Saturday, September 30, 2023

Hammer Horror on TCM in October 2023

This October, as they always do, Turner Classic Movies is showing a lot of horror movies. This time they are doing it under the heading of "Terror-thon," several hours worth of frightening films. And, as usual, TCM is showing a lot of the beloved classics made by the legendary British studio Hammer Film Productions, Ltd. There is a very good reason that Hammer Horror fans look forward to October on TCM every year!

Below is a schedule of the Hammer Films being shown on Turner Classic Movies this October. All times are Central.

Monday, October 4
2:15 AM Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Monday, October 9
8:45 AM The Mummy's Shroud (1967)

Sunday, October 22
3:15 PM The Nanny (1965)

Sunday, October 27
10:00 PM Dracula/Horrror of Dracula(1958)

Sunday, October 30
5:15 PM The Devil Rides Out (1968)
8:45 PM The Witches/The Devil's Own (1966)

Monday, October 31 (Halloween)
3:45 AM The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
5:30 AM Rasputin--The Mad Monk (1966)
7:15 AM Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)
9:00 AM The Mummy (1959)

Friday, September 29, 2023

The 60th Anniversary of My Favorite Martian

It was sixty years ago, on September 29 1963, that My Favorite Martian debuted on CBS. In many ways, it was a pioneering show. It was the success of My Favorite Martian that would lead to such shows as Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. It would also prove popular. While on the air, My Favorite Martin produced merchandise from comic books to a board game. After it had gone off the air, it would have a successful syndication run, and it would result in a Saturday morning cartoon and even a feature film.

My Favorite Martian centred on a 450-year-old anthropologist from Mars, later revealed to be named Exigius 12 1/2 (Ray Walston), who crashes lands on Earth. He is found by Tim O'Hara (Bill Bixby), a reporter for The Los Angeles Sun. With the Martian stranded on Earth due to damage to his spaceship, Tim takes him in and tells others that he is his Uncle Martin. Tim agrees to keep Martin's identity secret and not to reveal that he is from Mars. By the same token, Martin decides not to exhibit his special abilities around Earthlings. As to Martin's abilities, they are numerous. He has retractable antennae in the back of his head.  He has telekinesis and can lift and move objects by moving his index finger. He can read minds. He can become invisible. He can also speed himself or others up, and even freeze people and objects in place. On top of all this, he is an inventor who can develop advanced technology. Tim and Martin live in a garage apartment they rent from Lorelei Brown (Pamela Britton).

According to an article from the Newspaper Enterprise Association in October 1963, My Favorite Martian was created by John L. Greene, who had earlier written for shows such as My Friend Irma and Our Miss Brooks. John L. Greene had created Uncle Martin in a script that he had sent to a major talent agency. It was three years after he had sent the script to the agency that Jack Chertok, who had produced Private Secretary and The Lone Ranger, among other shows, found John L. Greene's script at the bottom of a stack of scripts at the agency. Jack Chertok informed the agency that he liked the script. One of the people at the agency told Mr. Chertok, "It's the worst idea around here. It has been read by everyone and always winds up at the bottom of the stack." Jack Chertok told him, "That's why I want it."

From the beginning Ray Walston and Bill Bixby were wanted for the roles of Uncle Martin and Tim O'Hara respectively. Ray Walston had appeared in the London production of the musical South Pacific and in the 1958 film version as well, and he played the Devil in both the Broadway musical Damn Yankees and the 1958 film version of that musical. He also appeared in the movie The Apartment (1960). Bill Bixby has made guest appearances on such shows as Dobie Gillis, Make Room for Daddy, and The Andy Griffith Show. The role of landlady Lorelei Brown was conceived as being an older lady, but actress Pamela Britton was able to persuade Jack Chertok that she should be younger. Pamela Britton had appeared in the classic film noir D.O.A. (1950) and had played Blondie in the 1957 sitcom Blondie, based on the popular comic strip of the same name. The first season of My Favorite Martian featured J. Pat O'Malley as Tim's boss at The Los Angeles Sun, Mr. Burns. In the second and third seasons, Alan Hewitt played Detective Bill Brennan, who was very suspicious of Uncle Martin. Roy Engel appeared in six episodes of the third season as a police captain.

The pilot for My Favorite Martian differed from the regular series. It was filmed in 1962 and it was on the basis of that pilot that CBS bought the show in January 1963. The original pilot featured Ina Victor as Mrs. Brown's twenty-year-old niece Annabelle. She would not appear in the regular series.  Mrs. Brown's fifteen-year-old daughter Angela, played by Ann Marshall, only appeared in three episodes of My Favorite Martian (including the pilot), all during the first season.

For seven episodes of the first season of My Favorite Martian, Sherwood Schwartz, later of Gilligan's Island fame, served as the show's script consultant. CBS had been having trouble with new episodes beyond the pilot. According to Mr. Schwartz, after looking at unfinished episodes, he determined that the problem was that instead of focusing on Uncle Martin as a fish out of water, the episodes were focusing more on Tim O'Hara. Sherwood Schwartz then threw out many of the scripts and kept five or six scripts that could be salvaged through rewriting.  In his own words, Mr. Schwartz felt that he simply put the show back on the track set by the pilot.

For the most part, My Favorite Martian was well-received by critics, if not overwhelmingly so. Associated Press television and radio writer Cynthia Lowry gave My Favorite Martian a largely positive review, noting "The big problem, of course, will be achieving audience acceptance--adult acceptance, that is, because children are accustomed to taking out-of-this-world creatures in stride." Columnist Bob Foster wrote, "My Favorite Martian probably will cause quite a sensation, although personally I don't warm up to this type of thing." Columnist Erskine Johnson noted, "My Favorite Martian, at least, has imagination and is a departure from most of television's domestic comedies, all of which boil down to My Favorite Husband (or Wife)."

My Favorite Martian proved to be a hit in its first season, coming in at no. 10 in the Nielsen ratings for the year. In its second season, My Favorite Martian dropped in the ratings, although it came in at a still respectable no. 24 for the year. The third season would see major changes for the show. It shifted from being shot in black-and-white to being shot in colour. While during its first two seasons, My Favorite Martian was shot at Desilu, for its third season it was shot at MGM's studios in Culver City. It was during the summer of 1965 that Lucille Ball, the head of Desilu, decided that the studio needed the soundstages then being rented to Jack Chertok for a new show they were producing called Star Trek. Of course, this meant that the show now had access to MGM's large backlot.

The success of My Favorite Martian would result in merchandise associated with the show. Gold Key published nine issues of a My Favorite Martian comic book from 1964 to 1966. Transogram put out a My Favorite Martian board game. There was also a beanie with antennae, a magic set put out by Gilbert, a colouring book published by Golden Press, and various other items.

Unfortunately, it was during the third season that My Favorite Martian also had something of a crisis. Ray Walston was unhappy with the quality of many of the scripts and decided as a result that he wanted to appear less on the show. It was because of this that Uncle Martin's eleven-year-old nephew Andromeda was introduced on the show, played by Wayne Stam. As it turned out, Andromeda only appeared in one episode, and CBS did not particularly care for the idea. He only appeared in the 24th episode of the third season, "When You Get Back to Mars, Are You Going to Get It," and did not appear in the remainder of the season.

As it turns out, My Favorite Martian dropped in the Nielsen ratings during its third season, so it no longer ranked in the top thirty of the year. CBS cancelled My Favorite Martian, perhaps due to the show's ratings and the fact that Ray Walston wanted to reduce his participation on the show. My Favorite Martian.

While My Favorite Martian had ended its network run, it was neither gone nor forgotten. The show went into syndication as a rerun, where it proved to be popular. The continued popularity of the show resulted in a revival of sorts as a Saturday morning cartoon titled My Favorite Martians. The show was produced by Filmation, in conjunction with Jack Chertok Productions. Neither Ray Walston nor Bill Bixby returned to voice their characters from My Favorite Martian. Instead, Jonathan Harris (best known as Dr. Smith on Lost in Space) voiced Uncle Martin, while Howard Morris (of Your Show of Shows and The Andy Griffith Show fame) voiced Tim O'Hara. Lorelei Brown was voiced by Jane Webb, who also voiced the new character of Tim's niece Katy. Howard Morris also voiced multiple characters, including Detective Bill Brennan and the new characters of a Martian dog called Okey, a chimp named Chump, and Detective Brennan's son named Brad. Despite the additional characters, My Favorite Martians did use scripts meant for the unrealized fourth season of the original television show. My Favorite Martians debuted on CBS on September 8 1973. It spent only one season on Saturday morning and was rerun the following season on Sunday morning on CBS.

In 1995, Ray Walston appeared in a commercial for AT&T. It was implied that his character was Uncle Martin looking for affordable long-distance rates to call Mars.

In 1999 a feature film based on the TV show, also titled My Favorite Martian, was released. It starred Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Martin and Jeff Daniels as Tim O'Hara. Ray Walston appeared as a Martian who had been stranded on Earth for years. The film was not particularly well-received by critics. It also did not click with audiences and failed at the box office.

Regardless, My Favorite Martian continues to be popular. It has aired on AmericanLife TV, TV Land, COZI TV, and Antenna TV. The show has been released on both VHS and DVD. My Favorite Martian is available on multiple streaming services, including Peacock, Pluto TV, Tubi, Vudu, Prime Video, Plex, Freevee, and others.

As mentioned earlier, Esrkine Johnson noted that My Favorite Martian was different from television's domestic comedies, which might well explain its success. There had only been a few fantasy sitcoms on the air before My Favorite Martian, and only two had seen any real success. Topper may well have been the first fantasy sitcom, debuting in 1953. It was followed in 1961 by Mister Ed, starring the famous talking horse. The success of My Favorite Martian would spark an entire cycle of fantasy sitcoms. The following season would see the debut of such shows as The Addams Family, Bewitched, The Munsters, and My Living Doll. The following seasons would see such sitcoms as I Dream of Jeannie, The Smothers Brothers Show, The Flying Nun, and The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. It seems possible that none of these shows would have aired if My Favorite Martian had not been a hit. It seems likely My Favorite Martian was responsible for further sitcoms centred around aliens, including Mork & Mindy, ALF, Third Rock from the Sun, and the short-lived show The Neighbors. Sixty years after its debut, the influence of My Favorite Martian is still being felt.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Close Channel D: The Late, Great David McCallum

For many Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers, David McCallum was their first crush. For others, like myself, David McCallum was one of their childhood heroes. He played ultra-cool Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent Illya Kuryakin on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., a phenomenon when it first aired and later a popular rerun in syndication. For younger audiences he may be best remembered as Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard, the eccentric, intellectual chief medical examiner on NCIS. As identified as he was with both roles, David McCallum had a career that spanned seventy years and played numerous other roles, from Lieutenant Commander Eric Ashley-Pitt ("Dispersal") in The Great Escape (1963) to Steel in the British cult television show Sapphire & Steel. Sadly, David McCallum died yesterday, September 25 2023, only a little under a week after having turned 90.

David Keith McCallum Jr. was born on September 19 1933 in Glasgow. His father was, David McCallum Sr., was an orchestral violinist and his mother Dorothy McCallum (née Dorman) was a cellist. He was only three when his family moved to London where his father played as leader in the London Philharmonic Orchestra. With World War II young David McCallum was evacuated to Gatocharn, Scotland, where he lived with is mother.

David McCallum was encouraged by his parents to pursue a career in music. He learned to play the oboe as well as the piano and the English horn. As it turned out, David McCallum learned he was more interested in acting. He played the Little Prince in Shakespeare's King John when he was only eight years old, and he believed that is what led him to decide to be an actor. David McCallum attended University College School in Hampstead, London. When he was 13, he began providing voices for BBC radio shows. For his National Service, David McCallum served in the British Army's 3rd Battalion the Middlesex Regiment. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Among his classmates was Joan Collins. He played with the Oxford Repertory Group.

David McCallum made his television debut in the television mini-series The Rose and the Ring in 1953. His film debut was an uncredited role in Ill Met By Moonlight (1957). That same year he was cast in Clive Donner's directorial debut The Secret Place (1957), playing rebellious Cockney Mike Wilson. David McCallum signed with the Rank Organization. In the late Fifties he appeared in the films These Dangerous Years (1957), Hell Drivers (1957), Robbery Under Arms (1957), Violent Playground (1958), A Night to Remember (1958), and Jungle Street (1960). On television he was a regular on the TV program The Eustace Diamonds. He appeared in the mini-series Our Mutual Friend and played Frank Churchill in the mini-series Emma. He guest starred on the shows Television World Theatre, Saturday Playhouse, BBC Sunday-Night Play, Armchair Theatre, ITV Television Playhouse, and Knight Errant Limited.

It was in 1964 that David McCallum began playing Illya Kuryakin on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Initially, Illya was meant to be a minor character, with the show centred firmly on Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo. Audience reaction to the character proved to be so positive that the producer eventually made David McCallum a co-star on the show, on equal footing with Robert Vaughn. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. proved to be something of a fad, achieving phenomenal ratings and producing a treasure trove of merchandise. David McCallum became a heartthrob among teenage girls and younger women, and he received more fan mail than any other actor in the history of MGM, even such well-known stars as Clark Gable and Judy Garland. Changes in time slot and a shift to camp in the show's third season resulted in a drop in ratings, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was cancelled midway in its fourth season.

In addition to his regular role on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., David McCallum also guest starred on the TV shows ITV Play of the Week, Sir Francis Drake, The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, Perry Mason, The Great Adventure, The Outer Limits, Profiles in Courage, and Please Don't Eat the Daisies (as Illya Kuryakin). In the classic movie The Great Escape (1963), he played Lieutenant Commander Ashley-Pitt, who devised a means of getting ride of the dirt excavated from the escape tunnels. He also appeared in the movies The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961), Karolina Rijecka (1961), Billy Budd (1962), Freud (1962), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Around the World Under the Sea (1966), Three Bites of the Apple (1967), Sol Madrid (1968), Mosquito Squadron (1969), and La cattura (1969).

In the Seventies David McCallum starred on the British TV show Colditz, the short-lived American series The Invisible Man, and the British cult sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel. He also appeared in the mini-series Kidnapped. David McCallum guest starred on the TV shows Night Gallery; The Man and the City; Marcus Welby, M.D.; Norman Corwin Presents; and Bert D'Angelo/Superstar. He appeared in the movies The Kingfisher Caper (1975), Dogs (1977), King Solomon's Treasure (1979), and The Watcher in the Woods (1980).

In the Eighties David McCallum continued to star as Steel on Sapphire & Steel. He appeared in the mini-series Mother Love and Lucky Chances. He reprised his role as Illya Kuryakin in the television reunion movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair, and he was again reunited with Robert Vaughn on in a role very similar to Illa Kuryakin in the A-Team episode "The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair." He also guest starred on the TV shows Strike Force; Hart to Hart; As the World Turns; The Master; Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense; Matlock; Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Monsters; Father Dowling Mysteries; Murder, She Wrote; and Boon. He appeared in the movies Terminal Choice (1985), Az aranyifjú (1987), and The Haunting of Morella (1990).

In the Nineties David McCallum starred in the TV shows Cluedo, Trainer, VR.5., and Team Knight Rider. He guest starred on the shows SeaQuest DSV, Babylon 5, Heartbeat, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Law & Order, The Outer Limits, Three, Sex and the City, and Deadline. He appeared in the movies Hear My Song (1991), Dirty Weekend (1993), Fatal Inheritance (1993), Healer (1994), and Cherry (1999).

In the Naughts David McCallum first played Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard in the two-part JAG episode "Ice Queen"/"Meltdown" that served as a backdoor pilot for NCIS. That autumn he began his long run of playing the character on NCIS. He ultimately played Ducky for twenty years, appearing in more episodes of NCIS than any other actor. He also starred on the show The Education of Max Bickford and voiced C.A.R. on the animated series The Replacements and Professor Paradox on the animated series Ben 10: Alien Force and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien. He guest starred on the TV show Jeremiah, and was a guest voice on the animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He was the voice of Alfred Pennyworth in the animated movie Batman: Gotham Knight (2008) and the voice of Zeus in the animated movie Wonder Woman (2009).

In the Teens David McCallum continued to play Ducky on NCIS. He also appeared as Ducky on the spin-off NCIS: New Orleans. He continued to voice Professor Paradox in the animated shows Ben 10: Omiverse. He provided the voice of Alfred Pennyworth in the animated movies Son of Batman (2014) and Batman vs. Robin (2015). In the 2020s he continued to play Ducky on NCIS.

In addition to appear in film and screen, David McCallum also provided voices for such video games as Ben 10: Alien Force--Vilgax Attacks, Diablo III, and NCIS.

Trained as a musician, David McCallum would have something of a music career. In the Sixties he recorded four albums of instrumentals for Capitol Records: Music...A Part of Me, Music...A Bit More of Me, Music...It's Happening Now!, and McCallum. His composition "The Edge" would later be sampled by rap artists and would appear in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV and the movie Baby Driver (2017).

David McCallum also wrote a novel, a thriller titled Once a Crooked Man.

It seems very likely David McCallum will always be best remembered as Illya Kuryakin on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Dr. Mallard on NCIS, and Ashley-Pitt in The Great Escape. And I don't think that is merely do to the continued popularity of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., NCIS, and The Great Escape. Quite simply, he was fantastic in all three roles. He was perfect as Illa Kuryakin, the mysterious, super-cool U.N.C.L.E. agent. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences was obviously impressed with is performance as Illya, nominating him twice for the Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievements in Entertainment - Actors and Performers and the Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Series. He was also impressive as Ducky on NCIS, the jocular, but intellectual medical examiner. He stood out in an ensemble cast in The Great Escape as Lieutenant Commander Ashley-Pitt.

Of course, David McCallum played many more roles than Illya Kuryakin, Dr. Mallard, and Lieutenant Commander Ashley-Pitt. Many will remember him as the stoic, irascible Steel on Sapphire & Steel, a show that can aptly be described as a cross between Doctor Who and The X-Files. On Colditz he played the fiercely independent Flight Lieutenant Simon Carter, who was always antagonistic towards his German captors. He played the radio operator of the RMS Titanic in the classic A Night to Remember. In Violent Playground he played a role as far removed from Illya, Ducky, and Steel as one could get: a violent juvenile delinquent and street gang leader named Johnnie Murphy. Even in his guest appearances on various shows David McCallum could be impressive. In the Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Fifty Millionth Frenchman," he played Phillipe Bertain, a Frenchman who has no luck with women (ironically, only a few months later Mr McCallum would play the heartthrob of millions, Illya Kuryakin). In the Outer Limits episode "The Sixth Finger," he played a Welsh miner who agrees to an experiment to accelerate evolution, with disastrous results. David McCallum was an incredible actor who played  a wide variety of roles. What is more, he played all of them well.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Thank You For a Successful 10th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon

I want to thank everyone who participated in the 10th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon for making it a success. It is hard to believe that there have been 10 editions of the blogathon, and that wouldn't have happened if not for my fellow bloggers stepping up to take part in it. In 1993 when it first started, the blogathon was called "the British Invaders Blogathon" and took place in August. It was in 2018 (the fifth year of the blogathon) that I changed its name to "the Rule, Britannia Blogathon." Given some of the regular participants in the blogathon are British, it made no sense to call it "the British Invaders Blogathon!" In 2020 I moved the Rule, Britannia Blogathon to the next to the last weekend of September. That year it slipped my mind to announce the blogathon in June as I usually do, and so I moved it to September to give participants more time to get ready for it. I have kept it in September ever since, as it makes my two blogathons (the other being the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon in March) around six months apart.

I think this year's blogathon has been one of the best. We had entries on movies from the 1930s to 1980s. The posts also encompassed a wide array of genres, from comedies to romance movies to science fiction movies. Some of the most respected British directors were also represented, including Terence Fisher, Alfred Hitchcock, Alan Parker, and Michael Powell. Anyway, I can guarantee the Rule, Britannia Blogathon will be back next year for an eleventh edition!

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Local Hero (1983)

(This post is a part of the 10th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon Hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

This past February 17th marked 40 years since the release of a remarkable film, Local Hero (1983) directed by Bill Forsyth.  Bill Forsyth had already received attention for his movies That Sinking Feeling (1979) and Gregory's Girl (1981). While I would not see That Sinking Feeling until later, I had already seen Gregory's Girl when Local Hero came out. When I finally got to see Local Hero on VHS, I was not disappointed. It remains one of my all-time favourite movies to this day.

Local Hero centres on "Mac" MacIntyre (Peter Riegert), a young executive at Knox Oil and Gas in Houston, Texas. Because his name sounds "Scottish," Mac finds himself set to the Highlands of Scotland by the head of Knox Oil and Gas, the eccentric Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster), to acquire the tiny village of Furness to open a refinery there. Once there, Mac learns that the plan is to entirely replace Furness with the refinery. While Mac grows to love Furness and have doubts about the clearing the village to make way for a refinery, the villagers are more than eager to sell out to Knox Oil and Gas. As it turns out, there is one holdout: elderly beachcomber Ben Knox (Fulton MacKay). Ben owns the entirety of the beach by way of  a grant from the Lord of the Isles to one of his ancestors. Without the beach, there can be no refinery, and Ben absolutely refuses to sell.

Local Hero emerged from producer David Puttnam and director Bill Forsyth. The two men had met in London in the late Seventies. At the time Bill Forsyth gave David Putnam the script to Gregory's Girl in hopes that he would produce it, but Mr. Puttnam turned it down, thinking it was too similar to That Sinking Feeling. After seeing Gregory's Girl, David Puttnam admitted to regretting not accepting the movie. The two would meet again, quite by chance, in a tobacconist shop in Soho. At the time Bill Forsyth was busy editing Gregory's Girl, while David Puttnam was finishing up Chariots of Fire (1981). It was only a matter of days before David Puttnam asked Bill Forsyth to attend a screening of the classic Whisky Galore! (1949). The Ealing Studios movie is set on the tiny, fictional Scottish island of Todday in the Outer Hebries where the supply of whisky runs out during World War II.

David Puttnam had good reason for wanting Bill Forsyth to see Whisky Galore!. The producer had been researching the Scottish oil industry, in particular the oil boom in Shetland in the early Seventies. What struck David Puttnam is that the Shetlanders actually welcomed the oil companies, in hopes that the large amount of money generated by oil would in turn help them. David Puttnam then talked Bill Forsyth into developing the idea for what would become Local Hero.

In the book Local Hero: The Making of the Film by Allan Hunter and Mark Astaire, Bill Forsyth said of Local Hero, "I saw it along the lines of a Scottish Beverly Hillbillies--what would happen to a small community when it suddenly became immensely rich--that was the germ of the idea and the story built itself from there. It seemed to contain a similar theme to Brigadoon (1954), which also involved some Americans coming over to Scotland, becoming part of a small community, being changed by the experience and affecting the place in their own way. I feel close in spirit to the Powell and Pressburger feeling the idea of trying to present a cosmic viewpoint to people, but through the most ordinary things. And because this film and I Know Where I Am Going (1945) are set in Scotland, I've felt from the beginning that we're walking the same...treading the same water."

Initially Local Hero centred on the character of the local hotel owner, who would tackle the American oil company and its representative (Mac in the movie). Over time the story began to focus more on Mac, the American oil company representative who initially finds himself out of place in Furness. Although today, it might seem difficult for fans of Local Hero to see anyone as Mac but Peter Reigert. Bill Forsyth had also considered Michael Douglas and Henry Winkler. From the beginning Burt Lancaster was considered for the role of eccentric billionaire Felix Happer, although casting him presented some problems. Burt Lancaster wanted a $2 million salary. That would have been a third of the movie's entire budget. Fortunately, Warner Bros. made producer David Puttnam an American distribution deal once they knew Burt Lancaster was to be in the movie and as a result provided the money to pay for the Hollywood legend.

As might be expected, aside from Peter Riegert and Burt Lancaster, the majority of the cast of Local Hero was comprised of British actors. Fulton MacKay, who played beachcomber Ben Knox, had a career on stage and on screen going back to the late Forties. Many might remember him best for his appearances on such classic television shows as The Saint and The Avengers. Denis Lawson, who played hotel owner and accountant Gordon Urquhart, played Wedge Antilles in both Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980). On television he'd appeared in episodes of Dr. Finlay's Casebook and Bergerac. For Peter Capaldi, who played local Knox Oil and Gas representative Danny Oldsen (and hence Mac's guide to Furness), Local Hero was only his second film. Of course, he has since become known as Malcolm Tucker on The Thick of It and the Twelfth Doctor on Doctor Who.

Of course, among the stars of Local Hero must be counted the Scottish landscape. The movie required a small Scottish village with an extensive beach. As a result, production designer Roger Murray-Leach scouted the Scottish coast for just such a village. Ultimately a small fishing village called Pennan, located in Aberdeenshire, was chosen. Unfortunately, while Pennan's only street did overlook the sea, it was not particularly close to the beach. For the beach in Local Hero, Camusdarach Beach, just south of the estuary of River Morar and between the village of Arisaig, in Lochaber, Inverness-shire and the village of Morar, Inverness-shire, was used.

Unfortunately, once completed Local Hero would run afoul of test screenings, as many a movie has. While the test screenings were positive, they were not overwhelmingly so. It as after the last test screening that Warner Bros. executives sat down with Bill Forsyth and even offered to pay the bill to shoot a new ending in which Mac doesn't leave Scotland. This did not sit well with Bill Forsyth, who hardly wanted to go back to Scotland simply to shoot a new scene. In the end, Warner Bros. would not get the ending they wanted, although it is hard to argue Local Hero does not have a happy ending.

Local Hero premiered on February 17 1983 in New York City. It opened in the Untied States on February 18 1983, which also happened to be Presidents Day weekend that year. That weekend it made $23,567 that weekend, which was actually quite respectable given it was competing against movies like Gandhi and Tootsie. For the most part Local Hero got good reviews. Janet Maslin in The New York Tiems wrote, "Genuine fairy tales are rare; so is film-making that is thoroughly original in an unobtrusive way. Bill Forsyth's quirky disarming Local Hero is both." Roger Ebert loved the film, writing, "Here is a small film to treasure, a loving, funny, understated portrait of a small Scottish town and its encounter with a giant oil company." In The Village Voice Andrew Sarris described the movie as "...a joyously grown-up, warm-hearted, and clear-head meditation on the vagaries of contemporary existence."

Local Hero did respectably well at the box office. It earned $5.895, 761 in the United States and £487,437 in the United Kingdom. While that might not sound like a lot, given its budget was only around $3 million, it did make a small profit. Of course, it would also be shown on premium cable channels and it would be released on VHS and still later on DVD. Like Gregory's Girl before it, it would become a cult film.

Indeed, Local Hero has left behind a legacy few movies do. There is a minor planet, 7345 Happer, named for Felix Happer from the film, who was absolutely  obsessed with astronomy. I have always suspected that the hit American television series Northern Exposure, in which a New York City doctor must adjust to life in a small Alaskan town, and possibly the cult series Everwood, in which a big city brain surgeon moves to the small town of Everwood, both drew inspiration from Local Hero. The movie also inspired a 2019 musical, Local Hero, which premiered at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh.

As I said earlier, Local Hero remains one of my favourite movies of all time. Indeed, I think it says a lot about how many people do not realize how good they really have it. The villagers of Furness, tired of their hard lives, are anxious to simply sell the village to Knox Oil and Gas. It is an outsider. Mac, who realizes just how special and how magical Furness really is. What is more, Local Hero moves at a deliberate pace. We are given time to get to know the characters. And while it does move quite leisurely, Local Hero is never slow. It really doesn't have a plot, so much as things simply happen as they would in real life. Indeed, there are a number of coincidences in the movie that appear to have been created with intent. There are also some unanswered questions. Is Marina (Jenny Seagrove), the Knox Oil and Gas oceanographer who is so much at home in the sea, actually a selkie? Who is the child always wheeled around Furness by a group of men?

If I have only one criticism of Local Hero it is that the movie is largely dominated by men. Of the major characters, only two of them are women, and it seems likely that Marina is not even human (yes, I honestly think she is a selkie). Jennifer Black, as Stella Urquhart is the only woman in the village with an important role in the film.

Regardless, I do love Local Hero. In many respects, I think Janet Maslin in her New York Times review is very much correct--Local Hero is indeed a fairy tale. It does not surprise me that I am not alone in my love for Local Hero. It is very much a cult film that remains popular to this day.

Friday, September 22, 2023

The 10th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon is Here

The 10th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon is here! The Rule, Britannia Blogathon is meant to celebrate classic, British films. While many think of Hollywood when they think of movies, the fact is that many classic films originated in the United Kingdom. From the Gainsborough melodramas to the Ealing comedies to the Hammer Horrors, the United Kingdom has made many contributions to classic film. The Rule, Britannia Blogathon will run from Friday, September 22 2023 through Sunday, September 24 2023.

Without further ado, here are this year's entries:

By Rich Watson: "The Macabre Fairy Tale Behind the Movie The Red Shoes"

Realweedgiemidget Reviews "FILMS...Melody/SWALK (1971)"

Paula's Cinema Club: "Rule, Britannia: My Favorite Midsummer Murders' Film Actors"

Films From Beyond the Time Barrier: "Science Has Its Risks: Island of Terror" 

The Stop Button: A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell and Emeric Perssburger)

Liberal England: "Tunes of Glory (1960): What happens when a victorious regiment comes home?" 

Shadows and Satin: "Grab Your Umbrella: It Always Rains on Sunday (1947): The Rule, Britannia Blogathon"  

Make Mine Film Noir: "The Third Man" 

Moon in Gemini: "The Day of the Triffids" (1962) 

Whimsically Classic: "The Rule, Britannia Blogathon--Brief Encounter (1945)  

The Midnight Drive-In:
"League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" 

A Shroud of Thoughts: "Local Hero (1983)" 

Silver Screenings: "The Fine Art of Gaslighting" 

Taking Up Room: "Where's Miss Froy?" 

The Wonderful World of Cinema: "Groovy Michael Caine Travels to Turin: The Italian Job (Peter Collinson, 1968)"  

"Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies – Volume 145: 2001: A Space Odyssey"  

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Estelita Rodriguez: "The Cuban Fireball"

Today Estelita Rodriguez may be best remembered her for supporting roles in Republic Pictures B-Westerns with Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, as well as her appearance in the classic Western Rio Bravo (1959). Even so, there was a time that Estelita Rodriguez appeared to be poised for stardom. While at Republic Pictures she starred in short series of musical comedies in which Republic attempted to duplicate the success of Mexican superstar Lupe Vélez. Indeed, many of Estelita's film comedies, starting with  Cuban Fireball (1951), were co-written by Charles E. Roberts, the screenwriter behind the Mexican Spitfire films, starring Lupe Vélez, at RKO.

Estelita Rodriguez was born on July 2 1928 in Guanajay, Cuba. She began singing and dancing when she was still very young, around nine years old. By 1940 she was performing with Tito Puente and the Anselmo Sacasas orchestra at the Chicago Colony Club. She was only 14 years old when she performed at the Copacabana in New York City. The young singer and dancer proved successful enough to be signed to a contract with MGM when she was only 15. She attended school at MGM in anticipation of making movies, but ultimately she did not make even one film at the studio. MGM abruptly dropped her and Estelita Rodriguez returned to New York City.

At some point, Estelita Rodriguez married Mexican singer Chu-Chu Martinez. Their daughter Nina was born in 1946. Even while married to Chu-Chu Rodriguez, she returned to acting. She signed with Republic Pictures and made her film debut in the Roy Rogers movie Along the Navajo Trail in 1945. For the next few years Estelita appeared in B Westerns at Republic Pictures. She was a regular in Roy Rogers movies, and also appeared in the Wild Bill Elliott film Old Los Angeles. During this period she still performed at night clubs, performing at the Havana-Mardid in New York City in March 1949.

Estelita Rodriguez received her first starring role with the comedy Belle of Old Mexico in 1950. The plot involved a World War II veteran who had promised one of his dying comrades during the war to go to Mexico and adopt his daughter. Believing the daughter to be a little girl, he finds out that she is a grown woman and a beautiful one at that. Of course, no one believes their relationship is platonic. Only twenty when she made Belle of Old Mexico, Estelita complained, "Everyone treats me like a kid. I am a mother."

Belle of Old Mexico
proved to be a hit at the box office, convincing Republic executives that Estelita Rodriguez could be turned into a star. Gossip columnist Erskine John wrote in his column in 1950 that "Estelita Rodriguez will get the Lupe Vélez treatment at Republic." He also noted that she was balking at doing an outright imitation of Miss Vélez. Republic Pictures' follow-up to Belle of Old Mexico showed how much Republic wanted to replicate the success of Lupe Vélez's films. As mentioned above, it was co-written by Charles E. Roberts, who had written all of the Mexican Spitfire films. The first film he co-wrote, Cuban Fireball (1951), could have easily been written for Lupe Vélez years earlier. Estelita Rodriguez played an employee at a cigar factory (named simply "Estelita") in Havana who discovers a long lost relative has left her $200,000. She then travels to Los Angles to collect her inheritance.

Cuban Fireball was followed by Havana Rose (1951), in which Estelita played Estelita DeMarco, the troublesome daughter of the ambassador from Lower Salamia. The Fabulous Senorita (1952) saw Estelita Rodriguez playing a character named, well, Estelita Rodriguez. In the film she plays the daughter of a Cuban businessman who tries helping her sister Manuela marry the man she wants. The film is notable for being one of the earliest starring roles for Rita Moreno, who played Estelita's sister. The final of the Republic Pictures comedies in which Estelita starred was Tropical Heat Wave (1952). Once more Estelita Rodriguez plays a character named Estelita, this time a nightclub singer who falls in love with a college professor studying criminal psychology. Republic apparently had so much faith in Estelita Rodriguez that eventually they started billing her simply by her first name, Estelita.

All the while Estelita Rodriguez was starring in musical comedies at Republic Pictures, she continued to appear in B-Westerns at the studio. She appeared in Twilight of the Sierras (1950), Sunset in the West (1950), In Old Amarillo (1951), and Pals of the Golden West (1951) with Roy Rogers, Twilight in the Sierras (1950) with Gene Autry, California Passage (1950) with Forrest Tucker, and South Pacific Trail (1952) with Rex Allen. She also appeared in the crime drama Federal Agent at Large (1950).

Following Tropical Heat Wave, Estelita parted ways with Republic Pictures to become a freelancer. She appeared in the movie Tropic Zone (1953) for Paramount Pictures. She returned to Republic Pictures for Sweethearts on Parade (1953). Estelita would not appear in films for many years following Sweethearts on Parade. She returned to performing at clubs. In September 1953 she performed at the Wolhurst Country Club in Colorado in September 1953. Later that month she performed at the Coconut Grove in Miami, Florida. In December 1953 she performed at the Empire Room of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

According to the book West Side Story: The Jets, The Sharks, and the Making of a Classic, Estelita Rodriguez was considered for the part of Anita in the film version of West Side Story. She was ultimately judged as being "Fine, but too old." She would finally return to the big screen after six years in the classic Rio Bravo (1959). In the film she played Consuela Robante, the temperamental wife of hotel owner Carlos Robante (Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez). The part was small, but one could not help but notice Estelita. Over the next few years Estelita would make guest appearances on television. The same year Rio Bravo was released, she guest starred in the One Step Beyond episode "The Inheritance." In 1960 she guest starred on the Father Knows Best episode "Cupid Knows Best," playing the object of the Anderson family gardener's affections. In the next few years she guest stared on Coronado 9, Laredo, and I Spy.

Estelita's final appearance in a feature film was in the B horror movie/Western Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966), in which she had a somewhat sizeable role. The film was released posthumously, in April 1966. According to the book Lupe Vélez: The Life and Career of Hollywood's "Mexican Spitfire" by Michelle Vogel, in early March 1966 Estelita Rodriguez was cast as Lupe Vélez in a biopic about the legendary star and Estelita was enthusiastically preparing for the role. Unfortunately, on March 12 1966, Estelita Rodriguez was found dead at the age of 37 on the kitchen floor of her home near Hollywood and Van Nuys, California.  An autopsy was not performed and the cause of death remains unknown to this day.

Even though Estelita Rodriguez starred in her own feature films, today she is not particularly well-known and very little has been written about her. With regards to her career, Estelita had two things going against her. First, her career largely unfolded in B-movies, from the Westerns she made with Roy Rogers to the musical comedies in which she starred. For that reason, Estelita's movies would not receive the sort of promotion and distribution that a bigger studio than Republic Pictures, such as MGM or Warner Brothers, could provide. Even today many of her films are unavailable. While many of the Westerns she made at Republic Pictures are available on streaming, many of her musical comedies are not even available on DVD.

Second, from the start of her career Estelita Rodriguez was typecast in the stereotypical role of the hot-tempered, highly sexualized Latina. Indeed, this can even be seen in the title of her film Cuban Fireball. In the B-Westerns she made, Estelita generally played fiery Mexican women. An example of this can be found in In Old Amarillo (1951), in which she played Pepita, a fiery cantina singer and the extremely jealous girlfriend of one of the characters. The characters she played in her musical comedies differed primarily from those she played in Westerns only insofar as they were Cuban rather than Mexican. In most of them she played a recent immigrant from Cuba who was a singer or some other sort of entertainer, and who was  always highly sexualized and hot tempered. Cuban Fireball is a prime example of this. The stereotypical roles often required of Estelita may have been made all the worse by the fact that they were already becoming anachronistic. The late Forties and early Fifties saw Hollywood gradually moving towards more realistic portrayals of Latinos, with such movies as Border Incident (1949) and The Ring (1952). The stereotype of the fiery, sexualized Latina persists to some degree to this day, but by the Fifties it was already becoming dated.

While Estelita Rodriguez was stuck playing stereotypes for most of her career, there can be no doubt that she had real talent and could have been a huge star had she been born in a later era. Estelita was pretty, petite, and blessed with a wonderful singing voice. On screen she was vivacious and charismatic, and she also had a gift for comedy. That Estelita could have played much more than the hot tempered Latinas she was forced to play at Republic can be seen in some of her guest appearances on television, where she was allowed to play other sorts of roles. It is impossible to say what might have become of Estelita and her career had she lived, but I can't help but wonder if over time she wouldn't have gotten better roles and achieved more fame than she already had.

Sadly, Estelita's story is similar to that of many other Latina actresses during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Most of them were forced to play stereotypical roles and often their careers tended to be short. Some, like Lupe Vélez and Maria Montez, died young much as Estelita Rodriguez had. Hollywood during the Golden Age tended to be hard on actresses, and tended to be even harder on actresses who were also Latinas. With her looks and talent, I have to suspect Estelita would have been a bigger star if only had she born in a later, more progressive era.