Saturday, April 27, 2019

On TCM in May--WWII in the Movies: The Homefront

This September will mark 80 years since the beginning of World War II. For the month of Memorial, then, Turner Classic Movies is focusing on movies set on the homefront during World War II each Thursday. Each Thursday on TCM for the month of May will be devoted to specific theme. The theme for May 2 is "Keep the Homefires Burning" and includes such films as Since You Went Away (1944), Mrs. Miniver (1942), and Happy Land (1943). May 9 is devoted to "Comedy & Romance" and includes such films as The More the Merrier (1943), The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944), and The Clock (1945). The theme for May 16 is "The War Effort" and features such films as Hollywood Canteen (1944), Tender Comrade (1943), and Millions Like Us (1943). The theme for May 23 is "Under Attack" and includes such films as Hope and Glory (1987), The End of the Affair (1955), and Journey for Margaret (1942). The theme for May 30 is "Coming Home", which features such movies as The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944), and Til the End of Time (1946).

WWII in the Movies: the Homefront is hosted by Ben Mankiewicz and various co-hosts associated with the National World War II Museum. The National World War II Museum was founded as the D-Day Museum in 2000 in New Orleans. It became the National World War II Museum in 2003 and is affiliated with the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Good Humor Man (1950)

Today Good Humor is still a well-known brand of ice cream. While it is now sold only through stores and street vendors, there was a time when the company made most of its money from sales made from Good Humor trucks. Good Humor men were a fixture in the Mid-20th century United States. From 1920, when Good Humor was founded, to 1978, when the company ended its sales from trucks, Good Humor men and their trucks could be found throughout much of the United States. Given how much a part of the American landscape Good Humor men were in the mid-20th Century, it was probably no surprise when Columbia released the comedy The Good Humor Man in 1950.

The Good Humor Man was one of two follow-ups to Columbia's 1948 movie The Fuller Brush Man starring Red Sketon (the other being The Fuller Brush Girl, starring Lucille Ball). The Fuller Brush Man proved to be a hit at the box office, so naturally Columbia wanted to make another film similar in its concept and tone. The Good Humor Man stars Jack Carson as Good Humor ice cream salesman Biff Jones, who not only finds himself implicated in a payroll robbery, but involved in a murder as well. Biff is helped by his girlfriend Margie (played by Lola Albright) and his girlfriend's little brother Johnny (played by Peter Miles), as well as the local Captain Marvel Fan Club (to which Biff and Johnny belong).

The Good Humor Man was the product of two comedy legends. Director Lloyd Bacon had started as an actor in films, appearing with Chaplin in such films as The Tramp (1915) and Easy Street (1917). He began his directorial career with comedy shorts (including 10 shorts for the legendary Mack Sennett) before going onto such feature films as 42nd Street (1933) and Footlight Parade (1933). Writer Frank Tashlin started out as an animator, first with Paul Terry's studio and later Warner Bros. and Disney. In 1946 he shifted from being an animator to being a gag writer for such talents as the Marx Brothers and Lucille Ball. His first feature film screen credit was as one of the writers for the musical Variety Girl (1947). In the years previous to The Good Humor Man, he wrote screenplays for such movies as The Fuller Brush Man, One Touch of Venus (1948), The Paleface (1948), and Love Happy (1949).

With Lloyd Bacon as director and Frank Tashlin as screenwriter, it should come as no surprise that The Good Humor Man largely plays out as the live-action equivalent of a classic Warner Bros. cartoon. Indeed, the gags in The Good Humor Man come as fast and furious as in any animated theatrical short of the time, and they get more and more outrageous as the movie progresses. What is more, the film features plenty of in-jokes for viewers who pay careful attention.

Strangely enough, even though The Good Humor Man plays out like a live-action cartoon, Frank Tashlin was not particularly happy with the movie. Along with the film Kill the Umpire (1950), Mr. Tashlin cited The Good Humor Man as an example of what directors and producers had done to his screenplays, commenting "See them and weep. Believe me, originally these were bright scripts, but when the butchers, right down to cutting, get through, you're ready to step in front of a fast freight." Frank Tashlin would go onto direct his own feature films, including The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), Son of Paleface (1952), and Susan Slept Here (1954), among others.

While The Good Humor Man is definitely a comedy, many might be surprised to discover that its source material was definitely not humorous. It was a very, very lose adaptation of  the story  "Appointment With Fear" by Roy Huggins, which had appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. It was one of three stories and one novel featuring private detective Stuart Bailey. The Stuart Bailey novel Double Take would provide the basis for the 1948 film noir I Love Trouble (Mr. Huggins also wrote the screenplay for the film). The adventures of Roy Huggins's detective Stuart Bailey later provided the basis for the TV show 77 Sunset Strip. By the way, if the name "Roy Huggins" sounds familiar, it is also because he also created the TV shows Maverick, The Fugitive, and The Rockford Files.

Of course, primarily of interest to fans of Golden Age comic books is the fact that Biff Jones is a Captain Marvel fan and even belongs to a Captain Marvel fan club. The Good Humor Man not only has plenty of vintage issues of Captain Marvel comic books on display, but also such Captain Marvel merchandise as Captain Marvel sweatshirts, Captain Marvel pennants, and so on. Fawcett Comics would even publish a comic book tied into the movie, Captain Marvel and the Good Humor Man. Curiously, Captain Marvel co-creator (with writer Bill Parker) C. C. Beck was not fond of The Good Humor Man. In an interview with the Fawcett Collectors of American, he said, "It was a pretty stupid movie and was made solely to attract readers of the Captain Marvel comic books, whom it treated as a bunch of empty-head juveniles who road around on bicycles shouting 'Niatpac Levram!" at the top of their voices." Another comic book connection in The Good Humor Man is the fact that George Reeves, soon to be Captain Marvel's archrival Superman in the classic TV show Adventures of Superman, plays detective Stuart Nagle in the film. Perhaps fittingly, Stuart Nagle is Biff's romantic rival (and more) in The Good Humor Man.

The Good Humor Man would get mixed to positive reviews. Variety gave the movie a fairly good review, referring to it as "...eighty minutes of fun and frolic." The Hollywood Reporter also liked The Good Humor Man and Jack Carson in particular, saying "The film is definitely Carson's show, designed to please his fans. He may find it difficult to top this job." On the other hand, Bosley Crowther in his review in The New York Times said of the film, "For we aren't underrating this effort when we say it does nothing to enhance the reputations of either the movies or a national confectioner's brand." He concluded his review by saying, "As we say, we might dignify this effort by calling it slapstick comedy. But slapstick implies a bright tradition. Let's not call it anything."

Jack Carson and Lola Albright apparently got along very well on The Good Humor Man. The two were married in 1952. That having been said, the marriage would not last long. They divorced in 1958, which was also the year that Miss Albright began playing Edie Hart on the hit detective series Peter Gunn.

While Frank, Tashlin, C. C. Beck, and Bosley Crowther might not have liked The Good Humor Man, I suspect most viewers, will, particularly fans of slapstick comedy and animated theatrical shorts from the Golden Age of Animation. The film is very funny, and Jack Carson is in top form, proving he could be much more than a supporting player. With The Good Humour Man, director Lloyd Bacon pulled out all the stops. Not only are the gags nearly non-stop, but they are often larger than life as well. My much older sister, who dislikes most classic films, actually loved the movie. While The Good Humor Man would not see the success of The Fuller Brush Man, there is every reason it should be as well known.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Fay McKenzie Passes On

Fay McKenzie, who appeared in five films with Gene Autry, as well as in a number of other films, died on April 16 2019 at the age of 101.

Fay McKenzie was born in Los Angeles, California on February 19 1918. Her parents were both in show business. Her mother was actress Eva McKenzie, who would appear in multiple feature films and short subjects. Her father was actor and director Bob McKenzie, who also appeared in multiple feature films and short subjects. She made her film debut when she was only ten weeks old in an uncredited part in the Gloria Swanson movie Station Content (1918). As a child she appeared in movies throughout the Twenties, including A Knight of the West (1921), When Love Comes (1922), The Judgement of the Storm (1924), The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln (1924), and Irene  (1926).

In the Thirties Miss McKenzie appeared in such films as Ferocious Pal (1934), Student Tour (1934), Boss Cowboy (1934), Arizona Bad Man (1935), Thunderbolt (1935), Lucky Terror (1936), Assassin of Youth (1938), Slander House (1938), Death Rides the Range (1939), All Women Have Secrets (1939), and When the Daltons Rode (1940). She had a small, uncredited role in Gunga Din (1939).  She appeared on Broadway in Meet the People.

It was in 1941 that Fay McKenzie first appeared with Gene Autry in the film Down Mexico Way. The film would prove successful, so that Miss McKenzie was paired with Mr. Autry for the movies Sierra Sue (1941), Home in Wyomin' (1942), Heart of the Rio Grande (1942), and Cowboy Serenade (1942). She also appeared in such movies as Remember Pearl Harbour (1942), The Singing Sheriff (1944), Murder in the Music Hall (1946), and Night and Day (1946). She appeared on Broadway in Burlesque.

Following her marriage to screenwriter Tom Waldman in 1948, Fay McKenzie's career slowed. She appeared in the films -30- (1959), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Experiment in Terror (1962), The Party (1968), and S.O.B. (1981). She said that last year she had shot a cameo for a movie titled Kill a Better Mousetrap. Miss McKenzie made a few appearances on television, guest starring on the shows The Millionaire, Mr. Lucky, The Tom Ewell Show, and Bonanza.

Fay McKenzie was always a pleasure to see on the screen. Pretty and wholesome, and gifted with a mellifluous voice, she was perfect for the many B Westerns in which she appeared. She was also a gifted vocalist, displaying her singing skills in such films as Murder in the Music Hall and Night and Day. She will always be remembered for her talents as an actress and a singer, and as one of Gene Autry's best leading ladies.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Godspeed Ken Kercheval

Ken Kercheval, best known for playing Cliff Barnes on the classic TV show Dallas and appearing in such films as Pretty Poison (1968) and Network (1976), died on April 21 2019 at the age of 83.

Ken Kercheval was born on July 15 1935 in Woolcotville, Indiana. He grew up in Clinton, Indiana. Mr. Kercheval attended the University of Indiana in Bloomington where he studied music and drama. He later attended the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. In 1956 he studied acting under Sanford Meisner at the Neighbourhood Playhouse in New York City.

Ken Kercheval made his Broadway debut in 1961 in The Young Abe Lincoln. He made his television debut the following year in an episode of Naked City. He made his film debut in 1968 in the film Pretty Poison. In the Sixties he appeared in the productions Something About a Soldier, Happily Never After, The Apple Tree, Cabaret, and Here's Where I Belong. On television he guest starred on episodes of The Defenders, The Nurses, The Trials of O'Brien, Hawk, and NET Playhouse. In the late Sixties he had regular roles on the soap operas Search for Tomorrow and The Secret Storm. He appeared in the movies Cover Me Babe (1970) and Rabbit, Run (1970).

It was in 1978 that Mr. Kercheval began playing the regular role of Cliff Barnes on the night-time soap opera Dallas. He played Cliff Barnes, the rival and bitter enemy of J. R. Ewing (played by Larry Hagman). Mr. Kercheval appeared on Dallas for the entirety of the series. Alongside Larry Hagman, he was the only cast member to appear on Dallas throughout the entire show. In the Seventies he continued as a regular on the daytime soap opera Search for Tomorrow. He appeared in the mini-series The Adams Chronicles. Mr. Kercheval also guest starred on the shows Get Christie Love!, How to Survive a Marriage, Beacon Hill, Rafferty, Family, Kojak, CHiPs, Starsky and Hutch, and Here's Boomer. He appeared on Broadway in Father's Day. He appeared in the movies The Seven-Ups (1973), Network (1976), The Lincoln Conspiracy (1977), and F.I.S.T. (1978).

Throughout the Eighties Ken Kercheval continued to appear as Cliff Barnes on Dallas. He guest starred on the TV shows Trapper John M.D., The Love Boat, Glitter, Hotel, You Are the Jury, Mike Hammer, Matlock, and Highway to Heaven. He appeared in such TV movies as The Patricia Neal Story, The Demon Murder Case, Calamity Jane, and Perry Mason: The Case of the Defiant Daughter. He appeared in the movie Corporate Affairs (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Kercheval guest starred on the TV shows L.A. Law; Murder, She Wrote; Dangerous Curves; In the Heat of the Night; The Golden Palace; Walker, Texas Ranger; Lovejoy; Burke's Law; ER; and Diagnosis Murder. He appeared in such TV movies as I Still Dream of Jeannie, A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Grimacing GovernorDallas: J.R. Returns, and Dallas: War of the Ewings. He appeared in the movies California Casanova (1991), Beretta's Island (1993), and Rusty: A Dog's Tale (1998).

In the Naughts Ken Kercheval appeared in the movies Blind Obsession (2001) and Corrado (2010). He guest starred on the TV show Crossing Jordan. In the Teens he returned to the role of Cliff Barnes in the revival of Dallas. He appeared in the movies The Promise (2017) and Surviving in L.A. (2019).

There can be no doubt that Ken Kercheval will always be remembered as Cliff Barnes on Dallas. Cliff was a complicated character. Although a bit of a bumbler, he was actually an intelligent man who had the misfortune of having to match wits with the much smarter J.R. Ewing. Very few actors, if any, could have played Cliff as well as Mr. Kercheval did. Of course, Ken Kercheval played many other roles besides Cliff Barnes. In Network  he played the small role of Merill Grant, a lawyer who speaks on behalf of network programmer Diana Christensen (played by Faye Dunaway). He played Buffalo Bill Cody in the TV movie Calamity Jane. In The Lincoln Conspiracy he played another historical figure, John Surratt. Ken Kercheval was an extremely talented actor who was capable of playing a wide variety of roles.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Late Great Koike Kazuo

Koike Kazuo, the prolific writer who co-created the manga Lone Wolf and Cub with artist artist Kojima Gōseki, died on April 17 2019 at the age of 82. He had been suffering from pneumonia.

Koike Kazuo born Tawaraya Seishu on May 8 1936 in Daisen, Akita Prefecture, Japan. He took the pen name Koike Kazuo very early in his career. He was trained by Golgo 13 creator Saito Takao. It was in 1970 that Lone Wolf and Cub (Kozure Ōkami, "Wolf taking along his child"), created by Messrs. Kazuo and Kojima, was first published. The manga quickly became a hit. In 1972 the first of six feature films based on the manga, was released. It was followed by a television series that ran from 1973 to 1976 and still later another television series that ran from 2002 to 2004. There was also a 1987 video game and there has been one follow up series.

It was in 1972 that Koike Kazuo collaborated with artist Kamimura Kazuo on the manga Lady Snowblood. Mr. Koike worked with Lone Wolf and Cub co-creator Kojima Gōseki in 1972 on the manga Samurai Executioner. In 1986 Mr. Koike worked with artist Ikegami Ryoichi on the manga Crying Freeman. Over the years Mr. Koike worked on such manga series as Path of the Assassin, Hanappe Bazooka, Wounded Man, Mad Bull 34, and Kawaite sōrō. Mr. Koike also worked on projects for Marvel, including Hulk: the Manga (exclusive to Japan) and X-Men Unlimited.

In 1977 he established the Koike Gekiga Sonjuku training school for manga writers and artists. Its graduates have included Fist of the North Star artist artist Hara Tetsuo and Vampire Hunter D writer Kikuchi Hideyuki. He later served as an instructor at Osaka University of Arts.

In Japan and elsewhere Koike Kazuo has had an enormous impact. Lone Wolf and Cub is one of the most successful manga series worldwide. In the United States it would have an impact on such comic book creators as Frank Miller and Max Allan Collins. Lady Snowblood would also have an impact. It was part of the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. Through his training school, Mr. Koike would have a lasting impact in training manga writers and artists who would go onto create their own influential manga series.

Koike Kazuo's success was largely due to the fact that he was able to create memorable, three dimensional characters. His devotion to developing characters was summed up by one of his quotes, "Comics are carried by characters. If a character is well created, the comic becomes a hit." This was certainly true of both Lone Wolf and Cub and Lady Snowblood. He also for a talent for capturing the feel of historical milieus, from the early Tokugawa Shogunate of Lone Wolf and Cub to the 19th Century Japan of Lady Snowblood. Between Mr. Koike's gift for creating great characters and his gift for capturing the feel of various eras, there should be little wonder he was such a success. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Happy Easter 2019

On various holidays here at A Shroud of Thoughts I post classic pinups. Easter is one of those holidays. For those of you who enjoy a bit of cheesecake with your Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies, then, here are this year's batch of Easter pinpups.

First up is Dorothy Hart, who is being stalked by a very creepy bunny!

Next up is Gloria DeHaven, who is riding a gigantic rabbit!

Here is Judith Barrett with some rather surrealistic looking rabbits (at least I think they are rabbits...).

Ina Mae Spivey is painting some eggs!

Felicia Farr is painting some really big eggs!

And here is the lovely Ann Miller on an Easter egg hunt!

Happy Easter!