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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Monday, February 27, 2006
You Can't Catch Me On The Grade
Goddammit. Would someone please stop killing all of our badass 80-year-old actors? Whoever took the quickenings of Don Knotts, Darren McGavin and Dennis Weaver is a helluva lot stronger...and cooler...tonight, that's for sure.

Dennis Weaver died of cancer this weekend at the age of 81. Weaver was one of my first "favorite actors". When I was a kid, he was starring in two of my favorite TV series: MCCLOUD and GENTLE BEN, which was then in morning syndication and a show I watched every morning before walking to school.

MCCLOUD is likely the show Weaver is best known for. Premiering on NBC in 1970. it was loosely based on the Clint Eastwood film COOGAN'S BLUFF and starred Weaver as Sam McCloud, a laconic detective from Taos, New Mexico and frustrates his high-strung boss (the late J.D. Cannon) with his unusual approach to fighting big-city crime. Originally part of the FOUR-IN-ONE umbrella series and then folded into the enormously successful NBC SUNDAY MYSTERY MOVIE (in which several different series, including COLUMBO, rotated in the same time slot), MCCLOUD lasted for seven seasons and was good fun, mixing action, mystery and light humor. The first season is out on DVD, so check it out if you're interested.

Weaver starred in, I believe, eight different TV series, including the early years of GUNSMOKE as lame deputy Chester, KENTUCKY JONES as a kindly veterinarian and the currently running WILDFIRE on ABC Family. I was a big fan of GENTLE BEN, in which Weaver played an Everglades park ranger with a son named Mark (Clint Howard) who had a pet bear named Ben. It has recently be remade with Dean Cain in the Weaver role, but I'd like to see the original '60s series in reruns.

Weaver also appeared in several movies, his most notable obviously being DUEL, which was Steven Spielberg's first film (made for television) and a thriller masterpiece that benefits from Spielberg's expert direction, Richard Matheson's taut teleplay, Billy Goldenberg's jangly score, and Weaver's marvelously tense performance. It takes a lot of effort for a TV leading man to portray a wimp, but Weaver was smart enough to check his ego at the door and turn in a strong performance in a monumental film. He sort of recycled the role in the later TERROR ON THE BEACH, in which Weaver and his family are stalked on their camping trip by teenage hooligans (THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY's Susan Dey plays his nubile daughter). If you'd like to remember Dennis Weaver this week, you might do so with DUEL (also on DVD), which also remains one of the best films of Spielberg's canon.

Posted by Marty at 10:51 PM CST
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Sunday, February 26, 2006
More R.I.P.
We're having lovely weather in Champaign, but the skies are still darker after the deaths this weekend of two wonderful actors: Don Knotts and Darren McGavin.

Here's an image I cribbed from the Internet of Knotts winning one of the five Emmy Awards he earned for playing one of television's seminal sitcom sidekicks: deputy Barney Fife on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW (also in the photograph are fellow Emmy winners Carl Reiner of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and Peter Falk of THE DICK POWELL SHOW).

You can read more about Knotts here if you like. We all know about Barney Fife and Mr. Furley, the sleazy, twitchy landlord he played on THREE'S COMPANY, but let's not forget his pre-Fife appearances as one of Steve Allen's comic repertory on THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW or from the many movies he starred in for Universal in the late 1960's (after leaving the Griffith show) and for Disney in the 1970's. I have great memories of going to the theater as a kid (usually the Lyric in Monticello or the Widescreen Drive-In in Urbana) to see Knotts in THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG, HOT LEAD & COLD FEET, NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN, THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG RIDES AGAIN and, my favorite, GUS about the donkey that kicks field goals. Knotts also starred with his APPLE DUMPLING partner Tim Conway in two other films that I also saw theatrically, THE PRIZE FIGHTER and THE PRIVATE EYES.

I can't imagine growing up without Don Knotts on television or at the movies, and I'm glad we have DVDs to remind us of how funny he was. Attaboy, Luther!

Darren McGavin was also a television favorite, whether you remember him from playing Mike Hammer in the 1950's, a down-and-out private eye in THE OUTSIDER (which may have been an influence on THE ROCKFORD FILES) in the 1960's, many made-for-TV movies and guest appearances in the '70s and '80s, or for his memorable guest shots on THE X-FILES (as former FBI agent Arthur Dales) and MILLENNIUM (as Lance Henriksen's father in the terrific episode "The Curse of Frank Black") in the '90s. Chances are, you associate McGavin with his greatest role: the charming and doggedly determined monster-hunting journalist Carl Kolchak in the highly rated TV-movies THE NIGHT STALKER and THE NIGHT STRANGLER, as well as the TV series KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, which ran 20 episodes on ABC during the 1974-75 season.

It's not an exaggeration to say that everyone has been affected by a McGavin performance, particularly that of the taste-challenged, gruff, but loving father in A CHRISTMAS STORY, which will be viewed by families during the holiday season for the next century. He bounced between TV, films and the stage since the 1940's, appearing in hundreds of productions as a leading man or character actor. He starred in seven TV series, including RIVERBOAT, where he shared a contentious relationship with young co-star Burt Reynolds, and several miniseries, including a six-hour adaptation of Ray Bradbury's THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES that I was drawn to as a lad. Not long ago, I watched him being outsmarted by a seductive Barbara Bain and the rest of the Impossible Missions Force in "The Seal", a memorable MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE episode in which the IMF uses a trained cat to help steal the McGuffin.

Coincidentally, Knotts and McGavin worked together in two films for Walt Disney: HOT LEAD & COLD FEET and NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN.

Posted by Marty at 2:42 PM CST
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Thursday, February 23, 2006
Odds 'N' Ends
For some reason today, I was thinking about THE MONEY MAZE, which is one of those TV shows that nobody would believe ever existed if it weren't for that handful of us who actually saw it. When I was a kid, game shows were huge on daytime TV, and whenever I was home sick from school (in the days before home video, home computers, etc.), I'd spend the day watching them. MONEY MAZE I got to see more often, because it came on late in the afternoon, and it was sometimes still on after I walked home from school.

MONEY MAZE is notable for three things: its unusual concept, its gigantic set, and its host. MONEY MAZE is the only game show hosted by Nick Clooney, then a Cincinnati news anchor whose son George reportedly often worked behind the scenes. Clooney became more famous later on as a personality for American Movie Classics, but he'll always be host of THE MONEY MAZE to me.

The setup was basically like this, best as I remember it. A married couple were the contestants. The set was a large maze, and within the maze were five buttons. The wife stood on a platform above the maze, and yelled at the husband, ordering him which direction to go. Four of the five buttons lit up a "zero" and the fifth was a "one". Within the time limit (60 seconds?), the husband had to run through the maze, following directions hollered by his wife, and find and press as many of the buttons as he could. The best you could do was to light up 1-0-0-0-0, which would win you $10,000. If you got only three, say 1-0-0, you won $100. Of course, you could get all four zeros, which would win you $0, so you had to get that 1 no matter what.

I believe you had to compete in a Q-and-A game with another couple to win the chance to enter the maze. Game shows aren't exactly known for having a lot of action, so it was fun as a kid to see people running around this ridiculous maze, especially when the husbands would fuck up and get reamed by their old ladies.

The ratings were apparently not that great, but few game shows were successful airing in the late afternoon. It was also an expensive show, because it was taped in New York City and other shows needed to use the studio. The time and expense of taking the massive maze set down and putting it back up to tape later shows was too prohibitive for a show that was not tearing up the ratings, so ABC cancelled the show after about seven months. I'm surprised no one has ever tried to revive it, because it's a great idea. LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN announcer Alan Kalter was the MONEY MAZE announcer; maybe he could even host a new version.

I also read online today that CBS News correspondent Christopher Glenn was retiring at the age of 67. As you can see at that link, Glenn covered many important stories in his 35 years at CBS, but I think the most important thing he ever did were the IN THE NEWS segments that used to air on Saturday mornings. Watching Saturday-morning cartoons was a big part of my life when I was a kid, but what sticks with me longer than most of those shows is IN THE NEWS, which were 60-second news segments that explained current events in a clear, precise manner than children could comprehend. They weren't dumbed down for kids, but Glenn's comforting voice and straightforward storytelling ability ensured that my brother and I didn't change the channel while "the news" was on.

I was thrilled to see Glenn speak once at an Illinois News Broadcasters Association convention. He, of course, led an interesting life and had much to say and to teach about news gathering, but I wanted to know about IN THE NEWS. I was happy to hear from him that IN THE NEWS was something he was very proud of and one of his favorite jobs at CBS. I wonder if he'll ever know how important it was to some of us.

I'm considering what would, for me, be a major lifestyle change, and that's an earlier bedtime. I've always been something of a night owl. Even in high school, I rarely got to bed before midnight on a school night. During most of my adult life, my working hours in radio took place after dark, so it was not unusual for me to go to bed anytime between 4:00-8:00am and get up after noon. When I began working 8-5 at Horizon Hobby five years ago, my sleep schedule shifted dramatically (my work hours at my previous job were 2:00-7:00pm), but I still hardly ever get to bed before midnight. I'm going to be 39 in April, and I notice that I'm often drowsy at work. Maybe it's just that the temperature is always too high or maybe it's the lethargy of sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day. Or maybe I should get more than seven (maximum) hours of sleep at night.

Oh, I don't expect to be hitting the hay at 10:30pm every night, not with so much to write, so many books to read, so many friends to hang out with, so many crappy movies to watch. But maybe an occasional early bedtime wouldn't hurt. I don't even remember the last "school night" that I got eight hours of sleep.

On iTunes shuffle:
"Crack in the Cosmic Egg"--Totty
"Mud in Your Eye"--Les Fleur de Lys
"A Question of Temperature"--The Balloon Farm
"Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey"--Paul & Linda McCartney
"Good Connection"--Five By Five
"Norwegian Wood"--The Beatles
"Little Sister"--Elvis Presley
"Dracula Restored"--Hans J. Salter from HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
LOST IN SPACE Season One theme--John Williams
"Peacefully Asleep"--Life 'N' Soul
"Blacula Strikes!"--Gene Page from BLACULA
"Idea"--The Bee Gees
"Prodigal Son"--The Rolling Stones

Posted by Marty at 10:56 PM CST
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Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Hunting 20 Men And 1 Woman
What is it with these TV guys that, when they get the chance to break free from network censorship, they go hog wild with the sleaze and gore? Dennis Donnelly, best known for static Jack Webb productions like EMERGENCY, made the ultra-sleazy THE TOOLBOX MURDERS. John Peyser (THE RAT PATROL) directed THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS; Guerdon Trueblood, the nihilistic THE CANDY SNATCHERS. Don Medford began directing episodic television in the 1950's. One of the very few features he was able to direct was THE HUNTING PARTY, a violent, unlikable western obviously influenced by THE WILD BUNCH.

THE HUNTING PARTY was also produced and written by men with television backgrounds who went out of their way to copy not only Peckinpah, but also the popular Italian westerns of the period, even to the point of shooting on location in the Spanish desert and hiring Riz Ortolani to compose the score. They also made sure to bring plenty of blood bags to squib.

Oliver Reed plays Frank, an illiterate outlaw who kidnaps prim schoolteacher Melissa (Candice Bergen) so she can teach him to read. Her husband is Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman), an impotent, sadistic cattle baron out with his rich buddies on an annual hunting party. Like Dick Cheney, who hunts little birds from a car, Ruger and his pals do their hunting from Brandt's private train, complete with a brothel car (and a Chinese hooker whom Brandt tortures). When Ruger learns that his wife, whom he treats no differently than the cattle he raises for slaughter, has been snatched, he and his party track Frank and his gang into the desert, armed with state-of-the-art rifles that can hit their target from 800 yards. This is no hunt. It's a massacre. Meanwhile, as Frank attempts to stay 801 yards ahead of his trackers, Melissa comes down with a serious case of Stockholm syndrome, falling in love with her kidnapper (and rapist), even choosing to escape with him when given a chance to return to her husband.

Medford opens the film with a crosscut between Frank and his gang slaughtering a cow and Brandt attempting unsuccessful rough sex with his wife. I'm sure there's some sort of message there, but THE HUNTING PARTY is only as memorable as it is for its gore content, squibs blasting fake blood in all directions, sometimes in slow motion. Hackman, billed third behind Reed and Bergen, was soon to become a major star when THE FRENCH CONNECTION opened a few months later. The supporting cast is littered with familiar faces like Mitchell Ryan (DHARMA & GREG), L.Q. Jones, G.D. Spradlin and William Watson, but the film's best performance is by Simon Oakland, who goes along with his friend Hackman's obsessive manhunt, but comes to regret it later.

It was nice of MGM to release THE HUNTING PARTY on a nice letterboxed DVD, but there are other titles in their library more deserving of treatment. Like THE GREEN SLIME.

On iTunes:
"Knock Three Times"--Tony Orlando & Dawn
"Man with a Harmonica"--Ennio Morricone from ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
Theme from THE EDDIE CAPRA MYSTERIES--John Addison
"Red Nova"--Stu Phillips from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
"International Flight"--David Snell
"What Are You Going to Do?"--The Moving Sidewalks
"Crimson and Clover"--Tommy James & the Shondells

Posted by Marty at 10:58 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, February 22, 2006 11:01 PM CST
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Monday, February 20, 2006
He's Clean, He's Mean, He's The Go-Between
Now Playing: ST. IVES
Sorry the Crane Shot has been silent lately. I was out of town over the weekend attending LD's wedding. Cheeseburger and Shark Hunter were kind enough to offer accomodations, and a good time was had by all.

The only crappy movie I was able to see while away was VAMPIRES: THE TURNING, which is, surprisingly, a sequel to 1998's JOHN CARPENTER'S VAMPIRES, a meanspirited and occasionally entertaining vampire western with a spirited, foulmouthed performance by James Woods as a badass vampire hunter. Carpenter wasn't involved with the direct-to-video sequel, VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS, which starred Jon Bon Jovi, of all people. I didn't see that one, but it had to have been better than 2005's VAMPIRES: THE TURNING, a confusing, dull and illogical DTV sequel with a colorless cast.

Last night I watched VOLUNTEERS, which I had never seen for some reason. Now I know why: it isn't very good. It should have been. Tom Hanks and John Candy reunite the year after SPLASH was a big hit, CHEERS writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs did the screenplay, and Nicholas Meyer, hot off TIME AFTER TIME and STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, directed it. Of course, Meyer isn't exactly known for rollicking comedy, and VOLUNTEERS is pretty flat. Tim Thomerson is really good as a psycho CIA agent, and Hanks has some nice chemistry with Gedde Watanabe (GUNG HO), but oddly gets nothing going with Candy. Hanks met his wife-to-be Rita Wilson on this film, so at least it worked out for somebody. There are a handful of clever sight gags, and a couple of lines made me laugh, but Hanks' character is an unlikeable jag, and there isn't much funny here.

Also, thanks to Netflix, I caught up with a Charles Bronson movie I hadn't seen. ST. IVES was the first of nine movies Bronson made with director J. Lee Thompson. In it, he plays a professional "go-between" (I don't know how you get that gig) named Raymond St. Ives who is hired by wealthy crook John Houseman to ransom some ledgers stolen from Houseman's safe. Of course, no job is as easy as it seems, and when Bronson shows up at the ransom site with $100,000 and finds no ledgers, but a dead guy in a dryer, he realizes this gig isn't going to be the cakewalk he was hoping for. He does eventually sleep with Jacqueline Bisset, which you would imagine would make the whole ordeal worthwhile. What's really cool about ST. IVES, in addition to the punchy Lalo Schifrin score, is the supporting cast. If you watched more than five movies made during the 1970's, you've seen most of the performers before. Harry Guardino (THE ENFORCER), Dana Elcar (BARETTA) and Harris Yulin (NIGHT MOVES) play cops. Maximilian Schell gets "guest star" billing as a shrink. Michael Lerner (BARTON FINK) is a lawyer. Elisha Cook (THE MALTESE FALCON) is a hotel clerk. Daniel J. Travanti (HILL STREET BLUES), Burr DeBenning (THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN), Val Bisoglio (QUINCY, M.E.), Dick O'Neill (CAGNEY & LACEY), George Memmoli (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE), stuntman Dar Robinson and Olan Soule (the voice of Batman on SUPERFRIENDS) are in it too. You'll also see Robert Englund and Jeff Goldblum (also in Bronson's DEATH WISH) in small roles.

Warners' DVD looks really nice and even includes a couple of extras: the original theatrical trailer (widescreen and in good shape) and a short promotional featurette made during production called BRONSON ST. IVES that basically details how awesome and popular Charles Bronson is. Good stuff.

On iTunes:
"Train on a One Track Mind"--American Breed
"Do You Feel It Too?"--Monkees
BULLITT Main Title--Lalo Schifrin
"Walking Out on Love"--The Beat
"How About Now"--King Richard & the Knights
BARNEY MILLER--Jack Elliott & Allyn Ferguson
"Change Is Now"--The Byrds
"Video Killed the Radio Star"--The Buggles
"Motorcycle Circus"--Luis Bacalov from KILL BILL
"Teach Your Children"--Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
"When You Find Out"--The Nerves
"Space Oddity"--David Bowie

Posted by Marty at 11:49 PM CST
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Thursday, February 16, 2006
What If It Was Your Sister?
Now Playing: TRACKDOWN
Here's a rarity for you. TRACKDOWN appears to have been an independently produced action movie released by United Artists in 1976, but it has never been released on home video in any form, and it's unlikely that it'll ever be at this point. My copy isn't the greatest quality--it's a fuzzy television print with a missing rape scene--but where else am I going to see this movie?

Big Jim Mitchum stars as Big Jim Calhoun, a Montana rancher who journeys to the big, bad city of Los Angeles to hunt his teenage runaway sister Betsy (Karen Lamm, married to Dennis Wilson at the time). Like many a youngster who runs away to Hollywood, Betsy runs afoul of some bad dudes. First she's ripped off by a Latino street gang, but when one of the gang members, Chucho (Erik Estrada, who's good here), feels sorry for her, he gets her a decent job, takes her dancing, and then back to his place for lovin'. Then she's abducted by Chucho's alleged pals, gangraped, drugged, and sold into hood Johnny Dee's (Vince Cannon) stable of call girls.

The head madam, the classy Barbara (beautiful Anne Archer), manages to convince the 17-year-old Betsy that prostitution is a big barrel of laughs, which it appears to be (lots of nice clothes, extravagant parties and partying with rock stars), until one of Dee's pals gets a little too rough with her.

Meanwhile, Jim, after getting nowhere with the cops, crashes through the streets of Hollywood like an ox in a china shop before finally teaming up with Chucho and women's shelter director Lynn (Cathy Lee Crosby) for more rough stuff, but of a more organized nature.

TRACKDOWN isn't anything special, but it isn't a bad timewaster either. The first half is a bit short on action and is too much like the superior HARDCORE, but director Richard T. Heffron (NEWMAN'S LAW) really picks things up in the second half with an exciting shootout inside an elevator shaft and a fiery desert climax. Mitchum isn't the world's greatest actor, but he looks like he really can kick plenty of ass.

TRACKDOWN features a supporting actor named John Kerry, has a closing theme song performed by Kenny Rogers, and features a story credit for Ivan Nagy, who later married Heidi Fleiss.

Posted by Marty at 11:10 PM CST
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Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Guy Walks Into A Talent Agent's Office...
THE ARISTOCRATS is the most foul, profane film I've seen in a long time. Maybe ever. It's also blisteringly funny and, yes, even educational as an insider's look at how comedy works and how comedians think. Unlike the good COMEDIAN, which examined how comics like Jerry Seinfeld prepare for their standup act, THE ARISTOCRATS takes a look at one joke from the perspective of dozens of the finest comic minds in the world (Albert Brooks, Seinfeld, Bill Cosby, and Robert Klein are notably absent).

The joke is legendary among comedians, who rarely if ever tell the joke onstage as part of their act. Rather, they use it to entertain each other as a sort of folk tale that passes along from generation to generation. Kind of like the Uncle Remus of jokes. As is mentioned in the documentary, the art of the joke comes from "the singer, not the song". It's structured like a piece of jazz, to be riffed and improvised to the artist's content. All the comedian needs to do is begin and end the joke the same way. It's the filling that's the point.

The joke begins more or less with, "A man walks into a talent agent's office." He tells the agent he has an act. The agent says, "OK, you've got two minutes. Show me what you've got." The punchline--eventually--is the agent asking the name of the act, and the man answering, "The Aristocrats." In between these bookends, the joke teller embarks on a pathological, scatological litany of grossness intended to make the audience's ears bleed. No bodily fluid, no taboo, no sexual act, no vocabulary is verboten. The point is to describe the most tasteless, bizarre, disturbing act possible, usually involving shitting, pissing, bestiality, incest, you name it.

Director Paul Provenza and co-producer Penn Jillette, well-known comics themselves, took their cameras all over the country, recording famous comedians of all ages telling the joke, relating when they first heard it and who told it to them, and their philosophy behind its humor. Some just tell it straight out. Some, like Larry Storch (F TROOP) and Hank Azaria, use funny accents. Kevin Pollak does it with a Christopher Walken impression (the DVD extras include a clip of him doing it as Albert Brooks, which might be the most fucking brilliant piece of video on the entire disc). Sarah Silverman tells it as if she were one of the Aristocrats and claims she was raped as a little girl by talk-show host Joe Franklin. Richard Lewis says the joke is "a piece of shit." Chris Rock not only doesn't tell it, he doesn't appear to see the point of it. It sounds strange coming from the softspoken Rita Rudner. One highlight is Tommy Smothers telling it to his brother Dick, who amazingly has never before heard it and doesn't think it's funny. Martin Mull tells a different joke using "Aristocrats" as a punchline, which I appreciated because I recognized it as the "Bongo Bongo" joke that I heard back in the 1970's and have never heard anyone else besides me tell in the decades since.

Some of the bigger names pissing, shitting and fucking all over this joke in the film are Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, George Carlin, Drew Carey, Paul Reiser (extremely funny), Jason Alexander and Don Rickles. It was fun seeing older comics like Phyllis Diller, Chuck McCann (also really funny), Rip Taylor, Eric Idle, David Brenner, and Shelley Berman going at it. Also appearing: Bill Maher, Allan Havey, David Steinberg, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Dom Irrera, Larry Miller, David Steinberg...pretty much anyone who's done standup on THE TONIGHT SHOW anytime within the last thirty years.

The biggest laughs are reserved for Bob Saget (who did a similarly sick and hilarious guest shot on ENTOURAGE recently), whose inventively sick rendition would make the heads of his FULL HOUSE fans explode, and Gilbert Gottfried, who told it a couple of weeks after September 11, 2001 at a Friars Club roast and brought the audience to its knees with laughter.

THE ARISTOCRATS is dedicated to Johnny Carson, who reportedly loved the joke and was a friend of sorts to nearly everyone in the picture. Dana Gould tells the joke with a funny Carson impression that feels appropriate.

The movie was released unrated--it certainly would have gotten an NC-17 from the MPAA--and it isn't for prudes. It is essential for students of comedy and for those who aren't afraid of bad taste.

Posted by Marty at 9:38 PM CST
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Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Audience Of One
I was watching 24 on Fox the other night, and was stunned to see Allan Havey in a promo for a new sitcom. It's called FREE RIDE, and I'm sure it sucks (being a Fox sitcom and all), but I'll have to tune in to at least the first episode to see Havey as the wacky dad.

Allan Havey is--or was (I haven't seen him in ages)--a standup comic who achieved his biggest stardom in the early 1990's as host of NIGHT AFTER NIGHT WITH ALLAN HAVEY on Comedy Central. NIGHT AFTER NIGHT is the greatest talk show that you never heard of. It ran one hour in length and was pretty low-key and very funny. It had no band, a small budget, a comfortable but low-tech set. Besides host Havey, the only regular was announcer Nick Bakay (who left to become the announcer on the shortlived THE DENNIS MILLER SHOW).

There was no studio audience per se. Instead, NIGHT AFTER NIGHT had an Audience of One. That's right, viewers could write in with the hope of being chosen to be Allan's Audience of One for a show. The Audience of One sat in a comfortable theater seat roped off with those cool velvet ropes and watched the taping. They also got to chat a bit and be seen on the air with Allan.

Unlike other talk shows not hosted by Carson (still on THE TONIGHT SHOW then) or Letterman, NIGHT AFTER NIGHT had little trouble getting good guests, a surprise considering how few viewers Comedy Central had at the time. I remember seeing Joel Hodgson, William Shatner, Gary Busey...lots of standup comics (I think Jerry Seinfeld was even on once)...Kevin Pollak. OK, so none of these guys is A-list material (not even Seinfeld was then), but that's a pretty good lineup.

NIGHT AFTER NIGHT was an interesting, innovative series, and television could use more talk shows like it. Comedy Central had some interesting shows on those days...MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, of course...SHORT ATTENTION SPAN THEATER...Paul Provenza had a half-hour talk show where he interviewed only comedians...I think Alan King had a show...lots of standup comedy on THE A-LIST and STAND-UP, STAND-UP. But there's no question that NIGHT AFTER NIGHT WITH ALLAN HAVEY is beloved by almost everyone who saw it.

It took Havey more than a decade to get another regular TV gig, so take advantage of it while you can. I think FREE RIDE debuts March 1 after AMERICAN IDOL. Let's hope it doesn't blow too badly. Now if we could just find Brian Regan a job...

Posted by Marty at 11:43 PM CST
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Monday, February 13, 2006
iTunes: In Color!
"I've Never Seen Evergreen"--Fever Tree
"I Don't Think You Know Me At All"--The Monkees
"Magic Bus"--The Who
"Gimme Shelter"--Josefus
"Kim Cattrall"--MST3K
"Death Angel"--Substantial Evidence
Theme from THE F.B.I.
"Brightest Lights"--Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends
"Wheel"--Space Farm
"Una Storia Indiana"--Ennio Morricone from NAVAJO JOE
"Come Back to Me"--String and the Beans
"(P.Y.T.) Pretty Young Thing"--Michael Jackson
"I've Got to Be Going"--Peppermint Trolley Company
"Little Latin Lupe Lu"--The Keymen
"Dragnet/Room 43"--Ray Anthony
"All Summer Long"--Beach Boys
THE RAT PATROL Theme--Dominic Frontiere
"Light My Fire"--Touch

Posted by Marty at 10:46 PM CST
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Saturday, February 11, 2006
A.U.I.--Airwolf Under The Influence
One could make a case that "drunken Jan-Michael Vincent movies" were a special sub-genre of exploitation movie during the '80s and '90s. In ALIENATOR and HIT LIST, for instance, the former AIRWOLF star is quite visibly plastered during his scenes. In a recent interview in SHOCK CINEMA, director John Flynn claims Vincent was an alcoholic during shooting of DEFIANCE in 1979, saying that the popular '70s leading man was insecure about his acting ability.

Vincent had some box-office cachet after CBS cancelled AIRWOLF, which found independent producers of low-budget movies eager to hire him, whether he could do the job or not, simply because they could be sure that his name in the cast list would produce sales. When British director Harry Bromley-Davenport was hired by some Canadian producers to make an "in-name-only" sequel to 1983's XTRO (New Line owned the film and characters, but Bromley-Davenport owned the word "XTRO"), Vincent, about whom the director candidly states "I didn't like him,", was already part of the deal.

Just so you know, 1991's XTRO II: THE SECOND ENCOUNTER has absolutely nothing to do with XTRO and everything to do with ALIENS, which probably inspired as many lame ripoffs as ALIEN did. Paul Koslo (MR. MAJESTYK) and Tara Buckman ("Brandy" from THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO) play scientists heading up a top-secret underground laboratory. Their group has discovered a way to travel to a parallel dimension, but when they send humans for the first time, only one of the travelers returns.

Under the gun from their government financiers to achieve positive results, Buckman suggests that the project's founder, played by Vincent, be brought in to help, but Koslo, who has a personal beef with the man, says no. Vincent joins the group anyway, along with a platoon of soldiers who are armed to enter the parallel dimension and search for more survivors.

That trip never happens after some sort of strange, slimy monster with big teeth rips its way out of the chest of the lone survivor and stalks the dark passageways and air ducts of the massive facility, ripping and tearing apart the inhabitants one by one. Yes, I know you've seen this movie before, we all have.

I suppose that if you absolutely must watch a movie about a giant slimy monster traipsing through dark hallways munching guys with guns, XTRO II would suffice. That is, if ALIENS, CREEPOZOIDS, ALIEN TERMINATOR, MIND RIPPER yada yada yada are all rented out. X-FILES fans may enjoy a prominent supporting performance by Nicholas "Krycek" Lea. There's a bit of gore, but nothing particularly juicy. Certainly there's little excitement or originality.

But it does have a drunk Jan-Michael Vincent. It's obvious that he was in no shape to learn lines, and Bromley-Davenport confirms my suspicion that the director was standing behind the camera giving line readings and Vincent was merely reciting them back. His voice is gravelly, and he sometimes slurs, so who knows what he's saying much of the time. A lot of his dialogue is off-camera, presumably so they could patch takes together. You can sort of see why he continued to get acting jobs, though. He was never a strong actor, but he did have that intangible "something" that made you want to look at him. And he kinda still does in XTRO II. Or maybe it's just the alcohol.

Posted by Marty at 12:23 PM CST
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