Saturday, March 30, 2019

Some Updates

Today I was going to eulogise the great Agnès Varda, but it seems that the day has gotten away from me. As it is, it turns out I will have two more eulogies to write in addition to one for Miss Varda. This afternoon I received the sad news that Julia Lockwood Clark has died at the age of 77. Mrs. Clark was the daughter of the legendary Margaret Lockwood and very much a film star in her own right. I also saw news stories that composer Maury Laws has died at the age of 95. Mr. Laws may be best known for composing the scores of many Rankin/Bass specials and TV shows.

Today I also had the honour of being mentioned in CBR's column Comic Book Legends Revealed article "Comic Legends: How Close Did We Come to a Namor TV Show in 1954?" by Brian Cronin. Mr. Cronin quotes me from my article "Sub-Mariner the TV Series?", which I published in A Shroud of Thoughts back on September 1 2014. You can read "Comic Book Legends: How Close Did We Come to a Namor TV Show in 1954?" here. You can read my original article here. Anyhow, I want to say how very honoured I am to be mentioned in Comic Book Legends Revealed. I am a long time reader of the column and it is my favourite feature on CBR.Com.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Movies on the Networks on Friday Night in the Seventies

On September 23 1961 NBC Saturday Night at the Movies debuted. This event is significant in American television history as it was the first network movie anthology series to feature relatively recent movies made by the major studios. NBC Saturday Night at the Movies proved very successful. It was likely because of competition from NBC Saturday Night at the Movies that Gunsmoke, which had been the no. 1 show on television and was ranked at no. 3 when NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, dropped to the point that it did not even rank in the top 30 during the 1966-1967 (ultimately CBS moved the venerable old Western). It also spurred NBC to add more movie anthology shows and for ABC and CBS to add their own. By the end of the Sixties, six nights of the week featured movie anthology shows on at least one of the networks.

Of course, Friday was among the nights on which a movie anthology series aired. In fact, the decade would begin with a movie anthology series having been on Friday night for some time. The CBS Friday Night Movie had been on the air since the start of the 1966-1967 season. It would continue until the start of the 1975-1976 season, when it was replaced by Hawaii Five-O and Barnaby Jones. The CBS Friday Night Movie returned at mid-season and remained on Friday night until the middle of the 1977-1978 season, when it was replaced by The Incredible Hulk and Husbands, Wives & Lovers.

With the start of the 1971-1972 season, The CBS Friday Night Movie would no longer be the only movie anthology on Friday night. NBC launched its own Friday night movie anthology, using a title that they often used for movie anthologies, World Premiere Movie. World Premiere Movie did not last long. It was replaced at the start of the 1972-1973 season by The Little People, Ghost Story, and Banyon.

It would be with the 1975-1976 season that ABC added its own Friday night movie anthology series, The ABC Friday Night Movie. It would last for the remainder of the decade. In fact, The ABC Friday Night Movie would not go off the air until the first full season of the next decade, the 1981-1982 season.

Of the three movie anthology series that aired on Friday night in the Seventies, I remember NBC's World Premiere Movie the least. I have no doubt that was due to my age (I was only 8 years old when it debuted) and the fact that it only lasted a single season. The only movie I can remember watching  on it was 7 Faces of Dr. Lao.

That having been said, I have much better memories of both The CBS Friday Night Movie and The ABC Friday Night Movie. In fact, among my best memories of watching movies on television is when Planet of the Apes (1968) had its television premiere on The CBS Friday Night Movie in the 1973-1974 season. It would be followed later that season by Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). Over the years I would see several other movies for the first time ever on The CBS Friday Night Movie. These included To Sir with Love (1967), Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), Dillinger (1973), and Yellow Submarine (1968).

While The CBS Friday Night Movie showed major movies, The ABC Friday Night Movie tended to show more off-the-wall fare. It was on The ABC Friday Night Movie that I first saw the Matt Helm movies. It was also where I saw such films as The Brain (1969) starring David Niven, the Hammer film Hands of the Ripper (1971), Gordon's War (1973), The Legend of Hell House (1973), and Future World (1976). Although I had seen them before, ABC also showed several of the James Bond movies on The ABC Friday Night Movie. One thing that separated The ABC Friday Night Movie from The CBS Friday Night Movie is that ABC would sometimes show made-for-TV movies (which were often failed pilots for TV series). The Night Stalker (1972), Murder on Flight 502 (1975), and Curse of the Black Widow (1977), among others, aired on The ABC Friday Night Movie.

The movie anthology shows on the networks would begin a slow decline in the Eighties. The advent of the VCR and video rental shows would be the first nail in their coffins. The advent of DVDs would only accelerate their decline. Today there are no movie anthology shows on the networks. In fact, the networks only show feature films on rare occasions. That having been said, I have no doubt that many Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have fond memories of watching movies on network television, often on Friday night.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Late Great Larry Cohen

Every movie buff has his or her favourite directors. For many their favourite directors are drawn from a number of A-listers: Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Steven Spielberg, and so on. Some of us, however, also include directors from outside the A-list. Among my favourite directors of all time is Larry Cohen. I cannot say Larry Cohen made B-movies, as his movies were of a high quality despite having low budgets. I cannot say that he directed exploitation films, as his movies always had some intellectual substance to them. Indeed, most of his films addressed social issues in some way, shape, or form. What I can say about Larry Cohen is that he directed movies that were as good as they were often outlandish. Working with limited budgets, Larry Cohen directed movies that were every bit as good as those produced by the major studios. Before his career in film he also had a notable career in television. Larry Cohen died at the age of 77 on March 23 2019.

Lawrence George Cohen was born in Washington Heights, Manhattan on July 15 1941. Growing up he was an avid movie fan, usually watching as many as four movies a week. He was drawing his own comic books by the time he was eight years old. As a teenager he would sneak into NBC Studios to watch television shows being shot there. Eventually he worked as a page at NBC. He attended the City College of New York.

In 1958 Larry Cohen went to work for Talent Associates. He told Talent Associates' president, Alfred Levy, of his interest in writing. Mr. Levy thought it was a good idea for Mr. Cohen to write a teleplay. The first script he wrote was rejected, but he continued trying, even receiving tutoring from a story editor at Talent Associates twice a week. Finally he sold his first script, an adaptation of Evan Hunter's "87th Precinct" novel Killer's Choice for Kraft Television Theatre in 1958. It was followed by another episode of Kraft Television Theatre in 1958, this one an adaptation of William L. Stuart's novel Night Cry. He would also write an episode of Zane Grey Theatre that aired in 1960.

The Sixties would see Mr. Cohen very active as a television writer. In fact, he created four different TV shows. The first, Branded, staring Chuck Connors as a cavalry officer accused of cowardice, has persisted in reruns to this day. Both Blue Light and Coronet Blue would develop cult followings. Like Branded, his fourth series also proved somewhat successful. The Invaders starred Roy Thinnes as David Vincent, who is trying to stop an alien invasion that is already well underway. He also suggested the idea for the TV series Custer, although it would be created by Samuel A. Peeples and David Weisbart. He wrote episodes of the shows The Witness, Way Out, The United States Steel Hour, Surfside 6, Checkmate, Sam Benedict, Arrest and Trial, The Nurses, Espionage, The Fugitive, The Defenders, and The Rat Patrol. He served as an executive producer on the show Never Too Young. It was in the Sixties that Larry Cohen also broke into film as a screenwriter. His first screenplay was for the Magnificent Seven sequel Return of the Seven (1966). He also wrote the screenplays for Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969) and El Condor (1970).

In the Seventies Larry Cohen broke into motion picture directing with the black comedy Bone (1972). He followed Bone with Black Caesar (1973) and its sequel Hell Up in Harlem (1973). It was arguably with It's Alive (1974) that people began to take notice of Larry Cohen. It was a horror movie with a most unlikely monster: a mutant killer baby. For the remainder of the Seventies Larry Cohen directed the movies God Told Me To (1976), The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977), and It Lives Again (1978). He wrote the screenplay for The American Success Company (1980). He continued writing for television, writing episodes of the show Cool Million and Columbo. He created the TV show Griff. He also wrote the TV movies In Broad Daylight, Man on the Outside, and Calling Doctor Storm, M. D.

In the Eighties Larry Cohen directed the films Full Moon High (1981), Q (1982), Perfect Strangers (1984), Special Effects (1984), The Stuff (1985), It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987), A Return to Salem's Lot (1987), Deadly Illusion (1987), Wicked Stepmother (1989), and The Ambulance (1990). He wrote screenplays for the movies Best Seller (1987), Maniac Cop (1988), and Maniac Cop 2 (1990). He worked on the screenplay for I, the Jury (1982) briefly before being fired. He wrote the TV movies See China and Die (1981) and Desperado: Avalanche at Devil's Ridge (1988).  He directed See China and Die as well.

In the Nineties Larry Cohen directed his final feature film, Original Gangstas (1996). He wrote the screenplays for the movies Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence (1993), Body Snatchers (1993), Guilty as Sin (1993), Invasion of Privacy (1996), The Ex (1996), and Misbegotten (1997). He directed the TV movie As Good as Dead (1995). He wrote an episode of the TV show NYPD Blue as well as the TV movies Ed McBain's 87th Precinct: Ice, Ed McBain's 87th Precinct: Heatwave,  and The Defenders: Choice of Evils.

In the Nineties Mr. Cohen wrote the TV movie The Gambler, the Girl and the Gunslinger. He directed an episode of Masters of Horror. He wrote the screenplays for the movies Phone Booth (2002), Cellular (2004), Captivity (2007), and Messages Deleted (2010).

Aside from such classic directors as Michael Curtiz, John Ford, Howard Hawks, and Alfred Hitchcock, Larry Cohen was one of the first directors of whom I was aware. His movies were frequently shown on cable television in the late Seventies into the Eighties. I was very happy when learned that the Larry Cohen who had worked in television was the same Larry Cohen who had directed movies in the Seventies and Eighties. Over the years he had provided me many of hours of enjoyment, whether it was through the TV show The Invaders or such feature films as Black Caesar, It's Alive, and Q. Indeed, I have often thought that Larry Cohen would make the sort of movies I would make.

To wit, Mr. Cohen worked in a variety of genres. He directed everything from comedies to horror movies to sci-fi movies to crime movies. Often his movies could be counted as belonging to several different movies at the same time. Q was simultaneously a crime thriller and a giant monster movie. The Stuff blended science fiction, horror, and satire. God Told Me To blended horror with elements of science fiction and police procedurals. What is more Larry Cohen could take the most far-out concepts and make them seem entirely plausible: killer babies, Azetc gods stalking New York City, yogurt-like products with rather alarming side effects, and so on. And while Larry Cohen always worked on shoe-string budgets and without A-list actors, his movies often had more substance than many big budget blockbusters. Over the years he tackled a number of social issues in his films, from racism to abortion to political corruption to religion. Larry Cohen's movies were rarely simple entertainment. That he made them very entertaining makes Mr. Cohen all the more admirable as a director.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Thank You for a Successful 5th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon!

I want to thank everyone who participated for a successful 5th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon. This year we had a wide variety of shows covered. Every decade of television from the Fifties to the Nineties was represented. There were also several genres of shows represented, from sitcoms to animated shows to adventure shows to anthology shows. One thing that set this Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon apart from previous Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathons is that we had posts on anthology shows that weren't The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Studio 57 and The Outer Limits)! Given the success of this weekend's blogathon, I am pleased to announced that there will be a Sixth Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon in March 2020!

For those of you who want to read the entries from this year's blogathon, you can do so here.