Saturday, June 15, 2019

Dick Barton: Special Agent (1948)

 (This post is part of the Great Amicus-Hammer Blogathon hosted by Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews and Barry of Cinematic Catharsis )

Hammer Films remains best known for their the many horror movies that they have released over the years, as well as a smattering of psychological thrillers, science fiction movies, and comedies. Prior to the release of The Quatermass Xperiment in 1955, however, Hammer had released films in a wide variety of genres. Among these was the action/adventure film Dick Barton: Special Agent (1948).

Dick Barton: Special Agent (1948) was based on the highly successful BBC Light Programme radio show of the same name. Both the film and the radio show centred on Captain Dick Barton MC, a former Commando who worked as a private investigator and occasionally an agent of the British government. Dick was assisted by his friends, the Scotsman Jock Anderson and former platoon sergeant Snowey White. Dick Barton--Special Agent debuted on the BBC Light Programme on October 7 1946. Its 15 minute episodes aired every weekday evening. The show was created by Norman Collins, who was then Controller of the Light Programme (he would later move to the BBC Television Service and still later he would co-found ATV).

Dick Barton--Special Agent proved wildly popular. At its peak over 15 million listeners tuned into the show every night. It should come as no surprise that Dick Barton--Special Agent was most popular with schoolboys. It is for that reason that the BBC drew up a strict code of what was not permissible on the show. There could be no sex, no liquor, and no foul language. Even the violence was limited to fist fights. Despite this, Dick Barton--Special Agent received the disapproval of clergymen, teachers, and other moral watchdogs. Among those who was not particularly comfortable with Dick Barton--Special Agent was Val Gielgud, head of BBC Drama.  It is perhaps for that reason that Dick Barton--Special Agent went off the air March 30 1951. Its time slot was taken over by a relatively young show, The Archers, which continues to air to this day.

Of course, the phenomenal popularity of Dick Barton--Special Agent meant that a feature film was probably inevitable. In Britain in the 1930s and 1940s it was not usual for popular radio shows to be adapted as motion pictures. The popular radio programme The Band Waggon provided the basis for the 1940 film of the same name. The popular radio show Send for Paul Temple was adapted as a movie in 1946 and was followed by three more films. British audiences probably were not surprised when Dick Barton made it to the big screen.

Dick Barton: Special Agent  was directed by Alfred J. Goulding, who had directed Harold Lloyd shorts for Hal Roach in the Silent Era and later films featuring Roscoe Arbuckle and Harry Langdon. Dick Barton: Special Agent would be Alfred J. Goulding's penultimate film. His last film would also be for Hammer, The Dark Road (1948).

It is perhaps because of Alfred J. Goulding's experience in comedy that Dick Barton: Special Agent plays as a comedy thriller. Much of the film's running time is devoted to the hi-jinks of  Dick's sidekicks Snowey and Jock, as well as the villain Dr. Caspar's henchmen. This was a large shift from the radio show, which was played with deadly seriousness for the most part. That having been said, the film's plot could have come straight from the radio show. While on vacation in a small village, Dick Barton (played by Don Stannard), Snowey (played by George Ford), and Jock (played by Jack Shaw) come upon a plot by unrepentant Nazi Dr. Caspar (played by Geoffrey Wincott) to pollute Britain's water supply with cholera-laced bombs.

Despite the fact that Dick Barton: Special Agent departed from the radio show, it would prove successful. It led to two more Dick Barton movies: Dick Barton Strikes Back (1949) and Dick Barton at Bay (1950). There were plans for a fourth Dick Barton movie, Dick Barton in Africa, but the series ended following star Don Stannard's death in an automobile accident. The success of Dick Barton: Special Agent would also lead Hammer to adapt more radio shows as movies: The Adventures of P.C. 49 (1949), Doctor Morelle (1949), The Man in Black (1949--based on the radio show Appointment with Fear), Meet Simon Cherry (1949--based on the radio show Meet the Rev.), and A Case for PC 49 (1951).

Today Dick Barton: Special Agent is hardly a respected film. It is not unusual to read reviews that not only refer to it as bad, but as possibly the worst movie Hammer Films ever made. At IMDB it has a relatively low rating of 4.1. It is certainly true that Dick Barton: Special Agent departs from the radio show in its tone. It is also true that it was made on a relatively low budget. Too much of the script is devoted to comedy, and the acting does leave something to be desired. That having been said, it must be considered that Dick Barton: Special Agent was made at a time when Hammer was still making quota-quickies (of which this movie is one). It must also be considered that it was made to primarily appeal to children. Indeed, it is no worse and actually a good deal better than many American serials and B-Westerns made in the Forties. Keeping that in mind, Dick Barton: Special Agent is enjoyable enough a way to spend an hour and eleven minutes. Some of the comedic bits are at least slightly amusing and, while the fight scenes obviously look fake (one can tell the punches don't make contact), there is enough excitement to satisfy fans of old-time movie serials and B-movies. It is also an interesting look back at a time when heroes were still nearly infallible and villains were unapologetically evil. Dick Barton: Special Agent can be fun if one simply doesn't expect too much.

Dick Barton would not completely disappear once his radio show ended in 1951. In 1972 a new version of the very first Dick Barton serial, "The Secret Weapon," was broadcast as part of the BBC's Golden Jubilee. In 2013 the BBC produced a new version of a Dick Barton adventure from 1951. The late Seventies would see several Dick Barton novels. In 1979 Southern Television produced a TV series titled Dick Barton: Special Agent. It seems inevitable, particularly in today's atmosphere of reboots and remakes, that Dick Barton will return.

I would not call Dick Barton: Special Agent a classic. It certainly is not a great movie. I am not even sure that I would call it a good movie. That having been said, I don't think it is nearly as a bad as some people make it out to be. As long as one keeps in mind that it is a quota-quickie made primarily for children, Dick Barton: Special Agent can be simple, harmless fun.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

(This post is part of the Great Amicus-Hammer Blogathon hosted by Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews and Barry of Cinematic Catharsis )

From 1989 to 1996 the TV series Tales from the Crypt aired on HBO. The show took its name from the classic EC comic book and adapted stories from the various EC titles. That having been said, HBO's Tales from the Crypt was not the first time stories from EC Comics had been adapted to another medium. Over a quarter century before HBO's TV series aired, Amicus Productions released a movie, also titled Tales from the Crypt, which adapted five stories from various EC titles. 

For those unfamiliar with EC Comics, it was a comic book publishing company founded by M. C. Gaines, who had earlier founded All-American Comics (one of the companies that would become the modern day DC Comics). Originally "EC" stood for "Educational Comics" and Mr. Gaines planned to publish comic books about science, history, and the Bible. Sadly, M. C. Gaines died in a boating accident in 1947. His son William Gaines inherited the company. He kept the initials "EC," but renamed the company "Entertaining Comics." After publishing titles from Westerns to superhero comic books, EC Comics finally found its niche with titles devoted to horror, science fiction, crime, and war, as well as the comic book that would become Mad magazine.

While EC Comics would become well-known for the quality of both their stories and their artwork, its various titles would prove controversial. EC Comics did not shy away from gore or graphic violence, and as a result their titles were a frequent target of moral watchdogs during the moral panic over comic books that ensued following World War II. The outcry over the content of comic books would eventually lead to the formation of the Comics Magazine Association of America and its regulatory body the Comics Code Authority. The Comics Code not only put an end to the gore and graphic violence earlier found in comic books of the era--it very nearly reduced them to children's literature. EC Comics tried to continue without its horror titles, but to little success. Eventually EC Comics cancelled all of its titles except for Mad, which it converted to a magazine format. Mad continues to this day as the only remaining title from EC Comics. 

While EC Comics had ceased its horror titles in 1954, they were hardly forgotten. In 1964 Ballantine Books began publishing black-and-white, paperback collections of stories from EC Comics titles. Among these were two collections of EC horror stories. The first was Tales from the Crypt, published in 1964. The second was The Vault of Horror, published in 1965. Further collections have been published ever since.

Among the fans of EC Comics was Milton Subotsky, one of the two American expatriates who co-founded Amicus Productions.  It occurred to him that EC Comics' stories could provide the basis for a good horror movie. He then convinced his partner and Amicus co-founder Max Rosenberg to get the film rights to the stories. William Gaines sold the film rights to the EC stories with the requirement that he would have script approval. At £170,000 Tales from the Crypt would have a slightly higher budget than most Amicus films, with some funding provided by American International Pictures, who would distribute the movie in the United States. 

Tales from the Crypt would take the form of a portmanteau film or "anthology." Amicus had already produced three such films, including Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1967), and The House That Dripped Blood (1971). Both Dr. Terror's House of Horrors and Torture Garden were directed by Freddie Francis, who would also direct Tales from the Crypt

Tales from the Crypt uses a framing device of five strangers who become lost while touring old catacombs. They encounter the Crypt Keeper (played by Ralph Richardson), who then proceeds to tell them tales of how they will each die. The first of the stories was "...And All Through the House," starring Joan Collins as a woman who murders her husband on Christmas Eve only to find herself face to face with a psychotic killer dressed as Santa Claus. The second of the stories was "Reflection of Death," in which Ian Hendry stars as a man who leaves his family to be with his lover. The third of the stories is "Poetic Justice," in which David Markham and Robin Phillips play a father and son plotting to get rid of their elderly neighbour (played by Peter Cushing). The fourth story was "Wish You Were Here," which deals with a Chinese figurine that grants three wishes. The fifth story was "Blind Alleys," in which Patrick Magee plays a resident of a home for the blind who decides to take revenge on the home's callous director (played by Nigel Patrick). 

Despite the film's title, only two of the stories were actually from Tales from the Crypt: "Reflection of Death" and "Blind Alleys." "...And All Through the House" was from Vault of Horror. Both "Poetic Justice" and "Wish You Were Here" were from The Haunt of Fear. The movie Tales from the Crypt would be adapted as a novel by Jack Oleck and published by Bantam in 1972. Jack Oleck had written for EC Comics in the early Fifties. He primarily wrote stories for Crime SuspenStories, but he also wrote stories for The Vault of Horror and Weird Science-Fantasy.

Tales from the Crypt was released in the United States on March 8 1972. It would be released in the United Kingdom on September 28 1972.  Reviewing the film in the March 15 1972 issue of The Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert (who made it clear from the beginning that he was a fan of EC Comics) gave Tales from the Crypt a positive and highly humorous notice. On the other hand, Vincent Canby, who reviewed the movie in the March 9 1972 issue of The New York Times, gave the film a largely negative review, writing "Unfortunately, the only style exhibited by Freddie Francis, who directed the film, and Milton Subotsky, who wrote it, is in their dumb appreciation for ancient plot devices..." Since then the majority of critics have tended to agree more with Roger Ebert than Vincent Canby. Tales from the Crypt is not only one of the better known Amicus movies, but also one that is still held in high regard by many.

There should be little wonder that Tales from the Crypt remains respected in many quarters. Its strength is twofold. Milton Subotsky's script remains faithful to the original EC stories, retaining their original potency as morality tales. The cast is also remarkable, which comes as no surprise given it utilised some of the best known actors in British cinema. It is not every film that can boast Ralph Richardson, Joan Collins, Ian Hendry, Peter Cushing, Richard Greene, and Patrick Magee. What is more, the cast delivers the goods, with some very fine performances. 

Tales from the Crypt would prove successful enough to warrant another film that adapted stories from EC Comics. The Vault of Horror (1973) adapted five more stories from various EC titles. Curiously, all of the stories in The Vault of Horror were from Tales from the Crypt with the exception of one from Shock SuspenStories. None were actually from The Vault of Horror!

While Tales from the Crypt is not as well known as the later HBO television series of the same name, it is still regarded by many with fondness. It is one of Amicus Productions' best known portmanteau films and a true classic of Seventies horror. While Amicus fans will certainly appreciate it, I suspect fans of EC Comics and British horror in general will as well. 



Thursday, June 13, 2019

Where to Find Me on Social Media

I have two posts for the Great Amicus-Hammer Blogathon hosted by Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews and Barry of Cinematic Catharsis over the next two days. With that in mind, I will simply leave you with where you can follow me on social media. And, yes, I have Facebook, but I hate Facebook.

Twitter

Instagram

Letterboxd

Pinterest


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Power Pop Songs from the Late Seventies and Early Eighties

Yesterday I wrote a post about the 40th anniversary of The Knack's album Get The Knack. That got me to thinking about the boom in power pop bands that lasted from the mid-Seventies to the early Eighties. A few are known only to power pop connoisseurs. Others remain well known today. Here then are a few power pop songs from the era.

Power pop did not suddenly emerge in the mid-Seventies. The genre actually dates to the Sixties. In fact, the early Seventies saw such power pop artists as Sweet, Badfinger, The Flamin' Groovies, Todd Rundgren, and The Raspberries. Beginning in 1976, however, there would be a boom in power pop artists. Among the power pop bands that would precipitate the boom were The Nerves. The Nerves would form in Los Angeles in 1974 and released a self-titled EP in 1976. While The Nerves would break up in 1978, they paved the way for other Los Angeles power pop bands. Drummer Paul Collins would go onto found the influential power pop band The Beat. Bassist Peter Case would go onto found another influential power pop band, The Plimsouls. Their song "Hanging on the Telephone" would later be covered by Blondie.

Many consider Cheap Trick to be the quintessential American power pop band. They formed in 1973 in Rockford, Illinois. The band's self-titled debut album was released in 1977. While neither it nor their second album, In Color, would see a good deal of success, their third album, Heaven Tonight, would go to no 48 on the Billboard 200. Their single from that album, "Surrender," would go to no. 62 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would their fourth album, Cheap Trick at Budokan, that would really put them on the map. The album peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard 200. The singles from the album also did very well. "I Want You to Want Me" went to no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, while their cover of Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame" went to no. 35. While Cheap Trick has had its ups and downs, the band has continued recording and touring to this day (I had a friend who saw them just a few nights ago).

Cheap Trick wasn't the only pioneering power pop band to emerge from There was also Shoes. Shoes formed in Zion, Illinois in 1974. Their debut single "Tomorrow Night" was released in 1978 by Bomp! Records, which would lead to a recording contract with Elektra. Although they have never had a major hit, they have continued recording to this very day.

I wrote about The Knack yesterday, so I won't repeat myself here. That having been said, unless one counts songs by The Beatles, "My Sharona" is probably the most successful power pop single of all time. It is also probably the most famous power pop song by an American band.


When writing about the power pop boom of the late Seventies and early Eighties, many treat it as a purely American phenomenon. That having been said, Britain has produced its fair share of power pop bands, including the aforementioned Badfinger and Sweet. The Vapors formed in 1978. Their first album, New Clear Days, was released in 1980. It contained their only major hit, "Turning Japanese." Unfortunately, the band was not able to repeat the success of "Turning Japanese." Their second album Magnets did not sell well and the band broke up in 1982.

Rick Springfield was hardly a new artist when "Jessie's Girl" hit in 1981. He had been a member of Australian pop rock band Zoot from 1969 to 1971. He embarked on a solo career in 1971 and even had a hit with "Speak to the Sky." From 1972 to 1976 he would release four albums. It was in 1981 that "Jessie 's Girl" made a slow climb up the Billboard Hot 100.  It entered the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1981, but would not reach the no. 1 spot until August 1. Rick Springfield would have a few more hit singles, but none of them would be as successful as "Jessie's Girl."



Tommy Tutone was a band that formed in California in 1978. They saw middling success with both their self-titled debut album and their first single "Angel Say No." It would be with a song from their second album that would earn them eternal fame. "867-5309/Jenny" peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1982. It also created endless headaches for those who had the number "867-5309." Tommy Tutone would continue recording into the Nineties, but never did repeat the success they had with "867-5309/Jenny."

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The 40th Anniversary of Get The Knack

It was forty years ago today that The Knack's debut album, Get The Knack, was released. The album would be a success right away. The album became Capitol Records' fastest selling album since The Beatles' debut album in the United States, Meet The Beatles. It reached the no. 1 spot on the Billboard album chart, where it stayed for five weeks. It should come as no surprise that the Recording Industry Association of America would certify it platinum for its number of copies sold. The first single from the album, "My Sharona," would reach no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained there for six weeks.

The Knack formed in May 1978. In June the band made their live debut. The Knack were very much in demand at the various clubs along the Sunset Strip, to the point that they played over 50 gigs in six months. Even established rock stars took notice of The Knack, with Ray Manzarek, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen all attending their shows. The record labels even took notice of The Knack, with thirteen labels offering them contracts. Eventually they signed with Capitol Records, who paid them the largest amount of money for singing in the label's history.

Get The Knack was recorded in only two weeks and for only $18,000, this at time when recording an album could take literally months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The tracks on the album, as well as those on their second album (...But the Little Girls Understand) were all written while they performing at various clubs in Los Angeles.

As mentioned earlier, Get The Knack would prove to be a success almost immediately. So too would the first single from the album, "My Sharona." The genesis for the song grew out of a riff created by The Knack's lead guitarist Berton Averre. The band's leader, lead vocalist, and rhythm guitarist Doug Fieger then wrote lyrics for the song. Its inspiration was Sharona Alperin, who would eventually become Mr. Fieger's girl friend. Even after the two broke up, they would remain friends for their rest of their lives. Like the album, Get The Knack, "My Sharona" proved to be successful immediately. It entered the Billboard Hot 100 on June 23 1979. It hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on August 25.

Initially Get The Knack would receive some good reviews, but the success of both the album Get The Knack and the song "My Sharona" would lead to backlash among critics and others.  Conceptual artist Hugh Brown would even begin a "Knuke The Knack" campaign, which soon grew out of all proportions. Chief among the criticisms that arose from the backlash against The Knack was that The Knack were aping The Beatles. This was largely due to both Capitol's marketing of the band and The Knack's British Invasion-inspired image. The front cover of Get The Knack was a black and white photo evocative of The Beatles' second album With The Beatles. The back cover of the album was a colour photo that evoked scenes from A Hard Day's Night. The Knack's fashion sense was decidedly retro, with the band outfitted in suits, white shirts, and skinny ties. Even their musical style evoked the British Invasion.

What the critics of the time were apparently missing were three things. The first was that The Knack had little control over how Capitol marketed them. Most bands in the Seventies had little say as to their album covers or even the songs selected from their albums to be released as singles. Even if The Knack had objected to the cover of Get The Knack, Capitol could have gone ahead and used it anyway. The second was that The Knack were a power pop band, a subgenre of rock music that draws heavily upon the sounds of the British Invasion and often utilises the imagery from that era as well. Earlier in the decade the power pop band The Raspberries had dressed in suits evocative of the early to mid-Sixties while performing songs evocative of the era as well. Other power pop bands, from Cheap Trick to Shoes, would often utilise a Sixties aesthetic. For that matter many New Wave artists (New Wave being a closely related subgenre to power pop) also dressed in styles evocative of the Sixties, from Blondie to Elvis Costello. Third, The Knack's sound actually owed less to The Beatles than it did The Kinks and The Who. "My Sharona" is closer in sound to "You Really Got Me" than "I Want to Hold Your Hand." The claim that The Knack were ripping off The Beatles then seems to hold little weight in retrospect.

Another source of the backlash were claims that many of The Knack's songs expressed misogynist attitudes. Admittedly, this criticism is harder to dismiss. On Get The Knack there are about three songs that could be at least considered sexist, if not downright misogynistic. That having been said, an argument can be made that critics may have been unfairly singling out The Knack for criticism in this regard. Sadly, misogyny was all too common in rock music in the Seventies and the Eighties. Never mind that The Rolling Stones had produced songs that could be considered misogynistic in the Sixties, in the late Seventies one can find several examples of misogynistic songs from bands ranging from AC/DC to Van Halen. What is more, some of The Knack's contemporaries produced much larger numbers of misogynist songs than The Knack ever did. While I have no wish whatsoever to condone misogyny in rock music, I think attacking The Knack for misogyny while ignoring the many other bands that featured it in their songs at the time is a bit hypocritical.

A final source of the backlash was one that was very much under The Knack's control and seems to have been a mistake on the band's part at the time. Quite simply, The Knack refused to do interviews. This certainly did not endear them to the music press, and could explain why many critics were downright hostile towards the band. It also explains why the critics of the time fully embraced other power pop bands who sounded similar to The Knack, while finding fault with The Knack themselves. Quite simply, other bands would do interviews.

Ultimately the backlash against The Knack would hurt the band. Their second album, ..But the Little Girls Understand, only reached no. 15 on the Billboard album chart. The singles did not perform as well as their earlier work either. "Baby Talks Dirty" only went to no. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100 while "Can't Put a Price on Love" peaked at no. 62. Their third album, Round Trip, performed even more poorly. It only reached no. 93 on the Billboard album chart. To a degree the backlash against The Knack would even affect power pop itself to a small degree. Following "My Sharona," there would be a few power pop songs that would be hits: "Turning Japanese" by The Vapors; "Jessie's Girl," ""I've Done Everything for You," and "Don't Talk to Strangers" by Rick Springfield; "867-5309/Jenny" by Tommy Tutone; and "Talking in My Sleep" by The Romantics. That having been said, for the most part the boom in power pop that had begun around 1976 was over.  Even Cheap Trick, considered by many the quintessential power pop band, would see their fortunes decline in the early Eighties. While their albums continued to do relatively well into the decade, none of them saw the success of  At Budokan and Dream Police.

While Get The Knack would result in an enormous amount of backlash, the album would prove to be historic, as would the song "My Sharona," and not simply because they topped the charts. It was Get The Knack that signalled the end of disco craze, which had lasted nearly three years at that point. For much of 1979, the no. 1 albums were disco, including Rod Stewart's disco-flavoured Blondes Have More Fun, The Bee Gees' Spirits Having Flown, and Donna Summer's Bad Girls. Following Get The Knack, for the next several years the only disco album to top the chart was Donna Summers's On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes I & II, which was no. 1 for only one week in 1980. That The Knack signalled the end of disco is even more noticeable when looking at the Billboard Hot 100. In 1979, until "My Sharona" hit no. 1 on August 29, only three songs that were not disco had hit no. 1: The Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes," Blondie's "Heart of Glass,"and Peaches & Herb's "Reunited." For the remainder of 1979 only one disco song would hit no. 1; "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" by Barbara Streisand and Donna Summer hit no. 1 and remained there for only two weeks.

The success of both The Knack and their initial album, Get The Knack, would also have a lasting influence. Power pop bands from The Plimsouls to Material Issue to Teenage Fanclub appear to have some influence from The Knack. The Knack would even have an impact on bands outside power pop. Kurt Cobain once said of Nirvana, "I think we sound like The Knack and the Bay City Rollers being molested by Black Flag and Black Sabbath."

The Knack would never again repeat the success of Get The Knack or "My Sharona." The band's leader Doug Fieger died of cancer in 2010, effectively bringing The Knack to an end. While their success with their first album and their debut song would lead to a great deal of backlash, the album Get The Knack continues to sell well and "My Sharona" still receives a good deal of airplay to this day. Despite attacks from critics in 1979, The Knack would have a lasting influence.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

IMDB Has Two Errors on Vanessa Marquez's Profile Page

Being as close as I was to Vanessa Marquez, the actress best known for playing Ana Delgado in the classic film Stand and Deliver (1988) and Nurse Wendy Goldman on the TV show ER, I feel that I am one of the stewards of her legacy. Part of that stewardship involves insuring that her career is represented accurately. For the past several months I have been trying to get two glaring errors in her filmography on the Internet Movie Data Base, better known as IMDB, corrected. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems as if I am doing so to no avail.

The first error is under her movie credits. IMDB claims that Vanessa appeared in a film entitled Shift (2013). I know for a fact that she did not. Vanessa herself always acknowledged that her final appearance on screen was a cameo at the end of the fan film Return of Pink Five in 2006 aside from an interview she did with KTLA for Star Wars Day in 2010. Even for those who did not know Vanessa personally as I do, it would not take much research to realise that it is an entirely different Vanessa Marquez who appears in Shift (2013). Indeed, the film was made in the Philippines!

The second error is under her credit for Shorts, according to which she appeared in a short subject titled The Problem with Evolution (2017). Again, I know for fact that Vanessa did not. Not only did Vanessa always say that her final appearance on screen was in Return of Pink Five, but anyone who watched The Problem with Evolution would know that it is an entirely different Vanessa Marquez. The last time I checked, the short was available for viewing on YouTube.

The simple fact is that Vanessa's last appearance in a feature film was as Melanie in Twenty Bucks (1993), which was released on October 23 1993. Her last appearance on narrative television was as Wanda Hernandez in the TV movie Fire & Ice (2001). She certainly did not appear in any feature films, short subjects, or television shows in the Teens.

As to how these errors came about, the fact is that "Vanessa Marquez" is a very common name among Latinas. It is something like the name "James Thomas" among people of British descent or African Americans with regards to how common it is. While my beloved Vanessa Marquez, the Vanessa Rosalia Marquez born in Los Angeles County on December 21 1968, may have been the most famous woman with that name, she was by no means the only one.

Of course, a bigger question may be, "Why are these two errors persisting on Vanessa's profile page?" That I cannot answer. I have corrected them multiple times. There have been a few times that I could have sworn that both Shift (2013) and The Problem with Evolution (2017) had been removed from her profile. Unfortunately, they always seem to reappear. I have informed IMDB that I knew Vanessa personally and, quite honestly, it wouldn't take much research to verify that fact. For that matter, they could simply watch the two films in question and tell that it is not the Vanessa Marquez who played Ana in Stand & Deliver (1988) and Wendy on ER. I must confess I am becoming very frustrated with IMDB, which is the whole reason that I am writing this blog post. At any rate, I know Vanessa would not want to be given credit for things she did not do. If any of you reading this have IMDB accounts, please go to the profile page of my dearest Vanessa Marquez and correct her filmography. Perhaps you could accomplish something I cannot seem to.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Versatile Blogger Award

The wonderful Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews recently nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award. I want to thank her for this honour, and I am glad that she included me in the 15 blogs she nominated.

As Gill pointed out in her post on the Versatile Blogger Award, it is a bit like a chain letter. Quite simply, it comes with its own checklist of things one has to do. They are as follows.

1. Thank the person who nominated you.

2. Provide a link to his or her blog.

3. Share seven facts about yourself.

4. Nominate 15 bloggers of your choosing.

I have already done the first two, so I will go onto the seven facts about myself. I don't know if I have mentioned any of these on the blog before.

1. I have been on television twice in my lifetime. The first time I don't remember very well, as I was only three or four years old at the time. My family was in Columbia at Parkade Plaza (the first mall in the city) where KRCG's long running children's show Showtime was doing a remote broadcast. I really don't remember much more, but my parents did tell me about it when I was older.

Of course, the second time was when I got to introduce A Hard Day's Night (1964) with Ben Makiewicz as part of Turner Classic Movies' Fan Favourites series. I have already written about it quite a bit on this blog and elsewhere, so I won't say any more about it here!

2. I grew up on a farm with horses and cattle. I learned to ride a horse even before I attended kindergarten and learned how to saddle one when I was a little older. And, for those of you who are wondering, yes, I did herd cattle from horseback. That having been said, I don't think that qualifies me as a cowboy, although I do know how to fire a sixgun.

3. I have not only met Tom Brokaw, but I got to direct him. It was when I was at college and we shot an on-the-fly promo for the college television station. It's not as impressive as it sounds, as it is the only time I have directed anyone! Mr. Brokaw was very nice, though.

4. I have written five novels, each of then in less than a month as part of National Novel Writing Month. None of them have been published as it would require extensive work to get them in shape for publication. Keep in mind they were written in less than a month!

5. I am multiracial. On my mother's side I am English and German with a touch of Scottish thrown in for good measure. On my father's side I am German (Hessian, to be exact), English, and Cherokee. My great grandmother on my father's side, Dixie, was Cherokee, and both my paternal grandmother Lucy and my father looked more Cherokee than anything else.

6. Speaking of my heritage, both my mother's family and my father's family were in North America before the United States was founded. My mother's family came here in the 17th Century, fleeing the Cromwellian tyranny in England. My father's family came here in the 18th Century. We aren't sure why, but in the 1740s there were rumours in Germany that there were riches to be had in North America. I have to wonder if that isn't why they migrated here.

7. The first movie I ever remember watching all the way through was Jason and the Argonauts (1967). It aired on The CBS Thursday Night Movie on Thanksgiving in 1966. I was only three years old at the time. Of course, the second movie I ever remember watching all the way through was The Wizard of Oz (1939), which was also the first classic movie I ever saw (this isn't unusual for people of my generation).

And now here are the 15 bloggers I am nominating. As I always say with these sorts of things, participate if you want to. :

KC of A Classic Movie Blog

Lara of Backlots

Paddy of Caftan Woman

Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood

Lê  of Crítica Retrô

Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

Debra of Moon in Gemini

Fritzi of Movies Silently

Aurora of Once Upon a Screen

Raquel of Out of the Past

Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled

Paula of Paula's Cinema Club

Kristina of Speakeasy

Dan of The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog

Andrew of The Stop Button

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The 75th Anniversary of D-Day

It was 75 years ago today that over 160,000 troops from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States landed on the beaches of Normandy to do battle with Nazi Germany. They faced heavy German fortifications and were under constant gunfire as they landed. The causalities were great, with more than 9000 Allied soldiers either wounded or killed. Despite this, in the end the Allies won the day, allowing more than 190,000 Allied soldiers to make it through to take Europe back from the Nazis. It was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.

D-Day was a truly heroic effort, the largest seaborne invasion in history. It was also one of the biggest turning points in history. Quite naturally, D-Day has then figured prominently in motion pictures and television shows since the end of World War II. In fact, so many movies and TV shows have referenced D-Day that it would be impossible to list them all. Indeed, the first movies to touch upon D-Day were made only a few years after the war.

Among the earliest films to deal with D-Day was Breakthrough (1950). The film starred David Brian and John Agar and followed a company of infantrymen from the 1st Infantry Division from basic training to D-Day through to the Normandy Campaign. A good part of Breakthrough is comprised of stock footage, and it is not as highly regarded as many of the films that succeeded it. That having been said, it was one of the earliest movies to depict the events of D-Day.

D-Day the Sixth of June (1956) is less a war film than it is a romance film, depicting as it does a love triangle between an American paratrooper, a British Commando, and a Women's Royal Army Corps officer. It is notable primarily because it depicts not only American troops, but British and Canadian troops as well. While it does not show very much of Omaha Beach, in that particular respect it is more accurate than many films about D-Day.

Of course, one cannot discuss movies about D-Day without mentioning The Longest Day (1962). The all-star film utilised several Allied and Axis military consultants. Several of the film's stars had served in World War II and one even took part in D-Day. Richard Todd was part of the British Airborne invasion and was among the men who took part in the battle for Pegasus Bridge.

The Longest Day was based on Cornelius Ryan's 1959 book of the same name about the Normandy Invasion. The movie follows the events on both sides of the English Channel in the days before D-Day. The movie proved to be a hit, eventually making a total of $50.1 million. The film is still well respected to this day.

While The Longest Day was an epic with a large cast, Overlord (1975) was a much more personal story which followed a young British man through being called up, his training, and his eventual death on D-Day. In making the film director Stuart Cooper not only consulted footage from the war, but the diaries of World War II soldiers as well.

The Big Red One (1980) centred on an Army sergeant as he led his men through to D-Day, the liberation of France, and the invasion of Nazi Germany. Director Samuel Fuller had the benefit of experience, having served in the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division and seeing action in Africa, Sicily, and Normandy.

What may be one of the most realistic portrayals of D-Day appears in Saving Private Ryan (1998). Not only did the film portray the heavy casualties the Allies suffered upon landing on Omaha Beach, but even the sea sickness many soldiers experienced while the landing craft grew close to the store. While Saving Private Ryan was praised for its realistic depiction of the Normandy landings, the film was criticised for ignoring the contributions of countries other than the United States. Namely, in Saving Private Ryan, the 2nd Rangers are portrayed as being aboard an American ship and making it to the beach in United States Coast Guard-crewed landing craft. In truth, the 2nd Rangers were aboard the British ships and made it to Omaha Beach on Royal Navy landing craft. Despite the occasional inaccuracies, Saving Private Ryan is still highly regarded today, to the point that it is counted among the greatest war movies of all time.

Television has dealt with D-Day less than motion pictures have, perhaps because portraying the Normandy Invasion would be difficult on the budget of most television shows and even TV movies. It should come as no surprise that the pilot of the legendary World War II drama Combat! dealt with the events of D-Day. The pilot as it was originally shot would not air, but it formed the bulk of the show's 11th episode, "A Day in June," in which Sgt. Saunders (played by Vic Morrow) remembers his experiences during the Normandy Invasion. "A Day in June" aired on December 18 1962.

D-Day would also figure in the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers, based on Stephen E. Ambrose's 1992 book of the same name. Band of Brothers depicted E Company,2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division, from their jump training to the airborne invasion of Normandy to the war's end. At the time, Band of Brothers was the most expensive mini-series ever made.

There have been many, many more movies and TV shows that have touched upon D-Day in some way. To even deal with documentaries about D-Day would fill a very large book. It seems quite likely that D-Day was the most pivotal event in the 20th Century and one of the most pivotal events in human history. Had the Allies lost the various battles that comprised the Normandy Invasion, history would be very different. D-Day was one of the most monumental undertakings of all time, and it was made possible by the many men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, parachuted into Normandy, or served aboard the many ships that were part of the invasion. Although if you ask any man who served in the Normandy Invasion, he will tell you that he is not a hero, all of them were indeed heroes.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Paul Darrow Passes On

Paul Darrow, best known for playing Kerr Avon on the cult science fiction show Blake's 7, died on June 3 2019 at the age of 78. His health had been on the decline for several years.

Paul Darrow was born Paul Valentine Birkby in Chessington, Surrey. He attended Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School. He studied acting at the Royal Academy for Dramatic Art (RADA). His flatmates while he was at RADA were none other than Sir John Hurt and Ian McShane. It was his father who suggested his stage name, taking the surname of Darrow from American attorney Clarence Darrow.

Paul Darrow spent quite a few years in repertory theatre before making his television debut in a guest appearance on the TV show The Odd Man. In 1965 he was cast in the regular role of Mr. Verity on the TV show Emergency-Ward 10. In the Sixties he would also appear in the Doctor Who serial "Doctor Who and the Silurians," and he guest starred on the shows The Saint, Virgin of the Secret Service, Frontier, The Newcomers, Special Branch, Coronation Street, and Manhunt.

In the Seventies Paul Darrow began playing Kerr Avon on Blake's 7 in 1978. He remained with the show for its entire run, appearing in every single episode except the very first. He was a regular on the TV shows Couples and The Poisoning of Charles Bravo. He appeared in the mini-series Murder Must Advertise, Prometheus: The Life of Balzac, and The Legend of Robin Hood. He guest starred on the TV shows The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes; The Flaxton Boys; Z Cars; Churchill's People; Dixon of Dock Green; Killers; When the Boat Comes In, Rooms; Yes, Honestly; Whodunnit?; ITV Playhouse; Turning Year Tales; Penmarric; and Hammer House of Horror. He appeared in the motion picture The Raging Moon (1971).

In the Eighties Mr. Darrow was a regular on the TV show Making News. He appeared in the Doctor Who serial "Timelash." He appeared in the mini-series Dombey & Son and Maelstrom. He guest starred on the shows Storyboard and Cluedo. In the Nineties Paul Darrow guest starred on Dark Justice, Emmerdale, Haggard, Science Fiction, and Pie in the Sky. He was a regular on The Strangerers. 

In the Naughts Paul Darrow appeared in the movie Die Another Day (2002). He was a regular on the TV show Emmerdale and had a recurring role on Law & Order: UK. He guest starred on Hollyoaks,. Little Britain, and Twisted Tales. He made his last appearance on screen in Toast of London in 2014.

The past many years Mr. Darrow had been the voice of Jack for the independent British radio stations JackFM and Union Jack.

Paul Darrow will probably always be remembered best as Kerr Avon, the genius computer expert with a gift for sardonic comments. Avon would become the most popular character on Blake's 7 and, after the departure of Gareth Thomas as Blake, he would be the leader of Blake's 7. As memorable as Mr. Darrow was as Avon, he also played a number of other great roles. He may be best known for the numerous villains and other shady characters he played throughout this career. He was the Sheriff of Nottingham in The Legend of Robin Hood and Mr. Tallboy in the television adaptation of Dorothy L. Sayers's Murder Must Advertise. From time to time he played historical figures, including Anthony Eden and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Paul Darrow was a talented actor who could play a wide variety of roles.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The 15th Anniversary of A Shroud of Thoughts

Today it has been 15 years since I began A Shroud of Thoughts. At the time I had no idea that the blog would last this long. I also had no idea that in some ways A Shroud of Thoughts would become my life's work. I have been writing A Shroud of Thoughts longer than every job I have ever had.

For those of you who may have forgotten, weren't online in the years 2002 to 2005, or simply were not born yet, blogs were something of a fad at the time. While blogs had actually been around since the Nineties (indeed, Jorn Barger coined the term weblog in December 1997 and Peter Merholz shortened weblog to blog in the spring of 1999), it was from the years 2002 to 2005 that the mainstream media started taking notice of blogging. For a time during the early and mid-Naughts, it seemed as if everyone and his or her brother had a blog.

In fact, a lady friend of mine was one of those people who had a blog at the time. It looked like fun to me and so I decided to start my own blog. In the mid-Naughts it was fashionable to give blogs titles with some variation of the word "thought" in them. That is the reason I took the title for this blog, A Shroud of Thoughts, from a line in Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage canto iii stanza 113 (I won't quote here, as over the years I think I have quoted it enough). Here I have to say that if I had it to do all over again I would probably have chosen a name more befitting a blog devoted to popular culture and nostalgia. If I had known of the word retrophilia at the time (which Collins Dictionary defines as "a strong liking for things from the past"), I probably would have named it that. While I would eventually consider changing the blog's name, by that time A Shroud of Thoughts had something of a readership and I worried it would confuse people if I changed the name.

While A Shroud of Thoughts has always been dedicated to pop culture and nostalgia, it has changed over the years. In the early days I would sometimes write things of a more personal nature, but eventually I decided to stop writing anything overly personal with a few exceptions. Aside from being a very private individual, I figured that most people did not find my personal life that interesting. Another change to A Shroud of Thoughts is that for many years I would address more recent movies and television shows on the blog. This is something that would eventually fall by the wayside. It is not that I made a conscious decision to stop writing about more recent movies and television shows, but rather the case that I enjoyed writing about classic films and television shows more.  Sadly, I also have found myself writing many more eulogies than I did when I started (especially this year). It is an unfortunate fact of life that celebrities from the Golden Ages of Hollywood and Television started dying off at an accelerated rate from the late Naughts throughout the Teens.

Of course, my own life has changed since I began A Shroud of Thoughts. When I started writing the blog I had one job, only to pick up another job early in the blog's history. I would eventually quit the first job as I found juggling two jobs a bit too much. Unfortunately, several years later I would be laid off from that other job due to the economy. Sadly, since I began A Shroud of Thoughts there have been several deaths in my life. My remaining aunts and uncles would die during those years, as well as some of my older cousins. I lost one close friend to suicide. My best friend, Brian, died at an exceedingly young age in 2011. What was the biggest change in my life since I started A Shroud of Thoughts would be becoming friends with actress Vanessa Marquez, growing very close to her, and falling in love with her. When Vanessa was killed last year it was the most catastrophic death in my life. I am still mourning her to this day, and this is a very bittersweet anniversary for me given she did not live to see it.  For many Vanessa will always be Ana Delgado in the classic movie Stand & Deliver (2008) or Nurse Wendy Goldman on the hit TV show ER. For me she will always be my best friend, the girl of my dreams, and the love my life. I am still very much in love with her and I always will be.

Not only my own life has changed a good deal since 2004, but so too has society and popular culture. While smartphones had been around since the Nineties, they were still rare in 2004. At that time the average person was still using an ordinary mobile phone or, at best, a feature phone. Of course, today I am guessing the average person owns a smart phone if he or she owns a mobile phone at all. Tablets were also relatively rare in 2004, whereas now they are downright common. In 2004 social media services were still very much in their infancy. MySpace was less than a year old when this blog started and Friendster was a little older. Since then several other social media services have arisen, most notably Facebook and Twitter. Streaming media has existed since the Nineties, but in 2004 it was still very much in its infancy. Indeed, Netflix would not introduce its own streaming media service until 2007. Now, in addition to Netflix, there are several streaming services, including Hulu, Amazon Prime, Acorn TV, and many, many others. The first patent for a smart TV was filed in 1994 in Japan, but it would not be until 2008 that Samsung would introduce its first smart TV. Other manufacturers would follow suit, until in 2018 eMarketer estimated that 37.2% of all homes in the United States have a smart TV. Many more probably own online media players, such as Roku or Google Chromecast.

As to what June 4 2004 was like, well, it was not a terribly eventful day. Probably the biggest event to occur that day with regards to popular culture was the wide release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in the United States. It was the third film in the wildly successful "Harry Potter" series and went onto make $796,688,549 at the box office. As far as music goes, June 4 2004 saw the release of the Ritchie Havens compilation album Dreaming as One: The A&M Years. The album was released on Mr. Havens' own Stormy Forest label and included the two albums he had recorded while at A&M Records, The End of the Beginning (1976) and Mirage (1977), along with some other material. The only television show to debut that day was Impact!, a professional wrestling programme. It debuted on Fox Sports Net, and would later move to Urban America Television and still later to Spike TV and even later Pop. It was earlier this year that it moved from Pop to the Pursuit Channel.

As to what the broadcast networks aired that night, well, the answer is not a whole lot of interest. In fact, I am guessing many of the shows that aired on the night of June 4 2004 have long since been forgotten. ABC showed George Lopez, Married to the Kellys, Hope & Faith, and 20/20. CBS aired Joan of Arcadia, JAG, and 48 Hours. On Fox was the movie Cats and Dogs (2001), which aired on their movie anthology series Fox Night at the Movies. NBC showed Dateline NBC and Las Vegas, while UPN aired the movie American Outlaws (2001) on their movie anthology series UPN's Night at the Movies. The WB aired Reba, What I Like About You, and Grounded for Life. Of the broadcast networks that existed in 2004, two are no longer with us. It would be in 2006 that UPN and The WB merged to form The CW. As to the various shows that aired that night, only three are still on the air and all of them are news magazines: Dateline, 48 Hours, and 20/20.

As I said earlier, June 4 2004 was not a terribly eventful day. What had to be the strangest news item of the day happened in Granby, Colorado. Quite simply, a welder and an automobile muffler repair shop owner went on a rampage on a specially modified bulldozer. The man had modified the bulldozer so that it was bulletproof and then proceeded to demolish Granby's City Hall, Granby's former mayor's house, and several other buildings. Fortunately, no one was killed during the rampage, although sadly the culprit killed himself with a handgun at its end.

Before I congratulate myself too much for A Shroud of Thoughts turning 15 years old, I have to point out that it is not the only old blog around by a long shot.  Immortal Ephemera is even older than this blog, dating to 2002. Inner Toob is about a month and a half older, launching in April 2004. Both The Stop Button and Laura's Miscellaneous Musings date to 2005. The Rap Sheet dates to 2006. My friend Raquel started Out of the Past in 2007.  Blogs older than a decade are hardly common, but they are not as uncommon as some people might believe!  By the way, I strongly recommend that you visit all of these fine blogs (they've lasted so long for a reason).

When A Shroud of Thoughts turned 10 in 2014, there were those in the media who claimed that blogs had diminished in their importance and that conversation had largely moved to social media. I didn't believe that was true then, and I certainly don't believe it is true now. I have not noticed an enormous decrease in the number of blogs, and, if  A Shroud of Thoughts is any indication, people are still reading blogs. In fact, I get more hits on this blog than I ever have. This seems true of every blog I read. If discussion has largely moved from the comments sections of blogs to social media sites, it is probably because most bloggers I know post links to their blog posts on social media sites where discussion about the blog posts then ensues. I rather suspect blogs will be around as long as the World Wide Web. I know I intend to continue writing A Shroud of Thoughts until I am no longer able to.

Anyhow, I want to thank anyone and everyone who has ever read this blog over the years, as well as my fellow bloggers who have supported me in this endeavour. I really don't know if A Shroud of Thoughts would have survived the past fifteen years without them. I encourage you to visit my fellow bloggers' blogs listed on the right sidebar. You won't regret it!

Every year I publish what I feel to be my best posts of the past year (for this year I did that yesterday). It then seems fitting that since A Shroud of Thoughts has now lasted  fifteen years to post a list of what I think are the best posts of the past fifteen years. I have chosen two posts for each year, counting series of posts as "one" post. Here I have to point out that some posts are missing images. Quite a few years ago every single image was wiped from the blog and I haven't gotten around to replacing  all of them!

2004
 "The Vanguard of Mars Part One" September 3 
 "The Vanguard of Mars Part Two" September 4

2005
"The Rise and Fall of the Independent Television Station" June 13
"Les Belles Dames Sans Merci: Elf Maidens and Men" June 30

2006
"Mary Ann Versus Ginger" February 25 
"Dick Tracy Turns 75" October 4

2007
"Cinema Killed the Radio Star: How Elvis Presley's Movies Nearly Ended His Career" August 22 
"Superman's Pal, the Smut Monger" August 29 

2008
"Aurora: the Company That Monsters Built...And Destroyed Part One" January 13 
"Aurora: the Company That Monsters Built...And Destroyed Part Two" January 14
"Quality Comics" July 5 

2009
 "Ida Lupino as Director" May 19
"The Devil's Business: The Murder of Sharon Tate" August 9

2010
"Mama Told Me Not to Come: The Sixties Party Scene on Film" February 2
"All of Your Toys: The Monkees vs. Don Kirshner" April 17

2011
"Everybody Loves Lucy: Lucille Ball's 100th Birthday" August 6   
"The Gothic Horror Boom of the Sixties" October 30

2012
 "The Psychology of Betty Draper Francis" April 3
"Naming Names: The Rise & Fall of Confidential Magazine Part One" August 19
"Naming Names: The Rise & Fall of Confidential Magazine Part Two" August 20

2013
"Perry Mason: The Case of the Disappearing Defence Attorney" January 11
"The JFK Assassination's Impact on American TV & Film" November 22

2014
"The Birth of Beatlemania in America Part One" February 8 
"The Birth of Beatlemania in Amerca Part Two" February 9 
"Rock & Rule: Canada's Animated Masterpiece" October 4 

2015
"Rita Moreno: Puerto Rican Superstar" October 12
"Shock! How Television Revived the Universal Monsters"  October 17

2016
"The 75th Anniversary of M&Ms" March 5
"The Maltese Falcon: From Book to Screen" April 9

2017
 "The 75th Anniversary of Archie" January 13
"Animated Christmas Television Specials of the Seventies" December 23

2018
"The Planet of the Apes Craze Remembered" February 8
"The 50th Birthday of My Dearest Vanessa Marquez" December 21

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Best Posts from June 4 2018 to June 3 2019

Every year on the anniversary of A Shroud of Thoughts I post what I consider to be my best posts from the past year. That having been said, tomorrow is a bit of a milestone for A Shroud of Thoughts. Quite simply, tomorrow it will be 15 years since I launched this blog. For that reason tomorrow I plan to post my favourite posts from the past 15 years. I then decided to post my favourite posts from the past year today.

Those of you who know me and even those who don't know me, but regularly read this blog, know that the past several months have been very hard on me. In fact, they have been the hardest months of my entire life. It was on August 30 2018 that actress Vanessa Marquez was killed. It would be the beginning of a prolonged period of mourning that I am still going through. Not only were Vanessa and I very close, not only did I consider her my best friend, but I was and still am hopelessly, desperately in love with her. I have no doubt that I made fewer posts between last June and this June than I have any other time in the history of A Shroud of Thoughts. In fact, last year was the first time ever that I wrote fewer than three blog posts a week. Quite simply, the past nine months there have been times when I did not feel like writing in the blog at all.

Of course, this year would not make blogging any easier for me. I am convinced that 2019 may be the year when more celebrities important to me have died than any other year since I started blogging. In fact, there have been only two weeks this year that I wrote absolutely no eulogies: the week of February 10 and the week of May 19. Between mourning Vanessa and having to eulogise such people as Julie Adams, Stanley Donen, Peter Tork, Doris Day, and Tim Conway, I haven't had the time to write the blog posts I would like to write!

Anyway, without further ado, then, here are the best posts from June 4 2018 to June 3 2019.

"When Anime Was a Dirty Word," June 14 2018

"The 50th Anniversary of Yellow Submarine," July 17 2018

"The 25th Anniversary of The X-Files," September 10 2018

"Stand and Deliver Turned 30," October 5 2018

"West Side Story (1961)," October 13 2018

"Stop Complaining About Turner Classic Movies," October 18 2018

"The 50th Anniversary of The Monkees' Movie Head," November 6 2018

"The 50th Birthday of My Dearest Vanessa Marquez," December 21 2018

"50 Years Ago the TV Show Turn-On Got Turned Off," February 5 2019

"The 100th Birthday of Nat King Cole," March 17 2019

"ER 'Night Shift'," March 23 2019

"The Original Captain Marvel," April 11 2019

"The 25th Anniversary of Turner Classic Movies," April 14 2019

"The Good Humor Man (1950)," April 26 2019

"Lux Radio Theatre," May 2 2019

"The Power of the Dark Side: Darth Vader," May 25 2019

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Announcing the 6th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon

I am proud to announce the 6th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon, which will take place August 2, August 3, and August 4 2019. 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 1994. 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 twenty five 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 August 2, August 3, or August 4.

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 gmail.com.

Below is a roster of participants and the topics they are covering. Come August 2 I will make a post that will include all of the posts in the blogathon:

Caftan Woman: The Detective (1954)
The Stop Button: Gregory's Girl (1981)
Realweegiemidget Reviews: Whistle Down the Wind (1961)
Crítica Retrô: The Queen of Spades (1949)
Cinematic Catharsis: The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
Silver Screenings: Fire Over England (1937)
Cinematic Scribblings: The Entertainer (1960)
In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood: The films of Petula Clark

Below are several banners for participants in the blogathon to use (or you can always make your own):

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Late Great Leon Redbone

Leon Redbone, the legendary singer and songwriter who specialised in songs from vaudeville and Tin Pan Valley, died yesterday at the age of 127. No cause of death was given.

Very little is known about Leon Redbone's early life. According to an article in The Toronto Star from the Eighties, he was born Dickran Gobalian in Nicosia, Cyprus on August 26 1949. His family moved to London in 1961 and then to Toronto in 1965. He changed his name under Ontario’s Change of Name Act.

Leon Redbone began performing in Toronto clubs in the early Seventies.  It was in 1972 at the Mariposa Folk Festival that Mr. Redbone met Bob Dylan. Mr. Dylan had been so impressed by Leon Redbone that he referenced him in a 1974 interview with Rolling Stone. This led to Rolling Stone later doing a profile on Mr. Redbone. It was in 1975 that his first album, On the Track, was released by Warner Bros. In 1976 he made the first of several appearances on Saturday Night Live.

Ultimately Leon Redbone would release 12 studio albums and three live albums. Long Way from Home: Early Recordings, released in 2016, collected many of his early recordings. In addition to appearing multiple times on Saturday Night Live, Leon Redbone also appeared multiple times on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and would later appear on The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. He composed the theme song to the Eighties sitcom Mr. Belevedere and the theme song to the Nineties sitcom Harry and the Hendersons. He had a role in the movie Candy Mountain and provided the voice of Leon the Snowman in the movie Elf. He also appeared on television, making guest appearances on Life Goes On, Promised Land, and Sesame Street. His songs would appear in the soundtracks of movies from The Big Fix (1978) to The Film at Lot 15 (2018). He retired on May 19 2015, citing health concerns.

Because of his reticence to talk about his life, Leon Redbone was often described as "mysterious." In fact, very little is known about his early life or his private life. At the same time Leon Redbone used comedy a good deal in his performances. It was not unusual for him to claim to have written songs that existed well before he was born. Jokes about drunkenness were frequent in his performances. It is because of his tendency not to talk about his life and his flare for humour that in the official announcement of his death (of which there can be no doubt that it was written by Leon Redbone beforehand) that his age was given as "127."

That Leon Redbone incorporated comedy into his act should come as no surprise. In many respects he would been perfectly at home on the vaudeville stage over 100 years ago. He was in many ways a man who existed outside of time. At a time when blues and folk music were being revived, Mr. Redbone looked to music forms that had long been neglected: ragtime, early jazz, and songs from both vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley. His first album featured everything from Andy Razaf, Fats Waller, and Harry Brooks's "Ain't Misbehavin'" to Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer's "Lazybones" to the 19th Century song "Polly Wolly Doodle." Years before the music, fads, and fashions of the past became trendy, Leon Redbone was performing songs that were often 100 years old or older. A very good argument can be made that Leon Redbone single-handedly revived ragtime and vaudeville music.

That Leon Redbone was able to re-popularise older song styles was due to a combination of both talent and marketing savvy. If he revealed very little about himself, it was perhaps to ensure that the focus always remained on the songs and not on him. If Leon Redbone incorporated humour into his act, it was perhaps not simply a continuation of vaudeville tradition, but a means of ensuring his performances were always entertaining. Making everything work was the fact that Leon Redbone was a very talented musician and singer. Few performers have ever been as unique as Leon Redbone.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Peggy Stewart Passes On

Peggy Stewart, who starred in a number of B-Westerns and made numerous guest appearances on television, died yesterday, May 29 2019, at the age of 95.

Peggy Stewart was born Margaret "Peggy" O'Rourke in West Palm Beach, Florida on June 5 1923. Her sister was Olympic swimmer Patricia O'Rourke. Her parents eventually divorced and her mother moved the family to Atlanta, Georgia. There she married lawyer John Stewart. Young Peggy took her stepfather's last name. It was in the Thirties that her family moved to California. There she met character actor Henry O'Neil. Mr. O'Neil brought her to the attention of Paramount executives who wanted a young actress to play Joel McCrea's daughter in the movie Wells Fargo (1937). In the film she played the role of Alice McKay.

In the late Thirties Miss Stewart appeared in such films as Little Tough Guy (1938), That Certain Age (1938), Little Tough Guys in Society (1938), Everybody's Hobby (1939), and All This, and Heaven Too (1940). In the early Forties she appeared in such films as Back Street (1941) and Girl in Chains (1943). It was in 1944 that Peggy Stewart signed a contract with Republic Pictures, who cast her in a number of B Westerns. She appeared in such films as Tuscon Raiders (1944), Silver City Kid (1944), Cheyenne Wildcat (1944), Code of the Prairie (1944), Utah (1945), The Vampire's Ghost (1945), Marshall of Laredo (1945), The Tiger Woman (1945), Alias Billy the Kid (1946), Red River Renegades (1946), The Invisible Informer (1946), Trail to San Antone (1947), Messenger of Peace (1947), Son of Zorro (1947), Tex Granger: Midnight Rider of the Plains (1948), Dead Man's Gold (1948), Ride, Ryder, Ride! (1949), The Fighting Redhead (1949), and Cody of the Pony Express (1950). She appeared in three "Red Ryder" movies alone. She made her television debut in 1950 in an episode of The Gene Autry Show.

As B-Westerns became a thing of the past, Peggy Stewart's film career slowed down. In the Fifties she only appeared in four films: The Pride of Maryland (1951), The Black Lash (1952), Kansas Territory (1952), and Montana Incident (1952). While her movie career slowed, Miss Stewart's television career prospered in the Fifties. She appeared in five episodes of The Cisco Kid alone. Miss Stewart guest starred on such shows as Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (1951), Gang Busters (1952), The Range Rider (1953), The Millionaire (1956), Dr. Hudson's Secret Journal (1956), The Silent Service, Peter Gunn, Yancy Derrigner, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Hotel de Paree, General Electric Theatre, Gunsmoke, and  Pony Express.

In the Sixties Peggy Stewart guest starred on such shows as The Rebel, Lassie, The Twilight Zone, National Velvet, Have Gun--Will Travel, The Fugitive, Gunsmoke, Daniel Boone, Hondo, The Mod Squad, and Ironside. She appeared in the films When the Clock Strikes (1961), Gun Street (1961), The Clown and the Kid (1961), The Way West (1967), and The Animals (1960).

In the Seventies Miss Stewart guest starred in such shows as Dan August, Sarge, The Smith Family, The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, Baretta, Emergency!, Taxi, and Quincy M.E. She appeared in the films Pickup on 101 (1972), Terror in the Wax Museum (1973), White House Madness (1975), Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw (1976), Black Oak Conspiracy (1977), and Beyond Evil (1980).

In the Nineties Peggy Stewart guest starred on Seinfeld and Beverly Hills 90120. In the Naughts she had a recurring role on the TV show The Riches. She guest starred on such shows as The Norm Show; Popular; Yes, Dear; My Name is Earl; NCIS; Weeds; Flashforward; Justified; The Office; and Community. She appeared in the films Big Chuck, Little Chuck (2004) and The Runaways (2010). In the Teens Miss Stewart guest starred on the TV show Getting On. She appeared in the films Dadgum, Texas and That's My Boy.

Peggy Stewart was always a delight to see on screen. In her many B Westerns she usually did not play the passive damsel in distress in constant need of rescue, but instead the tough, strong-willed, and hot-tempered heroine who could hold her own with any outlaw. It was a role she would sometimes repeat on television, in Westerns from The Cisco Kid to Have Gun--Will Travel. Of course, Miss Stewart could play other types of roles. In the Twilight Zone she played Grace Stockton, the wife of Dr. Bill Stockton, who is quite naturally nervous about an imminent nuclear war. As she grew older she was often cast in the role of sweet old ladies. Peggy Stewart will always be remembered as strong heroines in B Westerns, but she played all of her various roles very well.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

RC Cola and Nancy Sinatra

Yesterday I wrote about how Royal Crown Cola, also known as "RC Cola," used movie stars in their advertising in the Forties. While Royal Crown Cola used more celebrities in their ads in the Forties than any other decade, they would continue to use celebrities in advertising in both the Fifties and the Sixties. Among those celebrities was Nancy Sinatra.

RC Cola sponsored Nancy Sinatra's television special Movin' with Nancy, which aired on December 11 1967. Miss Sinatra appeared in two out of the five RC Cola commercials that aired during the special. What is more, she was not the only celebrity to appear in RC Cola commercials during the special. Art Linkletter, who had been associated with RC Cola for several years, introduced the first spot featuring Miss Sinatra. Robie Porter appeared in a commercial shot in Spain, while Dino, Desi & Billy appeared in one shot at the Hollywood Bowl.

Below are the two commercials featuring Nancy Sinatra.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Royal Crown Cola and Movie Stars

Today Royal Crown Cola, also known as "RC Cola," lags far behind Coca-Cola and Pepsi in sales. In fact, I rather suspect that there are some younger people who might never have even heard of RC Cola. While RC Cola might be an also-ran now, from the Forties to the Sixties Royal Crown Cola was a serious competitor to both Coke and Pepsi. In fact, some of the biggest names in Hollywood would appear in advertisements for Royal Crown Cola during the Forties. While both Coca-Cola and Pepsi would use celebrity spokespeople from time to time, neither of them used as many different movie stars as Royal Crown Cola would during that decade. RC Cola would continue to use celebrities in ads during the Fifties and Sixties, but never to the extent that they did in the Forties. What is more, Royal Crown Cola didn't just use celebrities in their magazine ads, but also on calendars and promotional signs as well.

Here I have to point out that Royal Crown's advertisements featuring movie stars promoted more than the cola itself. In every single ad there would also be a plug for the particular movie star's latest film. Below are only a few of the ads for Royal Crown Cola featuring movie stars from the Forties.

This is a Royal Crown ad from 1941 featuring Gary Cooper, who was also promoting his film Ball of Fire (1941).

 This ad from 1942 features Dorothy Lamour promoting Beyond the Blue Horizon (1942).

It was in 1942 that Royal Crown Cola ads began having the stars in the ads announce that Royal Crown was the best (or some variation thereof).  This is one of the earlier versions of those ads, featuring Claudette Colbert who was also promoting The Palm Beach Story (1942).

For the most part Royal Crown Cola seems to have favoured actresses in their advertising during the Forties, but a few actors appeared as well. Here is singer, actor, and radio star Bing Crosby and his horse promoting Road to Utopia (1945).

 
In this ad from 1945 Linda Darnell is promoting her film Fallen Angel (1945).

 Here is another ad from 1945, this one with Gene Tierney promoting A Bell for Adano (1945).

In this ad from 1946 Lizabeth Scott is promoting The Strange Love of Martha Ives (1946)

Barbara Stanwyck appeared in more than one ad for Royal Crown Cola. In this one from 1946 she is promoting her film My Reputation (1946).

So far I have done the various Royal Crown Cola ads by year. These next two are then slightly out of order, but that is because I wanted to save the best for last. Even people who aren't that familiar with classic movies know about Joan Crawford's strong ties to Pepsi. In 1955 she married PepsiCo executive Alfred Steele and afterwards she became Pepsi's fiercest promoter. Miss Crawford would even demand product placement for Pepsi in her movies! It might then come as a surprise to some that in the Forties Joan Crawford was one of the many movie stars who appeared in ads for Royal Crown Cola! What is more, she did it more than once. Here is an ad in which Joan Crawford is promoting Hollywood Canteen (1944).

And here is another ad from 1946 in which Joan Crawford is promoting Humoresque (1946).  I have to think that if Bette Davis had known about the ads Joan Crawford had done for Royal Crown Cola in the Forties, she would have taped them to the Pepsi machine Joan had installed on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962)!

This is only a small sampling of Royal Crown Cola's advertisements featuring movie stars from the Forties. They did many, many more. And as mentioned earlier, some stars would appear in multiple ads. RC Cola continued to use celebrities in advertisements in the Fifties and Sixties. Rhonda Fleming and game show host Robert Q. Lewis appeared in advertising for Royal Crown Cola in the Fifties. In the Sixties RC Cola ads featured Petticoat Junction star Meredith MacRae and singer Nancy Sinatra. While RC Cola would continue to use celebrities in the Fifties and Sixties, it would never be to the extent that they did in the Forties.