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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an obscure, uneven, and frankly cartoonish film starring the
now-forgotten comedian Jack Carson. It is also one of 3 Columbia
Pictures product-placement comedies of which I am familiar, the other 2
being 'The Fuller Brush Man,' with Red Skelton & 'The Fuller Brush
Girl,' with Lucille Ball. Columbia might have made others but darned if
I could find anything on them. I couldn't find anything specific about
how these films were financed but since the Fuller Brush Company & the
Good Humor (Ice Cream) Company were both viable commercial enterprises
in those days, it's obvious they contributed 'plug money' to the
productions in exchange for significant exposure.
This film is today mostly remembered because it has numerous references to the original Capt. Marvel comic books, a fan-club, and a non-existent Capt. Marvel radio show. We are talking about the 1940's version of Capt. Marvel, today erroneously called 'Shazam' by most people, who wore a red suit with a lightning bolt emblazoned on the chest.
Despite the fact that Capt. Marvel's publishers obviously contributed some of the plug-money for this film, the references to the Captain include nothing specific about the character, such as his super-strength, or ability to fly. Conspicuously absent are any mentions of Billy Batson, the 14-yr.-old boy who utters the magic word 'Shazam' in order to become the mighty Capt. Marvel.
Perhaps more conspicuously, when the script calls for the Capt. Marvel fan club to utilize a recognition code word, there is no a mention of either of Capt. Marvel's two trademark catch-phrases: 'Holy Moley!' or 'Shazam!' Instead, the rather awkward 'Niatpac Levram' (Captain Marvel spelled backwards) is used.
It is as if the script had been written generically, so that any hero's name could put be used to fill-in-the-blanks.
Or perhaps Superman's publishers had pressurized Columbia Pictures to minimize the film's promotional value. 'The Good Humor Man' was released on June 1, 1950, while Columbia released the first chapter of the serial 'Atom Man Vs. Superman' on July 20, roughly 6 weeks later. This second (and last) Superman chapter play was reportedly the highest grossing US serial of all time.
Superman's publishers, you see, had been working tirelessly to sue Capt. Marvel out of existence since 1941. The wanted a monopoly on superheroes, and sadly, in 1953, achieved their end.
In a strange twist of fate, the The Good Humor Man's villain turns out to be George Reeves. Reeves wasn't in either of the Superman movie serials, but in 1951 he would accept a job playing Superman in what has become the most durable superhero TV program ever, and achieving his own tragi-comic immortality.
Since the titular hero of this film is an early version of the man-boy archetype (forerunner of Seth Rogan), it's too bad the writers didn't bother to work in any references of Billy Batson's ability transform from kid to grown-up & back again. But it's characteristic of a film that is even less than uninspiring, and is in fact, barely watchable. Even the Fans of Capt. Marvel will find this a disappointment, since their hero is treated shabbily. Despite this, they will not miss the opportunity to record in on TCM, just as I could not.
The makers of this film did a good job creating an inexplicably high
degree of verisimilitude which they used to paint over some absurdly
impossible concepts, such as the wholesale size reduction of human
beings and submarines.
This film was groundbreaking in that it was big-budget, made for adults, and successful at the box-office, all of which were unusual for a scifi film in 1966. Its success helped pave the way for Planet of the Apes and 2001 A Space Odyssey.
I saw this film on TV in the 1970's when I was 13. I hear it's on Netflix now.
I remembered this film recently when my doctor made me get a colonoscopy, which is a medical procedure involving a tiny camera taking a fantastic voyage via one of your body's natural apertures.
While the procedure was happening, I could see what the camera saw, via a TV monitor. The staff had drugged me thoroughly, so darned if I remember much.
It would be an interesting experiment to take the colonoscopy monitor and switch the feed to this film for a person getting the 'scope, seeing as they drug everyone who gets it. Afterwords, interview him, see what he has to say.
In a couple months I will turn 52, just about the age that Sean Connery
was when he made this film, which I happened to have caught at the
movie theater back in 1983 when I was 19 years old. With this in mind,
I re-watched NSNA for the first time in almost 33 years over the course
of 4 daily workouts on the treadmill machine, finishing up yesterday.
Last night, I turned on a rerun of an old Johnny Carson show on the Antenna-TV network, and who turns up but Connery, sans toupee and sporting his classic 'stache. Turns out the show was from 1983, and Sean was promoting NSNA.
Believing this to be another instance of synchronicity in my never-ending study of fine arts, I determined to add my review to the body of literature devoted to this cinematic opus.
The most interesting thing about this movie is the middle-aged Connery, playing the middle-aged 007. These facts are used to advantage early on in the film but are mostly forgotten by midpoint, with the Scots thespian's handsomely craggy facial features being the only reminder that in addition to the evil Mr. Largo, Our Hero is also fighting the inevitable effects of father time. As such, this is a lost opportunity.
(Two years after this film, cartoonist Frank Miller did a much-praised comic book story of a 50 year old Batman titled 'Dark Knight,' which became a genuine cultural phenomenon...Miller never forgot for a moment that the Caped Crusader was now 50, and in fact in the early scenes Bruce Wayne sports a mustache and receding hairline which make him strangely similar to Connery.)
The other missed opportunity is the climactic physical confrontation between 007 & Largo, which takes place underwater, with both wearing scuba gear. As you can anticipate, the scuba fight takes place in slow-motion, thus sucking way much of the satisfaction. This was a story which clearly called for a knock-down, drag-out fight, ala Red Grant, the aging 007 going Mano e Mano against the young Teutonic Largo.
The musical score is another weak spot. It seemed decent enough in 1983, but the fusion-jazz stuff seems very outdated now, whereas the bombastic John Barry stuff from the EON films has held up much better.
Weaknesses aside, this is a fun enough film with which to waste a couple hours. Besides the enduring appeal of our old friend Mr. Connery, there are plenty of fights, vehicular chases, and fun spy-fi business to enjoy.
If you are young and viewing this, remember that the when you are over 50, the world will be a different place, and you will be far more vulnerable than now. Your nemesis will not be SPECTRE, but rather the limitations of your body, and the cruelties of the workplace, where cocky young SOB managers like to treat experienced, seasoned pros as if we are all dead wood.
In the USA, where Consumerism is the true national religion, the mass
media represent a cruel myth that life is like a Hallmark greeting card
or a Joel Osteen fantasy, which inevitably leads most of us to feel
something like Charlie Brown or George Bailey.
Paradoxically, the Charlie Browns and George Baileys of the world might like to spend an hour sitting on the sofa, listening to Xmas music, imagining a warm fireplace and snow outside the window, maybe tossing back a couple drinks or taking a little toke. Perhaps to indulge in a little nostalgia, or perhaps to pause and be grateful for food in the belly, a warm place to stay, and whatever friends or companions one actually has in this complex and difficult world.
Before the merchants and the religious fanatics seized upon it, the Winter Soltice was the pagan season of Yule, a time of song, feasting, alcohol and socializing. (Look it up if you don't believe me!)
This is a show of song, and of actors pretending to eat, drink and performing lightly comedic dialogue so as to simulate socializing. Additionally, this show takes pains to acknowledge the fact that real life is nothing like the saccharine shopping-mall mega-church fantasies which propel most Xmas season programming.
The banter and music are mostly amusing, sometimes even quite good, and there is even a hint of genuine sentiment at one point, but thankfully not overdone.
Sometimes you want a TV show that is not heavy or demanding, a kind of electronic fireplace to keep you (and hopefully a companion) company for the better part of an hour, and sometimes you need a little help getting through the holiday season. Some people find the videotronic images of Bill Murray and Paul Shaffer to be an amiable presence. If you are such a person and have a nominal appreciation for irony, this is a good show to watch.
Of the thousands of American TV sitcoms ever produced, only a small
portion of them are genuinely enjoyable and funny 40 years after their
production. Barney Miller is one of those shows. More interesting than
this fact, however, is that this show has many features atypical of its
genre and time period:
1. Virtually all of the action (excepting a handful of scenes and the strange and mostly unenjoyable 'Wojo's Girl' 2-parter) takes place at a single location, the police station. In this way, the show is like a stage play, and of course, stunningly similar to the classic Kirk Douglas play & film 'Detective Story.'
2. There is almost no slapstick, no catchphrases, and no toilet humor.
3. Unlike the most popular sitcoms of the mid-1970's, such as 'All In the Family', 'Good Times', etc. none of the recurring cast play their characters broadly. None of them are shouting tyrants, cartoonish buffoons, dingy housewives, etc. Most of the regular cast played their characters toward the deadpan end of the comedic spectrum. (The recurring Inspector Luger, played by the great James Gregory, is gently buffoonish, but nothing like Ted Baxter or George Jefferson.) One episode is an exception to this rule, 'The Brownies,' which is one of the 10 funniest sitcom episodes ever produced. If you have seen this episode, you know why the characters were played differently this time around, and you know that the essence of the story is seeing the characters behaving different than usual.
4. With the exception of Barbara Barrie as the intermittent presence of the titular character's wife in the early episodes, there are no recurring female characters. (Just an observation, not saying this is a good thing for every sitcom.)
These facts argue in favor of the theory that artists who seek to create something of quality and durability should not always try to imitate. Doing something different can be good.
The writing and the performances are the essence of why this show is good. But also there is the faded paint and rumpled clothes, and the varying degrees of world-weariness in faces of Yamana, Fish, Capt. Miller, and Inspector Luger, which evoke the gritty, working class realities of old New York before a series of quasi-fascist mayors tried to reboot the city as a kind of fantasyland for rich people and tourists.
A final point of interest to which I will draw your attention is gentle and matter-of-fact way in which the cops interact with both 'criminals' and 'victims.' You won't see them trying to intimidate or torture criminals into confessions. There is an implicit message of compassion in this, along with the related notion that when the total circumstances of life are taken into account, the moral differences between people don't seem all that huge.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having heard audio of Russell Brand on the Democracy Now radio show and
before the British Parliament, as well as hearing him going off on US
cable news shows, I have developed both a grudging respect and
appreciation of him. He is capable of being both extremely clever and
extremely funny, sometimes at the same time.
But there are also huge gaps in his education and maturity, and during the course of this performance film, these gaps are on display a number of times.
The opening conceit of this show, the concept of the hero, is a worthy topic and Brand shows guts and wit by sharing an unflattering anecdote regarding Mahatma Ghandi, for instance (his point is not to destroy the reputation of Ghandi...his point is that all so-called 'heroes' are human beings with human foibles...).
At the beginning of the show, you really think he's going to go deep and really interesting. Which he frequently does, but never quite as far as I think he is actually capable of.
And there is plenty of laugh out loud stuff, for sure.
But he also has this embarrassing juvenile tendency to be crude and/or offensive just to show he can be crude and offensive. Many comedians also do this, but whereas history shows that George Carlin was right, I doubt history will make Russell's crudeness seem insightful. To make it clear, I am talking about crudeness that simply isn't even funny...not because it is crude, just stuff that is unfunny.
Fortunately, almost every time Brand crosses the line into crudeness for the sake of crudeness alone, he eventually crosses back into the funny/interesting stuff before you decide to turn off the video.
The only time he doesn't cross back again is in the final bit. In the end, he decides to pantomime a giant, talking clitoris, which could theoretically be funny, but in this case, it is Jerry-Lewis-Level- Unfunny. So pay attention to the running time and to the counter as you play this video, and really, you can turn it off during this portion and not miss anything good.
It's too bad the video ends on such a sophomoric note, because there are so many brilliant bits. But I guess that's what happens with a performer who is still hopefully in the upward stage of his development.
I was channel surfing today and chanced upon the beginning of this
episode. I hadn't seen even so much as 15 minutes of one of these shows
since the 1970's, and was curious if it was as bad as remembered it. I
was totally unprepared for what I saw today.
You see after a couple minutes of rather bland expository dialogue with Ms Ball, Gale Gordon, and Little Lucy and Little Desi, the whole episode becomes purely an extended chase sequence at LAX involving numerous airport ground vehicles, machines and baggage conveyors.
At first I just thought it was just typical 1960's juvenile, corny slapstick, and I felt a little impatient for the plot to advance. Then I realized: other than the fact that 2 bad men are chasing Lucy and Gale Gordon all over LAX due to the requisite MacGuffin, there is no plot to this episode.
The whole episode is a kind of meta-humor, humor about the nature of humor (which, paradoxically, is not itself always humorous). But this I must admit, while not causing me to actually laugh, I found strangely amusing...two aging comedic thespians dashing all about LAX, with some jerky radically under-cranked footage on the baggage conveyors that looks strangely like a subtly surreal kind of 21st century digital effect...and vaguely suggests the creepy stop-motion animated Lucy puppet in the credits sequence.
By the end, it reminded me somewhat of the Monty Python 'Confuse-A-Cat' sketch.
All this, when I had only expected typical unfunny 3-camera sound-stage sitcom stuff. Why, with all the location shooting, the budget must have been blown for the whole next season.
This episode is overall good and contains much of the goodness
typifying the Pertwee Period of Dr Who...if you like Pertwee, Sarah
Jane, Brig. Lethbridge-Stewart, Sgt. Benton, and the daffy cleverness
of the vintage years for this show, you will likely enjoy this episode.
The standout feature for this chapter however, is an extended vehicular chase sequence which begins when a villain steals the Whomobile, and involves the Doctor's yellow Ford ('Bessie') and eventually involves a motorboat, a hovercraft, and an autogyro (some call it a gyroplane, but autogyro is a better term) similar to the Little Nellie flown by 007 in 'You Only Live Twice.' To anyone how has seen more than 3 episodes of this series, this episode is simply astounding due to budgetary reasons. For the crew to have gone on location long enough to shoot the required footage, to have fueled and operated the various vehicles shown in operation as well as the vehicles which had to become air and water borne to film the sequence, must have consumed more financial resources than were used in all of the 12 previous years of production. I tell you, it was a simply jaw-dropping experience for me.
Especially since, upon reflection, the sequence does almost nothing to advance the plot.
My best guess is that this sequence was created with the intent of impressing potential foreign broadcasters of this series, because in the 1970's, this series was eventually syndicated in various foreign markets, including USA. Car chases were HUGE in US TV during this era.
Whatever the reason, this is a very unusual episode, and for curiosity value alone it is worth viewing.
Van Johnson tried to cope with his movie career hitting the skids by
creating a singing nightclub act. This episode was clearly written so
as to promote his singing, which gets tiresome and embarrassing
quickly. Also, the director used his little minstrel tune as the
instrumental cue for Johnson, so that by the time you are done, you
have this awful song virus, even worse than the Verve's dreadful 1990's
pop song 'Bittersweet Sympony.'
Johnson was getting soft and jowly by the 1960's, so he is, in general an unimpressive villain anyway, even without the singing. He and Alan (Alfred) Napier had worked together in '30 Seconds Over Tokyo,' Johnson's best movie, so maybe they had a drink together after shooting this episode, or maybe not. Regardless, this show was another step on the long way down from being an A-lister in the mid-1940's. By the late 1970's, Johnson would be shucking Poly-Grip and appearing on The Love Boat.
The death trap, slow roasting of the Dynamic Duo, is in worse taste than usual, and their escape is unimpressive. The high point for the whole episode is a cameo by Phyllis Diller. I recommend skipping this one.
Here in the 21st Century, I'm not sure who this film's proper audience
is, besides cinephiles.
The protagonist is a kid, a fact which will turn off many adult viewers.
At the same time, there are some amazingly elaborate and artistically choreographed dance and acrobatic sequences, prefiguring Cirque du Soleil...the complexity and wonder of which might be lost on kids. (I also wonder if kids' attention might wander during these sequences...)
I am, of course, a cinephile now, but was I at age 10, when my brothers and I watched this back in the 1970's, broadcast by a UHF TV station out of Youngstown, Ohio? Because we liked this film then. Would today's kids, fed a steady diet of video games, MTV and R-rated movies like this film? I doubt it, but you never know.
My 21st Century cinephile self recently re-watched this film, after 40 years, finding it to be beautiful and frightening. It is a clever mix of Suessian imagery and the anxieties of childhood (which adults remember better than we admit) contained within the forms and conventions of the 1950's Hollywood musical.
The cast is excellent, particularly the dancers, but credit should be distributed all around. Mary Healy is very sexy as Bart's mother, and her real-life husband, Peter Lind Hayes, portrays the kind of adult every kid wishes he knew. Hans Conried, at what turned out to the pinnacle of his career, is perfect. Even Bart, played by Tommy Rettig is good (child actors are often very hard to stomach).
Almost the entire film is an extended dream sequence, showing life for a young boy inside a surreal fortress of mandatory piano lessons, and where strict, autocratic order is enforced by a legion of uniformed, thuggish soldiers. Very obvious to my adult self, it is a commentary on authoritarianism and totalitarianism, in the world of an American child. It is interesting to consider that the year of this film's release, 1953, was the peak of the Senator Joe McCarthy witch-hunts. The following year, theocratic authoritarians successfully pressured the US Congress into mandating the phrase 'one nation under God' into the Pledge of Allegiance, which was itself an oath forced upon millions of schoolchildren 5 days a week.
Among many memorable moments is a solo titled 'Because We're Kids,' containing this verse:
'Now just because your throat has got a deeper voice, And lots of wind to blow it out, At little kids who dare not shout, You have no right, you have no right, To boss and beat us little kids about...'
So, as I said before, this film will not be 'accessible' to everyone. But to those of us for whom it is, there are rewards.
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