Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Big Snooze

Animation Nation

By Ed Garea

The Big Snooze (WB, 1946) – Director: Bob Clampett (uncredited). Story: Warren Foster. Animators: Izzy Ellis, Manny Gould, Bill Melendez, & Rod Scribner. Backgrounds: Philip De Guard and Thomas McKimson. Voices: Mel Blanc & Arthur Q. Bryan. Color, 7 minutes.

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you’re going to go out, go out with a bang.

And that’s exactly when Bob Clampett did in 1946, making some of not only his best work that year, but also some of the best cartoons in the history of animation: Book RevueKitty Cornered, The Great Piggy Bank RobberyBacall to Arms, and this, which would be his last cartoon for the studio. A year after Clampett left, the studio took one of his classic Looney Tunes from 1938, Porky in Wackyland, and remade it in color, adding in some footage from Clampett’s 1943 Tin Pan Alley Cats, and renaming it Dough for the Do-Do, with Friz Freleng directing uncredited. Nor was any credit given to Clampett; as far as the studio was concerned he ceased to exist.  

There is some conjecture as to Clampett’s exit from Warner Bros. The generally accepted story is that Clampett quit over matters of artistic freedom and to explore new vistas, but animator/director Arthur Davis, who took over Clampett’s unit after he left, said in an interview that Clampett was fired by the new head of animation, Eddie Selzer, who took over after the studio bought the unit from then-owner, Leon Schlesinger, who worked as a subcontractor. 

Clampett’s style was becoming increasingly divergent from that of established directors Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones. Clampett, like Tex Avery (who left the studio in 1941) and Frank Tashlin (who left in 1945), hewed more closely to a plot line while Jones and Freleng used the plot line for witty dialogue and a series of gags. When Schlesinger ran the studio, Clampett was his favorite, and the executive frequently told his other directors to emulate Clampett’s style.

Eddie Selzer was a producer given an assignment he neither wanted or particularly liked. Chuck Jones in his autobiography, Chuck Amuck, described Selzer as someone who not only had no conception of animation, but also had no sense of humor. That Clampett would have problems with him was a given. When Clampett left, his name was taken off the credits for The Big Snooze (Art Davis finished it) and the projects he had in preparation were given to directors Davis, who took over from Clampett and headed his own unit until 1949, and Robert McKimson, Clampett’s master animator, who was promoted to director the year before and given Tashlin’s unit. 

The Big Snooze, whose title is a take-off on the Warner Bros hit of the same year, The Big Sleep, is actually a cartoon within a cartoon. We begin with Elmer Fudd chasing Bugs Bunny. Bugs tricks Elmer into following him into a hollow log, which Bugs spins around so that the exit is over a cliff. This occurs the usual three times (the “Rule of Three”) until Elmer finally scrambles to safety. 

Having reached safety, Elmer becomes enraged. He breaks his gun in two and vents his anger: “I quit! I’m through! I get the worst from that wabbit in every one of these cartoons!” He then looks at the camera. “Of course, there’s the little matter of my contract with Mr. Warner.” Elmer then begins to angrily tear the document to shreds. “Well, this for my contract and that for my contract!” (Was Clampett venting his own anger at management?) Bugs is aghast: “Hey Doc, you’re not being serious, are you? You’re kidding, ain’t you?”

Elmer’s isn’t kidding. He grabs a fishing pole and basket. As he walks away he declares, “From now on nothing but fishing for me. And no more wabbits!”

Bugs begins following Elmer, begging him on his knees to stay. “No, Doc, no. Think what we’ve been to each other. Why we’ve been like Rabbit and Costello, like Damon and Runyon, Stan and Laurel. You can’t do this to me, I tell you. You don’t want to break up the act do ya?” Bugs then looks at us, breaking the fourth wall, and says, “Bette Davis is gonna hate me for this.” Some think this is a reference to the fact that Davis also wanted to get out of her Warner’s contract, but I think Clampett is poking fun at Davis’ overly histrionic style. Bugs continues to follow Elmer, telling him, “Think of your career.” And for that matter,” he says as he turns to the camera, “Think of my career!”

Catching up to Elmer, Bugs sees him peacefully asleep under a tree, dreaming gently of a saw cutting a log on a pink cloud. “I gotta look into this!” Bugs exclaims as he takes out a bottle of sleeping pills, marked on the label Sleeping Pills: Take Dese and Doze, a typical Clampett pun. (In recent years, Turner Networks, which acquired the rights to the Warner cartoons, often deleted this sequence for its supposed celebration of drug use.) 

As Bugs falls asleep, we see him ascending towards Elmer’s dream on a sailboat. As he weighs anchor on Elmer’s dream, Bugs looks around. “I reiterate, what a heavenly dream. You know it would be catastrophe if perchance harm were to befall this serene scene.” At that he brings out a can of “Nightmare Paint” and begins repainting the dream in surrealistic style. Elmer pops up, clad only in tights made from leaves as rabbits begin hopping over his head with Bugs singing “da rabbits are coming, hooray, hooray,” to the tune of “The Campbells Are Coming” four times over. “Biwwions and twiwwions of wabbits,” Elmer says. “Where are they all coming from?”

From me, Doc,” replies Bugs, “from me. See, I’m multiplying.” He’s punching an adding machine and producing the rabbits. Bugs takes out a giant volume titled A Thousand and One Arabian Nightmares. “Let’s see,” he muses, “what can I do to this guy next?” He looks up from the book, “Oh no! It’s too gruesome! But I’ll do it.” He carries a bound Elmer to the railroad, where he ties him to the track. “Good gravy!” exclaims Bugs. “Here it comes, the Super Chief!” As Elmer shouts “Oh agony, agony,” a conga line of baby rabbits led by Bugs in an Indian headdress crosses over Elmer’s head. 

Elmer angrily breaks his bonds and chases Bugs, who jumps into a rabbit hole. As Elmer prepares to follow, Bugs pops out of a nearby hole and moves the hole, causing Elmer to fall on his head. As he melts to the ground, he is briefly naked as the leaves fall onto his body. Elmer stands up, angry. “Brrrrrrrr!” he exclaims. “What’s the matter, Doc, you cold?” Bugs asks as he wraps a green dress around Elmer, places a wig on his head and applies lipstick to Elmer’s mouth. Looking over his handiwork, Bugs lifts the backdrop to reveal a pack of wolves dressed in zoot suits at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. One of the wolves howls, “Hooowooooold … is she?” and they begin chase. “Gwacious!” says Elmer as he runs. He then stops to ask the audience “Have any of you girls ever had an experience like this?” 

Bugs tells the perplexed Elmer, “Quick, run this way!” taking Elmer through a surrealistic version of the Cossack dance, which also includes flipping upside down and hopping like a frog. Bugs and Elmer continue the dance as they run to the edge of the cloud, then jump off. Elmer thanks Bugs for his help, then realizes they’re falling. “What’ll we do, Mr. Wabbit? What’ll we do?” Elmer asks as they continue to fall. “I dont know about you, Doc, but as for me ...” Bugs says as he pulls out a bottle with the label Hare Tonic, Stops Falling Hare. Bugs drinks from the bottle as Elmer continues to fall and comes to a screeching halt. “Gosh, ain’t I a stinker?” Bugs asks the audience. 

Elmer falls into his sleeping self, which awakens him from the nightmare. “Oooh, what a howwible nightmare!” he exclaims, and speeds back to the set, where he reassembles his contract as he gets back into the log. Oh Mr. Warner, I’m back. Okay Mr. Wabbit, woll ‘em.” The cartoon closes with a close up of Bugs exclaiming “I love that man!”


The Big Snooze is probably the best of Bob Clampett’s Bugs Bunny cartoons and shows the influence of his friend and mentor, Tex Avery. The sequence with the log in the beginning of the cartoon is directly lifted from Avery’s 1940 cartoon All This and Rabbit Stew, where Bugs is being hunted by a stereotypical African-American hunter. Clampett simply substitutes Elmer for the hunter, copying the scene even down to Elmer turning into a lollipop labeled “sucker” as he realizes he’s been fooled, as in the original.

The cartoon also shows Clampett’s fascination with surrealism, as exemplified in the dream sequence. Clampett was heavily influenced by Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali. The most obvious example of Dali’s influence comes in Clampett’s 1938 cartoon, Porky in Wackyland, where the entire short takes place in a Dali-esque landscape complete with melting objects and abstract forms. (I think it would be fair to say that Clampett’s work can be considered part of the surrealist movement.) The animation in the dream sequence is simply amazing as Clampett continues to push the boundaries, something he began doing when he started back in the mid-‘30s working in Avery’s unit. 

The highlight of that sequence is the Cossack dance (said to have been animated by Manny Gould), a play on the old “walk this way” gag. A man enters a pharmacy. “I’m looking for talcum powder,” he says to the clerk. The clerk answers, “Walk this way,” to which the man replies, “If I could walk that way I wouldn’t need talcum powder.” As Bugs and Elmer make their way doing the dance, they stop to shout “Hey” into the camera as Clampett uses an extreme close up of their faces to highlight it. 

Clampett was also famous for incorporating catchphrases and tunes from popular culture into his cartoons. For instance, as Bugs sails towards Elmer’s dream he sings “Someone’s Rocking My Dreamboat,” by Leon Rene, Otis Rene, and Emerson Scott.  When Bugs and Elmer do the Cossack dance, the traditional Russian tune, “Vo sadu li, v ogorode” (“In My Garden”) is mixed with the traditional tune, “Chicken Reel.” When Elmer panics after they jump off the cliff, Bugs stands serenely, with one hand out, as if leaning against an invisible wall singing “September in the Rain” by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. The losing line, where Bugs exclaims: “I love that man!” is taken from the popular radio show Fibber McGee and Molly and was one of the trademark catchphrases of Beulah, their maid. 

The wolves in the zoot suits seem to be copied from Avery’s 1943 MGM cartoon Red Hot Riding Hood (the inspiration for Jessica Rabbit, by the way). As the wolves chase Bugs and Elmer they go right through a fence as if the fence wasn’t there, or if they melted through, another instance of surrealism. 

In the ‘40s, Clampett’s cartoon style became wilder and more violent, with his trademark animation of a character stretching out to double his body length whenever frightened, excited, or hurt. After he left, his style was kept to an extent by his master animator Robert McKimson, but after a few years McKimson toned down his style to the often mediocre style we are familiar with today. 

To fully appreciate Clampett’s style, compare The Big Snooze to other cartoon releases that year by Jones and Freleng. Shorts like Jones’ Hare-Raising Hare and Freleng’s Baseball Bugs display the evolution of Jones’ and Freleng’s style as the humor is somewhat milder, the background designs are much more sophisticated (especially Jones). Facial expression (more muted than Clampett), gags and dialogue dominate and are pushed almost non-stop through the shorts while Clampett seems trapped in a time warp of sorts. (Jones in particular became famous for introducing the concept of subtlety into his cartoons.) The Big Snooze and The Great Piggy Bank Robbery play out almost like mini-movies, with characterization first and the gags unique to and used to emphasize the characters. They’re full-frame, with plenty of flexible animation.

But for all his genius Clampett was despised by many of his colleagues. Chuck Jones doesn’t mention him once in his autobiography, and he ignores the contributions of Clampett to the character of Bugs Bunny, as he has Bugs review his “several fathers” in The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979). The only “father” missing is Clampett, proving the survivors write history. 

Those who despised Clampett saw him as someone who tried to claim the contributions of the other Termite Terrace animators for himself. In a 1946 interview, Clampett claimed he conceived the character of Bugs Bunny after watching Clark Gable munch on a carrot in It Happened One Night. (Daffy Duck was created by Tex Avery, but it was Clampett who first animated him. Daffy would go on to become the quintessential Clampett character.) However, there is no doubt that Clampett, along with Avery, provided the influence that would prompt the Warners directors to shed the Disney influence and take the direction for which they are famous today. 

After leaving Warner Bros., Clampett briefly worked for Columbia and Republic Pictures before turning to television, where he won acclaim and Emmy awards for the puppet show Time for Beany, which later morphed into the animated Beany and Cecil Show in the ‘60s. He leaves behind a body of work second to none.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (CBS Films, 2016) – Director: Steve Carr. Writers: Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer & Kara Holden (s/p). James Patterson, Chris Tebbets (based on the book by). Stars: Griffin Gluck, Lauren Graham, Alexa Nisenson, Andrew Daly, Thomas Barbusca, Retta, Rob Riggle, Adam Pally, Luke Hardeman, Jessi Goei, Jacob Hopkins, Patrick Fagan, Isabella Moner, Isabella Amara, Madeleine Stack, & Efren Ramirez. Color, Rated PG, 92 minutes.

Variety’s review of this film included Francois Truffaut’s sagacious observation that adolescence leaves pleasant memories only for adults who cannot remember. I believe it. My schooling did not involve a Middle School per se but I do remember my experiences from sixth to eighth grades in my Elementary School. They weren’t the worst years of my life, but I wouldn’t want to repeat them.

This realistic fiction, based on the book by James Patterson and Chris Tebbets, reminisces Patterson’s time in Middle School. Hills Village Middle School represents the last chance for Rafe Katchadorian (Gluck), a sixth grader who has been expelled from several other schools. His mother Jules (Graham) works double shifts at a diner and considers herself a sous-chef. She also worries about him a lot, realizing that not having his father around (the film was not clear on where or when he disappeared) has affected his social skills. That, plus the loss of his younger brother to cancer probably contributes to his antics.

His sister Georgia (Nisenson) argues with him, providing and gives additional unwanted motherly advice despite Jules’ requests to leave the mothering job to her. If this weren’t bad enough, Mom is dating a self-centered loser named Carl (Riggle) whose hairiness provides the children a few laughs. Rafe’s only friend is Leo the Silent (Barbusca), and he’s imaginary (though this fact is not immediately apparent in the movie). His passion is drawing caricatures. He keeps a sketchbook with him at all times containing various cartoon characters he’s created and their adventures, languages and travels. He’s put a great amount of time into developing it.

Rafe’s first encounter with the obsessive Principal Dwight (Daly) is at the front door of the school where he’s informed of his breaking the dress code – too many bright colors, no floral prints. How obsessive is Dwight with winning on the test scores? He has a tall number one topiary sculpture planted in front of the school to represent the school’s consistent ranking on the B.L.A.A.R.T. test. When he sees the student body lined up like convicts in a prison, Rafe realizes something’s really wrong with this school, especially when Vice Principal Ida Stricker (Retta) tells him in no uncertain terms to stop loitering in the halls. He also meets the class bully Miller the Killer (Hopkins), who sits behind him in homeroom, kicks his chair, threatens him and refuses to pronounce his name correctly. The only relief from this is in his homeroom teacher, Mr. Teller (Pally), who recognizes Rafe’s talent for drawing and is somewhat of a rebel himself.

At a student body meeting to elect a class president, Rafe develops his first crush on Jeanne Galetta (Moner). Her platform is more leeway for the students and less rules, and he’s the only one who applauds her as Principal Dwight hurries her away from the microphone. But when he’s caught sketching in the assembly, Dwight destroys his sketchbook in the dreaded “yellow bucket” filled with acid. This drives him and Leo to set in motion Operation R.A.F.E. (Rules Aren’t For Everyone) and to break every rule in the book he was handed by Principal Dwight on the first day. The pranks are some of the funniest moments in the movie and include papering the principal’s office and school halls with colorful Post-It notes, putting pink hair dye in Dwight’s fedora, filling a utility closet with multicolored balls, and injecting blue, red and yellow dye into the fire sprinkler system before setting it off.

Though a comedy, this movie has some sensitive, emotional scenes and at the same time makes a statement about pigeon-holing children with standardized tests. It addresses bullying and unfair practices as well as not allowing children to be children. It skirts the scary and potentially dangerous issue of the “acid bucket” with clever dialogue. Scenes seesaw from reality to the imaginative animations in Rafe’s sketchbook, which are as real to him as his family. The animated scene where Carl becomes Bear is hilarious.

Andy Daly’s over-the-top acting keeps his character from being a hateful villain and modulates it into a strict but silly obsessive. Alexa Nisenson is a convincing crier and a great little sister. Rob Riggles succeeds in creating the guy you’d love to hit with an anvil. Griffin Gluck plays the perfect straight man to the unpredictable Thomas Barbusca.

At only one hour and 32 minutes long, the film is well timed, has no dead spots and has great forward motion. I never shifted in my seat. If you’re a student, teacher or a principal you will not find any of it offensive, only entertaining, and you’ll probably breathe a sigh of relief knowing your school’s not like this one. I enjoyed it so much I never expected the final plot twist.

Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.

Mastro’s Steakhouse
1285 Avenue of the Americas, New York

An unparalleled dining experience!” So boasts the website of this two-year-old New York steakhouse with a Broadway-style entrance, ablaze in bluish-white neon. 

Inside is a large space with dark walls, a chic bar on the left flanked by faux marble columns and tables with white tablecloths and little electric lamps with gold shades. As I confirmed my reservation, I was directed to a table toward the back of the long room with a comfortable leather banquette which (surprise!) had an armrest. I had heard live music and could see a trio off to my right playing mellow rock and swing style at just the right volume. I was charmed.

Soon my server Paolo arrived, oozing confidence and foodie knowledge and smiling conspiratorially while describing the intimacies of the menu. He presented me with the food menu and wine list, both bound in brown leather (matching the banquette).

When he returned I ordered a Beefeater martini. He acknowledged having all the ingredients and dashed off to the bar, returning to stir and pour my martini at the table. He noted that there would be more in the shaker once the glass was filled and how I was to hold it to pour the remainder. Nice touch, but unfortunately, even with the personal attention, it was more than a little watered down and didn’t have that familiar kick.

I told Paolo that I intended to have two appetizers and a main course. He recommended my choosing the wine first so that he could uncork it and give it time to breathe by my first course. I chose the 2013 Rosenblum Cellars Zinfandel from Contra Costa County, California. It was a beautiful wine with a delicate nose but a disappointing lack in body. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I expect of a zinfandel. It worked with every course but didn’t speak for itself.

The two appetizers arrived within minutes of each other. The king crab stuffed mushrooms were served in a little silver frying pan along with a lemon half in yellow netting. They were delightful. The crab meat was only slightly hashed and not pulverized and the mushroom caps were tender with a slight crunch. The second appetizer was one Paolo tempted me with and won: a slab of maple bacon, fully 10 inches long and three-quarters of an inch thick with a maple sauce drizzled over it and a small cress salad.

Paolo confided that he would leave time for these dishes to “settle” before bringing out the main course, an 8-ounce filet mignon with its blanket of truffle butter in the middle of its plate and sautéed wild mushrooms (Shiitake, Cremini, and Porto Bello) next to it. The mushrooms were a mix of and were cooked to perfection losing none of their individual earthy characters. The filet was seared nicely on the outside and my kind of rare on the inside, juicy and tender. This was one time the meal outshone the wine.

As I had room for dessert, I ordered the pecan pie a la mode, a wedge that looked like a quarter of a pie and was crowned with a tennis ball of vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel and served with gobs of fresh whipped cream. I had to take part of the pie home, but it was good.

Mastro’s is my 98th steakhouse and was impressive in its way. But though it’s chic, has live music, both the food and service are excellent, it doesn’t quite come up to my benchmark steakhouse. Uncle Jack’s still reigns supreme. I would gladly return to Mastro’s to try several other menu items, but I’ll be more careful of the wine ordering and more specific in my cocktail.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Cinéma Inhabituel for October 16-31

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea



October 17: The Christopher Lee festival for the day actually begins at 1:00 pm with The Pirates of Blood River (1962). At 2:45 pm comes The Devil-Ship Pirates (1963). At 4:30 pm The Terror of the Tongs (1961), and at 6:00 pm Hammer’s remake of She (1965) starring Ursula Andress as She Who Must By Obeyed.

In the evening we begin with Horror Hotel (1960) at 8:00, followed by Horror Express (1972, 9:30), The House That Dripped Blood (1970, 11:15 pm), The Creeping Flesh (1972, 1:15 am), and The Oblong Box (1969, 3:00 am).

October 24: We begin at 3:15 in the afternoon with Lee fighting old friend Peter Cushing as he looks into reports of The Gorgon (1965). At 4:45 it’s yet another showing of The Curse of Frankenstein (1956), followed by Lee’s turn as Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966) at 6:15 pm.

Christopher Lee was probably most famous for his portrayals of Count Dracula, and so the evening is devoted to the films Lee made as Count Dracula for Hammer. At 8:00 it’s the superb Horror of Dracula (1958). Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1965, 9:30 pm), Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968, 11:15 pm), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970, 1:00 am), The Scars Of Dracula (1970, 2:45 am), and Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972, 4:30 am. Check our essay on it here.)

October 31: Halloween night begins at 8:00 pm with Lee starring in The Devil’s Bride (1968), for once playing the good guy trying to thwart a couple of small town Satanists from luring an innocent brother and sister into their coven. The bad guy in this flick is Charles Gray, best known for his turn in the cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

At 9:30 Lee is Kharis the Mummy in the aptly named The Mummy, from Hammer in 1959. At 11:30 he plays Henry Baskerville to Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes in Hammer’s 1959 remake of The Hound of the Baskervilles. At 1:15 am Lee has a small role as the red herring in Hammer and Columbia’s remake of the classic Diabolique – Scream of Fear(1961). The fun continues at 2:45 am with Lee in a supporting role in Hammer’s 1961 production of The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll. Paul Massie stars as Dr. Jekyll. Finally, at 4:30 am Lee is back to being the bad guy in Richard Widmark’s only foray into horror: To the Devil, a Daughter, from Hammer in 1976.


It’s now Hammer time for Frankenstein and his Monster, as Hammer studios takes full advantage of color to create some interesting takes on the Frankenstein saga. Peter Cushing plays the mad doctor in all four films screened. The final night dedicates itself to a couple of excellent comedies concerning Frankenstein and his creation.

October 16: Hammer studios takes over with The Curse of Frankenstein (1956) leading off at 8:00 pm with The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) immediately following at 9:45 pm.

October 23: The Hammer fest continues with Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) at 8:00 pm, and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! (1970) at 10:00 pm.

October 30: The monster turns to comedy beginning at 8:00 pm with Young Frankenstein (1974), followed at 10:00 pm by Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).


October 21: The focus is on mad scientists, beginning at 8 pm with Spencer Tracy in MGM’s 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Following at 10 pm is the incredible and shocking Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage, 1960) as mad doctor Pierre Brasseur kidnaps young women, hoping to transplant their face onto the face of daughter Edith Scob, who was disfigured in an auto accident with Daddy behind the wheel. Don’t miss this one.

At 11:45 pm doctor Henry Daniell needs bodies for his medical experiments and finds he must deal with wholesaler Boris Karloff in Val Lewton’s classic adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s take on the famous Burke and Hare incident in Edinburgh from 1927, The Body Snatcher (1945). When RKO signed Karloff and assigned him to Lewton’s unit, the producer was piqued to say the least, figuring he was stuck with a lemon. But Karloff was so wonderful in Lewton’s films that the producer changed his mind completely about the actor, becoming one of the Karloff’s most ardent admirers.

At 1:15 am Karl Malden is up to no good with his pet gorilla in The Phantom of the Rue Morgue from 1954. Look for the young Merv Griffin as Georges Brevert. At 2:45 it’s William Castle’s hit shocker, Macabre (1958).

Finally we recommend two films for their sheer awfulness. First up at 4:00 am is Bela Lugosi in producer Sam Katzman’s The Corpse Vanishes (1942) for Monogram. Bela uses poisoned orchids given to brides at the altar in order that he extract their vital fluid to keep his wife (Elizabeth Russell) looking young. And if you think that one’s bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet, for following at 5:15 am is the crap classic The Brain That Wouldn't Die. Made in 1959 as The Head That Wouldn’t Die, it didn’t see the projector’s light until 1962 when it was released for the drive-in crowd. Jason (later Herb) Evers plays a brilliant surgeon whose hobby is putting together people from scattered parts, most of which he unethically amputates while operating at his hospital. Taking fiancee Virginia Leith to his mountain hideaway (he was called there by assistant Leslie Daniels who told him to hurry, for the thing in the closet is getting worse), he drives rather recklessly, with the result being an accident that seriously injures Virginia. Cutting off her head, he runs to his hideaway and in the basement lab places her head in a roasting pan using fluid to keep her alive while he looks around for another body. Both films are the kind that must be seen to be truly appreciated and are available in MST 3000 form. We recommend both highly.


October 28: Universal Studios gave us the classic horror films that scared our parents or grandparents in the theaters and us on television. TCM honors them with a five-movie mini-marathon beginning at 8:00 pm with Bela Lugosi in the unforgettable Dracula from 1931. At 9:30 Boris Karloff comes back from eternity looking for the reincarnation of his lost love in 1932’s The Mummy, directed by Karl Freund. Director James Whale takes the stage at 11 pm with Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (1933), while Lon Chaney, Jr. is bitten by fellow werewolf in 1941’s The Wolf Man at 12:15 am. Finally, Karloff and Lugosi battle it out in director Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934).


October 16: A pair of Japanese horror films begins at 2:00 am with Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968), immediately followed at 3:30 am by The X From Outer Space (1967).

October 18: At 6:15 it’s the best of the versions of Stevenson’s tale of Dr. Jekyll as Frederic March and Miriam Hopkins star in director Rouben Mamoulian’s distinctly Freudian version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from 1932. March was awarded the Oscar that year, sharing it with Wallace Beery (The Champ). It was the first time an actor had won Best Actor for a horror role and would not be repeated again until Anthony Hopkins took home the statue for The Silence of the Lambs.

October 19: Jean Gillie saves gangster boyfriend from the gas chamber in order to get her hands on his hidden loot in Monogram’s Decoy (1946) at 10 am. At 3:15 fate catches up with Tom Neal in Edgar G. Ulmer’s classic Detour from PRC in 1945. And Laurence Tierney is the man you love to hate in Born to Kill (1947) at 5:45 pm.

October 22: Sach’s ability to literally smell diamonds brings The Bowery Boys to Africa in Jungle Gents from 1954 at 10:30 am.

Beginning at 8:00 it’s the first three films in the Jaws series: Jaws (1975), Jaws 2 (1978), and Jaws 3 (otherwise known as Jaws 3D).

At 2:00 am director Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood (Shurayukihime) from 1973 has its premiere. It’s the story of a young girl, Yuki (Meiko Kaji), whose family is nearly wiped out by criminals. The criminals have also kidnapped and brutalized her mother, but left her alive. Mom later winds up in prison; the only thing that keeps her going is the thought of revenge. To that end she purposefully gets pregnant, but dies in childbirth. However, before giving birth she has made sure that her child will be raised by an assassin to kill the criminals who destroyed her family. The result of all this is that while other youngsters know the love of a family, young Yuki only knows killing and revenge. The company that made this film, Toho Studios, was going through a rough financial stretch. In an attempt to right the ship, the studio began looking around for new blood and new ideas. One of its executives noticed that women’s wrestling, which was aimed at teenage Japanese girls, was drawing big numbers, and it was decided to try to aim for that audience. It wasn’t until the release of House in 1977 that Toho began to come financially solvent once more. Lady Snowblood, however, scored well with its target audience, being enough of a success to spawn a sequel in 1974, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance, which airs right after the original at 3:45 am. In the sequel, Yuki (Kaji) is caught by the police and sentenced to the gallows for her crimes. But she is rescued at the last minute by the secret police, who want her services in assassinating some revolutionaries. Both films were a huge influence on Quentin Tarantino is making Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2.

October 23: At midnight comes the silent classic from Swedish director Victor Seastrom, The Phantom Carriage (1922). Seastrom would later gain fame as Dr. Isak Borg in director Ingmar Bergman’s classic Wild Strawberries (1957). At 2:00 am it’s director Lars Von Trier’s Epidemic from 1987, followed at 4:00 am by The Satan Bug from 1965.

October 26: The morning starts off at 6:00 with the unbelievable Mexican production The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy (1959). It’s followed at 7:15 by George Pal’s classic, The Time Machine from 1960 and H.G. Wells using his time machine to pursue Jack the Ripper in Time After Time (1979) at 9:00 am. 

In the afternoon Robert Ulrich is a space pirate searching for a lost planet whose vast reserves of potable water could refresh a dry cosmos in The Ice Pirates (1984) at 1 pm. Kieron Moore is among those trapped in a space station with a ticking time bomb in Satellite in the Sky (1956) at 2:45 pm. Following are two sci-fi flicks from the ‘70s: Logan’s Run (1975) at 4:15 pm, and Soylent Green (1973) at 6:15.

October 28: Ruth Hussey and Ray Milland confront ghosts at a seaside English house in 1944’s truly creepy The Uninvited (1944), while Charles Laughton may just be the maddest scientist of them all in the unsettling Pre-Code Island of Lost Souls, from 1933. Look for an unrecognizable Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law.

October 29: A full slate for the day and evening begins with Lionel Barrymore in Tod Browning’s The Devil-Doll (1936) at 6:00 am. Val Lewton and RKO follow at 7:30 with The Leopard Man from 1943. Lewton strikes again at 9:00 with Karloff in Bedlam (1946), a macabre tale set in the notorious 18th century London mental asylum. The Bowery Boys accidentally uncork genie Eric Blore in Bowery to Baghdad (1955) at 10:30 while at noon Richard Denning tries not to get stung in The Black Scorpion (1957). Steve McQueen warns the town about The Blob (1958) at 1:45 pm. George Sanders and Barbara Shelley try to defeat otherworldly children in 1961’s Village of the Damned at 3:15. At 4:45 it’s one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made, producer Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World (1951), followed by Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) at 6:30 pm, with the flying saucers created by special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen.

The evening’s festivities begin at 8:00 pm with Mario Bava’s gialloBlood and Black Lace, from 1964. At 9:30 comes one of the greatest horror films, Carnival of Souls, from 1962, proving that low budget does not necessarily have to mean terrible. A horrible infant double-feature unspools at 11:00 pm beginning with Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive from 1974, followed by Anjanette Comer and Ruth Roman in The Baby, from 1973. Timothy Carey supplies the weirdness and Frank Zappa the music in The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) at 2:30 am, and Shelley Winters and Christopher Jones close out the day in Wild in the Streets (1968) at 4:00 am. 

October 30: A pleasantly horrific Sunday is on tap beginning at 6 am with Roland Young visited, or haunted, by old friends Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in 1937’s Topper. At 8 am Sydney Greenstreet is up to no good in The Woman in White from 1948. Vincent Price is looking for the cause of fear in William Castle’s The Tingler at noon, while at 1:30 pm Charles Laughton is The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Bette Davis is twin sisters in Dead Ringer (1964) at 3:45 pm, and Vincent Price stars in the wonderfully eccentric The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) at 6:00 pm.

At midnight, it’s Lon Chaney as a mad scientist in Roland West’s The Monster (1925). Following at 2:00 am is one of the finest thrillers ever made, director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955). Michel Delasalle (Paul Meurisse) is the headmaster of an exclusive boarding school owned by his wife Christina (Vera Clouzot, the director’s wife). Michel is the type who, if you look up the term “son-of-a-bitch” in the dictionary, you’ll find his picture under the word. Christina’s quite tired of his abuse and joins with Michel’s lover, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret), a teacher at the school, to dispose of him. There were other thrillers in theaters at the time, notably those made by Hitchcock, but none has the twist ending of Diabolique. The twist ending was so shocking that the closing credits included an a plea that read, "Don't be devils! Don't ruin the interest your friends could take in this film. Don't tell them what you saw. Thank you, for them.” Hitchcock was so impressed with this film that he based his film Vertigo on D'entre les morts (Among the Dead, originally published in English as The Living and the Dead), another novel from writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who wrote the novel Celle qui n'était plus (She Who Was Not, published in English as The Woman Who Was No More), on which Diabolique was based.

October 31: Tod Browning’s Mark of the Vampire (1935) with Bela Lugosi and Lionel Barrymore, leads off the day at 6:00 am, followed by a Val Lewton double feature: Cat People (1942) at 7:15 and the great I Walked With a Zombie (1943) at 8:30. Roger Corman takes over at 9:45 with Vincent Price starring in Corman’s revamping of Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum from 1961. Price returns at 11:15 with his starring role in Warner’s remake of 1932’s Mystery of the Wax MuseumHouse of Wax, originally made in 3D in 1953. At 12:45 pm Boris Karloff takes over in the wonderful episodic Black Sabbath from 1964, followed at 2:30 pm by Ealing’s classic episodic foray into horror, Dead of Night from 1945. At 4:30 Price returns to scare the bejeezus out of us in William Castle’s classic shocker The House on Haunted Hill (1958), and the day wraps with Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn in director Robert Wise’s frightening excursion into horror, The Haunting (1963).



October 16: The vast majority of silents from Japan are lost, but fortunately, one that survived is director Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Kurutta Ippeiji (A Page of Madness) from 1926, a remarkable look at the phenomenon of mental illness. The plot concerns a former sailor whose mistreatment of his wife has caused her to have a mental breakdown. Completely conscience-stricken by his actions, the sailor takes a job as a janitor at the mental hospital where his wife is being treated. Things take an unexpected turn when their daughter visits the hospital to announce she is getting married, raising the question of inherited mental illness. Despite this, things work out for the daughter at the end. To say this film is intense is putting it mildly. I’ve seen it twice and am still astonished by it. Kinugasa uses superimpositions combined with a shifting visual and fantasy sequences to build the intensity. The director also uses the opposition of objective and subjective reality to further ramp up the proceedings. Film scholar Aaron Gerow has written a book on the film dissecting it both on the outside and inside, with some fascinating information on the making of the film itself. It is a film that is still resonates among cinephiles today and one well worth taking the time to view.

October 19: Walter Huston is president Judson C. Hammond in director Gregory LaCava’s incredible Gabriel Over the White House from MGM in 1933. At first President Hammond is a man interested in little else than having a good time while the country flounders. Then he is involved in an auto accident. While recovering he is visited by the angel Gabriel, who forces him to own up to the mess he made. Once out of the hospital he fires his corrupt cabinet and transforms himself into an all-powerful czar who restores order by eliminating the mob, smashing through red tape, gunning down criminals without recourse to trial and ending unemployment. He then turns his attention to the rest of the world and with a little arm twisting, compels the other nations to sign on to his disarmament pact. His work done, he dies, suggesting that he should have died in the hospital from his injuries if not for Gabriel’s intercession. To call this a unique film is an understatement. It’s almost an advertisement for fascism, and indeed, Joseph Goebbels approved the film for release in Germany, telling the German public that President Hammond’s deeds were inspired by Der Fuehrer. It’s on rather late – at 2:45 am – so we recommend you record it, for you’ll want to watch this one closely. Then you’ll shake your head wondering how it was ever made in the first place.


October 18: Divorcee Miriam Hopkins visits Grandfather Lionel Barrymore’s farm to take a breather and discovers a whole other world in King Vidor’s The Stranger’s Return (1933) at 6:30 am.

October 20: Paul Muni takes on a corrupt prison system in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932) at 6:15 am, and plays a farmer who suddenly makes a fortune in business only to find it changes him for the worse in The World Changes (1933) at 8:00 am. Aline McMahon is excellent as his loyal and suffering wife.

October 21: Buster Keaton is a plumber hired to make Irene Purcell’s lover, Gilbert Roland, jealous in MGM’s 1932 The Passionate Plumber, along with Jimmy Durante and Polly Moran. It airs at 6:45 am.

October 27: At 9:45 am Joan Blondell, Bette Davis and Ann Dvorak are childhood pals whose lives play out quite unexpectedly in the notorious Three on a Match from Warner Bros. in 1933. Warren William plays Dvorak’s adoring husband and Humphrey Bogart is one of the gangsters who kidnaps her and her son for ransom. This was one of the roughest of the Pre-Codes and definitely one to catch.

October 28: At 7:00 am Wynne Gibson is Aggie Appleby: Maker of Men (1933), a socialite who can’t choose between the tough guy she’s turned into a gentleman (William Gargan) and the gentleman she’s turned into a tough guy (Charles Farrell). Wynne returns at 8:30 along with Bill Boyd in Emergency Call (1933). Boyd is a surgeon who discovers his hospital is run by gangsters. 

Jimmy Cagney had a solid hit with 1932’s Picture Snatcher for Warner Bros., so RKO tried to cash in by starring William Gargan in the similarly themed Headline Shooter (1933). Stick with Cagney.


October 24: Though scarcely known today, Helen Twelvetrees was, for a couple of brief shining moments, one of the biggest names in Hollywood. TCM is airing five of her Pre-Code films beginning with Is My Face Red? from 1932 at 6:00 am. Ricardo Cortez is a gossip columnist who witnesses a gangland murder. Helen plays his girlfriend. 

At 7:15 Helen is Panama Flo (1932), a nightclub entertainer who is caught fleecing oil prospector Charles Bickford. He threatens to throw her in jail, but they come to an agreement whereby she can work off the debt as his housekeeper in South America. 

At 8:30 Helen is Unashamed. This 1932 production for MGM stars her as Joan Ogden, an unmarried woman whose lover, not of her social station, attempts to blackmail her family in exchange for safeguarding her sexual history. When her brother Dick (Robert Young) kills the rogue, he is arrested and Joan must decide whether to defend the only man she ever loved or the brother who committed murder to protect her honor.

At 10 am Helen is A Woman of Experience in this 1932 film from RKO that finds her as a con artist who see her skills to foil some German spies. Finally, at 11:30 am Helen stars in My Woman(1932) about a loyal wife whose hard work propels her unambitious hoofer husband (Wallace Ford) into the big time. His idea of paying her back is to run around with other women behind her back and divorce her for another woman.


October 21: Torchy Blaine takes center stage as five of her films are being shown beginning with Torchy Runs for Mayor (1939) at 12:30 pm and ending with the excellent Fly Away Baby (1937) at 5:15 pm.

October 25: Three episodes of the 1952 television series Gangbusters were put together, re-edited, and released to theaters in 1957 as a feature film titled Guns Don’t Argue, which can be seen at 3:30 pm. It features all the most wanted criminals of the ‘30s, such as Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Homer Van Meter, and the Barker clan. I remember watching it on television as a kid, but little else, so I’ll be interested in seeing it again.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for October 15-22

October 15–October 22


THE GREAT DICTATOR (October 16, 6:00 am): TCM shows this 1940 Charlie Chaplin masterpiece on a regular basis, but it should never be overlooked. As he did in so many of his roles, Chaplin brilliantly portrays the film's protagonist, known as "a Jewish barber," with great empathy and humility while still being funny. And when you mention funny, his impersonation of Adolf Hitler – the character in the film is named Adenoid Hynkel – is spot-on and highly entertaining. The film, made before the United States was at war with Nazi Germany, has several iconic scenes, including Hynkel playing with a bouncing globe, and a chase scene between the barber and storm troopers. Chaplin's brilliance lied in his ability to make people think about the world while making them laugh. There is no finer example of that than The Great Dictator. The ending is beautiful. It's too bad life rarely turns out to have a happy Hollywood ending, but that doesn't diminish from the entertainment and importance of this landmark film. 

BORN TO KILL (October 19, 5:45 pm): A gritty, dark, violent film noir that smacks you in the face much harder that other movies of the genre. Lawrence Tierney is in top form as Sam Wilde, a psychopath who comes across as charming one minute and an out-of-control killer at even a perceived slight in this 1947 film from RKO. Claire Trevor is great as a heartless, conniving gold-digger, who gives Tierney a run for his money. Veteran character actress Esther Howard is a scene-stealer as the owner of the boarding house in which Trevor's character lives while getting a quickie divorce in Reno. 


DETOUR (October 19, 3:15 am): It’s one of the most vaunted film noirs ever made; a cult classic that first gained its reputation in France and quickly spread to American film buffs. It was also one of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s favorite films, and looking at the existential irony that propels much of the film, that is no surprise. The myth that surrounds the film is such that we are now led to believe it was shot by director Edgar G. Ulmer over three days for about $100. Of course, that’s exaggerating some, but Ulmer was known for his ability to stretch the most from the least. For instance, a simple street lamp in a fog-enshrouded studio represents New York City, and a drive-in restaurant and a used-car lot symbolize Los Angeles. The story itself is a simple one: Al Roberts, an unemployed piano player, is hitching it from New York to Los Angeles, where his girlfriend is a singer. When he hits Arizona, a dissolute gambler picks him up and relates a story about a female hitchhiker he had picked up earlier. Shortly after he dies of a heart attack. Al, panicked, leaves his body by the side of the road and takes his car. He stops to pick up a female hitchhiker, and the nightmare begins, for not only is she the hitcher referred to earlier, but also she’s as venomous as a room full of scorpions. This is a film that, if you haven’t yet seen it, you should make room for on your recorder. It’s highly entertaining, and the performances by Tom Neal, and especially by Ann Savage as the Hitchhiker From Hell, are classics of noir. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth catching again, just for the hell of it and to see a master craftsman at work.

THE DEVIL BAT (October 22, 8:00 am): Bela Lugosi is the whole show in this wonderfully ridiculous thriller as an embittered scientist who entices his victims to sample a new cologne he’s developed one that will attract a giant bat he keeps in the attic. It’s all about his revenge on two families he felt cheated him out of a partnership. With Dave O’Brien and Suzanne Kaaren. It’s hilarious watching Bela telling his victims to “rub some on the tender part of your neck” and then bids them cheery good-byes before sending them to their doom. A lot of fun if you simply take it for what it is. 

WE DISAGREE ON ... SUPER FLY (October 15, 3:30 am)

ED: C+. There are a lot of things to like about this film. It looks authentic with its view of Harlem, warts and all, proving a rather bleak vision of the urban decay infecting America’s big cities. Harlem serves as a war zone with corrupt drug kingpins and their vassal pushers on one side and the corrupt white police force and judges on the other, enforcing a law that is prevented and corrupt itself. Standing between the two factions is Priest (Ron O’Neal), a cocaine pusher who wants to leave the trade while he’s still alive to enjoy the money he has made. The film ends with Priest vanquishing his white opponents (including the drug kingpin) and leaving the business with a nice, fat bankroll. The film, under the guiding hand of director Gordon Parks Jr., is technically well done with a great performance from O’Neal and a memorable soundtrack from Curtis Mayfield. Now for the other side of the coin, and hence my grade. During a time when the African-American community was besieged by drugs, crime and corruption, the glorification of a drug dealer as the hero was not the way to go. Unlike Parks’ father's groundbreaking film Shaft, in which the hero was a private eye who fought corruption and lived by his own terms, in Super Fly, drug dealing is presented as a vocation to be pursued. Priest, in his long, sweeping coats and wide-brimmed hats, driving around in a tricked-out car, is a romanticized version of the urban pimp. Also, whereas previous films stereotyped the African-American man as a groveling, asexual wimpy character, Super Fly trades one end on the stereotype spectrum for the other, making its hero into a sexually potent super stud who wears out the women. The women in the film are presented one-dimensional, just there for the taking. When we look behind the scenes, we can’t help but notice that though Parks is the director, and the producer, and therefore the money, is Sig Shore, a white man. And in Hollywood, money rules. In short, this is just too finely made a movie to simply pan, but not one to admire. Hollywood was capable of better, as in Nothing But a Man (1964). Even those who made Blaxploitation movies got the message, as with films like Coffy and Cleopatra Jones, films with strong, morally upright African-American women as stars. When Spike Lee came along he presented a refreshing alternative to the jaded view of African Americans presented in Super Fly, though he never quite lived up to the promise. At least he tried.

DAVID: A-. With the exception of ShaftSuper Fly (yes, it's two words) is the greatest Blaxploitation film ever made, and there is a lot of competition. The influence it had in the genre cannot be overstated from the outrageous clothes to the hair styles to the customized car to the lifestyle of Priest (Ron O'Neal), the drug dealer who wants a final score to get out of the business while fighting "The Man," portrayed as being more corrupt than any of the criminals in the film. As the title song by the legendary Curtis Mayfield tells us, Priest is "tryin' ta get over" meaning he wants to beat the system anyway he can in order to live his life the way he wants. And Priest isn't just fly, he's super fly. He wears the finest clothes and looks incredible with the huge sideburns and the great-looking chemically-processed flat hair. The film was made on the cheap, but the production values are impressive, and Gordon Parks Jr. should be commended for an excellent debut film. He would make only three more films with his next one, Three the Hard Way, also a Blaxploitation classic. Some accuse Super Fly of glorifying the drug culture and what it did to the black community, and while I don't completely agree with that, I'm not going to argue the point. I will point to Mayfield's lyrics in the title song as a counterpoint: "Hard to understand what a hell of a man, this cat of the slum had a mind, wasn't dumb. But a weakness was shown 'cause his hustle was wrong." To dismiss it or diminish it because of its message is misguided to me. It's a film with an authenticity that was sorely lacking in films of that age. Yes, Priest likely wouldn't have walked away from corrupt cops without a serious problem, but that's not at all unusual in Blaxploitation films or many other films not in that category. Priest is beating the system that has kept blacks down the only way he knows how that final big drug deal that will set him up for life. It may not be pretty, but life often isn't. A few words about the Mayfield soundtrack: it is one of the best for any film in cinematic history and is vital as the lyrics tell the story of the key characters. If you've never seen Super Fly, I strongly urge you to watch it. Even if you laugh at the clothes and some of the stereotypes, it's still a hard-hitting and wildly entertaining movie.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.