Friday, April 19, 2024

Leading the Witness by Scott Fivelson

The thriller genre emerged in the early 20th Century. Over the years the genre developed its own clichés and tropes, so that it is rare one sees anything original when it comes to thrillers regardless of the medium. When something in the thriller genre, whether it is a novel, movie, or play, comes out that is starkly original, it is then worthy of notice. This is certainly the case with the one-act play Leading the Witness by Scott Fivelson.

Leading the Witness centres on Maddy, a former stripper, now tragically blind, who had the misfortune of witnessing the murder of her roommate in their own apartment. The killer is still at large, and as a result, Maddy is under protection detail until such time as the killer can be caught. Maddy does not particularly get along with the police assigned to protect her, until she is finally assigned a detective who has a good deal in common with her. Their developing relationship and the danger from the killer still at large are at the heart of Leading the Witness.

Not only is the premise of Leading the Witness original, but the play is a deft blend of suspense and love story. What is more, Maddy is a fresh break from many heroines in thrillers. She is quick-witted and self-reliant, while at the same time feminine. There is real chemistry between her and John, the detective ultimately assigned to protect her. The identity of the killer is a thread that runs throughout the play, and when their identity is revealed it is a surprise, but at the same time makes total sense. Leading the Witness brings to mind classic thrillers and mysteries, while at the same time bringing something new to the genre.

Leading the Witness  premiered at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre in London on July 23, 2012, starring James Tormé. It is published by Hen House Press.

Cast photo from Leading the Witness at the Accidental Theatre in Belfast in 2019.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The "Peter Gunn Theme" by Henry Mancini

It was 100 years ago today that composer Henry Mancini was born in Maple Heights, Ohio. After serving in the United States Army Air Forces, he became a pianist and arranger for the re-organized Glenn Miller Orchestra (Glenn Miller had gone missing in a plane over the English Channel on December 15 1944). In 1952 he became part of the music department at Universal-International. At Universal-International he contributed to such movies as The Glenn Miller Story (1954), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Destry (1954), Tarantula (1955), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), and others.

Henry Mancini left Universal-International became a freelance composer and arranger in 1958, at which point he did some of his most famous work. He was responsible for the music on the hit television show Peter Gunn, including writing the show's iconic theme. The "Peter Gunn Theme" proved to be a hit, reaching no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 12 on the R&B chart. Henry Mancini would later record different versions of the theme (including one for the 1967 feature film Gunn).

Of course, Henry Mancini would go onto yet more success following Peter Gunn. He was responsible for the music on the TV show Mr. Lucky. While that show was not as successful as Peter Gunn, its theme proved to be a hit, going to no. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. He would go onto compose the song "Moon River for Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), the iconic Pink Panther theme, and music for movies from The Great Race (1965) to Victor/Victoria (1982).

In tribute to the 100th anniversary of Henry Mancini's birth, there is the "Peter Gunn Theme."

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Thirty Years with Turner Classic Movies

It was thirty years ago today, on April 14 1994, that Turner Classic Movies was launched in a ceremony at Times Square in New York City that included founder Ted Turner, original host Robert Osborne, and such classic film stars as Arlene Dahl, Jane Powell, Celeste Holm, and Van Johnson. The first film TCM ever showed was Gone with the Wind (1939). It would be an understatement to say that since then Turner Classic Movies has become an institution. It would be more accurate to say that it has become a national treasure, not only beloved by its fans, but by critics, film historians and movie makers alike. Indeed, Turner Classic Movies has had an enormous impact on my own life.

I am not sure when or how I first heard about Turner Classic Movies, but it was before it was launched. Unfortunately, I would not have access to TCM in its earliest days. I would have to visit my best friend Brian in another town to watch Turner Classic Movies. Fortunately, I got access to TCM within a year or two of its launch and it has remained a constant in my home ever since. I wish I could remember what the first movie I watched on Turner Classic Movies was, but I cannot. If I had known how important TCM would become in my life, I would have made a point to remember what film it was. Regardless, Turner Classic Movies quickly became my favourite channel. There had been American Movie Classics (AMC) and a few other classic movie channels before it, but TCM had access to the pre-1986 MGM library and the Associated Artists Productions library, the Warner Bros. films made before 1950, and the U.S. and Canadian distribution rights to the RKO Pictures library. This meant they could show a wider variety of films than AMC or the other channels. Of course, they also had those wonderful intros and outros by Robert Osborne. TCM would get even better after the Turner Broadcasting System merged with Time Warner in 1996. Now they had access to the Warner Bros. library, and libraries that Time Warner had acquired, such as the Saul Zaentz and National General Pictures libraries.

As much as I love Turner Classic Movies and as huge an impact it has had on my life, I cannot say that it introduced me to classic movies. As a member of Generation X, I grew up at a time when local television stations, particularly the independents, still showed classic movies on a regular basis. By the time TCM had launched, I had already seen such classics as Casablanca (1942), Citizen Kane (1941), Singing' in the Rain (1952),  and many others, and even such foreign classics as Seven Samurai (1954) and Blood and Black Lace (1964). While I was already a classic movie fan when Turner Classic Movies launched, I would see many classics on the channel for the first time in my life. TCM introduced me to Pandora's Box (1929), Out of the Past (1947), The Loved One (1965), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Robe (1953), and many others. I had seen Pre-Code films before TCM had launched, but the channel would introduce me to many, many more.

Not only did TCM introduce me to movies I had never seen before, but it would be through the community of fans that Turner Classic Movies developed that would I meet many of my closest friends. It was initially through this very blog that I met many of my closest friends, bloggers who blogged about classic movies or, like me, nostalgia in general. I would find even more fellow TCM fans who would become friends after I joined Twitter in 2009. This was particularly true after TCMParty, the informal group of TCM fans who live tweet movies on the channel using that hashtag, started in 2011. It would be through TCMParty that I would meet my dearest friend and a woman I adore, Vanessa Marquez. I then owe Turner Classic Movies more than I could ever repay. Here I also have to point out that TCM is so close to their fans that I even have friends and acquaintances who work for the channel.

TCM has also afforded me opportunities I might not have had otherwise. In 2014 TCM began a series of segments called Fan Favourites, in which fans would get to introduce a favourite movie with Ben Mankiewicz through the miracle of video chat. It was on April 11 2015 that I got to introduce A Hard Day's Night on TCM with Mr. Mankiewicz. For a time Turner Classic Movies had an official fan club called TCM Backlot. Each year TCM Backlot members would submit pitches as to why Turner Classic Movies should hold an event in their home town. In 2019 St. Louis was selected, and Turner Classic Movies held a free screening of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis. The screening included a special introduction by Ben Mankiewicz before the movie, followed by a Q&A with Margaret O'Brien (who played Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis). I was lucky enough to be one of the fans who was selected to attend the VIP Meet and Greet, in which one would get to meet Margaret O'Brien and Ben Mankiewicz in person. I then got to meet Margaret O'Brien (who was delighted when I brought up her guest appearance on Perry Mason), as well as Ben Mankiewicz (with whom I had talked on video chat, but this was my first time meeting him in person).

One thing I regret is that I have never gotten to attend the TCM Classic Film Festival. Sadly, the cost of air fare and lodging is simply more than I can afford. Many of my friends have attended the TCM Classic Film Festival, so that I can experience the festival vicariously through them. For that reason I always look forward to the TCM Classic Film Festival. I enjoy watching the many videos and photos from the festival, posted by both TCM and its fans. And I enjoy watching content from the festival on Turner Classic Movies itself.

It was last year that TCM fans were alarmed by layoffs at Turner Classic Movies, and for the first time ever many of us were concerned about the future of our favourite channel. The reaction of TCM fans was swift and immediate, with fans writing letters, writing emails, and posting to social media. Some who had been laid off, including senior vice president in charge of content and programming Charlie Tabesh and TCM Film Festival Director Genevieve McGillicuddy, would see their positions restored. The media credited much of this to such luminaries as directors Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Paul Thomas Anderson and actors Ryan Reynolds, Ellen Barkin, and Brian Cox, but I personally think it was the outcry on the part of the huge number of TCM fans. Quite simply, Turner Classic Movies has made a difference in our lives and we don't want to see it disappear.

For myself, there is perhaps no greater example of how important Turner Classic Movies is to me than my life following the death of my beloved Vanessa Marquez. It was my fellow TCM fans and TCM who helped me get through those dark months following her death. If not for the difference they made I am not sure that I would even still be here. I'm certainly not alone in feeling Turner Classic Movies saved my life. The channel has been a comfort to many others going through grief, illness, divorce, the loss of a job, or other hardships.

In the end, I can say that Turner Classic Movies changed my life. If not for TCM, I might never have met many of my closest friends, including the most important person in my life. I would never have gotten to introduce A Hard Day's Night on television and it is unlikely I would have ever met Margaret O'Brien. Turner Classic Movies went well beyond being a cable channel that shows classic movies long ago. It has even gone beyond being a brand. Turner Classic Movies has become a means of bringing people together, of providing a community for fans of classic movies. And, for many suffering hardships, it has even become a beacon of hope. The world would be much poorer without Turner Classic Movies.