prehistoric sixty foot Megladon survivor took his parents from him. Since then Sabato has become an oceanographer, but all that was training the subduing of his particular white whale.

After another couple of incidents where this big guy did some serious damage, the last incident to an underwater laboratory, Sabato gets assigned to a submarine where the people there are divided between capturing and killing the big shark. Of course Sabato wants to kill it, but Heather Marie Marsden wants to take it alive.

This is a plot we've seen a lot of, most especially in the first version of The Thing. Marsden also a scientist sounds a whole lot like scientist Robert Cornthwaite from that much better film.

Think of Moby Dick when you see this. With the script most definitely not written by Herman Melville.

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