Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Desert Killer (1952)
The "killer" is just one big pussycat.
Five year old "injun" Little Sure Foot has trouble guarding his flock of sheep against a marauding mountain lion in the mountains of Arizona. His daddy passed away recently and mom is too busy trying to earn a meager living selling her beaded crafts to tourists. Using a roly-poly puppy as a "gift exchange", he gets help from his grown up friend Marvin Glenn and his teenage son Warner, professional puma patrol.
What results is a one-reel outing that closely resembles the couple "bring 'em back alive" shorts (also done by Warner Brothers, as well as Paramount) featuring Florida's Ross Allen roping bobcats in the Everglades. Then again, the Out West cougar seen here looks a trifle less ferocious (despite the dubbed African lion sounds) than those smaller Easterners, even if his prey comes from the sheep and cattle herds. As usual, he does what most felines do best: climb a tree to flee the hounds and chew off his ropes.
With hokey cowpoke narration by Art Gilmore (previously heard in Joe McDoakes comedies and other "Sports Parades"), you just know the kiddies in the movie audience were hardly frighten by the heart-stoppin' adventures here. (In fact, most of you will question why this actually got Oscar nominated.)
Won't spoil the ending, but let's just say that this was made by the same director as several fluffy Walt Disney pics, like STORMY, THE THOROUGHBRED WITH AN INFERIORITY COMPLEX and the Oscar winner THE WETBACK HOUND. He alternated between Disney and Warner Bros. during the early fifties, also doing for Warner a cute seal-and-girl story STRANGER IN THE LIGHTHOUSE and a less critter friendly, but another nominee two years later, BEAUTY AND THE BULL featuring bullfighter Bette Ford.
Spills and Chills (1949)
Definitely lives up to its title... and only ten minutes long!
Time-Warner is finally, if slowly, releasing some of these "docu-shorts" that Robert Youngson made before his popular feature THE GOLDEN AGE OF COMEDY. In the late forties and fifties, critics at the time routinely praised these above even the "March of Time" and Disney "True Life Adventures" and Oscar nominations were frequent. Now, that three titles have made it to DVD as "extras", it is easy to see what all of the fuss was about. They cull the very best newsreel clips, presented with enthusiastic narration, fast-paced editing and swirling orchestration that only a major studio could provide.
Think of these as Ken Burns TV shows sped up on caffeine. Even the opening titles pack a lot: SPILLS AND CHILLS rolls its credits over aerial shots of New York City shot from a daredevil's point of view. The fact that the footage is even older today (dating circa 1916 to mid '40s with the twenties emphasized) makes it all the more fascinating, since most modern viewers will be new to folks like Lillian Boyer, John "Jammie" Reynolds, Mildred Unger and many others who will leave your jaw dropped to the ground.
This title is definitely NOT for those afraid of heights, speed or extreme temperature. We have a very young Mildred riding the top of a balloon, Lillian performing trapeze stunts under a plane without a parachute, Paris bridge jumps, a prize fight high over Manhattan, jump-roping on a skyscraper scaffold, human "flies" scaling buildings and "teeter-tottering" chairs along rooftop edges. Some additional motorcycle and car crash scenes here (like the famous one crashing through a shed) may have inspired the comic gags with Gene Kelly early in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. This was an era when most Americans weren't at all terrified by death, the insurance agencies hadn't taken charge yet and the filmmakers had super strong stomachs watching through their lenses.
The Alphabet Conspiracy (1959)
Over-the-top, but highly entertaining, Bell Science installment
The Bell Science TV specials that feature Frank Baxter as "Mr. Research" have certainly etched themselves in a great many Baby Boomer and Generation Xer minds, being a regular part of the US public (and private) school curriculum well into the 1980s. To the cinema enthusiast, they have plenty of interesting credits and can conveniently be split into two "phases". The first four were produced and directed by Frank Capra on a somewhat modest scale, with just an "imagination screen" where most of the action takes place, and are a trifle more preachy and "religious" in tone. The later four came from Warner Bros. (with its in-house animators and directors like Owen Crump) and, despite their more straight-forward and "secular" approach, boast over-the-top art direction and production sets that only a major Burbank studio can provide.
It is obvious which batch THE ALPHABET CONSPIRACY belongs to. Frank Baxter, the ever smiling bald host, takes homework-ridden Judy into a dream-like fantasy-land full of over-sized books and assorted props that the WB set department must have loved working on. Hans Conried provides high comedy as the Mad Hatter in a spoof of Lewis Carroll, as he attempts to destroy the alphabet and "words" in general. (Both he and Frank Baxter were veteran voices of "old time" radio: check out "CBS Radio Workshop: Joe Miller's Joke Book" from 11/4/56 for a half-hour program which sounds just like an "audio" Bell Science show.) What results is a history and study of human speech and dialect, starting with baby talk and including such novelty subjects as whistling calls in the Canary Islands. Great use of Warner's stock footage (from its many live-action short subjects in addition to outside sources) and funny animation from the Friz Freleng unit (done in between Bugs Bunny cartoons) adds to the light-hearted lecturing.
What makes all of these shows so endearing is Baxter's enthusiasm for the material he presents, as well as his attempts to "fit in" with the current generation. Case in point is his hilarious attempts to speak "beat jive" to Shorty Rogers, the jazzy "dig it" hip-cat. (We could easily picture him attempting hip-hop lingo had this been made in the eighties.) Most importantly, he never talks down to his audience, but "shares" with them the Big Bright Wonderful World he's exploring.
Fans of this series often have mixed opinions of THE ALPHABET CONSPIRACY, because it is the most over-produced of the bunch, with the material being a bit too "sugar-coated" and less "in-depth" than the others. Apparently there was some criticism back in 1959, since the following production THREAD OF LIFE was made in a much more low-key manner (with people on TV monitors conversing with Baxter). THAT one proved too "dry", so they returned to the Over-The-Top treatment (but with some moderation) in ABOUT TIME.
About Time (1962)
Last of the Frank Baxter Bell Science TV specials
All eight of the Bell Science shows featuring Frank Baxter are fun to watch today, despite some of the material being somewhat dated. (The shows reflect their age mostly when it comes to electronic technology. The computerized machines from the Eisenhower and Kennedy eras are often quite "prehistoric".) The four later installments, produced by Warner Brothers, are especially enjoyable on account of their outlandish sets and art direction. In this one, we take an imaginary visit to the "Planet Q" where the inhabitants are just like we humans and hold court with a king on his throne. The "plot" involves setting the "royal" clock and needing a "time" to start with. Conveniently, Frank Baxter is available with an observatory peeping out to Earth and is able to give a detailed description of what "time" is.
Subjects covered include a history of clocks starting with sticks-in-the-ground, sun dials, calenders, Galileo's first use of the pendulum in 1583, the use of quartz crystals and, in the 20th century, atomic energy for modern clocks. The seasons are briefly studied, along with how plants, snowshoe hares and hamsters use their own "clocks". Uranium properties aid paleontologists in "dating" fossils and studying the earth's age.
The best segments involve Einstein and his relativity principle. Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" series in 1979-80 covered similar material in live-action (and considerably more detail), but the cartoon footage gets the point across quite well. Two twin brothers... one an astronaut traveling the speed of light and the other staying on Earth age 60 years differently, because time is different in outer space with different "laws" in effect.
Like all of the programs, there is a great finish. This time, the Big Bang theory is presented with delightful slushy orchestration and the all-too-familiar passage is borrowed from Ecclesiastes (later done by the Byrds in song). It is an appropriate ending to the very last Bell Science special (with Baxter starring), since the Warner-produced specials didn't delve into scripture like the earlier Frank Capra productions (such as OUR MR. SUN and HEMO THE MAGNIFICENT).
Warner-Vitaphone meets the avant garde
When "Jammin' The Blues" was released by Warner Bros. in 1944, it was recognized as a breakthrough in visual razzle-dazzle, nominated for an Oscar, later singled out by Leonald Maltin in his THE GREAT MOVIE SHORTS, became a cult favorite among jazz film collectors and finally entered into the National Film Registry. Yet, as Warner starts unveiling its vast short subject collection gradually on DVD, including the Archive's 6-disc set of Melody Masters and Vitaphone Varieties (Warner Bros. Big Band, Jazz & Swing), a treasure-trove of nuggets are being rediscovered... some of which may be one-reel "Citizen Kanes" aching for critical attention.
On one level, this short subject "dates" poorly: scenes of happy-but-lazy "negro life" in a rural "shanty" cabin outside of Savannah, Georgia with watermelon eatin', cotton pickin' and rockin' with Mammy on the front porch.
On another level, the look of the film and the art direction are years ahead of its time. In a curious way, it invites comparison to avant garde experiments of the late twenties like "Life and Death of 9143: a Hollywood Extra". Many camera angles are slanted with people popping out of the corners of the screen. Silhouettes and funhouse mirrors are utilized to eye-popping effect. Stylized "palm" trees make the human actors appear as if they are coverting in a toy Plasticville, while the city dance hall segment could pass for a seventies discotheque. Even the train is carefully constructed as "surreal". It is possible that this film was Warner-Vitaphone's response to the artsy musical shorts that William Cameron Menzies was releasing through United Artists at this time.
According to Roy Liebman's VITAPHONE FILMS, the studio was sued for using the music without permission. With this in mind, one of the title cards listing James P. Johnson was probably a "reissue" edit.
Sports Oddities (1949)
Pleasing docu-comedy of athletic stunts
Some of the Pete Smith shorts resemble Ed Sullivan TV shows with an assortment of jaw-dropping "acts" that bare little resemblance to each other. This is a great one-reeler, even if it has a "parts-are-greater-than-the-whole" vibe. Like all of Pete's sports-reels, there is plenty to entertain the less "sporty" crowd.
We open with some ice-skating stunts highlighted by a trio that incorporates flip-flop acrobatics, reminding me of the Ross sisters sch-tick in "Broadway Rhythm". In the most entertaining segment, Buddy Bowner demonstrates a variety of bowling tricks, giving new meaning to "gutter-balls" and even succeeds with a "square-ball". The surfing clips are a bit more conventional compared to the earlier stunts, though the scene with a two-year old toddler (press statement is "gah!") stands out. The high diving clowning act in the finale is strictly for laughs... goofy sound effects are added which are louder than Pete's narration. (The broken glass sound when the diver hits the water is a popular gag in many short subjects.)
Above-average Pete Smith Specialty
The Pete Smith shorts were a staple of the MGM program for more than two decades and audiences eagerly anticipated a certain number of sub-series or series-within-a-series entries. Each movie-season (running from September to August), there were a few Technicolor "novelties" (usually a cooking demonstration or an athletic spectacular), a football review of last year's newsreel clips, a cute animal subject, three or more sports-reels featuring great stunts, a couple of Dave O'Brien pantomime slap-sticks of the "you can't win" mode and one or two "What's Your IQ?" quizzes. This title belongs to the last of these sub-series and is also called "What's Your IQ No. 16".
The whole concept of a quiz-reel sounds dry and boring on paper, but when presented on screen is quite enjoyable. That's because Pete Smith provides so much high comedy: measuring the weight of a piano by skunk and lion sizes and showing an offbeat news clip of a ship disaster that has NOTHING to do with the core subject of musical instruments. The audience participates in the multiple choice questions (this was during the heyday of "following the bouncing ball" sing-a-longs) and our witty narrator provides hilarious criticism for those of us who chose the wrong answer. For example, five weird words that Smith can't even pronounce correctly are tossed out as a which-is-an-instrument? question.
In-between the question and answer sessions are some Ed Sullivan-ish novelty acts, this time involving music. The best of these little acts is a pianist who plays blindfolded with a sheet over the keys. Others, like the blown-up glove "instrument" are strictly for laughs.
Facing Your Danger (1946)
Excellent white rapids adventure, though likely more "breath-taking" in the forties than now
Occasionally shown on TCM and now available on the DVD for Bette Davis' DECEPTION, this one-reeler acquired by Warner Brothers in 1945 (and given spiffy narration by Knox Manning) makes impressive use of Grand Canyon scenery. The dangers of riding the Colorado River are pretty obvious and not to be viewed by the faint-of-heart. There's even a brief shot of a skeleton to add a grim touch of reality to the fun.
Although today's viewers may pass this off as a forties "home movie", the close-up footage of white water rapids certainly would look great on the big screen; the Oscar voters were impressed. It is interesting to compare this with some of the 1950s CinemaScope portraits of the Colorado, like the Disney featurette GRAND CANYON. Today, this type of adventure would probably be made with greater technical sophistication for the IMAX screen... and a bigger crew, a longer end-credit roll and none of the personal "touch" of a cameraman like Edwin E. Olsen.
Early information from 1946 periodicals suggest that this was planned as a "Technicolor Adventure" (a more fitting umbrella title), but it went into general release as one of the 160+ "Sports Parade" shorts, which Warner Bros.cranked out between 1940 and 1956. These were often less "sport" and more "human interest" and travelogue. Their key advantage over the competition (Paramount Sportlight, RKO Sportscope, Fox Sport Review and Columbia World Of Sports) was the consistent use of Technicolor (though 16mm "blown up" to 35 often looked quite grainy).
Hollywood Daredevils (1943)
Available with the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland DVD box set disc for GIRL CRAZY, this Pete Smith "human interest" docu-comedy covers the art of movie stunts. It isn't quite as impressive as Warner Bros. earlier SPILLS FOR THRILLS, which took a more serious presentation and was more "in-depth" in a Hollywood behind-the-scenes way. (This one is filmed by a beach.) Nonetheless, Smith's "oh shucks" narration is quite amusing, making this an above-average entry for this long running series.
Apart from a heart stopping scene with a vehicle crashing through a burning building and turning over in water to put out the flames (all presented with let's-not-get-too-serious jokes), there is a three part "running gag" involving a truck sporting a plane-propeller and wings that isn't trying to fly... but swim!... and can't quite make the ramp. The finale tops earlier clips of motorcycles leaping over each other with vehicles leaping from bridges with "you missed your ferry!" gag-lines.
Romeo in Rhythm (1940)
Great Tex Avery cartoon... minus Tex Avery
Made a year or two before Avery's arrival at MGM, this Rudolf Ising production boasts some of the same frenetic energy one usually associates with the wartime cartoons to come. Despite not receiving on-screen credit, many key animators working here would get even wilder with Red Hot Riding Hood and Droopy. Also, in terms of animation "polish", this closely matches both PINOCCHIO and FANTASIA in opulence... both MGM and Disney were running neck 'n' neck at this time, prompting the Oscar voters to get confused. (Ising's earlier release, MILKY WAY, would steal Disney's award this year.)
The plot (if you could call it that) involves a pair of crows presenting a vaudeville "hot jazz" rendition of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet", but constantly being interrupted by fellow avian thespians "putting on a show". One gag involves a spoof of last year's feature hit (Fox, not MGM) STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE. Like other 'toon "crows", they speak in the Harlem "jive talk" that must have seamed foreign to the mostly "white" animators in Culver City. This makes this subtly stereotyped, but not any more "offensive" than... say... the crows that teach DUMBO and Timothy Mouse about flying in the Disney classic. Seeing Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney put on a "black face" minstrel show certainly raises more eyebrows. (The DVD release of this cartoon comes with a box set of their slightly dated musicals).
A wall paper hanging comedy to end all wall paper comedies...
We've seen this plot many times before... in previous comedy one and two reelers as well as animated cartoons. Yet, it is doubtful that you've seen layer upon layer of gags like this. This is the type of comedy that has Marvin bumbling away in the background with various mishaps, while Joe, in the foreground, is trying to keep the wallpaper from a-rollin' up. You have to watch this twice to catch many jokes.
Then there are the witty one-liners. Of course, Marvin makes his entrance the "hard way" and Joe quips "When are you gonna learn to use the front door?" Ah... speaking of doors... after the job is done, Alice asks the obvious: "Joe, what happened to the front door?"
That ugly scenic-design wallpaper, so fashionable in the forties, not only makes windows and doors disappear. When the FBI arrives to file a missing person report and Joe notices that the wallpaper designs look "bumpier" than usual, he panics and (after three weeks of no "movement") insists that Alice keep the Christmas tree parked EXACTLY where it is...
Add Arthur Q. Bryan (of Fibber McGee/Great Gildersleeve fame and a regular in this series, filmed at the same studio as the Elmer Fudd cartoons he voiced) as a door to door potato-peeler who bugs Marvin three times and you have a black comedy that is too funny to be "disturbing".
So You Want to Move (1950)
Delightful, if slightly predictable, entry in a long-running series
Alice McDoakes, ever the independent and go-getting wife, has to do her WAC summer camp bit and instructs husband Joe to pay the Urban Van & Storage company to move their furniture three blocks to a new housing unit. Of course, Joe is too much of a penny-pincher to not think he and neighbor Marvin can move it themselves in order to save $150. Well... you can guess how unsuccessful they are. Dollar figures are flashed on screen for each "incidental expense".
On one level, this is just another Moving Day Comedy, following many earlier examples featuring Laurel & Hardy, the Three Stooges, Popeye, Mickey Mouse & gang... practically every Hollywood comedy star did this type of picture. The beaten '20s car and trailer overloaded with prop "junk" is a homage to Buster Keaton's Moving Day Comedy-to-end-all COPS (1922). Ah... but you mustn't sell a McDoakes short... short.
What sets this series from the competition are all of the funny one-liners and "little" gags. Bumbling Marvin channels his inner "Mr. Magoo" and grasps at every contraption as if he were nearly blind. Joe decides it would be better if HE drives and Marv quips how "funny" it is that "all my friends want to drive!" Of course he doesn't see the cop standing next to him as he mentions what flatfoots and eggheads police officers are.
Also, what would a McDoakes comedy be without a few two-timers to "sucker" him? He's forced to pay a fine for moving "without a license", but we see the accusers waiting for him in a parked vehicle like cats awaiting the naive mouse. Won't spoil the funny end-punchline...
Continental Holiday (1954)
Don't feel bad for the lump in your throat when you return home to the Statue of Liberty...
There's little question that Warner Bros. aped the competition in the arena of travelogue short subjects, even if some of their footage looked suspiciously familiar. (Hmmm... didn't the Alpine skiing and Spanish bull scenes appear in earlier films?) The basic problem with the competition was that so much of it was repetitive: MGM's traveltalks with James FitzPatrick had boasted glorious Technicolor since 1934, but existed in a vacuum... making the fifties titles indistinguishable from the thirties ones. On the other hand, Warner made damn sure its audiences wouldn't snooze before the main feature. Even the most boring shot of the Eiffel Tower would be transformed into a rocket-like symbol of power and glory, thanks to the gusto "let's have fun!" narration of Art Gilmore or Marvin Miller and some slushy over-the-top orchestration directed by Howard Jackson, William Lava or Carl Stalling. Screenwriter Owen Crump learned a few lessons from doing "how-to" flicks for wartime servicemen: gotta keep 'em entertained at all times. Fittingly, this studio had no trouble taking over the Frank Baxter Bell Science shows in the later fifties.
This slightly "average" outing (average only for this studio) boasts the quadruple teaming of Andre de la Varre's stunning photography (which emphasizes people and critters over buildings... movies have to have movement, you know), Crump's joyous narrative (loaded with superlative adjectives), Lava's orchestral oomph (with plenty of "Blue Danube" and "We're in the Money" medley to remind us of where we are) and the almighty Miller (channeling his "Hemo the Magnificent" voice). We, the viewers, are practically DICTATED where to spend our European vacation. (Don't forget to pay homage to Normandy and those who fought for our nation. Oh, you MUST feed the pigeons on the Square of St. Mark's!). Yet, how can we resist? As Miller enthusiastically tells us while watching Venice "unfold" for us: "YOU are part of a moving masterpiece..."
Watching a bunch of WB travelogues in a row is a bit like watching a bunch of Joe McDoakes or Looney Tunes (which played along side these)... you don't realize how much time you've wasted having fun. Much of the hokey dialog adds to the enjoyment. Too bad only a select few are available online.
The Thread of Life (1960)
Less popular than the other Frank Baxter spectaculars, but equally good
The Bell Science shows with Frank Baxter hosting were a staple for both Baby Boomers and Generation Xers in schools, thanks to their clever use of funny cartoon characters and easy-to-follow documenting. Fittingly, they were made by Hollywood's elite, expert at making the "educational" entertaining. Frank Capra handled the first four with UPA (Mister Magoo) and Shamus Culhane doing the cartoon work. The later four entries featured the vast resources of Warner Bros., making great use of its Burbank studios, stock footage from its many travelogues and theatrical shorts and its staff Bugs Bunny animators.
This one is less "spectacular" than the other WB productions. In the place of a movie-set (Gateways To The Mind), Alice's over-sized books (Alphabet Conspiracy) and Planet Q (About Time), we get a generic TV room with black & white screen-people questioning Mr. Baxter about heredity. A typical 50s "junior" asks what he's gained from Pop in looks, a neurotic couple asks about their new baby and the "typical house-wife" discusses her hair... was it all inherited? This gets Baxter on the topic of chromosomes, living cells and DNA (including an early "magnified 100 thousand times" photograph), dating back to the pioneering pea studies of Gregor Mendel back in the 19th century and following through with fruit fly "breeding" and the study of color blindness and other human traits that aren't merely "caught" like a disease. (Of course, the subject of cloning doesn't come up, being the 1950s.) There's even a brief study of the affects of radiation on cell-division.
On the whole, this show is a bit dryer and less humorous than the others. Even the cartoon work from Robert McKimson's unit is much more technical (and less cartoony) than what Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng produced on the other three Warner shows... mostly diagrams-come-to-life. This, along with the offbeat set-up of talking heads in TV sets, make this the least-viewed on the eight Bell Science specials. Of course, "less-viewed" does not mean it is inferior or less educational than the others; the production values are top-notch as always.
So You Love Your Dog (1953)
Featuring Duffy, the anti- "Lassie"
Prepare for some spoilers... but they won't spoil the fun of watching this.
You know a man's devotion to his pooch is a bit extreme when his wife sleeps in a separate bed and the collie snuggles with him. (They are also quite affectionate with each other in the bar while Dusty tries "sobering up".) Joe loves Dusty so much, he has no trouble providing an alibi for the cop that claims a strange dog was de-railing a train with a rock on the tracks.
Like Nellie in "Little House On The Prairie", Dusty is never scolded by his parent/master; despite providing secret information to Nazi and Japanese generals during World War II for the tastier doggie treats than soldier Joe can provide or flashing "here we are!" signals to North Korean subs. (This was produced in late 1952.)
Ah, Dusty... so cute and adorable! He can do no wrong. Why doesn't wife Alice understand that Dusty's 100% dedicated? (Never mind the fact that he holds the flashlight for the burglar breaking into their safe...)
The Joe McDoakes series maintained a very high standard of quality right up until the end. By comparison, the Three Stooges didn't fare quite as well in the fifties, even though they were more prolific and survived as a series two years longer. One reason for this was that McDoakes was Warner's only "entertainment" series of this period; the color travelogue 2-reelers, sports parades and Robert Youngson compilations were "educational" and cheaper to make. Then again, Warner Bros. boasted the very BEST shorts of any studio regardless of the type (Looney Tunes anyone?) that it was quite sad that Jack Warner pulled the plug on "live action" short subjects in 1956-57 just when they were at their peak of perfection.
"I'm sick of simmering like a watched pot. I want to get out and boil."
Elizabeth Montgomery clearly enjoyed playing Serena, the lookalike black-haired cousin of Samantha. These two were polar opposites: one the settled down housewife ("dull dull dull"), the other the swinging party animal. When Serena turned "blond" to resemble Samantha, without changing her flirty personality, the results were always hilarious.
Although the character first appeared in 1965's "And Then There Was Three" (birth of Tabitha episode), she didn't come into her own until two years later as part of the Queen of Witches Council story arc. Endora needed a substitute for her daughter, who gives in too easily to Darrin's "mortal" wishes (understandable with the nutty court in his living room). "Samantha is going to be away all day. We have plenty of time, Serena"... to cause a potential marital breakup, no doubt.
Serena changes into a Sam look-a-like and fools both Darrin and Larry Tate (whom she makes a pass with: "Have I ever told you that I'm just wild about gray hair?"), while the real Samantha attends a church fund raiser (where nosy Gladys Kravitz bumps into her). In her mock-Sam pose, Serena gives Darrin plenty of flamboyant rants like "You've taken a wild free spirit, a spirit that was born to ride the wings of the wind and penned me up in this dreary four walled cage..." until Endora starts chastising her for overdoing it. Of course, the whole mistaken identity crisis isn't resolved until there's a lemon pie fight worthy of the Keystone Kops...
Another memorable episode...
Bumbling Aunt Clara tries to fix the sound on a home movie, but puts Samantha's voice out of sync by accident. Unfortunately, Darrin's stuffy mother is there (marital trouble with Frank again) and is having head aches (no surprise there). Obviously, her son and daughter-in-law have to use her health condition to help explain the bizarre going-ons. Dr. Bombay comes to the rescue and Sam's voice is fixed, but not without the side effect of green stripes on her face...
This is a meaty episode in that we get the triple package of Marion Horne (Clara), Mabel Albertson (Phyllis) and Bernard Fox (who didn't look like he aged one bit when he appeared in "Titanic" three decades later). Unfortunately, this episode also feels a bit "rushed" on account of such a big ensemble. Usually more time is spent on Bombay's funny entrances. Yet, the whimsical lines and clever imagination make up for it.
Bewitched: Soapbox Derby (1966)
Not a "great" episode, but one that satisfies the teary-eyed crowd better than most other TV shows of the period.
Gotta love the music score in this one... those delightful violin spots. The reason this episode stands out from the rest of the post-"Father Knows Best" school is due to the natural "realness" of the cast. Sam and Darrin make great "foster parents" for 12-year old Johnny Mills. (They even look related... curious that Tabitha is nowhere around.) Unfortunately, Johnny isn't getting much help from his dad with his soap box derby car and Sam's "mother instinct" (complete with her success making chocolate cake without witchcraft) gets the better of her. Dad is understanding, but he's much too busy as an auto mechanic (and classic Chevy fans get their eye-full with this episode).
The Kravitzes are also in this one with their nephew competing in the same soap box derby race. Abner spends the race hot-dogging and listening to other sports with head phones, while noisy Gladys eyes "Mrs. Stephens" for any twitching nose "funny business". Fortunately, Johnny's real dad comes to his senses and arrives just in time to verify his son's integrity when his win is judged suspicious.
Bewitched: The Joker Is a Card (1965)
Forget the basic plot. Paul Lynde steals the show.
For a time in the seventies and eighties, the black and white episodes from the first two "Bewitched" seasons were only sporadically broadcast. They were never as popular in syndication as the post 1966 color ones and, not surprisingly, Sony sells more of the "colorized" versions on DVD than the original BWs. Thanks to Nickelodeon and TV Land, the BWs started enjoying a cult status in the nineties. Today, many fans say that first two seasons ape the final six and maybe they're right; there are fewer clunkers among these.
"The Joker Is A Card" has been popping into many Top Ten Lists of favorite TV shows. It is a classic combination of star power and great dialog, although the basic storyline (Uncle Arthur helping Darrin get back at Endora with a hokey spell) is less sophisticated than other episodes of the period. Yes, this is the one with the famous "Yaga suzi, yaga suzi, yaga suzi, zim" incantation; watching Darrin take Arthur's advice with intense seriousness is part of the fun.
This marked Paul Lynde's second appearance (his first was as a frazzled driving instructor) and his first as Uncle Arthur. According to the pregnant Samantha: "He's my favorite uncle. Do you know, when I was little, he taught me to make my first pony. I was only four. I couldn't get the spell right." Although all performers here are in top form, Lynde is the obvious star. A line borrowed from Grouch Marx is treated with Lynde's unique delivery and made twice as funny: "One morning I shot a lion in my pajamas. Now, what he was doing in my pajamas, I'll never know!" His appearance as a "head dish" is also priceless.
Bewitched: I Confess (1968)
Another nugget from the peak years of "Bewitched"
The best episodes in any series are those, when viewed in hindsight, offer insight both to the times in which they were made and today's society. This classic, filmed in February 1968 shortly after Tet and when "The Graduate" was the top movie, reflects the growing dislike in sixties America of both the US military and the popular notion of "conformity". Today, it raises important questions about both individuality and privacy in a world that is draining both thanks to satellite surveillance and the internet. OK... maybe I'm going a bit overboard here: it is just a TV show, but one could easily write a detailed thesis on an episode as multi-layered as this one.
Darrin and Samantha have the usual marital dispute over her "exposing" some of her witchcraft to keep an obnoxious drunk at bay. Right before bedtime, he admits it might be easier to just "tell the world about our secret". Sam disagrees and uses some additional witchcraft to manipulate her hubby's dreams.
Just what WOULD happen if the world learned that Sam is a witch? Surprisingly, once you decide to no longer hide something, it can actually be difficult to prove it exists initially. Larry Tate refuses to believe their confession... he needs additional convincing. Then he enthusiastically barks to Sam: "With my brains and your voodoo, we could control the world!" and this is where the trouble starts. The Kravitzes prove to be worse; they provide stadium seating outside the Stephens' house! Three-year old Tabitha has no friends because Mommy won't zap ponies for everyone. Mickey Mantle and other celebrities constantly call for Sam's career "help". Finally, a very disorganized pair of US military officials arrive to maintain "home security", since Washington is in a state of alarm. Poor Darrin finishes up his nightmare at a "private and secluded" military base separated from both wife and daughter as they are sent away for interrogation time.
The moral is somewhat inconclusive... perhaps it is left for us to decide, depending on our own notion of privacy and what things we are comfortable exposing publicly. In the dream, Sam actually looks relieved that it is all out of the closet; however, their lives are turned upside down. Darrin decides at breakfast time that it is best to keep things the way they are. Obviously, this is the right decision for HIM and his family, if not for everybody.
"Abner! ...Mr. Stephens is only four feet tall!"
"SAMANTHA!" "Ohhh... mother shouldn't have done that." Yeah, the plot is a bit familiar... but the funny lines are too many to quote in just one review.
Ironically broadcast the same week as "Land Of The Giants" with itty bitty shrinking Darrin in a world of giant coffee cups, furniture and mayo jars. (This had to be an expensive episode to produce.) A great dane from the Kravitzes (of course, Gladys purposely got a dog to help her snoop the Stephens house... "This dog will eat anything that's not nailed down.") chases him into hiding with the garbage. Fortunately, the friendly drunk (the reliable Dick Wilson: "I found a leprechaun in a bottle!") saves him before he winds up as part of the trash pickup.
This is basically an comedy version of "The Incredible Shrinking Man", with excellent props and Dick York's hilarious comic timing. Like many of York's best performances, one can watch this with the sound off and still laugh. Heck, just make a still of him sitting in the jar, saying "Sam, don't try to psychoanalyze him. Just give him his pony!"
Dick York should have received an Emmy for this one.
Not to fault Dick Sargent, but he made a sometimes dull Darrin Stephens. Dick York, on the other hand, was more animated than most of the "Saturday Night Live" cast put together. He often appears "higher than a kite" in these later shows... perhaps with all of the prescription drugs he may have been taking? (Lots of pill popping in this one... multi colored ones at that.) Then again, many TV personalities in 1968 were a bit "high" anyway.
Endora casts a vanity spell and Darrin gets "with it" swinging sixties style. It starts innocently enough with him preening in his Camaro mirror. Then comes the Nehru jacket and beads, followed by a gold jacket and funny sideburns that Elvis may have loved. Samantha gets concerned; zapping off his outrageous wardrobe while he's visiting Larry Tate and a conservative definitely-over-thirty suntan client (Herb Voland). The climax comes when Sam tries to out-do his outfit with a "shimmer in silver" mini skirt. This prompts one of the funniest (and, shall we say, orgasmic?) lines of the whole series: "Sam, don't move! Look at that! When you stand in a certain light, I can see myself ALL over your dress! It's-it's like a hall of mirrors! I've never KNOWN such happiness!"
What made "Bewitched" so great were the performances, even when the storyline material got repetitious. Had this episode featured a different cast, it would have been "just another sitcom". Yet, York channeling the future Jim Carrey, with excellent support by overly stuffy Voland and his daffy wife (Sara Seegar, a frequent supporting star on this show: "What magnificent creatures!") and Elizabeth Montgomery looking sexy even with chocolate batter all over her face, definitely make this one a masterpiece of sixties television.
The Bachelor (2002)
An emotional roller coaster show
Each major network has a reality TV juggernaut which, despite hit and miss ratings, can't be destroyed. CBS has three: "Survivor", "Big Brother" and "The Amazing Race". NBC has "The Apprentice". ABC has "The Bachelor/ette". Although nobody will consider ABC's show "Masterpiece Theater" material, it still boasts high entertainment.
This, of course, is the only one of the bunch not involving a fat check or Trump job at the end of it. Instead, it's the Romance Card. 25 or more successful career women who want to "settle down" (biological clock ticking away) all vie for an eligible bachelor "of breeding". Ridiculous rose ceremonies aside, there's always high drama and hyper-active emotions (fueled by wine on occasion), catfights galore and some of the most colorful femme fatale in reality TV (like Trish in Jesse Palmer's season). Make whatever opinion you like, you can't say this show is boring: Jason's surprise "After The Rose" finale didn't top the Nielsen ratings for nothing.
Some bachelors are more telegenic than others. Generally speaking, seasons are liked or disliked according to the star. Andrew Firestone was the most-liked, followed by Byron (one of two still with his Final 1, though not officially married). Others like Lorenzo and Dr. Travis did much better as salesmen and TV show hosts than as the focal center of a TV harem. (Astrological trivia: more Bachelors are Cancers than any other sign... which explains the heavy emphasis on "meeting the parents" in both the "hometown dates" and finale.)
Host Chris Harrison is always there tapping the wine glass and announcing the rose ceremonies (the only boring part of the show). Fortunately, he isn't a robotic host. His interviews with both the lead and the competing ladies are quite heart-felt. His popularity, no doubt, influenced the more touchy-feely tribal councils that Jeff Probst has presided in more recent seasons of "Survivor".
I, for one, prefer "The Bachelorette"... I guess because it hasn't lost its novelty value. So far, all of these were initially with "The Bachelor". (Apparently, Fleiss & Co. has been slow seeking an "unknown" woman, just as they've been slow to cast a non-Caucasian.) Their experience as part of a group of 25 gives them a better understanding of what their male suitors are going through when the tables turn.
The Bachelorette (2003)
Always a guilty pleasure among reality TV shows
Some people take this stuff wwwaaayyy too seriously, which is why there are some silly low ratings on this site. The best way to view this is as a latter day "Dating Game" with a bigger budget and a lot of ceremonial pomp (those ridiculous roses). It is all-too easy to scold the participants (Why can't you find love the "normal way"? Why expose your romantic life on TV?,etc.), but I always respect those willing to take risks in life (with a hopeful ending)... even in front of millions of viewers. Conservatives have their own opinions as well, although less sexual activity happens here than on "Big Brother". In fairness, at least one marriage and two long-term engagements came from the Bachelor/ette franchise, so the TV environment is not THAT much worse than the "real world". If you fall in love, you fall in love... if not, enjoy the ride.
There is only one thing more entertaining than 25+ women battling over a desirable Bachelor... and that is 25+ "dudes" battling over a Bachelorette. Here gender and society expectations play a key role: Guys may have fist fights and hot arguments, but are quick to get it out of their system; by the time the "Men Tell All" special is broadcast, they're often all buddies. In contrast, "The Bachelor" shows have ladies who bottle up their anger and act catty. Although the "ette" early episodes supply plenty of "beefcake" for female viewers, it is interesting to note that the Final 1 selected is either the shy/sensitive jock or the Average Joe.
Surprisingly, these shows hold up better than you'd expect with repeated viewing, thanks to all of the high emotion involved and a less structured format. Only the rose ceremonies are a drag. (By comparison, "Survivor" may be a much better show when seen weekly, but its VERY structured format makes it a bit tedious viewing reruns back-to-back.) The Trista/Ryan season still entertains after a couple years (even if the wedding that followed went on too long), as does Meredith's. Jen (the controversial one: she dumped both of her final 2) and Deanna had slightly duller runs. The best episodes, as in "The Bachelor", are the "hometown dates" (& the colorful families), the erotically charged Fantasy Dates in exotic locales... and, of course, the finale with the final 2 runner-up leaving in a limo "broken-hearted".
Jillian Harris' season is arguably the best season, but also the most difficult to sit through: The Classic Emotional Train Wreck. It starts with the usual share of high comedy and scripted drama with a foot-fetish suitor (Tanner) and a "bad boy" country singer (Wes), who delivers the theme of "They say love don't come easy". (*Spoiler alert*) In episode #4, Jake, the "perfect" pilot states the ominous line that it is inevitable that Jillian will fall for two guys and have to send one away brokenhearted. At first, the storyline focuses on Kiptyn as a key player, but eventually the saga boils down to Reid and Ed. One falls hard and fast for her, while she falls harder for the other when he takes a two week leave of absence. When she dumps Reid at the #3 spot in Maui, she fails to explain her changing affections to him and he attempts a return in the finale to verbally express his feelings for her... only to be dumped again. This is not a show for the faint at heart.
Prowlers of the Everglades (1953)
The best of the True Life Adventure "Featurettes"
There were plenty of nature documentaries predating (see F. Percy Smith) and contemporary (see Arne Sucksdorff) to Walt Disney's True Life Adventures, but there's little question who dominated this genre in the late '40s and '50s. You simply can't beat glorious Technicolor, thundering music scores by Paul Smith, Winston Hibler's laid-back narration and the animated paintbrush "Tinkerbell treatment". Naturalistic accuracy was not always the goal, despite intros to the contrary; but I've found much guilty pleasure in square-dancing scorpions and Anvil Chorus bighorns. Sadly, we are so immersed in Animal Planet shows, it is hard to picture the impact wild animals in their native habitat must have had on the BIG screen.
I love all of them, but PROWLERS OF THE EVERGLADES (completed in 1952, but an Oscar winner the following year) and the feature SECRETS OF LIFE (which should have won one) are the two I've watched the most, perhaps because they are the least "disneyfied". Well... almost... you see, the "funny" otters were so popular in BEAVER VALLEY, that their Everglades cousins just had to put in their own clowning act in PROWLERS as well. On the plus side, there's no cartoony business for the alligators or the waterfowl and turtles who cautiously share housing (and occasionally become lunch). The clever camera effects achieved by the Milotte husband and wife team (true successors in spirit of Martin & Olsa Johnson two decades earlier... couples who adventure-seek together usually stay together) is brought to a peak in the underwater scenes, highlighted by "mirror" gators on the ceiling, and in the close-and-personal clips of hatching reptiles in a very well-guarded nest.