Saturday, February 5, 2022

The Nicholas Brothers in Stormy Weather

If I had to choose the greatest dance sequence in a movie of all time, it would be Nicholas Brothers' dance to Cab Calloway's "Jumpin' Jive" I'm not alone in thinking that. No less than Fred Astaire called the sequence the greatest he had ever seen. What makes this sequence all the more remarkable is that it was filmed in one take. It wasn't even rehearsed. Such was the talent of the Nicholas Brothers that they could create the greatest dance sequence of all time without practising it or rehearsing it.

Watch the clip below and you will see what I mean.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

The Beatles: Get Back

As a Beatles fan I had to watch The Beatles: Get Back, the documentary mini-series currently on Disney+. For those of you wondering exactly what The Beatles: Get Back is, it will take some explaining. It was in January 1969 that The Beatles gathered at  Twickenham Film Studios for a planned television documentary that would include a live performance. The Beatles rehearsed at Twickenham Film Studios for several days before moving to Apple Studios to record. It was on January 30 1969 that The Beatles performed their famous concert atop the rooftop of Apple Studios.  Ultimately, sixty hours of film footage was shot, as well as over 150 hours of audio recorded for the project then titled Get Back and later renamed Let It Be.

Only about 80 minutes worth of footage would find its way into the 1970 documentary Let It Be. With the cooperation of the surviving Beatles (Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr) and the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison, as well as producer George Martin's son Giles Martin, director Peter Jackson then set about putting together The Beatles: Get Back using much of the footage that did not find its way into the documentary Let It Be.

The resulting documentary series is fascinating in that it puts to rest some myths surrounding the Get Back sessions. For years Beatles fans and others have believed that by the time of the Get Back sessions, The Beatles were at each others' throats and not all getting along well. The Beatles: Get Back paints a very different picture. While The Beatles do have their disagreements (indeed, George Harrison even quits the band for several days), The Beatles: Get Back shows that The Beatles were still four friends with great affection for each other. The documentary series also puts to rest the idea that Yoko Ono broke up The Beatles. In The Beatles: Get Back, Yoko Ono's presence at Twickenham Film Studios and Apple Studios is totally unobtrusive. She passes the time reading the newspaper, knitting, and doing crossword puzzles, or talking with the other Beatle wives. What is more, the other Beatles seem to genuinely like Yoko. In many ways her presence in the studio is much like Linda McCartney's. Both wives seemed content to stay out of The Beatles' way and let them do their thing.

Beyond dispelling various myths about The Beatles, The Beatles: Get Back gives fans a chance to see some of the band's classic songs in their earliest stages. These are not only the songs that would wind up on the album Let It Be, but even songs that would wind up on Abbey Road (or in the case of "Old Brown Shoe," the B-side of a single) or on The Beatles' later solo projects. Among the songs we get to see evolve in the documentary series are "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight," "Mean Mr. Mustard," "Octopus's Garden," and yet others. We also get to see The Beatles perform a wide variety of classic songs, from "What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?" to "Milk Cow Blues" to "Shake, Rattle and Roll." The soundtrack to The Beatles: Get Back makes it worth watching. Let's face it, where else is one going to get to see The Beatles perform "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody?"

If there is one drawback to The Beatles: Get Back, it could be the utter length of the series. Each of the three episodes clocks in at well over two hours, with Episode 2 clocking in at nearly three hours in length. While this would hardly be a hurdle for die-hard Beatles fans (it wasn't for me), I am worried some more casual fans might bail on the series before finishing it. My advice to more casual fans who might find the length of The Beatles: Get Back intimidating is to so simply watch it in smaller chunks. The documentary goes day by day, so it is easy to stop watching an episode and then take it back up at a later time.

The Beatles: Get Back is an incredible achievement on Peter Jackson's part and it shows the last days of The Beatles in an entirely new light. For anyone who is a Beatles fan, anyone who is interested in the music of the Sixties, or anyone who is interested in Anglophonic pop culture, The Beatles: Get Back comes highly recommended.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

The Late Great Monica Vitti

Monica Vitti, known as the Queen of Italian Cinema, died today, February 2 2022, at the age of 90. The cause was complications from Alzheimer's disease.

Monica Vitti was born Maria Luisa Ceciarelli in Rome on November 3 1931. As a teenager she appeared in amateur theatrical productions. She attended the National Academy of Dramatic Arts in Rome, from which she graduated in 1953. She toured Germany with an Italian acting troupe and her first appearance on stage in Rome was in a production of La Mandragola.

Monica Vitti made her film debut in an uncredited role in Ridere! Ridere! Ridere! (1954). In the late Fifties she appeared in the films Una pelliccia di visone (1956) and Le dritte (1958). Her big break came with  Michelangelo Antonioni's  L'avventura (1960), in which played the somewhat detached protagonist searching for one of her friends. She made her television debut in the mini-series L'alfiere (1956). In the late Fifties she appeared on television in the TV movie Questi ragazzi, the TV movie Il tunnel, the TV series Mont-Oriol, and the TV movie Il borghese gentiluomo.

In the Sixties Monica Vitti appeared in the movies La notte (1961), Les quatre vérités (1962), Dragées au poivre (1963), Château en Suède (1963), Alta infedeltà (1964), Il deserto rosso (1964), Il disco volante (1964), Le bambole (1965), Modesty Blaise (1966), Le fate (1966), Fai in fretta ad uccidermi... ho freddo! (1967), Ti ho sposato per allegria (1967), Ti ho sposato per allegria (1967), La ragazza con la pistola (1968), La femme écarlate (1969), Amore mio aiutami (1969), Dramma della gelosia (tutti i particolari in cronaca) (1970), Ninì Tirabusciò, la donna che inventò la mossa (1970), Le coppie (1970), and La pacifista - Smetti di piovere (1970). On television she appeared in the TV movie Le notti bianche  and the TV series Les fables de La Fontaine.

In the Seventies she appeared in the movies La supertestimone (1971), Noi donne siamo fatte così (1971), Gli ordini sono ordini (1972), La Tosca (1973), Teresa la ladra (1973), Polvere di stelle (1973), Le fantôme de la liberté (1974), A mezzanotte va la ronda del piacere (1975), Qui comincia l'avventura (1975), L'anatra all'arancia (1975), Mimì Bluette... fiore del mio giardino (1976), Basta che non si sappia in giro!.. (1976), L'altra metà del cielo (1977), La raison d'état (1978), Per vivere meglio, divertitevi con noi (1978), Amori miei (1978), Letti selvaggi (1979), An Almost Perfect Affair (1979), Il mistero di Oberwald (1980), and Non ti conosco più amore (1980). On television she appeared in the TV movie Il cilindro.

In the Eighties Monica Vitti appeared in the movies Camera d'albergo (1981), Il tango della gelosia (1981), Io so che tu sai che io so (1982), Scusa se è poco (1982), Flirt (1983), Francesca è mia (1986), and Scandalo segreto (1990). She appeared in the TV movie La fuggiDiva. Monica Vitti's last appearance was in the TV movie Ma tu mi vuoi bene?  in 1992.

Monica Vitti was simply an incredible actress. She could convey the feelings of her characters without saying a thing. One did not need to know Italian or read subtitles to often know how her characters felt. What is more, she gave some amazing performances in her career. She was the distant protagonist in  L'avventura. She played the vivacious Valentina in La Notte. In Il  deserto rosso, she played Giuliana, the wife of an industrial manager trapped by the alienation she feels in her world. It was for the power of her performances that Monica Vitti was dubbed the Queen of Italian Cinema. There are very few who could ever match her.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Godspeed Carleton Carpenter

Carleton Carpenter, who starred in such classic films as Summer Stock (1950) and Two Weeks with Love (1950), as well as appearing on Broadway in Hello, Dolly! and Boeing Boeing, died yesterday, January 31 2022, at the age of 95.

Carleton Carpenter was born on July 10 1926 in Bennington, Vermont. During World War II he served as a Seabee in the United States Navy. Following his service, he attended the National High School Institute for Theatre Arts at Northwestern University.

He began his career in entertainment as a magician in carnivals. It was in 1944 that he moved to New York City. That same year he was cast in the Broadway production Bright Boy. That same year he appeared on Broadway in Career Angel. In 1946 he made his television debut as a regular on the NBC show Campus Hoopla. He made his movie debut in Lost Boundaries (1949). He appeared in a bit part in Father of the Bride (1950), followed by substantial roles in Three Little Words (1950),  Summer Stock (1950), and Two Weeks with Love (1950). In the late Forties he appeared on Broadway in Three to Make Ready and The Magic Touch.

In the Fifties Mr. Carpenter appeared in the movies Vengeance Valley (1951), The Whistle at Eaton Falls (1951), Fearless Fagan (1952), Sky Full of Moon (1952), Take the High Ground! (1953), and Up Periscope (1959). He appeared on Broadway in John Murray Anderson's Almanac and Hotel Paradiso. He appeared on television in guest appearances on Goodyear Television Playhouse, The Best of Broadway, Luke and the Tenderfoot, The Alcoa Hour, Star Tonight, The Goldbergs, Men of Annapolis, Lux Playhouse, Shirley Temple's Storybook, General Electric Theatre, Cimarron City, Trackdown, The Millionaire, The Ann Sothern Show, The Alaskans, The Rifleman, Father Knows Best, and Outlaws. In 1954 he appeared in the TV production Lady in the Dark.

In the Sixties Carleton Carpenter appeared on Broadway in Hello, Dolly!, Boeing Boeing, and A Minor Adjustment. On television he guest starred on the shows Pete and Gladys, The Beachcomber, Perry Mason, McHale's Navy, The DuPont Show of the Week, Directions, and Vacation Playhouse. He appeared in the movie Cauliflower Cupids (1970).

In the Seventies he appeared in the movie Some of My Best Friends Are... (1971). He guest starred on the TV show The Ropers. In the Eighties he appeared in the movies The Prowler (1981) and The American Snitch (1983). In the Nineties he appeared on Broadway in Crazy for You.

In addition to his acting career, Carleton Carpenter also composed such songs as "Christmas Eve," "Cabin in the Woods," :Ev'ry Other Day," "I Wouldn't Mind," "A Little Love," and "Come Away." He also wrote the music and lyrics for the musical Northern Boulevard (the book was by Kevin Brofsky). He also had a successful career as a mystery novelist, writing such books as Deadhead, Games Murderers Play, Cat Got Your Tongue?, Only Her Hairdresser Knew, Sleight of Deadly Hand, The Peabody Experience, and Stumped.

Carleton Carpenter was a remarkable actor and singer. His duet with Debbie Reynolds of "Aba Daba Honeymoon" from Two Weeks with Love remains memorable. Indeed, their version of the song (which dates to the days of vaudeville) was released as a single and peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard singles chart. He also gave memorable turns in such films in such films as Three Little Words and Summer Stock. Although he will probably be best remembered for his work in musicals, Mr. Carpenter could do other sorts of roles as well. In the Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Lover's Leap" he played Perry's client, the scientist Peter Brent, who is falsely accused of murder. In The Rifleman episode "The Coward" he played George Collins, a young man with a passion for writing who is working as a cook on a cattle drive and is bullied by the cowboys. Carleton Carpenter was a talented actor who was as adept at drama as he was at comedy. He could play roles in everything from musicals to Westerns and do all of them well.

Monday, January 31, 2022

The Late Great Howard Hesseman

Among my absolute favourite TV shows of all time is WKRP in Cincinnati, and my favourite character on the show was Dr. Johnny Fever. He was wonderfully realized by Howard Hesseman, who brought his real life experience as a DJ to the character. I wasn't the only one who loved Johnny, as he seemed to be the most popular character on the show. Of course, Howard Heseman played other roles as well. He was teacher Charlie Moore on Head of the Class and he played Sam Royer in One Day at a Time. He also appeared in such movies as Shampoo (1975) and Heat (1986).  Sadly, Howard Hesseman died on January 29 2022 at the age of 81. The cause complications of colon surgery.

Howard Hesseman was born on February 27 1940 in Lebanon, Oregon. His parents divorced when he was five years old. His mother later remarried. He graduated from Silverton High School in 1958, then attended the University of Oregon for a time. He left college for San Francisco where he found a job as a DJ at radio station KMPX. Along with David Ogden Stiers (later of M*A*S*H), he was a founding member of the improvisational comedy group The Committee. It was while he was with The Committee that he took the stage name "Don Sturdy."

It was under that name that he made his television debut as a guest star on The Andy Griffith Show in 1968. That same year he guest starred on Dragnet 1968. He appeared on The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour as part of The Committee. He made his movie debut in Petulia in 1968 and appeared as part of The Committee in the movie Where It's At (1969). He also appeared in the movie Some Kind of a Nut (1969).

In the Seventies Howard Hesseman played Dr. Robert Williams on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Craig Plager on The Bob Newhart Show, and Mr. Franklin on Soap. It was in 1978 that he began a four year run as Dr. Johnny Fever on WKRP in Cincinnati. He was twice nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy or Variety or Music Series for the role. He also guest starred on the shows Firehouse; Rhoda; Mannix; Sanford and Son; The Blue Knight; Harry-O, Family; ;Switch; Baretta; Laverne & Shirley; Delvecchio; Westside Medical; Blansky's Beauties; Quincy M.E.; The Rockford Files; and Husbands, Wives, & Lovers. He appeared in the movies Billy Jack (1971) and Cisco Pike (1971) using the stage name Don Sturdy. He also appeared in the movies The Christian Licorice Store (1971), Steelyard Blues (1973), Jory (1973), Kid Blue (1973), Shampoo (1975), Whiffs (1975), The Sunshine Boys (1975), Tunnel Vision (1976), Jackson County Jail (1976), Silent Movie (1976), The Big Bus (1976), The Other Side of Midnight (1977), Loose Shoes (1977), Americathon (1979), and The Jerk (1979).

It was in 1982 that he began playing Sam Royer, the architect who eventually married lead character Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) on One Day at a Time. In 1986 he began a four year run as teacher Charlie Moore on Head of the Class. He guest starred on the shows 9 to 5; Love, Sidney; Murder, She Wrote; George Burns Comedy Week; and Faerie Tale Theatre. He appeared in the movies Honky Tonk Freeway (1981), Doctor Detroit (1983), This is Spinal Tap (1984), Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment, Clue (1985), My Chauffeur (1986), Flight of the Navigator (1986), Inside Out (1986), Heat (1986), and Amazon Women on the Moon (1987).

In the Nineties Mr. Hesseman had a recurring role as Dr. Johnny Fever on The New WKRP in Cincinnati. He guest starred on the shows The Ray Bradbury Theatre; Burke's Law; The Outer Limits; Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place; The Practice; Tracy Takes On...; Family Law; The Pretender; and Touched by an Angel. He appeared in the movies Rubin and Ed (1991), Little Miss Millions (1993), Out-of Sync (1995), Gridlock'd (1997), and The Sky is Falling (1999). He was the voice of Munchie in the movie Munchie Strikes Back (1994).  He appeared on Broadway in Laughter on 23rd Floor.

In the Naughts Howard Hesseman guest starred on the shows Level 9, Three Sisters, That '70s Show, Thieves, Crossing Jordan, Maybe It's Me, It's All Relative, Boomtown, Oliver Beane, House M.D., Boston Legal, Psych, John from Cincinnati, ER, and Lie to Me. He appeared in the movies Teddy Bears' Picnic (2001), The Mesmerist (2002), About Schmidt (2002), Man About Town (2006), Domestic Import (2006), Martian Child (2007), The Rocker (2008), Halloween II (2009), and All About Steve (2009).

In the Teens Mr. Hesseman appeared in the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Drop Dead Diva, Mike & Molly, Chicago Med, and Fresh Off the Boat.

I think it is safe to say that Howard Hesseman will always be best remembered as Dr. Johnny Fever, the DJ who only really comes alive when he is on the air. As identified as he always with be with Johnny, Mr. Hesseman played many great roles throughout his career. He shined as struggling screenwriter Craig Plager on The Bob Newhart Show. He was also impressive as Charlie Moore, the unconventional teacher on Head of the Class. He played the rather dodgy lawyer Pinchus Zion in the movie Heat and did a very good job at it. Although Howard Hesseman played several hippies in his career (which include Johnny Fever, who had been a hippie), he also played a wide range of other roles, including doctors, lawyers, and even military officers. Howard Hesseman was a singular talent who had a particular gift for comedy and a gift for creating fully realized characters. If Dr. Johnny Fever is such a beloved character, it is because of the sheer talent of Howard Hesseman.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Morgan Stevens R.I.P.

Morgan Stevens, who was a regular on the TV shows Fame and A Year and the Life,  as well as making significant guest appearances on The Waltons and Melrose Place, was found dead in his home on January 26 2022 at the age of 70. He is believed to have died of natural causes.

Morgan Stevens was born on October 16, 1951 in Knoxville, Tennessee. He studied advertising at the University of Tennessee before dropping out to join the Coast Guard. He was stationed in New York City and saw several Broadway plays while there. This triggered in his interest in acting. He then went back to college and majored in theatre arts. After he graduated he moved to Los Angeles.

It was in the late Seventies that he began appearing regularly on television. He guest starred in a two-part episode of One Day at a Time and appeared in the TV movie Peyton Place' 79 in 1979.  That same year he guest starred on The Waltons. He returned to the show in 1981, playing a different character, Paul Matthews Northridge, a love interest for Erin Walton. He subsequently appeared in reunion movies of The Waltons, in which Paul and Erin married. During the Eighties he was a regular on the shows Bare Essence, Fame, and A Year in the Life. He guest starred on the shows Quincy M.E.; Finder of Lost Loves; Scene of the Crime; Brothers; Hollywood Beat; The Love Boat; Blacke's Magic; Airwolf; Magnum, P.I.; Hotel; Murder, She Wrote; The Law and Harry McGraw; and Danger Bay.

In the Nineties he guest starred on Melrose Place, One West Waikiki, Murder One, High Incident, and Walker, Texas Ranger. He also appeared in the movies Up River (1979) and Survival Zone (1983).