Saturday, September 25, 2021

Catch Us If You Can (1965)

In late 1963 the United Kingdom was overwhelmed by Beatlemania. In the wake of The Beatles' success, other beat bands came to prominence. Among these bands was The Dave Clark Five, for a brief time considered The Beatles' chief rivals. The Dave Clark Five would hit no. 1 on the UK singles chart with "Glad All Over" and then no. 2 on the UK singles chart with "Bits and Pieces." While The Dave Clark Five would not repeat this success in the United Kingdom, they proved extremely popular in the United States, where they would ultimately have 10 top ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100. It was quite natural, then, that following the release of The Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night (1964) The Dave Clark Five would star in their own movie.

While at the time other movies starring British rock bands simply imitated The Beatles' movies A Hard Day's Night and Help! (1965) or, at the very least , the movies of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard, The DC5's movie Catch Us If You Can (1965) was something entirely different. The Dave Clark Five do not play a band, but instead a crew of stuntmen. At no point in the movie do they play instruments or sing songs, so it is difficult to even say it is even a British rock musical. In fact, Dave Clark's character is named "Steve," although the rest of the band get to use their own names. Catch Us If You Can is further set apart from other movies starring British rock bands in that Dave Clark is definitely the star of the movie, with rest of The DC5 playing supporting roles. This is a sharp contrast to The Beatles' movies, in which The Beatles more or less share the spotlight together.

What is more, while other movies starring British rock bands, including The Beatles' films, are comedies, Catch Us If You Can is an at times dark satire. Indeed, more than one critic described the movie as "melancholy." In Catch Us If You Can The Dave Clark Five play a crew of stuntmen. It is while filming a commercial for the advertising campaign "Meat to Go" that Steve becomes disenchanted with his job. He bonds with the young actress, model, and "Meat to Go" poster girl, Dinah (Barbara Ferris), who has also become disillusioned with her work. The two then flee in a Jaguar for Burgh Island. They are pursued by the police, publicists, and journalists. In the meantime the advertising agency behind the "Meat to Go" campaign decide to milk the incident for publicity, cooking up a fake story about Dinah having been kidnapped. Catch Us if You Can often seems less like a vehicle for a rock band than it does an attack on advertising and consumerism, and an examination of the difficulty of remaining authentic and the meaning of success.

If it might seem odd for a band to be named for their drummer,  Dave Clark was not The DC5's was the driving force in the band. He was also The Dave Clark Five's manager and controlled nearly every aspect of the band's career. There can be no doubt that he had a good deal of input into the movie. Indeed, Dave Clark had worked as a stuntman. It was reportedly Dave Clark who chose John Boorman to direct the film, marking his feature film debut. Mr. Boorman had directed television documentaries and had been the head of the BBC's Documentary Unit in Bristol. He would go onto direct Deliverance (1972) and Excalibur (1981). The script was written by Peter Nichols, who had worked extensively in television.

While Dave Clark was definitely the star of Catch Us If You Can, the other members of The Dave Clark Five did get their moments in the spotlight. This was particularly true of guitarist Lenny Davidson. Throughout the entire film Lenny Davidson does not get to say a word as someone else interrupts him before he even has a chance to speak. At the Arts Ball costume party in the movie he even comes as Harpo Marx. Of course, to stay in character, he can't speak. 

Catch Us If You Can was released in the United Kingdom on July 15 1965. In the United States, for some odd reason, it was retitled Having a Wild Weekend. While "Having a Wild Weekend" was a song in the movie, it was not the movie's single in the United Kingdom or the United States (that was "Catch Us If You Can") and would never be released as a single. One can only assume that some American marketer decided that Having a Wild Weekend was a better title. Regardless, it was released in the US on August 18 1965.

Catch Us If You Can did not perform particularly well at the box office in the United Kingdom. It did not even perform well in the United States, where The DC5 were much more popular. The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics. Pauline Kael gave the movie a somewhat positive review, stating that it was " of those films that linger in the memory." Bosley Crowther also gave Catch Us If You Can a positive review, calling it a "..fresh and fetching British film." While Pauline Kael and Bosley Crowther liked the film, Dwight MacDonald did not. Writing in Esquire, he said of Catch Us If You Can, "The photography and the direction are atrocious, the jokes painful, the structure really chaotic, the spontaneity arthritic, and The Dave Clark Five remarkably uncharming and unwitty." Of cousre, in defence of The DC5, it must be pointed out that Mr. MacDonald hated The Beatles' Help! as well.

Rock music changed rapidly as the Sixties progressed. And while many of the early beat bands kept pace with these changes, The Dave Clark Five did not. By 1967 The DC5, whose success was once close to that of The Beatles in the US, were passée. In the years since Dave Clark , who controlled the band's catalogue, did not make their recordings available except in the occasional compilation. The end result has been that The Dave Clark Five, once regarded as rivals to The Beatles, have largely been forgotten. Catch Us If You Can is now remembered by many as the directorial debut of John Boorman. That having been said, it is a remarkable movie that stands apart form other Sixties movies starring rock bands. In many ways it is a forerunner to the darker films about Swinging London that emerged in the mid-Sixties, including Blowup (1967). It is certainly well worth checking out, particularly for fans of British music of the Sixties or movies about Swinging London.

Friday, September 24, 2021

The 8th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon

The Eighth Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon has arrived! The Rule, Britannia Blogathon is meant to celebrate classic, British films. While many think of Hollywood when they think of movies, the fact is that many classic films originated in the United Kingdom. From the Gainsborough melodramas to the Ealing comedies to the Hammer Horrors, the United Kingdom has made many contributions to classic film. The British Invaders Blogathon will last from today (September 24) through Sunday (September 26).

Without further ado, here are this year's entries:

Realweegiemidget Reviews: "Venom (1981)"

Films From Beyond the Time Barrier: "Night Creatures (AKA Captain Clegg 1962)

Cinematic Catharsis: "The Epic of Everest"

Cinema Essentials: "The Thirty Nine Steps (1978)"

Caftan Woman: "The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)"

Dubism: "Classic Movies My Wife Hates--Episode 5--Doctor Zhivago" 

Silver Scenes: "The Sinister Man (1961)--An Edgar Wallace Mystery"

Silver Screenings: "Leading Britain in War and Fashion"

A Shroud of Thoughts: "Catch Us If You Can (1965)"

Crítica Retrô: "The Fallen Idol (1948)" 

Silver Scenes: "The Loves of Joanna Godden (1947)"

18 Cinema Lane:
"Take 3: Kingdom of Heaven Review"

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The 60th Anniversary of NBC Saturday Night at the Movies

It was sixty years ago today, on September 23 1961, that Saturday Night at the Movies debuted on NBC. By the mid-Sixties it would be renamed NBC Saturday Night at the Movies, perhaps to avoid confusion with the other movie anthology shows airing on the other two networks. NBC Saturday Night at the Movies was historic in that it was the first movie anthology series to air recently released movies, many of them in colour. This set it apart from the movie anthology shows on local stations (such as Movie 4 on WNBC in New York City), which were generally limited to older films made before 1946.

Of course, NBC Saturday Night at the Movies was not the very first movie anthology show to air on an American broadcast network.  ABC had aired an earlier movie anthology series, Famous Film Festival, in the 1955-1956 season. What set Famous Film Festival apart from Saturday Night at the Movies is that it was only aired in black and white and it aired British films from J. Arthur Rank Productions. Furthermore, it was only ninety minutes in length, so that films were either heavily edited or aired in two parts. In 1957 ABC aired Hollywood Film Festival, which aired movies from RKO made before 1948. What set NBC Saturday Night at the Movies apart from these two earlier movie anthologies is that it  aired films made after 1948 in colour and with minimal editing for time and content (at least in the early days).

The impetus behind the creation behind the creation of Saturday Night at the Movies was quite simply rival CBS's line-up on Saturday night. CBS dominated the night with Perry Mason (no. 16 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1960-1961 season), Checkmate (no. 21 for the same season), Have Gun--Will Travel (no. 3 for the year), and Gunsmoke (the no. 1 show on television). It was then in order to better compete with CBS that NBC bought the broadcast rights to 31 films made after 1949 from 20th Century Fox. The first movie aired on Saturday Night at the Movies was How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). While the film was eight years old, it was still much more recent than many of the films that had previously aired on American television. Other films aired in the first season of Saturday Night at the Movies included There's No Business Like Show Business (1954), Broken Arrow (1950), Cheaper By The Dozen (1950), and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). The most recent film aired that first season was Soldier of Fortune (1955).

The length of any given edition of NBC Saturday Night at the Movies could vary. When a film did not fill out the entire two hours scheduled, theatrical trailers or "making of" featurettes would be shown after the movie. Sometimes longer movies would run past the two hours usually scheduled, pushing back the late local news by a few minutes. As some of the films were filmed in widescreen processes, some films were panned-and-scanned to fit the aspect ratio of television screens of the era. Letterboxing would not exist for decades.

Saturday Night at the Movies did indeed make NBC more competitive with its rival CBS. In fact, Gunsmoke began dropping gradually in the ratings over the following seasons. In the 1961-1962 season it had dropped to no. 3. In the 1962-1963 season it dropped to no.10. By the 1966-1967 season Gunsmoke had dropped out of the top 30 of the Nielsen ratings for the year and CBS executives cancelled the show. The furore that ensued over the cancellation of the Western, not to mention the fact that it was the favourite show of Babe Paley (wife of CBS's CEO William S. Paley) led to it being returned to the schedule in a new Monday night timeslot.

The success of Saturday Night at the Movies also led to further movie anthologies, both on NBC and other networks. It was during the 1962-1963 season that NBC found itself without sponsors for the shows It's a Man's World and Saints and Sinners on Monday night. As it is, neither show ever had any success in the Nielsen ratings. At the same time NBC wanted to compete with rival CBS's powerful Monday night line-up, which included such hits as The Lucy Show, The Danny Thomas Show, and The Andy Griffith Show. NBC then decided to air another movie anthology show on Monday nights. They purchased $15 million worth of movies from MGM and 20th Century Fox, including The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Father of the Bride (1950), Life is a Many Spendored Thing (1955), and Executive Suite (1954) among others. Monday Night at the Movies debuted on February 4 1963. It did not repeat the success of Saturday Night at the Movies. so NBC moved its second movie anthology to Wednesday nights for the 1964-1965 season. For the 1965-1966 season NBC's second movie anthology was moved to Tuesday nights, where it would remain for years.

It was not long after NBC debuted Monday Night at the Movies that ABC debuted its first movie anthology, Hollywood Special, on Sunday night. ABC had purchased 15 United Artists movies for Hollywood Special. Debuting on April 8 1962, it would not return for the 1963-1964 season. It was at the start of the 1964-1965 season that ABC launched the successor to Hollywood Special, The ABC Sunday Night Movie. It remained on the air until 1998. As to CBS, as the no. 1 network, it held off on its first movie anthology until the 1965-1966 season. That season CBS launched CBS Thursday Night Movies.

The demand for movies on the various movie anthology shows on the networks would lead to the production of made-for-TV movies. While the first made-for-TV movie is generally considered See How They Run in 1964 (more on that later), an argument can be made that they had existed since the Fifties. There were filmed TV specials that exceeded an hour in length, such as The Pied Piper of Hamelin in 1957, that could be counted as made-for-TV movies. There were also filmed episodes of such anthology shows as Hallmark Hall of Fame and Playhouse 90 that were longer than an hour that could also qualify as made-for-TV movies. Regardless, it was in the 1963-1964 season that NBC and Universal (then two separate companies) decided to produce made-for-TV movies. The first made-for-TV movie in the project was to have been an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's The Killers, but it was deemed too violent for broadcast and was released theatrically instead. The first to actually be broadcast was then See How They Run, starring John Forsythe. It aired on October 7 1964 and ushered in the era of made-for-TV movies.

While the television networks began making made-for-TV movies, the feature films aired on the various movie anthologies gradually became more recent in vintage. When How to Marry a Millionaire aired on the first edition of Saturday Night at the Movies, it was eight years old. In the 1963-1964 season there was another Marilyn Monroe vehicle, Lets Make Love (1960). It was only three years old when it aired on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies. As the Sixties progressed, films aired on the various network movie anthologies could be as young as two years old, a sharp contrast to when Saturday Night at the Movies had debuted.

Over the years a number of different announcers worked on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies In its early years the most familiar might have been Don Stanley, who also served as an announcer for other NBC shows as well as for KNBC in Los Angeles. Later on such announcers as Donald Rickles, Peggy Taylor, and Victor Bozeman worked on the show.  For much of the movie anthology's run, its announcers all worked out of NBC's studios in Burbank, but towards the end of its run their announcers from New York would announce the movies, even though the bumpers were still handled by the West Coast announcing staff.

As mentioned earlier, movies were occasionally edited to fit in the allotted time and for content as well. Editing for content would become a greater cause for concern as the Sixties progressed. In fact, in at least one instance a film was edited so heavily that it became an entirely different movie. Under the title Kiss of Evil, the Hammer film The Kiss of the Vampire (1963) aired on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies on March 18 1967. In editing the film for television, the movie's American distributor, Universal, trimmed so much time that new footage had to be shot in order for it to fit in the allotted time. The new footage introduced characters who interact with no one else in the movie.

The success of NBC Saturday Night at the Movies was so great that by 1968 there was a movie anthology on every night of the week. NBC itself had three different movie anthologies on the schedule. It was perhaps because of the glut of movie anthologies on the network's schedule that eventually NBC Saturday Night at the Movies would go into decline. While other movie anthologies would continue into the Nineties and even the Naughts, NBC Saturday Night at the Movies ended its original run in October 1978. It was revived for a time in the 2000-2001 season. Since then NBC has only occasionally shown theatrical movies. Since May 2020 NBC has irregularly aired movies under the title NBC Movie Night.

While NBC Saturday Night at the Movies would not last as long as other movie anthologies, it was the one that had the most impact. It was the first to air recently released movies and in colour at that. Its success spurred the creation of further movie anthologies, some of which lasted into this century. In the end NBC Saturday Night at the Movies changed American television to such a point that it would not be the same without it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Godspeed Willie Garson

Willie Garson, who played Mozzie on the TV series White Collar and appeared on numerous other shows, died yesterday, September 21 2021, at the age of 57. The cause was pancreatic cancer.

Willie Garson was born William Garson Paszamant in Highland Park, New Jersey. He studied theatre at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale Drama School.

Willie Garson made his television debut in the mini-series The Deliberate Stranger. Later in the Eighties he had recurring roles on Mr. Belvedere and It's a Living. He guest starred on the shows Family Ties, Cheers, You Again?, The New Gidget, The Disney Sunday Movie, My Two Dads, Newhart, Coach, Chicken Soup, Thirtysomething, and Booker. He made his movie debut in Troop Beverly Hills in 1989. He also appeared in the movies Brain Dead (1990), Across the Tracks (1990), The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990), and Repossessed (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Garson had a recurring role on NYPD Blue. He was a regular on the short-lived sitcom Ask Harriet. He guest starred on the shows Twin Peaks, American Playhouse, Quantum Leap, L.A. Law, Flying Blind, A League of Their Own, Moon Over Miami, Renegade, Black Sheep, Pig Sty, The Monroes, Madtv, Partners, Mad About You, The Single Guy, Touched by an Angel, VR.5, Caroline in the City, The Practice, Melrose Place, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ally McBeal, Conrad Bloom, Party of Five, Star Trek: Voyager, Friends, Just Shoot Me!, Early Edition, Boy Meets World, Nash Bridges, The X-Files, City of Angels, Hollywood Off-Ramp, Level 9, and Spin City. He appeared in the movies Soapdish (1991), Mobsters (1991), Ruby (1992), When the Party's Over (1992), Groundhog Day (1992), Untamed Heart (1993), Every Breath (1994), Speechless (1994), Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995), The Tie That Binds (1995), Cityscrapes: Los Angles (1996), The Destiny of Marty Fine (1996), The Rock (1996), Kingpin (1996), Mars Attacks! (1996), Alone in the Woods (1996), Cyclops, Baby (1997), There's Something About Mary (1998), Living Out Loud (1998), The Suburbans (1999), Play It to the Bone (1999), Fortress 2 (2000), What Planet Are You From? (2000), and Our Lips Are Sealed (2000).

In the Naughts Willie Garson began his long run as Mozzie, con man and the best friend of protagonist Neal Caffrey, on White Collar. He was a regular on the short-lived show John from Cincinnati. He played the recurring role of Stanford Blatch, a friend of protagonist Carrie Bradshaw, on Sex in the City. He guest starred on the shows Going to California; Special Unit 2; Taken; Greetings from Tuscon; CSI: Crime Scene Investigation; All About the Andersons; Yes, Dear; The Division; Monk; Wild Card; Las Vegas, Stargate SG-1; CSI: Miami; Chocolate News; Wizards of Waverly Place; Pushing Daisies; Medium; Mental; and Imagination Movers. He appeared in the movies Out Cold (2001), Thank Heaven (2001), Luster (2002), Freaky Friday (2003), A Problem with Fear (2004), Seeing Other People (2004), House of D (2004), Fever Pitch (2005), Just Like Heaven (2005), Little Manhattan (2005), The TV Set (2006), Zoom (2006), Hard Four (2007), Beau Jest (2008), Sex and the City (2008), Shannon's Rainbow (2009), Labor Pains (2009), Sex and the City 2 (2010), Monster Heroes (2010), and Ashley's Ashes.

In the Teens Willie Garson continued to play Mozzie on White Collar. He played one of the leads on the TV series Whole Day Down. He had a recurring role on Hawaii Five-0. He guest starred on the shows The Whole Truth, Hot in Cleveland, In Session with Jonathan Pessin, Two and a Half Men, Wendell and Vinnie, How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life), Girl Meets World, Franklin & Bash, The Mysteries of Laura, Salvation, Conversations in L.A., Magnum P.I. (2018), Supergirl, Quarantine, and Big Mouth. He appeared in the movies Walk of Shame (2014), Trust Fund (2016), The Polka King (2017), Feed (2017), 7 Days in Vegas (2017), The Bellmen (2020), and Magic Camp (2020). This year he appeared in the movie Before I Go. He was set to appear in the Sex and the City sequel And Just Like That.

Willie Garson was an incredible actor. It was largely due to his performance that Mozzie is often the favourite character of many White Collar fans. Mozzie had a knack for uncovering information others could not and he had a photographic memory as well. And while he was a con man, he often tended to be soft-hearted. Of course, Mozzie was not the only role Willie Garson played. In the X-Files episode "The Goldberg Variation," he played Henry Meems, a man with a fascination for Rube Goldberg devices who seems to be able to defy death. On NYPD Blue, he played the maintenance man of protagonist Bobby Simone's apartment, Henry Coffield. Although he was known for playing lovable characters, Willie Garson could play unsympathetic characters as well. On the TV show Taken, he played a Dr. Kreutz, a former Nazi scientist who has no qualms about how he test subjects in experiments. Willie Garson was a wonderful actor who could play a wide variety of roles and play all of them very well.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Anthony Johnson Passes On

Actor Anthony Johnson, sometimes credited as A. J. Johnson, died on September 6 2021 at the age of 55. A cause of death has yet be released. Mr. Johnson appeared in such movies as House Party (1990) and Friday (1995).

Anthony Johnson was born on February 1 1966 in Compton, California. His father, Eddie Smith, was a stuntman who co-founded the Black Stuntmen's Association. His father helped him get his foot in the door of the entertainment industry by getting him work behind the scenes. He made his television debut in the TV movie Puss in Boots in 1982. In the Eighties he also appeared in a bit part in an episode of the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. In 1990 he made his feature film debut in House Party.

In the Nineties Anthony Johnson appeared in the movies Lethal Weapon 3 (1992), Menace II Society (1993), House Party (1994), Panther (1995), The Great White Hope (1996), B*A*P*S* (1997), How to Be a Player (1997), The Players Club (1998), Woo (1998), I Got the Hook Up (1998), and Rising to the Top (1999). He guest starred on the shows South Central, The Parent 'Hood, Moesha, Martin, Malcolm & Eddie, and The Jamie Foxx Show.

In the Naughts he appeared in the movies O (2001), On the Edge (2002), Sweet Hideaway (2003), and Hittin' It (2004). In the Teens he appeared in the movies Undercover Princesses (2016), Candy (2017), Hey, Mr. Postman (2018), Consequenez (2018), I Got The Hook Up 2 (201), and The Dummy (2019). He appeared in the TV movie Office Staff.

Quite simply, Anthony Johnson was a very funny man, and that translated well not only in his work as a comedian, but in his work as an actor as well. He had a gift for delivering lines so that they were funnier than if they had been delivered by someone else. Few comedians and actors could light up the screen the way he did.

Monday, September 20, 2021

TCM Backlot Is Closing

TCM Backlot, Turner Classic Movies' official fan club, is closing in October. According to TCM's announcement when it launched, TCM Backlot was meant to give fans "..unprecedented access to all things TCM including exclusive content, never-before-seen talent interviews, archival videos from the TCM vault, an exclusive TCM podcast, as well as opportunities to win visits to the TCM set, attend meet and greets with TCM hosts and the opportunity to influence programming through online votes."

Turner Classic Movies announced the launch of TCM Backlot on April 27 2016. Initially a subscription to the fan club cost $87 a year. It was in March 2018 that they introduced a monthly subscription of $7.97 a month. It was very early in the history of TCM Backlot that they introduced local chapters. Local chapters of TCM Backlot were officially sanctioned groups of TCM fans who would meet regularly to discuss movies, watch movies, and take part in other events. The TCM Backlot local chapter program proved popular and several major cities boasted local chapters. Sadly, the TCM Backlot local chapter program would be discontinued in September 2019, but many of the local chapters would continue as unofficial TCM fan clubs to this day.

TCM Backlot also had its own events. Many of these would take place at the TCM Classic Film Festival. Every year there would be TCM in Your Hometown contest, whereby Turner Classic Movies would come to the winner's hometown with a free screening of a classic movie. The winner of the 3rd TCM in Your Hometown contest was Lisa Buchhold, who sent in a pitch for St. Louis. On September 26, then, TCM hosted a free screening of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at the Tivoli Theatre in University City in St. Louis. There was a V.I.P. Meet & Greet with Ben Mankiewicz and Margaret O'Brien (who played Tootie in the movie) at the Moonrise Hotel. Before the movie there was a special introduction and Q&A with Margaret O'Brien. This was the one TCM Backlot event I got to attend and I enjoyed it immensely. Aside from meeting Ben Mankiewicz in person and Margaret O'Brien, I also got to meet many of my TCM pals for the first time.

Of course, at the TCM Classic Film Festival, the TCM Classic Cruise, and the various TCM Backlot events, there were also exclusive pins. TCM Backlot members would also receive early access to the TCM Boutique, the portion of the TCM Shop where one can get TCM Classic Film Festival merchandise.

On the TCM Backlot web page there was exclusive access to articles, interviews, videos, and so on. There were several online votes in which members could vote for which star would get a day of programming. TCM Backlot members were also able to submit trivia questions for the various TCM Big Screen Classics.

Unfortunately, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic would take a toll on TCM Backlot. It was last year that TCM Backlot announced that it would not longer be accepting new memberships or renewals. At the time many TCM Backlot members assumed this would be temporary and they would eventually begin accepting new memberships again. Articles continued to be published on the website, votes continued to be held, and submissions for trivia questions continued as well. Still, in many ways the announcement that TCM Backlot would close in October came as no surprise to many.

Having joined TCM Backlot in 2018, I have to say that I am sad to see it go. I got a good deal of enjoyment out of TCM Backlot and, after all, it was through TCM Backlot that I not only got to see Meet Me in St. Louis on the big screen, but I got to meet Margaret O'Brien as well. I enjoyed reading the many articles and browsing the archive of old interviews, old promos, and old introductions in the video vault. I honestly wish TCM would reconsider and continue TCM Backlot. Eventually this pandemic will end and once that happens, TCM Backlot could return to its former glory. Regardless, I know I will miss TCM Backlot.