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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Monday, July 3, 2006
Two More From The Rockford Files
I realize that the practice is something of a staple in private-eye fiction, but it seems like Jim Rockford (James Garner) hardly ever had clients that didn’t lie their asses off. In "In Pursuit of Carol Thorne," a nice old couple hires Rockford to find their missing son by tailing his ex-wife, Carol Thorne (Lynette Mettey), who has just that very day been paroled from prison. Posing as a well-to-do bookie, Rockford makes Carol’s acquaintance, but is confronted by a pair of cops who warn him to stay away from her.

Some of the best ROCKFORD FILES episodes involve a con game of some sort, and “In Pursuit of Carol Thorne” has a tricky one. Very few characters are whom they seem, and Rockford finds himself in the midst of a gang on the hunt for $1 million in stolen Army payroll loot stolen three years earlier. Rockford’s client, Miles (Robert Symonds), is not a worried old man, but rather an ingeniously clever crook, who was in on the original caper and now wants his cut. Thanks to Rockford’s conniving (and a witty con), the gang ends up with zip. For that matter, Rockford nearly does as well.

Lynnette Mettey was a busy TV leading lady during the ‘70s and ‘80s, guest-starring on many shows and appearing as Jack Klugman’s girlfriend in early episodes of QUINCY, M.E. (even appearing in a bikini in one shot in Mexico). THE ROCKFORD FILES played host to a lot of beautiful guest stars, the only problem being that many of them came across as too young for James Garner, who was in his mid-40s when the series began. Mettey was probably in her 20s, but at least presents a maturity that led her slide by (Klugman was older than Garner).

“The Dexter Crisis” was written by Gloryette Clark, who was THE ROCKFORD FILES’ film editor. This wasn’t her first teleplay; she had also written scripts for ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, another series she edited for Universal. Despite Clark’s sole credit, it’s likely “The Dexter Crisis” was given a good polish by producer Stephen J. Cannell and/or co-creator Roy Huggins, as the specific gambling tips on how to beat the house in roulette and some other dialogue have their touch.

Once again, Rockford (James Garner) is hired by a client who lies his ass off. Wealthy creep Charles Dexter (“special guest star” Tim O’Connor) sends Rockford to find his much younger mistress, Susan (Lee Purcell), who vanished in the middle of the night from the apartment she shared with law student Louise (Linda Kelsey). In exchange for crucial information only she has, Rockford agrees to let Louise tag along, and the clues lead them to Las Vegas, where Jim poses as a professional gambler and makes her acquaintance (much like he did in “In Pursuit of Carol Thorne”). Wouldn’t ya know that--ta da--almost everyone has a dirty little secret.

You could barely turn on a TV or go to the movies during the ‘70s without seeing red-haired Lee Purcell, who was quite beautiful, but often played criminals or “bad girls” that I don’t think she had the strength to pull off. She looked young and was memorable in a two-part CANNON where she played the girlfriend of murder suspect David Janssen. Linda Kelsey, also red-haired, was just as busy in television guest shots, but managed to land a regular gig on the acclaimed drama LOU GRANT playing a spunky newspaper reporter.

Veteran character Bing Russell plays one scene in the episode as a Reno sheriff. Russell played a ton of cowboys on TV, but made a more lasting mark on the Hollywood scene by fathering Kurt Russell. You can see the resemblance.

Posted by Marty at 5:17 PM CDT
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Sunday, July 2, 2006
It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's A...Dud
Went with Tolemite, Grizzle and Stiner yesterday afternoon to see SUPERMAN RETURNS. Spoilers for this stinker follow...

Boy, Bryan Singer sure hates Superman, doesn’t he? He makes the World’s Greatest Superhero a sniveling milquetoast who takes a beatdown from a 50-year-old baldie and his pool-hall minions and a selfish narcissist who split at a moment‘s notice to…I dunno, find himself…without even telling his widowed mom where he was going. Singer also turns Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane into an airhead who somehow won a Pulitzer, despite thinking the word “catastrophe” has an “f” in it, and a skank who had sexual relationships with two men simultaneously, became pregnant by one, and allowed the other to believe the baby was his.

I actually kinda liked SUPERMAN RETURNS for much of the first half. The opening titles are fun, and Brandon Routh’s performance, while not one iota more than an unabashed Christopher Reeve impression, is in the right spirit. I loved the airplane rescue (once I decided to ignore the idiotic science involved), and Superman’s reassurance of the passengers that air travel is still the safest way to go was pure Reeve. Frank Langella is a good Perry White, and Sam Huntington is a perfectly rendered Jimmy Olsen. I also dug the nice bit parts given to THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV vets Noel Neill and Jack Larson (who wears a bow tie!). Kevin Spacey did a better job as Lex Luthor than I had expected going in, although I’ll go on a limb and say that John Shea on the LOIS & CLARK series is still my all-time favorite film Luthor.

This movie is easily a half-hour too long (how many endings does it have? About five?), and the script is pure garbage. The whole story springs from the premise that Superman left Earth for five years to go visit a planet that no longer exists. For some reason, he was in such a big hurry, even though Krypton had been destroyed for 10,000 years (or whatever), that he gave no notice or reason for his exit, not even to Lois or his poor lonely mama, nor did he bother to put a lock on his Fortress of Solitude, practically daring Luthor to come steal the secrets of the universe. He apparently built a spaceship; to paraphrase Captain Kirk, what does Superman need with a spaceship? And what did he do for five years? What did he find? What did he learn? We are never really told, even though I bet there’s a great movie in it.

Presumably, Clark Kent left Metropolis unexpectedly on the same day Superman did, and we know that both returned to Metropolis on the same day. Gee, what a coincidence. I have no problem accepting the secret identity thing, which goes far beyond the use of spectacles (Clark also wears his hair differently and slouches to appear inches shorter and, of course, his “meek” personality), but, really, this point is too much to swallow.

Luthor’s plan is idiotic. He could have at least created his ugly, rocky, Kryptonite-beached new land mass near the equator where it would be warm. The plot makes no sense, and while Luthor might be a megalomaniac, he ain’t crazy and he sure ain’t dumb.

I think the movie is too violent in its beatings of Lois and Superman. I think the movie destroys the Superman character in its beating of Superman. Even without his powers, he ain’t a pushover. He’s big and strong and would at least fight back (he knows Klurkor...duh). You’re telling me Superman would lay there and take a beating--by guys who aren’t exactly ninjas--without throwing even one punch, no matter how Kryptonite-weakened he was? B.S. Superman doesn’t give up. This scene, in tandem with Langella throwing away “the American way,” shows me that Singer and his writers must loathe the Superman character, although they sure do like SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. I’m surprised Routh didn’t wink at the camera at the end, although that’s a tuff move to pull off. The audience really has to like Superman, and I’m not sure Routh earned it the way Reeve did.

Dedicating the film to Christopher and Dana Reeve was a classy move. As was the credit to Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, which may be contractual, but Marvel films occasionally hose creators (I know X-MEN 3 didn’t acknowledge any up front).

I wish I had Kal Penn and Jimmy Karen’s agents. They contributed as much to SUPERMAN RETURNS as I did, but they got better billing. I can’t figure out why Singer left in the shot of Karen driving away from the Kent house if he was going to cut every one of his scenes. With no context, it’s extra confusion about who the character is, where he’s going, how he fits into the Kent family. It’s something else for the audience to be thinking about, and it goes nowhere. This is very sloppy filmmaking. That one shot could have been removed, and the audience would have never missed it.

All four of us were disappointed, and as we were walking up the aisle at the end, Tolemite said, “I actually wish that giant spider was in the movie.” Shit, yeah, me too.

Posted by Marty at 3:41 PM CDT
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Friday, June 30, 2006
It's A Canadian Fact
I mock my Canadian pals, but I do want to wish them a happy Canada Day, which is celebrated tomorrow, July 1. Which is a Saturday, which means they don't get a day off of work. Nice one, eh.

I was thinking of the great SCTV episode where the janitors went on strike, so station owner Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty) simulcast Canadian Broadcasting Corporation programming to stay on the air. Even though I'm not very familiar with CBC's notoriously dull programming of the 1970's, the SCTV show parodies are dead on, including the brief IT'S A CANADIAN FACT segments, in which we learn that Canada celebrates Thanksgiving in October, so they must have invented it.

Other segments include John Candy as MAGNUM, P.E.I. (a private eye battling potato thieves on Prince Edward Island) and a mockery of the "Canadian hoser classic" (as John Charles says) GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD. I haven't yet watched the real film, but after seeing the hilarious SCTV parody, I feel as though I have.

Posted by Marty at 2:37 PM CDT
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Dang Ol' Tripod
Thanks to the whole two of you who left a comment for me in a previous post. I'm also now not receiving an email notification whenever a comment is posted, so thanks a lot for that, Tripod.

I may not do much blogging for a few days. Tolemite is coming to town this weekend. I'll be working on Monday (my company is notoriously stingy with days off) and hopefully having a good time outside on Tuesday. Hope you have a happy July 4th. For the Canadian contingent that reads this site, July 4 is the day the United States celebrates its independence from the British Empire. Next, I'll explain to you why we celebrate Thanksgiving in November...the way it's supposed to be, you hosers.

I couldn't find it, but you may remember me posting about KILLDOZER once. Yep, KILLDOZER, the movie where some macho TV leading men fought an alien-possessed bulldozer on a deserted island. Well, here's a TV GUIDE advertisement for the movie:

Oh, yeah, you know you wanna see it. Kick some 'dozer ass, Clint Walker!

Posted by Marty at 12:05 AM CDT
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Thursday, June 29, 2006
Holy Cow

Yes.  You know him, you love him.  Don't ever forget him.  A rapping Harry Caray.

Posted by Marty at 10:50 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, June 29, 2006 10:52 AM CDT
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A Little Confusing
I don't know if you can notice it, but Tripod has been messing with its blog template. In some ways, it's a bit easier to manage and change things, but I think the comments section may be screwed up. I was over at Katie Cohen's blog (see the sidebar), and a comment I left on her post was missing. Then I logged in to Tripod and I could see there were 2 comments on that post--one was mine.

If you get around to it, please do me a favor and leave a comment to this post. Doesn't have to be anything fancy or elaborate. I just want to know if comments are getting through or if you can read them.

Instead of taking you to a different page to edit and create blog entries, Tripod now puts a window over the current page, I imagine using Java or something like it. One downfall is that, while the window shows up fine over the regular page, if I have an imbedded video or an image, like that MONSTER SQUAD video below, the window falls behind the video, making some buttons inaccessible to me.


Posted by Marty at 8:51 AM CDT
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Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Gopher Meets The Monsters
Following up on my KIDS FROM C.A.P.E.R. post from weeks ago, here's another TV series I used to watch on Saturday mornings. And like C.A.P.E.R., I think it was only on about a year. I'd like to see it again though. THE MONSTER SQUAD had a great premise: a nebbishy caretaker of a wax museum had a super-duper "crime computer" that brought to life statues of Count Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man. Naturally, he used them to fight crime.

Of note is that the caretaker, Walt, was played by Fred Grandy, only about a year or so before he began his long-running gig as Gopher on THE LOVE BOAT (and long before he became a U.S. Congressman from Iowa).

Here's the opening titles to THE MONSTER SQUAD (no relation to the "Wolfman got nards" movie of the same name):

Posted by Marty at 12:45 AM CDT
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Monday, June 26, 2006
Does He Talk Or Just Hit?
Juanita Bartlett’s dialogue for “Find Me If You Can” features another great “Rockfordism” that adds much to actor James Garner’s portrayal of the character. While fussing over his son, who has come home from another night at work sporting a cut next to his eye, Rocky (Noah Beery, Jr.) sputters, “Another two inches to the left, and you’d be missing that eye.” Without missing a beat, the optimistic Jim responds, “Well, look at it this way. Two inches to the right, and it woulda missed me altogether.”

“Find Me If You Can” stars two guests who would go on to amass tremendous success on television: Joan Van Ark (her name is misspelled “Arc” in the titles), who spent more than a decade as one of the original stars of the nighttime soap KNOTS LANDING, and Paul Michael Glaser, whose megahit STARSKY & HUTCH debuted on ABC less than a year after this episode aired on NBC.

A young woman (Van Ark) drops by Rockford’s trailer late at night and hires him to find a missing person: herself. Obviously frightened and on the run from somebody, she gives Jim three days pay to see if he can track her down, presuming that if Rockford can find her, then so can whomever she’s running from. Rockford, with a bit of help from police buddy Sgt. Becker (Joe Santos), learns her name, address and basic information, but the case doesn’t stop there. Someone else is on Van Ark’s trail: her ex-boyfriend, a mobster named Ralph Correll (Glaser), who wants back the $50,000 she stole from him.

NBC and the ROCKFORD production team were still battling each other over the humor content of the series with Garner, producer Stephen J. Cannell et al. wanting more (a la MAVERICK) and the network wanting a straight-forward detective show like MANNIX. That probably explains the climax, which offers a seriously tough Rockford pointing guns at mobsters and nearly choking the life from Correll. Garner is very good in the scene, but it’s not what he--and we--really wanted from the character.

It’s a good episode with a good gimmick, one that story writer Roy Huggins must have been enamored with. The plot bears a resemblance to GIRL ON THE RUN, a 90-minute TV-movie (before there was such a thing) that served as the pilot for the esteemed ‘50s private-eye series 77 SUNSET STRIP, which was produced by Huggins and written by Marion Hargrove from Huggins’ story.

Posted by Marty at 6:06 PM CDT
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Sunday, June 25, 2006
I just watched the trailer for an upcoming Nicolas Cage movie titled THE WICKER MAN. It's a remake of a British movie from the early 1970's, which was not widely seen at the time, due to distribution troubles, but has since grown a reputation as a cult favorite. The original WICKER MAN stars Edward Woodward, later an American household name as the star of THE EQUALIZER, and Christopher Lee, and it was written by the renowned Anthony Shaffer, whose credits include the brilliant mystery SLEUTH.

The remake, directed by Neil LaBute, appears awful, judging from the trailer and from comments by LaBute about changes he has made to the source material. One such change, making the Cage character a father, sounds like a deadly one. Woodward was a virgin in the original picture, a character trait that was of utmost importance both to his character's reactions to the situation he was in and to the plot. I can't go into much more of THE WICKER MAN without getting into spoiler territory, but LaBute's updating of Shaffer's original screenplay (which was sensitively directed by Robin Hardy) seems on initial reflection to be fatal. The trailer goes to great lengths to make the remake look stupid, including a car crash, killer bees, and a gender switching of Lee's character, who is portrayed by Ellen Burstyn in the new film.

THE WICKER MAN by Hardy, Shaffer, Woodward and Lee is a unique horror film and a thoughtful one that delves into a peculiar culture--Paganism--and dares to pit that religion against Christianity, personified by Woodward's uptight policeman. The plot finds Woodward arriving on a remote Scottish island to search for a missing little girl and getting a complete runaround from the entire village, including the girl's mother, a sexy barmaid who performs a wild naked dance (Britt Ekland), and Lord Summerisle (Lee), who owns the island. Shaffer structures it as a mystery and keeps the audience--and Woodward--guessing right up to its powerful climax.

Thinking back on THE WICKER MAN, it seems likely that almost everything about it that makes it unusual and fascinating will likely be jettisoned by a Hollywood studio attempting to dumb it down for the 16-year-olds: the lead's virginity, the otherworldly Scottish locations (the new film is set in the U.S., but filed in Canada), the nudity and eroticism (extremely important to the story), the unusual folk songs, the downbeat ending.

Perhaps the marketing people are making the new WICKER MAN look stupider than it really is (it wouldn't be the first time), but I hold out little hope that it will be a good movie.

Posted by Marty at 12:01 AM CDT
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Saturday, June 24, 2006
Fight! Fight!
A few days ago, I wrote about watching TWIN DRAGON ENCOUNTER, which is a terrible Canadian action movie starring a pair of twin martial artists, Michael and Martin McNamara. Something I didn't mention was the ridiculous theme song. It's one of the funniest things I've ever heard. It's called "Right to Fight" or something like that and repeats lyrics like, "We're gonna fight for our right to fight." I don't know what that means, but it's a remarkably cheesy '80s power rock tune and you need to hear it. So here's the opening title sequence of TWIN DRAGON ENCOUNTER. It'll also give you the chance to witness the McNamara brothers and how desperately they tried to model themselves after the great god Lee Horsley.

And don't forget--you got to fight...for your fight.

Posted by Marty at 10:45 AM CDT
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