Friday, January 15, 2021

O Pátio das Cantigas (1942)

 (This post is part of the Luso World Blogathon hosted by Crítica Retrô and Spellbound

O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) is a popular Portuguese comedy from the Forties. It proved to be very popular upon its initial release, so much so that the line "Evaristo, tens cá disto? ("Evaristo, do you have any of this?") even became a popular catchphrase in 1940s Portugal, much the same way "Do you feel lucky, punk?" from Dirty Harry (1971) became a popular catchphrase in the United States in the Seventies. O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) has remained highly regarded in Portugal ever since.

It was in 1933 that Estado Novo, the period of authoritarian rule in Portugal that lasted until 1974, began. During this period most motion pictures did take much in the way of chances. During the Thirties and Forties, most Portuguese films belonged to only a few genres, the most popular being comedies and historical dramas. Similarly, most movies avoided anything that could be construed as contradicting the ideology of Estado Novo. Conventional morality was emphasized and authority figures were respected. That having been said, it would be a mistake to think that O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) is a slight film with nothing in the way of depth, even though it is a comedy that contained nothing that would upset the Portuguese regime at the time.

Indeed, O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) runs a bit over two hours in length, with a somewhat episodic structure. Its title in English translates to "The Courtyard of Songs," and it centres on a relationships of people living in a Lisbon neighbourhood. Those relationships can sometimes be complicated. Young widow Rosa (Maria das Neves) finds herself at the middle of a romantic triangle with her suitors Narciso (Vasco Santana), a hard-working man her own age, and Evaristo (António Silva), the older, local grocer. Evaristo's daughter, Celeste (Laura Elves), is spoiled and self-centred. The young woman Suzana (Graça Maria) is in love Alfredo (Carlos Otero), whose brother Carlos (Antonio Vilar) has a flirtation with Suzana's sister Amália (Maria Paula).  Rufino (Francisco Ribeiro) is Narciso's partner when it comes to running the cafe. He is also a bit of an alcoholic and plays the guitar. O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) has a large cast of many characters, so these are not the only subplots in the film by any stretch of the imagination.

If O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) was a success upon its initial release and remains well-respected, it is perhaps because of the talent involved in making the film. O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) was directed by Ribeirinho (the birth name of Francisco Carlos Lopes Ribeiro), a well respected actor. Ribeirinho also appeared as the lead in the classic O Pai Tirano (1941), directed by his brother António Lopes Ribeiro. In O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) he played the drunk guitarist Rufino. António Lopes Ribeiro served as the producer on the movie. The writing credits on the film were shared by the two brothers, with actor Vasco Santana providing additional dialogue.  Both actors António Silva and Vasco Santana had long careers in the theatre before moving into the cinema.

While O Pátio das Cantigas (1942)  is not a musical, music plays a large role in the film. The movie is set during the popular festival of St. Anthony, when dancing and singing in the streets is not unknown. The sources for music are varied, from a ham radio to various musical instruments. So too are the genres of music, everything from opera to fado, a popular Portuguese music genre originating in the 19th Century. At one point Rufino even parodies popular Hollywood actress Carmen Miranda (who was born in Portugal, but grew up in Brazil). One has to suspect much of the success of O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) rests with the persistence of music in the film.

O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) was remade in 2015, although the remake failed to recapture the magic of the original. While O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) would remain the only film directed by Ribeirinho, he would appear as an actor in many more films. His brother, António Lopes Ribeiro, continued to direct films into the Fifties. Out of the films the two brothers made, O Pátio das Cantigas (1942) remains one of the best remembered. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

How Bewitched and Batman Saved ABC in the Sixties

Today ABC, the American Broadcasting Company, is considered one of the major broadcast networks. This was not always the case. Throughout the Fifties and into the Sixties, ABC was always a distant third in the ratings to the two older networks, CBS and NBC. ABC had fewer affiliates than either CBS or NBC. What is more, many of ABC's affiliates were on UHF stations and lower powered VHF stations. This made it difficult for ABC to compete with either CBS or NBC. Many markets lacked an ABC affiliate, so that ABC's shows would air on the local NBC or CBS affiliate at odd times of the day (KRCG in Jefferson City, MO aired them after 10 PM).  After having experienced some success with Westerns and detective shows (such as Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip) in the late Fifties and the early Sixties, in the mid-Sixties there were those who doubted that ABC would survive.

Of course, ABC's dire circumstances might not seem obvious to someone looking at the top thirty shows in the Nielsen ratings for the 1964-1965 season. After all, the second highest rated show for that season was Bewitched. Airing on ABC, Bewitched was brand new, having debuted that season. What is more, ABC had a total of six shows in the top thirty (Bewitched, The Fugitive, Combat!, My Three Sons, Peyton Place, The Addams Family, McHale's Navy, and The Lawrence Welk Show). While ABC had six shows in the top thirty, however, it also had several shows in the bottom thirty of the Nielsen ratings. What is more, in the mid-Sixties ABC had more than its share of financial woes. It lacked the money to adequately compete with CBS and NBC. It was the target of takeover attempts by such companies as General Electric, Gulf and Western Industries, International Telephone and Telegraph, Litton Industries, and Norton Simon.

ABC was then in real trouble when its fall 1965-1966 schedule was a catastrophic failure. Of the 11 new shows that ABC debuted that fall, only three would survive to a second season. Out of the 15 lowest rated shows airing during the first two weeks of the fall 1965-1966 season, seven of them aired on ABC. Worse yet, out of the ABC shows that had ranked in the top thirty for the 1964-1965 season, only two would remain in the top thirty for the 1965-1966 season, Bewitched and The Lawrence Welk Show. My Three Sons also remained in the top thirty, but it had been snatched up by rival CBS.

Certainly the success of Bewitched propped ABC up during the 1964-1965 season. The show ranked no. 2 during the 1964-1965 season, a rare feat for a brand new show. What is more, it maintained high ratings into its second season. For the 1965-1966 season it came in at no. 7 in the ratings, tied with The Beverly Hillbillies on CBS.  Given how catastrophic the start of the 1965-1966 season had been for ABC, however, the network was clearly in need of another hit.

To prevent the 1965-1966 season from being a total washout, ABC then elected to dramatically retool its schedule in January. Failing shows would either have their time slot changed or be cancelled outright. A number of brand new shows would debut. The changes to their schedule were so drastic that ABC hired Grey Advertising to promote those changes. It was copywriter Irwin Fredman who came up with the slogan "the Second Season," based on the idea that the changes ABC were making were so great that they constituted a whole new season. Here it must be pointed out that the idea of mid-season replacements was nothing new at the time. In the Fifties, Dragnet, The Bob Cummings Show, and Rawhide had all debuted as mid-season replacements. That having been said, ABC debuted more mid-season replacements in January 1966 than any network ever had before.

Among those replacements was Batman, on which ABC pinned its hopes. It debuted on January 12 1966. ABC began promoting Batman in December 1966 with the slogan, "Batman is Coming!" The network aired promos for the show nearly every hour on the hour. There was a large number of newspaper ads and billboards for the show. ABC even hired a skywriter to emblazon the slogan "Batman is Coming" above the Rose Bowl. Given the amount of promotion Baman received, it should perhaps be no surprise that it was a smash hit upon its debut. The debut episode, "Hi Diddle Riddle" achieved a phenomenal 27.3/49 rating in the Nielsen ratings. The show aired twice a week, and its second episode the next day also received phenomenal ratings. What is more, Batman maintained phenomenal ratings for the remainder of the season. It also became an outright fad, perhaps the biggest in television history. In 1966 Batman was everywhere, from tons of merchandise in stores to magazine covers.

For the fall 1965-1966 season, ABC would only have three shows in the top thirty: Bewitched, the two episodes per week of Batman, and The Lawrence Welk Show. That having been said, both Batman and Bewitched were in the top ten. Ultimately, while Bewitched had helped ABC survive the lean years of the mid-Sixties, Batman gave it the shot in the arm it needed.

The phenomenal success of Batman would not last. When it returned in the fall of 1966, its ratings were respectable, but not nearly what they once were. Throughout the season its ratings gradually fell, so that there was even some question as to whether or not it would be renewed for a third season. Indeed, while it was a top ten hit in its first season, in its second season it did not even rank in the top thirty. Batman would ultimately be renewed for a third season, which would also turn out to be its last. Its last original episode aired on March 14 1968.

That having been said, Batman did what ABC meant for it to do. It breathed new life into a network that was failing. The 1966-1967 season would be better for ABC, with five shows in the top thirty. For the rest of the Sixties, ABC would have anywhere form three to six shows in the top thirty of the Nielsens for each season. What is more, in the 1970-1971 season ABC had the no. 1 show on the air, Marcus Welby, M.D. This marked the first time ever ABC would have a no. 1 show.

Of course, there would be other factors that would help ABC improve its fortunes as the Sixties progressed. ABC would pick up new affiliates during the decade and into the Seventies. For example, KCBJ (now KMIZ) in Columbia, MO opened on December 5 1971. That having been said, Bewitched and Batman helped ABC survive what was a difficult decade for the network. Had it not been for those two shows, it is possible that the network might not have survived, at least not in any form as we have known it. As it was, ABC would continue to grow in the Seventies until it would become the number one network in the 1978-1979 season, a first for the network.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The 55th Anniversary of Batman '66: A Personal Recollection

Fifty-five years ago today, on January 12 1966, the television show Batman debuted. The show was inspired by Batman, the comic book superhero who at that point had been published for 27 years. William Dozier intended Batman to be adventure for kids, but comedy for adults. The show's combination of action for children and humour for adults is perhaps the reason it became an over-night sensation. Batman would become a phenomenon in its first few months, perhaps the biggest television-related fad of all time.

I have already written about Batman extensively on this blog, including a two-part post on its history (you can read it here). In celebration of its 55th anniversary, then, I have decided to discuss the impact the show had on me. On January 12 1966 I was only around two months shy of my third birthday. For that reason I certainly don't remember anything about the premiere of Batman, nor do I remember watching the show's first season episodes when they first aired. My earliest memories of watching Batman came from when I was around four years old, by which time the show was nearly coming to an end. That having been said, it is one of the earliest shows I can remember watching. It was also one of my favourites, along with Underdog and The Monkees.

While I remember very little of the original network run of Batman, I do remember the huge amount of merchandise for the show. I remember my Uncle J.E. had a Montgomery Ward catalogue that contained a whole two pages of nothing but Batman toys. I also remember seeing Batman goods in stores. And there was certainly a large number of Batman merchandise to be had in the Sixties, everything from toy versions of the Batmobile to Batman's utility belt. It seems likely to me that Batman and Robin were the first superheroes of which I was aware, even before Superman.

Of course, Batman was cancelled in 1968, its last original episode airing on March 14 1968 (four days after my fifth birthday). This is not to say the show was not still popular with the younger set. I remember in kindergarten and first grade, the favourite show of the boys in my class was generally either going to be Batman or Daniel Boone. I remember many of my classmates had Batman lunchboxes and many of them dressed as Batman for Halloween. Given its continued popularity with children around the United States, not to mention many adults probably still enjoyed it as well, it should come as no surprise that Batman would have a very successful run as a syndicated rerun. Indeed, it is still being shown today on local channels, cable channels, and streaming services.

It may well be impossible for me to entirely assess the impact that Batman had on me. Batman became my favourite superhero, even after exposure to other superheroes (Superman, Aquaman, Spider-Man, et. al) in Saturday morning cartoons. In fact, the first comic book I ever read was a Batman comic book and I remember what it was. It was Batman no. 234 (August 1971), which featured the story "Twice an Evil." "Twice an Evil" is significant as it marks the first appearance of the villain Two-Face since 1954. Of course, the Batman that appeared in "Twice an Evil" was very different from the Batman of the 1966 TV show. "Twice an Evil" was part of the run of writer Denny O'Neil and artist Neal Addams on the character Batman. Messrs. O'Neil and Addams returned Batman to being a grim avenger who fought crime at night, quite a contrast to the camp of the Sixties. If anything, I loved this version of Batman even more than the Batman of the 1966 TV series.

Of course, my love of Batman led me to a love of comic books in general. Within a few years I had hundreds of comic books and I decided that I wanted to write them when I grew up. I even wrote and illustrated my own comic books with my own original characters as a kid. Eventually I would begin writing prose short stories and a bit later non-fiction. If I became a writer, it is then in a large part because of Batman. Had I not been exposed to the 1966 series Batman, it is possible that my life might have unfolded very differently.

Here I have to say my experience is not at all isolated. I know several people my age or even younger who saw Batman as children and remain huge fans of the show to this day. I know among DC Comics fans the show remains popular, even among those who prefer the current Dark Knight to the Caped Crusader of the TV show. One of the many things my dearest Vanessa Marquez and I had in common was a love of the TV show Batman. Of course, having been born on December 21 1968, Vanessa had to discover the show in reruns.

I have remained a fan of the 1966 Batman television show my entire life. Even now I sometimes watch episodes of the show on the Roku Channel. In fact, the very first movie I watched this year was the 1966 movie spun off from the TV show, now often called Batman: The Movie. Batman opened me up to a whole new world, not just comic books, but the world of writing as well. I then owe the TV show more than I could possibly repay. It is for that reason that the debut of Batman on January 12 1966 is an important date for me, even though I can't remember it.