Friday, June 15, 2018

The Triumphant Return of Rocky and Bullwinkle

2018 promotional poster
Let me state for the record that one of my two favorite animated cartoons is The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Breaking the fourth wall, adult jokes that would normally fly over the heads of youngsters, bad puns and thrilling escapades are part and parcel of the weekly television series. I religiously bought all five seasons as they came out on DVD, then found myself traumatized in 2000 when a big screen, live-action film was released in theaters. (To date, I have never fully recovered from that horrible movie.) 

So imagine my surprise when it was announced last year that the moose and squirrel were making a comeback on Amazon.com's Prime streaming service... and soon after the May 11 premiere, the short run, 13-episode mini-series went under scrutiny from this avid fan boy.

Once again, Rocky and Bullwinkle are thrust into harrowing situations but end up saving the day time and time again. Their innocent and silly ambitions to become rock stars, find lost treasure and win the annual Frostbite Falls Pie Contest (using grandma's stinky pie recipe) somehow dovetail with Fearless Leader's sinister plans for world domination. Enter stage left, Boris and Natasha, the notorious super spies, who seem to always fall victim to the diabolical boobytraps originally created for moose and squirrel.


There are three story arcs for this new series, "The Stink of Fear," "The Dark Side of the Moose" and "Moosebumps." Marco Schnabel wrote the first, which brilliantly captures the spirit of the original series, leaving me hooked long enough to view all 13 episodes. While I am not a fan of this new style of animation, there was enough here to binge-watch in two-and-a-half hours. Mr. Know-It-All segments, Bullwinkle's Corner segments, and "Hey Rocky, Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat" segments are few and far between. There are no fillers such as Peabody's Improbable History or Fractured Fairytales. The adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle last 21 minutes each, long enough for you to witness a cliffhanger that leads into the next episode.  

In an era where Hollywood continues to look at vintage property and attempt an update, rather than take a chance on an original concept, and without the voice legends of William Conrad, June Foray and Paul Frees, it is gratifying to know that the characters we have come to love are being introduced to a generation that never grew up with the original cartoons. As for this fan boy, it would be nice to see a second season with a few cartoon fillers (such as a Mr. Know-It-All segment). My only hope is that the new series will expose youngsters to the original series.

Friday, June 1, 2018

78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene

Whoever thought a documentary on the making of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, most notably the shower stating scene, would remain entertaining and fascinating for 90 minutes? Alexandre O. Philippe's last documentary, 78/52, referring to the 78 camera set-ups and 52 edits over the course of three minutes, proved that 90 minutes is just not enough time. The documentary reminds us of the domestic times when Psycho hit theaters, how the film went to combat Hollywood censorship, and the impact that one scene had on the future of American cinema. Commentary from editors, scriptwriters, actors and filmmakers, along with a frame-by-frame expiration of the scene as it was edited together, was equally engrossing. If you are a fan of Alfred Hitchcock and/or admired the shower stabbing scene for all its celluloid glory, this is a must-see documentary.

Practically anyone in Hollywood who was affected and influenced by the movie provides trivial bits of knowledge about the movie, from bookend frame shots, the type of chocolate syrup used to simulate blood in the shower, to both visual and verbal references forecasting gloom in the movie that the audience never picked up on with the first viewing. Jamie Lee Curtis discusses her mother's involvement in the movie, Peter Bogdanovich recalls the first screening permitted for movie critics and columnists, Danny Elfman recalls how Bernard Herrmann's music score influenced him as a musician, author Stephen Rebello discusses some clever behind-the-scenes production trivia, and Marli Renfro (the stunt woman for Janet Leigh) discusses how she got the job and which scenes you can clearly see her in the movie. 

Archival footage of screenwriter Joseph Stefano, actress Janet Leigh, and director Alfred Hitchcock also provide commentary courtesy of archival footage. 

The documentary examines the movie Psycho from the perspective of the shower scene, while covering numerous other topics such as the music score, and the decision to film in back and white, while the narrative shifts back to the construction of the shower sequence. Did you know that the wallpaper design in the Bates Motel was copied for the hotel hallway scene in The Shining? Did you know that Martin Scorcese virtually captured the Sugar Ray Robinson boxing match in Raging Bull alongside the shower stabbing scene? (A split screen is shown for comparison, with Scorcese confessing his intention.) Did you know how many melons were tested to create the sound of a knife cutting into human flesh?



Covering a lot of ground in a short period of time, while capturing commentary in black and white to match scenes from Psycho, the film also provides the atmosphere of a group of film geeks chatting about the movie... with you alongside them. Honestly, this documentary could have gone on another 30 minutes and I still would have been begging for more. As it stands, this is a wonderful diversion that any fan of horror films, Alfred Hitchcock and cinema studies should take time to check out. Now available on DVD, this documentary comes recommended.

Also recommended (and I cannot speak highly enough) are two books worthy of reading about the subject, listed below. I have been recommending them for years and those who accepted by recommendation were never disappointed.

Hitchcock: A Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock (by Francois Truffaut, 2015 edition)
Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (by Stephen Rebello, 2013 edition)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Purview Press: The Saint and The Falcon

Fans of both The Falcon and The Saint will be pleased to know there were two new books recently published, taking into full account the radio programs of the same name. Author Ian Dickerson is responsible for both publications, released through his independent Purview Press.

Simon Templar, better known as “The Saint,” began as a series of dime novels, later adapted for the big screen, comic-strips and multiple television series (starring Roger Moore and Simon Dutton). A recent television pilot was filmed for a revival of The Saint, which failed to capture interest with a network, but thankfully we have the RKO classics available commercially on DVD to enjoy. To date, at least 15 actors have played the role of Simon Templar and when one thinks of the radio program, they tend to think of Vincent Price – who once quipped, “I really enjoyed playing The Saint.” 

The Saint on the Radio is aptly titled as the history of the novels, motion-pictures, comic-strips and other mediums are not covered extensively here. After all, there is already an all-inclusive book documenting the history of the franchise. Instead, Dickerson chose to focus on what has often been dismissed by biographers of Leslie Charteris, creator of the Simon Templar character. 

Beginning with Terence de Marney as The Saint over the BBC Forces Band, first transmitted in October of 1940, the book extensively covers the history of future incarnations from Edgar Barrier (early 1945), Brian Aherne (summer of 1945), Vincent Price (1947-1951), to Paul Rhys (1995). Also included is documentation of audio books, and a reprint of two radio scripts (one written by singer-actor Dick Powell). A major portion of the book consists of an episode guide but the history of the program, including behind-the-scenes documentation for each incarnation, is a fascinating read.

Of greater interest was Dickerson’s Who is The Falcon?, a comprehensive history of the fictional detective that is considered by many as a bland imitation of the Leslie Charteris character. Guy Stanhope Falcon, the freelance adventurer and trouble-shooter, originated from Michael Arlen’s 1940 short story. To others he is Guy Lawrence, the English gentleman detective portrayed by George Sanders in the RKO films of the early 1940s. “Ready with a hand for oppressed men, and an eye for repressed women,” The Falcon character was once referenced in Leslie Charteris’ 1943 novel, The Saint Steps In, as “a bargain-basement imitation.” 

Very little has been written about The Falcon, which is why I was pleased to see the fictional character and the franchise documented extensively. Commentary on the character’s birth in print, a complete overview of his time on the silver screen, a broadcast log of his adventures on radio (both in the United States and in Australia), and an accounting of the short-lived television program is contained within the 360 pages. There is also a full reprint of a Falcon story from Radio Mirror magazine. Help show your support and display of thanks to Ian Dickerson for going to the effort by digging through archives to produce these welcome tomes.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Calvin and the Colonel: The Animated Adventures of Amos n' Andy

In the fall of 1961, a new half-hour animated cartoon made it primetime network, one year after The Flintstones premiered as the first primetime animated cartoon series for network television, and the networks were all scrambling to compete. The series was Calvin and the Colonel, the creation of Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, produced by Kayro Productions in association with MCA-TV/Revue Studios. The cartoon was anything but new; it was the reincarnation of Gosden and Correll's Amos and Andy radio program, also voiced by Gosden and Correll.

Colonel Montgomery J. Klaxon, a shrewd fox and Calvin T. Burnside, a dumb bear, were the central figures (ala Kingfish and Andy). Their lawyer was Oliver Wendell Clutch, who was a weasel (literally). The colonel lived with his wife, Maggie Belle, and her sister Sue, who never trusted the colonel. Colonel Klaxon was in the real estate business, but always tried a number of get-rich-schemes with Calvin's unwitting help.

Several of the radio scripts were adapted for use on the animated series, with minor revisions to character names and locale. Because of low ratings (not because of complaints from Southern television stations as rumors commonly and falsely circulate), the program was cancelled after two months. The series returned later in the season to complete the terms of the contract. Lever Brothers, makers of Rinso Soap, sponsors of the radio program, bought time slots for the animated rendition and their contract was for 26 half-hour episodes. Reruns were later aired on Saturday mornings, syndicated across the country afterwards, but the minimal number of episodes handicapped syndication success. 

Because Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, script writers for the radio program and the animated series, also produced television's The Munsters, a brief clip from one of the episodes can be seen on a television set in the 1966 episode, "A Visit from Johann." 

Comic book fans know of the two Calvin and the Colonel Dell Comics that were published in 1961, highly sought after by fans of Amos and Andy.    

The episodes "supposedly" fell into the public domain, copyrights never renewed after the 28-year initial issuance. Twelve of these episodes have been floating about in collector hands from 16mm masters, a few easily found on YouTube and a few recently released commercially with a company logo superimposed on the screen, along with the addition of sound effects to the sound track to brand the altered version. (Before purchasing any episodes, ask the vendor if their copies are "un-altered.") 

Of recent a new book was published through Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research publishing label, written by historian Kevin Scott Collier. Documenting as much information about the television series as possible, Collier explores the two animated Amos n' Andy cartoons produced by Van Beuren in 1933 (which have recently received restoration through Thunderbean DVD), and the radio program for which Calvin and the Colonel originated. Publicity photos, budgets, the NAACP controversy, artist model sheets for the characters, and much more can be found in this book. Godson's recollections are quoted, and reprints of episode promotional synopsis were scanned and reprinted. 

After reading the book I was pleased to learn things I did not know about the television program. I knew the program was filmed in color but was unaware that ABC still telecast in black and white at the time so viewers never saw the cartoons in color in 1961. There was a Calvin and the Colonel board game, "High Spirits," and two talking dolls produced by Mattel in 1962. There was also a coloring book which I am now seeking out on eBay this week. (Yeah, I was bitten by the collecting bug years ago when it comes to Amos n' Andy.) The 65-page book is available from Amazon.com and if you want to buy a copy, a link is provided below for your convenience. Fans of Amos n' Andy will want a copy of this book.

https://www.amazon.com/Calvin-Colonel-Reincarnation-Amos-Andy/dp/1986106152/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525475595&sr=8-1&keywords=calvin+and+the+colonel+book