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"Beulah" (1950)
16 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
Don't know about other episodes but, 24 January 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I just watched "The Waltz" (aka "Beulah the Dance Teacher") and, in this episode at least, Beulah comes across a lot like Hazel -- the wise maid who helps the kids when the parents are completely clueless. It's not exactly a plea for tolerance, but it's not a racist minstrel show, either.

The previous reviewer got several things wrong. First, Donnie doesn't want to learn to dance to be popular with girls; he's taking a dance class (at his parents' insistence), doing badly, and doesn't want to embarrass himself at the final party ("It's gonna be brutal," he says. "I'm gonna have to dance in front of mom and dad and everyone.") Beulah and Bill tell him that dancing can be fun, and offer to show him their stuff, so Donnie puts on the waltz record he borrowed from his teacher. "I got a hunch this Madame Matilda's a square," Beulah says. " Come on, let's get something a little more groovy, a little more solid." Thus they jive.

Second, when Beulah says, "It don't seem possible, but I put my big foot in it again," it's not because of Donnie's dancing. In fact, Donnie was such a bad dancer that none of the girls in his class wanted to be his date, so Madame Matilda assigned one of the girls to go with him. But, when she had to cancel, Beulah arranged a blind date with a new girl in the neighborhood -- who turned out to be several years older and about two feet taller than Donnie.

Third, he claims that Donnie's parents were scandalized because their kid was dancing the boogie woogie. Sorry, no. At the party, Donnie is dancing the waltz with his date -- badly, tripping and falling. Beulah and Bill, serving refreshments, take pity on him and Bill puts the boogie record on the Victrola. Donnie and his teenage date get the rhythm. It's Donnie's prudish dance teacher who's scandalized. "I have never seen such a barbaric exhibition is all my life," she says. When she yells at Donnie ("You ought to be ashamed of yourself!"), the Hendersons storm out, Donnie in tow. Oh, that boogie woogie. Oh, that rock and roll. Oh, that rap music. Kids today!

Now, when a reviewer gets his facts so wrong, it makes me wonder. Has he actually seen the episode? Was he just careless? Or does he have ax to grind?

Yes, there are stereotypes here -- the father is stiff and pompous, the mother ineffectual, the dance teacher a dowager, and Oriole is dumb as a bag of rocks and has a laugh like a mouse being pulled through a keyhole. But Beulah, Bill and Donnie are as real as '50s sitcom characters got. I could hang with them.

It's always easy to look askance at earlier eras from today's oh-so-much-more-enlightened perspective. If there's overt racism in this episode, I don't see it. If you're interested, find a tape, watch it, and decide for yourself.

The Invaders (1995) (TV)
5 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Sorry, no., 27 August 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The movie was broadcast, and appears on the commercial VHS release, in two parts. The first has some creepy moments (although they have little to do with the show's '60s incarnation), but the second quickly deteriorates into a simple-minded impending-disaster-on-a-train scenario that just left me cold and probably belonged in another movie. Made more "relevant" for the mid-90s -- by introducing the idea that the aliens were trying to get us to degrade our planet and thus make it habitable for them -- the ecological subtext seems a little knee-jerk ten years later. The acting was competent, although I doubt that Bakula's confused, rather passive protagonist could have sustained an entire series. Not even an interesting failure.

15 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
The Maltese Falcon as screwball comedy, 17 January 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If you can get past the fact that this is not another version of the much-loved noir classic and take it on its own terms, this film actually has a lot going for it. If you want emotional depth, look elsewhere. Here, murder, betrayal, infidelity and the mindless destruction of gorgeous deco furniture are routinely shrugged off as minor inconveniences.

The film is briskly paced and full of snappy dialog. The characters are broadly drawn and fun to watch. The acting is -- well, not full of subtle nuance but certainly appropriate to the piece. The script is by Brown Holmes, who is also credited with the original 1931 version (which I have not seen but would love to; Dwight Frye as Wilmer -- wow!).

William Warren carries the film as the confident, always one-jump-ahead Ted Shayne (and looks appropriately satanic). Bette Davis gives as good as she gets, even managing to thwart Shayne of the reward for her capture. Marie Wilson is a treasure as the ditsy Miss (Effie?) Murgatroyd, who apparently has trouble spelling her own last name but still has a lot on the ball. Alison Skipworth is fun as a female Gutman, Arthur Treacher has Peter Lorre's rather superfluous role (without the innuendos), and Maynard Holmes is the creepy gunsel who can't seem to hold onto his gun. The cops are, of course, suitably dense.

If you enjoy colorful characters exchanging breezy chatter and cracking wise, you could do worse. Give it a chance the next time it's on TCM. If you don't like it, you can always change the channel.

(PS: The plot summary as given by the IMDb is incorrect. Shayne doesn't meet Valerie on a train, she doesn't hire him to find Barabbas, Barabbas doesn't ask him to find Valerie, and the ram's horn is not covered with precious jewels. Other than that, it's spot on.)

4 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Scheduled for a March 1, 2005 release date, 15 January 2005

I'm a huge Rutles fan and I'd never even heard of this until ten minutes ago. Considering how little information is available about it online (aside from the usual synopses and cast lists), it looks like very few others had seen it either. It's curious to note that apparently the official press release lists Eric Idle as one of the founding members of the Bonzo Dog Band -- I hope everyone knows that's not correct. I also see that the DVD comes with an "Never-before-seen alternate ending" -- interesting, considering how few people have seen the regular ending. Now, to stretch this thing out to the requisite ten lines, here are some vegetables that I like: Oops. Out of space. Maybe next time.

Zero Effect (2002) (TV)
13 out of 36 people found the following review useful:
Has anybody actually seen this?, 8 January 2005

It's a pity I missed this made-for-TV flick because I loved the 1998 film, an updating of the classic Sherlock Holmes versus Irene Adler tale, with Nero Wolfe and Archie thrown in. Daryl Zero was an interesting character: brilliant, neurotic and annoying. The mystery itself was pretty good, too.

I see from the cast list that there was no "Arlo" this time out, so I have to wonder whether he was replaced by "Jeff" or whether Zero was operating on his own. It would be a shame to eliminate him, since the interplay between the characters gave the original film a lot of its appeal and energy. Any protagonist who is not likable benefits from being buffered by more sympathetic representatives. Conan Doyle understood this, as did Rex Stout. I wonder whether Kasdan did.

If a DVD is too much to ask for, I'd settle for a reasonably well advertised cable run.

Nero Wolfe (1979) (TV)
5 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
One of the better adaptations, 6 January 2005

Good casting (although Thayer is 'way too thin), good chemistry and decent production values yield an enjoyable ninety minutes. The plot, in a nutshell: a wealthy woman, harassed by the FBI, hires Wolfe to get them off her back. His chance to earn his $100,000 fee improves when he learns that three agents may have been involved in the murder of a reporter who was working on a story about the Bureau.

As is often the case with Wolfe stories, the real interest lies in the characters -- Wolfe's methods and Archie's charm -- and the mystery itself, while it hold up, is almost incidental. The book from which it was adapted, "The Doorbell Rang" (1965), is generally considered the best of the Wolfe books.

This made-for-TV film was reportedly a pilot; a series never resulted but four years later NBC presented William Conrad as the first (and, one hopes, the only) bearded Nero Wolfe. Conrad had a remarkable career in radio and TV, but he was miscast and the show lasted fourteen episodes. A&E reran those some years ago, but when was the last time anyone showed this film? If it was ever released commercially, I couldn't find a trace of it.