Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The 50th Anniversary of Yellow Submarine

On July 5 1974 CBS aired the animated feature film Yellow Submarine (1968) on The CBS Friday Night Movies. Even at eleven years old I was a huge Beatles fan, and so I was naturally looking forward to the movie. And even though it was the American version of the film (more on that later), Yellow Submarine did not disappoint me. Not only did it feature some of my favourite Beatles songs, but the animation was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was a far cry from the Warner Bros. theatrical cartoons and Disney animated features I had seen throughout my childhood. It became my favourite animated feature film of all time and it remains so to this day. It was fifty years ago today that Yellow Submarine premiered at the London Pavilion. 

As odd as it might sound, Yellow Submarine emerged from an American Saturday morning cartoon, namely The Beatles. It was in 1965 that King Features Syndicate obtained the rights to produce a cartoon based on The Beatles for American television. The Beatles proved to be a hit and aired on ABC from 1965 to 1969. Despite the cartoon's popularity with the younger set, The Beatles themselves were not initially pleased with it. John Lennon in particular complained that it made them look like "the bloody Flintstones."

It was Al Brodax, the head of King Features' motion picture and television development at the time, who proposed making an animated feature film based on The Beatles' songs. He suggested to Brian Epstein, The Beatles' manager, that such a film could satisfy The Beatles' agreement with United Artists for a third film after A Hard Days Night and Help!. Having gotten the go-ahead to make the film, Mr. Brodax turned to TVC London to produce the movie itself. TVC London was founded in 1957 as TV Cartoons by animator George Dunning. Initially TVC London produced commercials for British television, although they eventually expanded into producing such animated shorts as "The Wardroble" and "The Apple". The success of TVC London led King Features Syndicate to contract TVC London to make the Saturday morning cartoon The Beatles in 1965. George Dunning himself would direct Yellow Submarine, while Jack Stokes of TVC served as the film's animation director.

Al Broadax would have been happy with a feature film that simply expanded on The Beatles Saturday morning cartoon, but TVC London had something different in mind.  The Beatles animated TV series utilised the extremely limited animation common to Saturday morning cartoons of the time. On the other hand, Yellow Submarine utilised what can best be described as stylised full animation. Yellow Submarine even departed from earlier animated feature films, particularly those produced by Disney. It was the first animated feature to draw upon the Pop Art of the day, psychedelia, Op Art, and many other modern artistic styles. It was also the first animated film with a rock soundtrack and the first animated feature with characters based upon real people (The Beatles).

While Yellow Submarine turned out to be something very different from The Beatles TV series, it may have owed something to the Saturday morning cartoon. The episode "Strawberry Fields Forever", produced for the cartoon's third and final season, featured a plot superficially similar to Yellow Submarine. Quite simply, The Beatles used the song "Strawberry Fields Forever" to make a drab orphanage a happier and more colourful place for the children there. What is more, it included some psychedelic imagery. In the end the episode is more than a little reminiscent of the sequence in which The Beatles bring colour back to Pepperland through use of their songs.

The original story for Yellow Submarine was written by Lee Minoff. The screenplay itself would ultimately be the product of multiple writers, including Jack Mendolsohn (who had worked for King Features on their "Krazy Kat" and "Beetle Bailey" television shorts, as well as The Beatles cartoon) and Eric Segal (who later wrote the novel Love Story, upon which the 1970 movie was based).  Reportedly, the screenplay for Yellow Submarine went through 14 drafts. The plot for the movie that ultimately involved The Beatles being recruited by Old Fred (voiced by Lance Percival) to save Pepperland ("an unearthly paradise 80,000 leagues under the sea...") from the Blue Meanies, who hate anything happy and hate music more than anything else. The Blue Meanies not only rob Pepperland of any of its colour, but all of its music as well.

Given how The Beatles viewed the Saturday morning cartoon, it should come as no surprise that initially they were not enthusiastic about Yellow Submarine. Even if their busy schedules had permitted them to do so, The Beatles probably would not have provided their own voices for the film. It was actors John Clive who voiced John, Geoff Hughes who voiced Paul, Peter Batten who voiced George, and Paul Angelis who voiced Ringo. It was only after The Beatles saw the rushes for Yellow Submarine and saw that it was very different from the Saturday morning cartoon that they developed any enthusiasm for the project. Ultimately, they agreed to the live-action cameo that appears at the end of the film.

While George Dunning directed Yellow Submarine and Jack Stokes served as the film's animation director, the film's art director came from outside TVC London. For the art director on Yellow Submarine TVC London hired German illustrator Heinz Edelmann. At the time Mr. Edelmann was known for his work on theatrical posters and the youth magazine twen, using a psychedelic style similar to contemporary Milton Glaser (here it must be noted that artist Peter Max did not work on Yellow Submarine and in fact Mr. Edelmann was working in psychedelia before Mr. Max was). Originally Heinz Edelmann was only supposed to work eight weeks during which he would design the look of the movie. In the end Edelmann worked an entire year on Yellow Submarine, often sleeping only four hours a night to complete the project. He was in charge of over 200 artists. In the end, Yellow Submarine would take a toll on Edelmann's health. It took him two years to recover from working on the film.

Of course, at the core of Yellow Submarine are the songs of The Beatles. The film utilised eleven full-length Beatles songs, as well as shorter snatches of yet other songs. The vast majority of the full-length songs had been previously released, the oldest being "Nowhere Man" from the album Rubber Soul. The Beatles provided Yellow Submarine with four, never-before-released songs. "Only a Northern Song" was written by George Harrison and recorded during the sessions for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. "All Together Now" was written by Paul McCartney during the sessions for Magical Mystery Tour. "It's All Too Much" was written by George Harrison and had been considered for inclusion in the TV special Magical Mystery Tour. "Hey Bulldog" was written by John Lennon, and was the one song written specifically for the movie Yellow Submarine.

When Yellow Submarine was released in the United States on November 13 1968, it was a slightly shorter film than had been released in the UK and Europe. Al Brodax felt that the film ran too long and as a result the "Hey Bulldog" sequence was cut from the American release, as was a sequence in which The Beatles met their Pepperland doppelgängers Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Fortunately the original British release was restored for its 1999 release on DVD, so that Americans have been able to see the same movie that the British and Europeans had seen since the Sixties.

Sadly, Yellow Submarine did not initially do well at the British box office. In fact, according to an August 14 1968 article in Variety, the film had been dropped by several Rank Organisation theatres because of poor box office sales. Fortunately, it performed much better in the United States, where it became a box office hit. On both sides of the Pond Yellow Submarine received generally positive reviews, and has since come to be regarded as a classic. Time magazine included it in their list of "The 25 All-Time Best Animated Films". The film boasts an impressive a 96% percent rating on the web site Rotten Tomatoes.

Yellow Submarine would be briefly released on VHS and Laserdisc in the Eighties. As mentioned earlier, the British release would be restored and released on DVD. More recently, Yellow Submarine has been restored again and released on DVD and Blu-Ray for its fiftieth anniversary. It has also been re-released to theatres throughout the United States and Europe.

Ultimately, Yellow Submarine would prove to be a pioneering effort in animated films. It was the first animated feature film with a rock soundtrack, as well as one of the earliest animated films to break with the Disney's more naturalistic style of animation. A January 9 1974 article in Variety gave credit to Yellow Submarine for bringing about a "graphic revolution". In many respects Yellow Submarine was revolutionary. It was the first animated film to utilise a diverse array of styles, from Pop Art to psychedelia to Op Art and yet other styles. Yellow Submarine also used a number of different animation techniques, from the time honoured technique of rotoscoping to the incorporation of live action photographs. It was a far cry from the animated features of Disney or even the Fleischer Brothers.

Today, fifty years after its premiere, Yellow Submarine is considered a classic. It is often counted among the greatest animated films of all time. It revolutionised animation and paved the way for animated features that departed from the Disney model and that appealed to teens and adults as much as (if not more than) they do to children. In the end, animation would never be the same again.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Ski Party (1965)

 (This post is part of the Winter in July Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini)

American International Pictures' series of "Beach Party" movies remain well known. Baby Boomers remember them fondly from their youth. Younger generations remember them fondly from repeated viewings on television (which is how I first saw them). What is sometimes forgotten is that the "Beach Party" series included movies whose settings were sometimes far from the beach. The first of these was Pajama Party in 1964. The second was Ski Party (1965), which was set on the slopes of a ski resort (it was shot on location in Idaho).

Although part of AIP's "Beach Party" series, like Pajama Party before it,  Ski Party was not a proper sequel to the earlier "Beach Party movies (Beach Party, Muscle Beach Party, et. al).  Annette Funicello only appears briefly as a college professor (not Dee Dee of the "Beach Party" films) and while Frankie Avalon stars in the film, he plays an entirely different character. None of the other regular characters from the "Beach Party" series appear, although actors who had previously appeared in "Beach Party" movies do, albeit in different roles. Deborah Walley had previously appeared in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). Dancer Bobbie Shaw appeared in both Pajama Party and Beach Blanket Bingo before appearing in Ski Party.

AIP's "Beach Party" series began in 1963 with the movie Beach Party starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. The movie proved to be a hit, so it was followed by the sequels Muscle Beach Party (1964), Bikini Beach (1964), and Beach Blanket Bingo. Because of the success of Beach Party, other studios soon jumped onto the bandwagon. United Artists put out For Those Who Think Young (1964). Universal released The Lively Set (1964). Paramount came out with The Girls on the Beach (1965) and Beach Ball (1965). And there were yet other movies that imitated AIP's beach films. By 1965 not only had there been three "Beach Party" movies (four if one counts Pajama Party), but there had been several imitators released as well. It was getting more and more difficult to keep the films fresh and interesting. The solution for AIP was then to simply change the setting, yet keep the "Beach Party" formula of teenage independence, fun, music, and mild sexuality. The end results were the movies Pajama Party and Ski Party.

Ski Party centred on college students Todd Armstrong (played by Frankie Avalon) and Craig Gamble (played by Dwayne Hickman, then as now most famous for the title role in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis), who are having no luck in pursuing co-eds Linda Hughes (played by Deborah Walley) and Barbara Norris (played by Yvonne Craig, later to gain lasting fame as Batgirl). Much of the problem seems to be that they, like seemingly every other woman on campus, are drawn to the handsome, athletic, but none too bright Freddie (played by Aron Kinkaid). When Freddie, as president of the college's Ski Club, invites a number of beautiful women (including Linda and Barbara) on a ski trip to Idaho, Todd and Craig go to the same resort, despite the fact that neither of them can ski. Complicating things further, Todd and Craig decided to dress as two English girls in order to observe the girls and with any luck learn how to succeed with them. One can perhaps guess what happens from there...

Of course, one of the major attractiond of the "Beach Party" movies is the music that appears throughout the series. A very good argument can be made that Ski Party features the best music of any of the films. Surf band The Hondells (who had earlier appeared in Beach Blanket Bingo) played the film's title track and the song "The Gasser". Lesley Gore performed her hit "Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows". Perhaps the biggest surprise among the music acts is the appearance of James Brown and the Famous Flames, who perform "I Got You (I Feel Good)". Even if one doesn't enjoy Ski Party itself (and I don't see why he or she wouldn't), chances are good they will enjoy the music!

Like the earlier "Beach Party" movies, Ski Party is a slight concoction that goes down easily. It is filled with the same sort of misunderstandings and innuendo, although in the case of Ski Party there is a touch of Some Like It Hot (1959) thrown in for good measure. Ultimately, Ski Party is a fun movie that one can sit down and enjoy without thinking too much.

Despite this, Ski Party performed very badly at the box office. In fact, it performed so badly that AIP cancelled plans for their upcoming film Cruise Party, even though it had been announced at the end of Ski Party. It is difficult to say why Ski Party failed. Perhaps audiences wanted to see Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon together (the previous "Beach Party" movie, Beach Blanket Bingo, would be their last in the series together). Perhaps they wanted to see pretty girls in bikinis instead of pretty girls in ski suits. Perhaps it was the timing of its release. Despite the fact that Ski Party is set during the winter, it was released on June 30 1965, when most people probably aren't thinking about snow! Regardless, it was an enjoyable movie that really deserved to make more money than it did.

Ski Party would not be the last audiences would see of Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman's characters Todd and Craig. The two were the main characters in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965), although in this film Mr. Avalon played Craig and Mr. Hickman played Todd. Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine would be the penultimate "Beach Party" movie. With the series running out of steam and making less money with each new release, Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) would be the last of the "Beach Party" movies. Regardless, Ski Party is unique among the "Beach Party" films in being one of two that are not set on the beach (along with Pajama Party) and the only one set at a ski resort in the middle of winter.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The 60th Anniversary of "In Spite of All the Danger" by The Quarrymen

It was sixty years ago today that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison, as members of The Quarrymen (the band that would evolve into The Beatles), made their first recordings. One of the songs recorded was a cover of Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day". The other song would be the first original song recorded by The Quarrymen (and their only original song at the time). It was "In Spite of All the Danger".  Both songs were recorded at Phillips' Sound Recording Service in Kensington in Liverpool. Phillips' Sound Recording was a small studio in the home of Percy Phillips. Mr. Phillips recorded acetates and tapes for music artists, actors, local businesses, and others. In the case of The Quarrymen, they paid Percy Phillips seventeen shillings and six pence to record the two songs.

"In Spite of All the Danger" is unique in that it is the only composition credited to Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Paul McCartney believes he actually wrote the song and George Harrison simply did the guitar solo. Regardless, it would be the only song on which they shared credit. As to other credits on the song, as leader of the band, John Lennon sang lead vocals and played guitar. Paul McCartney provided backing vocals and guitar, as did George Harrison. John Lowe played piano on the song, while Colin Hanton played drums.

Each member of The Quarrymen kept the acetate for a week, with John Lowe finally keeping it for many years. In 1981 Mr. Lowe tried to sell the recording at auction, but Paul McCartney bought it from him. It would not be released publicly until it appeared on The Beatles' Anthology 1 in 1995.

Without further ado, here are The Quarrymen with "In Spite of All the Danger".

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Late Great Tab Hunter

Tab Hunter, the movie heart throb who appeared in such  films as The Girl He Left Behind (1956), Gunman's Walk (1958), and Damn Yankees (1958), died yesterday, July 8 2018, at the age of 86. The cause was complications from deep vein thrombosis that resulted in a heart attack.

Tab Hunter was born Arthur Andrew Kelm on July 11 1931 in New York City. It was only a few years after Tab Hunter's birth that his parents divorced and his mother moved the family to San Francisco, California. She took back her maiden name, Geilen, and also changed the surnames of her sons. Young Tab Hunter was a figure skater as a teenager. He was also an avid horseman. At the age of 15 he lied about his age in order to enlist in the United States Coast Guard. He was discharged from the Coast Guard a year later when his true age was discovered. Actor Dick Clayton, who had worked with him at a stable, suggested that he finish high school and said that he if ever wanted to work in motion pictures to talk to him.

It was Dick Clayton who introduced young Tab Hunter to agent Henry Wilson, the agent of a number of young, male actors, including Rock Hudson, Guy Madison, and Robert Wagner. It was Henry Wilson who gave young Arthur Geilen his stage name, "Tab Hunter".

Tab Hunter made his film debut in a small part in The Lawless (1950), In the early Fifties he appeared in such films as Saturday Island (1952), Gun Belt (1953), Return to Treasure Island (1954), and Track of the Cat (1954). It was in 1955 that he appeared in his star-making role of Danny Forrester in the film Battle Cry. It resulted in a seven year contract with Warner Bros. Over the next few years Tab Hunter appeared in such films as The Sea Chase (1955), The Burning Hills (1956), The Girl He Left Behind (1956), Lafayette Escadrille (1958), Gunman's Walk (1958), and Damn Yankees (1958). During this period Mr. Hunter was immensely popular. In 1955 he beat out both Jack Lemmon and Harry Belafonte as most promising new personality in an audience poll conducted by the Council of Motion Picture Organisations. So popular was Mr. Hunter that he survived a story published in the scandal magazine Confidential about him being arrested five years earlier at a gay house party. The revelation did nothing to harm his career, even given the rampant homophobia of the times.

Despite such success Tab Hunter was not happy at Warner Bros. After appearing in an adaptation of the book Fear Strikes Out on the TV show Climax!, Mr. Hunter wanted Warner Bros. to buy the film rights to the book. Unfortunately, the studio did not do so. Tab Hunter then bought out his contract with Warner Bros. in 1959. He finished out the Fifties appearing in such films as That Kind of Woman (1959) and They Came to Cordura (1959). He also appeared on television during the decade. He made his debut in an episode of The Ford Television Theatre. He guest starred on such shows as Conflict, Climax!, Playhouse 90, and General Electric Theatre. He starred in the television films Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates and Meet Me in St. Louis. At the end of the decade he starred in his own TV show, The Tab Hunter Show. It lasted one season.  Tab Hunter also had hit singles in the Fifties. In 1957 his song "Young Love" went to no. 1 on the Billboard singles chart. He later had a hit with the song , "Ninety-Nine Ways".

In the Sixties Tab Hunter appeared in such films as The Pleasure of His Company (1961), L'arciere delle mille e una notte (1962), Operation Bikini (1963), Ride the Wild Surf (1964), The City Under the Sea (1965), Birds Do It (1966), El dedo del destino (1967), Hostile Guns (1967), La vendetta è il mio perdono (1968), and No importa morir (1969). He had a cameo in the cult film The Loved One (1965).  He guest starred on the TV shows Saints and Sinners, Combat!, Burke's Law, The Virginian, and San Francisco International Airport.

In the Seventies Mr. Hunter appeared in such films as Sweet Kill (1972), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), Timber Tramps (1975), and Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976). He guest starred on such shows as The Wonderful World of Disney; Cannon; Owen Marshall, Counsellor at Law; Ghost Story; The Six Million Dollar Man; Ellery Queen; Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; McMillan & Wife; The Love Boat; Police Woman; Hawaii Five-O; and Charlie's Angels.

In the Eighties Tab Hunter appeared in such films as Pandemonium (1982), Grease 2 (1982), And They Are Off (1982), Lust in the Dust (1985), Cameron's Closet (1988), Out of the Dark (1988), and Grotesque. He guest starred on the TV shows Benson, The Fall Guy, and Masquerade. In the Nineties he appeared in the film Dark Horse (1992). In 2005 his autobiography, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star (co-written with Eddie Muller), was published. In it he came out as gay. The documentary Tab Hunter Confidential was released in 2015.

In his early days Tab Hunter often received searing reviews from critics, but the truth was that he was an actor of considerable talent. If his performances in some of his early films were not up to par, it was perhaps due to Warner Bros. utilising him wrongly rather than a lack of talent on his part. Indeed, even as he was appearing in films for Warner Bros., Mr. Hunter was giving impressive performances on television, playing a soldier accused of murder on Conflict, a young baseball player fighting mental illness on Climax!, and a respected citizen leading a sinister double life on Playhouse 90. Mr. Hunter would also give sterling performances in motion pictures. Even when he was on screen briefly (as in his delightful cameo in The Loved One), Tab Hunter could be impressive. He gave solid performances in Damn Yankees, In the Pleasure of His Company, City Under the Sea, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and many more movies. Even when specific film was not very good, Mr. Hunter always was.

I never got to meet Tab Hunter, although I know people who did. All of them have the same things to say about him. Mr. Hunter was one of the kindest, most generous, most sincere people one could ever meet. I have never heard a bad word said about him. That Tab Hunter was a talented movie is well known, but he was also an incredibly nice guy.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy 4th of July 2018

On many holidays I post classic pinups to A Shroud of Thoughts. Today being the 4th of July, then, here are some classic, patriotic pinups.

First up is Myrna Dell, who is relaxing on a fence!

Next up is Mary Castle, who is setting off a cannon!

And here is Martha Hyer, who has lit a really big firecracker!

Debbie Reynolds is riding a rocket.

And here is Ava Gardner flying the American flag.

And last but not least, it wouldn't the 4th of July without Ann Miler!

Happy 4th of July!

Monday, July 2, 2018

TCM Spotlight: 50 States in 50 Movies

This month every Monday and Tuesday TCM Spotlight is featuring 50 different movies, one set in each state, as well as a movie set in Washington D.C. (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, of course). Turner Classic Movies will be airing some truly great movies, including some of my favourites. I am very happy that to represent Missouri they are showing Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).  The neighbouring states of Illinois and Iowa also got lucky as far as the movies representing them go (also two of my favourites): The Front Page (1931) and The Music Man (1933).

That having been said, some of TCM's choices do seem a bit odd to me. King Kong (1933) is one of my all time favourite movies (it is in the top ten), but I think more of it is set on Skull Island than the state of New York. And, quite honestly, while The Graduate (1967) is set in California, I don't think of it as a particularly Californian movie. Indeed, the plot could take place anywhere. For California I would have gone with Vertigo (1958) or L.A. Confidential (1997). Of course, I have to admit that if I had been in charge of choosing movies for 50 Movies in 50 States some of my choices might seem odd to a lot of people. I would have gone with The Haunted Palace (1963) instead of Little Women (1933) for Massachusetts. I feel I have to apologise to Massachusettsans, but when I think of their state I tend to think more of H. P. Lovecraft than Louisa May Alcot!

Anyway, be sure to check out 50 States in 50 Movies on Turner Classic Movies every Monday and Tuesday in July!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Happy Canada Day 2018

I am not Canadian, but I do have plenty of Canadian friends and I have always had a soft place in my heart for Canada. I then thought today that I would do what I do on many holidays, post pictures of classic movie actresses. Sadly, Canada never did produce much in the way of patriotic pinups, but they did produce a number of beautiful and talented actresses. In fact, a number of actresses that many assume are American were actually born in Canada!

Without further ado, here are this year's ladies...

Fifi D'Orsay was born in Montreal, Quebec and later performed in Paris. Not surprisingly then, she was often cast as a French girl! She appeared in such films as Those Three French Girls (1930), Wonder Bar (1934), and Wild and Wonderful (1964). She would later guest star on such shows as Perry Mason and Pete & Gladys.

The woman most often credited as the world's first scream queen, Fay Wray, was born in Cardston, Alberta. Although best known for her iconic role as Ann Darrow in King Kong (1933), she appeared in many other notable movies, including Doctor X (1932), The Most Dangerous Game (1932),  and Tammy and the Bachelor (1957).

Yes, the legendary Deanna Durbin was Canadian! In the Forties her movies were so popular that she is often credited with single-handedly keeping Universal afloat during those years. She was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The general public may know Yvonne De Carlo best as Lily Munster, but classic film buffs know she made a number of movies and was one of the most popular pinups of all time. She appeared in such films as Salome, Where She Danced (1945), The Desert Hawk (1950), Sea Devils (1953), and The Ten Commandments (1956). Her film career was still doing relatively well when she took the role of Lily on The Munsters. The year before the show debuted she appeared in McLintock! (1963). 

Dianne Foster appeared in such films as The Kentuckian (1955) and The Brothers Rico (1957), but she may be best known for her many appearances on television, including guest shots on Bonanza, Wagon Train, Thriller, Route 66, The Wild Wild West, and several on Perry Mason.

A native of Edmonton, Alberta, Beverly Adams may be best known for appearing in the Matt Helm movies The Silencers (1966), Murderer's Row (1966), and The Ambushers (1967). She also appeared in such films as How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) and Winter A-Go-Go (1965). She retired from film acting in 1967, but would do occasional guest appearances on TV shows such as CHiPs, Silk Stalkings, and Profiler.

Happy Canada Day!