Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Andy Griffith Show celebrates Christmas!

Here's another recap/review of a great Andy Griffith Show episode (watch a clip). From Season 1, "The Christmas Story."
By Doug Gibson
The Andy Griffith Show, Season 1, Episode 11, "The Christmas Story." Starring Andy Griffith, Don Knotts Ron Howard, Frances Bavier and Elinor Donahue. Guest starring Sam Edwards, Margaret Kerry and Joy Ellison as Sam, Bess and Effie Muggins, Will Wright as Ben Weaver.Most successful TV situation comedies tend to have a Christmas episode and for some reason they are often produced in the first season: think "Mary Tyler Moore Show, "The Odd Couple" and "Happy Days." TAGS was no exception producing its Christmas-themed show in the 11th episode. It's a well-paced, funny, heartwarming tale that features Ben Weaver, Mayberry's most prominent merchant, a crochety, stooped-shouldered somewhat Dickensian figure with a well-hidden heart of gold tucked behind his gruff exterior.
The plot involves Weaver (Will Wright) dragging in moonshiner Sam Edwards to the courthouse on Christmas Eve and demanding that Edwards be locked up. A big Christmas party is being planned and Andy asks Ben if he'll let Edwards have a furlough through Christmas. True to form Weaver refuses. It looks like the Christmas Party is off, until Andy invites Edwards wife, Bess, (Kerry), and daughter, Effie, (Ellison), to stay in the jail with dad. In a funny scene, Andy overrides Ben's objections by cross-examing Sam's smiling kin, who admit they knew about the moonshining!
The funny plot seamlessly turns serious as a lonely Weaver, his Grinch-like plans foiled, tries to get himself arrested. Writer Frank Tarloff -- who penned 9 TAGS episodes -- deserves a tip of the hat for his funny, ironic script. Ben's plans to get busted are foiled when party-goers, including Ellie, either pay his fines or donate "stolen property" to him. Finally, in a scene that can bring tears, we see a lonely Ben Weaver, standing in an alley, peeking through the jail window bars, softly singing along with a Christmas Carol sung in the courthouse.
I won't give way the end for the very few who might still have missed the show, but it should be noted that perhaps the reason TAGS never again attempted a Christmas episode is that it could never have topped this. Wright as Ben Weaver is simply magnificent. His page on says he looks as "if he was born old." The grizzled, stooped ex-Western actor actually died at the relatively young age of 68. He played Ben Weaver in three TAGS episodes, the last before his death of cancer. Several other actors played Weaver in later episodes, but only one, Tol Avery, captured even a smidgen of the cranky magic Wright gave the role. He was, and remains, Mayberry merchant Ben Weaver to TAGS fans. In his three episodes, Weaver created a happy Christmas, saved a family from homelessness and gave a tired traveling merchant a job.
Notes: "Family members" Edwards, Kerry and Ellison were the same family Wright's Weaver threatened with eviction in another TAGS episodes. They were the Scobees. Knotts' Fife played Santa Claus, in full costume and "ho ho hos." Donahue's Walker sang "Away in the Manger." Season 1 was a little uneven, with the cast developing their roles. Knotts was still being too often used only for manic comic relief. Taylor's Andy was still the impetus for most humor. In the second season Sheriff Taylor would began to react to the humorous situations of others, and the show would move to its current classic status as a result.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Plan9Crunch re-run: Ed Wood versus Nightmare of Ecstasy

By Doug Gibson

Tim Burton's wonderful film, Ed Wood, recently was chosen as one of the "new classics," by Entertainment Weekly. It's a worthy selection. Burton's black & white tale of Hollywood in the 1950s is a romanticized fairy tale. Johnny Depp's exuberant, ceaselessly optimistic Wood carries the day with a triumphant Plan 9 from Outer Space premiere at the Pantages. (That didn't happen, of course. Plan 9 was screened once at the tiny Rialto and then sat on the shelf for three years). When Plan 9 was put into general release, Wood didn't see a cent.

Later, before the credits to Burton's film roll, the epilogue tells us Wood descended into alcoholism and pornography. It's appropriate that not be shown in Burton's film. It is, as mentioned a fairy tale, of optimism and perserverance. In a general sense, it is accurate. Wood battled tremendous odds in the 1950s. He filmed Glen Or Glenda, Jail Bait, Bride of the Monster, Plan 9 From Outer Space and Night of the Ghouls with virtually no money. He managed to attract a diverse and eccentric collection of well-known and semi-known cast names, including Dolores Fuller, Criswell, Kenne Duncan, Steve Reeves, Bud Osborne, Timothy Farrell, John Carpenter, Harvey Dunne, Lyle Talbot, Vampira, Herbert Rawlinson, Gregory Walcott and, of course, Bela Lugosi. It appears Wood's enthusiasm was contagious, and many thought he might make it. That he didn't have a long career at least in directing low-budget thrillers must be attributed to his alcoholism, which made him unreliable. Even near his death, his writing was amazingly prolific. More than one friend recalls him writing a screenplay in a day. He wrote hundreds of paperback novels.

The following are some inconsistencies between Burton's Ed Wood, the romanticized, fairy tale film, and Grey's often gritty absorbing oral biography account of Wood's short rise and long descent. I will likely add to this as time goes on. Here are inconsistencies by film:

Glen or Glenda: In the book, George Weiss is shown as short and trim. In the film he is an overweight slob; It is doubtful that Wood's gay friend Bunny Breckenridge auditioned transvestites for the film. By the way, actor Bill Murray does a great job portraying Breckenridge. The film set for G&G though, matches it as described in the book. Lugosi was not divorced, as the film depicts him. He was still with his wife, Lillian, although she left him soon after. In fact, Grey reports that Lillian pushed Lugosi to take the film. It is also very doubtful Wood gave G&G to a major producer to watch, as the film shows. Also, the film shows Depp's Wood as unhappy that the film was not reviewed in LA. Obviously, Wood would have known where the film was debuting and not checked the LA Times for a review. Burton's scenes of Wood's company stealing shots on LA streets are accurate, according to Grey.

Jail Bait: This film is not even mentioned in Burton's Ed Wood (probably for time and continuity reasons) so let's give it some ink. It's a crime thriller that involves a hood (Farrell) pressuring a plastic surgeon (Rawlinson) and his daughter (Fuller) to make him a new face. Interesting co-stars were Reeves (in his pre-muscleman days) and then-top model Theodora Thurman. Also in the cast are Wood regulars Mona McKinnon, Don Nagel and Bud Osborne. The film's score, which is a bit grating, was taken from Mesa of Lost Women. Howco Films released the film, which likely mostly played the southern drive-in circuit. It's too ambitious for its budget, but is not a bad hour-long time waster. According to Grey, scenes were stolen at an LA motel. (Scene stealing is shooting at private and public locations without permission) Grey, and many rumors, claim that ex-silent film star Rawlinson died the morning after his scenes were shot. Lugosi was slated to play the plastic surgeon, but was either exhausted from his recent Las Vegas gig, too addicted to morphine, or perhaps just had a better offer.

Bride of the Monster: Burton's scenes in LA's Griffith Park of Wood filming in the early AM the finale to Bride are accurate to Grey's description with one exception: Lugosi never got in the water to tangle with a rubber octopus. That was handled by his stand-in, stuntman Eddie Parker. Burton portrays Loretta King, who starred as a nosy reporter, as an airhead. Grey's depiction is fairer, and recent interviews support that she was a capable actress who got the job not for her supposed money, but for her skills. Dolores Fuller's anger at losing the role is accurately portrayed in both film and book. Also, Burton is very unfair to leading man Tony McCoy. He is portrayed as borderline retarded. Wood calls him the worst he ever had in Grey's book. But a viewing of Bride of the Monster shows McCoy to be a very average but capable actor. He certainly knew his lines and can be personable on screen. In fact, McCoy and King were both handled by agent Marge Usher, who supplied Wood with several actors.

Plan 9 From Outer Space: First, although it is a marvelous scene in Burton's Ed Wood, Wood and his idol Orson Welles never chatted at a Hollywood bar. That scene is fiction. By the way, Wood's friend and actor Conrad Brooks plays the bartender in that scene. Also, Burton has Vampira and Kathy Wood being baptized as a Baptist with other Wood regulars to get funding for the film. I don't believe Vampira would have done it, and Kathy Wood says in Grey's book she wouldn't get baptized. It is doubtful Wood would have been angry at Gregory Walcott being cast in his film, since he was a minor name actor at the time. Also, Wood never agreed to his film, Grave Robbers From Outer Space, being changed in title to Plan 9 From Outer Space, as Burton's film show. A minor point; but Ed and Kathy Wood did not meet at Lugosi's hospital, as the film shows. In later interviews, Kathy Wood said they met in a bar. The film was not premiered at the Pantages, and certainly wasn't the elaborate affair as Burton's film shows. In fact, Wood sold the rights to Plan 9 to his Baptist financier, J. Edward Reynolds, for $1 (as Grey recounts) and the film received a minimal release from a small firm, Distributors Releasing Corporation of America. It opened as a second bill to a now-obscure British film called Time Lock.

Night of the Ghouls: Again, not mentioned in Burton's Ed Wood, this film was a sequel to Bride of the Monster, as it involved Tor Johnson's giant Lobo, and a semi sequel to Plan 9 as it had Paul Marco's Patrolman Kelton and Duke Moore's Lt. Daniel Bradford in the cast. It involves a phony medium (Duncan, in a role obviously intended for the late Lugosi) and his young squeeze (Valda Hansen) ripping off elderly fools in an old house. The tables are turned on the pair as the police close in on them and the dead really do start to awake. It has Criswell, narrating from a coffin as he does in Plan 9 and having a brief acting role as well. (Let me digress and say that Jeffrey Jones was brilliant as the late psychic in Burton's film). As mentioned, Tor Johnson's Lobo shuffles around menacingly. The film is intermixed with scenes from an unreleased Wood film called Final Curtain. That sequence, which stars Moore and actress Jeanne Stevens, is quite creepy. If anyone knows where to find a complete version of Final Curtain, it would be quite a find. Night of the Ghou;s was premiered but Wood ran out money, couldn't pay a lab bill and the film was seized for about a quarter of a century before Wood fan Wade Williams paid the bill and it was released. The film's budget is threadbare and dirt-cheap. A cut out picture of Ed Wood is posted on a police wall. The police commander's office has no doorknobs. Obviously, Wood planned more editing and shoots before he lost control of the film. Night of the Ghouls was the first in a planned sequence of films that Wood wanted to make.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Angry Red Planet

By Steve D. Stones

The interesting gimmick used to sell this film was a process known as Cinemagic in which a red colored filter is used with scenes depicting shots on Mars. However, the scenes using Cinemagic look pink instead of red, which seems very appropriate, considering one  of the producers and screenwriters of the film is named Sidney Pink. I’m not sure if this was intentional or strictly coincidental, but it certainly adds to the cult interest of the film.

Three male crew members and one-woman scientist, played by Nora Hayden, lead an expedition to Mars – The Angry Red Planet. Upon landing on Mars, the crew discovers that their ship has become incapacitated and cannot leave the planet. This fact is further reinforced when the crew later witnesses a Martian peeking through the ship’s window. The Martian issues a warning to the crew that they cannot return to earth.

The four-crew members travel outside the ship to explore the planet. A creature looking part plant life and part octopus attacks Hayden. The head crew member Colonel Tom O’Bannion, played by serial star Gerald Mohr, rescues Hayden by chopping the tentacles of the creature with a machete. The creature was operated by one of the munchkins from The Wizard of Oz.

The crew takes a second trip outside the ship and is attacked this time by a giant rat-bat-spider creature. This sequence in the film is the one which gives it it’s strange cult following. The rat-bat-spider would later appear on the 1982 album cover of Walk Among Us by The Misfits.

The strangest creature is saved for last when the crew paddles across a Martian lake in a raft and discover an abandoned city. A giant blob with a spinning eyeball on top emerges from the lake and chases after the crew as they desperately attempt to row back to shore. The blob looks as if it could pass for a Sunday dinner rump roast.

Producer and screenwriter Sidney Pink went on to work on another sci-fi cult favorite – Journey To The Seventh Planet, starring John Agar in 1962. Director Ib Melchoir also went on to work on other cult classics, such as The Time Travelers, Reptilicus, Robinson Crusoe On Mars and several episodes of The Outer Limits TV show. For more information on the life and work of Melchoir, I recommend the book Ib Melchoir – Man of Imagination by Robert Skotak, published in 2000.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Plan9Crunch Book Review - Embers

By Doug Gibson

The late Hungarian Sandor Marai's novel Embers takes place in Hungary in 1940, in a secluded castle. There lives the very old general Henrik, with his even older nanny, who has cared for him most of his life. The general's wife died a generation ago. It is a big night. Coming to dine that evening is Konrad, once the general's closest friend. The general and Konrad have not seen each other in 42 years, nor communicated.

It will be a tense dinner and evening. Prior to Konrad's arrival, the aged nanny places her hand on the general and gently tells him not to get too excited. When Konrad arrives, the pair take the same places they had the last time they met. After dinner, the host begins a discourse, with the guest mostly listening. Traced through the rest of the novel is a deconstruction of a dead friendship. Two lives, friendship, pride, guilt, anger, loathing, deceit, adultery, regret, hunting and thoughts of murder and betrayal are recalled during the long evening spent together by the pair.

Embers is a marvelous, lucid, engrossing novel that deals with male friendships and emotions from a male perspective. Two men with great potential are explored. One betrays the other and runs away without the courage to explain why. As a result the other shields his love from who needs it most, and lives an empty life. The dialogue between the old friends is masterfully crafted. Marai's style compares with Thomas Mann in that this is a European novel that builds slowly with much patience. The reader who delves into Embers one evening may encounter dawn before he turns from the pages.

Notes: Marai was an acclaimed Hungarian novelist 70 years ago but his works were mostly destroyed and he was forced into exile when communists grabbed power in Hungary. He emigrated to America and died in San Diego in 1989. Shortly afterwards, his novels were returned to circulation and his stature as one of the best European novelists of the first half of the 20th century was restored.

Castle Films break! The Mummy's Ghost

Kick back and enjoy a condensed version, courtesy of Castle Films and YouTube, of The Mummy's Ghost. I used to watch Castle Films as a kid in school at assemblies. It's cool to see an 8 minute version of a classic, and Castle's got a bunch, including all the old Universal horrors. So, enjoy: