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Robin Hood (1991)
As good as Errol Flynn?
19 November 2009
There are very few truisms when it comes to movies. One, at least to me, has always been that, while each new version will be watchable, no remake of Robin Hood will be the equal of Michael Curtiz' and William Keighley's 1938 masterpiece.

Richard Green would make the story a weekly part of childhood. Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn would add a poignant ending. Two Kevins (Reynolds and Costner) would add an interesting back story and Mary Elizabeth a fetching Marian as Morgan integrated the tale.

But who could compete with Errol Flynn as the most dashing hero ever to stand before a camera, Basil Rathbone as the most compelling villain, or Olivia de Havilland as the most winsome damsel ever to be in distress? Certainly not Patrick Bergin, at best a journeyman actor, Uma Thurman, a pulp film star, or John Irvin, a second tier British director.

Then I finally saw their 1991 effort, and the truism is true no more.

Bergin's hero is less perfect and less disarmingly charming than Flynn's, yet more compelling and much less comic bookish. This is a Robin Hood who does what's right not because his character allows no other alternative, but because his temper and pride compel him to or events or his reasoned choice lead him to. Robin becomes both believable and all the larger for that credibility.

Thurman does for Marian what Liv Tyler did for Arwen: makes her a full participant in the story and not just a symbol of chivalry. This damsel unsparingly spits on her unwelcome suitor, rescues herself, and is full of passion, not the Victorian addition of chastity. She lives up to the original notion of Marian, a folklore Queen of the May long before she was coupled in legend with Robin.

Sam Resnick and John McGrath wrote a story and screenplay that eschews Robin beating back four swordsmen at a time for one in which the action is believable, yet no less active. The good guys triumph because of their wit and ability, not just inevitability.

This Robin is a hero fighting for his downtrodden people, not Richard Coeur de Lion, who ruled from Aquitaine, spoke no English and seldom set foot on English soil.

I still love Errol and Olivia and will always treasure an hour and a half spent watching the Adventures of Robin Hood. But Patrick and Uma will forevermore be Robin and Marian in my imagination.
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Inside O.U.T. (1971 TV Short)
Get Smart, but much less sophisticated
9 September 2009
In 1971, NBC aired three series pilots under the title Triple Threat on Monday Night at the Movies. One was The Good Life with Larry Hagman, which was picked up and ran a season. The second was Inside O.U.T., which was essentially Mission:Impossible as written by The Three Stooges and directed by Hal Roach. Bill Daily headed up the Office of Unusual Tactics team, whose repertoire of tricks included replacing a heavy set bald security guard with Daily in a shirt very obviously stuffed with a pillow and a bald wig with his hair sticking out all the way around it. The gags were cheap, obvious and pure slapstick. We laughed our butts off watching it. We watched the fall lineup previews for three years, sure that NBC wouldn't let this gem slip away unproduced.
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The Absolute Best
18 March 2007
You're Darn Tootin', released in 1928, is one of Laurel & Hardy's last silent shorts. There is no high-brow humor, no Andy Kaufman what's-he-really-doing-here angst, and the closest thing to sophisticated word play comes when Stan throws Ollie's horn under a steam roller and, after trying to get the now half-inch thick instrument to toot, Ollie deadpans to the camera and a placard announces "It's flat."

You can see the fine hand of legendary comedic actor Edgar Kennedy in his direction. Kennedy's fortes – the slow burn and intricate interactions with props – are the centerpieces here, from the fiddle bow and music sheet sequence early on to the gradual acceleration from annoyance to mayhem and utter anarchy at the end.

Stan and Ollie destroy a band concert, get fired, evicted, and fight with each other and everyone else who so much as passes by. The big finale is the infamous pants-ripping scene. "You're Darn Tootin'" is pure slapstick and low-brow humor. It's also the funniest twenty minutes ever committed to film.

Warning: do not watch this film without a change of underwear available.
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Quite likely television's finest hour.
24 December 2006
This show was never named "Disneyland". It started as "Walt Disney Presents" and became "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color".

This show was a mainstay of my childhood. Some of the most beautiful, not to mention earliest, color film of natural wonders – flowers, butterflies and national parks – appeared on this show. As did some of the best animation, from Disney's best general release Donald Duck shorts to entirely new productions, including a new character who quickly achieved a place in the Duckville pantheon – Ludvig Von Drake.

Its live action originals literally the stuff of legend into new legends: Davy Crockett, The Swamp Fox and The Scarecrow. These limited episode productions, the first mini-series, launched two major careers and redirected a third.

WDP gave Fess Parker his first real starring role as Davy Crockett in 1955. It created the homespun, always honest, man of the people personna that would endure through Mr Smith Goes To Washington (1962-63) and Daniel Boone (1964-70). It also turned song and dance man Buddy Ebsen, the original choice as the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, into a small screen star with the folksy, aw shucks personna continued in The Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones.

Along with 1956's Forbidden Planet, Leslie Nielsen's 1959-61 role as General Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, helped make him an adventure star (until Airplane! accidentally returned him to comedy). Remember his biggest role before this was the romantic comedy lead in Tammy and the Batchelor opposite Debbie Reynolds.

Patrick McGoohan's three episode appearance as The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh in 1964, crystallized and confirmed the dashing, poker-faced, near super-hero personna begun in Danger Man, his 1960-61 British spy series. The Scarecrow also made McGoohan such a hot property that the defunct Danger Man was resurrected and renovated that same year as the commercial and cult hit Secret Agent. This was quickly followed by the truly iconic The Prisoner – with 9.1 ratings, The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption top IMDb's all time favorite movie list, which means that, with a 9.2 score, the Prisoner is the hottest thing ever committed to film.
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Riverboat (1959–1961)
Why are the credits on older TV series so screwed up?
24 December 2006
This was a very good series. In each town the riverboat stopped in, some little drama would take place, with crew members getting involved in the local intrigue. The plots were always watchable and interesting, with occasional but excellent humor, and the acting was first rate. Darren McGavin was dashing as the captain (think Kolchak minus fifteen years).

Darren McGavin was the star of this series. Yet, on his page, he's credited with being in one episode, and on this page appears not at all. IMDb's television series pages used to be pretty accurate, now a lot of stars show as limited guests on their own shows. What happened?
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Some Prose Is Poetry
17 December 2006
For Ray Bradbury the masterwork of perfect poignance is Drink Entire: Against the Madness of Crowds. For Isaac Asimov it is Bicentennial Man. Only Asimov could remake Pinocchio as compelling science fiction. So many have tried to create a sweet and funny story of the machine that would be man, but this is it's perfect telling.

Only Robin Williams could play the unlikely hero of this story with perfect comedic timing and perfect emotional pitch. Embeth Davidtz as his leading lady matches his skills at every turn, and Sam Neill turns in one his best performances as the man who first recognized the irreplaceable uniqueness of his mistuned android.

Bicentennial Man is first rate science fiction – without physical conflict, without wars, without new ways to incinerate each other. In the end, it makes you glad to be a messy human. Watching this truly beautiful film is a wonderful way to spend an evening, and a guarantor of better dreams than you've had in many years.
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