Saturday, May 31, 2008

Answers to the Summer Blockbuster Quiz

Here are answers to the Summer Blockbuster Quiz from May 24.

1. What summer blockbuster now regarded as a classic was released on August 25, 1939?

The Wizard of Oz

2. The Sea Hawk, released on July 1, 1940, starred Errol Flynn as Captain Geoffrey Thorpe. What was the name of his ship?

The Albatross

3. Released on June 30, 1948 in the United Kingdom and July 30, 1951 in the United States, what was the title of this David Lean adaptation of a Charles Dickens novel?

Oliver Twist

4. What classic film starring Steve McQueen, released on July 4, 1963, centred on a group of Allied prisoners of war escaping from a Nazi PoW camp?

The Great Escape

5. Jaws, released June 20, 1975, was based on a novel by what author?

Peter Benchley

6. In Star Wars, now known as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, what actor did George Lucas consider for the role of Obi Wan Kenobi before Alec Guiness?

Peter Cushing

7. What was the original name of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Indiana Smith. Steven Spielberg disliked the name, so Lucas suggested "Jones" instead.

8. Twister helped cement what now established Hollywood tradition?

Released May 10, 1996, it helped move the traditional start of the summer movie season from Memorial Day to earlier in May.

9. Before Willem Dafoe was cast as The Green Goblin, what other two actors were considered for the part in Spider-Man?

Nicholas Cage and John Malkovich

10. What three other directors had been set to direct Iron Man before Jon Favreau?

Quentin Tarentino, Joss Whedon, and Nick Cassavetes.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Harvey Korman Passes On

Harvey Korman, the tall comic who made his name as one of the regulars on The Carol Burnett Show, passed yesterday at the age of 81. The cause was complications from the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Korman was born on February 15, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois. He served in the United States Navy during World War II. Following the war he studied drama at the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago. Four years later he made his way to New York City to try to break into show business. He spent the next thirteen years trying to get onto Broadway and was forced to support himself as a restaurant cashier. Out of desperation he formed a nightclub comedy act with a friend, only to be fired after their first performance. Korman returned to Chicago.

Three years later Korman sought to make his fortune in Hollywood. He sold cars and worked as a theatre doorman to make a living. Finally, in 1961, he landed part in the Herschell Gordon Lewis film Living Venus. For the next few years he made guest appearances on such shows as Hennesey, The Untouchables, Perry Mason, and Route 66. He also provided the voice of the Great Gazoo on The Flintstones. It was in 1964 that he received his big break, as a regular on The Danny Kaye Show. He continued to make guest appearances, on shows ranging from The Munsters to F Troop. He also appeared in movies, such as Lord Love a Duck and Three Bites of the Apple.

Immediately after The Danny Kaye Show went off the air in 1967, Korman became a regular on The Carol Burnett Show. Korman won no less than four Emmys for his work on the show and was nominated for a total of seven. In all, Korman was with The Carol Burnett Show for ten years. During this period he also guest starred on The Wild Wild West.

The Seventies saw Korman appear in more motion pictures, most notably as a crooked politician in Blazing Saddles. He also appeared in the films Huckleberry Finn, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, High Anxiety, and The Longshot. In 1978 he had his own short lived TV series. In 1980 he was a regular on the short lived Tim Conway Show. He guest starred on The Muppet Show, Burke's Law, Diagnosis Murder, and ER.

Harvey Korman was a versatile comic actor who could play a wide variety of often bizarre characters. He was equally believable as Ed in the "Ed and Eunice" skits on The Carol Burnett Show and Mother Marcus, a character he based on his own grandmother. He was one of those very few comic actors who, whenever he appeared on the screen,was guaranteed to get a laugh. He will be missed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Composer Earle H. Hagen Passes On

Composer Earle H. Hagen, who the theme songs for such shows as The Andy Griffith Show (for which he also provided the whistling), The Dick Van Dyke Show, and I Spy, passed on Monday, May 26, at the age of 88.

Earle H. Hagen was born in Chicago on July 9, 1919. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was around six years of age. He took up the baritone horn in junior high school and the trombone in high school. After he graduated from Hollywood High School at age 15, he toured with various big bands, among them the bands of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Isham Jones, and Ben Pollack.

It was in 1939, at the age of 20, when he was playing trombone for the Ray Noble Orchestra, that he composed the jazz standard "Harlem Nocturne." During World War II Hagen served in the Army Air Corps. He both composed arrangements and played trombone for the radio production unit's 65-piece orchestra, based out of Santa Ana, California. Following the war Hagen signed with Twentieth Century Fox as an orchestrator and arranger for motion pictures. The first film upon which he worked was Kiss of Death in 1947. He went onto arrange music for such films as Thieves Highway, My Blue Heaven, Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Carousel, Compulsion, and Let's Make Love. In the late Forties, Hagen also worked an arranger for singers on various recording labels, such as Dick Haymes, Tony Martin, and Frank Sinatra.

Earle H. Hagen first worked in television in 1953 as composer on various episodes of Make Room for Daddy. He also wrote music for Hey, Jeannie, and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. It was in 1960 that he composed what may be his best known tune, "The Fishin' Hole," the theme song for The Andy Griffith Show. He also provided the whistling for the theme. Hagen also wrote the theme songs for The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Bill Dana Show, That Girl, I Spy (for which he won an Emmy), and The Mod Squad.

Hagen retired from television in 1986. He taught the BMI workshop for film and television composers for many years. He wrote two books on film composition, Scoring for Films in 1981 and Advanced Techniques for Films in 1990. His autobiography, Memoirs of a Famous Composer Nobody Ever Heard Of, was published in 2000.

It can be said without a doubt that Earle H. Hagen was one of the greatest composers for television of all time, if not the single greatest television composer. He wrote some of the medium's most famous theme songs. If he had written "The Fishin' Hole (the theme to The Andy Griffith Show) and The Dick Van Dyke Show theme alone, his memory as a composer would be guaranteed. What more, Hagen was very versatile as a composer. He could write a folksy theme like "The Fishin' Hole," but also write a big band sounding tune such as The Dick Van Dyke Show theme. Hagen had the remarkable ability to capture the feel of any show he composed for, whether it was a sitcom like The Bill Dana Show or a police drama like The Mod Squad. Even if his name may not be well known among the public at large, his compositions will be remembered for decades to come.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sydney Pollack R.I.P.

Director Sydney Pollack passed yesterday at the age of 73. The cause was cancer. Pollack was known for such films as They Shoot Horses, Don't They, The Way We Were, and Jeremiah Johnson, among others.

Sydney Pollack was born in Lafayette, Indiana on July 1, 1934. Pollack's family moved to South Bend, Indiana while he was still young. His parents divorced while he was still a child. His mother, an alcoholic died when he was 16. While his father had wanted Pollack to become a dentist, he left home after high school for New York City to become an actor. He studied with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. He later became Meisner's assistant.

As an actor Pollack had a small role on Broadway in the play The Dark Is Light Enough in 1955. He served in the Army from 1957 to 1959, then returned to acting. He appeared on such shows as Playhouse 90, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, Have Gun Will Travel, and Ben Casey. Pollack also taught acting, working as a dialogue coach for director John Frankenheimer. It was while working with Burt Lancaster on Frankenheimer's film The Young Savages that Lancaster suggested to Pollack that he would make a good director. Lancaster introduced Pollack to Lew Wasserman, the chairman of MCA and then owner of Universal Pictures. Pollack then went into television directing, starting with shows produced by Universal. He made his directorial debut on Cain's Hundred in 1961.

For the next several years Pollack would direct episodes of The Defenders, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Ben Casey, The Fugitive, and Slattery's People. He won the Emmy award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Drama for "The Game," an episode of Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre.

Sidney Pollack made his debut as a movie director with the film The Slender Thread in 1965. Over the next few years he would direct such films as This Property is Condemned and The Scalphunters. His breakthrough movie was They Shoot Horses, Don't They in 1969. He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Director for the film. Over the next three decades Pollack would direct several critically acclaimed films, including Jeremiah Johnson, Three Days of the Condor, The Way We Were, The Electric Horseman Tootsie (for which he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Director), Out of Africa (for which he won the Oscar for Best Director), and the 1995 remake of Sabrina.

Starting with The Electric Horsman, Pollack also returned to acting. He had roles in such films as The Player, Husbands and Wives, Eyes Wide Shut, and Michael Clayton. He also appeared in guest shots on television, in such shows as Fraiser, King of the Hill, and The Sopranos.

Arguably, Sydney Pollack was one of the most talented directors of our time. He was also one of that first generation of directors who started their directorial careers in television. Even in his work in television Pollack showed a talent for direction. His speciality seems to have been drawing great performances out of his actors, perhaps largely because he had started out as an actor himself. Oddly enough, it was sometimes Pollack's most critically acclaimed films that I did not feel were his best. Out of Africa may have won him an Oscar, but I think it was one of his worst films. It seems to me that Pollack's best films were often those that did not have accolades piled upon them, films such as This Property is Condemned, Three Days of the Condor, and Jeremiah Johnson. The performances in these films by the actors are nothing less than superb.

Of course, I think Pollack could have had a very good career as an actor had he not taken up direction. He was impressive in some of the parts he played on television, such as Bernie Samuelson in "The Contest for Aaron Gold," an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He was also impressive in some of the roles he played in films in later years, such as the sinister Victor Ziegler in Eyes Wide Shut and the much put upon Jack in Husbands and Wives. If he had never been a successful director, I think he could have been a very successful actor. Sydney Pollack was one of those rare men with talents in two fields--he was both a talented actor and a talented director.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Dick Martin, of Rowan and Martin, Passes On

Dick Martin, the zany gag man of the comedy team of Rowan and Martin, who co-hosted Rowan and Martin's Laugh In, passed on Saturday, May 24 at the age of 86.

Dick Martin was born on January 30, 1922 in Battle Creek, Michigan. He spent his teenage years in Detroit, where the family had moved in the early Thirties. A youthful bout with tuberculosis kept from serving in the military during World War II. He worked at a Ford assembly plant after high school. In 1942 he and his brother Bob went to Los Angeles in hopes of breaking into the entertainment industry. He wrote for such radio shows as Duffy's Tavern and tended bar to supplement his income. It was in 1952 that comedian Tommy Noonan brought Dan Rowan into Martin's bar. The two hit it off and became the comedy team of Rowan and Martin. Rowan was the straight man, the intelligent, sophisticated one. Martin was the gag man, the laid back, none too bright one. The team found steady works in the night clubs of the day.

Eventually Rowan and Martin would appear on television. They appeared on The Bob Hope Show, The Perry Como Show, and The Dinah Shore Chevy Show in 1957. They would go onto appear many times on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace. They appeared in the movies Once Upon a Horse and on The Lucy Show (on which Martin was a semi-regular). It was in 1966 that Rowan and Martin hosted the summer replacement for The Dean Martin Show. It was in 1967 that they hosted the special Rowan and Martin's Laugh In. The special proved so successful that Rowan and Martin's Laugh In became a regular series on NBC in January 1968. It also became a smash hit.

For at time Rowan and Martin's Laugh In was an outright phenomenon. Two months after its debut it was the number one show. It was the top show for its first two seasons. The show moved at a frenetic pace, with a never ending stream of blackouts, gags, and catch phrases. Many of its catch phrases caught on with the nation, from "Sock it to me" to "You bet your bippy." The show even led to a Rowan and Martin movie, The Maltese Bippy, both a critical and box office bomb.

Laugh In eventually ran its course after five seasons on the air. Rowan and Martin amicably parted ways in 1978 when Dan Rowan retired from show business. Dick Martin continued to appear on television, making guest shots on Sledge Hammer, Coach, Blossom, and Diagnosis Murder. He was a a regular on game shows, including Match Game and Password Plus. He also appeared in the films Zero to Sixty and Carbon Copy.

Dick Martin also became a television director. starting with several episodes of The Bob Newhart Show in 1977. He would go onto direct episodes of Family Ties, Newhart, Sledge Hammer, and In the Heat of the Night.

There is perhaps no better epitaph for Dick Martin than to say he was a very funny man. Among his best schticks were the always wild and unfounded theories he offered about life, always expressed with the utmost sincerity and unflagging certainty. Dan Rowan, as the calm voice of reason, offered the perfect contrast to the off the wall Dick Martin. As a comedy team, they were perfectly matched. It is very sad to think Dick Martin is now gone.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Hard as it is to believe, it has been 27 years since Indiana Jones first burst onto the screen in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Harrison Ford was only 39 at the time and the movie was set in the year 1936. Given the amount of time since the release of that iconic first film, there is a lot that is different in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones is considerably older now. He served in World War II. His relationship with Marion Ravenwood ended years ago. Both his father and museum curator Marcus Brody are long gone. His sidekick in this movie, Mutt, was not even born when Indy faced off against the Nazis in the race to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant.

And yet in most respects for Indiana Jones things have remained the same. Nefarious bad guys (albeit Commies rather than Nazis in the movie) still want to kill Indy in the quest for ancient artefacts. Dr. Jones still finds himself in incredible adventures where young men fight with evil Russians while straddling two speeding vehicles, in which ancient temples are still rife with death traps, and in which Indiana is still deathly afraid of snakes. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is a wonderfully nostalgic bit of entertainment for more than that it is set in 1957 (the year may be significant in that it was only the year before, 1956, that the very last movie serial was released--Blazing the Overland Trail). It immediately brings to mind the thrills and chills of the first Indiana Jones movies. And that is perfectly find by me, and I suspect it is for most film goers. If Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is regarded as the worst of the Indiana Jones movies, it is because it departed so drastically from the formula.

That is not to say that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does not have a personality of its own. While Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade recalled the old serials of the Thirties and Forties, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull draws as much from those syndicated adventure series Ziv made in the Fifties, with a good dose of Fifties sci-fi thrown in to boot. What is more, we are constantly reminded that Indiana Jones is older. He finds much of the swashbuckling he did in his youth now comes with more difficulty. And he is much more cautious than he once was, leaving much of his brashness to his heir apparent, Mutt.

There is no shortage of great action scenes in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but as with the best of the Indiana Jones movies, what really makes the movie enjoyable is its characters. Although older and wiser, Indy is still very quick with one liners. And the movie sees the return of Indy's best love interest, Marion Ravenwood. Although like Harrison Ford, Karen Allen is older, she still plays as independent, tough, and still possessed of an elfin charm. Marion's son is Mutt Williams. If Indiana Jones can be the archetypal film hero of the Thirties (the sort of pulp adventurer found in so many serials), then Mutt is the archetypal film hero of the Fifties--a brash young biker filled with youthful arrogance. Of course, every Indiana Jones movie needs villains and in this film it is the Commies. As the head commie, Dr. Irina Spalko, Cate Blanchett is wonderfully over the top. She plays the character with all the aloof coldness and underlying anger one would expect of someone who probably went to school with Natasha Fatale.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull does start out a bit slow, but once the film gets going, it almost never lets up. The thrills come fast and furious in this one, with plenty of humour and great lines to boot. If you liked Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, chances are you will like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as well.