Archive for October, 2013

A Bewitched Halloween

Posted in Comedy, Sit Coms, Television with tags , , , , on October 31, 2013 by travsd

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One last Halloween themed post in a series of many! In this 1965 episode of Bewitched Endora (Agnes Moorehead) wants Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) to go away with her to celebrate a traditional Halloween ceremony, but Darrin (Dick York) forbids it. Seeking revenge, Endora turns herself into a little girl in a gypsy costume (Maureen McCormick, from The Brady Bunch) and turns Darrin into a werewolf.

To learn out more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Reverend Billy: The Toad’s in Hot Water (Again)

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, Indie Theatre with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2013 by travsd

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 This just off the transom: “Reverend Billy and Church of Stop Shopping Music Director Neremiah Luckett Face One Year in prison and $30k Bail for Performance in Chase Bank”.

The sub-header reads: “Dressed as Extinct Toads”.

As they have done for years and years, the Reverend Billy Talen and his Chorus of Motleys have been bursting into banks and staging protests. The recent actions have been designed to protest bank investment in activities deemed environmentally unsound. (Hence the endangered toad costumes). On Thursday September 12, Talen and company got busted for singing and preaching at the JPMorgan Chase Bank branch at 56th and 6th Ave in Manhattan. The charges? “Riot,” “Menacing” and “Unlawful Assembly.” The news has just been released that on Monday the Assistant DA asked Judge Felicia Mennin for a full year in prison and $30,000 bail. (The judge shot down the bail request; a court date December 9 will decide the prison time).

The whole affair would be laughable but for the fact that Talen is in genuine trouble for what amounts to a silly stunt and a piece of entertaining street theatre. Whether she is or not, the ADA appears to be either a humorless and brainless nitwit, or a puppet of moneyed interests. On what other basis can she be toeing this hard line? Is she afraid that if we go “soft” on these protesters there’ll be a rampant outbreak of people dressed like toads singing songs in bank lobbies? And while this may have technically been an “Unlawful Assembly” (what’s that amount to, a citation?) it seems rather a broad stretch (and a dangerous over-reaching of authority) to paint it as a “Riot” or “Menacing”. Perhaps the tellers thought they were being attacked by actual giant toads.

By this measure, I demand that the NYPD arrest every costumed person they find on the street tonight and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Actually, I half-wish something like that would happen, because it would alert ordinary people to the danger of ignoring the abuse of state power in cases like this one. Jail time? For this? Is this Putin’s Russia?

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy

Posted in Abbott and Costello, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies with tags , , on October 31, 2013 by travsd

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My sharing of the trailer from Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955) may surprise readers who know how I feel about the films of Abbott and Costello. I include it because I think it is a much more entertaining mummy movie than all of Universal’s “serious” mummy sequels. It contains much more of what I want from a mummy movie, at any rate…an Egyptian setting, tombs, pyramids, guys in pith helmets and of course a somnambulant, dusty, 4,000 year old fellow walking around wrapped in ace bandages. Most of the “legit” sequels turn out to be set in the U.S. for some odd reason (probably expense) and we get far too little onscreen mummy time. The irony is that in my view Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy is the best of all the sequels to the original The Mummy. That is, until the reboot.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Vincent Price Thursdays: Halloween Edition

Posted in Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Movies with tags , , , on October 31, 2013 by travsd

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Every Thursday in October, Turner Classic Movies has been screening the films of the incomparable Vincent Price (for my full appreciation of Price, go here.)  Seems like the big fun was last Thursday, when they showed all the campy William Castle pictures etc. Tonight’s line-up is more deadly — in more ways than one. Here’s what’s on the macabre menu tonight, the final night, through tomorrow morning:

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8:00 pm: The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)  

One of Roger Corman’s tedious Poe adaptations, which seems to mix the story of The Pit and The Pendulum in with The Fall of the House of Usher and The Premature Burial (which is good, because without these plot elements we would be looking at a black screen, listening to the swish of the pendulum and a man’s thoughts for two hours—which would have been excellent radio. But then perhaps that is the only proper theatrical way to experience Poe–radio). The settings are gorgeous, but the script is leaden, humorless and lacking in either action or poetry. Talk, talk, talk.  Gets better toward the end when Price awakens and seeks vengeance as a man possessed.

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9:30 pm: The Haunted Palace (1963)

Another Corman “Poe” picture but in name only. While named after a Poe poem the plot is actually based on the H.P. Lovecraft tale The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Lon Chaney Jr and Debra Paget co-star.

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11:15 pm: The Masque of the Red Death (1964)

A Corman adaptation of the horrifying Poe tale, mashed-up with another powerful Poe story Hop Frog. 

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1:00 am: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Absolute heaven—Price as a demented pipe organist—mute, dead, both? Getting revenge on the nine doctors who botched an operation on his wife, killing her. He kills each according to a different plague from Exodus. He then melts a wax figure of each victim with a blow-torch. The picture features clever toy-like mechanical devices, like a clockwork swing band. All-star cast include Joseph Cotton, Terry-Thomas, and Hugh Griffith. For some wonderful theatrical (but nonsensical) reason, Phibes talks to his dead wife’s portrait by plugging his brain into a Victrola. It looks cool, but why bother? But this film, like all great Gothic horror is all about aesthetics, so it works beautifully.

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2:45 am: Twice Told Tales (1963)

One often forgets that Hawthorne as much as Poe specialized in moody, supernatural tales. Here we get three, including Dr. Heidegger’s ExperimentRappaccini’s Daughter and a truncated adaptation of The House of the Seven Gables. United Artists released the picture but they seem to have taken up the low-key, low-budget modus operandi of AIP. With the difference being that this film is more compelling than the Poe series.

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5:00 am: The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

In this AIP Poe adaptation, Price gets to wear amazingly cool sunglasses. Yet another tale where the hero thinks his dead wife is alive. At the climax, a fight to the death with a black cat (which has blinded Price) while the tomb burns down. A sort of low point—lacks the delicious camp, again substituting tedium. Very little of it is derived from the Poe tale Ligeia

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6:30 am: The Conqueror Worm (1968)

It’s hilarious that this one was included in the Poe cycle. An English production, it’s about a 17th century official (Price) who tortures people into confessing witchcraft. It has absolutely zero to do with the Poe poem, AIP just slapped that name on it when they released the picture in the States. This the last film in that series. Price is directed to be deadly serious in it; it’s main saving grace from the modern perspective is the large amount of sadistic violence it contains.

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8:15 am: Theatre of Blood (1973)

One of my favorite movies! In Theatre of Blood, Price plays a demented ham who fakes his own death in order to get revenge upon a gaggle of theatre critics who’ve literally driven him mad. One by one, he bumps them off in clever, amusing ways drawn from the great plays of Shakespeare. And each critic is played by a hilarious British character actor (Robert Morley as a big, preening sissy stands out in my memory). And for sex appeal, there’s Diana Rigg as Price’s dutiful, equally insane daughter. This movie is as delicious as a bag of Halloween candy — with no apples.

On the Greatness of John Candy

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Television, TV variety with tags , , on October 31, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the late, lamented John Candy (1950-1994). “There’s always a role for John Candy,” I used to say to my pals in the SCTV days, the thrust of my meaning being that, no matter the scenario or the premise, there always seemed to be a role to fit what was then a more unusual body type: a big fat guy. And of course, as I’ve often remarked the show business world has always had at least one funny fat man on tap throughout the ages: John Bunny, Fatty Arbuckle, Oliver Hardy, Lou Costello, Jackie Gleason, John Belushi….But Candy was a new phenomenon, because, like all of his SCTV cast-mates, he had range. On the show, he memorably played Orson Welles, Julia Child, Divine, Pavarotti, Tip O’Neill, Merlin Olsen, and even, thanks to a bit of hilariously insensitive video wizardry, Herve Villechaise. Even more rewarding for the opportunities they gave for him to show off his acting chops were his recurring original characters like Johnny LaRue, Mayor Tommy Shanks, Willy B. Williams, Dr. Tongue, Yosh Shmenge, Gil Fisher (the Fishin’ Musician), and Harry, the Guy With the Snake on His Face.

It was initially thrilling to see him emerge in major movies. He’d actually been appearing in films since 1973, but in the late 70s/ early 80s had small roles in the really big pictures 1941, The Blues Brothers and Stripes. In 1984 he played the funny best friend in Splash and this is what pushed him over into star status. Sadly, like almost all of our great comedians of the last half century or more, he went on to make a string of movies that across the board have to be categorized as trivial junk. Lest ye protest this or that exception — I have to say, no, I’ve looked carefully over his filmography and I would characterize all of these movies as disposable, and that includes his 1991 experiment in pathos Only the Lonely with Maureen O’Hara.

But his television work on SCTV remains untouched.  Unfortunately, there’s little of it on Youtube (rights, you know). But here is a terrifically insightful interview about him with his friend and colleague (and one of my favorite comedians) Eugene Levy:

To find out about  the history of show business including television variety, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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The East Side Kids in “Ghosts on the Loose”

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , , on October 30, 2013 by travsd

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A better than average spook comedy featuring the East Side Kids, directed by William Beaudine, and featuring Bela Lugosi as a Nazi spy….but best of all, as the beautiful love interest — Ava Gardner, whom we are supposed to believe is Huntz Hall’s sister! That’s enough for three movies and it’s only an hour long! Them’s what I call moovies!

To learn out more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Little Rascals Skeleton Dance

Posted in Child Stars, Clown, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , on October 30, 2013 by travsd

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And now another clip in celebration of the Halloween season, the classic skeleton dance number from the Our Gang Follies of 1936, produced by Hal Roach!

To learn out more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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