Sunday, January 2, 2005

“Big clocks are never wrong!”

In fiddling around with the new DVD recorder, I have been learning a few interesting things concerning its operation—first off, recording copy-protected DVD’s is verboten.  It says as much in the instructions, of course, but I was curious to see how this worked—so I took the Netflix copy of You Only Live Once (1937) and tried to make a copy of it, only to have the machine politely tell me that it just wasn’t going to happen and to place both hands behind my head and not make any sudden moves.  (Okay, I'm only slightly kidding about this part.)

Apparently however, this fail-safe device does not apply to VHS tapes.  I have It’s in the Bag! (1945) on videocassette, and I was able to make a duplicate DVD of that with relative ease.   This, of course, might be due to many factors—one being that the tape predates the whole Macrovision process, for example.  I will, however, hang on to this videocassette—unless Artisan or whoever owns the Republic Pictures catalog releases it on DVD in the near future.  (There are actually two different versions of Bag, one of which presents a sort of running commentary by star Fred Allen that obliterates most of the film’s dialogue.  I think—although I’m not 100% on this—that I may have taped this version off of AMC a good many years back, and it’s currently cooling its heels in “The Urban Attic,” the storage place for much of my stuff.  I’ll be making a pilgrimage there Tuesday morning to get some VHS tapes to dub off, so if I run across it I’ll check it out to make sure.)

Today’s dubbing project was a movie that I’ve always enjoyed watching but for some reason or another gets dismissed a lot in conversations about film comedies—the 1971 satire Cold Turkey, which I believe is the only theatrical film (filmed in 1969 and released two years later) directed by television pioneer Norman Lear.  A slimy P.R. man named Merwin Wren (memorably played by Bob Newhart) creates a campaign designed to put the tobacco industry in a better light (similar to Alfred Nobel’s peace prize scheme, which made people conveniently forget that the guy made his fortune in dynamite and munitions).  The cigarette folks will offer $25 million to any town in America that can quit smoking for thirty days, and the only taker is a small Iowa community named Eagle Rock, headed up by the crusading Reverend Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke).  The movie is a minor masterpiece, with its pointed satire directed at many societal taboos including addiction, religion, the media, the tobacco industry and small-town America, and many of the familiar faces from Lear’s television shows are on hand, including Vincent Gardenia, Barnard Hughes, Graham Jarvis (hilarious as the leader of a John Birch Society-like organization), Jean Stapleton and Paul Benedict.  The brilliant Bob (Elliott) and Ray (Goulding) are also featured; enjoying one of their finest film showcases as they send up various personalities in Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, Paul Harvey and Arthur Godfrey; the cast also includes Pippa Scott, Tom Poston, Edward Everett Horton (in his last film role), Barbara Cason, Sudie Bond, Judith Lowry (who was the feisty Mother Dexter on the otherwise lackluster Phyllis, a spin-off of The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and Helen Page Camp.  Cold Turkey also features one of my favorite Randy Newman songs, “He Gives Us All His Love” during the opening and closing credits.  Why this film hasn’t received its due is still a mystery to me—although there’s a dog-kicking incident that might put off a few animal lovers in the audience.

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