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A Christmas Story (1983)
I liked it at first, but now.....
First, I'll introduce myself as a Shepherd "fathead," an avid admirer of his work. OK. I also saw ACS as among the 17 at its theatrical release--my girlfriend and I were the audience. I enjoyed the film then, but don't care if I ever see it again, especially after seeing again recently THE PHANTOM OF THE OPEN HEARTH, the first film version of Shep's stories. Darren McGavin chews the wallpaper as The Old Man, whereas James Broderick brings out the character spot-on in PHANTOM, doing more with a hard look than McGavin's "NOT A FINGER!!!!" I don't know what the deal was with Melinda Dillon's hairstyle--she looked more like Diane Keaton on a bad day and hardly made me forget Barbara Bolton as Ralph's mom. Shep later said he wanted a more sardonic, anti-nostalgic edge to ACS akin to his stories, complete with out-of-tune music in spots (which PHANTOM used to the right effect)--too bad that got muted. It's worth a look, sure, but it won't make me forget Shep's Christmas Eve reading of the original Red Ryder story ("Duel in the Snow, or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid") on WOR, let alone PHANTOM. Excelsior, you fatheads, and FLICK LIVES!
Beats A Christmas Story in spades!
I saw PHANTOM when first broadcast and many times since. For my money it tops all adaptations of Shep's stories, including A Christmas Story. James Broderick is THE Old Man, playing him without the broad strokes Darren McGavin slathered on him in ACS. Barbara Bolton's spot-on on Ralph's mom, too. And watch Flick! The slightly sardonic, anti-nostalgia edge Shep favored on radio and in print holds sway here--it's as if Shep knew this might be his best (and only) shot at a film version of his stories, and he and all connected hit the notes. Yes, the complete 76-minute version (not the edited hour version played years ago on Disney) can be found with a little online searching. Don't miss it! Excelsior, you fatheads, and FLICK LIVES!
The Wizard of Oz (1925)
"Do your stuff, Wizzy!"
This film SHOULD have bankrupted everyone associated with it, to concur with Walter Kerr! I saw clips of it years ago on PBS, with a soundtrack cobbled together from Copland's OUR TOWN score and other classical selections. Not half-bad, made me curious to see more, having just read the original Oz book. Then I saw the complete film years later on cable. Whaa-OH! Not GOOD, either! Twelve parts Semon's desperation slapstick to one part Baum gave me one walloping cinematic hangover! Those titles like the quote in the above summary! Those falls from towers, airplanes, haystacks--and don't forget the mud baths! That puking duck! That THING out of the basket! I'd recommend this only for the virulently curious and undaunted. Track down Richard Roberts' superb three-part CLASSIC IMAGES essay on Semon before you do--it's online, try the Semon entry in Wikipedia. You'll find it by far more amusing (and coherent) than this film!
Sheer Luck (1931)
"You're SMART, Milkman!!!!"
I saw this vintage Poverty Row talkie on the old Satellite Program Network way back in 1980 on its all-night movie show. If Ed Wood were making films back then, this would be it! Clunky plot! No budget! 3 AM scenes shot in broad daylight! Stagy performances with dramatic pauses after every fifth.... word! Nonexistent editing: heavy Reed Howes ("the RABBIT!") enters swank apartment building, camera cuts to interior AND HOLDS FOR 8 SECONDS on scene till he finally enters! Jaw-dropping dialogue like the above quote Rabbit snarls to virtuous milkman Nick Stuart! And one song played at least eight times through the hour-long film! Oh yeah, be brave and stick around for the nightclub climax and floor show! Love those cymbal clashes on the adagio number!
This gem's not easy to find--I don't think it's aired since SPN's demise. I found a LUCK OF A MAN copy only through a fellow collector who found a print in a stock-footage archive! Still, for all its faults (and mostly because of them!), it's fun for film buffs, especially for Jobyna Ralston and a rare sound showcase for silent comic Bobby Vernon (who's a gas). Hope you find it, and like it!