Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Late Great Carl Reiner: The Very Definition of a Mensch

There are those artists whose influence is so great on individuals that it is impossible me to measure. For me one of those artists is Carl Reiner. Until today I had never known life without Mr. Reiner. The Dick Van Dyke Show is not only one of my all-time favourite sitcoms, but it is also one of the earliest television shows I can remember watching. As a child I delighted to Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks's comedy sketch "2000 Year Man;" movies such as The Comic and Oh, God!; his short-lived series Good Heavens; and his appearances in such films as The Thrill of It All and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming. Carl Reiner was still a force to be reckoned with as I grew older, making such films as Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and Summer School, and in television guest appearances in such shows as Hot in Cleveland and Parks and Recreation. As an adult I would discover his wonderful work on Your Show of Shows. More recently I have enjoyed his many idiosyncratic tweets on Twitter. Carl Reiner has always been one of my heroes, ever since childhood. Sadly, Carl Reiner died last night, June 29 2020, at the age of 98.

Carl Reiner was born on March 20 1922 in the Bronx, New York City. His father, Irving, was a watchmaker. His mother, Bessie (née Mathias), was a homemaker. Following his graduation from Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, he worked as a machinist's helper. His older brother Charlie referred to Carl Reiner to a newspaper article about a free acting class that was being given by the Works Progress Administration. Carl Reiner proved to have a gift for acting and so he decided to go into acting.

During World War II Mr. Reiner served in the Army Air Forces. He trained as a radio operator, but following a three month bout with pneumonia he was trained as a French interpreter. He served as a teleprint operator before being transferred to Special Services to serve as an entertainer. Carl Reiner performed all around the Pacific Theatre.

After receiving an honourable discharge from the military, Carl Reiner joined the road company for the musical revue Call Me Mister. He made his debut on Broadway in Inside U.S.A. in 1948 and in 1950 he appeared on Broadway in Alive and Kicking. On television he was a regular on The Fifty-Forth Street Revue and the host of Floor Show. He appeared on such shows Texaco Star Theatre Starring Milton Berle, Cavalcade of Stars, The Kate Smith Hour, and The Arthur Murray Party. It was in 1950 that producer Max Liebman cast Carl Reiner on the legendary variety show Your Show of Shows. Although part of a cast that included Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, and Howard Morris, Mr. Reiner also worked as a writer on the show. It would be on Your Show of Shows that Carl Reiner met his comedy partner and best friend Mel Brooks. Your Show of Shows received both critical acclaim and high ratings. It ran for four seasons.

In the Fifties, after Your Show of Shows ended its run, Carl Reiner again appeared with Sid Caesar on Caesar's Hour. He once more worked as a writer on the show, alongside Mel Brooks. Later in the decade Carl Reiner served as the host of the game show Keep Talking and was a regular for one season on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show. He appeared on such shows as Campbell Playhouse, Kraft Television Theatre, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Playhouse 90, and Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. It was in 1959 that Carl Reiner developed the television pilot Head of the Family. It aired on Comedy Spot, collection of sitcom pilots. For whatever reason, CBS did not like Carl Reiner in the lead and rejected the pilot. It would be recast with Dick Van Dyke as the lead and became The Dick Van Dyke Show. Carl Reiner made his movie debut in Happy Anniversary in 1959. In the late Fifties he also appeared in the film The Gazebo (1959).  In 1958 his autobiographical novel Enter Laughing was published. The book 2000 Years With: Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks, co-written by Mel Brooks, was published in 1960.  In 1960 the comedy album, 2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, was released

It was in 1961 that The Dick Van Dyke Show debuted. Carl Reiner was not only the show's creator, but its producer and head writer. He also played the recurring role of the egocentric and overbearing Alan Brady, star of The Alan Brady Show. It was on the series that he began his directorial career. The Dick Van Dyke Show proved to be a hit in the ratings in its second season, and it also received a good deal of critical acclaim. It won 15 Emmy Awards and was nominated for a total of 25. The Dick Van Dyke Show would have a lasting impact on television comedy and can still be seen today on local television stations, cable channels, and streaming services.

In the Sixties Carl Reiner also appeared on the television special The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special, which essentially a Your Show of Shows reunion. He also wrote on the special. He was the voice of Billie the Bird on the Saturday morning cartoon Linus the Lion Hearted. Carl Reiner was also the host of the game show The Celebrity Game and appeared on the shows The New Steve Allen Show,Burke's Law, The Hollywood Palace, Good Morning World, The Andy Williams Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Joey Bishop Show, That Girl, The Dick Frost Show, and Laugh-In. He also directed his first feature film, Enter Laughing (1967). He followed it with The Comic (1969) and Where's Poppa? (1970). He appeared in the films Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), The Thrill of It All (1963), It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963), The Art of Love (1965), The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming (1966), A Guide for the Married Man (1967), The Comic (1969), and Generation. The comedy album 2000 and One Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks was released in 1961 and Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks at the Cannes Film Festival was released in 2001. He appeared on Broadway in Enter Laughing (based on his own novel) and Something Different.

In the Seventies Carl Reiner created the television shows The New Dick Van Dyke Show, and Lotsa Luck!. Mr. Reiner and Mel Brooks wrote the animated television special The 2000 Year Old Man, based on their comedy sketch of the same name. He also wrote the failed pilot Flannery and Quilt. He directed the movies Oh, God! (1977), The One and Only (1978), and The Jerk (1979). He starred as Mr. Angel on the television series Good Heavens. He guest starred on the TV shows The New Doctors, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and Medical Story.He appeared in the movies Oh, God! (1973), The End (1978), and The Jerk (1979). Archival footage of Mr. Reiner appeared in the movie Ten from Your Show of Shows (1973), a compilation of sketches from Your Show of Shows. He was the voice of the interviewer in the television special The 2000 Year Old Man. He appeared on Broadway in Tough to Get Help; So Long, 174th Street, and The Roast. In 1973 the record 2000 and Thirteen with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks was released.

In the Eighties Carl Reiner directed the movies Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), The Man with Two Brains (1983), All of Me (1984), Summer Rental (1985), Summer School (1987), Bert Rigby, You're a Fool (1989), and Sibling Rivalry (1990). He was the voice of God in Mel Brooks's movie History of the World: Part I (1981) and provided the voice of the narrator of a newsreel (reprising his role as Alan Brady at the same time) in the movie In the Mood (1987). He appeared in the films Dead Men Don't War Plaid (1982), Summer School (1987), and The Spirit of '76 (1990). On television he appeared in various TV movies, and guest starred on Faerie Tale Theatre.

In the Nineties Carl Reiner directed the movies Fatal Instinct (1993) and That Old Feeling (1997). He guest starred on the shows Frasier, Mad About You (reprising his role of Alan Brady), The Larry Sanders Show, Beggars and Choosers, and Family Law. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, Hercules, and King of the Hill. He appeared in the movies Fatal Instict (1993), Slums of Beverly Hills (1998), and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000). During decade his books All Kinds of Love, Continue Laughing, How Paul Robeson Saved My Life (and Other Mostly Happy Stories), and The 2000 Year-Old Man in the Year 2000: The Book. His comedy albums Excerpts from The Complete 2000 Year Old Man and The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 were also released during the decade.

In the Naughts Carl Reiner wrote the television specials The Alan Brady Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited. He provided a voice for The Alan Brady Show and appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited as well. Mr. Reiner had recurring roles on Life with Bonnie, The Bernie Mac Show, and Two and a Half Men. He voiced the recurring character Murray on The Cleveland Show and voiced the regular character Sarmoti on King of the Pride. He guest starred on Crossing Jordan, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal, and House M.D. He appeared in the movies Ocean's Eleven (2001), Ocean's Twelve (2004), and Ocean's Thirteen (2007). He provided the voice of a studio executive in The Majestic (2001). He provided voices for the animated films Good Boy! (2003) and Khan kluay (2006). He wrote the books My Anecdotal Life: A Memoir, NNNNN: A Novel, Tell Me Another Scary Story... But Not Too Scary! (with James Bennett), Just Desserts: A Novellelah, and Tell Me a Silly Story (with James Bennett).

In the Teens Carl Reiner wrote an episode of The Cleveland Show. He had a recurring role on Hot in Cleveland and continued to appear on Two and a Half Men. He guest starred on the shows Parks and Recreation, Young & Hungry and Angie Tribeca. He was a guest voice on such shows as Bob's Burgers, American Dad!, Wordgirl, Shimmer and Shine, Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Justice League Action, and Family Guy. He appeared in the movie Dumbbells (2014). He provided voices for the animated films Duck Duck Goose (2018) and Toy Story 4 (2019). He wrote the books I Remember Me, I Just Remembered, What I Forgot, Why & When The Dick Van Dyke Show Was Born, Carl Reiner, Now You're Ninety-Four: A Graphic Diary, and You Say God Bless You for Sneezing and Farting!.

In the past decade Carl Reiner has also been active on social media, particularly Twitter. He was closely associated with Turner Classic Movies. At the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival he attended a hand print ceremony with his son Rob Reiner at Grauman's Chinese Theatre and he was a guest at other TCM Classic Film Festivals. He also worked with MeTV, appearing in promos for the channel and even hosting marathons of his favourite episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Even if creating, writing, and producing The Dick Van Dyke Show had been the only thing Carl Reiner had done, he would be remembered. Nearly sixty years after its debut, The Dick Van Dyke Show remains regarded as one of the greatest shows ever made. Its influence can be felt on everything from Murphy Brown to Parks and Recreation. It made both Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore stars. Carl Reiner's contributions to popular culture would go far beyond The Dick Van Dyke Show. He was both one of the cast and one of the writers on Your Show of Shows, which would have an impact on every sketch comedy show and variety show made ever since. He directed a number of highly regarded films, including Enter Laughing, Where's Poppa?, The Jerk, and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. He and Mel Brooks created one of the greatest comedy sketches of all time, The 2000 Year Old Man. He wrote books, recorded comedy albums, and even appeared on Broadway.

While Carl Reiner is best remembered as a writer and director, he was also an actor of considerable talent. Mr. Reiner had not planned to appear on screen as Alan Brady on The Dick Van Dyke Show, but in doing so he made an already great show that much greater. He made many notable guest appearances on many shows and played many  roles in movies, playing a wide array of characters and making even lesser movies worth watching. And while Carl Reiner was best known for his comic roles, he could handle more serious roles, including guest appearances on such shows as The New Doctors and House M.D.

If Carl Reiner had something of an ego, no one could have blamed him given his achievements. Despite this, he remained humble. When asked how he would like to be remembered, he simply said something to the effect of, "He made a difference. He made people laugh." Carl Reiner was not simply a humble man of considerable talent, but he was also a man who was warm, open, friendly, and kind. While I never met Mr. Reiner myself, I know people who have and I even know one person who corresponded with him. Every one of them had the same thing to say of Carl Reiner, that he was one of the nicest, warmest, funniest men one could ever hope to meet. Carl Reiner was passionate about human rights and equality, often addressing those issues on his Twitter account.

Carl Reiner was utterly unique. He was an incredible talent, equally adept at writing, directing, and performing. He created TV shows and movies that have had a lasting impact to this day. Mr. Reiner was effortlessly funny, extremely nice, and passionate about justice and equality. Carl Reiner was a true gentleman and the very definition of a mensch. There will never be another like him.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Thoughts on Ray Harryhausen's 100th Birthday

It was 100 years ago today that Ray Harryhausen was born in Los Angeles, California. Not only is Mr. Harryhausen known as the inventor of the form of stop-motion animation known as "Dynamation," but many consider the greatest stop-motion animator of all time. In many respects, Mr. Harryhausen could be considered an "auteur" in the same way that many directors are. It was Ray Harryhausen who initially conceived the movies on which he worked and, even when he did not come up with the initial idea, he often had considerable input in the films' screenplays given how integral his Dynamation and other effects were to the films. He would have a lasting impact on a long list of filmmakers, including such names as Tim Burton, Joe Dante, Peter Jackson, John Landis, and Sam Raimi. George Lucas has said that without Ray Harryhausen, there would be no Star Wars. Of course, Ray Harryhausen would also have an impact on movie fans around the world. I can be counted among them.

Before I even turned 18 I saw many of Ray Harryhausen's films, and I would see yet more once I reached adulthood. In fact, the first movie I can ever remember watching all the way through was Jason and the Argonauts (1963). I am not absolutely sure when I saw it, but I know I was very young and I know that it was on one of CBS's movie anthology shows. I also believe it was in the autumn, but I cannot be certain of that fact. Jason and the Argonauts aired on Thanksgiving night, November 24 1966, on The CBS Thursday Night Movies. It was repeated later in the season on July 28 1967 on The CBS Saturday Night Movies. While I cannot remember the exact date of when I first saw Jason and the Argonauts, the climactic battle with skeleton warriors would stick with me ever since. When I saw it again when I was a little older, it was as if I was younger again.

Of course, there is little wonder that I should remember Jason and the Argonauts from my early childhood. Ray Harryhausen regarded it as his best film, and it received critical acclaim. The review from the December 31 1962 issue of Variety stated, "The $3 million film has a workable scenario and has been directed resourcefully and spiritedly by Don Chaffey, under whose leadership a colourful cast performs with zeal" and praised Ray Harryhausen's creations. What might surprise many is that, despite the many good reviews Jason and the Argonauts received, it did not do well at the box office. It only made $2.1 million, far short of its $3 million budget. A planned sequel never emerged for that reason.

I am not sure what was the next Ray Harryhausen movie that I saw. During my childhood, before the days when sports over took weekend afternoons, it was not unusual for television stations to show movies on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Given the popularity of Ray Harryhausen's films, they were often shown on weekend afternoons. This is how I first saw many of his movies. Among them was The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). I must have been around 9 years old at the time and, like Jason and the Argonauts before it, the movie had an impact on me. The cylcops, the Roc, and the cobra woman all made an impression on me. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad would receive good reviews. Unlike Jason and the Argonauts, it also performed well at the box office.

It was also on a Sunday afternoon that I first saw The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). Not only was it one of the first Ray Harryhausen movies I ever saw, but it was also one of the first giant monster movies I ever saw, along with King Kong (1933) and the "Godzilla" movies. As a kid I was very impressed with The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, particularly the sequence with the lighthouse. At the time I was not aware of who Ray Harryhausen was and that he had made other movies that I loved. I was also not aware that it was based on a short story by Ray Bradbury, who was also a lifelong friend of Ray Harryhausen.

By the time I saw The Valley of Gwangi (1969) I was well aware of who Ray Harryhausen was. In fact, I was looking forward to it when it aired on one of our local stations on a Sunday afternoon. Like many boys of Generation X I had a love of dinosaurs, monster movies, and Westerns, and The Valley of Gwangi combined all three. Producer Charles Scheer, who worked with Ray Harryhausen throughout his career, called it "...probably the least of the movies Ray and I made together." I disagree with Mr. Scheer's assessment, as it remains one of my favourite Ray Harryhausen films of all time.

It would be in the late Seventies that I would see The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) and its sequel, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). I thoroughly enjoyed The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. It was a throwback to Ray Harryhausen's earlier films, such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. It also received generally favourable reviews. Unfortunately, I was disappointed by Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. While Ray Harryhausen's Dynamation was as good as ever, I thought its plot was weaker than many of his films. It remains one of the few Ray Harryhausen films that actually disappointed me.

Sadly, as much as I love Ray Harryhausen's movies. There is only one that I have seen in the theatre. I saw Clash of the Titans (1981) on its opening weekend. I enjoyed the film a good deal and it was great to finally see Ray Harryhausen's work on the big screen. For whatever reason the film received mixed reviews upon its release. Robert Ebert gave Clash of the Titans three and a half stars out of four and praised Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation techniques. In contrast, Variety called the film, " unbearable bore of a film that will probably put to sleep the few adults stuck taking the kids to it." Fortunately, I think most people who have seen it ever since tend to agree with Roger Ebert's assessment. In fact, I know a few people who count it among Ray Harryhausen's best films.

Regardless, Ray Harryhausen has had a lasting impact on movie fans around the world and has influenced a number of movies. As I mentioned earlier, George Lucas said that it were not for Ray Harryhausen there would not be a Star Wars. Sam Raimi has spoken of the influence of Ray Harryhausen's movies (particularly The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) on his movie Army of Darkness. Peter Jackson has said, "The Lord of the Rings is my Ray Harryhausen movie." Even the "Godzilla" movies owe something to Ray Harryhausen, the first film, Gojira (1954), having been inspired by The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Ray Harryhausen's work would have an impact on many, from classic film buffs like myself, to producers and directors throughout the years.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lawsuit for Shooting Death of Vanessa Marquez

Below is a press release from the law offices of of Vicki I. Sarmiento; Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes LLP; and the Law Office of Dale K. Galipo regarding the filing of a wrongful death action over the shooting death of my dearest Vanessa Marquez on August 30 2018. While the action was filed yesterday, I had known about it for sometime beforehand, from both Vanessa's mother Delia and her lawyer Vicki Sarmiento. As mentioned in the press release, friends and supporters of Vanessa gathered at South Pasadena City Hall to announce the filing. A protest, organized by London Lang, was also held by South Pasadena Youth for Police Reform. I only wish that I could have been there.

I must say that I am very happy that a wrongful death action has been taken on behalf of Vanessa's mother Delia. I know the past 20 months have been difficult for her. I know for myself that losing Vanessa has been made all the more worse by the fact that there has been no justice for her. I do not believe for a moment that the Los Angeles County District Attorney Office's report on  Vanessa's death was fair, unbiased, or truthful. I honestly believe that the City of South Pasadena, the South Pasadena Police Department, and the police officers present in her apartment on that day showed depraved indifference to Vanessa's life and used excessive force in killing her. Since the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office was derelict in their duty to see that Vanessa received justice, then perhaps she can receive justice in the civil courts.

Anyway, below is the press release.



The Law Offices of Vicki I. Sarmiento; Schonbrun Seplow Harris Hoffman & Zeldes LLP; and the Law Office of Dale K. Galipo announce the filing of a wrongful death action over the killing of Vanessa Marquez by South Pasadena police officers in August 2018. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Ms. Marquez’ mother Delia McElfresh this morning in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Ms. Marquez achieved fame as an actress in the popular 1988 movie Stand and Deliver. Ms. Marquez was living in South Pasadena when a friend asked paramedics to check on her. The paramedics brought South Pasadena police officers who disregarded the paramedic’s decision that Ms. Marquez had a right to refuse to be taken to thehospital and instead created a confrontation that led to her unnecessary death.

“This is exactly the kind of lethal and unnecessary police action,” said Vicki Sarmiento, one of the lawyers in the case, “that has led so many in the country to call out for police reform”. This was a situation in which Ms. Marquez was in her home minding her own business and instead of receiving assistance from medical professionals she was shot to death.”

Ms. McElfresh was hesitant in initiating litigation and had hoped that police officers who killed her daughter would be held accountable. However, seeing that this will not happen she is filing suit against the police because her daughter deserves justice and her day in court. This is a time when the killing of innocent people by police officers must be investigated fully and the officers held accountable.

Supporters of Ms. Marquez, including actor Richard Montoya and members of the cast of Stand and Deliver, Patrick Baca, Will Gotay, Ingrid Oliu and Daniel Villarreal will gather on the grounds of the South Pasadena City Hall at 2PM on Wednesday June 24th.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Late Great Sir Ian Holm

Sir Ian Holm, who starred in such movies as Alien (1979), Chariots of Fire (1981), Brazil (1985), and two of the three films in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, died on June 19 2020 at the age of 88.

Sir Ian Holm was born on September 12 1931 in Goodmayes, Essex. His father was a psychiatrist and superintendent at the West Ham Corporation Mental Hospital. His mother was a nurse. He attended Chigwell School in Essex. He took an interest in acting while very young. He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, with his studies there interrupted by National Service in the British Army. He graduated from RADA in 1953. He went on to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford and became part of the Royal Shakespeare Company when it was founded in 1960.

Sir Ian Holm made his London stage debut in 1956 in a production of Love Affair. He  made his television debut in 1957 in episodes of ITV Play of the Week.  In the late Fifties he appeared in television productions of Robert's Wife and A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the Sixties he appeared in the mini-series The War of the Roses, playing Richard of Gloucester. He appeared on the TV series Theatre Night, The Power Game, Mystery and Imagination, The Wednesday Play, ITV Saturday Night Theatre, and Armchair Theatre. He appeared in the movies The Bofors Gun (1968), The Fixer (1968), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1969), and Oh! What a Lovely War (1969). He appeared on Broadway in 1967 in The Homecoming.

In the Seventies Mr. Holm appeared in the mini-series Napoleon and Love, Conjugal Rights, The Lives of Benjamin Franklin, Jesus of Nazareth, and We, the Accused. He appeared on the TV shows Review, ITV Playhouse, The Man from Haven, The Frighteners, Orson Welles' Great Mysteries, Masquerade, BBC Play of the Month, Jubilee, and The Lost Boys. He appeared in the movies A Severed Head (1971), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), Young Winston (1972), The Homecoming (1973), Juggernaut (1974), Robin and Marian (1973), Juggernaut (1974), Robin and Marian (1976), Shout at the Devil (1976), March or Die (1977), and Alien (1979).

In the Eighties Sir Ian Holm appeared in the movies Chariots of Fire (1981), Time Bandits (1981), The Return of the Soldier (1982), Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), Laughterhouse (1984), Brazil (1985), Wetherby (1985), Dance with a Stranger (1985), Dreamchild (1985), Another Woman (1988), Henry V (1989), and Hamlet (1990). He appeared on the TV series The Bell, Tales of the Unexpected; Play for Today; Artists and Models; and Game, Set, and Match. He appeared in the mini-series The Endless Game.

In the Nineties Mr. Holm appeared in the movies Kafka (1991), Naked Lunch (1991), Blue Ice (1992), The Hour of the Pig (1993), Frankenstein (1994), The Madness of King George (1994), Big Night (1996), Loch Ness (1996), Night Falls on Manhattan (1996), The Fifth Element (1997), The Sweet Hereafter (1997), A Life Less Ordinary (1997), eXistenZ (1999), Simon Magus (1999), Shergar (1999), The Match (1999), Joe Gould's Secret (2000), Esther Kahn (2000), Beautiful Joe (2000), and Bless the Child (2000). On television he appeared in the mini-series The Borrowers.  He appeared in the TV series Screen Two, Chillers, The Return of the Borrowers, and Performance. He was the voice of Squealer in a TV movie adaptation of Animal Farm.

In the Naughts Sir Ian Holm appeared in the movies From Hell (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Garden State (2004), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), The Aviator (2004), Strangers with Candy (2005), Chromophobia (2005), Lord of War (2005), The Treatment (2006), and O Jerusalem (2006). He provided voices for the animated films The Emperor's New Clothes (2001) and Ratatouille (2007).  In the Teens he appeared in the films The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014).

Sir Ian Holm was an actor of incredible talent who gave a number of impressive performances and played a diverse number of roles. Among his best was lawyer Mitchell Stephens in The Sweet Hereafter, whose relationship with his drug addict daughter was very strained. Among his best known roles is Ash in Alien, the relatively emotionless and logical science officer of the Nostromo. In Brazil he was the anxiety-ridden Kurtzmann. He played some very famous figures from both history and literature. He played Napoleon multiple times, in the TV mini-series Napoleon and Love and the movies Time Bandits and The Emperor's New Groove. And, of course, he was Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. In Robin and Marian he played King John. Sir Ian Holm won multiple BAFTA awards, as well as numerous other awards. Given his talent in delivering great performances in multiple roles, there should be little wonder why.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Announcing the 7th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon

I am proud to announce the 7th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon, which will take place on September 25, 26, and 27 2020. Many of you might remember that the blogathon has traditionally taken place the first week of August, but I have two reasons for moving it. The first is that it totally slipped my mind to announce the blogathon, which I usually do in late May or early June. Since it is now early June, I thought a later date would give participants more time to choose the movie they want to write about. The second is that August is a truly difficult month for me, as many of you may well know. Given both these reasons, it seems to me that a late September date is better.

While many people think of Hollywood when they think of classic movies, the fact is that the United Kingdom made many significant contributions to film over the years. From the Gainsborough melodramas to Hammer Films to the British New Wave, cinema would be much poorer without the British.

Here are the ground rules for this year's blogathon:

1. Posts can be about any British film or any topic related to British films. For the sake of simplicity, I am using "British" here to refer to any film made by a company based in the United Kingdom or British Crown dependencies. If you want to write about a film made in Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man, then, you can do so. Also for the sake of simplicity, people can write about co-productions made with companies from outside the United Kingdom. For example, since 2001: A Space Odyssey is a British-American co-production, someone could write about it if they chose.

2. There is no limit on subject matter. You can write about any film in any genre you want. Posts can be on everything from the British New Wave to the Gainsborough bodice rippers to the Hammer Horrors. I am also making no limit on the format posts can take. You could review a classic British film, make an in-depth analysis of a series of British films, or even simply do a pictorial tribute to a film. That having been said, since this is a classic film blogathon,  I only ask that you write about films made before 2010. I generally don't think of a film as a classic until it has been around for thirty years, but to give bloggers more options I am setting the cut off point at ten years ago.

3. I am asking that there please be no duplicates. That having been said, if someone has already chosen to cover From Russia with Love (1963), someone else could write about the James Bond series as a whole.

4. I am not going to schedule days for individual posts. All I ask is that the posts be made on or between September 25, 26, and 27 .

If you want to participate in the Rule, Britannia Blogathon, you can simply comment below or get a hold of me on Twitter at mercurie80 or at my email:  mercurie80 at
Below is a roster of participants and the topics they are covering. Come September 25 I will make a post that will include all of the posts in the blogathon:

Liberal England: Canterbury Tales
Caftan Woman: I See a Dark Stranger (1946)
Wide Screen World: Black Narcissus (1947)
 A Scunner Darkly: Oliver Tobias in The Stud (1979)
Realweegiemidget Reviews:  Deadly Strangers (1975)
Taking Up Room: A Yank at Oxford
Silver Screenings: Rich and Strange (1931) 
Below are several banners for participants in the blogathon to use (or you can always make your own):

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Late Great Dame Vera Lynn

Dame Vera Lynn, who buoyed the spirits of Britain during World War II with her songs, died yesterday, December 18 2020, at the age of 103.

Dame Vera Lynn was born Vera Margaret Welch on March 20 1917 in East Ham, Essex. Her father was a plumber and her mother was a dressmaker. She was only seven years old when she began performing. For her stage name, when she was eleven she took her grandmother Margaret Lynn's maiden name. She made her debut on radio with the Joe Loss Orchestra in 1935. She also appeared on the Joe Loss Orchestra's records. In 1936 her first solo record, "Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire," was released by Crown Records. The Crown label would become part of Decca Records in 1938. She moved form the Joe Loss Orchestra to Charlie Kurtz's band. In 1937 she moved onto Bert Ambrose & His Orchestra. For much of this period she also worked as an administrative assistant to the head of a shipping management company in the East End of London. It was in 1937 that Dame Vera had her first hits with "The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot" and "Red Sails in the Sunset."

It was in 1939 that Dame Vera Lynn's signature song, "We'll Meet Again," was released. Not only did the song become a huge hit, but it also became an anthem of hope for the United Kingdom during World War II. It was during the Phoney War (the eight month period at the start of World War II when very little was happening) that British servicemen named Vera Lynn as their favourite performer in a poll conducted by the Daily Express. She was afterwards known as "the Forces' Sweetheart." It was in 1940 that she became a solo act, making her debut as such in Conventry.

It was in 1941 that Dame Vera Lynn received her own radio show, Sincerely Yours. The show proved enormously popular, attracting 20% of the British population and receiving 2000 requests a week, and resonated with Britain's troops abroad. Unfortunately, some blamed sentimental popular music following losses in Southeast Asia and North Africa, claiming that such music was bad for the troops' morale. In 1942 Sincerely Yours was then cancelled 18 months, although Dame Vera Lynn's popularity with the British and their military guaranteed she would return to radio.

Regardless of the cancellation of her radio show, Dame Vera Lynn continued to perform songs requested by servicemen and visited new mothers in hospitals to send messages to their husbands overseas. She joined the e Entertainments National Service Association and entertained the troops abroad, even British guerillas in Japanese-occupied Burma. Her second major hit, "The White Cliffs of Dover," was released in 1943. During the war years, Dame Vera appeared in the movies We'll Meet Again (1943), Rhythm Serenade (1943), and One Exciting Night (1944).

Although Dame Vera Lynn would remain identified with World War II, her career would continue strong after the war. She would become one of the earliest British artists to have hits on the Billboard singles chart. She hit no. 9 on the chart with "You Can't Be True Dear" in 1949. In 1953 she became the first British artist to have a number one record in the United States with "Auf Wiederseh'n, Sweetheart," also a top ten hit in Britain. Her first album, Sincerely Yours, was released in 1949. Throughout the Fifties Dame Vera Lynn continued to have hits, including "Forget-Me-Not," "The Horning Waltz," "My Son, My Son," and "A House with Love in It." She would also hit the Billboard chart in the United States with "Yours (Quiéreme Mucho)," "If You Love Me (Really Love Me)," and "My Son, My Son."

With the arrival of rock 'n' roll, Dame Vera Lynn would no longer have much in the way of hit singles, although she continued to release albums on a regular basis. She would ultimately release over twenty studio albums. Dame Vera retired in the early Nineties, but it would not last long. To mark the 50th anniversary of VE Day she performed outside of Buckingham Palace. She then began performing again. In 2005 she performed at a concert in Trafalgar Square marking the 60th anniversary of VE Day. It was in 2009 that she became the oldest person to have a number 1 album on the UK album chart when her compilation album, We'll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn, hit no. 1. In 2010 her final studio album, Unforgettable, was released.  A new compilation album, Vera Lynn 100, was released just three days before her 100th birthday in 2017. She became the first centenarian to have a hit album.

It was in 1975 that Dame Vera Lynn was knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours. She had also been awarded the War Medal 1939-1945 and the Burma Star. Dame Vera Lynn was devoted to various charities. In 1954 she founded the Stars Organisation for Spastics, originally part of the cerebral palsy charity the National Spastics Society, which was later renamed Scope. In 1976 she founded the Vera Lynn Charity Breast Cancer Research Trust. In 2001 she became president of The Dame Vera Lynn Trust for Children with Cerebral Palsy. She was a patron of the Forces Literary Organisation Worldwide for ALL, the Dover War Memorial Project, and Projects to Support Refugees from Burma/Help 4 Forgotten Allies.

Americans may find it difficult to fully know the importance of Dame Vera Lynn. She was not simply the first British artist to have a number one record in the United States. It is with good reason that in 2000 she was named the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th Century. Dame Vera Lynn brought hope to the United Kingdom during their darkest hours. Her songs during World War II not only comforted and buoyed the British at home, but their armed forces fighting abroad. Dame Vera Lynn devoted herself to keeping up the troop's morales, even travelling to entertain them in war-torn areas. Dame Vera Lynn was still there for the British on her 103rd birthday, when she once more issued a message of hope for the United Kingdom amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. So strong was the hope that Dame Vera Lynn gave the British that when Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II addressed the United Kingdom while it was under lockdown, she evoked Dame Vera's signature song, "We'll Meet Again."

There can be little argument that Dame Vera Lynn's songs were overly sentimental, but she delivered them with such sincerity and honesty that all but the greatest cynics could not be moved. Furthermore, she sang with perfect pitch and perfect English enunciation. If Dame Vera Lynn's appeal has lasted for over eighty years, it was because she was not only gifted with a remarkable voice and remarkable talent, but because she had that rare ability to bring hope even when it seemed as if there were none.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Late, Great Denny O'Neil

Legendary comic book writer Denny O'Neil, who also worked under his given name of Dennis O'Neil, died on June 11 2020 at the age of 81. The cause was cardiopulmonary arrest. Mr. O'Neil was best known for returning Batman to his roots as the Dark Knight and bringing social relevance to comic books through Green Lantern/Green Arrow.

Dennis O'Neil was born on May 3 1939 in St. Louis, Missouri. His father ran a grocery store, while his other was a housewife. Like most children of the era, young Denny O'Neil read comic books. He listened to such radio shows as Adventures of Superman and Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. He attended St. Louis University and received a Bachelor of Science in 1961. After graduating from college he enlisted in the United States Navy and took pat in the blockade of Cuba that took place during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Following his service, Mr. O'Neil returned to St. Louis where he worked as a substitute teacher for a year. He then took a job with a newspaper in Cape Girardeau, Missouri as a reporter. There he worked on a bi-weekly column on youth. Noticing the increasing popularity of comic books, he wrote some articles on the medium for the column. These articles came to the attention of comic book superfan and an editor at Marvel Comics Roy Thomas, whose parents subscribed to the newspaper. Roy Thomas asked Mr. O'Neil to take the Marvel writing test, which consisted of adding dialogue to four pages from the Fantastic Four Annual (illustrated by Jack Kirby). Stan Lee then offered him a job at Marvel Comics.

At Marvel Comics, Mr. O'Neil worked on such titles as Daredevil, Strange Tales (featuring Doctor Strange), Millie the Model, Rawhide Kid, and The Two-Gun Kid, Chamber of Darkness, and X-Men. It was on The Uncanny X-Men that he first worked with artist Neal Adams, with whom he would work on Green Lantern/ Green Arrow and Batman. It was Messrs. O'Neil and Adams who returned Professor Xavier to the pages of The Uncanny X-Men no. 65 (February 1970) , after the character had been killed off in The Uncanny X-Men no. 42 (March 1968).

Dennis O'Neil then took a job with Charlton Comics, using the pen name Sergius O'Shaugnessy. He worked under editor Dick Giordano. At Charlton, he worked on the titles Thunderbolt, Abbott and Costello, and Space Adventures. Mr. O'Neil worked at Charlton Comics for about a year when Dick Giordano was hired by National Periodical Publications (now known as DC Comics). Mr. Giordano took several of Charlton's writers with him, including Denny O'Neil. Among his earliest work at DC was on the title Beware the Creeper, featuring the character The Creeper created by artist Steve Ditko. Denny O'Neil then worked on Wonder Woman, on which he made the controversial decision to strip Wonder Woman of her powers, cut her off from Paradise Island (home of the Amazons), and turn her into an international adventurer. Stripping Wonder Woman of her powers would prove very unpopular with the character's fans.

Fortunately, Mr O'Neil found more success at Justice League of America. He began introducing stories with social and political themes. Following  introduction of the character's new costume, designed by Neal Adams, Brave and the Bold no. 85 (September 1969), he also revamped The Green Arrow as a liberal, socially aware crusader on behalf of the underprivileged. He also worked on such titles as Bat Lash, Green Lantern, and Showcase.

It was in 1970 that Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Adams returned Batman to his roots as the Dark Knight following the camp approach that had come about with the classic 1966 TV show. Robin was sent off to college, so that Batman once more operated solo. He introduced archvillain Ra's al Ghul and his daughter Talia. He revived the villain Two-Face, who had been absent from comic books since 1954. After the character had become a practical joking clown, it was also Dennis O'Neil who returned The Joker to being a homicidal psychopath. It was during this period that Bruce Wayne also moved out of Wayne Manor and into the penthouse of the Wayne Foundation Building. Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams's retooling of Batman as something closer to the original Dark Knight would have a lasting impact on the character. Without Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, there might not have been Frank Miller's graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns (which Mr. O'Neil edited), Tim Burton's two Batman movies, or "The Dark Knight Trilogy."

While Denny O'Neil's work on Batman would prove to be influential, so too would his work on Green Lantern. It was with Green Lantern vol. 2, no. 76 (April 1970) that Mr. O'Neil teamed Green Lantern up with Green Arrow, with the later character providing a liberal point of view and a voice for the underprivileged.  It would be the first American comic book to significantly deal with the social issues of the day. Through the next several issues, Green Lantern tackled such issues as racism, pollution, income inequality, and overpopulation. Perhaps the most memorable storyline occurred in Green Lantern vol. 2 no 85 (August 1971) and vol. 2 no. 86 (October 1971), in which Green Arrow discovers his former sidekick, Speedy, has become addicted to heroin. Unfortunately, sales for Green Lantern were poor and the title was cancelled with vol. 2 no. 89 (April 1972). Green Lantern would continue as a back-up feature with The Flash no. 217 (September 1972).

Although not as well remembered as his retooling of Batman, Denny O'Neil was also involved in a revamp of Superman. Kryptonite was entirely eliminated from Earth and Superman's powers were decreased. Much of Superman's mythos was also eliminated, including  the villains Mr. Mxyzptlk, Bizarro, and Titano, as well as Superman's dog Krypto. This reboot of Superman lasted only briefly. It began with Superman no. 233 (January 1971). Superman no. 243 (October) saw the return of a more traditional Superman.

Denny O'Neil continued to work on both Batman and Green Lantern for several years. From 1972 to 1975 he had a notable run on The Shadow, featuring the pulp character of the same name. He also wrote the four issues of the short-lived Justice Inc., based on the pulp character The Avenger. In the Seventies at DC, Mr. O'Neil worked on such titles as Adventure Comics, All-Star Western, The Joker, Shazam!, Superman, Sword of Sorcery, Richard Dragon Kung Fu Fighter, Tarzan, Time Warp, and Weird Worlds.

In 1980 Dennis O'Neil returned to Marvel Comics. He worked on The Amazing Spider-Man for a year. Afterwards he worked on Iron Man for four years. Among the most significant storylines he wrote for Iron Man was one in which Tony Stark must come to grips with his alcoholism. He also wrote Daredevil for two years. At Marvel he also worked on such titles as Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, the Dominic Fortune back-up feature in The Hulk, Moon Knight, and Power Man and Iron Fist.

In 1986 Dennis O'Neil returned to DC Comics as the editor of the Batman titles. He continued as their editor until 2000. He wrote The Question as well as Green Arrow. As might be expected, he continued to write Batman stories from time to time. He worked on such titles as Azrael, JLA, and Nightwing.

In addition to his work in comic books, Dennis O'Neil also wrote several novels, including The Bite of Monsters (1971) and Dragon's Fists – Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Master (with Jim Berry, 1974), as well as novels based featuring Batman and Green Lantern. Over the years he also wrote several stories and novellas published in such magazines as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Fantastic Stories, and Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction. Dennis O'Neil also did some work in television, writing episodes of Logan's Run, Superboy, and Batman: The Animated Series.

Few writers have ever had the impact that Denny O'Neil had comic books. With Neal Adams, he returned Batman to the Dark Knight he originally was. There have very few incarnations of Batman in various media that have not been influenced by Mr. O'Neil's interpretation of Batman. The character of Ra's al Ghul, created by Mr. O'Neil, would become a permanent part of the Batman mythos. He also reintroduced Two-Face, who had been absent from comic books for over a decade. Through Green Lantern/Green Arrow he introduced social relevance into comic books, taking what had been considered a medium for children for much of the Sixties into more adult territory.  It would be Denny O'Neil who would set the stage for everything from The Dark Knight Returns to the various Batman movies.

Here I also have to say that Denny O'Neil may have had more of an influence on me than an other comic book writer save Bill Finger and Gardner Fox. The first comic book I ever read was Batman no. 234 (August 1971). Although I didn't realise it at the time, it was a historic issue. The main story, "Half an Evil," marked the first appearance of Two-Face in 17 years. A fan of the classic TV series Batman, I found the darker character written by Denny O'Neil much more appealing. I have been a fan of the Dark Knight ever since. My second favourite superhero is Green Lantern (although these days I prefer Alan Scott to Hal Jordan), and I have no doubt that much of this is because of Denny O'Neil's work with the character. If I became an avid reader of comic books (which led me to become a writer), I owe much of it to Dennis O'Neil.