Saturday, 14 August 2010

Movie Title Sequences

Opening credits have been a part of movies from the beginning. In the earliest days there would at least be a title card indicating the movie's title and production company. Over time titles listing the cast, screenwriter, director,. and other crew would be added. Eventually, the opening credits would evolve into what we now know as a title sequence.

Until the 1950's most title sequences tended to be rather simplistic. During the Silent Era, title sequences were literally that--a sequences of title cards listing the credits for the motion picture. This practice would continue well into the Sound Era. A perfect example of this may be the familiar title sequence of It's A Wonderful Life (1946), although it is a good deal more creative than most movies with its opening credits. The title sequence unfolds as a series of Christmas themed cards bearing the credits, one after another. In the Thirties many films would utilise title sequences in which the credits were superimposed against various backgrounds. The perfect example of this may be the familiar opening credits of The Wizard of Oz, in which the credits are superimposed against a scene of moving clouds.

While the practices of showing the opening credits through a series of title cards or words superimposed against some background tended to be very common prior to the Fifties, it would be a mistake to think that there was no sense of invention with regards to title sequences before that time. Indeed, one of the most inventive title sequences of all time was the opening credits of My Man Godfrey (1936). The credits are shown as a series of neon lights on the sides of and atop buildings. Gone with the Wind (1939) had a much less impressive title sequence. As the film opens, the film's title literally moves from right to left across the screen. The credits are then displayed as words superimposed over scenes from about Tara. Sinbad the Sailor (1947) featured a title sequence in which the credits were formed from coloured water which ran into a fountain. Sunset Boulevard (1950) was also creative with regards to its credits. The title of the film was displayed as words printed on the side of a kerb. The camera then followed the street so that the words were superimposed over the street.

Prior to the 1950s often the movies with the most inventive title sequences were musicals and films noir. Showboat (1935) had the title of the film displayed on banner on a paper model of a showboat, then little paper cut-outs of people who held banners on which the credits were, all on a turntable. Released the same year, Top Hat also had an inventive title sequence. It opened with a shot of men in suits, shot from the knees down, who each lower canes in turn. Fred Astaire, also shot from the knees down, then enters dancing. His credit displays beneath him. Gnger Rogers, also shot from the knees down, enters dancing after Fred, her credit displayed beneath her. As the two join together to dance, the movie cuts to a top hat over which the film's title and the rest of the credits are displayed. Ziegfield Follies (1945) had one of the most interesting title sequences. The credits were revealed as pages in a book turned by hand. While musicals could be inventive with their titles, films noir could be even more so. I Wake Up Screaming had a title sequence in which the credits were spelled out in lights superimposed over the New York City skyline.Scarlet Street also had an inventive title sequence, which opened on a streetlight over which the producer, director, and stars' credits are superimposed. The camea then moves down the streetlight so that the film's title is revealed on a sign attached to the light post. The rest of the credits are then simply superimposed on the screen.

While there were several films that utilised inventive title sequences prior to the Fifties, there can be no doubt that a revolution in title sequences began in that decade. That revolution was led by one man, Saul Bass. A graphic designer by trade, in 1954 he worked with director Otto Preminger to design the poster for Carmen Jones (1955). Mr. Preminger was so impressed that he asked Mr. Bass to design the title sequence as well. What Mr. Bass created for Carmen Jones  was truly quantum leap in title sequences. Quite simply, the title sequence for Carmen Jones was the first animated title sequence ever in a motion picture. By today's standards it was extremely simple. It consisted simply of a rose within an animated flame which moved in sequence with the "Prelude" from George Bizet's Carmen (the operetta upon which the musical Carmen Jones was based) and the credits spelled out in Saul Bass's distinctive lettering. Nonetheless, it was different from anything that had come before it. Even compared to such inventive title sequences as that of My Man Godfrey, the title sequence of Carmen Jones looked starkly modern.

Saul Bass would go onto become the first man famous for his title sequences. Indeed, he is the most famous title designer of all time. His titles were always imaginative, and he became known for his use of kinetic typography--text that literally moves on the screen. For Otto Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm he created a title sequence in which an paper cut out of an arm was the central image, fitting in with the film's theme of heroin addiction. Saul Bass would work with Preminger several more times, notably on Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and Exodus (1960), but the director with whom Mr  Bass would become most identified would be Alfred Hitchcock. Saul Bass first worked with Mr. Hitchcock on Vertigo (1958), for which he first provided an imaginative sequence which combined a woman's eyes and lips with spiral designs evoking vertigo. His title sequence for North by Northwest would become possibly Mr. Bass's most famous title sequence. It was also one of his simplest. It consisted simply of kinetic typography superimposed over the glass windows of a skyscraper. Surprisingly, even though Mr. Bass is closely identified with Mr. Hitchcock, he only worked with him on three films, the last one being Psycho (1960). Over the years Saul Bass created some of the most legendary title sequences of all time, including Ocean's 11 (1960), West Side Story (1961), and It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963).  Mr. Bass would work into the Nineties, his last title sequence being the one for Casino (1995). He died in 1996.

Saul Bass literally revolutionised the title sequence in film, so that kinetic typography, animation, and even sound effects became common place in the opening credits of films. In the wake of Saul Bass would follow a number of legendary title designers. Among them would be Maurice Binder, perhaps best known for the title sequences of  the James Bond movies. Mr. Binder had first worked in the movies as an assistant to the producer on the movie Cry Danger (1951). He would receive his first credit as a title designer for the film The James Dean Story (1957). Like Saul Bass, Mr. Binder was well known for title sequences which utilised a variety of movement, including animation and kinetic typography. For The Mouse That Roared (1959), Mr. Binder used an animated sequence that incorporated imagery of a mouse, the New York City, and, finally, the globe. For Charade (1963) he used a title sequence which made extensive use of kinetic typography. Over the years Mr. Binder would become most famous for the title sequences of the James Bond movies, working on fourteen of the movies in total. It was Mr. Binder who created the famous 007 gun barrel sequence, variations of which have been used in every Bond movie ever since. For the first James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962), Mr. Binder created a title sequence which incorporated moving, multi-coloured circles, the silhouettes of women,  and kinetic typography. Curiously, Maurice Binder did not create the James Bond title sequence that would set the pace for all those came afterwards. Robert Brownjohn, who created the title sequence for From Russia with Love (1963), created a title sequence for Goldfinger (1964) which largely concentrated on the imagery of the girl painted gold. Mr. Brownjohn would come into a disagreement with producer Harry Saltzman and never worked on another Bond film, but his legacy remained in the title sequences which Maurice Binder created for every Bond film until his final one, Licence to Kill (1989). Thereafter ever Bond movie would feature a title sequence in which silhouettes of women either scantily clad or nude would engage in activities ranging from dancing to shooting guns. Although best known for the Bond movie, Maurice Binder worked on many more films, including The Mouse on the Moon (1962), Repulsion (1965), Arabesque (1966), Billion Dollar Brain (1967), Bedazzled (1967), and many others.

With graphic designers such as Saul Bass and Maurice Binder having incorporated animation into title sequences, it would not be long before animators themselves would become title designers. This was the case with the legendary Pablo Ferro, who began his career as an animator. Mr. Ferro made an impressive debut as a title designer, having designed the titles for the movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). For Dr. Strangelove, Mr. Binder created a title sequence in which there was kinetic typography of stylised letters superimposed over shots of bombers in flight. For the title sequence of The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) Mr. Ferro used tinted photographs of the actors, divided up into rectangles, combined with kinetic typography. Although he made only a few title sequences in the Sixties, Mr. Ferro would become very prolific, working on films including Midnight Cowboy (1969), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Harold and Maude (1971), Prince of Darkness (1987), Darkman (1990), L.A. Confidential (1997), and Napoleon Dynamite (2004).


With animation playing a large role in title sequences in the Sixties, it should become no surprise that an animation company would become involved in title design DePatie-Freleng was an animation company founded by legendary animator Fritz Freleng and his partner David Depatie after Warner Brothers closed their animation unit in 1963. Depatie-Freleng would be responsible for one of the most famous title sequences of all time, that of The Pink Panther (1963). The Pink Panther title sequence was essentially an animated cartoon featuring a anthropomorphic, pink panther and an animated version of Inspector Clouseau. The sequence proved to be such a hit that the character of the Pink Panther and the Inspector would be spun off into their own series of theatrical cartoons. Depatie-Freleng would go on to create the title sequences of every Pink Panther movie up to Curse of the Pink Panther (1983), as well as the title sequences for Shot in the Dark (1964) and Inspector Clouseau (1968). They also created title sequences for The Satan Bug (1965), as well as the legendary title sequences of the TV shows I Dream of Jeannie and The Wild Wild West.

One title designer who would make extensive use of animation would be Wayne Fitzgerald. Wayne Fitzgerald began his career in 1951 with Pacific Title and Art, the company founded in 1919 by Leon Schlesinger to create title cards. When Saul Bass revolutionised title sequences in 1955, Pacific Title and Art adapted to the times, and Wayne Fitzgerald may have been their foremost title designer. He began his career creating titles for Glory (1956). As an employee of Pacific Title and Art, Mr. Fitzgerald rarely received credit early  in his career, working uncredited on such films as Silk Stockings (1957), The Fly (1958), Pillow Talk (1959), The Music Man (1962), Send Me No Flowers (1964), My Fair Lady (1964), Cat Ballou (1964), and Any Wednesday (1966). In 1968 he struck out on his own. Mr. Fitzgerald would create title sequences for such films as Alice's Restaurant (1969), Catch 22 (1970), Little Big Man (1960), Chinatown (1974), California Suite (1978), Splash (1984). Mr. Fitzgerald created the memorable title sequence for Pillow Talk (1959), in which a man in a bed and a woman in a bed, separated by a box containing the titles, toss a pillow back and forth. His title sequence for Send Me Now Flowers (1964) featured animated flowers and kinetic typography. Mr. Fitzgerald also designed titles for various TV series, including McCloud, Columbo, and others.

Sadly, the fact that Mr. Fitzgerald went uncredited for his title designs was not unusual in the Sixties. If the title design was credited at all, it was often be the company for whom they worked. The legendary, animated title sequence for Lover Come Back (1961) is credited only to Pacific Title. This is sad, as it would prove to be very influential, with its lovebirds and kinetic typography. Over the years Pacific Title created title sequences for literally hundreds of films. In the Fifties and Sixties it included the title sequences for such films as An American in Paris (1951), That Touch of Mink (1962), Ship of Fools (1965), In Cold Blood (1967) and Hang 'Em High (1968).

Sadly, as the Sixties became the Seventies, the creative title sequences of such men as Saul Bass and Maurice Binder would slowly go out of fashion. That is not to say that there have not been great title sequences since that time. For Seven (1995), title designer Kyle Cooper used stylised letters and such imagery as a notebook being written in, fingers handling a razor blade, words being marked out of a newspaper--apparently the serial killer going about his business. Catch Me If You Can (2002) featured an animated title sequence in the style of those created by Saul Bass, similar to the title sequences of the various caper movies from the Sixties which inspired the film. Similarly, Down With Love (2003) took its inspiration from the Sixties sex comedies upon which it was based in its title sequence, which resembles the title sequences of such films as Lover Come Back, Send Me No Flowers, and The Glass Bottom Boat (1966). In its title sequence Hellboy (2004) featured newspaper reports and footage of Hellboy sightings, as well as comic books. In its title sequence Lord of War (2005) followed a bullet from its manufacture to its final destination as it is fired into some poor bloke's body. Casino Royale (2006) featured a very retro title sequence, which not only drew upon the work of Maurice Binder, but upon the work of such title designers as Saul Bass and as well. Watchmen (2009) had a very inventive title sequence, which followed fifty years of superhero history to the tune of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'"

Sadly, while the past ten years have seen many remarkable title sequences, many bringing to mind those from the  Sixties, a recent trend in movies has been to simply begin the movie with only the title of the film, skipping any sort of title sequence. Of course, this is nothing new. Citizen Kane (1941) began simply with the title of the film, as did Stars Wars (1977). In 1940 Walt Disney went even further with Fantasia, featuring no opening credits at the beginning, not even the film's title. Among the recent films which have followed this trend have been No Country for Old Men (2007), There Will Be Blood (2007), The Dark Knight (2008), and Avatar (2009).  While beginning without any title sequence does work for some films (I feel it did for No Country for Old Men), it is not something which I would like to see become very common. Title sequences exist primarily to give credit to those who worked on the film, such as the cast, the screenwriter, the director, and so on. While it is true that these credits can be listed at the end of the film, the sad fact is that most people leave the theatre before the closing credits are even over. I suspect at home they simply eject the DVD or Blu-Ray disc from the  player.

Of course, over the years title sequences have come to do more than simply give credit where credit is due. They would come to set the mood for the movie, to let the audience know what the film is about. The animated title sequences of such films as Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers, set as they were to Doris Day tunes, let audiences know that they could expect something light and frothy. The somewhat more ominous title sequences of films such as The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and The Satan Bug know that they could expect a very exciting thriller. It was in the Fifties and Sixties that title sequences became an art form all their own, mini-films which were sometimes more entertaining than the movies themselves. They still serve much the same purpose today. Perhaps it is because I am so enamoured of the title sequences of old, but I personally think a film loses something when it lacks a proper title sequence.

Friday, 13 August 2010

The CBS Late Movie

It was in late 1971 that CBS conceived what would be an utterly unique movie anthology series. Unlike other movie anthology series it would air late night--from 10:30 PM CST to 1:30 PM CST (sometimes later). Unlike other movie anthology series it would also air every weeknight. It was simply called The CBS Late Movie. It debuted on February 14, 1972. The first movie it showed was A Patch of Blue (1965), starring Sidney Poitier and Elizabeth Hartman.

The CBS Late Movie would survive for nearly twenty years, although over those years its format would undergo various changes. While best known for showing various B-movies, it did show many box office hits for awhile and also saw the network television debuts of various movies that would not be seen anywhere else on broadcast network television. In the end it would be better remembered than some of the late night hosts who would eventually supplant it.

The origins of The CBS Late Movie go back to CBS's efforts to compete against NBC's monolithic The Tonight Show, which had dominated late night viewing since its debut in 1954. In 1969 CBS offered Merv Griffin his own late night show. At the time it perhaps made perfect sense, as Mr. Griffin had hosted his own highly successful talk show in syndication since 1965. Unfortunately, the deal between CBS and Mr. Griffin would turn out to be a marriage made in Hell. The Merv Griffin Show had only been on six weeks when CBS complained to Mr. Griffin that he had only one guest who had spoken on the air in favour of the Vietnam War, John Wayne, and many more who had spoken against it. Mr. Griffin told them that when they found another celebrity as famous as Mr. Wayne who supported the war, he would book him on the show. This would not be the end of CBS's meddling, as they would continue to do so for the rest of the shows run. Worse yet, the ratings for The Merv Griffin Show never matched that of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and had begun to seriously fall in 1971. Merv Griffin secretly negotiated a deal with Metromedia for his own, syndicated daily show (like the one he had before). As for CBS, they cancelled The Merv Griffin Show.

It was around December 6, 1971 that CBS announced that they would replace The Merv Griffin Show with old movies. In many respects it was a very wise move on CBS's part. By late 1971 it must have seemed obvious that NBC could not be beaten at its own game. ABC had tried with The Joey Bishop Show, which ran only from 1967 to 1969. The Merv Griffin Show on CBS had been a failure. While The Dick Cavett Show currently on ABC had its following, its ratings were still much lower than that of The Tonight Show. Rather than attempt to compete with NBC with a late night talk show of its own, CBS then took the step of programming something entirely different against Johnny Carson and The Tonight Show. As it was, many CBS affiliates already aired late night movies on their own.

It was then in 1971 that CBS began negotiations with MGM, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Brothers for packages of movies to show on their new late night movie anthology series. The CBS Late Movie then officially replaced The Merv Griffin Show on February 14, 1974. From the beginning most of the films The CBS Late Movie showed were movies which had already aired on other primetime movie anthology series, sometimes even on other networks .From the beginning The CBS Late Movie would show a duke's mixture of movies, ranging from classics to B-movies. In its first three years on the air, The CBS Late Movie aired its share of movies now regarded as classics, including An American in Paris (1951), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954), To Kill a Mockingbird (1963), The Pyjama Game (1957), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Dirty Dozen (1967), Oklahoma (1955), and South Pacific (1958). Sixties sex comedies The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) and How To Murder Your Wife (1965) both aired on The CBS Late Movie in its early years. Westerns, both serious and comedic, aired in the early years, including The Left Handed Gun (1958), The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), and Day of the Evil Gun (1968). The CBS Late Movie would also air various cult favourites in its early years, including The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), The Green Slime (1968), and producer Harry Alan Towers' series of Fu Manchu films starring Christopher Lee, as well as films which would develop cult followings, including Trog (1970) and Willard (1971). From the beginning The CBS Late Movie would show made for television movies, even those made for other networks, but these never outnumbered the feature films.

Starting in March 1973 The CBS Late Movie would start showing horror and, less often, fantasy and sci-fi movies on Friday nights on a semi-regular basis. The horror movies aired on The CBS Late Movie were not the old, classic Universal horror films from the Thirties or Forties, or even the cheesy sci-fi horror movies made in the Fifties, but films of a more recent vintage made in the Sixties and early Seventies. Among the horror movies aired on Friday nights on The CBS Late Movie were classics by American International Pictures, including The House of Usher (1960), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1970), Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972), The Haunted Palace (1963), Cry of the Banshee (1970), and the not so classic The Dunwich Horror (1970). The CBS Late Movie aired several movies from Hammer Films, including Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), The Mummy (1959), and many others. The CBS Late Movie also showed a variety of other horror movies, including The Creeping Flesh (1973), The Blood Beast Terror (1968), The House That Dripped Blood (1970), The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), Count Yorga, Vampire (1970), Night of the Lepus (1972), and even the classic The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939). As mentioned above, The CBS Late Movie would sometimes air fantasy and sci-fi movies as well, including the aforementioned The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, Valley of the Gwangi (1969), Battle Beneath the Earth (1967), the failed television pilot Genesis II, THX 1138 (1971), Moon Zero Two (1968), and Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969).

While most movies aired on The CBS Late Movie had aired elsewhere first, a few movies did made their network debuts on the movie anthology series. For the most part these were films whose content (whether due to violence or other controversial content) would make them unsuitable for airing in prime time. Among the movies which made their broadcast network debuts on The CBS Late Movie were The Fearless Vampire Killers, Richard Burton's Doctor Faustus (1967),  Frankenstien Must Be Destroyed (1969), and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).

Unfortunately, the first movie to ever make its network debut on The CBS Late Movie would be a source of controversy for the Tiffany Network. Among the films scheduled to air in February 1972, the first month of The CBS Late Night Movie, was The Damned, Luchino Visconti's controversial allegory on Nazism starring Sir Dirk Bogarde and Ingrid Thulin. Upon its initial release in the United States, The Damned  had been rated "X" by the MPAA. It was for this reason that Warner Brothers cut twenty five minutes from the film before it was even offered to CBS. CBS's Programme Practices department then cut an additional eleven minutes from the film.. Between Warner Brothers and CBS, there can be no doubt that nothing which warranted the "X" rating for the film remained. Regardless, the very fact that CBS would air a film which had been rated "X" in the first place, even in late night,  touched off a firestorm of controversy. Both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Christian Life Commission individually sent resolutions to the United States Senate and the FCC protesting CBS' decision to broadcast The Damned and furthermore to ban any future broadcasts of "X" rated movies. The Cleaveland City Council held an emergency vote to ban "X" rated movies from the airwaves in Cleveland. Some affiliates decided not to air the movie at all (surprisingly the Cleavland CBS affiliate, WEWS-TV was not among them). In the end, on February 28, 1972, The Damned aired on The CBS Late Movie as planned, although CBS made sure to precede with a disclaimer. Regardless, controversy over the airing of The Damned would persist for some time. In March 1972 Senator John Pastore questioned then president of CBS John A. Scheider on the decision to air an "X" rated movie, even one that had been sanitised, in a Senate subcommittee. For seventeen months afterwards CBS received letters from viewers worried that the network had actually bought a series of "X" rated films, something which had never happened. The Damned never again aired on any broadcast network. Ironically, after all the fuss over the movie, The Damned is currently rated "R."

Sadly, The CBS Late Movie would not remain purely a movie anthology series. In September 1976 The CBS Late Movie began airing reruns of Kojak on some nights. In the next few subsequent seasons  other primetime series would be rerun on The CBS Late Movie: M*A*S*H, Harry-O, The Rockford Files, Hawaii Five-O, and various reruns from The NBC Mystery Movie (Columbo, McMillan and Wife, Hec Ramsey, and so on). During this period The CBS Late Movie  would still show movies. The Planet of the Apes series aired, as did the films Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1972), The Wrecking Crew (1968), Alfred the Great (1969), and The Man Who Would Be King (1975).


The 1978-1979 season would see the first original television show (at least as the United States was concerned) to air under the umbrella of The CBS Late Movie. In September 1978 The New Avengers made its debut. It success would change the face of The CBS Late Movie. In the 1979-1980 season The CBS Late Movie would air Return of the Saint. These two series would in turn spark renewed interest in the original series, so that The Avengers would start airing on The CBS Late Movie in the 1979-1980 season and The Saint in the 1980-1981 season. The New Avengers would continue to be a part of The CBS Late Movie  on and off until 1985. Unfortunately, The Avengers, The Saint, and Return of the Saint would only last until the end of the 1980-1981 season.

The CBS Late Movie would continue airing its mixture of reruns and movies for the next few years, with shows such as Quincy M.E., Newhart, Hart To Hart, and others joining the mix. It was in 1985 that the show Night Heat joined the line up of The CBS Late Movie, thereby becoming the first Canadian series to air on any American network. It would prove to be popular, so much so that CBS would import more Canadian series. Adderly debuted on The CBS Late Movie in September 1986. It too proved successful. Night Heat would continue to be a part of The CBS Late Movie until 1989. Adderly continued until 1987. Subsequent Canadian series which aired on The CBS Late Movie, such as Hot Shots and Diamonds would not prove nearly as successful.

Of course, during this period The CBS Late Movie continued to show movies. Deathsport (1978), The Swiss Conspiracy (1976), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), The Medusa Touch (1978), and Excalibur (1981) all aired during this period. Perhaps finally realising that The CBS Late Movie had ceased to be purely a movie anthology series, as of September 23, 1985, it became CBS Late Night. It continued under the new name until January 1989, when it was replaced by The Pat Sajak Show. It would not be the end of CBS Late Night, however, as the once and future Wheel of Fortune host's talk show proved less successful than Merv Griffin had on CBS. Originally ninety minutes in length, it was cut back to an hour in February 1990. This marked the return of CBS Late Night, which filled the hour following The Pat Sajak Show. In April 1990 The Pat Sajak Show was cancelled, so that CBS Late Night had the whole two hours from 10:30-12:30 PM to itself.

Just as it had before, CBS Late Night continued to air reruns of older programmes. The Prisoner joined the line up in February 1990. Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which had aired on CBS Late Night starting in 1987, returned to the line  up.  Reruns of Night Heat and old series such as Wiseguy also aired on CBS Late Night. Unfortunately, CBS Late Night was living on borrowed time. It seems that in 1976 when the network decided to air Kojak reruns on The CBS Late Movie, they had let the genie out of the bottle. Over the years various crime series had proven very popular on The CBS Late Movie. In the end it would be those crime series that would kill it. After a run of nearly twenty years, CBS Late Night ended its run on March 28, 1991.

It was replaced by a new programming block called Crimetime After Primetime. Crimetime After Primetime consisted mostly of Canadian imports, such as Tropical Heat, Forever Knight, and Dark Justice. Scene of the Crime (a mystery anthology series) and Silk Stalkings were the only American series in the line up. Unfortunately, Crimetime After Primetime would fall victim to the late night wars the same way that Merv Griffin had nearly twenty years before. It was replaced on August 30, 1993 by The Late Show with Dave Letterman, who has occupied the time slot ever since. Silk Stalkings would survive, running on the USA Network with original episodes until 1999.

Although The CBS Late Movie has been off the air for nearly twenty years now, it is still fondly remembered by many. For its first several years it was utterly unique, the only movie anthology series on the networks to air five nights a week. In those first several years it saw the network debut of several movies, one of which would be the first movie rated "X" to ever air on a network. For some time it was the only place one could see many of the classic Hammer horror movies. Even after it began airing reruns of primetime series it would still be fondly remembered, as it showed such cult favourites as The Avengers and The Saint alongside reruns of more recent American shows. Later it would be fondly remembered for bringing the first Canadian shows to American network television, Night Heat and Adderly. Even in 1990 and 1991, a mere shadow of its once glorious self, CBS Late Night aired such classics as The Prisoner and cult favourites such as Kolchak: The Night Stalker. While I like David Letterman and I love Craig Ferguson, I must admit there are those nights when I wish I could once more tune into CBS and see The CBS Late Movie.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

To Sir, With Love (1967)

To this day, among Sidney Poitier's most beloved roles is teacher Mark Thackeray, the "Sir" of To Sir, With Love (1967). It was based on the novel of the same name by E. R. Braithwaite, which in turn was based on his own experiences teaching at a school in the East End of London. While the movie departs from the book in some ways, the central plot of an idealistic teacher's efforts to educate his cynical and sometimes rowdy students. Seen today many might find To Sir, With Love somewhat cliché,  but it is important to realise that the movie virtually invented the entire "inspirational teacher" genre. More so than the earlier The Blackboard Jungle (in which Mr. Poitier played a student), To Sir, With Love set the pace of all such films to come.

To Sir, With Love with take a rather long path to the big screen. The novel had actually been considered as material for a movie years before it was actually made. Indeed, at one point Harry Belafonte had even considered playing the lead role. Eventually it would fall to novelist and screenwriter James Clavell and actor Sidney Poitier to bring the novel to the big screen. James Clavell had not only authored the novel King Rat, which was adapted into a successful motion picture, but had also written the screenplays for such hit films as The Fly (1958) and The Great Escape. Sidney Poitier was then at the peak of his career. He had already starred in such films as The Defiant Ones (1958), Raisin in the Sun (1961), Lilies of the Field (1963), and A Patch of Blue (1965). Despite the fact that Mr. Clavell was on board to write the screenplay and direct and Mr. Poitier to play the lead role, Columbia Pictures apparently had little faith in To Sir, With Love. They only budgeted it at $640,000. As a result of this, Messrs. Poitier and Clavell agreed to work for a portion of the film's profits.

To Sir, With Love was filmed on location in London. Much of the film was shot in Shadwell, including the school (then on Johnson Street) and the Watney Street Market. The film started shooting May 30, 1966 and finished later that summer. The movie's theme song of the same name was was written by Don Black and Mark London, and performed by Lulu, who also appeared in the movie as "Babs" Pegg. Even after To Sir, With Love was finished, Columbia seemed to have little faith in the movie. Although finished in the late summer of 1966, the studio sat on the film until June 1967, when it was finally released in the United States. The film was released in the United Kingdom in October 1967. In both countries To Sir, With Love did spectacularly well. In the States it grossed $15 million and was the eight ranked movie for 1967. Curiously, Columbia Pictures was not only surprised by its success, but a bit puzzled as well. The studio actually did market research to see why Americans flocked to see the film. The answer was simply, "Sidney Poitier."

Although To Sir, With Love received largely positive views (Pauline Kael was a notable exception) and did enormously well at the box office, it must be remembered that it does not accurately reflect life in much of the East End in the Sixties. Much of this is due to the simple fact of when To Sir, With Love was made. Although by 1966 many of the taboos in film had been shattered in both the United States and the United Kingdom, many of them were still very much in place. An entirely accurate portrait of life in one of the more run down parts of the East End was then probably not feasible in 1966.

Among the ways in which the movie To Sir, With Love portrays a somewhat sanitised view of life in East End is the language. The book features much more explicit language than the film (although some of the harsher words are simply represented by the first letter and several dashes). In the movie the harshest words which appear are "damn," "bastard," "bloody, " "bleeding," and "son of a bitch (although the last word is partially obscured by the sound of a passing train)." While many might find this as grounds to criticise the film, it must be pointed out that in 1966 any movie aiming for a wide audience was advised to avoid harsh language of any sort. The very year that To Sir, With Love was filmed, 1966, saw an enormous controversy over the language in the film adaptation of the play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. In being adapted for film, the movie had to undergo a few minor deletions of the harsher language, language which by today's standards would still be considered somewhat mild. Indeed, the F-word would not make its first appearance in film on either side of the Pond in the year that To Sir, With Love was released. It was in 1967 that the F-word was first used in the movies Ulysses (an adaptation of the James Joyce novel) and I'll Never Forget What's'isname. Though it might seem odd to think so today, the language of To Sir, With Love was actually pretty explicit for 1966. Had it been any more so, it may not have been released or, at least, received an "X" Certificate in Britain.

 A more glaring departure from the reality of life in the East End in the Sixties is that To Sir, With Love largely  ignores the violence that sometimes took place then. There are multiple references to domestic violence, of  the students and even their mothers being abused, but there is no real reference to the violence of the streets on the East End at the time. Brawls between youths were not entirely unknown in the East End in the Sixties. Although sometimes bloody, youth brawls were not the worst violence to be seen in London's East End in the Sixties. After all, this was the era of such gangsters as the Krays and the Richardsons. In fact, for years the Krays and the Richardsons engaged in a turf war that took place over much of the East End. It is a bit puzzling as to why To Sir, With Love did not do more to address the violence of East End life in the Sixties. It is perhaps understandable why the movie would not have featured the sort of extreme violence that occurred during youth brawls or fights between gangsters, but then it does not even refer to them.

While the language of To Sir, With Love does not entirely reflect the time and place and while the movie only partially addresses the issue of violence, it does address the issue of racism to some degree. Thackeray becomes a teacher only because he has spent the past eighteen months applying for engineering positions. with no success. Although at no point does Thackeray blame his race for not having been hired as an engineer, it is strongly hinted that he has been a victim of discrimination. In the film a few of the characters also make demeaning remarks with regards to Thackeray's race. The issue of race is made clear in the character of biracial student Seales. Seales implies that his black father did the worst possible thing to his English mother--he married her. When Seales' mother dies, the students have to explain to Thackeray that they could not deliver a wreath themselves as it would be thought unseemly for them to enter a black man's home. Having bonded with Thackeray by this point, they do stress they do not mean to offend him. While To Sir, With Love does a fairly good job of addressing the issue of race in mid-Sixties England, it could have gone further. In the book Braithwaite has a romance with Gillian Blanchard, a teacher of English descent. Ironically, that issue was still very much an issue in both the United Kingdom and the United States in the Sixties probably prevented this subplot from being a part of the film.

While To Sir,With Love offers a largely sanitised view of the East End in the 1960's, the accusation that it is overly sentimental, let alone sweet or cloying is wholly unwarranted. While the film's end is indeed sentimental, it never stoops to the level of the many "inspirational teacher" movies that have followed it. Indeed, while its version of the East End in the 1960's is considerably cleaned up and while the movie's end is sentimental, those viewing To Sir, With Love today might be surprised at how intense the movie can be at times. By today's standards To Sir, With Love is rated PG by the British Board of Film Classification, indicating some scenes may be objectionable for children under 8. One can imagine what its BBFC rating must have been in 1967.

To Sir, With Love is aided considerably by James Clavell's intelligently handled script and a very capable cast beyond the usually excellent Sidney Poitier. Judy Geeson (who would go onto appear on Poldark and Mad About You) does very well as student Virginia Dare, as does Lulu as "Babs" Pegg. Where the movie's cast is concerned, viewers may wish to stay alert lest they miss some faces that would later be famous. Patricia Routledge, who would later play Hyacinth on Keeping Up Appearances, appears as teacher Clinty Clintridge. Future rock star Michael Des Barres appears as Williams, the student who never takes off his sunglasses. To Sir, With Love also features an appearance by British rock group The Mindbenders, who peform two songs in the movie.

Over the years To Sir, With Love has taken more than its fair share of hard knocks from those few who view it as overly sentimental or overly simplistic. In many ways I think this may largely be due to some individuals holding To Sir, With Love responsible for the sins of the "inspirational teacher" movies which have followed it. It is true that the movie does not present a particularly realistic view of life in London's East End in 1966, but then it seems likely that any film which did present a realistic view of such in 1966 would have never been made. To Sir, With Love is actually a well done movie which, despite its sentimental ending, can be tough minded at times. It set the pace for every "inspirational teacher" movie to come without sharing in many of those films' flaws.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Television Producer David L. Wolper R.I.P.

David L. Wolper, perhaps best known for producing the historic mini-series Roots, passed yesterday at the age of 82. The causes were congestive heart disease and complications from Parkinson's disease.

David L. Wolper was born on January 11, 1928 in New York City. He attended the University of Southern California where he majored in journalism and cinema. He was the business manager of the campus humour magazine. The editor was Art Buchwald, with whom he became a lifelong friend. In 1949 he dropped out of college and joined childhood friend and future movie producer James B. Harris to sell older, short travel films Mr. Wolper's father had tried to market to schools. Wolper travelled the country trying to sell the films, along with old movie shorts, animated cartoons, serials, and B-movies, to television stations. It was in 1951 that Flamingo Films, as Mr. Wolper and his partner's firm was now called, bought the rights to Superman and produced 24 episodes of The Adventures of Superman before selling it to Kellogg's. Mr. Wolper left Flamingo Films in 1954.

It was in 1958 that David L. Wolper formed his own production company. He produced the documentary The Race for Space in 1959. When all three television networks rejected the documentary, he sold it to 108 television stations across the nation. It aired in 1960. The Race for Space was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary, Feature and won the Best Documentary, Feature award at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Mr. Wolper went onto produce such documentaries as The Rafer Johnson Story (1961), Hollywood: The Golden Years (1961), D-Day: June 6, 1944 (1962), Hollywood: The Fabulous Era (1962). From 1961 to 1963 Mr. Wolper produced the syndicated, documentary television series Biography. Mr. Wolper produced the documentaries Americans on Everest (1963), Holllywood: the Great Stars (1963), Escape to Freedom (1963), Project: Man in Space (1963), The Making of the President 1960 (1963), and A Thousand Days: A Tribute to John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1964), From 1963 to 1964 he produced the documentary series Hollywood and the Stars.  From 1965 to 1976 he produced 28 different National Geographic Specials.

For the remainder of the Sixties David L. Wolper produced the documentaries The Incredible World of James Bond (1965), The Big Land (1967), A Nation of Immigrants (1967), The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1968), Hemingway's Spain: A Love Affair (1969), and The Unfinished Journey of Robert Kennedy (1970). In 1968 Mr. Wolper entered feature film production with The Devil's Brigade. He would serve as a producer on the feature film If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium (1969) and The Bridge at Remagen (1970).

In the Seventies David L. Wolper produced the feature films Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), King, Queen, Knave (1972), Two is a Happy Number (1972), and Wattstax (1973). He produced more documentaries, including the critically acclaimed feature The Hellstrom Chronicle, as well as the television documentaries The Crucifixion of Jesus, Monsters! Mysteries or Myths?,  and The Legendary Curse of the Hope Diamond. He also produced such television movies as The 500 Pound Jerk, Collision Course: Truman vs. MacArthur, The Honourable Sam Houston, Victory at Entebbe, This Year's Blonde, and The Scarlett O' Hara War. He produced the TV series Appointment with Destiny and Get Christie Love. It was in the Seventies that Mr. Wolper also expanded into producing mini-series, including Lincoln and the historic mini-series Roots. Ran for eight days straight, Roots became the most watched programme up to that time and started a cycle towards mini-series that lasted into the Eighties. He also produced the sequels to Roots: the TV movie Roots One Year Later and the mini-series Roots: the Next Generation.

In the Eighties Mr.Wolper produced the mini-series The Thorn Birds, North and South, North and South Book II, and Napoleon and Josephine: a Love Story. He produced the TV movies This is Elvis, Murder is Easy, The Mystic Warrior, His Mistress, Liberty Weekend, The Plot to Kill Hitler, and Murder in Mississippi. He produced the TV series Casablanca. He also continued to produce documentaries including The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, Hollywood: The Gift of Laughter, and Imagine: John Lennon. He also produced the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

From the Nineties into the Naughts David L. Wolper produced Heaven and Hell: North and South Book III. He produced the TV movies Dillinger, Bed of Lies, Without Warning To Serve and Protect, and The Mists of Avalon. He continued to produce documentaries, including a series of documentaries on sports figures under the umbrella title of Heroes of the Game, Golf: The Greatest Game, Legends, Icons and Superstars of the 20th Century, and Roots: Celebrating 25 Years. He also produced the feature films Murder in the First, Surviving Picasso, and L.A. Confidential.

Even if David L. Wolper had never produced Roots, he would have left a large mark on television history. Indeed, in many ways his documentaries were every bit as important as Roots in television history. Documentaries such as The Race for Space, The Making of the President 1960, and Imagine: John Lennon, not to mention his many National Geographic Specials, set new standards for quality with regards to television documentaries, often surpassing similar material produced by the networks' news organisations. The fact that Mr. Wolper's documentaries often covered historical individuals and events make him in some ways a forefather of the History Channel. The fact that he produced Roots in addition to his many documentaries made David L. Wolper all the more remarkable. Roots opened American television up for the mini-series, which would prosper throughout the Eighties. It also proved that there was an interest in the American public in African American history and even sparked new discussions on race. David L. Wolper left a large mark in television history, through both his documentaries and his mini-series. He will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Back to School

Next week children across the United States will start returning to school. Some will be lucky enough that they don't have to return to school until the week after next. Others will be luckier still, not having to return to school until the day after Labour Day. Regardless, most kids will be back in school by the first full week of September.

As a child I must confess I would feel a bit down this time of year, as summer vacation came to an end and I had to return to school. Oh, I would look forward to seeing my friends. And even as a child I preferred the cooler weather of September to summertime heat. That having been said, I never really liked school itself. I did not care for being cooped up in a classroom for eight hours a day, nor did I particularly care for having to do homework of a night. I do not think my feelings about school were anything unusual. I rather suspect most children do not particularly care for school.

It is because of this fact that I find it interesting to look at how going back to school is portrayed in the media. For the most part I think television shows have accurately reflected the attitudes of the average child towards school, even if very few TV series episodes have actually dealt with returning to school in the fall. On television it seem as if most schoolchildren dislike school, but do not actively hate it, which seems true to life. As an example, on Leave It To Beaver, it seemed as if Beaver Cleaver had a crush on every single teacher he ever had, but he did not particularly care for school and especially disliked homework. His brother Wally was a bit more responsible, but had much the same attitude. On shows from The Wonder Years to Boy Meets World, the lead characters seem to have regarded school as simply something to be endured.

 While television shows more or less accurately portray children as disliking school, commercials are a very different matter. This is perhaps because the primary purpose of commercials is to sell a product. For that reason very few commercials take the somewhat negative, if realistic view, that children do not like attending school. Off the top of my head I can think of only two adverts from the past few years which portrayed children as not caring for school. It was a Staples commercial in which a father was merrily going through Staples picking up school supplies as Andy Williams' version of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" played. Following the rather happy father were his two children, both looking very depressed and dejected at the prospect of retuning to school.. This commercial is one of my favourite adverts from the past several years, While being very funny, it also portrays what is nearly a universal truth. Children don't particularly like school. Staples is not the only office supply chain that seems to grasp the fact that children don't particularly care for school. A recent Office Max commercial simply portrays a mother sending her son back to school. As he is on the bus he waves to her, looking despondent. His mother also looks unhappy. The mother then realises she is still holding his lunch and starts to run after the bus. This Office Max not only does a great job of capturing the fact that most children do not particularly care for going to school, but that parents often have difficulty letting them go.

Of course, most back to school commercials do not take this path. After all, for the most part commercials seem to avoid any sort of negativity, so that it would not be desirable to show children hating school. Perhaps for this reason most back to school commercials take a more neutral approach. For instance, a recent L. L. Bean ad shows kids enjoying the wilderness as "Rock Candy Mountain" plays in the background. It ends with children boarding a school bus. While the children are obviously enjoy tramping through the wild, there is no real sense of joy at boarding the bus. Of course, there is also no real sense of dejection either. The ad makes no comment on whether children enjoy school or not. It simply shows that the backpacks one can buy L. L. Bean can be used for camping or for school. A recent WalMart commercial simply shows a mother who expresses melancholy that her child is starting school. Here there is nothing showing the child's thoughts on the subject, simply the mother's slight sadness that her child is growing up and will not be home with her during the day any longer

While the majority of commercials are neutral towards going back to school, there are actually a few that seem to indicate children love school. In a recent Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats commercial children joyously rush into a school as its doors open. I am fairly sure this has never happened in real life. When I was in school we generally trudged into school on that first day, not particularly eager to be there. A Kleenex Sneeze Shield commercial also seems to show children enjoying school. The advert shows children at school engaging in a clapping game as a rather happy song plays in the background. The voiceover on the commercial explains how Kleenex Sneeze Shield helps catch sneezes in their tracks, so kids can "continue to pass on the fun of learning." I know it was true when I was in school and I suspect it is more true now, but I never describe school as "fun."

Perhaps the most unrealistic commercial portraying children returning to school is from Target. The Target advert portrays three triplet's first day at school, all the while the song "Free to Be You and Me" plays in the background. Now the song "Free to Be You and Me" was written for the record album and book of the same name, published in 1972. The purpose of the album and the book was to attack gender stereotypes then current at the time and encourage children to be themselves. It should be no surprise that the song "Free to Be You and Me" is essentially about being oneself. Not only do I find it strange that Target portrays returning to school as a happy occasion, but that in the commercial they use a song that does not characterise schools in the United States at all. Sadly, I think the average school is much more about rules and conformity to a community standard than teaching anyone to be himself or herself.

Regardless of the portrayal of children returning to school in TV shows and commercials, many kids will go back to school next week and still others will return in the weeks to come. And despite what some television commercials may claim, I rather suspect they will not be happy about it. Okay, maybe most children will not absolutely hate school as Bart Simpson does, but I think they might well dislike it the same way Beaver Cleaver did.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Late, Great Patricia Neal

Patricia Neal, the legendary actress who played in such films as A Face in the Crowd, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Hud, passed yesterday at the age of 84. The cause was lung cancer.

Patricia Neal was born on July 20, 1926 in Packard, Kentucky. She grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. She had wanted to be an actress since childhood. In the summer of 1942, before her senior year in high school, she was given an apprenticeship at the Barter Theatre in Abdington, Virginia. She attended Northwestern University for two years before moving to New York City.

Once in New York City, Patricia Neal served as understudy before replacing Vivian Vance in a tour of Voice of the Turtle. Miss Neal then appeared in a summer stock production of Devil Takes A Whittler in Westport, Connecticut. Playwright Eugene O'Neil saw her in the play and became her mentor, as did many important people in the Broadway community. Miss Neal found herself cast in the role of Regina Hubbard in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest (1946).

Miss Neal signed a seven year contract with Warner Brothers and made her motion picture debut in the movie adaptation of John Loves Mary (1949). The same year she was cast in her first role as leading lady in The Fountainhead. The next few years saw Patricia Neal appear in such films as The Breaking Point (1950), Operation Pacific (1951),  and Raton Pass (1951). Patricia Neal left Warner Brothers for 20th Century Fox, where she made such films as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and   Diplomatic Courier (1952). She was loaned to Universal where she made Weekend with Father (1951).


Patricia Neal returned to Broadway in 1952 to star in a revival of  The Children's Hour. She appeared again on Broadway in 1955 in the paly A Roomful of Roses. Miss Neal would then appear in such films as La tua donna (1954) and Immediate Disaster (1954). Miss Neal made her television debut in 1954 in an episode of Goodyear Playhouse. Throughout the Fifties Miss Neal appeared on such series as Omnibus, Suspicion, Playhouse 90, Studio One, and Play of the Week. She made her return to films in 1957 in the role of small town radio personality Marsha Jeffries in the movie A Face in the Crowd.

In 1961 Patricia Neal appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany's as Paul's wealthy "sponsor." That same year she made her final appearance on Broadway, as Helen Keller's mother in The Miracle Worker. In 1963 she appeared as housekeeper Alma Brown in the movie Hud. For the role she won the Oscar for Best Actress. For the rest of the Sixties Miss Neal would appear in the films Psyche 59 (1964), In Harm's Way (1965), and The Subject of Roses. She guest starred on such shows as Checkmate, The Untouchables, Ben Casey, and Espionage.

Patricia Neal began the Seventies with a role in the movie The Night Digger (1951). She played the role of Olivia Walton in The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, the television movie upon which the TV series The Waltons was based (not the pilot, as is so often erroneously reported). Miss Neal would guest star on such shows as Circle of Fear, Kung Fu, Little House on the Prairie, and Movin' On. She appeared in several television movies, including Tail Gunner Joe, in which she played Senator Margaret Chase Smith. She appeared in the films Baxter (1973), Happy Mother's Day, Love George (1973), and The Passage (1979).

In the Eighties Miss Neal appeared in the films Ghost Story (1981) and An Unremarkable Life (1989). She guest starred in the shows Glitter (1984), The Hallmark Hall of Fame, and Murder, She Wrote. She also appeared in two telefilms. In the Nineties she appeared in a 1993 television adaptation of Heidi and one other film. In 1999 she starred in the title role in the movie Cookie's Fortune. In 2000 she starred in the movie For the Love of May. It was last year that Miss Neal made her last appearance on screen, in the film Flying By.

I have always thought that Patricia Neal was one of the most underutilised actresses in Hollywood. After all, she had an enormous range. She could play a largely unsympathetic role, such as Mrs. Failenson in Breakfast at Tiffany's, then play a sympathetic role, such as Alma Brown in Hud, just as convincingly. Her skill as an actress was such that she stood out in nearly every movie in which she appeared, regardless of how small it was. She held her own in A Face in the Crowd, even as Andy Griffith gave a bravura performance. And she was memorable even in an epic such as In Harm's Way. The fact that she was able to give such performances even as her own life was filled with tragedy makes her all the more remarkable. Patricia Neal was truly one of the great actresses of the late 20th Century.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Watching Movies on Television in the Summer

Summer means vacation for American schoolchildren. This also means a good deal more free time as well. For kids this means long days spent outside playing with one's friends, playing games of baseball, spending time at the pool, and for some even a week at summer camp. For many it will also mean more time to watch television, much of which will be spent watching movies on DVD or Blu-Ray or perhaps the many cable channels.

To a large degree summer vacation has not changed for schoolchildren over the past several decades.It is true that, hard as it may be to believe, there was a time when there were not even VHS tapes, let alone DVDs or Blu-Ray. This did not mean that children in those earlier eras did not spend a good deal of time watching movies on television. While many households did not yet have cable and VCRs would not become commonplace until the very late Seventies, in those days both the networks and the local channels would show feature films several times a week. It was on network television that I would first see such films as Jason and the Argonauts (1963), A Hard Day's Night (1964), Help! (1965), One, Two, Three (1961), and The Dirty Dozen (1967). On local stations I would see older, classic films, from Casablanca to the Universal horror movies.

Of course, it had not always been this way. There was a time when the only movies one might see on television would be older films from the Thirties or maybe the Forties at the latest, and then primarily B-movies shown on local television stations. Feature films were largely unknown on the networks in the Fifties, with the exception of such special events as The Wizard of Oz (first shown on CBS in 1956) . It was fairly big news in 1955 when ABC aired films (although often greatly edited to fit in the time slot) from the Forties (including Great Expectations and The Red Shoes) from Britain's J. Rank Organisation under the title Famous Film Festival (it only lasted a season). It was even bigger news when  Screen Gems syndicated a package of classic Universal horror movies to local television stations in 1957 under the name Shock! For the most part, major motion pictures were not a part of the television experience of children in the Fifties.

All of this changed in September 1961 when NBC debuted NBC Saturday Night at the Movies. It was in 1961 that NBC bought the rights to 31 films made after 1950 from 20th Century Fox. The movie anthology series debuted on September 23, showing How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) starring Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, and Lauren Bacall. During that first season NBC Saturday Night at the Movies would show  Monkey Business (1952) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) among many other films. NBC Saturday Night at the Movies received very good ratings, so good that the other networks would follow suit with their own movie anthology series. In 1964 ABC debuted its first movie anthology series, The ABC Sunday Night Movie. CBS, then the highest rated network, would wait until 1966 to debut its first movie anthology series, The CBS Thursday Night Movies. By 1968 movie anthology series were so popular on television that, between the three networks, there was one on every night of the week.

While feature films would become rather common place on network schedules in the Sixties and Seventies, there were some distinct disadvantages to watching them on network television as opposed to watching them on DVD or even a cable channel. As might be expected, there would be commercial interruptions. Movies would be edited to run in the time allotted by the network and, especially after 1967, edited for content as well. As the letterbox format would not be developed until the Eighties, movies would always be shown in full screen. Naturally, the many films shot in the widescreen processes popular in the Fifties and Sixties would then look rather strange on television. Another disadvantage to watching movies on television was that there would often be some time before the end of a movie's second run and its debut on the small screen. As is shown above, How to Marry a Millionaire was already eight years old when it made its network debut. The Day the Earth Stood Still was even older, at eleven years old. While many of the movies that aired on that first season of  NBC Saturday Night at the Movies were fairly old, this would change rather soon. On average, the movies that aired on network television were anywhere from three to four years old. Eventually this would change, so that films would sometimes make their television debuts when they were only two years old.

As far as I know the networks did not intentionally try to differentiate themselves in the feature films they showed. When I was growing up , however, I did notice some differences in the films shown on the three networks. CBS, being the top network for many years, tended to get most of the big box office hits. NBC would get some of the big box office hits, their movie anthology series being filled out with films that did moderately well or even poor at the box office. ABC usually got a few of the big movies (The Bridge on the River Kwai, Patton, Oliver), but more often they were simply left with whatever was left over. Even as a child I noticed differences between what was shown during the fall-spring television season and the summer. Even then some movies would only be shown at certain times of year. The Wizard of Oz was always shown in the spring. The Ten Commandments was always shown around Passover and Easter. With a few exceptions (mostly on CBS and mostly action films), the biggest movies were generally shown only once during the fall-spring television season and were not repeated during the summer. Of course, this did not mean that the network's summer schedules were absent of any good films.

Indeed, some of my fondest memories of watching movies on television as a child occurred during the summer. As might be expected, most of them were on CBS. During the summer CBS showed some of the biggest action movies ever made, including The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and The Guns of Navarone. CBS would also show comedies including Support Your Local Gunfighter, The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming, and, one August, the Herman's Hermits movie Hold On (I remember that one fairly well). CBS had the rights to the entire Planet of the Apes series, and would often repeat the films in the summer. Perhaps my fondest memory of watching movies on CBS in the summer was Yellow Submarine. In fact, although my memory may fail me, it seems to me that they showed it every year around or on July 4. Since that time I have associated Independence Day with the band that inaugurated the British Invasion...

NBC also aired several good movies during the summer, although they would tend more towards spy thrillers and comedies than big action films. I remember they showed both The Satan Bug and The Ipcress File in the summer. One of my fondest memories of watching movies on NBC was when we came home from our weekly grocery shopping trip to find The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao was on. I also have fond memories of watching They Might Be Giants, a forgotten gem in which George C. Scott plays a millionaire who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes, on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies. Perhaps because CBS got the rights to so many of the huge films, They Might Be Giants was hardly the only obscure film ever shown on NBC. One Saturday night they showed Doppelgänger (AKA Journey to the Far Side of the Sun), a now largely forgotten sci-fi film produced by Gerry Anderson. It was also on NBC in the summer that I first saw The 300 Spartans, the 1962 film based on the same battle as the more recent movie 300.

I don't have nearly as many memories of watching movies on ABC as I do of watching movies on CBS or NBC. Perennially the third ranked network, ABC did not have the money to get as many big box office films that CBS or NBC did. They did get the rights to the James Bond movies. The first time I would ever see most of the James Bond movies would be on ABC in the Seventies. They showed at least one Bond movie a month for years, so that much of my summer television viewing as a child consisted of watching 007 in action. To this day I associate summer with Sean Connery as James Bond. ABC also received the rights to show the Matt Helm movies. They did not show them as often as the Bond movies, but it seems to me that they were often repeated during the summer. ABC would show only a few of their big box office movies in the summer. I remember them showing The Italian Job, Ice Station Zebra, and In Harm's Way. Until the late Seventies, ABC really would not be on equal footing with CBS or NBC.  Perhaps because they were the lowest rated network, I remember ABC showing some rather odd, even obscure movies. Indeed, they even showed the feature film based on the hit series Batman in July 1971, even though ABC had cancelled the show three years earlier! They also showed such films as The Brain  (a 1969 comedy with David Niven as the world's smartest thief), Modesty Blaise, and The Assassination Bureau in the summer. Oddly, while I don't remember Modesty Blaise that well, my memory of The Brain is very fresh--it was actually one of the first David Niven movies I ever saw. ABC also showed some Hammer films in the summer, including Quatermass and the Pit (under its American title, Five Million Miles to Earth) and Hands of the Ripper.

Sadly, movie anthology series began to decline in number in the early Seventies, a decline which accelerated in the late Seventies. In 1978 the original movie anthology series, NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, ended after seventeen years. By the mid-Eighties the movie anthology series were largely dominated by made for TV movies (the sort I called "The Exploitation Movie of the Week"). For much of the Nineties there would be only four movie anthology series on the networks (one each on CBS and ABC, two on NBC). The last two movie anthology series, CBS Sunday Night Movies and NBC Sunday Night at the Movies, would not even survive into the Naughts--they both ended their runs in 1999. The reason for the slow decline of the movie anthology series was quite simply that new outlets for feature films other than the broadcast networks evolved over time. In 1972 HBO was founded, the first successful, nationwide, premium movie cable channel. It would be followed by The Movie Channel and Showtime. Cable television also expanded at a rapid rate in the Seventies and Eighties, creating yet more outlets for movies. While the VCR had existed in some form since 1963, it would not be until the Seventies that they would become commercially viable. With the introduction of the Betamax and VHS formats in the late Seventies, VCRs would become commonplace in the Eighties. As if premium movie channels, the expansion of cable television, and the introduction of the VCR was not enough, DVDs would be introduced in the late Nineties. Not only would they make VCRs largely obsolete, but they also probably hammered the nail in the coffin of the network movie anthology series. Today the networks are more or less in the same position they were in the Fifties--only showing feature films as special events.

Of course, movies were not shown only on the networks in those days, but on local stations as well. In fact, in the days before sport and infomericals dominated the schedule, local stations would show movies on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. These would be older movies than one would see on the networks, often from the Thirties and Forties. In fact, it was not unusual for a local station to schedule a specific, old movie series (such as "Blondie" or "Ma and Pa Kettle") or a specific genre (such as Westerns) in a given time slot on the weekends . I spent many summers on Saturday afternoons watching KOMU, which rotated showing the old Sherlock Holmes movies and Charlie Chan movies each week. KRCG had its own regularly scheduled, movie time slot every Saturday night at 10:30. It was called Tales of Terror and was hosted by weatherman Lee Gordon as The Count. As one can probably tell by its title, classic horror movies were shown on Tales of Terror, from Frankenstein (1930) to, well, Tales of Terror (1962).  KMIZ, by far the youngest of the local stations, would show B-Westerns on Saturday afternoon. Having spent many summers watching these B-Westerns on Saturdays, I rather suspect I have seen every Gabby Hayes movie ever made.Other than the movies they showed on a regular basis, the local stations would show an eclectic mix of films. I remember one Sunday afternoon KRCG showed Fail Safe. Another Sunday afternoon KMIZ showed The Kid From Brooklyn.

Being network affiliates, the local stations were somewhat limited in how much time they could show movies, a certain amount of their time being occupied by network offerings. This was not the case with KPLR, the independent station out of St. Louis. As an independent station, KPLR could not rely on a network to fill its schedule. As a result it showed a lot of movies. And as the oldest independent station in the state, it was well established enough that it could afford some rather big name movies. It was on KPLR that I first saw Bringing Up Baby, Casablanca, Pillow Talk, The Vikings, El Cid, and many other movies. Like KOMU and KRCG here in mid-Missouri, KPLR had those times it devoted to specific movie series or genre of movies. On Saturday afternoon they would show one "Bowery Boys" movie followed by an Abbot and Costello movie. I have fond memories in the summers of watching such films as The Time of Their Lives and Buck Privates. Saturday night KPLR had "Western Theatre," when they would show classic Westerns. Sunday afternoons they had what they called "Tarzan Theatre,." which showed the whole range of Tarzan movies from Tarzan the Ape Man to the ones made in the Sixties. Week nights they devoted to a variety of films, from the Thirties to the Seventies. I remember in the summer watching such diverse films as WestWorld, Our Man Flint, Angels with Dirty Faces, Casablanca, and Duck Soup all on KPLR. In the days before TCM, KPLR was a classic movie buff's dream.

Sadly, since the Seventies the number of feature films on local channels has decreased enormously. There can be no doubt that much of this is due to the same factors that spelled the end of the networks' movie anthology series: the emergence of premium movie cable channels, the expansion of cable, and the development of such technologies as the VCR and the DVD. That having been said, movies on local stations would have two other factors that worked against them. In the Eighties and Nineties the networks would greatly expand the number of sporting events they showed on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (even though there are specialised cable channels such as ESPN for these things...). This would give local stations less time in which they could show feature films. Another factor which worked against movies being shown on local stations was the development of the infomercial in the Eighties. Sadly, many programming managers at many local stations in the United States have chosen to air infomercials (which make money whether people watch them or not) on those rare Saturday and Sunday afternoons when the networks are airing no sport rather than airing movies. Since the mid-Eighties what was once a movie buff's wonderland has developed into a vast wasteland on local stations throughout the country.

While those of us nostalgic for the days of old may lament the fact that movies are no longer shown with any kind of frequency on networks and local stations, it cannot be denied that kids today have more access to watching movies than we ever did. There are many different premium channels, from Starz to The Sundance Channel, which show movies. There are specialised cable channels, such as TCM and The Fox Movie Channel. There is both DVD and Blu-Ray. Indeed, today's schoolchildren can watch almost any given movie any time they want, whether through DVD, Blu-Ray, or pay cable. In the old days one had no choice but to wait until his or her favourite movie came on television. Given the many different means through which today's kids can watch movies, there can be no doubt that many of them choose to spend their summers watching feature films. And there can be no doubt that twenty years from now they will have fond memories of doing so.