Saturday, March 21, 2020

Announcing the Disaster Blogathon

Announcing the Disaster Blogathon.  My co-host, Dubsism, came up with this idea, and I am privileged to be asked to be a co-host on it. 

Disaster movies cover a wide spectrum of topics.  Earthquakes, floods, meteor strikes, volcano eruptions.

But "disaster" is not limited to natural occurrences.  Any movie in which a group of people deal with the stress of the coming (or aftermath) of a traumatic event could conceivably fall into the "disaster film" designation.  Thus, the 1970 film Airport falls into the category as a group of people deal with trauma aboard an airplane.

For this blogathon we are requesting you pick a movie involving a disaster and sign up for this blogathon.  If you are unsure if your choice qualifies just ask us.  There are lots of movies to choose from, but only two people will be allowed to choose a certain movie, so get your choices in early.  Need a suggestion?  Try one of these.

The Roster:

Dubsism: The Concorde: Airport '79 and an examination of the two movies spoofed by the movie Airplane! (Zero Hour and Airport)
The Midnite Drive-In: The Stand mini-series (1994)

Angelman's Place: Deep Impact (1998)

Realweegiemidget Reviews Airport (1970)
Caftan Woman: The Hurricane (1937)
Moon in Gemini: The Andromeda Strain (1971)
@KinoJoan: Titanic (1953)
Sports Chump Independence Day (1996)
MovieRob: (TBD)
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies: The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)
The Oak Drive In: The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
The Spirochaete Trail: Hero (1992)
Cinematic Catharis: It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)
Taking Up Room: The Towering Inferno (1974)
Silver Screenings: When Worlds Collide (1950)
Hollywood Genes: Melancholia (2011)
Hamlette's Soliloquy: The High and the Mighty (1954)
The Stop Button: Ashfall (2019)
John V.'s Eclectic Avenue: Miracle Mile (1988)
Pale Writer: Airport '75 (1975)
MovieFanfare: End Day (2005)
Horseback to Byzantium: Exit (2019)
The Sacred in the Secular: Pompeii (2014)
And You Call Yourself a Scientist? No Time at All (1958)
Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: Titanic (1953)
Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: an article about the production Code's influence on disaster films made during  the Breen era (1934-1954)  "Code Concepts: Disaster Films, Responsibility and Irrational Fear".
An Aging Broad with a Scrapbook Deluge (1933)

Friday, March 20, 2020

Nuts to You

This is my entry for the Favorite TV Episode Blogathon (2020 ed.) hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts

Nothing, absolutely nothing could prepare you for the bizarre turn that Dick van Dyke and the cast pulled for this second season entry in "The Dick van Dyke Show".  Up until then the show had followed a typical 60's sitcom format of the day, delving into the home life and work life of it's star, Rob Petrie (van Dyke), as he dealt with troubles and misunderstandings in his daily routine.

Van Dyke costarred with Mary Tyler Moore as his wife, Laura, and Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie (as Buddy and Sally), who were his co-writers on a variety show,"The Alan Brady Show".  A typical episode might include Laura getting jealous of Rob because he has to spend a lot of time with a beautiful guest star on the TV show he writes for, or a ne'er-do-well brother of Buddy showing up and hustling Rob in a game of pool.

But in the middle of the second season, which was during they heyday of another hit show The Twilight Zone, a script came across the desk of the producer, Sheldon Leonard, that turned the van Dyke show on it's ear.  Although Leonard initially didn't like the concept and thought it wasn't all that funny, he gave the go ahead to film it, later admitting he was wrong about his initial reaction.

The show is basically a Zone parody.  And just to home in that concept, the aliens come from a planet called "Twilo".  The bizarre nature of the episode makes it stand out among the rest of the shows oeuvre.

The Dick van Dyke Show: "It May Look Like a Walnut" (original air date: February 6, 1963):

The show opens with Rob and Laura in bed.  Rob is watching a horror movie on late night TV.  (Late night?  The clock on the nightstand reads only 9:00)  Laura keeps whining to Rob to turn it off as she is frightened.

Sadistic Rob not only insists on watching it to the end, but he insists on torturing Laura by describing in detail what went on in the movie, despite her objections.  And scaring the hell out of her.

To wit:  It seems that aliens from the planet Twilo are trying to invade the Earth.  These aliens have an affinity for walnuts and are distinguished from humans by the fact that they have no thumbs.  And they have four eyes, two in the back of their head.  And the leader of the Twilo invasion, Kolak, has an uncanny resemblance to Danny Thomas.  (Danny Thomas being a very popular TV show host and actor of the day).

Additionally there are these strange walnuts which, when cracked open, reveal not a nut, but some weird glowing thing that causes the human who opened it to transform from a human to an alien from Twilo, complete with missing thumbs and extra eyes.

The next day finds Rob waking up to walnuts scattered all over the place and Laura acting like nothing is peculiar.  Rob is convinced that Laura is setting him up for an elaborate practical joke which includes hints that Kolak was not just a character he saw in a late night film but a real person.

Laughing it off, Rob heads to the office and tries to tell Sally and Buddy about his troubles that morning with Laura.  But apparently, at least to Rob, Laura has convinced his co-workers to join in on the gag.  Both swear that they know Kolak is real, and they apparently have been transformed into aliens themselves.  This even includes Mel (Richard Deacon), the boss of the three.  They even tell Rob that the guest star for the week's show is none other than Danny Thomas

After Buddy and Sally leave, who appears but Kolak himself (or maybe it's Danny Thomas trying to convince Rob that he is Kolak...)  As Rob descends further into madness, he becomes convinced that all this is a dream, but attempts to force himself to wake up from the nightmare are fruitless.

Rob goes home where this madness continues as he finds Laura in the living room closet with a mound of walnuts.  And she and the rest of his friends (and Danny Thomas) closing in on him, sans thumbs and the extra eyes.

Of course, it won't come as a surprise that it all is a dream.  (Geez, hope that wasn't a spoiler).  Rob wakes up and then wakes Laura to tell her about his weird dream.  It turns out that due to Rob's shenanigans with relating the movie to her that Laura too had been in a nightmare.  They decide they are too scared to go back to sleep so the turn on the TV. Only to find that the late late movie is


(Guess who's not getting any more sleep tonight...)

Dick van Dyke himself ranks this episode as one of his top five favorites of the series' run.  It also ranks in TV Guide's list as one of the best TV show episodes of all time.  (And that's not just best comedy show episodes... the list covers the entire spectrum of offerings.  An episode of The Sopranos, one of Mad Men and one of 24 are all in the 2009 version of he list.)

Pleasant dreams, folks, if you can.


Friday, March 13, 2020

Sing for Your Supper

This is my second entry in Pop Stars Moonlighting Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews

The Jazz Singer started out as a Broadway play, way back in 1925.

It has been made into three separate movies since then.  The most famous one, the one everybody and their mother has heard of, is the noted "First Talkie", a film that came out in 1927 and featured Al Jolson in the title role.

The second iteration of the story was filmed in 1952 with Danny Thomas.

An additional piece was filmed in 1959 for TV with Jerry Lewis.  The show was NBC's TV series  Ford Startime.

In 1980, yet another version of the story hit the big screen with pop star Neil Diamond as the Jewish cantor turned cabaret singer.

At the rate of on version every 25 years or so, we are overdue for another version of this hoary classic story, but I think probably Neil Diamond rang the death knell on the story.  Besides, it requires a bit of a Jewish background to really pull off the believability of the story, and who in the pop world could convince the public they were Jewish?  At least Jolson, Lewis and Diamond came from Jewish backgrounds.  (Thomas was from a Roman Catholic background, but he was believable as a Jew.)

The Jazz Singer (1980):

Yussel Rabinovitch (Neil Diamond) comes from a long line of cantors (singers in the synagogue).  But Yussel prefers to be known as Jess Robin, and has a hankering for more than a career as a religious vocalist.

He and his good buddy, Bubba (Franklin Ajaye), hang out together.  Bubba is part of a black vocal group trying to hit it big in the music industry, and Jess helps by writing songs which the group sings.  Jess' father (Laurence Olivier) is disapproving of his sons musical ambitions.  He wants Jess to stick to being a cantor, a tradition that has been in the family for 5 generations.

Pop is unaware of Jess' sideline until Jess gets arrested during a bar fight.  The bar fight was instigated because Jess agreed to take the place of a missing member of Bubba's singing group (playing in blackface). A riot ensues when it was discovered that Jess was actually white.

Deciding to walk "the straight and narrow" after Pop had to bail Jess out of jail, he watches reluctantly as Bubba and his group head off to the west Coast.  Things come to a head when Bubba calls Jess from Los Angeles and says that Jess may have some chance at the big time.  A singer in a rock band wants Jess to help with the production of a cover of one of his songs.  Upon arrival he finds that the singer is distorting the basic premise of the song by transforming it from a ballad to a punk rock song.  And when Jess tries to correct the interpretation, not only does he get fired, but his friend and the vocal group gets canned too.

But Molly (Lucy Arnaz), a promoter, thinks he has potential, and takes him under her wing as his manager. She gets him a gig as opening act for Zane Gray, an act who is going to have a television special.

At the concert Jess' wife Rivka (Caitlin Adams) shows up.  She tries to convince Jess to forget all this superstar dream hullabaloo and return to New York.  But Jess turns her down and a divorce is imminent.

But on the good side, Jess is falling in love with Molly and with the idea of being a superstar.  The only down side is Jess' obsession with getting it perfect.  During a recording session Jess berates his band and eventually just takes off.  He wanders the southwest and ends up being a singer in a bar band in Laredo, but Bubba tracks him down.

He has news for Jess.  Not only is his album a huge success, but he is also a father.  The ultimate family move is he finally gets a chance to reconcile with his father who had disowned him because he turned down his heritage as a cantor to pursue his superstar dreams.  This accompanies him singing the tradition Kol Nidre song in the synagogue, a song of redemption and forgivenes in the jewish tradition.

There is a lot of similarities with the original story.  It does keep the struggle of Jess to pursue his dreams despite his father's objections.  Of course, the title is now a misnomer, because what Jess sings is anything BUT jazz.

I watched this movie when it came out back in 1980, mainly because I was a fan of Neil Diamond. But unlike Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond is no actor.  Which explains why he wasn't able to transition from a singing career to an acting career.  The film is ranked as one of the worst movies of all time, and he beat out Sam Jones (Flash Gordon), Bruce Jenner (Can't Stop the Music) and Michael Beck (Xanadu) to win the first Worst Actor award at the Razzies.  (and Laurence Olivier shared the award for Worst Supporting Actor.... You have to see his take on a Jewish father , which is pretty bad.  He did a better job of a Jew in The Boys from Brazil).

Tastes change as time goes by.  I kind of liked the movie when I saw it the first time.  It's not horrible even now, but I wonder what actually appealed to me the first time.  Other than the music, which is still good.  (I would definitely have taken Caitlin Adams over Lucy Arnaz, that much is certain...)

Time to head to the house.  Drive safely, folks.


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Rolling with the Roadies

This is my first entry in the Pop Stars Moonlighting Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews

On my list of acts that I hope to see in concert before they stop touring altogether is Meat Loaf.  Meat Loaf is the stage name of Marvin Lee Aday, a vocalist who is better known for his long songs, mostly penned by Jim Steinman, than any essentially short pop ditties, but he has a number of songs that get radio play that cause me to turn up the radio:  "Paradise By the Dashboard Lights", "I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)", "Life is a Lemon and I Want My Money Back", "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" and of course, my favorite song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, "Hot Patootie".

According to IMDb, Meat Loaf has 104 acting credits to his name.  Many of those are for videos for his music ventures (MTV videos, concerts and the like.)  But he has appeared in dozens f movies and TV shows.  His first acting job, according to that same website was as a kid in the stands in a scene in State Fair (although I'm not sure which scene he is in.)  He got his start as a screen actor in the aforementioned Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Aside from today's feature, however, I've only seen him in RHPSBlack Dog, and an episode of my favorite TV series, Monk.

Roadie is typical of the late 70's/early 80's comedies directed at young adults.  The story of an average Joe and his adventures in the world of concerts is pretty much a standard type of film from the era.

Don't watch Roadie for the performance of Meat Loaf.  Not that his performance isn't genuinely fun to behold.  It's just the kind of character you'd expect from a guy who looks like Meat Loaf (not to mention having a stage name like "Meat Loaf"...)

And don't watch Roadie for the plot.  The plot, such as it is, is pretty ridiculous anyway.

Rather watch Roadie as  a window into what was some of the greatest music of it's time.  The soundtrack to Roadie is a microcosm of late 70's music, the kind that appealed to me: rock, outlaw country and a bit of punk.  With Hank Williams, Jr., Blondie, Cheap Trick, Asleep at the Wheel and Alice Cooper on the soundtrack, it is a feel good set of tunes.

Roadie (1980):

Travis W. Redfish (Meat Loaf) is a driver for a beer distributor, Shiner Beer (the national beer of Texas).  He and his best friend and co-driver,   B.B. (Gailard Sartain) are driving along the highway when they spot a tour bus in distress.

Initially they are going to pass it by, but Travis spots a vision of beauty in the back of the bus, Lola Bouillabase (Kaki Hunter).  Travis brings the beer truck to a screeching halt, despite the objections of B.B.

Travis, it turns out, is something of a redneck MacGyver.  He can fix anything.  He fixes the tour bus and then is invited to go along with them to Austin where the bus is scheduled to deliver equipment for a Hank Williams Jr concert.

At the concert venue he meets up with tour promoter Mohammed Johnson (Don Cornelius, the face of Soul Train, a TV show that was popular at the time).  Johnson (and Lola) convince Travis to accompany them to L.A. as a roadie.

Thus begins the epic journey.  Lola has her sights set on making it with Alice Cooper and talks not much of anything else.   But Travis is at times so infatuated with Lola that he gets himself into situations that he never dreamed of in his life as a beer truck driver.

Along the way, our hero manages to save the day more than once.  In one particularly funny scene, the authorities have cancelled a concert due to the energy crisis.  But Travis manages to harness the power of the sun (and some cow patties) to put on the concert anyway.

Eventually they end up in New York where Alice Cooper is putting on a concert and Travis uses his special knowledge to get that concert off the ground.  But Lola's obsession with Alice Cooper eventually gets on his nerves.

Back on the home front there is also a bit of drama.  Travis' father (Art Carney) is a riot without doing a damn thing useful.  But B.B. and Travis' sister, Alice Poo (and there's a redneck name if I ever heard one) are emotionally involved.  Alice (Rhonda Bates) eventually ropes B.B. into getting married.

Over the course of the film, we are treated to concerts by Hank Williams Jr, Blondie, Asleep at the Wheel, Alvin Crow and, of course, Alice Cooper.  The concerts are interrupted by the action going on behind the scenes however, and Roger Ebert wrote that the film didn't seem to know if it wanted to be a concert movie of a film about relationships.  It is somewhat disjointed in that respect, but it does entertain.

Time to make it roll.  Drive home safely folks.


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Flight to Destiny

This is my entry in the Claire Trevor Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema and In  the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood

So where did disaster movies get their start?  If you are thinking Irwin Allen, I suggest you are off by a few years.  The High and the Mighty predates any of his films by 20 years.  In fact the classic Airport (which wasn't directed by Allen, and in fact predates even Allen's disaster movies by a couple of years) was still 16 years away.  I would consider The High and the Mighty to be the father of all disaster movies.

It has all of the elements of those classics that you remember, such as Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and others.  It has an all-star cast all pitted in a classic nail-biting event where unfortunate events may or may not mean death and destruction to the people caught up in those events.

Starring John Wayne, Robert Stack, Claire Trevor, Phil Harris, Robert Newton and a host of others, the plot is a plane ride from Honolulu to San Francisco in which it appears that the plane just might not make it to its final destination.  All of the characters are either running from their respective pasts or running from their futures.  Its Melodrama with a capital "M".

The movie garnered 6 Oscar noms including one for both Clair Trevor and Jan Sterling for Best Supporting Actress (both of which lost to Eva Marie Saint for her role in On the Waterfront).  I note that both of of those were pretty good in the film, but their screen time is shared by so many others that they sometimes seem lost in the shuffle.

The High and the Mighty(1954):

Dan Roman (John Wayne) prepares to help pilot a transatlantic flight from Honolulu to San Francisco.  Roman is rather old to be a co-pilot, but he has a past that has inhibited him.  It seems that a few years earlier he had been a pilot on a plane that crashed, and among the dead were his wife and young son.  So he has not had an entirely great life in the interim.

The passengers include a variety of characters.  May Holst (Claire Trevor) is an actress who hasn't had much luck in recent years.  Sally McKee is a former beauty queen who is on her way to meet a future husband, except the potential mate, she thinks, is attracted to her because he thinks she is the young beauty queen he saw in a picture that is several years old.  Lydia Rice (Laraine Day) is an heiress whose husband, Howard (John Howard), has rashly invested in a gold mine and she doesn't want to be with him anymore because of it.  Donald Flaherty ( Paul Kelly) is a professor who has been helping the government with some project (probably a bomb, but it is never really established) and has left the project in disgust to go back to his university.  ED Joseph (Phil Harris) and his wife (Ann Doran) are returning from a less than spectacular vacation on the islands.  Throw in a few more people, each of which is trying to deal with their own personal problems (John Smith and Karen Sharpe play a young married couple returning from their honeymoon with worries about the future) and you have an assortment of people that only a Hollywood movie could pit together.

On the flight things are going smoothly until one of he four engines catches fire.  The fire is put out forthwith, but damage has caused some of the fuel needed for the flight to leak out.  This creates the drama that drives the film.  The navigator, Lenny (Wally Brown), insists they could make the coast if the winds will just play along, but it turns out that he has made a miscalculation.  The pilot, John Sullivan (Robert Stack) thinks the best course is to ditch the plane in the Atlantic and wait for a rescue from the Coast Guard, which is on its way to intercept them.  But Dan is convinced by Lenny that they could actually reach the coast.

AS the flight goes on, the passengers and crew deal with their personal problems, as well as face the uncertain future that they may not actually survive to face it.  The tension mounts, as it must do, and there are some twists along the way.  Don't miss the scene where one unstable passenger confronts another with the accusation that the other has been tempting his wife into infidelity.  This being 1954 and not 2020, you will see some things that nobody could get away with in these post 9/11 days.  Not including the fact that in those days you could actually smoke on a plane.

Whether the plane arrives in San Francisco or not, some or all of these people will experience their own individual rebirth into life.  As must needs be in classic Hollywood style.

THat all for this trip.  Drive safely folks.


Friday, March 6, 2020

Mutiny in Odessa

This is my entry in the Out to Sea Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini

In the century + of cinematic history there are scenes which are memorable.  Some of them are so memorable that even people who haven't seen the entire film are familiar with the iconic scene, so much so that the mere mention of the movie will call up the scene.

King Kong:  The ape at the top of the Empire State building.

Gone With the Wind:  "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

North by Northwest: Cary Grant being chased by a plane.

Psycho:  The shower scene where Janet Leigh gets the knife.

Jaws:  "You're gonna need a bigger boat"

Silence of the Lambs: Hannibal Lecter's "thhpthhpthhp"

And you can probably come up with dozens of others.

One that you may or may not be familiar with is the battle on the Odessa steps from Battleship Potemkin.  Although you may not be familiar with that scene in particular, however, you have seen it's influence, I'm sure.  The famous shootout from the Brian DePalma film The Untouchables was highly influenced by it.  So was the scenes at the end of The Godfather where one member of the five families gets executed on steps.  And countless parodies of the scene appear in movies across the span of cinematic history.

The Battleshp Potenmkin was Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein's homage to the 1905 mutiny on the Russian battleship Potemkin, one of the early predecessor's to the eventual Russian Revolution of 1917.  And although, by necessity, Eisenstein's story had to be truncated, it makes for an interesting segment of Russian history.  And if you are interested in a more in depth relating of the story, I highly recommend Neal Bascomb's Red Mutiny: Eleven Fateful Days on the Battleship Potemkin.

For one thing, if you only watch the movie, you could easily get the impression that the mutiny was spontaneous.  But there was a lot that led up to it, not just the maltreatment of sailors across the entire Russian navy.  When you know where people come from then you can better understand the motivations that drive them to where they are heading.

Battleship Potemkin is one of the greatest movies of all time according to many lists. In September 2012, Sight and Sound named it #11 of the best 100 movies of all time.  And in 1952 it was the best film of all time as named at the Brussels World's Fair.  That last fact is extremely impressive to me, at a time when the Cold War was heating up and Russia was looked on as a potential Evil Empire.

Battleship Potemkin (1925):

The time is early summer 1905.  The crew of the Battleship Potemkin are typical of any ship in the Russian Navy at the time.  Pressed into service they have to not only endure the hardships of life at sea, but they are treated poorly by their superiors.  Among others, a sailor named Vakulinchuk has had his fill of the ill treatment he receives at the hands of the officers like Commander Golikov and his second in command, Chief Officer Gilarovsky.

To top off all the insults received from the officers, the ship has taken on, as meat for the crew, a load of worm-infested stuff that shouldn't even be fed to a dog.  The crew complains, of course, but Comm. Golikov, with the help of the ship's surgeon, Smirnov, declares that the worms are just maggots (as if that's any better) and can be washed off before preparation of the crew's meal of borscht.

But the crew seems to have had enough, and refuses to eat the borscht.  Golikov and Gilarovsky are incensed.  After all, didn't they say the meat was edible?  Golikov takes action and demands a on-deck assembly of all the sailors.  Then he demands that those who will not eat the borscht step forward. 

Those who do he deems are insubordinate and performs his own court-martial.  He declares the rebels guilty and summons the rifle squadron to execute them.  But Vakulinchuk convinces the soldiers not to fire on their comrades.  Thus begins the mutiny, and the sailors take over, executing the commanders and taking control of the ship.  In the ensuing melee, however, Vakulinchuk is killed.

The sailors take the battleship to the port city of Odessa, where they plan to bury their hero, Vakulinchuk, with honors.  The citizens gather to see the body of their comrade, with a sign that declares he was killed "for a spoonful of borscht." 

The citizens are whipped into a frenzy against the Tsar, and the city officials call out the city guard which advances upon the dissenters, mowing down anyone in their path.  This is the pivotal scene of the film and the one for which it is most famous; the battle on the Odessa Steps. 

And in retaliation the sailors on board the battleship fire upon the city's opera house, where the military leadership is housed.

Ultimately, this being a paean to the first revolutionary actions that led to the deposing of the Tsar and creating the Communist Republic that eventually became Russia, the scene ends with the strains of victorious song and the success of the revolution.  Of course, any student of history knows it was not so immediate.  It would take yet another 12 years before the success of the Russian Revolution actually came to fruition.

What is not shown, the immediate aftermath of the mutiny, there was much dissension among those who had initially mutinied.  The battleships sent to disarm the mutineers and retake control of the Russian flagship had initially joined in the mutiny, but at least one of the ships decided to return to Russia and beg forgiveness.  Only the Potemkin sailed on to freedom, and even then, after the sailors were granted asylum, the battleship was eventually returned to Russian control.

But that shouldn't take anything away from the significance of the film as a piece of history, or from its significance in the pioneering of certain filming processes.  I don't consider it to be as great as its touted to be by critics, but it is a significant movie in the history of cinema, if only as a historical look at the early stages of the revolution.