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Trying Times (1987–1989)
9/10
This anthology series should be more available
4 April 2018
It's sort of a cross between "Seinfeld" and ""Annie Hall." Like "Seinfeld" (which debuted the same year), it places characters in crazy social situations, while like "Annie Hall," it uses the device of having the characters deliver monologs to the camera.

Really, though, you don't need any description of what happens on the show to be interested in it. You need only to look at a list of all the many talents involved.
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Cool McCool (1966–1969)
7/10
Funny mashup of other shows of the time
9 September 2017
The show is a blend of Get Smart and Batman in the style of the Beatles cartoons (all shows that also were airing at the time). Making the character sound like Jack Benny was a clever way of giving him a vocal inflection similar to Maxwell Smart without imitating Don Adams directly. All of these then-current references were readily apparent at the time even to kids, but because of them, the show is now dated and mainly of historical interest.
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Columbo: Blueprint for Murder (1972)
Season 1, Episode 7
6/10
Midrange episode
21 December 2016
In the best Columbo episodes, the viewer is given a lot of clues that distract from the one really important clue. In the weaker ones, the supposedly incriminating final clue is circumstantial and flimsy.

This episode is in the middle: While the murderer is definitely caught in the end, the viewer isn't given much to play with in the meantime. As the Trivia section notes, we don't even see the murder.

The Goofs section notes that in this episode, a radio supposedly is set to 52, which is not a real frequency. While that's true, it's possible that this was done intentionally so as to avoid any chance of identifying a real radio station, similar to using the 555 telephone prefix.
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7/10
Surprisingly good
4 March 2010
I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I went into it thinking, "The audio works perfectly well by itself, what makes you think you're going to add anything to it by making it into a movie?" but the visual component did add something. All these guys are excellent actors and watching them practice their craft by lip-syncing perfectly to their recording was impressive rather than cheesy as I thought it might be. It really did look as if they were talking. Given the modest budget, the movie does a good job of creating the appropriate atmosphere for each scene, and it adds sight gags that go beyond merely accompanying what already can be gained by listening to the audio. I would readily show this movie to anyone who might never be exposed to the Firesign Theatre otherwise.
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6/10
Pleasant, but not the best example of this kind of humor
4 June 2007
Even though this movie is not that great, I have watched it several times because it represents one of my favorite kinds of humor, that of taking existing film or sound clips and piecing them together to make something new. I have loved this sort of thing ever since I watched Fractured Flickers as a kid. Unfortunately, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid isn't nearly as funny as Fractured Flickers. That's because it doesn't set out to "fracture" the clips by completely changing their meaning, but uses them with more or less the same connotation that they had originally, only with Steve Martin added. A more typically outrageous comedy exercise would have used these film noir clips to tell a story that had nothing to do with film noir, like making all the characters businesspeople or something equally unglamorous. This film is more subtle, in particular making great use of the actors' facial expressions and reactions to make them seem to interact with Martin in a very realistic way. The use of the verbal component is less inspired. (A clip of James Cagney saying "No, no, Ma, listen to me," is preceded by Martin saying, "Say something like, 'No, no, Ma, listen to me.'" Not exactly brilliant.) It is all technically adept, but the result is more clever than funny.

I think my favorite scene is the one where Martin offers the cantankerous Edward Arnold a puppy and then takes it away ("You don't deserve a puppy").

Of the 25 old-time movie stars listed in the end credits (including seven minor credits), 16 were still alive at the time this film was made, counting Ingrid Bergman, who died the year of release. Today, only one is still alive (Kirk Douglas).
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The New Dick Van Dyke Show: Queasy Rider (1971)
Season 1, Episode 8
7/10
The best of a forgotten series
1 February 2007
This is the one episode of the series that I still remember. It was (probably not coincidentally) reminiscent of the classic episode "A Farewell to Writing" from the original Dick Van Dyke Show, in which Rob Petrie was holed up in a cabin with writer's block. Here, Dick Preston is stranded in an abandoned cabin in the desert because his motorcycle ran out of gas.

Much of the episode consists of Van Dyke talking out loud to himself, evaluating his situation. At one point he is fixated on a kerosene lamp, thinking that he might be able to deduce from the rate of evaporation how long the lamp has sat there unattended, before he finally realizes, "Who cares?"

I wouldn't mind seeing this episode again; you can keep the rest.
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Bambi (1942)
10/10
It's Disney, what more do you want?
28 January 2007
For reasons I have already forgotten, I decided I wanted to watch this movie again, which I first saw during its 1966 release (when I also read the book) and had seen only once in the meantime.

Since I was well aware of when the sad part was coming, I did not choke up at it as much as I did at the joyous parts, especially the very beginning and end. The opening theme, "Love Is a Song," beautifully sums up the movie's message: Individuals grow and die, but the love that brought them into the world never leaves. In the magnificent closing shot, Bambi's father turns and leaves as if to say his work is done and Bambi is now ready to take his place. Forty years after I first saw the film and with no one else watching, I was still very moved by both these moments.

In between, I was struck by the animation during the fight scene between Bambi and Ronno, in which the lighting changes to convey the darkness of the mood. This scene is the most abstracted and artistic and approaches "Pink Elephants on Parade" from the previous year's "Dumbo" in its level of visual invention.

Now I might have to read the book again, too.
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I remember the song...sort of...
4 June 2006
This serial was still airing in reruns about a decade later. "Gold doubloons and pieces of eight / Handed down from Applegate / From buccaneers who fought for years / For gold doubloons and pieces of eight." At least part of that is right, I'm sure. Then there was, "Yo-ho-ho, the wind blows free / Oh, for a life on the roaring sea." The late Thurl Ravenscroft may have been one of the singing voices.

My personal memories of Disney in connection with adventure are primarily confined to comic books rather than television. At the time I saw this serial (when it and I both already were almost 10 years old), I was into Carl Barks's Uncle Scrooge comics, and sometimes the Mickey Mouse comics of the adventure-serial variety, where Mickey wore a red suit. I wouldn't mind seeing this story again to see how it compares against other Disney adventures I loved that were presented to me in another form.
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The Beatles (1965–1969)
6/10
Surely this must have some value
27 January 2005
Whatever the real Beatles may have thought of this, it is what turned me on to them. I was 8 and thought I didn't like them. The language I most understood was cartoons, and when this came on, I completely turned around.

I actually don't remember the story cartoons very much. Mainly, I remember the "singalong" segment in the middle. Paul, John, or George would introduce the segment (which was sort of a Mitch Miller "follow the bouncing ball" breakfaster, only without the ball). He then would call for the "prop man," and Ringo would come out and say, "The regular prop man's sick, so I'm taking his place." The other Beatle would say something like, "Well, this next song is a really swinging number," and Ringo would say, "Swinging number, eh? I think I've got just the thing," and would go offstage and then reappear on a trapeze, which he would proceed to screw up. It was totally predictable, stupid, and always funny, or is in retrospect.
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The Addams Family (1964–1966)
9/10
Still funny
2 June 2004
Of all the fantasy-type sitcoms of the '60s, the only two I still think are funny are this one and Mister Ed. That's probably because (like the earlier Topper, which I also still like) they were based on existing characters with literary origins, if that's the word.

Everything about this show was funny: the acting, the dialog, the sight gags, and especially the music.

Watching it as an adult, I was struck by how much John Astin's portrayal of Gomez resembled Groucho Marx. I am sure this is not a coincidence, as the show was produced by Nat Perrin. The production is still impressive today -- the sets and costumes look great.
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Comedy Tonight (1970– )
6/10
A pleasant enough memory
14 April 2004
Shelley Berman was one of the producers of this summer replacement show. It had a laugh track and no live audience. Robert Klein, as host, did some stand-up (with the laugh track, which was kind of weird) that included some bits later released on his albums, and the rest of the show was blackout sketches.

For a while, I had at least one episode on audio tape, so I remember some bits. One funny bit they did was the "travel snob." Barbara Cason spent some time boring Laura Greene with news of her trip to Europe. Then Marty Barris cut in and said that in order to deal with a travel snob, "all you need is the ability to make up names quickly." Then the conversation resumed and turned to Greece, and Greene started saying things like, "Oh, then you must have been to Epididymis ... you know, just past the Thoracic Duct ..." and on and on, until Cason walked away crying, unable to compete further.

Another sketch featured Klein as a kid at camp, reading letters out loud that he was writing to his parents, and that got progressively worse until finally we saw MacIntyre Dixon reading a letter he was writing, saying "Bobby will be out of the in-fir-ma-rary ... in a week .. just as soon as he dries out."

Barris's catchphrase on the show was, "Ooh, am I gonna get yelled at!"
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I've Got a Secret (1952–1967)
8/10
Classic Americana
8 March 2003
This show was a family favorite when I was growing up. As much as a TV show can, it influenced my perception of the grown-up world in general and of New Yorkers in particular.

Seen today, it is like an American time capsule. Its nonstop parade of personalities of all types amounts to a wonderful snapshot of what America was like at the time. It is still greatly entertaining, but has acquired the additional virtue of being a sort of history lesson. What's My Line and To Tell the Truth provide some of that that too, but they don't compare to this crazy freeform show where anything could happen.

Its format, or lack of it, was a perfect match for Steve Allen, and the later shows where he was the host are every bit as much fun as the Garry Moore shows, in my opinion.

If you have any interest at all in what entertainment was like for previous generations, you should include this show in your travels.
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The Skin Game (1931)
4/10
Mainly for completists
13 March 2001
On average, this is perhaps the lowest-rated of all Hitchcock's films among professional critics, but while I cannot call it good, in my opinion it is not even in Hitchcock's bottom 10. Like his worst, "Juno and the Paycock" from the previous year, it is essentially a filmed play, but it is somewhat less stage-bound and certainly more interesting, if not very. At least one scene (the auction) is distinctly Hitchcockian in style, and Phyllis Konstam is wonderful.
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Blobermouth (1991)
8/10
If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you'll like
25 February 2001
The L.A. Connection are a comedy troupe who did live performances at the Nuart Theatre in the early '90s, several of which I attended. They would show some campy '50s movie with the sound turned off and recite their own (scripted) dialog over it, in the manner of "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" This is a recording of one such revision, that of the original 1958 "The Blob."

Some people see nothing at all funny in this sort of thing. I must confess that I am an easy audience, as I have always found this premise intrinsically funny no matter what is done with it. But even with that caveat, I insist that the L.A. Connection do it better than anyone else. Every gesture and nuance of the actors on screen is incorporated into the new dialog in hilarious fashion. They also contrive an entirely new "story" around the action. In "What's Up, Tiger Lily?" Woody Allen kept the original notion that it was a spy story, whereas if the Connection had done it, they would have made it about something completely different. Whatever kind of comic genius it takes to do that, I wish I had it.

My only quibble with this preserved record is that, unlike the live performances where the film was untampered with, this version has occasional animation, music video-style editing, and a "plot" recap at the midpoint, all of which are unnecessary. But that didn't stop me from laughing through the whole thing. I am delighted to have this tape as a memento of the performances I saw, and I wish they would release more of them.
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Zelig (1983)
9/10
Perfect blend of "old" and "new" Woody
11 February 2001
This is still my favorite Allen film, and I've seen them all. It's the only one of his "mature" films that approaches the same level of zaniness of his "early funny ones." He had already parodied the documentary format once before, in "Take the Money and Run," but at that time he had not yet matured enough to do it in a realistic way, which always makes a parody funnier. Here he is in total control of the medium.

People who think of Allen mainly as a writer, or who dismiss him as old-fashioned, should see this film to realize just how state-of-the-art his films are cinematically. When he wants to, he can be as impressive a technical wizard as the big-budget Hollywood honchos, albeit on a quieter scale. This visual splendor is evident in many of his films, but none more than this one.
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1/10
Hilarious
11 February 2001
This is on my list of the greatest bad movies ever, right up there with Robot Monster. Perhaps the funniest thing about it is that Arnold Stang seems like a really big star compared to everything around him -- his performance is the most professional thing in the movie.
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Room Service (1938)
4/10
Not really a Marx Brothers film
11 February 2001
This film is likely to be a real letdown unless you understand the circumstances under which it was made. The Marxes were chosen to be cast in the film version of a play that was not originally written for them. They are sort of force-fitted into the roles. Ironically it might have been funnier if it had used different actors who did not have such high expectations placed upon them. Instead, it has been forever enshrined as part of a canon to which it really doesn't deserve to belong.
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