Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Evil of Victor Frankenstein in Hammer Films

 (Warning: If you have not seen Hammer Films' "Frankenstein" movies  you might want to avoid this article. Quite simply, Here There Be Spoilers)

When many people hear the name "Frankenstein", they are apt to think of the Creature created by the scientist of that name. And when many picture that Creature, he is played by Boris Karloff in makeup and platform boots. When others hear the name "Frankenstein", however, they are apt to think of the scientist himself, Baron Victor Frankenstein. And when they picture that scientist, he is played by Peter Cushing in exquisite, early 19th Century clothing.

It was in 1956 that the British production company Hammer Films decided to make their own movie based on Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. The novel had been previously adapted by Universal Pictures in 1931, the success of that film leading to an entire series of movies starring Frankenstein's Creature. Hammer Films' version of the classic novel, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), would prove equally successful. Like Universal's Frankenstein (1931) it would also lead to a series of films. Unlike Universal, however, the star of Hammer's "Frakenstein" films would be the villainous doctor himself.

At the time that he was cast as Victor Frankenstein, Peter Cushing was primarily a star of British television. He had already starred in several BBC productions, including television adaptations of  Pride and Prejudice (in which he played Mr. Darcy) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (in which he played Winston Smith). He had played supporting roles in a few films, including The Black Knight (1954), The End of the Affair (1955), and Alexander the Great (1956). The Curse of Frankenstein gave Peter Cushing, heretofore a leading man on television and a supporting actor in motion pictures, his first leading role in a feature film. There can be little doubt that his performance in The Curse of Frankenstein was largely responsible for its success. Indeed, not only would Hammer make more "Frankenstein" films starring Peter Cushing as the doctor, but Peter Cushing would go onto play Van Helsing in Hammer's "Dracula" movies, Sherlock Holmes, and Captain Clegg among other roles.

Of course, Peter Cushing owed much of his performance in The Curse of Frankenstein to a particularly strong screenplay by Jimmy Sangster. While the script gave Christopher Lee a choice role as the Creature, the centre of attention in The Curse of Frankenstein remains Victor Frankenstein himself. This is in stark contrast to Universal's Frankenstein, in which the Creature (played by Boris Karloff) is the main attraction. While Colin Clive delivered an excellent performance as Henry Frankenstein (Universal having changed the doctor's name from the novel) in both Frankenstein and its sequel Bride of Frankenstein, he was largely outshined by Boris Karloff. What is more, Colin Clive's Frankenstein is as nearly as different from Peter Cushing's Frankenstein as night and day. Colin Clive's Frankenstein is a misguided scientist who might play with the laws of nature, but is less willing to break the rules when it comes to conventional morality. In Bride of Frankenstein when Dr. Pretorius proposes building a mate for the Creature, Colin Clive's Frankenstein is reticent to do so. One suspects that Peter Cushing's Frankenstein would not only have eagerly taken Pretorious up on his offer, but he probably would have thought of it himself.

Indeed, while Colin Clive's Henry Frankenstein may be considered a hapless anti-hero, Peter Cushing's Victor Frankenstein can be and usually is an outright villain. Quite simply, in Hammer's "Frankenstein" movies Victor Frankenstein is devoted to the pursuit of science at any cost, regardless of if it is illegal or immoral. While Henry Frankenstein in the Universal films was content to get bodies for his experiments through robbing graves or vaults, Victor Frankenstein in the Hammer films is not below getting bodies for his experiments through outright murder. When he needs a brain for his creation in The Curse of Frankenstein, he simply invites Professor Bernstein (played by Paul Hardtmuth) to his home and then promptly shoves him off the top of a staircase.

Despite his devotion to science it would be a mistake to think that Victor Frankenstein cannot appreciate the "better things" in life. Peter Cushing's Frankenstein is an urbane sophisticate with a love of wine, women, and song. Unfortunately, he is as immoral in his pursuit of pleasure as he is his pursuit of science. In The Curse of Frankenstein he has been dallying with his beautiful maid Justine (played by Valerie Gaunt), despite being betrothed to the equally beautiful Elizabeth (Hazel Court). When Justine threatens Frankenstein that she will inform everyone that she is pregnant with her child unless he marries her, he insures she is locked inside the laboratory with the Creature, full well knowing what her fate will be.

This is not to say that in The Curse of Frankenstein Victor Frankenstein does not have his good points. Peter Cushing plays the doctor with such charm and joie de vivre that it is sometimes hard not to root for him, even when he is doing some of the most despicable things. It must also be pointed out that when his fiancée Elizabeth is threatened by the Creature he goes to rescue her, even going so far as to destroy the Creature. It would then seem that Victor Frankenstein is capable of caring for someone other than himself after all.

With the success of The Curse of Frankenstein and the popularity of Peter Cushing in the role of the not-so-good doctor, the expectation would be that he would become an increasingly better person in the successive movies. This was not the case in the Hammer "Frankenstein" films. In fact, with the exception of one film (which I will discuss below) Victor Frankenstein remained as ruthless as ever. In fact, in some ways he would grow even worse than he was in The Curse of Frankenstein. Indeed, when audiences left the evil doctor in The Curse of Frankenstein  he was due to be executed by guillotine. At the start of The Revenge of Frankenstein he escaped by having a priest beheaded in his stead and then buried as "Victor Frankenstein". We later find him in the village of Carlsbruck using the name "Dr. Stein" and up to his old tricks--namely, building a new Creature.

In the fourth film in the series, Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), the doctor shows as little concern for his fellow man as he ever did. When his assistant Hans (played by Robert Morris) is executed and Hans' girlfriend Christina (played by Susan Denberg) commits suicide, he thinks nothing about reviving Christina's body and transferring Hans' soul into it. If anything Victor Frankenstein is even more ruthless in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969). Not only is he still committing murder to get body parts for his experiments, but when he learns Dr. Karl Holst (played by Simon Ward) has been stealing narcotics from an asylum pharmacy, he promptly blackmails Dr. Holst and his girlfriend Anna Spengler (played by Veronica Carlson) into helping him in his latest experiment.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed also contains one of the most heinous acts committed by the doctor in Hammer's series of "Frankenstein" movies, and it is one that seems out of character for Frankenstein. Quite simply, in one scene he rapes Anna Spengler. Here it must be pointed out that the scene was not in the original script and is never again referenced in the film after it has happened. It must also be pointed out that it was filmed over the objections of Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, and director Terence Fisher. Peter Cushing even apologised to Miss Carlson afterwards! The scene was an afterthought added by Hammer executive James Carreras to please American distributors, who were wanting more sex and violence. At any rate, while Frankenstein is not below committing murder in the name of science, it is inconceivable to think of him forcing himself on a woman. In the previous "Frankenstein' films the doctor only uses violence as either a means to advance science (getting bodies through murder, et. al.) or to preserve his own freedom (sending Justine to her death, et. al.). Since the rape scene is not in the original script and is not referenced in the film afterwards, an argument could be made that it never even happened. It could even have been a bad dream on the part of Anna (who would understandably be frightened by Frankenstein).

Regardless, when Peter Cushing returned as Victor Frankenstein in the last film of the series, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), he is as amoral as ever. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell finds Frankenstein working as the head doctor at an asylum. It seems that Frankenstein blackmailed the asylum director, Adolf Klauss (played by John Stratton), who had been playing fast and loose with the asylum's funds, into giving him the position. Of course, this means that Frankenstein now has a new source for body parts for his latest creature. Quite simply, he murders his patients to get them.

Throughout Hammer's "Frankenstein" series, the doctor commits of crimes that would guarantee he would be sent to the guillotine that waited him at the end of The Curse of Frankenstein should he ever be caught. The exception to this is the 1964 film The Evil of Frankenstein, which is so different from the other movies in the series that it seems likely it is not even set in the same reality.  Indeed, in The Evil of Frankenstein Victor seems more like the misguided, but ultimately good Henry Frankenstein played by Colin Clive than the ruthless, determined, and amoral Victor Frankenstein played by Peter Cushing in The Curse of Frankenstein and The Revenge of Frankenstein. As if the differences in Frankenstein's character were not enough to prove that this is a different Frankenstein in a different reality, The Evil of Frankenstein provides the doctor and his Creature a backstory that in no way resembles The Curse of Frankenstein and The Revenge of Frankenstein. Although made by Hammer and starring Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein, it would seem acceptable to consider The Evil of Frankenstein as belonging to an entirely different continuity from the rest of Hammer's "Frankenstein" series.

Of course, there is one other "Frankenstein" film made by Hammer that definitely exists outside the continuity of their "Frankenstein" series, The Horror of Frankenstein (1970). By the late Sixties Hammer Films wanted to recapture the youth market that had made them the studio for horror films in the late Fifties and much of the Sixties. It is perhaps for this reason that they decided to replace Christopher Lee, with whom they were having dispute, with the youthful Ralph Bates as Dracula in Taste the Blood of Dracula. Unfortunately for Ralph Bates, when Hammer's American distributor Warner Bros/Seven Arts discovered this, they insisted that Christopher Lee must play Dracula. As a result, Ralph Bates lost the chance to play the legendary vampire. He would get to play a legendary character from Hammer's history, however, when the studio decided to reboot their "Frankenstein" series with a remake of The Curse of Frankenstein entitled The Horror of Frankenstein. Ralph Bates played Victor Frankenstein in the film.

Ultimately The Horror of Frankenstein would fail at the box office and Peter Cushing would return as Victor Frankenstein in the last instalment of the series, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. The Horror of Frankenstein suffered from a number of problems, not the least of which was director and writer Jimmy Sangster's decision to incorporate campy humour into the film. That having been said, much of the film's failure may have been the absence of Peter Cushing. As played by Ralph Bates, Frankenstein is still as determined, ruthless, and amoral as ever. And if anything he was even more of a sensualist than Peter Cushing's Frankenstein ever was, having seemingly slept with every girl at his university. Unfortunately, while Peter Cushing as Frankenstein possessed such charisma  that one almost rooted for him even as he was killing people for body parts, Ralph Bates' Frankenstein is so unappealing it is difficult to even understand what the girls at his university saw in him beyond good hair and a handsome face.  While Peter Cushing's Frankenstein was an urbane, charming aesthete, Ralph Bates' Frankenstein seems like a simple boor. In the end The Horror of Frankenstein only proved how necessary Peter Cushing was to the success of the "Frankenstein" films.

Indeed, as played by Peter Cushing, Victor Frankenstein remains one of the most memorable villains not only in horror films, but in films of any genre. Baron Frankenstein was a scientist so devoted to the pursuit of knowledge that he was willing to do almost anything to achieve his aims, including blackmail and murder. That having been said, it would be unfair to describe Frankenstein as a "mad scientist". Obsessed as he is with the pursuit of his craft, Frankenstein is as calm, cold, and calculated as they come. What makes Victor Frankenstein so effective as a villain, however, is not that he is utterly ruthless, determined, calculating, and amoral. Instead it is that he is possessed of an ineffable charm, the sort of charisma that would make even a matinee idol envious. One cannot help but like Baron Victor Frankenstein, even when it is against one's best judgement, as many characters in Hammer's "Frankenstein" series learned much too late.

By the mid-Seventies Hammer Films' brand of Gothic horror movies had largely went out of fashion, overtaken by the demonic horror of Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973) and slasher films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, released in 1974, would be the last film in Hammer's legendary "Frankenstein" series. While Hammer's brand of Gothic horror went out of style in the Seventies, however, their films remained popular. For many Victor Frankenstein would forever look like Peter Cushing.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Craig Hill R.I.P.

Actor Craig Hill died Tuesday, 21 April 2014 at the age of 88. He appeared in such films as The Black Shield of Falworth (1954) and What Price Glory (1952), and starred in the Fifties show Whirlybirds.

Craig Hill was born Craig Fowler in Los Angeles, California on 5 March 1926. He made his film debut in Cheaper by the Dozen in 1950. During the Fifties he appeared in several films, including All About Eve (1950), Detective Story (1951),  What Price Glory (1952), The I Don't Care Girl (1953), The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), Engagement Party (1956), Anything Goes (1956), Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), and Lafayette Escadrille (1958).  He made his television debut in an episode of My Little Margie. He starred  as P. T. Moore in Whirlybirds, a syndicated show produced by Desilu that centred on a helicopter chartering company. The show ran for three seasons. He also appeared on such shows as Lux Video Theatre, My Friend Flicka, The 20th Century Fox Hour, Death Valley Days, and Bourbon Street Beat.

In the early Sixties he appeared in the films You Have to Run Fast (1961) and Deadly Duo (1962). He appeared in episodes of the TV shows Surfside 6, Hawaiian Eye, Sugarfoot, and The F.B.I. He moved to Spain in 1965 and continued to appear in films made in Europe, including Ocaso de un pistoler (1965), Per il gusto di uccidere (1966), Sette pistole per un massacro (1967), Quindici forche per un assassino (1967), and Assignment Terror (1970).

In the Seventies he appeared in such films as Day of Judgement (1971), Tu fosa será la exacta (1971), Go Away! Trinity Has Arrived in Eldorado (1972), El refugio del miedo (1974), Solamente nero (1978), and Estigma (1980). From the Eighties into the Nineties he appeared in such film as Victòria! La gran aventura d'un poble (1983), Victòria! 2: La disbauxa del 17 (1983), Victòria! 3: El seny i la rauxa (1984), Escapada final (Scapegoat) (1985), La bahía esmeralda (1989), Lolita al desnudo (1991), Historias de la puta mil (1994), and Platillos volantes (2003).

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Why the New Twitter is a Total #Fail

To be honest I really have not liked the Twitter interface since 2012 when for some inexplicable reason they combined the feeds for retweets and mentions. Since then I think the Twitter interface has only gotten worse. Indeed, to access Twitter I rely upon HootSuite, whose interface actually allows for separate feeds for retweets and mentions. Twitter is currently in the process of rolling out yet another interface. And, sadly, going from the preview, this is the worst one ever.

Indeed, aesthetically I find the new interface, well, ugly. Users no longer have background pictures, but instead a plain off white background. Here I must point out that this plain white background actually makes reading tweets just a little harder, given they are also against an off white background. At the same time one's profile picture and cover picture are now much, much larger (too large if you ask me). I find the over all effect unappealing.

To make matters worse, tweets that have received more reaction than others now appear slightly larger than other tweets so, according to the Twitter blog, "your best content is easy to find". This is actually the thing I hate the most about the new layout. I do not want any of my tweets appearing smaller or larger than the others. I want them all to be the same size. First, I think this makes reading one's tweets harder. Second, from an aesthetic standpoint, it makes for a very unattractive feed. I much prefer tweets to all be the same size. Third, I really don't want any of my tweets emphasised at the expense of others. I like to think all of my content is good, regardless of if it has received engagement or not.

I do have to admit that the new layout has one improvement over the old. They have moved "Who to Follow (*ahem* which should be "Whom to Follow") and Trends to the right sidebar.  The end result is that one doesn't have to scroll as far down to see them now. Of course, I would rather they give us the option of removing "Who to Follow" entirely or at least place Trends above it. I've never used "Who to Follow", but I am interested in what is trending.

There are some features of the new layout that I really couldn't test in the preview. Supposedly in the new layout one can pin one of his or her tweets to the top of his or her page. Honestly, this doesn't sound that useful to me, but some people might like it. Another feature is that one can now filter others' timelines on their profiles by "Tweets", "Tweets with photos/videos", or "Tweets and replies". Again, I really don't see this as necessarily being that useful, although others might like it. Honestly, I would be happy if they would give us the ability to keep pictures and videos from displaying in the feed!

Over all I think the new Twitter layout is a big step in the wrong direction. The only way I could see myself enjoying using it is if they give us the following options: 1.) give us back background pictures; 2.) give us the option of making the profile picture and cover picture smaller; and, most importantly, 3.) give us the option of having all of our tweets the same size, regardless of how much engagement they have had.  I would also appreciate it if they separated retweets from mentions as well as a means to hide photos and videos in the stream. Unless they make those changes I think I will continue using HootSuite for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Happy Easter 2014

Today is Easter. And whether you regard it as a Christian festival celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, a festival honouring the spring and dawn goddess Eostre, or simply a fun day to eat lots of chocolate eggs and Peeps, I'm wishing you a happy one. And if you don't celebrate Easter, I'll just wish you a happy Sunday! As usual with major holidays, I thought I'd treat everyone to holiday themed pictures of beautiful actresses from the Golden Age of Film.

First up is Mary Carlisle who is playing the Easter bunny!
Next up is the lovely Debbie Reynolds.
Here the lovely Heather Angel is in someone's Easter basket.

The lovely Dorothy Jordan playing Easter bunny.
Wendy Barrie has found a bunny with a rather large egg.
And lastly, the lovely Ann Miller with a friend.

Happy Easter!!!!!

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Failure of the 1968 TV Series Blondie

At nearly 84 years in age Blondie is one of the longest running comic strips of all time. And as might be expected it has seen a good deal of success in other media. Nearly as famous as the comic strip itself is the series of 28 movies beginning with Blondie (1938) starring Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake. Blondie also saw a great deal of success on radio, where Blondie ran from 1939 to 1950.  There have also been Blondie comic books, Big Little Books, colouring books, and more. For all their success there is one medium that Blondie and Dagwood never did conquer: television. A Blondie TV series starring Arthur Lake and Pamela Britton ran for one season on NBC in the 1957-1958 season. The 1968-1969 television version of Blondie would do even worse. In fact it is often considered one of the biggest ratings catastrophes of the Sixties.

It was in December 1967 that CBS ordered a pilot for Blondie. The prospective new show was a joint venture of King Features Syndicate (owners of the comic strip), Universal Television, and Kayro Productions (the company of writers and producers Joe Connelly  and Bob Mosher, now probably best known for Leave It to Beaver and The Munsters). Cast as Blondie was Patricia Harty, who had last appeared in the single season sitcom Occasional Wife. Cast as Dagwood was Will Hutchins, perhaps best known for the Western Sugarfoot. Jim Backus was cast as Dagwood's boss Mr. Dithers.

 It was on 19 February 1968 that CBS announced its schedule for that fall. Among the shows that were added was the new version of Blondie. Sadly, among the shows that were cancelled was He & She, the ground breaking sitcom starring Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin. According to Harlan Ellision in his column in the Los Angeles Free Press (included in his compilation The Glass Teat) CBS president Mike Dann had to choose between renewing He & She and picking up Blondie. He chose the latter. Given what unfolded early in the 1968-1969 season, one has to wonder that he did not come to regret his decision.

Indeed, Blondie debuted on CBS on Thursday night, 26 September 1968. Its ratings for that night were mediocre at best. In many respects this should come as no surprise. While its competition on ABC was very weak (The Ugliest Girl in Town, which would be cancelled nearly as quickly as Blondie), its competition on NBC was Daniel Boone, a show that would rank #21 for the season. Worse yet, Daniel Boone was a popular show with children (especially boys), part of the audience who may well have watched Blondie had it been on in a different time.

While the ratings for Blondie's premiere were mediocre, the reviews it received were overwhelmingly negative. Wade H. Mosby of The Milwaukee Journal described the show as "A horrendously contrived piece of fluff that should have never been snatched from the comic pages..." Don Page of The Los Angeles Times referred to Blondie as  “an unmitigated disaster."  Cynthia Lowry of the Associated Press wrote of the show,  "the whole thing is pretty dismal." In his 5 December 1968 column in The Los Angeles Free Press Harlan Ellison referred to it as "an abomination of stupidity." George Gent of The New York Times was a little easier on the show than other critics, although he pointed out "the humour is so very basic that it would appear to be a children’s show exclusively."

It seems possible that viewers agreed with the critics, as ratings for Blondie dropped catastrophically in the weeks following its premiere. As early as mid-November there were rumours that CBS would cancel the show. In the 25 Nov. 1968 issue of Broadcasting it was even stated that the cancellation of Blondie was a virtual certainty. The rumours swirling around the survival of Blondie turned out to be true. It was the week of 16 December 1968 that CBS announced that they had axed the series. Its last episode aired on 9 January 1969.

Today it is difficult to adequately assess why the 1968-1969 version of Blondie failed. It is true that it aired opposite the high rated Daniel Boone on NBC, but its competition on ABC was The Ugliest Girl in Town, a show that did also poorly in the ratings and may have been loathed by critics even more than Blondie was. Blondie did receive overwhelmingly negative reviews, but there have been times when critics have been wrong. Both The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan's Island were trashed by the critics, yet they not only did very well in the ratings (The Beverly Hillbillies did phenomenally well), but their reruns are still aired to this day. Bad reviews can sometimes be a bad gauge as to the actual quality of a show.

It would seem the best way to determine why Blondie failed would be to actually watch episodes of the show. Unfortunately, with only thirteen episodes Blondie never received a syndication run, nor has it even been released on DVD. What is more, no episodes are available online or seemingly anywhere. The only clips from Blondie online are from a CBS 1968 television special to promote that network's new fall shows. The clips run around 5 minutes and half (including the theme song) and roughly summarise the plot of the first episode. They do offer some clues as to why the show may have failed.

Watching the clips it is perhaps safe to say that Blondie did not fail because of Will Hutchins. Mr. Hutchins actually did a very good job of playing Dagwood, emulating Arthur Lake while endowing the role with some of his own personal style. While Patricia Harty is sufficiently blonde and leggy as one would expect Blondie to be, she does not do nearly as well as Mr. Hutchins does as Dagwood, although in her defence the script seems to have hindered her (more on that later). We only get a brief glimpse of Jim Backus as Mr. Dithers and he does a good job in his few seconds. That having been said, Mr.Backus' Dithers seems a bit too much like Mr. Magoo. As much as I love Jim Backus, I cannot help but wonder if John Dehner or Douglas Fowley wouldn't have been better in the role. As to the kids, Peter Robbins (the voice of Charlie Brown in  A Charlie Brown Christmas and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown) and Pamelyn Ferdin (who would go onto play Felix's daughter on The Odd Couple) are adequate in the roles of Alexander and Cookie, although from the clips it would appear their roles could have been better written.

Of course, the casting of Alexander and Cookie point to something odd about the 1968-1969 version of Blondie. Quite simply, it seems rather anachronistic for the late Sixties with regards to the comic strip. By 1968 both Alexander and Cookie were teenagers, yet on the TV show they are both only around 12 and 9 years old respectively. The show also seems a bit anachronistic with regards to how Blondie dresses. While Blondie remains a constant thirtysomething in the comic strip, her wardrobe has always changed with the times. In 1968 Blondie was wearing dresses that would have been fashionable for any thirtysomething woman to wear that year. In the television show, however, Blondie wears a dress that, except for a somewhat higher hemline, looks strangely old fashioned, as if it was something she would have worn in the Fifties. Dagwood's hairstyle and clothes also seem to be out of date, but then Dagwood never was known for his fashion sense.

While the show appears to have had a deliberately anachronistic look, it seems unlikely that is what hurt it in the ratings. That having been said,  there is another clue in the clips in CBS' 1968 fall preview special to something that might have. In various reviews from the time the show was criticised for its emphasis on slapstick. To a small degree this is to be expected. After all, one of the running gags from the comic strip is Dagwood constantly running over Mr. Beasley the Postman as he leaves for work. Such slapstick was to be found in the movie series of the Forties as well. From the clips, however, it seems possible that the TV show may have had too much slapstick. Not only does Dagwood run into the postman, but Blondie pours hot tea in Dagwood's lap, and Dagwood bursts through the paper walls of a Japanese tea room. Now it's possible that the clips in the fall preview special included more slapstick than would appear in the average episode, but given the critics' reviews of the show it seems likely that the series did indeed have an emphasis on physical comedy, more so than most shows of the time.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with physical comedy. Such classic comedies from I Love Lucy to The Dick Van Dyke Show had more than their fair share of pratfalls. The biggest problem with the clips from the 1968 CBS fall preview special is that none of the scenes are particularly well written. In the movie series Alexander and Cookie often knew much more about what was actually going on than their parents, but in the clips they appear as little more than typical sitcom children. While Patrica Harty did the best with what she was given, the way Blondie is written she seems more like the stereotypical jealous wife than Blondie. It is true that in the movie series Blondie did tend towards jealousy, but it took some time before she did anything rash (often the better part of a movie). From the clips it would appear that in the first episode Blondie automatically and immediately concludes Dagwood is romancing Honey Hilton (played by Melinda O. Fee, Honey is the daughter of an important client) and pours hot tea on him. Sadly from the clips in the fall preview special and descriptions in newspapers of the episode ("Sayonara Dagwood"), the entire plot seemed to centre on Blondie mistakenly assuming Dagwood is having an affair, but done with none of the panache of the film Blondie on a Budget (in which Blondie is jealous of one of Dagwood's former flames, played by Rita Hayworth).

Sadly, from the clips in CBS' 1968 fall preview special, it seems possible that the bad reviews Blondie received were more than warranted. If the clips are an accurate presentation of the show that was to come, then it would seem possible that it concentrated a bit too heavily on slapstick and its plots may have been a bit hackneyed and not particularly well written. While the movie series of the Forties was hardly sophisticated comedy, its humour derived more from the characters themselves than sight gags and slapstick and even the plots had some originality to them. What is more, the characters in the films were much more than mere caricatures. As mentioned earlier, Blondie was jealous, but she was not so swift to overreact as she appears to have been in the 1968-1969 TV show.

Indeed, from the clips the CBS' 1968 fall preview special it is difficult to determine what goal  producers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher wanted to achieve with Blondie. In some ways it seems hard to believe the show is from the 1968-1969 season, as it would seem to be something that would have aired earlier in the Sixties. That is, it seems possible that Messrs Connelly and Mosher were trying to achieve a comic strip on film, not unlike the hit show Batman from the 1965-1966 season. In the wake of the success of Batman there were a number of pilots made that sought to emulate its success in bringing a camp sensibility to older properties, including Dick Tracy, The Perils of Pauline, I Love a Mystery, and so on. It seems possible that they wanted to do the same thing with Blondie, although it does not explain why the show (at least from the clips) seems to depart from the comic strip as it was in 1968.

It also seems possible that Messrs. Connelly and Moshe were attempting to fit Blondie into their own particular brand of comedy. It is notable that in some ways the clips of Blondie from the fall preview special seem like an odd cross between Leave It to Beaver and The Munsters. Like Leave It to Beaver, Blondie centres on a typical suburban family with children in their tweens, although in Blondie's case they seem to live in some odd time warp that combines the Fifties with the Sixties. Like The Munsters the show featured a none too bright husband with a smarter but very jealous wife. From the clips in the 1968 CBS fall preview special it seems possible that the producers were less concerned with a loyal adaptation of the comic strip Blondie than they were a sitcom more like those they produced in earlier years. Unfortunately, it appears that it may have been a poor fit.

Of course, most of this is speculation. All we can say with any certainty is that Blondie received poor reviews and poor ratings. I can say that in my humble opinion the clips from Blondie in the 1968 CBS fall preview special were not particularly well done. It seems possible that Blondie simply was not a very good show and this is why it failed so badly in the ratings. Indeed, in his December 1968 column in The Los Angeles Free Press Harlan Ellison described it as, "... a ratings disaster surpassed only by the all-time debacle, The Tammy Grimes Show (to which Blondie bears a marked resemblance)." It is perhaps because of this that the 1968-1969 version of Blondie has not been seen since. For better or worse this is unfortunate, as the 1968-1969 series is an interesting part of the history of one of the longest running comic strips of all time.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The 50th Anniversary of Them's 1st Public Perfromance

It was fifty years ago today Them made their debut at the Maritime Hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Them was founded by native Belfastite singer and multi-instrumentalist Van Morrison. In the early Sixties Mr. Morrision had performed with various bands in Northern Ireland, including The Monarchs and The Golden Eagles. It was in April 1964 Van Morrison founded a R&B club at the Maritime Hotel with Jimmy Conlon, Jerry McKernan and Gerry McKervey. In need of a band to play at the club he recruited members of the Belfast rock group The Gamblers (Alan Henderson, Billy Harrison, and Ronnie Millings) and keyboardist Eric Wrixon. The new band was named Them, after the 1954 sci-fi horror film Them! (1954).

It was not long before Them was signed to Decca and they made their first recording on 5 July 1964. It was during this session that what may be their best known song, "Gloria", was recorded. They would have a top ten hit in the United Kingdom with their cover of Big Joe Williams' "Baby, Please Don't Go", the flip side of which was "Gloria". It would be followed by the single "Here Comes the Night", which went to #2 in the United Kingdom and #24 in the United States. Unfortunately, while Them met some success, tensions in the band would drive Them apart. The tensions between band members reached the point where there were two competing bands named Them, one led by Billy Harrison and Pat McAuley and another by Van Morrison and Alan Henderson. As might be expected there was a lawsuit, the ultimate result of which was that Van Morrison and Alan Henderson won the right for their band to be called "Them" in the UK. Van Morrison left Them not long afterwards and the band, led by Alan Henderson, persisted in some form until 1971. Them has regrouped since then, although without Van Morrison.

Regardless, Them would have a lasting impact on garage rock and rock 'n' roll in general. The band would have an impact on such diverse artists as The Doors, MC5, Thin Lizzy, The Saints, Elvis Costello,  Nick Cave, and The Hives.

Here is a clip from 1965 of Them performing their signature song, "Gloria".


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Hard Day's Night Airs on TCM on June 2!

If you have never seen the classic Beatles film A Hard Day's Night, there may be no better time than this year to do so. On 2 June Turner Classic Movies will air A Hard Day's Night at 7 PM Central as part of a whole night of British Invasion movies. Among the other films TCM is showing that night is the classic Dave Clark Five film Catch Us If You Can (also known by its American title, Having a Wild Weekend). Catch Us If You Can will be particular of interest to film buffs as director John Boorman's feature film debut. Turner Classic movie is also airing the British music review film Pop Gear (also known by its American title Go Go Mania), which features performances by The Beatles, The Animals, Herman's Hermits, Peter and Gordon, Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas, The Nashivlle Teens, and others. TCM is also showing the Herman's Hermits films Hold On! and Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter, as well as Get Yourself a College Girl (it is an American beach movie, but it features appearances by The Dave Clark Five and The Animals).

Not only will TCM will be showing A Hard Day's Night this year, but Criterion is coming out with a DVD/Blu-Ray set on  24 June as well. In addition to a restoration of the film approved by director Richard Lester himself, the DVD/Blu-Ray set will include such features as audio commentary from the cast and crew, interviews with The Beatles from 1964, the 1994 documentary You Can't Do That: The Making of A Hard Day's Night, the 2002 documentary Things They Said, Richard Lester's short "The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film" (1959), and much more.

Of course, the best news may be that A Hard Day's Night will be returning to theatres on 4 July. It was already among the many films shown at the TCM Classic Film Festival this past weekend. It would seem that if one is a Beatles fan and has not yet seen A Hard Day's Night, there will be no excuse after this year!