Saturday, August 12, 2017

"Unchained Melody"

"Unchained Melody" is one of the most recorded songs of all time. In fact, there have been over 1500 recordings of the song. The Righteous Brothers' version went to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remains so popular that many people probably think the song originated with them. What is often forgotten is that "Unchained Melody" originated with a movie.

"Unchained Melody" was written by composer Alex Noth and lyricist Hy Zaret for the film Unchained (1955). Unchained was a somewhat forgettable prison film most notable for featuring Barbara Hale (later of Perry Mason) and Jerry Paris (later of The Dick Van Dyke Show). The fact that "Unchained Melody" originated with the film not only explains its rather unusual title, but also its lyrics. The lyrics are sung from the point of view of someone who is separated from the one he loves (quite simply, he is in prison).

While Unchained was somewhat forgettable, "Unchained Melody" certainly was not. In the film it was sung by Todd Duncan. In 1955, the year Unchained was released, three different versions of the song reached the top ten of the Billboard singles chart (ones by Lex Baxter, Roy Hamilton, and Al Hibbler). Lex Baxter's version hit number one on the Billboard singles chart. Given the song's popularity, it should come as no surprise that "Unchained Melody" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. It might come as a surprise that it actually lost the award, but then it must be considered that it lost to another well known standard, "Love is a Many Splendoured Thing" (from the film of the same name).

For those who have never heard it, here is the very original version, sung by Todd Duncan, in a scene from Unchained.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rural Variety Shows of the Late Sixties

In the late Sixties American television saw a cycle of variety shows on the networks that appealed primarily to a rural audience. Of course, this was nothing new.  Country music variety shows appeared on American television fairly early in its history, These included Midwestern Hayride on NBC, The Windy City Jamboree and The Old American Barn Dance on DuMont, and Ozark Jubileee on ABC.  As the Fifties progressed two of country music's biggest stars had successful variety shows. The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford ran from 1956 to 1961. Country music singer Jimmy Dean was the host of three different national variety shows. The first aired on CBS as a summer replacement show in 1957. The second aired  in the daytime from 1958 to 1959. A third Jimmy Dean Show aired on ABC from 1963 to 1966 (it would be notable for featuring Rowlf the Dog, making him the first Muppet to have a regular spot on a network TV series).  Of course, not all variety shows that appealed to rural audiences were necessarily centred on country music. Comedian Red Skelton, whose variety show ran from 1951 to 1971, appealed primarily to country folk.

While rural sitcoms dominated most of the decade, for the most part rural variety shows were not to be found on the networks in the Sixties with the exception of The Jimmy Dean Show. All of this would change as the decade was nearing its close, when all three networks would debut several rural variety shows in a little over a two year period. Sadly for fans of these shows, they would disappear from the airwaves even more quickly.

Given that many of the shows were either summer replacement series or began life as such, the show that started the cycle was a summer replacement series. The Summer Brothers Smothers Show debuted on June 23 1968 as a summer replacement for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS. It was hosted by Glen Campbell, then an up and coming country singer who was experiencing his first taste of success with such singles as "Gentle on My Mind" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix". For its guests the show featured a mix of country singers and more mainstream artists. Among the country artists who appeared on the show were Johnny Cash, Lee Hazlewood, and Bobbie Gentry. Among the more mainstream artists were Judy Collins, Cream, Lulu, and Nancy Sinatra.

The Summers Brothers Smothers Show proved extremely popular, so that it led to Glen Campbell receiving his own variety show. The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour debuted as a mid-season replacement on January 29 1969. It proved very popular, ranking no. 15 in its first season. Like The Summer Brothers Smothers Show, it featured a mix of country singers and more mainstream artists. An example of the eclectic mix of artists that appeared on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour is the show's second edition, on which both country singer Jeannie C. Riley and rock group The Monkees appeared. During its run it featured such musical artists as Stevie Wonder, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Roy Rogers, and Dale Evans, Liza Minnelli, The 5th Dimension, and Tom Jones. The promotional clips for The Beatles' songs "Get Back" and "Don't Let Me Down" aired on the show on April 30 1969.

It was a mark of the popularity of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour with younger viewers that it was one of the very few shows with rural appeal to survive the Rural Purge of 1971. Unfortunately, its ratings would drop in its later seasons. After four seasons The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour ended its run on June 13 1972.

In the wake of the success of The Summer Brothers Smothers Hour no less than two variety shows with appeal for rural audiences debuted in the 1969. The first starred one of the most legendary American singers of the 20th Century, Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter. The Johnny Cash Show debuted on June 7 1969 on ABC. Like The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Johnny Cash Show featured both country artists and more mainstream music artists. During the run of the show such acts as Cass Elliot, Pete Seeger, Dusty Springfield, Roy Orbison, Roger Miller, Chet Atkins, Lulu, The Monkees, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan appeared on the show. The Johnny Cash Show was popular enough to receive a berth in ABC's fall schedule and it would run for a second season. Unfortunately, it would also be one of the many victims of the Rural Purge in 1971. Its last original edition aired on March 31 1971.

The second rural variety show to debut in the summer of 1969 may well be the most successful country music show of all time. Hee Haw debuted on CBS on June 15 1969. It was essentially a countrified version of Laugh-In, with an ensemble casts, two hosts (Buck Owens and Roy Clark), and comedy sketches. It parted ways with Laugh-In in that it also had musical guests. What is more, it differed from both The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and The Johnny Cash Show in that music artists appearing on the show were exclusively country artists.

Hee Haw proved immensely popular as a summer replacement show, so much so that it earned place on CBS's 1969 fall schedule. For its second season it ranked no. 20 out of all the shows on the air. For its third season it performed even better, coming in at no. 16 for the year. Unfortunately it would not be enough to save Hee Haw from the Rural Purge. It was cancelled during the 1970-1971 season, becoming one of the highest rated shows ever to be cancelled. This would not mean the end for Hee Haw, as it entered first run syndication in the fall of 1971 where it remained for an additional 21 years.

Most of the rural variety shows of the late Sixties were hosted by country singers. This was not the case with the next rural variety show to debut. The Jim Nabors Hour debuted on CBS on September 26 1969. It was hosted by Jim Nabors, an actor and singer then best known for his portrayal of the character of Gomer Pyle on both The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. Indeed, both Frank Sutton and  Ronnie Schnell from Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. were part of the show's cast. As a show starring an actor best known for a character from two rural sitcoms, The Jim Nabors Hour would obviously appeal to country folk. It should then come as no surprise that the show featured its share of country artists, including Bobbie Gentry, Glen Campbell, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Johnny Cash, Eddy Arnold, and Roger Miller. The Jim Nabors Hour proved fairly popular. For its first season it ranked no. 12. Its ratings dropped in its second season, but it still ranked a very respectable no. 29 for the year. Unfortunately, this was not enough to save it from cancellation in the wake of the Rural Purge.

The Jim Nabors Hour would be the last major rural variety show to debut in the cycle. The next two to debut would be summer replacement shows.  The Ray Stevens Show debuted on June 20 1970 on NBC. It was hosted by country and novelty singer Ray Stevens. Among its regulars were pop singers Lulu and Cass Elliot. Perhaps because Ray Stevens was then known primarily as a novelty singer rather than a country singer, it had a considerable emphasis on comedy. Curiously, Johnny Cash was the only country music artist to be a guest on the show.

The Everly Brothers Show was a summer replacement series for The Johnny Cash Show hosted by the Everly Brothers. It featured a wide variety of music artists in its short run, including country singers (Marty Robbins, The Statler Brothers, Doug Kershaw, and so on) and mainstream artists (Arlo Guthrie, Neil Diamond, Bobby Sherman, and so on). It debuted on ABC on July 8 1970 and ended its run on September 9 1970.

The Everly Brothers Show would be the last rural variety show to debut in the cycle. As it was the days of any show that appealed to the a rural audience in any genre were numbered. The 1970-1971 season saw the Rural Purge, essentially a mass cancellation of any shows that appealed to rural or older audiences. It is a myth that the networks only discovered demographics in the late Sixties, but by the 1970-1971 they came to dominate the television industry in a way that they never had before. In particular, CBS, who had aired so many shows with rural appeal that it was nicknamed "the Country Broadcasting System", wanted to rid itself of as many rural shows as possible.

In the wake of the Rural Purge, the networks would spend much of the Seventies pursuing young, urban audiences much more than they had in the past. Only a few rural variety shows would air after the Rural Purge. In 1973 the summer replacement for The Dean Martin Show was Dean Martin Presents Music Country, a country music programme. From 1974 to 1976 country singer Mac Davis had his own show on NBC, The Mac Davis Show. In 1980 the variety Show Barbara Mandrell and the Madrell Sisters, hosted by country singer Barbara Mandrell and her two sisters, debuted on NBC. It proved a success and ran until 1982. Among other reasons it ended its run because, with her busy schedule, Barbara Mandrell was suffering from vocal strain.

Of course, while rural variety shows were rare in the Seventies, variety shows of any sort went into decline during the decade. At the start of the 1970-1971 season around 15 different variety shows were on the air. At the start of the 1980-1981 season there were only two. Eventually variety shows would disappear entirely from networks schedules. When Dolly, starring Dolly Parton, debuted in September 1987 on ABC it was not simply the first rural variety show in some time, it was the first variety show of any kind in some time. It lasted only a single season. It seems unlikely that there ever will be another time like the late Sixties when several rural variety shows debuted in a short space of time.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Godspeed Glen Campbell

Singer and actor Glen Campbell died yesterday, August 8 2017, at the age 81. The cause was Alzheimer's disease.

Glen Campbell was born on April 22 1936 in Billstown, Arkansas. His parents were share croppers and he was the seventh of twelve children. He started playing guitar when he was four years old after his uncle gave him a five dollar Sears guitar as a present. He was only six years old when he started playing on local radio stations. He dropped out of school when he was only 14 to work in Houston with his brothers. He installed installation and later worked at a gas station. He started playing guitar at church picnics and various fairs before playing at local radio stations. He was 17 years old when he joined his uncle's band, Dick Bills and the Sandia Mountain Boys, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He played on his uncle's radio show and also on the children's show K Circle B Time on the TV station KOB. It was in 1958 that he formed his own band, The Western Wranglers.

It was in 1960 that Glen Campbell moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a session musician. It was in October of that year that he joined the rock band The Champs. He remained part of the band's line-up for about a year. In 1961 he went to work for music publishing company American Music, where he wrote songs and recorded demos. It was these demos that would lead to Glen Campbell becoming part of the legendary group of session musicians that would later become known as the Wrecking Crew.

Glen Campbell would remain a part of the Wrecking Crew for the next several years. As part of the group he played guitar on literally hundreds of songs, including 'Hello Mary Lou" by Ricky Nelson, "Surf City" by Jan & Dean, "I Get Around" by The Beach Boys, "Dang Me" by Roger Miller, "You've Lost That Loving Feeeling" by The Righteous Brothers, "Strangers in the Night" by Frank Sinatra, and "Mary Mary" by The Monkees.

It was in 1961 that Glen Campbell was signed as a solo artist to Crest Records. His first single, "Turn Around, Look at Me", was released that same year. The following year he signed with Capitol Records. His first single for Capitol was "Too Late to Worry, Too Blue to Cry". Over the next few years he would meet with some success on the country music charts. His single "Kentucky Means Paradise" reached no. 20 on the chart in 1962, while "Burning Bridges" reached no. 18 in 1966. He had a minor crossover hit with his version of "Universal Soldier", which peaked at no. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965.

It was in 1967 that Mr. Campbell had his first major hit, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix". It peaked at no. 2 on the country chart and no. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967. In 1968 he had a bigger hit with "Wichita Lineman", which went to no. 1 on the country chart and no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1969 he had another major hit with "Galveston", which went to no. 1 on the country chart and no. 4 on the Billboardi Hot 100. From 1969 to 1972 Mr. Campbell would have several more hits, some of which not only did well on the country chart, but the Billboard Hot 100 as well.

Glen Campbell's career would go into a slight decline in 1972, but would be revitalised in 1975 with the song "Rhinestone Cowboy", which went to no. 1 on both the country chart and the Billboard Hot 100. It would be followed by several more crossover hits, one of which, "Southern Nights", also went to no. 1 on both the country chart and the Billboard Hot 100. Afterwards Glen Campbell did well on the country charts, with a few singles occasionally crossing over to the Billboard Hot 100.

Following his Alzheimer's diagnosis, Glen Campbell went on a final farewell tour that ended in 2012. The tour was documented in the documentary Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me. His last single, "Adios", was released just this year. Throughout his career he released around 60 albums.

Glen Campbell also had a career on film and in television. He made his film debut in an uncredited role as a member of a band in Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965). He went onto appear in the films The Cool Ones (1967), True Grit (1969), Norwood (1970), Any Which Way You Can (1980), and Uphill All the Way (1986). He was the voice of Chanticleer in the animated film Rock-A-Doodle (1991). 

He made his television debut on the show Shindig in 1964. As a singer he made frequent appearances on various music, variety, and talk shows through the years, including Hollywood a Go Go, The Dick Cavett Show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Mike Douglas Show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Hollywood Palace, The Joey Bishop Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Jim Nabors Hour, The Dean Martin Show, and Hee Haw. From 1969 to 1972 he was the host of his own variety show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, on CBS. It is notable as one of the few rural shows to survive the Rural Purge of 1971. He also hosted a syndicated variety show, The Glen Campbell Music Show, which aired during the 1982-1983 season. Glen Campbell also acted on television. In 1967 he guest starred in an episode of The F.B.I. He appeared in the TV movie Strange Homecoming (1974) and the special Christmas in Disneyland (1976).  In 1997 he guest starred on an episode of Players.

Not being a country music fan, I can't say I have ever been a huge fan of Glen Campbell's songs (although I have always liked "Wichita Lineman"). That having been said, I do recognise that he was a major talent in music. He was among the most popular country singers of the last decades of the 20th Century, and he was a bit of a phenomenon in the late Sixties. Beyond being a legendary country singer, he was also an extremely talented guitarist. His skill is readily recognisable on the many songs he recorded as part of the Wrecking Crew. He had been playing guitar since childhood and it showed.

While his acting career was somewhat limited, I also have to say that Glen Campbell was a fairly good actor. His best known role is most likely that of Texas Ranger  La Boeuf in True Grit (1969). He did a fine job in the part, and he remains one of my favourite actors to play opposite John Wayne. As a musician Glen Campbell was the consummate performer, and that translated quite well to acting. Glen Campbell was one of the most popular entertainers in the late 20th Century, and given his talent that should come as no surprise.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Godspeed Haruo Nakajima, "Mr. Godzilla"

Haruo Nakajima, the man in the Godzilla suit for 12 movies from Gojira (1954) to 1972, died yesterday at the age of 88. The cause was pneumonia. He also appeared in several other films, including classics directed by Akira Kurosawa. 

Haruo Nakajima was born on January 1 1929 in Yamagata, Japan. He made his film debut in Sengoku bura (Sword for Hire) in 1952. He appeared in Taiheiyô no washi (1953--Eagle of the Pacific) before appearing in what might be the two most iconic Japanese movies ever made. In Gojira, known in English as Godzilla, he played the title character, encased in a heavy rubber suit. To determine how Godzilla would move, Mr. Nakajima visited zoos and studied how elephants and bears walked. That same year he appeared in Shichinin no Samurai (Seven Samurai) as one of the bandits.

In the Fifties Haruo Nakajima would appear as Godziila again in the sequel Gojira no gyakushû (1955--Godzilla Raids Again). He also played various other monsters in the films Rodan (1956), Chikyû Bôeigun (1957--The Mysterians), Daikaijû Baran (1958--Varan the Unbelievable), and Gasu ningen dai 1 gô (1960--The Human Vapour). He also appeared in roles other than monsters in kaiju and sci-fi movies. In addition to Akira Kurosawa's Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (1958--The Hidden Fortress), he appeared in such films as Jû jin yuki otoko (1955), Ankokugai (1956--The Underworld), Shujinsen (1956--Rebels on the High Seas), Bijo to ekitai ningen (1958--The H-Man), Yajikita dôchû sugoroku (1958--The Happy Pilgrimage), and Sengoku gunto-den (1959--The Saga of the Vagabonds).

In the Sixties Mr. Nakajima reprised his role as Godzilla in the films Kingu Kongu tai Gojira (1962--King Kong vs. Godzilla), Mosura tai Gojira (1964--Mothra vs. Godzilla), San daikaijû: Chikyû saidai no kessen  (1964--Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster), Kaijû daisens (1965--Invasion of Astro-Monster), Gojira, Ebirâ, Mosura: Nankai no daiketto (1966--Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster), Kaijûtô no kessen: Gojira no musuko (1967--Son of Godzilla), Kaijû sôshingek (1968--Destroy All Monsters), and Gojira-Minira-Gabara: Oru kaijû daishingeki (1969--All Monsters Attack). He played other monsters in Mosura (1961--Mothra), Yôsei Gorasu (1962--Gorath), Matango (1963--Attack of the Mushroom People), Furankenshutain tai chitei kaijû Baragon (1965--Frankenstein Conquers the World), Furankenshutain no kaijû (1966--War of the Gargantuas), Kingu Kongu no gyakushû (1967--King Kong Escapes), and Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no daikaijû (1970--Space Amoeba). He also appeared in the films Taiheiyo no tsubasa (1963--Attack Squadron!), Horafuki taikôki (1964--The Sandal Keeper), and Izu no odoriko (1967).  Mr. Nakajima played various monsters in the TV series Ultraman.

In the Seventies Haruo Nakajima would make his last few appearances as Godzilla in the films Gojira tai Hedora (1971--Godzilla vs. Hedorah), and Chikyû kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan (1972--Godzilla vs. Gigan). He appeared in stock footage as Godzilla in 1973's Gojira tai Megaro (Godzilla vs. Megalon). His last appearance as an actor in a film was in Nippon chinbotsu (1973--Tidal Wave).

He retired from acting in 1973. In the Nineties he began appearing at various kaiju conventions both in Japan and the United States. 

Haruo Nakajima received very little screen time outside of a monster suit, playing uncredited bit parts in many films, but in various kaiju films he was very much the star. Perhaps no other actor could move quite so convincingly as Haruo Nakajima. Watching Gojira and the other early Godzilla movies, it is sometimes easy to forget that it is a man in the suit and not an actual, giant monster devastating Tokyo. Later in his life Mr. Nakajima would be responsible for relaying much of the history of the films to fans. Except for the first film (uncut and in its original Japanese), the Godzilla films may not number among the greatest films ever made, but they are very enjoyable. Haruo Nakajima's performances as Godzilla are much of the reason for that.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Thank You for a Successful Blogathon!

This weekend was the fourth annual British Invaders Blogathon. This year we had posts on a wide array of British films, from a British musical starring Margaret Lockwood to Hammer's films noirs to the classic "Carry On" comedies. The earliest film covered was released in the Thirties and the latest film covered was released in the Eighties. I want to thank everyone who participated in this year's blogathon for all of their wonderful posts! I also want to invite everyone to participate in next year's British Invaders Blogathon, which will be its fifth anniversary!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

100 Years of Robert Mitchum

It was 100 years ago today that Robert Mitchum was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He would become one of the most celebrated actors of the later part of the Golden Age of Hollywood, starring in such films as Out of the Past (1947), Holiday Affair (1949), The Night of Hunter(1955), Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957),  The Enemy Below (1957), Cape Fear (1962), and many others. Over the years he made films in many genres, including war movies, film noir, Westerns, and even comedies.

In honour of the 100th anniversary of Robert Mitchum's birth, here is a short pictorial tribute.

Robert Mitchum's first credited role was as Rigney in the Hopalong Cassidy Movie Hoppy Serves a Writ (1943). He was credited as "Bob Mitchum". He would go onto appear in many more Hopalong Cassidy movies.
From the earliest years of his career Robert Mitchum appeared in several war films. Among the best known was one in which he played the secondary lead, opposite Burgess Meredith, The Story of G.I. Joe (1945). Mr. Mtichum was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film.

By the late Forties Robert Mithcum was being cast as the lead in films. He became particularly identified with film noir. He appeared in several films noirs, the most famous of which is often counted among the greatest films noirs of all time, Out of the Past (1947).

During his career Robert Mitchum would also appear in several comedies. Holiday Affair (1949) was not a hit upon its initial release, but has since developed a considerable following.

Over the years Robert Mitchum would play several heavies, including one of the greatest villains in the history of American film. He played Harry Powers, sociopath and serial killer, in the classic Night of the Hunter (1955). Although not a success, either with critics or at the box office, upon its initial release, it has since become regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.

It is a mark of Robert Mitchum's versatility that he could go from playing a psychopathic murderer in Night of the Hunter to playing a U.S. Marine Corporal who befriends a nun in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) only two years later. Deborah Kerr received an Academy Award nomination for her role as Sister Angela in the film.

Robert Mitchum was very good playing villains, so good that he played more than one legendary screen bad guy. Max Cady in Cape Fear (1962) would certainly number in any list of the greatest movie villains

Robert Mitchum continued to appear in Westerns throughout much of his career. He played Sheriff J.P. Harrah opposite John Wayne in the movie El Dorado (1966). In El Dorado Mr. Mithcum was clearly one of the good guys.

In the Seventies Robert Mitchum played private eye Philip Marlowe in two films The first was Farewell, My Lovely in 1975. He would play the detective again in 1978 in The Big Sleep.

Robert Mitchum continued to work in the Eighties and Nineties, appearing in such film as Mr. North (1988), Scrooged (1988), and Woman of Desire (1994). His final film was the Norwegian movie Pakten in 1995, known in English as Waiting for Sunset.