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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Yeah, I Know
I've been slow on the updates lately. Sorry 'bout that. I've been spending my nights watching postseason baseball, which has provided a lot of very exciting games. They hardly get more exciting than last night's American League Game 2, where the umpires booted a call in the bottom of the ninth, giving the White Sox a second chance. Joe Crede took advantage of it by lacing a double to left, scoring A.J. Pierzynski with the winning run. Sox 2, Angels 1. The umpiring crew should get a job with the Bush administration the way they denied the obvious after the game.

Anyway, get off my back, shut up and look at this screen grab of Fred Willard. 1967's TEENAGE MOTHER is one of the most frightening flicks I've seen lately. Not that it's a horror film--it most certainly isn't--even though it gave me the willies just the same. Just make sure you don’t screen this one in mixed company.

What plays for its first hour or so as a routine but outdated (by at least ten years) juvenile delinquency drama decrying the effects of sex education on horny teens takes a turn for the bizarre when director Jerry Gross splices into it an actual birth of a baby. It’s quite jarring to suddenly, without warning, have a close-up of a spread vagina pushed right into your face. Especially one that has been shot with a grainy 16mm camera and the color has faded, leaving an unappetizing pink...mess. Now I'm getting nauseous again. I won't even think about when the baby's head comes out, and the doctors use these giant spaghetti tongs to grab it and yank it out, leaving globs of baby goo in its wake. Can you tell I'm not a parent? Seriously, this movie makes childbirth look like a Nazi experiment.

Erika Petersen arrives in a regular American town from Sweden (!) to teach sex ed at the local high school. Meanwhile, good girl Arlene is dating baseball star Tony, but sometimes flirts with bad boy Duke, who attempts to rape Erika. When Arlene announces that she’s pregnant, her indignant dad blames the school system for teaching her about sex, leading to a town council meeting where the beautiful/horrifying birth film is shown. Now I know why fathers used to hide in the waiting room pacing and smoking cigars.

As usual for this type of film, the performers are much too old for their roles. However, it’s fun to see Fred Willard, later of FERNWOOD 2-NIGHT and many fine film comedies (I most recently saw him in HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE), playing it straight as a baseball coach. I can't wait to meet Willard someday, just so I can say, "Hey, man, you totally kicked ass in TEENAGE MOTHER."

Posted by Marty at 7:55 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, October 13, 2005 7:56 AM CDT
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Saturday, October 8, 2005
Dammit, Toler, You Had To Ask
Read Tolemite's comment in the previous posting to get where this is coming from. Like anyone needs to justify posting pics of a robot Batman. Both covers drawn by Sheldon Moldoff.

Posted by Marty at 2:30 AM CDT
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Friday, October 7, 2005
Holy Crap! Invisible Robots?!

I think this comic book cover just made Tolemite, the world's biggest fan of robots, explode.

In the 13-page story "The Wizard of 1,000 Menaces", the Dynamic Duo does indeed fight foes that are not only robots...but also invisible! Incredible! Long-time Batman artist Sheldon Moldoff drew this cover for DETECTIVE COMICS #306 (August 1962) and pencilled the story, which was inked by Charles Paris. The backup story was a 12-pager starring John Jones, the Manhunter from Mars, who eventually became known as J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter.

Many of today's Batman fans are stunned to see these Silver Age stories, which were a long way from the Dark Knight characterization they're familiar with. It was not unusual for Batman to battle robots, aliens, extra-dimensional beings, monsters, giants or other fantastic foes. Some of them are a lot of fun and are certainly better than the so-called "New Look" Batman created in the mid-'60s.

Those stories, which mostly coincided with the campy ABC TV show, were limply written and drawn, and it wasn't until creators like Denny O'Neil, Neal Adams, Irv Novick, Bob Brown, Frank Robbins and others brought the character back to Earth around 1969 that Batman stories, in BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS, were worth reading again. I think the character hit its peak in those stories of the early- to mid-1970's, when Batman was both a grim avenger of the night and an appealing character with a sense of humor. Batman actually enjoyed his "job", and the writers often created intricate mysteries befitting his nickname of the Darknight Detective. I don't think Batman has done much actual detecting in comics in decades.

For Batman at his best, seek out stories like "Moon of the Wolf" (written by Len Wein and adapted as an episode of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES) in a 100-page BATMAN or "Red Water, Crimson Death" (by O'Neil/Adams) in an atmospheric THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD that featured a "teamup" between Batman and the House of Mystery. The only stories that come close to capturing the atmosphere, scope and mystery of the '70s Batman (later in the decade, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin did an incredible job drawing the character) are the first handful that appeared in DETECTIVE in 1939 and 1940, although Bob Kane's crude artwork, effective as it was at the time, doesn't stand up next to Adams, Brown, Novick, Dick Giordano et al.

Posted by Marty at 11:51 PM CDT
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Thursday, October 6, 2005
Swamp Thing Fights A Robot!

I thought Tolemite especially might get a kick out of this. If you love monsters and you love robots, you'll doubly love SWAMP THING #6, published by DC Comics in 1973. Swamp Thing falls off a cliff and finds himself in a believed-abandoned New England mining town that has been redecorated to resemble a 17th-century Swiss village. It turns out that a scientist who fled Switzerland when the Nazis invaded escaped to the U.S., where he built a town full of benevolent, human-looking androids for company. His peaceful existence ends tragically when The Conclave, a vast criminal organization, tracks Swamp Thing to the town and tries to kidnap the scientist to aid in its own robotics experiments. The old man refuses and is murdered by Conclave goons, who are led by a talking robot controlled from Gotham City by the organization's leader. Swamp Thing kicks the robot's ass, but not before the Conclave goons are murdered by the town's pissed-off androids, which are all destroyed in the process.

As written by Len Wein, drawn by the great Berni Wrightson, and edited by Joe Orlando, the creative team that created Swamp Thing a couple of years earlier in HOUSE OF SECRETS #92, this story, "The Clockwork Horror", is damned good, as were all of the Wein/Wrightson collaborations. I think Wrightson left the book after ten issues and Wein after eleven.

I don't believe SWAMP THING was ever a great seller, but it was excellent and attracted a lot of attention for its high quality. Sales dropped off after Wein and Wrightson left the book, and it was cancelled after #24. The character continued (and still does) to pop up in DC stories, including some oddball, but fun and well-illustrated, teamups with Deadman and the Challengers of the Unknown in the Challs' late-1970's title penned by Gerry Conway and penciled by a young Keith Giffen.

Posted by Marty at 12:28 AM CDT
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Tuesday, October 4, 2005
"I am...Kirrooookkkk!"

I've got a bunch of silly images trapped on my hard drive, so I thought I'd occasionally post one and see how it plays with you.

In the STAR TREK episode "The Paradise Syndrome", Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is stranded on a pretty Earth-like planet populated by aliens who closely resemble American Indians. He bumps his head and gets amnesia, but when he uses 23rd-century first aid to save the life of a young boy, the tribe considers him to be a magical medicine man named "Kirok". He falls in love with the chief's racktastic daughter, Miramanee (Sabrina Scharf), and gets her pregnant.

That's pretty far out for a 1960's adventure show; leading men did not impregnate guest stars every day. Or maybe ever. Of course, the reason for that is that guest stars come and go, but Shatner is going to be back on the Enterprise next week. So you just know Miramanee is doomed.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise, with Spock in command, is backtracking the predicted path of a meteor that is due to smash into the Indian planet. Phaser power is too weak to blow the rock up, but the ship rushes back to the planet at exactly the same time Kirok/Kirk gets his memory back and discovers the Indian temple is actually an asteroid deflector built by the planet's ancestors to knock big rocks out of the orbit path. Miramanee is stoned to death by her tribe, and Kirk mourns her just before he beams back up to the ship.

Yeah, it sounds ridiculous, but most SF plots do out of context. "The Paradise Syndrome" benefits from lovely location shooting, an unusual premise, a good performance by Shatner (who gets to grow out his sideburns for this one episode), the foxy Sabrina Scharf, a rigorous fight scene between Kirk and his romantic rival for Miramanee's affections (Kirk uses his patented two-legged chest kick), and a genuinely emotional finale.

You also get to see Shatner ham it up in war paint, screaming to the gods, "!"

Posted by Marty at 11:51 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, October 5, 2005 11:25 AM CDT
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Damn Yankees
I thought it going in and I'm just as convinced now that the New York Yankees are the front-runners to win the World Series. They looked pretty good against the Los Angeles/California/Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim tonight, winning 4-1. The downside of watching the game is listening to the inanities spewed by Fox broadcasters Tim McCarver and Joe Buck. They demonstrated their cluelessness in the first inning when discussing Yankee manager Joe Torre's decision to start Mike Mussina in Game 1 of the Divisional Series, citing Mussina's experience in postseason Game 1's. While they were talking, Fox posted a stat showing that Mussina had started six Game 1's in his career, but had not pitched particularly well in them. Of course, Buck and McCarver bent over backwards talking about the two starts Mussina actually had pitched well in.

Jeanne Zelasko: worst hair on TV.

I got a flat tire after work last Thursday and it took me until Sunday afternoon to get a new one, basically because I needed a ride to the tire store. It took me a couple of hours Thursday evening to put my spare donut on, because A) my lug wrench snapped in two, and B) none of my neighbors who were home had one that was the right size (after they graciously dug them from their trunks). Finally, another neighbor returned and not only had a wrench that fit my nuts, but also helped take the tire off. It was dark by the time I got the spare on, but when I went to take it on a test drive, I found out that the spare was flat too. Yes, I did some cursing. So I sat on my rear in the apartment all weekend until my dad could come by Sunday and drive me to Wal-Mart, where I shelled out $84 for a new tire. Since I had just the week before received a $75 check from The Hub for writing film reviews, I figured this must be some higher power's idea of a funny joke. Heh.

I'm really liking SUPERNATURAL, even though A) some of the story points stretch believability (the two leads have little trouble getting people to believe their cockamamie stories of ghosts and monsters) and B) it pretty blatantly rips off THE X-FILES, not surprising, perhaps, considering its first three episodes were helmed by two of THE X-FILES' best directors. I like the simple straightforwardness of the storytelling and the relationship between the leading characters, who are brothers and act like it. For instance, in tonight's episode, the older brother got some gunk on his fingers and surreptitiously wiped it off on his brother's suit. There also was some humor between them when one brother discovered the other was afraid of flying, which sucks when you have to board an airplane piloted by a demon that plans to crash it in 40 minutes.

Posted by Marty at 10:47 PM CDT
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Sunday, October 2, 2005
There's No One Left To Fly The Plane!
Now Playing: MAYDAY
Kudos to CBS for being virtually the only television network to continue producing crappy movies for its Sunday night lineup. Following in the lowbrow footsteps of last season's SPRING BREAK SHARK ATTACK and LOCUSTS comes MAYDAY, which aired tonight.

It's based on a novel co-written by Nelson DeMille. I have read most of DeMille's work, including THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER, CATHEDRAL and WORD OF HONOR, but somehow missed this one. If director TJ Scott adapted it accurately, then it doesn't seem as though it was worth reading.

MAYDAY is a movie you've already seen a zillion times, from big-budget studio affairs like AIRPORT 1975 and SKYJACKED (hmmm, both with Charlton Heston) to low-budget DTV schlock like GROUND CONTROL and TURBULENCE 3: HEAVY METAL. It's the 1,583,433rd movie about a novice pilot who takes over the cockpit of a passenger jet and manages to land it with help from the control tower and a stiff-upper-lipped stew. MAYDAY does throw in an interesting twist that I don't think I've seen before, in that the people on the ground don't particularly want the disabled plane to land and try to sabotage it.

Aidan Quinn (BLINK) stars as a "weekend pilot" taking a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo. After the U.S. Navy fires a test missile that accidentally smashes into the passenger jet, ripping a hole in one side of the fuselage and exiting through another on the other side, most of the passengers and crew are either sucked out 65,000 feet above the Earth or in an oxygen-deprivation coma. Only a handful of able-bodied passengers remain, including Quinn and stewardess Kelly Hu (X-MEN 2).

The radio is out, so Quinn can only communicate with the authorities in San Fran via a datalink that involves text messaging. Unfortunately, an icy insurance executive (Gail O'Grady of AMERICAN DREAMS) convinces an oily airline executive (Sasha Roiz) that it would be better off for their companies--and certainly cheaper--if the airplane were to crash, so they IM false instructions to Quinn.

Meanwhile, the dumbass Naval commander (Dean Cain, the 21st-century Dack Rambo) that fired the missile also wants to cover up his mishap, so he orders his fighter pilots to blow the jet out of the sky. His superior officer (Charles S. "Roc" Dutton, currently starring in CBS' THRESHOLD) seems opposed to it, but he doesn't exactly exert himself to stop Cain.

All the cliches are here, and it says something about the cast that they almost make you believe what's going on, even though director Scott provides zero suspense and the story is ludicrous (I mean, really, how did the airline think it was going to cover up its instructions to Quinn to turn off his engines?). The crummy CGI effects would have been laughable in a LAND OF THE LOST episode thirty years ago and make one long for a return to three-dimensional miniature effects.

CBS is back at it next week with THE HUNT FOR THE BTK KILLER, a "ripped from the headlines" docudrama in the mode of THE ATLANTA CHILD MURDERS with Martin Sheen and THE CASE OF THE HILLSIDE STRANGLERS with Richard Crenna. Few famous serial killers haven't been the focus of a made-for-television movie. With Gregg Henry (BODY DOUBLE) playing the notorious Kansas killer "BTK" and Robert Forster (JACKIE BROWN) as a detective, this film should at least offer some solid acting chops, even though the true-life story doesn't seem to offer much in the way of TV-style dramatics. After all, the cops more or less accidentally caught the guy when he was dumb enough to leave evidence on a computer he was using at his church.

Posted by Marty at 10:48 PM CDT
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Saturday, October 1, 2005
Dr. Tongue's 3D House of Slave Chicks
Now Playing: SCTV
I've been watching more SCTV lately, since Shout! Factory has released their fourth volume of episodes. This box offers shows that aired on NBC's late Friday night schedule from November 1982 to March 1983. Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis and Catherine O'Hara had left the show by this point, and their absence is sorely missed on these episodes, even though Martin Short had been added to the cast to pick up some slack. There were still some good shows this season, but SCTV was not as consistently good as it was in their pre-Short 90-minute episodes (not that Short is to blame).

I say this, even while admitting that the season's first episode is one of the show's best. The premise is that a strike of SCTV technicians has spurred owner Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty) to simulcast programming from the CBC--the Canadian Broadcasting Company. Flaherty and Short wrote much of the material for this episode, which brilliantly and painstakingly parodies typical Canadian TV shows, such as HINTERLAND WHO'S WHO, a series of 60-second wildlife films, HEADLINE CHALLENGE, a very dull and slow-moving panel quiz show, and an amazing spin on GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD, a low-budget 1970 Canadian film hardly known in the U.S., but a major critical and cultural smash in its homeland. This episode's writing is so strong that it isn't necessary to be familiar with the shows being spoofed, just so long as you get the premise that A) Canadian television is boring, B) there are few major Canadian TV stars, and C) Canadians suffer from low self-esteem when compared to their American neighbors.

Another episode I recently saw guest-starred Robin Williams in a clever movie parody called THE BOWERY BOYS IN THE BAND, which puts Slip (Williams as Leo Gorcey), Sach (Short as Huntz Hall), Whitey (John Candy as Billy Benedict) and Louie (Flaherty as Bernard Gorcey) into the middle of William Friedkin's gay-themed THE BOYS IN THE BAND. Something I wondered about this and other SCTV episodes is how well their humor has aged. Meaning that, as funny as THE BOWERY BOYS IN THE BAND is, it's surely incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't know who the Bowery Boys are or what THE BOYS IN THE BAND is, which is, of course, nearly everybody under the age of 30.

I never saw a Bowery Boys movie until just a few years ago. I remember seeing countless listings in TV Guide when I was a kid for Bowery Boys movies airing on WGN-TV in Chicago. Unfortunately, I lived in a town that was so small that it didn't get cable television until I was well into high school. And I don't recall WGN still running the Bowery Boys after that, or else I probably would have seen them. Aside from some public domain titles with Bela Lugosi that have appeared, I don't think any of their work is on DVD, except perhaps for some of their early 1930's A-pictures when they were called the East Side Kids. But I'm talking about the Monogram programmers the Boys churned out four or five times a year. Every once in awhile, Turner Classic Movies airs some, but it's pretty rare.

I know Cheeseburger has already tuned out by now. Anytime I talk about a movie or TV show more than five years old, she stops reading. That's right--I'm calling you out, Cheeseburger.

I also started watching one of my few recent DVD purchases: THE DICK CAVETT SHOW: ROCK ICONS. August 18, 1969 would appear to be an historic date in television history. That's the night Jefferson Airplane performed "We Can Be Together" and uttered the word "motherfucker" on network television, probably the first time that had ever happened. The occasion was Woodstock, and the Airplane, Stephen Stills and David Crosby flew directly from the Woodstock stage to New York City to go on Cavett's late-night ABC talk show, which was competing with THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW for #2 in the timeslot behind THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON. Joni Mitchell, who famously did not appear at Woodstock specifically so she would be fresh for her Cavett appearance, sang four songs that night, Stills did one, and Jefferson Airplane three.

Shout! Factory has done a nice job with the episodes I've seen so far. What they have done is cherry-picked episodes in which famous rock stars performed, but instead of just editing together clips, they have elected to air the complete 90-minute episodes, so we can judge the performances in their proper context. This allows us to more fully absorb the history and the setting, and Cavett's unusual interviewing format, in which all the guests sat together in a semi-circle so everyone could participate, allowed, say, Sly Stone and tennis great Pancho Gonzalez to chat.

Speaking of Sly Stone, his appearance on this DVD set is interesting because he was so coked out at the time. Sly and the Family Stone do a kickass version of "Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Again)", but Sly's chat with Cavett is nigh incomprehensible. He comes off as friendly, polite and even intelligent, but it's obvious that his well-publicized drug problem was in full swing.

The third episode I have watched so far came near the end of Cavett's ABC run, after the network cut him back to one week per month under its WIDE WORLD OF ENTERTAINMENT umbrella. His shows were just a half-hour, which barely gave David Bowie, in a very rare TV appearance, time to sing two songs ("1984" and "Young Americans") and chat with Dick. I'm not a Bowie fan, but he was on fire that night, and his talk with Cavett--the first time many of his fans had ever seen him in conversation--is delightful.

Cavett has had several TV shows, including one in the 1990s on CNBC. The 1969-74 late-night show contained here is probably his best. What's interesting about watching them now is how unhip he was and how comfortable the rock stars seem to be with him. Cavett was not a fan of rock and roll, and, in fact, didn't even know who Jefferson Airplane was. But unlike many other interviewers, he doesn't condescend to them, and doesn't ask a bunch of stupid questions. I believe he was genuinely curious about them, even if he does occasionally fall back on stock questions ("What do your parents do for a living?").

THE DICK CAVETT SHOW is a neat artifact from a period in television when people actually came on talk shows to talk. In the three shows I watched, not one guest was there to plug a movie, a show, an album or anything else. If it came out naturally that Bowie was on tour or that Debbie Reynolds was doing a stage show, fine, but that was just part of the conversation. Senator Fred Harris from Oklahoma, who later unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1976, came on with his wife, a Comanche, to talk about current events and Native American rights. When's the last time a little-known politician appeared with Dave, Jay or Conan to talk about issues?

It's also fun to see these shows with the benefit of hindsight. When Jefferson Airplane did "We Can Be Together" and "Volunteers", no one in the audience had heard them because the album hadn't been released yet. So while we know the songs well (and both kick major ass), it was new music to everyone in the studio and at home, and it's fun to eavesdrop on that sense of discovery.

Janis Joplin appeared in three episodes that are on the second disc in the box set, and George Harrison, Paul Simon and a 20-year-old Stevie Wonder are on Disc Three. Should be fun.

Posted by Marty at 11:20 PM CDT
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Wednesday, September 28, 2005
That's The Second Coolest Thermos I've Ever Seen
Now Playing: INVASION
The death of Don Adams this week reminded me that I own an actual GET SMART thermos that dates back to 1966.

That's not actually my thermos, but one just like mine that I found listed on eBay. I also have a cool metal THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN lunchbox.

I hope I haven't just killed Lee Majors.

Posted by Marty at 10:45 PM CDT
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Monday, September 26, 2005
Missed By That Much

Just a few days after sitcom legend Bob Denver (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) passed away comes news of another death: Don Adams, the Emmy-winning star of GET SMART!

Unlike many fans, I didn't get to grow up with GET SMART!, since it was never rerun on any TV station in the Champaign-Urbana market. I remember seeing a couple of episodes in motels while on family vacations, but it wasn't until TV Land began airing it in the 1990's that I got to see GET SMART! on a regular basis. Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, neither of whom had anything to do with the series after the pilot, GET SMART! is perhaps the only commercially successful spoof in TV history. Series like POLICE SQUAD, WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN (another Brooks show) and SLEDGE HAMMER! followed in GET SMART!'s footsteps, but none came anywhere near the five-season run or multiple Emmy trophies of their predecessor.

I actually came to know Adams through his voicing of Tennessee Tuxedo, a wisecracking penguin who teamed up with a dumb walrus named Chumbley on a popular cartoon series I watched a lot as a kid. He also appeared on the box and in commercials for an Aurora toy called Skittle Pool; I understand Adams won a Clio for directing the commercial.

GET SMART! is a marvelously clever TV series, a spoof of the many spy movies and shows that were so popular at the time, ranging from the James Bond movies to THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. Adams was idiotic CONTROL agent Maxwell Smart, a bumbler who always somehow managed to stop the nefarious plans of rival spy agency KAOS, usually with the assistance of his gorgeous partner, Agent 99, played by the brainy and beautiful Barbara Feldon.

Catchphrases like "Would you believe...?", "Missed by that much" and "Sorry about that, Chief" became widely imitated, and running gags like the Cone of Silence and other wild gadgetry were hallmarks of the series. But most of all, GET SMART! was successful because of its star. Adams never really did much after GET SMART! went off the air, perhaps because of typecasting. He was certainly a very talented comic actor, a master of the double take and able to wring every last laugh out of a gag by punctuating the lines with that distinctive Maxwell Smart voice (which was not how Adams regularly talked, by the way).

Adams reprised the character in THE NUDE BOMB, which was one of the first (but not the first) times the cast of a successful television show got to star in a theatrically released sequel. Motion picture remakes of old TV shows are common today, but this was an example of a reunion movie being made for theaters, and was perhaps inspired by STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE. Universal released it with a PG rating in 1980, and it was not a critical or box office hit, probably because GET SMART!'s supporting cast, including Feldon, Dick Gautier (Hymie the Robot), Bernie Kopell (Siegfried) and King Moody (Starker) were not included in the film. Feldon's absence was a particularly stiff blow to GET SMART fans, and the cheap production values (the Universal tour plays a large part in the action) and clunker-filled script didn't give Adams much to chew on. Adams also came back to play Smart in the very good made-for-TV sequel GET SMART AGAIN! (which wisely featured the old cast, including Feldon) and in the short-lived 1995 Fox TV series GET SMART, in which Adams and Feldon played the parents of a new bumbling CONTROL agent, played by, of all people, Andy Dick (NEWSRADIO).

GET SMART! is scheduled for a DVD release early next year. It's a shame Adams didn't live to see them come out, but let's hope he was available to participate in some bonus features for the DVD. He apparently has been in ill health for several years now, and, at age 82, it seems unlikely he could have been too active with the DVDs, but it certainly would be a wonderful bonus for those of us who appreciated his fine talent.

Posted by Marty at 11:25 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, September 26, 2005 11:36 PM CDT
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