Sunday, August 30, 2015

Cinéma Inhabituel for September 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


Now that August is ending, we’re back to having a Star of the Month. And in September the star is Susan Hayward, a solid actor whose steady presence has brightened up many a film. Beginning in the late ‘30s, she remained a durable star until the ‘70s, appearing in everything from drama to costume drama to comedy and even to epics. Two of her films are considered among the worst ever made, and come in the second half of the month as the emphasis is on the early part.

September 3: Two excellent films are on tap. Start with Beau Geste (Paramount, 1939), a scene-by-scene remake of the 1926 silent with Ronald Colman. Gary Cooper stars as one of three brothers (Ray Milland and Robert Preston are the others) who join the French Foreign Legion. Brian Donlevy as their sadistic commander Markov and J. Carroll Naish as his toady Rasinoff threaten to steal the film, but Cooper has presence. Hayward has a small role but makes the most of it.

Then tune in at 3:30 am (or record it) for Tulsa (Eagle-Lion, 1949) with Hayward as a rancher’s daughter out for revenge over his killing. She strikes it rich in the Oklahoma oil boom. Her obsession over money and power alienated her from her closest friends, an oil expert (Robert Preston) and a childhood friend (Pedro Armendariz). Hayward is wonderful in her role, but keep your eye on Armendariz, who turns in a stellar performance.

September 10: The best pick of the night is at 8:00 pm, with Hayward turning in a nifty performance in a tale of a model turned dress-designer, I Can Get It For You Wholesale (Fox, 1951). It’s competently directed with a great script from Abraham Polonsky. I love a well-written film, and Polonsky does a great job in adapting Jerome Weidman’s novel.

Following at 9:45 is a real yawner, as Hayward and Gregory Peck star in the biblical epic David and Bathsheba (Fox, 1951). As with most films in the genre, a combination of the restrictive production code, combined with the studio’s caution in offending anyone, leads to a leaden film highlighted by the uninspired performance of its leads. Both Hayward and Peck give us the impression that they’d rather be anywhere else. Bad, but not bad enough to be a “must see.”

Finally, at the wee hour of 4:00 am comes an excellent film from Nicholas Ray, The Lusty Men (RKO, 1952). Robert Mitchum is great as a faded rodeo star who mentors an up-and-coming Arthur Kennedy, but messes things up by falling for Kennedy’s no-nonsense wife, Hayward. It’s one to catch, or record.


This month’s TCM spotlight focuses on the war years, as in World War II. Using Mark Harris’s wonderful book, Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War as a guide and front, the network is showing a treasure trove of government shorts and documentaries, plus pertinent films made during the war years. Harris’s book is a cultural history of how the war changed Hollywood and how Hollywood changed the war as seen through the viewpoint of five directors: John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens.

September 1: We begin at 8:00 pm with a screening of Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe (Columbia, 1941), the story of how a reporter (Barbara Stanwyck) turns a tramp (Gary Cooper) into a national hero and a pawn of big businessman Edward Arnold. How this has to do with the war is beyond me, but it’s always worth a look.

Documentaries worth tuning in for include Capra’s Prelude to War (10:15 pm), Anatole Litvak’s The Battle of Russia (11:15 pm), Stuart Heisler’s The Negro Soldier (12:45 am), the Richard Brooks directed short, With the Marines at Tarawa (1:45 am), followed by Capra with Tunisian Victory, the stirring Battle of Britain (3:30 am), the Capra supervised short, Know Your Ally: Britain (4:30 am), and Capra’s War Comes to America, from 1945 (5:15 am).

September 8: The night is devoted to John Huston and begins with Bogart and Astor in Across the Pacific (WB, 1942) at 8:00 pm. At 9:45, it’s Huston’s short about the Aleutians, Report From the Aleutians, and at 10:45 pm, it’s Huston’s documentary on the invasion of Italy, San Pietro. At 11:30, his documentary about solders receiving medical treatment and psychotherapy, Let There Be Light (1946), will air. Huston's – and the government’s – message in the documentary is that employers should not hold a soldier’s psychotherapy against him when applying for a job. And then night ends with Huston’s Civil War classic The Red Badge of Courage (MGM, 1951).

September 15: It’s John Ford night, beginning at 8 pm with his 1940 effort for United Artists, The Long Voyage Home, starring John Wayne and Thomas Mitchell. At 10:00 pm, it’s his stirring short, The Battle of Midway, followed at 10:30 by How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines. At 11:45 December 7th, 1945 airs, a disturbing look at the attack on Pearl Harbor. Finally at 1:15 am comes two of his Hollywood efforts: They Were Expendable (MGM, 1945), with John Wayne and Robert Montgomery, followed by Henry Fonda and James Cagney in Mister Roberts (WB, 1955)


A welcome highlight of this month’s Friday Night Spotlight is the inclusion of the Private Snafu cartoons made by Warner Brothers. I remember my father and uncle reminiscing about them, and how funny they were and how the servicemen laughed raucously throughout at the antics of Snafu as he got himself into trouble time and time again. Look for our upcoming article on this unique soldier later this month. For now, we’ll provide the times and titles of the various cartoons.

September 1: 10:10 pm – Coming! Snafu (the cartoon that introduced him to the servicemen); 11:10 pm – Booby Traps; 1:40 am – Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike; 4:25 am – Snafuperman.

September 8: Beginning at 10:40 pm – In the Aleutians; 11:25 pm – The Infantry Blues; and at 12:40 am, The Goldbrick.

September 15: The menu for tonight – Gripes (9:55 pm), A Lecture on Camouflage (10:25 pm), Spies (11:40 pm), and Private Snafu Meets Seaman Tarfu in the Navy(1946).


September 2: At 1:00 pm, it’s one of Joan Crawford’s best films, A Woman’s Face, from MGM in 1941. Directed by George Cukor, it’s a remake of a 1938 Swedish film En Kvinnas Ansikte, starring Ingrid Bergman. Crawford is a facially scarred woman whose life dramatically changes when she goes under the knife of plastic surgeon Melvyn Douglas and regains her beauty. Conrad Veidt is also on hand to provide some of his exquisite villainy. It’s a film to watch, especially for those who haven’t yet seen it.

September 4: Make a note to tune in or record at 4:45 pm for one of the truly great underrated films about Hollywood. From RKO and George Cukor in 1932 it’s What Price Hollywood? Lowell Sherman is right on point as a dipso director who helps waitress Constance Bennett fulfill her ambition to become a star as he falls further and further into the abyss of alcoholism. Under Cukor’s direction, it’s a deft mix of comedy and drama and served as an inspiration for the later A Star is Born.

September 6: An interesting double feature of Japanese films begins at 1:30 am with the 1926 production of Kurutta Ippeiji. Surviving films from Japan’s silent era are rare indeed. It concerns a former sailor who has driven his wife into a mental asylum. Conscience stricken he takes a job as a custodian in the very facility where his wife is being treated. It’s a rare look at the problem of metal illness in Japan.

Following immediately thereafter at 2:45 am is Kurosawa’s 1951 Hakuchi. It, too, concerns mental illness and is the director’s adaptation of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, and is one of Kurosawa’s most neglected works.

September 11: Looking for a change of pace? Then tune in at 2:00 am for the brilliant and unsettling Went The Day Well? from Ealing in 1942. A British village welcomes a platoon of troops who will be billeted with them. To their horror they discover the troops are actually German paratroopers sent to prepare the way for an invasion. How they deal with the invaders is what makes this film one of a kind, being released when the threat of a Nazi invasion was still a real possibility.


September 4: TCM is running four films starring the great misanthrope beginning at 8:00 pm with his 1940 masterpiece, The Bank Dick. At 9:30 it’s his magnum opus, It’s a Gift, from 1934. No one played the harried husband better than Fields. At 11:00, it’s his underrated classic from 1938, You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man, with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. And finally, there’s his distinguished performance as Mr. Micawber in MGM’s 1935 David Copperfield. What a night.


Westerns long regarded as the redheaded stepchild of Hollywood, emerged from the jungle of B-dom thanks to a postwar popularity fueled in part by their immense popularity in the new medium of television. This led to Westerns that were more than just mere shoot-‘em-ups adhering to the simple plot of good versus evil. Now they became more complex, more structured, and with bigger stars in the leads. The ‘50s could be said to have been the Golden Age of Hollywood Westerns.

September 9: An evening of six quality Westerns begins at 8:00 with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin in 3:10 to Yuma (Columbia, 1957). At 10:00 pm, it’s Jimmy Stewart and Arthur Kennedy in The Man From Laramie (Columbia, 1955). Following at midnight is an all-time Western, The Gunfighter (Fox, 1950), starring Gregory Peck as “the fastest gun in the West” and thus as one with a price on his head from wanna-bes. At 1:30 am, it’s Budd Boetticher’s Ride Lonesome (Columbia, 1958) starring Randolph Scott as a bounty hunter who must bring in his quarry through distinctly unfriendly territory. Jimmy Stewart, Janet Leigh, and Robert Ryan then take over in The Naked Spur (MGM, 19563), with Stewart trying to capture shifty outlaw Ryan. Lastly, at 4:45 am, Burt Lancaster and Robert Walker star in Vengence Valley (MGM, 1951). All are worth the time invested.


September 2: At 3:15 am, it’s the animated version of The Lord of the Rings from 1978, featuring the voices of Christopher Guard, John Hurt, and Norman Bird among others. Directed by Ralph Bakshi, it covers 1½ books of the trilogy. It’s no great shakes, but is recommended for film buffs as well as Tolkien buffs.

September 5: Following another chapter in the continuing sage of Batman and Robin at 10:00 am, TCM begins a weekly showing of Bulldog Drummond films, beginning at 10:30 with Bulldog Drummond Escapes (Paramount, 1937). Ray Milland stars as Drummond in his only stab at the role, with cutie Heather Angel as his girlfriend Phylis Clavering. Following Milland’s debut as the Captain, Paramount plugged John Howard in as Drummond while it moved Milland to bigger and better things. The Drummond series proved a solid B-series for the studio, though it only lasted until 1939. In the late ‘40s, Columbia revived the series.

At 1:45 pm, it’s producer Val Lewton’s unique take on Jane Eyre – I Walked With a Zombie from RKO in 1943, a definite “must see.”

Beginning at 2:00 am, it’s a motorcycle-powered doubleheader from AIP with Tom Laughlin’s The Born Losers, followed by Dennis Hopper and Jody McCrea in The Glory Stompers, both from 1967.

September 6: Tune in at midnight for one of the granddaddies of all films psychotronic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, from 1919.

September 7: Fans of both science fiction and George Lucas should be interested in the director’s big screen adaptation of his USC student film, THX 1138, which airs at midnight. It takes place in the 25th century, where a totalitarian government has imposed a strict and bland rule. Dress is plain, heads are shaved, and everyone is on a regimen of sedatives. Those who don’t use them are prosecuted for “drug evasion.” THX1138 (Robert Duvall) is a worker who helps assemble the policing robots. He slowly becomes aware of his situation because his female roommate (Maggie McOmie) has been diluting his dosage. He discovers love – and sex, which has been outlawed and replaced with artificial insemination. When the couple is found out, THX is sent to a white void. There he meets fellow prisoner SEN (Donald Pleasance). Together with a hologram (Don Pedro Colley) they begin planning an escape.

September 12: It’s Bulldog Drummond at Bay at 10:30 am. Later, at 2:45 am, it’s Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive (WB, 1974) about a killer infant on the rampage, followed by Jack Hill’s camp classic, Spider Baby, at 4:30 am.

September 13: An encore performance of the sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still airs at 6:15 pm. Later at 10:00 pm, it’s Bette Davis and Olivia De Havilland in the gothic horror Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. At 2:00 am, it’s the premiere of director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another (Toho, 1967). Tatsuya Nakadai is a wealthy chemist whose face was horribly scarred in an explosion. Until his doctor (Mikjiro Hira) can successfully complete the prosthetic mask that will become his new face, Nakadai lives with his head swathed in bandages with visible openings only for his eyes, nose and mouth. When he gets his new face, the results are not what everyone assumes. Following immediately after (4:15 am) is a repeat performance of the unsettling 1959 shocker Eyes Without a Face (1959). See it once and you’ll remember it forever.

September 15: At the early hour of 7:30 am is a showing of director Rene Clair’s adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie novel Ten Little IndiansAnd Then There Were None (Fox, 1945). Ten guests are invited to a lonely island only to find themselves bring knocked off one by one. Dudley Nichols’s brilliant script is combined with some superb visuals from Clair to create one of the all-time great mysteries. It’s rarely shown, so catch it while you can.

Friday, August 28, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for September 1-7

September 1–September 7


THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER (September 5, 8:15 am): I'm a huge fan of the British kitchen sink/angry young man film genre, and there are very, very few finer than this one. Colin Smith (Tom Courtenay in his brilliant film debut) is a rebellious teenager in post-World War II England who ends up in a juvenile delinquent institution. While there, he discovers he has a talent for long-distance running. He's able to avoid the hard labor the other boys must endure because of his abilities. But the anger and resentment against a system that chews kids like him up and spits them out when they are no longer of any use is always in the back of his mind. The day of the big race against the nearby public school is an opportunity to shine leave Colin conflicted. In the end, he does what he believes to be the right thing to maintain his integrity and independence despite the consequences.

THE LION IN WINTER (September 7, 6:00 am): I've never shied away from expressing my intense dislike for Katharine Hepburn's acting. I think she had very little talent, and is the most overrated mainstream actress in the history of cinema. But I've got to give the devil her due - she is absolutely brilliant in The Lion in Winter, a 1968 film in which she stars as Eleanor of Aquitaine in the year 1183. She is imprisoned by her husband, Henry II (Peter O'Toole delivering yet another fantastic performance), as the two greatly differ over which of their sons will be next in line to the thrown of England. While not historically accurate, it's a wildly entertaining film with Hepburn and O'Toole trading biting lines with each other. One of my favorites has the two of them walking arm-in-arm smiling at their subjects while Eleanor is giving Henry grief. He says, "Give me a little peace." Without skipping a beat, Eleanor responds: "A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace? Now, that's a thought." A great story, great costumes, great directing and a great cast that also includes Anthony Hopkins in his film debut, Timothy Dalton and Nigel Terry.


THE BANK DICK (September 4, 8:00 pm): W.C. Fields was never funnier than in this film about a no-account who is given a job as a bank guard after he unwittingly foils a robbery. His daughter’s nitwit fiancé works there and Fields soon gets him involved in using the bank’s money to finance a stock scheme that looks as if it will go bust, so they must distract the bank examiner (a wonderfully fussy Franklin Pangborn) until the money can be returned. It all results is a crazy and hilarious car chase when the bank is robbed again.

IT’S A GIFT (September 4, 9:30 pm): This 1934 Paramount production was probably W.C. Fields’ funniest film. He plays a downtrodden, henpecked grocer living in Camden, N.J., who wants desperately to own an orange grove in California, so he buys one sight unseen and moves his family out to California. It’s a beautiful melding of comedy routines and plot, with Charles Sellon as a blind grocery customer and T. Roy Barnes as a salesman who interrupts Fields’ sleep looking for Carl LaFong. It’s Fields at his delightfully cynical best.


ED: C. Elvis films are exercises in mediocrity, mainly because his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, never allowed his client to step outside what was thought to be a winning formula. As a result we never got to see Elvis in anything that wasn’t predictable and heavily telegraphed. But some are more excruciating than others. This film is a case in point. It starts out well with Elvis and Gary Lockwood as bush pilots who lose their plane because of Lockwood’s gambling debts. Trying to earn money to retrieve it they hitch it to Seattle, where the World’s Fair just happens to be. Once there, Danny tries to earn money in a poker game (Hasn’t he ever heard of Las Vegas?) while Elvis takes care of a small girl named Sue Lin (Vicky Tiu) who became separated from her Uncle Walter (Kam Tong). When cute little Sue gets sick from pigging out on junk food, Elvis takes her to the clinic, where he meets attractive nurse Diane Warren (Joan O’Brien) and, of course, is smitten. And if you can’t guess what’s going to happen next, you’ve never seen an Elvis picture. The only interesting things about this cardboard comedy is seeing Kurt Russell as a kid Elvis pays to kick him in the shins to attract the nurse’s attention, and the late, gorgeous, scorching supernova (to quote IMdB reviewer pooch-8) Yvonne Craig. Russell would later go on to play The King himself in the 1979 TV movie Elvis.

DAVID: D+. I'm a huge fan of Elvis Presley films, even many of the bad ones. Elvis had a ton of potential, but opted during a long stretch of time to stick to the "Formula," in which he played the same type of character with a minimal plot, and an over-reliance on his charisma and a pretty co-star. Some of them are absolutely charming like ClambakeSpinout and Kid Galahad. Some of them are horribly stupid with no redeeming qualities such as Harum ScarumThe Trouble With Girls, and this movie. It Happened at the World's Fair (1962) is painfully boring and way too long at 105 minutes with the World's Fair in Seattle theoretically used in an effort to entertain the audience. It fails to do that. You can tell Elvis wishes he was anywhere else but in this film. It's hard to blame him. The effort at creating a plot is embarrassingly bad. For someone like me who loves Elvis and watched this entire movie as I'm a Presley completist, there is nothing to enjoy. You'd think there would be a good song as Elvis sings 10 of them in this movie. But unfortunately there isn't a single catchy one to be found.

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Twilight Zone: 10 Best Episodes


There’s a Signpost Up Ahead

By Steve Herte

Few television shows about the strange and the macabre were as successful or as memorable as The Twilight Zone. Just play the opening theme and people recall their most chilling episode. It took some doing, but I’ve managed to list the 10 that I would rate the highest, those that stayed in my head and were worthy of several viewings. There’s no particular order or ranking because, to me, they are all equally good for one reason or another. See what you think.

Time Enough at Last – (Nov. 20, 1959 - Season 1)

With an hour-and-a-half commute I get a lot of reading done and I enjoy it. I can identify with Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis in that circumstance. The difference is, I read for relaxation and pleasure (and sometimes out of compulsion). For Henry, reading is a passion, a lifestyle, to the exclusion of everything else.

Frankly, if I were married to an unrelenting harpy who constantly reminded me of my worthlessness and complete dependency on her, I don’t think I would be as tractable as Henry (especially when Helen – Jacqueline deWitt – crossed out all the words in a book of poetry and then proceeded to tear out the pages). Hopefully, I wouldn’t have married her in the first place. In a way though, she’s a tongue-in-cheek character. We hear her call “Hen-Ree!” before we meet her. Radiophiles remember that call from the Henry Aldrich comedy series and Warner cartoon fans will have heard it as well in Book Revue.

Mr. Carsville (Vaughn Taylor), Henry’s boss, is definitely not a motivator. He reinforces Henry’s wife opinion that reading is trivial. The only thing important to him is the job – not necessarily the customer. Unfortunately, even his customers are too busy (or just not interested) to hear anything Henry says. But for Henry, it’s a living.

As the story unfolds in this episode it’s perfectly obvious that nobody cares, or wants to know about reading. It’s no wonder that Henry wishes to be left alone.

This tale was told during America’s Cold War with Russia, when both countries were building stockpiles of nuclear weapons. No one knew when some crazy person would “push the button” and global annihilation would surely follow. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and how terrified I was, knowing how easily the end could come. But scientific accuracy doesn’t apply in Time Enough at Last. 

Henry steals off to the bank vault to read when the (supposedly) atom bomb is dropped (we only hear one explosion).

He exits the vault and, strangely enough, though some damage has been done to his bank building, he’s able to climb the stairs and get to the street level. One has to assume that all the people have been vaporized because there are no bodies lying around. The air is miraculously breathable and the food is edible – not a trace of radiation anywhere (this was way before the concept of a neutron bomb).

Still, Meredith does a stellar performance as he weighs the pros and cons. There’s nobody to bother or harass him, but, there’s also nobody to talk to or share in his love of the printed page. Just as the loneliness gets oppressive enough that he considers suicide he discovers the only other building standing, the library.

But inaccuracies aside, The Twilight Zone twist is what makes this episode memorable. When Henry reaches for something, his glasses fall off his head and break. “It’s not fair! It’s just not fair!” You can’t always get what you want and be careful what you wish for could be lessons taught here.

The Eye of The Beholder – (Nov. 11, 1960 - Season 2)

Patient 307, Janet Tyler (Maxine Stuart in the beginning, Donna Douglas after the bandages are removed) is born “horribly disfigured” and checks into a hospital to have her looks corrected to be socially acceptable. Her head is totally swathed in bandages. She can’t tell if it’s day or night. This is her 11th (and final – by law, no more funding will be provided after this) attempt at the “injections.” “When I was a little girl, people turned away when they looked at me…Who makes all the rules? The state is not God!” she laments.

As the bandages are removed, in three dramatic stages, we see the “Leader” is making a speech on television – echoing conspicuously a Hitler tirade – praising “our glorious conformity.” But the operation fails and she’s exiled forever to be with beautiful people like herself. The story pokes at prejudice and segregation for any reason.

The artistry in this episode is in the camera angles. The Doctor (William D. Gordon), Nurse (Jennifer Howard), and other cast members are shot either from the neck down, or in shadow, or from the back. The audience never sees their faces until the end. That’s The Twilight Zone twist.

To Serve Man – (Mar. 2, 1962 - Season 3)

The nine-foot tall Kanamits arrive on Earth and one (Richard Kiel) presents a book (the title is that of the episode) to the United Nations. The Kanamits are bald, bulbous-headed and dressed in floor-length one-piece tunics with a weird collar off-set to one side. They speak only mentally and look bored or dull-witted. The best minds on Earth, Michael Chambers (Lloyd Bochner) and his assistant Patty (Susan Cummings) attempt the translation of the strange symbols.

After passing the lie detector tests (to determine that they are not here to invade or exterminate mankind), the aliens give Earth cures for hunger (a nitrate that makes soil super-productive), war (a protective shield impervious to bombs) and a nuclear power source to supply energy to entire countries. At one point, we hear the line spoken to the military, “I guess that puts us out of business.” But the Earthmen fail to ask the right questions.

People are delighted and eternally grateful, and are eager to visit the aliens’ planet. No one is suspicious except Mr. Chambers. After he’s weighed on an old-fashioned standing scale (even for 1962) under the decidedly hungry watchful eye of a Kanamit (he’s grinning like a wolf) and about to board the spaceship, Chambers hears Patty’s revelation that To Serve Man is a cookbook. It’s as hilarious as it is horrific.

I noticed one strange inaccuracy as I re-viewed and still enjoyed this episode. The story begins and ends with Michael Chambers in a small room on the alien saucer. One of the Kanamits brings a tray of food. My question is why would an intelligent race of people who know they are nine feet tall construct a spaceship with doorways they have to duck under to pass through?

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet – (Oct. 11, 1963 - Season 5)

This is one of William Shatner’s best performances. After having been treated for a nervous breakdown and being a fearful flyer (I can identify with that), Bob Wilson (Shatner) boards a plane for home with his wife Julia (Christine White). It doesn’t help calm him when he’s seated by the “auxiliary exit.” Added to that is a violent thunderstorm the entire flight.

Bob’s the only one who sees the “Gremlin” (actually Nick Cravat in a bad gorilla suit wearing a mask from Eye of the Beholder) attacking the engine on the wing his window faces. No one believes him because the creature conveniently flies out of view when anyone else looks. Seriously, I laugh now, but when this episode aired I was terrified.

The suspense mounts until Bob notices a gun in a holster draped carelessly over the arm of a seat in the rear of the plane. (Really?) It’s also almost funny how Shatner nonchalantly (even for him) pretends to drop something so that no one will see him swipe the gun.

Mind you, this plane is not a jet. It’s propeller driven. Still the scene where he pops open the door and is nearly sucked out by the depressurization is exciting as he struggles to shoot the gremlin.

On a gurney being loaded into an ambulance at the end Bob says, “No one will know but me.” Just as the audience wonders whether it was a mirage or whether he saved the day, the camera pans back in a classic Twilight Zone twist to reveal the torn cowling on the plane’s engine. Beautiful.

The Midnight Sun – (Nov. 17, 1961 - Season 3)

Things are heating up as it is discovered that the Earth is slowly getting closer to the sun. Norma (Lois Nettleton) is an artist who is good friends with her landlady, Mrs. Bronson (Betty Garde), but even she cannot stand to see anymore paintings featuring the sun. Obligingly, Norma paints a refreshing waterfall. Psychologically, I guess this helps.

Mr. Shuster (Jason Wingreen) and his wife (Juney Ellis) are the last tenants to leave the building for the temporary relief of moving to Canada. Really? Getting off the Earth would be my priority, if it were possible.

Tempers are flaring and social mores break down with the increasing Fahrenheit when an intruder (Tom Reese) forces his way into the apartment, drinks the last of their water and makes threatening gestures, but later breaks down in shame and embarrassment at what he’s become.

This episode has the definitive convoluted ending. Norma awakens from her fever dream and it’s snowing outside. The Earth has actually broken out of its orbit and is heading away from the sun.

I thought the acting in this chapter was especially well done. I was nearly sweating just watching it.

The Invaders – (Jan. 27, 1961 - Season 2)

A tour-de-force performance by Agnes Moorehead as an old woman living alone in a simple farm house in the countryside, no electricity, no neighbors, and no telephone. Suddenly a crash is heard in her attic. It’s a flying saucer and she finds herself beset by toy-like aliens who appear all over her house and fire weapons at her and stab her in the foot with one of her own kitchen knives.

Wordlessly, she gasps, grunts, and groans her way through the episode fighting off her tormentors and ultimately destroying the saucer with an ax. The last thing we, the audience, hear is a distress call (and the only words in the episode) from an American spaceship to mission control about a “race of giants!” 

We are the aliens in this one. It’s an elegant turn-around on who’s invading who, reminding me of a story recently on the news about an new Earth-like planet discovered several light-years away. The news reporter suggested it as a “new home?” Not if Agnes Moorehead is already living there.

The Howling Man – (Nov. 4, 1960 - Season 2)

David Ellington (H.M. Wynant) is on a walking trip in Central Europe and lost, seeks shelter from a violent storm (which conveniently stops for the dialogue and then resumes) at a monastery and he hears a strange howling (much like a dog’s) behind a locked door (Robin Hughes). Brother Jerome (John Carradine) tries to get David to leave, but when David collapses on the floor, he agrees to let him stay for the night.

The inmate convinces David that the monks, especially Brother Jerome are mad and that they imprisoned him for kissing a girl after beating him. Even after Brother Jerome reveals that his prisoner is the Devil himself. David is totally taken in by the howling man and opens the door.

The frightening metamorphosis occurs and once again the Devil is set loose upon the world. It’s now David’s task to recapture him, and he does, until a woman whom he strictly warns about opening the door lifts the bar sealing it anyway. The best line in this episode is from Brother Jerome, “No MAN has ever been imprisoned in the hermitage.” He’s referring of course to the Devil as not being a mere man.

Nowadays, we tend to dismiss the Devil, I guess because he’s not in fashion. Or we dress up in his “costume” at Halloween because it’s a jazzy way to wear red. This episode reveals him as not in the least jazzy, not in the least fashionable and never to be trusted.

A Stop at Willoughby – (May 6, 1960 - Season 1)

James Daly is Gart Williams, a harried man in a job where his boss, Mr. Misrell (Howard Smith), is constantly on his back urging him to “Push, push, push!” His work-a-day life makes him long for a simpler time. It’s November in Connecticut and on his train home (possibly the Metro-North?), he falls asleep and has realistic dreams of Willoughby, a peaceful, small town in a warm July of 1888. He wakes up disappointed back in his seat on his train as the snow is falling outside.

His wife Janie (Patricia Donahue) berates him about it, “You were born too late…I married a man whose big dream is to be Huck Finn!” All Gart wants is a job where he can be himself and not some drone endlessly being pushed and unrecognized. After a second dream (always occurring near Stamford) and return to Willoughby and a subsequent near nervous breakdown at the office, he’s determined to get off the train in Willoughby the next time he stops there.

He accomplishes this and everyone he meets is pleasant, as is the weather in Willoughby, and he’s perfectly happy to be there. But the reality (The Twilight Zone twist) is he’s not in Willoughby. He’s in a snowstorm in Connecticut and freezes to death outside. To add to the sad irony, he’s picked up by the Willoughby & Sons Funeral Home.

I enjoyed this episode because I can relate to someone who would really rather be somewhere pleasant than in a stressful situation. I’ve experienced this many times in my life and was caught more than once daydreaming in school. I identified with Gart, but I wouldn’t want to share his fate.

A Most Unusual Camera – (Dec. 16, 1960 - Season 2)

Chester and Paula Dietrich (Fred Clark and Jean Carson) are two-bit criminals who robbed a curio shop. To their amazement, among the stolen loot is a strange box camera that acts like a Polaroid camera with instant photos. Though they cannot figure out how to put film in it nor open it to do so, and cannot read the French writing on the outside, Chester takes a picture of Paula posing by the window.

Nothing happens for a little while and they figure the camera’s broken when “bing!” the picture pops out. It’s a perfect photo of Paula except that she’s wearing a fur coat. Chester figures it’s one of those carnival things, but when Paula discovers a fur coat in a suitcase from their stash and strikes the same pose by the window, Chester starts to wonder.

Paula pooh-poohs him and takes his picture. But the photo is of her brother Woodward (Adam Williams) coming through the door. Five minutes later, Woodward arrives (newly escaped from jail). Chester thinks it’s voodoo or some demonic thing. None of these three characters are the sharpest crayon in the box, but they figure out that the camera takes pictures of events that will happen five minutes in the future. They decide to take the camera to the racetrack and photograph the winners’ board. Knowing the horse that will win the last six races gets them a huge sum of cash.

They think they’re on Easy Street until Pierre, the hotel waiter (Marcel Hillaire), translates the French for them when he comes up and notices the camera, “Dix à la propriétaire - ten to an owner.” Chester does some quick calculations (which isn’t easy for him) of how many pictures they’ve taken and how many are left and concludes that they have to conserve the last two. Woodward and he argue and in the tussle a picture is taken of Paula screaming.

The two men continue to fight and both fall out the open window. Paula screams. But it doesn’t take her too long before she realizes that all the money is now hers. Her grief is short and she takes the final photo of the two men on the ground below. Cue the nasty Pierre, who takes the cash threatening to call the police. He also notes that there are more than two bodies in the photo.

Paula goes to look, trips and falls out herself. Standing by the window, Pierre counts bodies in the picture, “One, two, three, four?” and, shocked, falls out the window as well. The camera lands on the floor.

This episode has more of a comedic side to it than a moralistic one. Sure, crime doesn’t pay (obviously) but the characters are so bizarrely played that one can laugh at their mishaps. My favorite line is from Chester, “What has humanity ever done for us?”

Living Doll – (Nov. 1, 1963 - Season 5)

Telly Savalas is Erich Streator, stepfather to Christie (Tracy Stratford) and husband to Annabelle (Mary LaRoche). The girls come home with a new doll for Chrissie, a “Talking Tina” doll. “She doesn’t need another doll!” says he. At first, all Tina (voiced by June Foray, famed for the voice of Witch Hazel in Warner Brothers cartoons) says is, “My name is Talking Tina and I love you very much!”

But out of sight and earshot of the wife and child she changes her tune and ranges from “…and I don’t think I like you.” to “I’m beginning to hate you.” to “I’m going to kill you.” Eric tries to dispose of the doll in the garbage and she quotes Daffy Duck, “You wouldn’t dare.” (Chuck Jones, Drip-Along Daffy, 1951)

But when Tina calls him on the phone, it’s the last straw. He tries to cut her head off with a power saw (and fails), puts her head in a vice (she giggles), and tries to burn her with a blow torch (which repeatedly gets blown out – another Daffy Duck reference: Holiday for Drumsticks, 1949). He gives up.

Then one night. Eric hears something and gets out of bed to investigate. As he starts to descend the stairs, Tina is lying on the second step; he trips and falls to the bottom. Annabelle hears the noise and is horrified, not just by his (we assume) fatal fall (though you can see, he’s still breathing), but by the doll’s last line, “My name is Talking Tina and you’d better be nice to me.”

Eric is not really the evil stepfather so much as the inadequate husband. He repeatedly accuses Annabelle and Chrissie of being in league against him because he and Annabelle can’t have any children of their own. Savalas is used to playing a tough guy but nobody wins against a savvy doll (remember Chuckie?).

I found this episode to be one of the creepier ones and worthy, as such, of being one of my favorites.

You may have your own “top 10.” It’s not easy to whittle them down to that amount. Try it, you’ll see. There are so many to choose from, but these are mine. The memories are bittersweet for all the actors who are not with us anymore as well as the marvelous Rod Serling, who passed 40 years ago, and script writers Richard Matheson (2013) and Charles Beaumont (1967) who brought the stories to us and made the unbelievable believable.

What better way to end a top 10 favorite compilation than with a quote from Rod Serling: There is nothing in the dark that isn’t there when the lights are on.”

Monday, August 24, 2015

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation

Dinner and a Movie

Rogue Nation and Rogan Josh

By Steve Herte

Been to any good barbeques lately? I just attended a dandy. The lead singer in my quartet is a chef by profession and when he invited us all to his house for “just a barbeque” we jumped at the chance. He’s a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and nothing he creates is ordinary. And he didn’t disappoint. The various guests brought salads and a bread-loaf dip as well as wines. But he did the rest. There was pulled pork, bratwursts, Italian hot sausages, chicken cutlet and legs, and a whole deep-fried turkey! It was amazing. Don’t get me started on the dessert table!

Add to that, he also invited several other quartets to the barbeque and there was singing almost constantly as well as a parade of quartets to entertain the wives and significant others. I had a great time seeing people I’ve not seen in over eight years (since I left the Barbershop Society). Of course I had a lot of requests to come back to the chorus, even to just investigate how much better they are – we’ll see.

I was able to finally see a movie that interested me when it debuted, but due to the length of the film and the inconvenient times theaters presented it, I was unable to view it until now. The opportunity also facilitated my dining at my 140th Indian restaurant. Enjoy!

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation (Paramount, 2015) – Director: Christopher McQuarrie. Writers: Christopher McQuarrie (s/p & story), Drew Pearce (story), Bruce Geller (television series). Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Jingchu Zhang, Tom Hollander, Jens Hulten, Alec Baldwin, Mateo Rufino, Fernabndo Abadie, Alec Utgoff, & Hermione Corfield. Color, PG-13, 131 minutes.

Before the opening credits, we see a field of grass from almost eye-level. A radio voice calls out to Benji Dunn (Pegg) and he pops up out of nowhere, covered in moss with his laptop. The radio voice is soon identified as William Brandt (Renner) and he’s very concerned about a “package” on a plane that should not be allowed to leave. We see the plane loaded, closed up and, its engines started, begin taxiing to take-off. Suddenly, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) bursts onto the scene and jumps onto the wing of the moving plane, speaking with Benji via headgear to have him hack into the plane’s computer system and open the door for him.

All the instructions are in Russian (after all, we are in Minsk, Belarus) and Benji hits the key to open the bomb bay loading door first. This alerts the crew and one goes back to investigate. Benji finally locates the key to open the side door where Ethan is hanging on for dear life as the plane rises into the sky and Ethan is sucked into the plane by the vacuum created by the two open doors. The “package” is a large flat of what look like giant cannon shells filled with nerve gas (obviously for terrorism purposes). Ethan is out of sight of the investigating crewmember who tries to get to the control to close the bomb bay door. When he turns around he only has time to see Ethan strapping himself to the “package” and pushing the button to deploy the parachute attached to it, making a swift exit out the back of the plane.

The familiar Mission Impossible music starts and so do the opening credits.

The scene changes and Ethan strolls into a record store where he starts an elaborate “code talk” with the store manager. At the end, she hands him a record and as if star-struck, she says, “It really IS you.” (Recognizing the famous Ethan Hunt.) Ethan enters a playing booth and starts up the turntable, placing the needle on the record. But instead of the familiar “Good morning Mr. Hunt…” from the Impossible Mission Force headquarters, he hears the voice of the Syndicate, sees Solomon Lane (Harris) shoot the young blonde store manager, and is overcome by the gas emanating from the self-destruct mechanism on the record. Hunt has been captured by the Syndicate.

Meanwhile, a federal committee has been convened and Alan Hunley (Baldwin), head of the CIA, is making a case for the disbanding of the IMF and transfer of all their operations to CIA control. Brandt tries to defend the IMF using their perfect results percentage. But the collateral damage caused by their “unorthodox methods” (a slide is presented showing a huge nick in the top of the Trans-America tower in San Francisco where a re-directed ballistic missile glanced off it on its way into the bay). Hunley follows this with before and after photos of yhe Kremlin and the destruction of St. Basil’s church. The IMF Team is to be called back in and disbanded, especially Ethan Hunt whose “obsession” with the “mythical” Syndicate has made him reckless.

But Ethan is a little tied up at the moment and in a dingy underground room, while the beautiful Ilsa Faust (Ferguson) slowly lays out her drugs and hypodermics to get him to talk. The door bursts open and in walks Janik Vinter (Hultén) aka “The Bone Doctor” with his henchmen, and he opens his case exposing several sinister cutting tools. Ilsa, insulted that the Syndicate is questioning her methods, assists in Ethan’s escape. Ethan contacts Brandt but advises him not to tell Hunley where he is. Brant has the fourth member of the team, Luther Stickell (Rhames), flown in to inform him of the IMF dissolution.

Then it gets complicated. Ethan learns of a plot to kill the Austrian Prime Minister at the opera house in Vienna and sends opera tickets to Benji in a ruse to get him involved in thwarting the attempt. It turns out there are three gunners, including Ilsa, going after the poor minister. Ethan and Benji avert the fatal shooting and the minister is only shot in the shoulder, but on his way to the hospital, his car is blown up. Ethan helps Ilsa escape because he knows of her connection with Lane and that this assassination was a test of her loyalty.

Lane wants Ilsa (he doesn’t know she’s undercover for British Intelligence) to steal a thumb drive containing a ledger of money sources that will make the Syndicate invincible. She calls on Ethan to meet her in Casablanca, Morocco, to help her get it. With combined efforts of Benji, Ethan and Ilsa, they succeed, but almost at the cost of Ethan’s life. There is a long, high-speed motorcycle chase as Ilsa runs off with the thumb drive, pursued by Lane’s men (and Ethan). She escapes and makes it back to London.

On the Thames, Ilsa meets with Atlee (McBurney), the Prime Minister’s number one man, to give him the thumb drive. He secretly erases it when she puts it down. Thinking he doesn’t want it, she takes it to Lane. Big trouble. Benji made a copy of it and Ethan has it. Lane’s men capture Benji and use him to force Ethan to kidnap the Prime Minister of England (Hollander). Why? Because the data on the thumb drive cannot be accessed without the Prime Minister’s retinal scan, handprint scan and voiceprint recognition of a passage from Kipling. Confused yet?

It gets better. Atlee is behind the existence of the Syndicate, but has convinced the Prime Minister that he’s discontinued its operations. Back in the U.S., Brandt pretends to betray Ethan to Hunley and gets him involved. Together, they learn of the true existence of the Syndicate and who was behind it. Poor Hunley has to meet with the committee again at the end of the movie to have the IMF force reinstated.

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation is a beautifully photographed, complex, James Bond-like movie full of action sequences and intrigue. There are the masks familiar to all Mission Impossible fans, the theme music, and the complex plot. But instead of the elaborate mechanical creations, everything is computerized. Cruise’s dangerous stunts are pretty convincing but the many times he’s shown standing slack-jawed could have been cut and the film would have been under two hours long.

Still, I only shifted once at the end of the first hour. It kept my attention and I was so entertained I didn’t notice any scientific or dialogue inaccuracies. They might have been there, but I didn’t catch them. Rebecca Ferguson is as lovely climbing backstage ladders in a gold slit-skirt gown as she is in a skin-tight black motorcycle outfit. If she was doing her own stunts, she’s quite impressive. Simon Pegg is the best “best-friend” anyone could have. He’s fiercely loyal and cleverly comical. Even Alec Baldwin gave a great performance as the CIA official who presents an airtight case against the IMF and who later has to cleverly eat his words.

Parents, despite all the intense action and violence in this film, it is squeaky clean and never gets gory. It also misses being James Bondish in lacking a bedroom scene. If your kids can stay still for two hours and 11 minutes, they’d like it. It’s definitely entertaining. The only reason I didn’t give it a perfect rating is because there was no pathos, it was a little too long and there was no character with whom I could identify. But those are minor problems.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Akbar Palace
47-49 West 55th St., New York

When I was choosing a restaurant in Midtown, I knew that there was a new Indian place (only six months old) and I was getting a craving for my favorite food. I checked out the website for Akbar Palace and the menu was impressively large with many good choices, even some dishes I’ve never seen before in my 139 previous Indian restaurants. But nowhere was there a mention of drinks, or whether they had a bar. I called the restaurant and was assured they had wine and beer.

It was a good thing I left sufficient time to walk from 8th Avenue and 42nd Street to 6th Avenue and 55th Street because the address was a little strange for Manhattan. There aren’t usually hyphenated addresses on Manhattan streets. There are many eateries on this part of 55th Street and several have banners and neon signs. But not Akbar Palace, which just had a simple black sign above the door and in big block letters the words Akbar in red and Palace in white. The wall in back of the sign has a pretty pale blue and white lotus pattern. The door with “49” on the glass didn’t look like an entrance, so I continued until I saw “47” and entered. Oh, I get it! The hyphen means “to.” They have two addresses, but the main one is the 47.

I announced my reservation at the fringed pillar that acted as the Captain’s Station and a young man led me to a table (there were only two of the 25 tables occupied) near the entrance. The room is a pleasant shade of antique gold and walls are covered in either decorative mirrors or patterned wallpaper. There are decorative wooden madalas and festive Indian accents hanging here and there. The chairs are an austere dark wood and high-backed and the tables have white cloths covered with butcher’s paper.

The first thing I noticed when I sat down was the lack of air-conditioning. I hoped this wasn’t one of those Indian restaurants where a part of the “atmosphere” was to mimic the temperature of a Bombay sidewalk café. I was starting to get uncomfortable despite the lovely chair. A busboy poured me a glass of water. Then Saleh, my server brought the menu. It was an exact copy of the one on the website without mention of beer or wine, only canned soda, mango lassi and Sweet lassi (I don’t like lassi).

I considered leaving before asking Saleh if they served wine or beer. He listed the usual possibilities, all by the glass only. I chose cabernet. He brought me glass and I sipped it while considering my choices. I must have gone through the menu three or four times before I made my decision. There were Vegetarian appetizers, Non-vegetarian appetizers, Soups and Salads; Murgh – Poultry Dishes; Subzi – Vegetarian entrees; Gosht – Lamb and Goat Dishes; From the Sea – Seafood; Sizzling Tandoor; Tandoori Specialty Breads; Basmati Chawal – Rice; Accompaniments; Mithai – Desserts; Catering Specials. and three Beverages.

I took my time seeking out the most exotic dishes, trying not to just go with my favorites and soon came up with a plan. After another server brought the crispy Papadum and three chutneys; mint, tamarind and onion, I listed my selections with Saleh and, where my pronunciation wasn’t quite accurate, he pointed to the dishes on the menu for confirmation. I told him I had a lot of time, hoping that dishes would be spaced nicely. It didn’t work.

The appetizer, Masale Wali Paneer Tikka – marinated tandoor-grilled paneer (homemade cheese) tossed with a thick, tomato curry sauce and served with a small salad garnish arrived simultaneously with the Mulligatawny Chicken Soup – the “national soup of India” with chicken in pureed chick peas, flour and coconut. I had to decide which dish would get cold faster because no Indian food (except the bread) tastes good cold. 

The appetizer won this contest and I made it a point to eat the delicious, only slightly spicy squares of cheese interspersed with spoonfuls of lovely soup. The cheese had a delicate mozzarella-like flavor and texture and the tomato sauce gave it a character it would not have had alone. After squeezing the lemon slice into the soup I noticed that the flavor was slightly different from any Mulligatawny soup I’ve ever had. There was an ingredient that gave it an almost nutmeg after-taste, which was intriguing. It’s my favorite Indian soup and only became a part of my meal because the two other soups were uninteresting.

I had finished the appetizer and had a few more spoons of soup left when the main course arrived. I noted that the two other occupied tables were now vacant and a few people were in the next room (which I figured was as close to a bar as this restaurant could get without liquor) and the music had shifted from a pleasant Indian style to an unappetizing rap. A few grimaces from me and they turned it down. It was then also that I felt the air-conditioning timidly start.

The Bombay Sukka mutton main course – goat sautéed in a spicy masala (apparently, they don’t know that “masala” means spice) flavor with curry leaves and ginger – was absolutely wonderful and had some of the best goat meat I’ve ever had. I told Saleh and he seemed pleased. I don’t know why the term “mutton” was in the title of the dish, since mutton is not goat meat. But I was enjoying it along with the Tawa Mulli Paratha bread – whole wheat bread stuffed with Indian radishes. The bread was an adventure in flavor, nutty, sweet and only slightly sharp. It was great with the goat. Of course, there was a large silver bowl of aromatic Basmati rice and an adventurous bowl of Apple-Pineapple Raita. Usually I have Raita (a yoghurt dip) with cucumbers and maybe mint, but this flavor was unique and refreshing. Believe it or not, I finished everything except a little of the sauce from the main course.

There were no unfamiliar desserts but I still did not go with my favorite Gulab Jamun and chose the Rasmalai – cheese dumplings in thickened sweet milk, flavored with cardamom – instead. They were delightful, sweet, crumbly-textured garnished with pistachios and accented with the spice. And no Indian meal would be finished without Masala Chai (spiced tea, literally).

Akbar means “great” in Arabic and Akbar Palace is still working on their “great.” The food is good, tasty and not particularly spicy (unless the chef “dumbed down” the spice for American tastes – which could be true or not). Certainly, it was not as spicy as Indian restaurants’ repute would have the public believe. I enjoyed every bite.

I told Saleh that, with the abundance of other restaurants on the same block having banners and neon signs, Akbar Palace may want to invest in a banner just to make their presence a little more obvious. They are the only Indian on the block, they might as well advertise. I asked if they get a late night crowd (which might explain the dire change in music) and he seemed unsure of that.

There are several dishes on the menu I would return to try: the Karara Palak Chaat, a crispy spinach fritter, the Pepper Crusted Scallops, and the Kerala Pepper Chicken, among others. My advice to Saleh: get the people in with a little more advertising, crank up the air-conditioning to a comfortable temperature and keep the music traditional and unobtrusive. The food will take care of itself.

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