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Matlock: The Gambler (1987)
Lots of interesting bits and pieces to enjoy in this episode. Marg Helgenberger plays the victim, ironically, about 10 years ahead of her starring role in the Las Vegas-based CSI. Vincent Schiavelli, a ubiquitous character actor has a strong bit part. Was there a TV show in the 1980s that Ken Kercheval did not appear in? Dick Gautier shows he's no Hymie the Robot. And what fun to see Sheldon Leonard play the Tout, a role he perfected on the Jack Benny Program thirty years before on radio. (How odd that Leonard's IMDb bio does not even mention his extensive Old time Radio work.)
Another creepy foray abroad
Our heroes have a genuine French babe working in their own office but they don't even consider taking her to France to help them on a French case? Is this sexism, chauvinism, nationalism or just dummyism? And what's this hang-up the WB has with 17-year-old girls? Last show it was Sherry Jackson, here it's Judy Nugent. We get a brief lecture about how the virtues of young ladies must be preserved, then scenes of her swizzling booze and romancing guys old enough to be her Hollywood producer. Hmm. Anyway, this mademoiselle in distress story is as routine and worn as the stock footage of Paris we see. Zee peepul are Franch becuz zey talk like zes, we? How come they don't talk American? The only thing missing is a mime in a striped shirt and black beret eating a baguette. Zoot suit alors!
Perry Mason, Smut Fighter
It isn't the murder that will get you riled about this episode--it's Perry Mason's casual attitude towards censorship. Someone wrote a "smutty book" and Perry is out to help punish him.What an antique!
Apparently the tiny town of Cliffside is rife with naughty people who have sex with each other, and sex did not exist in 1963 America. Babies were made by birds. So, when a nefarious novelist decides to write about ladies and men doin' it, all the bluenoses puff up. Except for publisher David Lewis he says he will, then says he won't, after Perry slaps a class defamation suit against him. This is weird because the lurid book cover looks like a Perry Mason novel.
Anyway, whatever sordid sex details were covered in Michael Pate's novel would be tame topics today. They'd likely be put in a reality show.
To sum up, Perry should have had a keener eye to the First Amendment. What a prude..
Diagnosis Murder: Frontier Dad (2000)
The Power of an American TV program to Promote Social Justice
This episode of 'Diagnosis Murder' is not afraid to tackle one of America's most sinister yet subtle racial injustices: The persecution of van Dykes. As proof, here we have not one, not two, but nearly six actors named van Dyke, completely unrelated I imagine, cast in the same show.
Prior to the release of this program in the year 2000, van Dykes were rare on American television, and were strictly limited to the ghetto of chimney-sweep roles in the flickers. "Frontier Dad" not only dumbfounds the racists but canoodles them!
The show itself was some bore about a dumb cowboy actor accused of murder I think. Anyway, one of the van Dykes helps him, another van Dyke hurts him, and a couple other vam Dyckes stand around looking glum or pretty. That's a good story, sure, but they passed on it for Star Trek, and they would shoot anything.
In the end all the van Dykes stand tall, and so does America. After all, what have the van Burens ever done for us?
Another Wasted Stripper Trip to Backlot Europe
This is what 50s-60s television did the most and the worst: showcase patronizing world stereotypes. They helped Americans think they were the new world masters because we won that last big war, remember? They were insufferable. This time, we're off to backlot Italy. The only 77 Stripper needed in this show is handsome and deboner Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith). He is supposed to give out some kind of inheritance an eccentric American has left to his home village. He needs to be there in person to do it because, well, otherwise there is no story. This of course is welcome news to our colorful scripted peasants. But there's a mysterious pair of fake news journalists from Milan who show up. They pretend they want to help our villagers celebrate, when they really mean to steal the money for themselves. They are the villains.
Everybody in town, about two dozen people and a donkey, speaks Italian as if they learned it off the back of a frozen pizza box. Excepting two momma-poppas and a comely daughter, and one sophisticated lady, the local characters are mostly silent. These other villagers shop at Chico Marx's Rag Locker and spend their days huddling around in the background, making incoherent mob noises, sometimes happy, sometimes sad. Eye candy includes Marianna Hill and Lisa Gaye for the guys and the suave Nico Minardos for the ladies.
It's always fun to see character actor John Marley, most famously the Godfather's Hollywood producer who wakes up with Mr. Ed's head in his bed. Here he is the Bad Guy.
I don't even want to chase what happens to Jeff and the money. Let's just say the story for this episode is thinner than half a strand of angel hair pasta. One of the worst.
No Big Plot, but a Solid Twist
This show cops out as caper. Instead it's a feel-good freebie as Jeff goes undercover to help out the denizens of a doomed boarding house. It's home to six down-but-not-out-'50s stereotypes who have no place to live except a rundown Victorian mansion. Some mysterious Force of Badness wants to muscle them out of the mortgage our collective of misfits have committed to paying. Why? So they can make more money by building some sleek new checkerbox mega-apartment building I guess. There's a meathead boxer with anger management issues, a forlorn jockey who's discriminated against because he's outgrown horses by two feet and a hundred pounds, a young punk who don't get no disrespect because people can't see past his suit-and- tie to see him as the punk he is. Plus there's Grace Lee Whitney, a stunningly beautiful blonde actress in a tight-fitting dress. What use would Hollywood have for her? Rounding out the roommate roster is Mae Questel, the voice of Betty Boop. What does she really mean when she serves Jeff and Roscoe a free hot dog?
Eventually Jeff decides he needs help to trap the villains so he recruits Strippers Roscoe and Suzanne as fellow undercover operatives, including Kookie—who shows up unexpectedly in the episode's best scene, a hip, rocking, blast of a Twist fever. This dance-off scene is the ginchiest three minutes in the history of 77 Sunset Strip! You've maybe seen the Twist with a bunch of slobs tossin' and turnin', but baby, pop your peepers for this! There's no L-7s on the Cloud Nine Dance floor, as lucky Edd Byrnes gyrates with Grace Lee and two professional dance couples, doing justice to a solid saxophone-wailing rock'n'roll instrumental. What a disgrace they don't list the musicians in the credits, because I can't believe it's just an anonymous studio group. Check it out on YouTube, cats: "77 Sunset Strip - Twisting at the Cloud Nine Dance Hall."
Anyway, in the end, Jeff helps his personal police dog Lt. Gilmore suss out the suspects and save the day. It's a happy ending for all as the kindly banker atones for the sins of the wicked real estate developer by gifting our misfits with their brand-new home– a sleek new penthouse apartment in a checkerbox mega-apartment building! I love when that happens.
Ground-breaking anti-amnesia drama
This ground-breaking episode documents a tragic period in American history: the epidemic of amnesia that swept our nation, beginning around 1948, the dawn of television scripts. This cruel malady proved a devastating scourge among our nation's beautiful leading guys and gals. On the TV, only quicksand claimed more lives.
Stu Bailey (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) is the only one of our suave and lovable 77 pals needed for this show. In the open shot we see him wander into a small Oklahoma diner, uncharacteristically disheveled, and rubbing a sore noggin. Characteristically, our handsome hero puts the moves on a purty young waitress, played by the delightfully dually-named Evans Evans. Stu orders the soup du jour (potato). To his horror he discovers he has no money! Or ID. Or recollection of who he is or how he got to Podunkville.
Luckily, he does remember how to pummel the local bully. That brings in the sheriff, who locks him up and puts his pitchur in the paper until someone names him. That fetches gorgeous blonde Elizabeth McCrae. It's my poor husband, she sobs, he fell out of bed and wandered off during our honeymoon. One look at the lady and Stu decides he's in. The spurned grill gal doesn't buy it. It is her sleuthing the saves the day. Oops, I guess I shouldn't have said that.
Extras include a young William Windom as a baddie and the ubiquitous Med Flory as the sheriff. Burt Mustin, professional old geezer, is credited as a kibitzer but when I saw this on ME-TV his scene must have been whittled out.
It's a quick-paced episode and fun to watch. Amnesia was eventually cured by script doctors in the 1980s.
A Beer, a Baer, and a baby Wells
Hey cats, this episode is so routine it's a slice of Wonder Bread, save for two bitty bites to chew on: Appearances by a sweet and baby- faced Dawn Wells and a shirtless Max Baer Jr.
Max ain't no Jethro if you know what I mean. No cornpole jive, Daddy-O, but dig those abs and lats! This ain't no Granny's boy.
Miss Dawn "Mary Ann" Wells, is cast away as a victimized vixen. Too brief her appearances are, if you catch my wave.
Lucky you, though, cuz your peepers can pop at the larger role our plus-plus-jolie Mlle. Jacqueline Beer (Mrs. Thor Heyerdahl!) finally has. Cherchezing our foxy femme is The Lout, the Villain, but it is hard to comprendre how anyone who works for a detective agency couldn't scan this scam.
Too sad, too bad, the '50-60s was Don Draperville, and The Man could not allow the girls to play as equals. The Strippers' mademoiselles had to stay dim. Necessary Damsels-in-Distress only, dig? We had to wait a few more years for Diana Riggs' Emma Peel to show us that the girls can do it too y'all.
This strip has 77 problems, but this ain't one.
What kind of an animal are you?
This story was loosely inspired by the infamous Kitty Genovese murder in New York City in 1963. But it's a feeble allusion, as Kitty was brutally stabbed to death and here, the girl lives and a man dies instead, shot by a gun. If you've ever met anyone who's been shot to death six times with a gun, they will tell you it's not so bad as being stabbed. Anyway, the story zips from caring less about who beat up the living girl to who killed the dead guy.
The girl is played by the beautiful Chris Noel, who, even with bruise makeup on her face, still looks gorgeous. You should look up her bio in IMDb, what a life of public service she's had.
There are no less than four possible ways the killing could have gone down, we find out in scene two or three maybe, and Paul Drake is just the sleuth who can suss them out, after he receives his clever instructions from Perry.
Do we spot a hint at a gay relationship between Ron and Hamp Fisher? These two hunky good- looking males were "just driving around" together when the attack on the Babe and the killing took place. Homosexuality was dangerous in 1965, as Raymond Burr and everyone who cared for him knew. Perhaps the characters are just gay for the slay?
Luckily we have Good Old Judge Kenneth MacDonald on bench to keep Perry and Hamilton in check with his best "Now See Here" arguments. There'll be no stoogery in this courtroom!
In the end the Guilty Killer's dramatic confession speech tries to tie it all back to Kitty by blaming big city fears and inhumanity as the cause for his actions. I guess that works, even if the "38 passive observers" in the Kitty Genovese story was debunked in a 2016 film made by her brother.
A Name with no Street
Last of four episodes without Barbara Hale as Della Street. Why was she gone? Where did she go? That's irrelevant, incompetent and immaterial. Plus I haven't found out yet.
A couple of intriguing look-alike character actors in this one. The scary housemaid Nellie Conway is played by the multi-named Joan Banks (Lovejoy). She plays it like a haunted Virginia Christie, who later boldly proclaimed herself the Folgers Coffee Lady I.
I yearn tragically across the decades for the stunning Ann(a Lee) Carroll, playing Georgiana Douglas. She's a belle ringer for Arlene Martel. These women are so beautiful they can only exist in Hollywood.
I like this episode. I don't mind that they picked the ubiquitous Harry Townes to play Newton Bain, a middle-aged Lothario. Most Perry Mason episodes involve old geezers lusting after ladies young enough to be their granddaughters. That was the way they played it back then. Good thing that doesn't happen nowadays.
And lay off Jerry van Dyke. I think any final laugh-with-a-fade-out benefits with 59 percent more banjo.
One of the worst
Normally our corn-pone sitcom is tolerable in its chauvinisms, but this one cannonballs too far off the track of decency. Of all the cultural insensitivities, 60s Hollywood's take on Native Americans dates the most. The girls dress up as "Indians" to fool a back lot Englishman who wants to shoot a buffalo because, well, that's what rich jerks did to kill time back then (and now). While the girls look fetching in their sexy Indian princess outfits, especially Pat Woodell, they're still embarrassing. Mix that in with ridiculous stock footage of a bison and you have a head-slappingly bad episode. Edgar Buchanan was a gifted comic actor, and this was meant to be a vehicle for him, but this turkey is no sportin' matter.
Boardwalk Empire: Eldorado (2014)
Great series, but a hasty ending.
Boardwalk Empire is a great series that gave a lot of careful insight into how people of average means and morals can be corrupted by cash and cruelty. It was a lot of violent, sexy fun!
Up until this final episode. One more time we have a My-gang-is- meaner-than-your-gang gang scene, only this time between Nucky and Lucky. The problem is we've seen this gather-the-troops scene at least twice before. Once when our Antihero came up against Jimmy and won, and then again when he came up against Gyp Rosetti and won, but only following much blood and grief. But it was so fun to watch!
But now here at the end we're led to believe that Nucky would assemble his troops one last time just to shrug his shoulders and say "I quit"? With a horde of ruthless murderers behind him, who are now suddenly unemployed? Doesn't make sense. Unless you figure it was just all the writers, directors and actors saying let's get this over with and on to the next project.
I was pulling for an ending closer to what the real Nucky Thompson had. He did go to jail for tax evasion like Capone, but finagled his way out early and retired back in Atlantic City where he lived a long retirement basking along the boardwalk as a town founder and 'character.' But crime must not pay. Still, as Van Alden put it, it needn't always end in such pandemonium.
Rinty's Bite Was Maybe Greater than his Bark
This program went off the air when I was 5 years old so I only have vague recollections of it, mostly from older brothers talk. I think there was a comic book too. What I do remember is that in the sixties just about everybody had a German Shepherd in their backyard and I suspect this kiddie show was the reason. Now pit bulls are all the rage, and Shepherd puppies sell for between $600-2500!
I just watched the only episode available on YouTube, "Sorrowful Jones" with Sterling Holliday. What a sad, racist depiction of "Indians" -- white guys running around committing mayhem while wearing, for no logical reason, full ceremonial headdresses and buckskins. In the Arizona desert? What a lazy lesson of unhistorical hatred to serve up to kids. I suspect that's why you can't find the series on DVD.
But I was also disappointed by how little the dog actually did. He had a few reaction shots, a couple of dubbed barks and 'saves' the day at the end by jumping on the bad guy. Not very sophisticated tricks. This was an influential show and I wish I could see more episodes to judge it better. From the one I've seen, it's kind of a bad dog.
Scooby-Doo Where Were You?
OMG, this is awful, just awful. You want it to be campy awful, but that's too much work. It's just plain awful. Bad sets, bad acting, bad directing, bad script.
The saddest part of this dreck is the complete waste of the beautiful Joi Lansing, who never ever appears in a swimsuit or a negligee or even the clingy tattered dress they paint on her on the movie poster. C'mon, movie gorillas are grabby and horny bodice-rippers going back to King Kong. But this ape is too impotent to monkey around - matching everything else in this mess. Lansing should have been one of the screen's great sex symbols, but this snore was no help.
The rest of the show is just unwatchable Z-movie hack work. Basil Rathbone and John Carradine stand around jawing in the suits they were probably buried in. That's about as scary as it gets. Scooby Doo and Shaggy would have turned down the story as too far-fetched.
Merle Haggard sings a great song, Sonny James does an okay one. The other singers, popping up mostly on the tacked-on end, had minor recording careers, but you'll need to Google them to find out why.
Perry Mason (1957)
The Case of the Perry Mason TV Project
Here's the deal.
In September of 1957, CBS television began broadcasting Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr. The title character was a fictional lawyer made popular by author Erle Stanley Gardner in a series of novels in the 1930s. There had been a half-dozen Perry Mason films and a long-running radio program. Gardner hated them. But he had signed away creative control on the lure of a barrelful of money, and which of us hasn't done that? I would, for a hoot.
Twenty years later, the new medium of television brought new contracts with new terms. Gardner could now show Mason the way he wanted – a bold knight of the courtroom, besting the foes of honest men and women, his only weapon a sharp mind, his only shield the law.
Perry Mason the TV show was an immediate hit. It had stylish sets, expensive out-of-studio production costs, solid acting, writing and directing, and, best of all, showcased a steady stream of handsome actors and beautiful Hollywood starlets. It set a high standard for all the legal American television shows to follow, from Burr's own Ironside in the 1970s to today's fifteen or so Law and Order franchises.
While the show's black-and-white format might turn off some, most viewers appreciate the noir flavor of bygone Hollywood glamour.
Perry Mason is an American icon, both national and personal. This show has been on in the background of my life for over five decades. Yet until last year, 2015 (pause) I'd never seen a complete episode.
It was always a show I meant to watch, but since it was always there, what's the hurry? It was background video, the way Friends would be for another generation. Perry Mason, along with Gilligan's Island, was one of the great "filler shows" in early cable television. When 24-hour cable television debuted in the late 70s, programmers had a dilemma: There wasn't enough programming to fill all the time. One hour-long Perry Mason reruns helped fill the void.
Unfortunately, Perry Mason's popularity also made it a victim. The original programs ran a fat 52-53 minutes, leaving a scant seven to eight minutes for commercials. Cable advertisers demand more time to sell more junk. So the shows are sliced, diced and time-compressed to fit a new market. Last year I watched a PM on a "hallmark" mystery channel, and I swear it had a whopping 20-22 minutes of advertising packed in. How? By cutting out whole scenes and characters. But beginning in 2006, DVDs offered a return to the original intent of the lawyer.
On January 1, 2016 I resolved to watch all 271 episodes of the CBS- TV Perry Mason show. The gift of modern technology makes this project most achievable and pleasant. A fella, an ambitious fella, can own the set of the entire nine seasons, 72 disks, for a mere $150. If you don't care to spend that much, there are a couple of alternatives.
First, there's a stream available on CBS Online for about $7 a month. I tried that for a while but didn't like it. Here on the Montana range, my internet speed via Charter Communications is about 62 mbps, apparently not enough to prevent image buffering, so the shows flicker and repeat themselves, like an old film. Moreover, CBS only offered the first five seasons, and not even all episodes. That seems odd.
You might find some of the DVDs at the library, but its a bit bothersome. In the end, possession is nine-tenths of the fun.
The Scourge of Bongo Music Foretold
Once again a Perry Mason episode leads the charge in the cultural wars, warning of the perils of bongo music to our Youth.
This episode features another PM appearance by jazzman Bobby Troup, this time playing a Beatnik character named "Bongo" if you can believe it. He smokes cigarettes too, letting them dangle suggestively from his lips. I wonder what that means? And he calls everybody "baby." Ugh.
Anyway, our heroine, innocent, pure Polly Courtland, played by the luscious Jo Morrow, is beguiled into trying to marry a hipster, one Eddy/Eddie King (James Drury, shortly before his ramrod ride as The Virginian). She wisely dodges him, only to be later entangled in the murder of a degenerate musician, one George Sherwin. What music do we hear in the background as Polly flees the murder scene? Bongo music of course! Do you need it spelled out for you?
The forces of law and order, in the person of Lt. Tragg, arrest Eddie, who then becomes Perry's client. There is some confusion as to who was trying to blackmail Polly's father, a wealthy businessman as always. That should be a warning to you too. You never read about anybody blackmailing poor people.
Perry uses one of his favorite tricks on the prosecution by sending a similar but different young lady to "test the recollection of a witness."
"A typical attempt to throw dust in the prosecution's eyes," thunders Hamilton Burger. But the liberal judge lets it slide. Why does Mason always get away with this?
There are several traps laid bare for our youth to see in this show. French cigarettes. Young ladies with uncovered heads tossing 'bones' with gamblers. Photographs. Fins on automobiles. Walter Burke.
But in the end, the murderer is exactly who you think it should be- someone degraded by years of listening to bongo music. There's no melody to such trash, hence our episode's title. If only we had listened, the Vietnam War and so many other disasters could have been avoided.
We need a president like Perry Mason who would build a wall between decent Americans and bongo music. He'd make the Beatniks pay for it too!
This is the Droid We Were All Looking For!
This show is remarkable because it stars not only Raymond Burr as Perry Mason, but a controversial 'actor' who is the spitting image of Burr as Mason. The person playing 'Grimes,' the false Mason, is not listed on the program's 1966 credits.
There have been a number of popular yet groundless speculations, including by the IMDb, that Grimes is simply Burr in a dual role. But by 1966 Burr or his agents would have had enough 'star power' to demand double billing so why not take on-screen credit?
No, the more logical solution is that this unique role is actually essayed by an android, a half-man mechanical apparatus NASA was experimenting on the 1960s. This was just before the Moon landing was faked, so the American government's skill with electronic tomfoolery was well advanced. Just check out the opening of a show called "Mission Impossible" – it proves that by 1965 American technocrats had developed self-destructing tape recorders.
The android Grimes is programmed to speak in a growling voice that sounds vaguely British, like Popeye pretending to be a Beatle. He presents himself as a salty old sea dog looking for his white whale, but willing to settle for a snog with the Blue Nun instead. Grimes habituates seedy waterfront bars, the type where the T-shirted toughs from Batman might hang out. Soon he is shanghaied by villains out to frame Perry Mason over a patent fight. All sorts of hijinks happen after that I don't have to tell you.
In the end Mason proves his client is innocent, even though no one cares by then. It doesn't matter as the real star of this show is America's lead in the Space Race. You kids should go read up on that.
Nice and big and fat and clear
First, let's get the title straight. The IMDb corrects it to "Photo" but that isn't right. The TV header is spelled "Foto," old newspaper slang. The more you know
Opening shot gives us a busy hotel lobby in Waring City, about 45 minutes from Los Angeles as we later learn. I think this is where wares come from, like Waring blenders. They're gone now.
In skulks a Man In Hat (MIH) who sneaks up the stairs. Why it's our old chum Hugh Marlowe. He meets and greets Babe 1, Leora Mathews, played by Carole Mathews, so her name is her role, kinda. The Babe gives him a packet of pictures to peruse, and as he innocently gloms them up, she's behind a curtain taking it off. She slips out of her dress into a silky robe, plops down beside Brander Harris (Hugh) on the couch and smooches him a good one. He doesn't seem to mind. Just then the door bursts open and there's Weegee the 1940s flashbulb photographer. Say cheese and blackmail Hugh! It's the old badger game, again.
After Hugh hightails it out of there, we cut to Villain 1, Mr. Marshall Scott, a mustachioed fink who coos and bills with the Babe over the phone even as his roosterpecked wife glumly looks on. Good job baby, he snorts, thanks for the photos. I'll see to it they get to the newspaper, talk to ya later, baby, I gotta drop outta sight for a while.
Scott was the foreman for building the New Hospital in town, the one that mysteriously fell down, a habit to be discouraged for buildings that have people inside them. Harris is the nosy district attorney, who's looking into the graft that was grifted around town. He's a crusading young prosecutor at 48.
Next we move to a swanky L.A. restaurant. Head swanker is Cleveland Blake, innocent big businessman and a champion of progress for the Waring City community. Why look at these dirty photos I've got of you and some hussy he tells Harris. It's a good thing the newspaper didn't get them. Say, Harris says, isn't the newspaper editor your pal? He's the one I'm thinking engineered the graft.
Too bad says Blake, but the paper needs some pepper and your spicy photos are the meatball to put on the platter. And he sends his flunky off to deliver the foto. Say goodbye to your career Mr District Attorney!
On his way out the devastated Harris meets Della and Perry. Help me Mason he says. So Perry helps out a D.A. You know how all those lawyers stick together. Mason grabs Paul Drake and he confronts the hussy in her hotel room. "What is this, a badger game?" sneers the Babe, which is ironic since she's the playa. Perry puts her on notice then leaves.
Now she must alert her sweet baboo, the villainous Scott, but her phone doesn't work. Drake has bribed the hotel operator to unplug it. She goes downstairs to a pay phone and dials his number – while Drake watches. Pretty slick. It's a good thing nobody talks over their phone in public anymore. Now that he knows who the schemer is, Perry heads out to cut him off at the pass, but who does he find instead but Lieutenant Tragg of Homicide. He's toweling off Scott, who has passed from being the episode's head villain to its Dead Body. Are Harris's fingerprints on the murder weapon? "Nice and big and fat and clear," grins the lieutenant.
A warrant is out for Harris's arrest and where is he? He's hiding in Perry Mason's car, that's where! Look at the fins on that thing, a 1959 Caddy convertible. You gotta give up and trust me Perry says as he drives Harris to the police department. As Hamilton Burger mocks his defense of a DA, Perry defends the Brotherhood of the Law. Even prosecutors have the right not to be persecuted declaims Mason. Nevertheless, "It embarrasses me that I have to pull your chestnuts out of the fire." Ouch!
There are several other fun factors in this episode. Three Stooges foil Kenneth MacDonald does the judging. It's always fun to hear him issue commands that don't involve a guy in a gorilla costume. As he defends his client, Mason brings up the legal concept of "res gestae," things done, which allows evidence that might otherwise be dismissed as hearsay. Watching Perry Mason is not for sissies folks. I was flabbergasted by this show's final confession and I don't flab my gast easily.
The Greatest Perry Mason Episode Ever Made
Yes, this really is the greatest episode of Perry Mason ever made! That's because shortly after it begins, Geraldo Rivera gets killed. I liked that and I bet you'll like it too. Heck, DVR it like I did, so you can watch it over and over again. Very enjoyable and satisfying, although I do wish the producers had spent more time developing this. For example, viewers might like it better if they'd killed off Geraldo Rivera with the assistance of Wile E. Coyote. They could have blown him to bits with dynamite, hit him on the head with a sledge hammer, dropped a 15-ton boulder on him, or finally run him flat with a steamroller. I'd pay a dollar to see that. I forget what happens at the end, but I'm certain Perry Mason proved his client was innocent, he found out who really killed Geraldo Rivera, and they gave him a parade.
Bonanza: Enter Thomas Bowers (1964)
Embarrassing but vital social drama
This is 1960s liberal television at its best--daring to discuss and promote the most vital issue of its day, the fight for racial equality. This episode was broadcast in late April, 1964 at a time when it was still legal for Americans to discriminate against each other because of the color of their skin. In February the House of Representatives passed the first part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; it took until June for the Senate to agree and President Johnson didn't sign into law until July 2. It is the Civil War era in the Virginia Territory and opera singer Thomas Bowers (William Marshall) is booked to play at the Virginia City Opera House before the darling ladies see Bowers is a black man -- when he steps off the stage. Which, as a black man, he never would have been allowed to ride in the first place. He is befriended by Hoss Cartwright. (Also pretty unlikely, if only due to Pa's pro- neutrality feelings made clear only two years earlier in 1962's "The War Comes to Washoe.") The plot is further stirred with the sub-plot of a runaway slave, making reference to the horrendous Dred Scott decision. As in ALL Bonanza episodes, in the end, the Good Guys win, and the Evil is defeated. And if only a fraction of the evil of America's racism is glimpsed in a Hollywood TV show, at least someone tried. Still, looking back after 50 years, Enter Thomas Bowers makes you feel less proud than small. Why was there even a need for this episode? Because there was there a need for such a law in 1964. Worse yet, there still is.
It Pays to Be Ignorant (1949)
An Overlooked, Under-appreciated Comedy Gem
This was a wonderful, hilarious program that is sadly, mostly now forgotten. The format is a game show, but it's no more a game show than today's reality shows are real. It was simply the vehicle to let four champion Vaudevillians riff on each other's lines. If you think puns are lame humor, you'll be proved wrong. When they get going, Howard, Shelton, MacNaughton and McConnell inevitably warp all logic at lightning speed. You can't help but find a good belly laugh somewhere. Like its TV successors, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In or yes, even Hee Haw, if you don't care for one joke, just wait ten seconds and a new one comes along that you will. IMO, It Pays to Be Ignorant was a better radio than TV show (a mighty brief length). Its perfection came in 1944, when the show's orchestra, unknown and uncredited, achieved an astounding musical comedy that surpassed Spike Jones in ingenuity and depth. Host Tom Howard sparred with this orchestra as though it were another panelist, in long, alternating bouts of commentary/music. These AFRS recordings had the benefit of no commercial sponsors, and can be found elsewhere in the Internet Archive library. If more and better copies of this program existed, it might be given proper respect. This show is forgotten treasure.
"I thought I smelled tea...."
Yes, that is the exact line spoken by Lt. Tragg (Ray Collins) to beatnik "Buzzie" (Bobby Troup) while he pokes at the piano. Tragg lifts up one of Buzzie's discarded cigarettes butts, sniffs it, and drops it back into the tray. Buzzie then offers Tragg a drag on the butt in his mouth. "No!" Tragg says. Buzzie sends a cloud of smoke into Tragg's face, enough to determine that while there is smoke, there is no tea. "Shocked?" Buzzie mumbles, mocking Tragg's disappointment.
One wonders how many of the "squares" watching Perry Mason in 1959 knew that "tea" was a reference to marijuana? That scene alone makes this episode worth watching, but wait, there's more! Ubiquitous TV character actor Walter Burke plays sidekick to the equally ubiquitous 1950s star Frankie Laine, playing not a singer but a comic. But Troup steals the show, at least until the last minute when septuagenarian Collins steals it back, showing that he's no square, Daddy-O. The hidden joke is that Troup, far from being a down-but-unhip-Beatnik, was a talented (and wealthy) light jazz songwriter, penning "Route 66" 12 years before. He and his wife Julie London, also a singer, had a lifelong relationship with her ex, Jack Webb. Perry delivers one of his most sesquipedalian courtroom scenes, quoting verbatim from a forensics textbook, his intellectual gymnastics leaping over poor Prosecutor Burger and leaving him flat on the mat. Good fun all around!
College Holiday (1936)
It's a Holiday on Laughs in a College of Dumb Clucks
It's easy to see why this film was put back in the vault decades ago: What begins as a half-hearted spoof of eugenics ends in an embarrassingly racist "minstrel show" that was no longer tolerable in the Civil Rights Era. That it should not have been tolerated even when it was made is why film is such an important reminder of our nation's moral and social journey. We've come a long way, baby, but we still got a long way to go. That said, there are three reasons for the Bold to tolerate this time capsule: Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen. All three were major stars of American radio at the time, although Hollywood clearly had little idea how to deal with them. Their radio characters were fairly well developed by 1936, especially Benny, whose weekly Sunday night Jell-O program remains widely available in excellent quality recordings on many Old Time Radio venues. Eight decades later they remain remarkably fresh and hilarious. I highly recommend them. Burns and Allen had a bit more trouble finding a format they liked, but even still, Gracie's non-sequitur banter, bounced off Burns' straight man persona, is equally timeless. Too bad Paramount did not allow the three to bring their radio writers along with them. Makers of the best films by the Marx Brothers, Paramount had just lost that trio to MGM, the biggest studio in town. Yet it retained Mae West and W.C. Fields. How they missed out on Benny, Burns and Allen is an enigma. The movie's "plot" is beyond explanation and as pointless as the jokes. No one has ever heard of the four main writers. The movie evidences why. Benny, supposedly a crooked partner or crooked hotel operator, stays amiable and light throughout the flick, but never achieves an actual laugh or presence. Gracie's name here is Calliope, as husband George tells her. She scientifically finds mates by being goosed by Ben Burns. No, that does not make sense, but it's as much of the plot as I care to recall. The over-aged "collegians" are a frighteningly Aryan bunch, mitigated only by their dumb faux-Busby Berkley routines. An underwater kiss scene reminds one of the far-racier and censored underwater swim scene made by Johnny Weissmuller and a Maureen O'Sullivan lookalike in 1934's Tarzan And His Mate. By 1936 the Code was in force. I confess I know blond boy lead Leif Erickson only through his latter-day TV cowboy gruff patriarch roles; strange to realize he was once young and pretty. This film is no uncovered gem; it is a faded relic studded by with three great comedians surrounded by paste. It is possibly Benny's worst. Not because of anything he does or doesn't do, but simply for lack of a good script. Ditto for George and Gracie. One side note: On their initial chariot ride to the college/hotel, Gracie gives George a "TL," a slang term one hears numerous times in OTL but has now been forgotten. George immediately unpacks it: "Oh, a trade last? A shared compliment?" So viewers learn two things: Our heroes will survive a bad movie, and a new old word.
Double or Nothing (1936)
No double for the Phil Harris short!!
Beware--only if you are watching the short titled "Double or Nothing" made in 1936 are you watching radio star Phil Harris, shortly before he launched his long career as Jack Benny's bandleader. TCM recently aired another 1939/1940 short with the same name and mistakenly labeled it as this short. The latter short starred the forgotten Lee Dixon and a boring bevy of bad star imitators. (I notice that IMDb continues this confusion on its "Enter Review" comments header.) I doubt the 1939 short was nominated for an Oscar; more like Oscar Mayer filler! Phil Harris was a one-of-a-kind curly-haired entertainer who had the South in his Mouth and was a dynamo of fun. I hope to see him in the 1936 short instead of the 1939 ersatz. C'mon TCM, read your reel covers!
A Failure at Fifty (1940)
This short feature is mostly fiction. While it's aim - to persuade anyone disheartened to hang in there-- is praiseworthy, it plays pretty fast and loose with the life of Abraham Lincoln. Far from being a failure, Lincoln at 50 was a successful family man and corporate lawyer, who lived in one of the nicest houses in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln's family life is simply ignored. He served four terms in the state legislature and was elected to Congress in 1846, achievements which are also ignored. This little bit of Hollywood hokum probably had them weeping in the aisles between features in the 1940s. In the north at least. One suspects it was an omitted reel down South. There's plenty to admire about the Railsplitter without resorting to yarn-spinning.