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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Sunday, November 13, 2005
It's Hot In The Hot Tub
Now Playing: PINK LADY
I've written way more on the blog than I ever intended about Fred Silverman's incompetent reign as the head of NBC in the late 1970's. Really, it's been just a coincidence that I have in recent months been catching up with or reacquainting myself with some of the worst shows in television history...that just happen to have been broadcast on NBC during Silverman's reign. PINK LADY may not be the worst series in the history of the medium, but it's one of the most notorious and usually pops up on anyone's list of Worst Ever.

Usually referred to as PINK LADY AND JEFF or PINK LADY...AND JEFF, the series was officially known as PINK LADY, thanks to Pink Lady's shrewd management that contractually shut Jeff out of the title. Jeff was Jeff Altman, a relatively obscure standup comic with a few pilots and guest-starring TV gigs under his belt, as well as a good reputation among comedians at L.A.'s Comedy Store. Pink Lady was Mie and Kei, two cute women in their 20's who were then among the biggest pop stars in Japan. Even though they were filling stadiums with their concerts and selling millions of records in Japan, they were nothing in the United States. Hell, even Jeff Altman was more famous than they were. Oh, and they also didn't speak a word of English.

Well, NBC didn't let that considerably important fact stand in the way of giving Pink Lady their own prime-time variety show. When PINK LADY debuted on March 1, 1980 with the girls performing "Boogie Wonderland" while clad in shimmering evening gowns, a new benchmark for Bad TV was set. The show began with an uncomfortably lame Altman monologue, followed by Mie and Kei coming out to banter with him. Since they actually had no idea what they were saying, as the scripts were taught to them phonetically, the whole experience is given an otherworldly feeling, like Altman is carrying on a conversation with spacemen.

For six episodes, the ladies sang, bounced, giggled and jiggled in tight pants, evening wear and bikinis, as Altman attempted to explain to the audience--and to Pink Lady--what was going on. Guest stars, which were reportedly often booked at the last minute, since few performers wanted to be seen anywhere near this turkey (one of them, B.J. AND THE BEAR star Greg Evigan, played his sax on an episode), floundered in ill-conceived sketches that rarely featured the girls in any meaningful manner. And every episode ended with the sexy women enticing a strangely reluctant Altman into a hot tub, where the trio said their goodbyes.

It's difficult to blame the creative team too much for PINK LADY's dismal quality, as the very concept seems an unlikely one for continued success. Not only were Mie and Kei very frustrated at the show's production, which, among other indignities, forced them to wear clothes with their names stitched on them, so stupid Americans would be able to tell them apart, but they were also maintaining their touring and recording schedule in Japan, resulting in several exhausting around-the-world flights.

If you're curious to see more of PINK LADY, a TV series often spoken of in the exalted company of other Worst Shows Ever like MY MOTHER, THE CAR, HELLO, LARRY, THE CHEVY CHASE SHOW and COP ROCK, it's available from Rhino in a 3-DVD box set. It's been out for four years, and I'd love to see Rhino's sales figures.

Posted by Marty at 6:05 PM CST
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Friday, November 11, 2005
No One Ever Escaped From Prison Camp #4
Since REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER went on hiatus last week, I had no reason to keep my HBO package, and, on a whim, I replaced it with Insight Cable's Showtime package, which includes several Showtime channels, two The Movie Channels, and Flix. All of them do a nice job of showing older exploitation movies and newer DTV stuff, but what I did not know is that they also, unlike HBO and Cinemax, often letterbox their programming. HBO and Cinemax never show widescreen prints. Also, unlike HBO and Cinemax, these channels are not copy-protected, which means I can record them on DVD-R.

Last week, I recorded a nice LBX print of X--THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, which I'm sure is the same print used on MGM's DVD. But today I was stunned--stunned, I say--to realize that MEAN DOG BLUES, an AIP action movie released in 1978, was a really beautiful, clear letterboxed print. It opens with the Orion logo, then the AIP logo, and ends with the MGM logo. I don't know if this is coming out on DVD or not, but I could not have been more shocked to see that this relatively obscure and unimportant drive-in movie was receiving better treatment on cable TV than most major contemporary studio movies do.

I'd only seen the good trailer for this movie, buoyed by Ernie Anderson's typically energetic voiceover. Gregg Henry, a blond leading man still extremely busy in films and TV guest shots (GILMORE GIRLS, 24), plays Jack Ramsey, a wannabe songwriter driving cross-country to Nashville to audition for a music producer. His car breaks down, and he's picked up by an obnoxious alcoholic politician (William Windom, usually dependable, but overacting in this one) and his horny wife (Tina Louise). A drunken Windom runs down a 10-year-old girl with his car, but he and his sympathetic wife frame Jack on manslaughter charges and convince him that he'll receive a suspended sentence if he goes along quietly. Windom crosses Jack up, however, and the young man ends up on a Southern chain gang run by the hardnosed Captain Omar Kinsman (George Kennedy), who wanders about sleeveless and loves his killer Doberman more than he does any one person, including his horny jailbait daughter (the delicious Christina Hart, who performs her obligatory topless scene as well as she did in the earlier JOHNNY FIRECLOUD).

After running into trouble with a big tough con (John Daniels of BLACK SHAMPOO), Jack volunteers to be Kinsman's new "dog nigger" after the Doberman chomps on the current job holder, Mudcat (Scatman Crothers). What the gig entails is running your ass off six hours a day through the swamp while Kinsman's #1 guard (James Wainwright) and his trustees chase you with the tracking dogs...and the Doberman, which Kinsman may decide to run without its muzzle if you give him enough trouble...or get caught in a compromising position with his daughter.

Meanwhile, as Jack designs a plan to exercise the dogs for real by making an actual break for freedom, his wife (Kay Lenz) appeals to Windom and Louise to make things right and admit who the real driver of the car was.

Also in the film: Gregory Sierra (BARNEY MILLER), Felton Perry (MAGNUM FORCE), Ian Wolfe, Marc Alaimo and Edith Atwater. Mel Stuart (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY) directed it, probably in Southern California. As you can see, MEAN DOG BLUES is worth watching for its cast, if for nothing else. It's not often you see a group of actors like this hanging out together. Henry hadn't done much film at this time, besides appearing as Nick Nolte's son in RICH MAN, POOR MAN: BOOK II. Despite a choice role in Brian DePalma's BODY DOUBLE, he never really broke out, although he has been a dependable performer in films and television ever since. A year later, he reunited with Kennedy in Jeff Lieberman's DELIVERANCE takeoff JUST BEFORE DAWN.

The uncredited executive producer was Bing Crosby (!), whose company appears in the titles only as BCP (Bing Crosby Productions). Der Bingle died on a golf course before MEAN DOG BLUES ever hit theaters, and a year or so later, so did his production company.

Posted by Marty at 11:42 PM CST
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Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Sonny And Cheeseburger
I just finished watching Dark Sky's new DVD of the 1966 Japanese film TERROR BENEATH THE SEA. I was planning to review it for The Hub, but the paper suddenly decided to change its production schedule, so my weekly deadline is now Thursday at noon, rather than Sunday at noon. It's a bit of an inconvenience, since Saturday and Sunday mornings are a perfect time for me to write. Now I'll have to fit the time into my weeknight schedule, unless I can manage to work a bit ahead and write on the weekend before. We'll see. I'll post more on the movie after the review runs, but I'll tell you that it's a colorful science fiction movie starring Sonny Chiba (Hattori Hanzo!) as a reporter who is kidnapped by a crazy scientist who takes him to his underwater lair where he's turning human beings into "water cyborgs", actually zombie fishmen with silver scales. Pretty kickass. The week after that, I'm planning to review MGM's Annette Funicello/stock car racing double feature disc of FIREBALL 500 (with Frankie Avalon) and THUNDER ALLEY (with Fabian)!

Thanks to Cheeseburger for coming down last weekend and delivering my new hat that she knitted for me. Hopefully I won't have to listen to any more bitching about how I lost the last one (I left it at Texas Roadhouse, I think). She made it in time to hit the Silver Bullet Friday night, a local establishment that features, um, live dancers. It was a more sedate Bullet night for me; I only said the word "boobs" out loud maybe 43 times, and I didn't even spend a single dollar. After that, it was off to Merry Ann's Diner for one of the worst steaks I have ever eaten, even though the eggs and hash browns that came with it were good. It reminded me of those late nights in Carbondale when we would roadtrip to this awful place in Herrin called Hungry's. To call the eggs "runny" makes them sound too solid, and I swear the steak was green.

Saturday I got a call at 2pm asking if I wanted to go to lunch with Cheeseburger and Chicken. Um, no, it's 2:00! I ate two hours ago. But I hung out and watch them eat Thai food. I'm too smart for that. It made Cheeseburger sick, and she watched crappy movies at my house with a wastebasket next to the couch. Thankfully she didn't use it.

Crappy movies on Saturday included I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, where crazy doc Whit Bissell keeps an alligator pit conveniently located behind a secret panel in his lab, just in case he has to ditch some body parts in a hurry, and the Shaw Brothers' CRIPPLED AVENGERS, where a blind guy, a deaf guy, a guy with iron legs, and an "idiot" learn kung fu so they can get revenge on the asshole who crippled them, a real spiteful bastard with iron arms that shoot darts from the fingers.

It looks like I'm finally getting a settlement from USAA General. After not hearing anything from them since Thursday, I called them tonight. Got another voice mail, so I dialed 0 and got a live voice, who put out the word that I wanted to talk to the new person handling my claim, Crystal. She got right back to me. Funny how no one could call me for five days, but when I call them, they aren't the least bit busy. I still have to mail in the title and do a bit of paperwork, but it looks like I'm going to get about $2800 for my wrecked car. Add the $1100 I received today for medical expenses and lost wages, and I come out with close to $4000. I'd rather still be driving the Altima. Now I have to see what I can buy with $4000, although I might piss away a grand and use the rest for a down payment. I can go back to driving my POS 1992 Cavalier for awhile, so I have the luxury of not having to buy something right away. I have no idea what I can get, but I don't think I can pay more than $150 a month. That ain't gonna get me much.

Posted by Marty at 11:19 PM CST
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Sunday, November 6, 2005
Don't Be Discouraged
Rather than bother with full-season sets, Warner Brothers has recently released "sampler" DVDs of episodes from TV series in its vaults, including F TROOP, MAVERICK and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (which has already been released in box sets, so what's the point?). I picked up CHICO AND THE MAN for just $5.99--a bargain at a buck an episode--at Best Buy recently.

CHICO AND THE MAN was enormously popular during its original NBC run in the mid-1970's, finishing #3 in the ratings its first season, right behind the show it followed in the Friday-night lineup, SANFORD AND SON. I watched it then, but I really became familiar with CHICO in the summer of 1977, when reruns were temporarily part of NBC's daytime schedule. It hasn't been seen a lot since, as far as I know, although it has popped up on TV Land and the American Life network.

CHICO comes from a brief period of American television when sitcoms were allowed to be about someting; in this case, the relationship between a charismatic, good-natured Chicano, Chico Rodriguez, played by overnight sensation Freddie Prinze, and cantankerous, elderly Ed Brown, played by Tony-, Emmy- and Oscar-winner Jack Albertson. Ed was a cranky widower who owned and operated a garage in East Los Angeles who was approached for a job by Chico, who disbelieved the neighborhood gossip that Ed was a mean old bastard and decided he was going to become "The Man"'s partner, whether Ed liked it or not. Over the course of their three seasons together, Chico and Ed established a father/son bonding that involved much bickering, a little bit of racial baiting, and a lot of love.

The six episodes represented on the WB disc provide a pretty good example of what the series was like. For me, personally, watching the shows was a very melancholy experience. It was impossible for me to reconcile the talented, happy-go-lucky Prinze we see on the screen and the miserable, depressed, confused young man who committed suicide with a gun just a few hours after taping one of the episodes shown on this DVD.

Prinze was still a teenager when James Komack, the successful producer of THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER and LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE, spotted him doing his standup routine on THE TONIGHT SHOW and decided to cast him in CHICO & THE MAN. He and Albertson had wonderful chemistry together, which is evident right away in "Pilot", which really lays the racial material on thick, even in depicting a pair of white cops as bigots who call Chico a "beaner". I'd be interested to know how the two men got along off-screen; it is known that Albertson attended Prinze's funeral.

The other five episodes take it easy on the ethnic gags, for the most part. In "If I Were A Rich Man", a young woman rejects Chico's wedding proposal because she's looking for someone whom she perceives to have more of a future than a garage mechanic, although one wonders whether writer Jerry Ross didn't originally have the white character hesitant to marry a Chicano, but the story point was rewritten.

Chico considers moving out of Ed's garage and into his own place in "Chico and the Van". Jose Feliciano, who composed and performed the delightfully sunny theme song, plays Chico's cousin (and performs the song live) in "Chico's Cousin Pepe". Cesar Romero portrays Chico's long-lost father in "Chico's Padre".

A real heartbreaker is "Ed Talks to God", where Chico prevails upon an old war buddy of Ed's to pretend to be the voice of the Almighty over the garage loudspeaker and convince Ed to attend his own birthday party. What's rough is that "Ed Talks to God" was the final episode Prinze taped. That night or the following morning, he shot himself in the head in front of his manager. He was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support. His family made the decision to pull the plug on January 29, 1977, and Freddie Prinze was dead at age 22.

It sounds like a textbook case of "too much, too soon." He was a barely known but rising standup comic at 19, but the next three years saw him working a lot. In addition to CHICO AND THE MAN, Prinze did a made-for-TV movie, a record album, tons of nightclub dates, several TV appearances on talk shows and variety series. He dated a lot of women, including Lenny Bruce's daughter, and married one, with whom he had a son named Freddie Prinze, Jr. There was also an arrest for driving under the influence of Quaaludes, bouts of depression, an obsession with guns, paranoia, cocaine, an unhealthy physical appearance. I don't know whether he ever appeared stoned on CHICO AND THE MAN, but there's a detectable difference in his appearance and energy level in later episodes.

After Prinze's death, NBC continued to air his remaining episodes of CHICO AND THE MAN. "Chico's Padre" was scheduled to air the night he died, but it was reportedly pulled and replaced with a less emotional episode.

When CHICO returned for its fourth season, Albertson had a new costar. Of course, NBC should have cancelled the show, but the smell of money led them to give Ed Brown a new "Chico", 12-year-old Gabriel Melgar as Raul, an orphan "adopted" by Ed. Prinze's character was written out of the show as having gone to work with his father in Mexico. The audience knew better, though, and found it too difficult to go along with the charade. Also, there was no point to doing CHICO AND THE MAN without Chico. Remember when LAVERNE & SHIRLEY continued without Shirley in its final season?

I don't know whether full-season box sets of CHICO AND THE MAN would be profitable for Warners, but I'm grateful it has at least provided us with these six episodes. A personality as shortlived as Prinze's can be easily forgotten, but the talent and joy he exhibited on CHICO AND THE MAN should be remembered. And by owning this DVD, I always will remember.

Posted by Marty at 5:29 PM CST
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Friday, November 4, 2005
Here Comes The Weekend
I took the day off from work, but haven't been able to watch a single crappy movie so far. Originally, Tolemite was slated to visit this weekend, and part of it was to be spent watching Turner Classic Movies' broadcast of the U.S./Japanese production THE GREEN SLIME, a 1968 sci-fi picture from the director of BATTLE ROYALE. Toler couldn't make it after all, but I had to take this day off sometime before Christmas or lose it, so I stayed home. In Toler's absence, I've been busy though. I had two more conversations with USAA General, who still aren't making it easy for me to get paid. I had to drive out to work this afternoon so I could fax them a copy of the title to my Altima. They apparently need this to either prove or disprove that it's a "salvage title", which shows whether the car has been totalled before. Apparently they are showing that the car is a "salvage", although to the best of my knowledge it's never been wrecked, and there's nothing on the title that indicates a salvage job.

I also had to run out to the auto body shop where the Altima is to clean out my personal stuff from it. I don't keep it too messy or cluttered, so I only had to retrieve some tools, an ice scraper and a few other things. The hardest was getting back the tape that was lodged in the cassette player. Normally I wouldn't bother getting a tape back, but at the time of the accident, I was listening to one of my old radio shows, the last night I was on the air at WCIL-FM in Carbondale, a night that found me hosting a number of "surprise" guests. It's obviously a tape with special meaning to me and one that can't be replaced, so I had to dig it out of the player. The mechanics must have removed or disconnected the battery, so I couldn't turn the tape player on to eject the tape. All I had were two car keys that I used like tweezers or pliers to reach in and pull the tape out. It wasn't easy and took me about 20 minutes to get it. Surely there must have been an easier way.

I also went to the grocery store today and stocked up on some snacks. Tolemite isn't here, but Cheeseburger is coming this weekend, so I suspect there will be some crappy movies happening sometime. I could certainly use the rest after my "day off".

Posted by Marty at 5:17 PM CST
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Wednesday, November 2, 2005
Finally, Action
Now Playing: ALONE IN THE DARK commentary
After 13 days, I finally made some progress with USAA General. Thanks for all the good luck wishes and advice I've received from you. Today showed me that being proactive can both work in your favor and kick you in the ass. The latter story will get short shrift today so I can tell you a more optimistic tale.

I attempted to contact Heather again this morning, since my new strategy was to keep calling her until I got some satisfaction. After getting her voice mail several times, I decided before leaving for lunch that I was going to speak to an actual human. I bounced around the USAA phone menu options until I got a real live person. I explained my situation and she transferred me to Heather's department and one of her co-workers. In a polite but firm and calm manner, I explained to her that I was not getting any satisfaction, that I felt the investigation was moving too slowly, that I had certain financial, medical and practical inconveniences I was suffering, and that I needed something to be done today. Turns out Heather, despite what her voice mail message said, was not in the office yet, but this co-worker offered to pass along the news that I had called and needed to speak with her.

That wasn't enough, so I asked to talk to the manager. She offered to tell the manager that I called, but I wanted to make sure the manager knew my frustration. Again, I explained to the manager what my situation was and that I felt I was a victim and just wanted them to do something for me immediately. I suggested that, if they were having trouble getting in touch with Jackie by phone, by golly they could just send somebody right to her house, and, hey, I have her address right here. I said I realized they needed to complete their investigation, but I needed them to do it in a more timely fashion. What if they never completed it? What if they never spoke to Jackie, what if she moved away and never answered her phone and no one could ever find her? An exaggeration, sure, but a valid point to make. Eventually, the manager assured me that somebody would call me later in the day.

Not 20 minutes later, I'm home for lunch and the phone rings. Hey, it's Heather, and she has finally spoken to Jackie (who allegedly couldn't be reached before 5pm, even though she has a cell phone) and USAA has agreed to accept 100% liability. She immediately offered me a substantial settlement for my medical expenses (a trip to the ER and a prescription for muscle relaxants) and one day of missing work. She jumped on the computer and transferred my rental car expenses from my credit card to their account (I want to confirm this with Enterprise tomorrow). And she informed me that somebody from their Total Loss department would call me the next day and offer to settle the claim for my destroyed vehicle. She even told me the name and extension of who would be calling me, and said that if I didn't hear from anyone tomorrow to give either of them a call.

Maybe this all would have happened anyway if I hadn't been a squeaky wheel today, but it sure is a heck of a coincidence. One of my co-workers overheard the first conversation this morning, where I asked to speak to the manager, and complimented me on my effective communication skills. The irony is that I was denied a promotion at work a few hours later, principally because of my perceived ineffective communication skills. And that's all I'll say on that subject.

Posted by Marty at 10:43 PM CST
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Tuesday, November 1, 2005
LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT ran a disclaimer before tonight's episode stating that it contained "graphic language" and that parental discretion was advised. The plot concerned a neo-Nazi organization suspected of a sniper attack at a public school in which one 6-year-old black boy was shot dead and a little Jewish girl maimed. Words such as "kike", "porch monkey", "hebe" and "nigger" popped up as dialogue, which presumably was the reason for the opening disclaimer. I have no qualms with the series using these and other racial epithets in the episode, as to do the show without them would undoubtedly have watered down the dramatic tension.

What I find curious is that NBC found it necessary to warn us about these words in a television series that routinely traffics in the rape and murder of children, frequently uses profanity like "son of a bitch", and often leaves no detail unexplained when dramatizing lurid crimes (for instance, a recent episode that involved a beautiful young woman who drugged men and shoved an electric vibrator up their rectums to steal the semen from their involuntary ejaculations was so bizarre, even the characters commented on it).

I don't have a problem with this type of material. The series in general is obviously not aimed at an audience of children, and it airs in an appropriate 9:00pm (Central) timeslot. L&O: SVU is a show of above-average quality, skillfully produced by intelligent, creative men and women, and its very premise guarantees that its stories will be morality tales focusing on humankind's worst emotions and actions. Racism and anti-Semitism are unquestionably among them. Words like "nigger" and "kike" are repugnant and reprehensible. But the show's use of those words in tonight's episode was not, and I don't think NBC, by issuing an advisory, needed to apologize for it. They certainly didn't "warn" us of what happened about a minute later, a little boy being struck by a bullet and falling to the ground with a pool of blood pouring from his fatal head wound. What do you think is more disturbing?

Posted by Marty at 10:32 PM CST
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Is USAA General Ripping Me Off?
This business with the insurance company is really beginning to stress me out. Last Thursday, I told you how I had called USAA to ask for an update on their investigation, and the girl I spoke to, Heather, informed me that they had not yet had a conversation with the young woman, Jackie, who hit me. Well, tonight after work--five days later--I called Heather again, and discovered that she is not one step closer than she was before. She has still not spoken with Jackie, and continued to give me a song and dance about playing phone tag blah blah blah. Heather claims that the best time to get ahold of Jackie is after 5pm. I said, "Well, it's after 5pm right now, why don't you call her?" She said she would, but I don't know if she did. The idea of calling Jackie after 5pm when she gets off work is bogus, because I know for a fact she has a cell phone, and I suspect the number is the one on the police report. Which I don't even know if USAA has yet.

Adding to the misery was a call from Enterprise Car Rental about 45 minutes later. They're getting antsy about getting their rental back. I had to reserve the rental on my credit card, which has run up charges of over $400 and the limit is $500. They told me I have by Friday to A) return the car, B) authorize them to go over $500 or C) have the insurance company admit liability and take over the charge. It appears unlikely they'll do anything in the next three days, so I don't know what to do. Probably return the rental and be more inconvenienced than I already am, and then hope I don't get stuck with a massive car rental bill. I've considered calling Jackie myself and asking her to please get off her ass and help me out and get USAA on the phone stat. Whether that poses a legal problem for me, I don't know. I do think I'm going to call USAA tomorrow every hour or so and be a pain in the ass until something gets done.

What bothers me more than anything else in this world--and a big reason I despise the current administration--is someone who refuses to take responsibility and do the decent thing. Just do what's right, USAA General. Your client hit me with her car. It's her fault, which makes it your responsibility. And because of your client's negligence, my life is in financial turmoil and has been highly inconvenienced. Yes, it could be worse, I could have been injured. All I'm asking is for them to step up, do the right thing, do the moral thing, and take care of the problem. Cut me a check that fairly compensates me for my totalled automobile, take care of my medical expenses and my car rental, take care of the cost of totalling my car, which is still sitting at a body shop, probably stacking up rental charges.

Okay, to be fair, USAA doesn't really know what happened, and they can't take my word that the accident was their client's fault. Fine. Just make a concerted effort to find out the truth. It's pretty obvious that the guy who called you the morning after the accident is the victim, and the client who has been ducking your phone calls for nearly two weeks is to blame...even Scooby-Doo could solve that fucking mystery. Do what's right. Do what's moral. That isn't too much to ask.

Posted by Marty at 8:01 PM CST
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Sunday, October 30, 2005
Ringo The Rapist
Now Playing: BLINDMAN
BLINDMAN is one of the stranger "spaghetti westerns" I've seen. Basically an Italian swipe of the long-running series of Japanese films about the blind swordsman Zatoichi (still being made with Takeshi Kitano in the role), BLINDMAN is an Italian-made, American-financed western filmed in Spain that stars U.S. actor Tony Anthony as a blind gunfighter and British rock star Ringo Starr as a Mexican bandito. Some melting pot.

Anthony was born in West Virginia, but wrote, produced and starred in several Italian westerns during the '60s and '70s. As "Blindman", he's contracted to escort fifty mail-order brides to some miners in Texas, but his partners waylay him and sell the women to a nasty Mexican named Domingo (Lloyd Battista, another American actor who's still active in films and TV). After blowing up the bastardos, Blindman heads to Mexico to find Domingo and get his women back by kidnapping the bandit's brother Candy (Starr), a vicious rapist with a liking for a prostitute named Pilar (Agneta Eckemyr, a Swede), and holding him for ransom.

As directed by Ferdinando Baldi, BLINDMAN features several doublecrosses, a ton of beatings and explosions, plenty of gunfire, and a heapin' helping of brutality and misogyny. Anthony, also a co-producer and co-writer, seems to be going for a comic vibe, but with the mass slaughter and gangraping, it's hard to see what's so funny. Even the hero gets into the act, stripping Domingo's sister naked and tying her to a stake in the desert. Most of the women appear naked, and a mass shower scene looks like something from a women-in-prison flick. That said, I liked the film. It certainly isn't dull, tackling the violence and masochism with a lot of energy.

Released around the world beginning in 1971 and hitting U.S. theaters in 1972, BLINDMAN reportedly did quite well at the box office internationally, presumably due to the grungy subject matter and the presence of Beatle Starr (who mumbles his way through an unconvincing Mexican accent, but otherwise is quite credible). It was produced by ABKCO Films, which was owned by Allen Klein, the notorious manager of the Beatles after Brian Epstein's death and a figure instrumental in the group's 1970 breakup.

Anthony was still making spaghetti westerns over a decade later, when COMIN' AT YA! kicked off the short-lived 3D craze of the early 1980's, which included films like JAWS 3-D, AMITYVILLE 3-D and SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE. Like BLINDMAN, it was directed by Ferdinando Baldi and seemed too grim, featuring scenes of torture and violence uncomfortably interspersed with campy shots that take obvious advantage of the 3D format. Most of them involve various objects thrust into our faces, including rats, flaming arrows, yo-yos, beans, snakes, gold coins and bats. But not Ringo Starr, who had moved on to great works of art like CAVEMAN and GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD STREET.

Posted by Marty at 11:17 PM CST
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Edge Of Your Seat

I haven’t consciously been setting out to document NBC’s woeful late-1970’s prime-time schedule; it has just coincidentally worked out that way. As I wrote in my reviews of A MAN CALLED SLOANE, QUARK and DAVID CASSIDY--MAN UNDERCOVER, Fred Silverman’s lineup was really struggling in those days. To be somewhat fair, at least he was trying different ideas, and even if it was unsuccessful, NBC’s slate was much more diverse and unusual than today’s glut of cop, doctor and lawyer shows. I recall WHODUNNIT?, a mystery game show hosted by Ed McMahon where the contestants watched a murder and had to guess, “whodunnit?”; TURNABOUT, a sitcom where the personalities of married couple John Schuck and Sharon Gless were magically switched into each other’s bodies (a la FREAKY FRIDAY); MRS. COLUMBO, a bad idea for a mystery show starring Kate Mulgrew (STAR TREK: VOYAGER) as the way-too-young-and-normal formerly-unseen wife of Peter Falk’s classic Columbo character; and one of TV’s most famous “bad shows”, HELLO, LARRY, a sitcom with McLean Stevenson as a radio talk show host and single father of two teen daughters.

CLIFF HANGERS, on the surface, sounded like a decent idea. Kenneth Johnson, the then-hot producer of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and THE BIONIC WOMAN and executive producer of THE INCREDIBLE HULK, had an idea to re-create the juvenile fun and excitement of the old Republic serials that were most popular during the 1930’s and ‘40s. If you’ve never seen one, you owe it to yourself to try it, because the best serials packed more action and thrills into one segment than many contemporary films can in two hours. In a nutshell, serials were short films that played in theaters on a weekly basis in the form of chapters (serials are also called “chapterplays”). They usually ran anywhere between twelve and fifteen chapters, each being about fifteen minutes long, and each ending with on a cliffhanger--the hero’s car plunging over a cliff or the female lead trapped in a locked room with the walls closing in. And every week, you would have to go back to the theater to discover how the good guy got out of the death trap. Republic Pictures made the best serials, since it really seemed to care about its product, and hired the best special effects artists and stuntmen in the business. Chases, fights, high falls, gunplay--Republic really packed it into its serials, although Columbia, which made serials using Batman and Superman, and Universal (its FLASH GORDON may be the most famous of all chapterplays) made some good ones too.

Johnson’s concept was to make three serials for television and air all of them in a 60-minute timeslot. End each one on a cliffhanger, guaranteeing the viewers would return next week to see how the hero survived. A good idea on paper. The problem was that, by 1979, when CLIFF HANGERS premiered, hardly anyone under the age of forty remembered the good old days of weekly chapterplays (they mostly died out by the late ‘40s, although Republic still churned out a few cheapies into the early 1950s). More importantly, CLIFF HANGERS forgot that serials were all about action, action, action. The plots and actors were just instruments to get us from one exciting action sequence to the next. In CLIFF HANGERS, and maybe budgetary restrictions played a part in this, the actors did more chatting than running and jumping. Each of the series’ three segments ran about fifteen minutes, yet only a couple were set aside for the action.

THE CURSE OF DRACULA was perhaps the most popular segment of CLIFF HANGERS. It was the only one to finish its storyline before the series’ abrupt cancellation, but it was also the one least representative of the classic serials and the dullest. Count Dracula (Michael Nouri, soon to move on to FLASHDANCE) is alive and teaching history at a junior college near San Francisco, where he has compiled a small army of sexy young co-eds who have been seduced and vampirized by his bite. On his trail are Kurt von Helsing (Steven Johnson), whose ancestors have been chasing Dracula for centuries, and his fianc? Mary (Carol Baxter), who witnessed her mother’s death at the hands of the count when she was a teenager. One of Johnson’s gimmicks with the show is that each segment was joined already in progress, so Kurt and Mary have already set about destroying Dracula’s coffins (he can only sleep in a coffin lined with Transylvania soil, and he has several of them hidden all over the city, in case he’s still out and about at sunrise). Over the course of the series, Mary discovered that her mother (Louise Sorel), Dracula’s former lover, was still alive, and that she was herself attracted to the debonair count, who tried unsuccessfully to transform her into a vampire (it takes three separate bites to do it). The problem is that Gothic horror and edge-of-your-seat action do not mix, and audiences had little patience for the soap operatics and tame cliffhangers of THE CURSE OF DRACULA. Nouri is a pretty good Dracula, but Johnson and Baxter are very drippy romantic leads, never believable as lovers or as dedicated vampire hunters. CURSE ended in CLIFF HANGERS’ final episode in spectacular fashion, as Kurt shot Dracula in the heart with a crossbow bolt as the count’s lair erupted in flames.

THE SECRET EMPIRE is loosely based on THE PHANTOM EMPIRE, a 1936 serial starring Gene Autry as a singing cowboy who discovers a futuristic society underground that plans to conquer the Earth’s surface. A great idea, so Johnson cast handsome Geoffrey Scott as Marshal Jim Donner, who accidentally stumbles across the underground city of Chimera buried deep below Wyoming. Ruled by the evil Thorval (Mark Lenard), the Chimeran government uses a Compliatron to brainwash its citizens into total obedience. When it amasses enough gold to power the machine, Thorval and his council, including his beautiful daughter Princess Tara (Diana Markoff), plan to use it on the surface dwellers and control the entire planet. Donner hooks up with a handful of freedom fighters (one of whom is portrayed by future PRESS YOUR LUCK host Peter Tomarken!) in adventures that take place both in Chimera (represented by not-very-futuristic sets on the Universal lot and what appears to be a power plant) and in the desert (mainly Vasquez Rocks). THE SECRET EMPIRE screams out for more action, but all it produces are a few tepid laser shootouts in nondescript hallways, although one neat cliffhanger finds Donner trapped in a room with a slowly disappearing floor, under which lies a bottomless pit. Another cliffhanger featuring a giant spider is laughable even by ‘70s standards. THE SECRET EMPIRE has the best supporting cast of the series, including David Opatoshu, Sean Garrison, Carlene Watkins and a marvelously hammy Peter Breck as a greedy rancher who joins Thorval’s team. Also of interest is future HUNTER babe Stepfanie Kramer, who replaced Markoff in mid-series as Princess Tara. THE SECRET EMPIRE is the best of CLIFF HANGERS’ three segments, although it also appears to have been its least popular.

STOP SUSAN WILLIAMS is the only CLIFF HANGERS segment with no fantasy elements. Susan Anton, who had a very brief TV career as a musical variety star in the series MEL & SUSAN TOGETHER (yes, somebody had the bright idea to team up the leggy Anton and stuttering country singer Mel Tillis!) and PRESENTING SUSAN ANTON, stars as Susan Williams, a spunky newspaper photographer for a New York City paper who refuses to accept that her brother Alan’s death was an accident and goes poking around the mysterious circumstances. Jetting all over the country to Morocco, Rio de Janeiro, Kenya and Maryland, Susan teams up with a rugged soldier of fortune, Jack Schoengarth (Michael Swan), and discovers an international conspiracy plotted by Anthony Korf (Albert Paulsen) to explode a bomb in a mine shaft running beneath Camp David, the site of a conference involving a dozen world leaders. Susan finds herself trapped naked in a bathtub by a cobra, tossed into a lion pit, pushed out a window, and even trapped in a cave-in (filmed in Los Angeles’ Bronson Canyon, recognizable as Adam West’s Batcave). No question that the six-foot blonde Anton is an arresting sight, but Swan’s obnoxious hero, sporting an awful hairstyle and constantly spouting a series of putrid one-liners and nicknames, is a major turn-off. Despite the international settings, everything looks like Southern California, and even if you’re not a veteran serial watcher like I am, you’ll probably guess the twist early on. Ray Walston, Marj Dusay and John Hancock are also in the cast, and look for brief appearances by Fred Ward as a Central American bad guy.

Like THE SECRET EMPIRE, STOP SUSAN WILLIAMS was still in progress when NBC cancelled CLIFF HANGERS after ten episodes in May 1979. Universal edited together a movie for syndication called THE GIRL WHO SAVED THE WORLD, which used footage from all eleven chapters of SUSAN. CLIFF HANGERS ended with two chapters left in THE SECRET EMPIRE’s run, but one additional episode was compiled, I assume for syndication, which included the last chapter of SUSAN and the last two of EMPIRE. I’m not exactly certain where the final episode aired, certainly not on NBC, but it definitely exists.

Even though CLIFF HANGERS was a bomb (that didn’t hurt Johnson’s career; he went on to make V and ALIEN NATION), the idea is still good, and it seems as though it certainly could fly with today’s attention-span-challenged audiences. I’d certainly like to see somebody take a shot at it, even though it could be argued that 24 and PRISON BREAK are doing the same thing, but sixty minutes at a time.

Posted by Marty at 11:27 AM CDT
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