Monday, April 30, 2007

I shot an Arrow into the air

I finished watching the fourth and final serial in what I could refer to as “the Horne of Plenty,” provided I was given to atrocious puns.  (As it turns out, I am—so there you go.)  It’s The Green Archer (1940), a rousing fifteen-chapter romp that might well be the yardstick on how to measure a cliffhangers fan’s tolerance for James W. (this one is frequently cited for heresy because in one chapter, some of the henchmen while away their idle hours playing tiddlywinks) Horne.  Major confession time: I enjoyed Archer more than the other three serials I’ve watched over the last several days, simply because it aims for something different (eschewing the typical “mad-genius-taking-over-the-world” plots of many cliffhangers) and because of its “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” approach (hidden rooms, passageways, secret identities, fistfights, gunplay, poison gas, plot twists, etc.).

Although The Green Archer is based on the famed mystery novel by Edgar Wallace (and was in fact filmed previously as a silent chapter-play in 1925) it bears only a passing similarity to the novelist’s work.  The 1940 serial tells the tale of egomaniacal villain Abel Bellamy (James Craven), a twisted genius who frames his brother Michael (Kenne Duncan) for a crime Mike did not commit, thereby gaining control of Garr Castle, the ancestral home of the Bellamy clan.  Abel has put the smackdown on the castle—previously a thriving tourist attraction—because he’s using the edifice as his headquarters for a major criminal empire (and I do mean major—he’s got enough henchman for three Republic serials), and when Michael’s wife Elaine (Dorothy Fay) comes a-snooping around looking for evidence to clear her spouse, Abel locks her in a secret room and holds her captive.  Two houses down, Elaine’s father Parker Howett (Forrest Taylor) and sister Valerie (Iris Meredith) set up light housekeeping, along with Michael’s bosom chum Spike Holland (Victor Jory), an insurance investigator convinced that Abel is not the paragon of virtue he seems to be.  Whenever Spike, Valerie or any of the other good guys find themselves in peril, they can count on the masked hero The Green Archer to bail them out of a tight spot; said Archer being the legendary but mysterious do-gooder who protects the Bellamy family in times of crisis.

Once again, actor Jory serves out his serial sentence with stoic dignity and grace; a lesser thespian might be tempted to gag it up in the role of the hero, but Vic takes on his assignment as if it were written by the Immortal Bard himself.  No, the honors for scenery chewing go to Columbia’s number-one serial baddie James Craven, who avails himself to several helpings of scenery du jour like a hungry fat man at Golden Corral.  Craven’s Bellamy is apoplectic with frustration over the idiocy of the men in his employ—though in all honesty, Team Black Tiger of The Shadow fame make Bellamy’s henchmen look like Rhodes scholars.  No one did villainous rage like Craven, who could be wonderfully over-the-top in vehicles like Captain Midnight (as Ivan Shark) but for some reason seemed a bit subdued outside the studio (he’s the alter ego of the Purple Monster in Republic’s The Purple Monster Strikes…and a bit of a nebbish in the part).  Another performance I enjoy in Archer is our old pal Jack Ingram, who plays a hood named “Brad” (Brad?) in Bellamy’s employ disguised as The Green Archer…only he keeps getting mistaken for the real Green Archer, and frequently takes a pummeling from the other goons working for boss Bellamy (a thug named “Dinky” in particular).

Archer also has some really eye-popping chapter endings.  Among the perils Jory’s character faces: a room rapidly filling with water, another room with a spike-covered ceiling, and my particular favorite, a room that loses its floorboards one at a time to reveal a raging inferno below.

There’s just something irresistibly goofy about Columbia serials: I love how the fistfights do away with all that choreographed nonsense prevalent in Republic’s output and end up just being unorganized donnybrooks with fists flying and the sound effects making smacking sounds regardless whether a stuntman has hit his mark or not.  The heroes of Columbia cliffhangers also seem to be able to take on six to eight guys in one of these melees, and are only knocked out when (this is always shown in close up) one of the goons hits the hero with a heavy object (sap, gun butt, potted plant, etc.)  If I have any nitpicks with Archer, it’s that once again it suffers from the elephantiasis that is a Columbia chapter-play and should have been trimmed to twelve chapters before rolling off the assembly line.  (Oh, that and the fact that I figured out who the Archer was in the first chapter.)  Though my serial mentor Laughing Gravy doesn’t care for Archer, I enjoyed every cotton-pickin’ insane minute of it—and if you’re capable of allowing a little levity creep into your choice of serials, I think you will, too.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

“…as haunting to superstitious minds as a ghost…as inevitable as a guilty conscience…”

There are going to be a good many Shadow fans that will react to the James W. Horne serial The Shadow (1940) like an allergic-to-strawberries-rash…but since this is my blog, I’m here to tell you I’m not one of them.  I personally think, after watching all fifteen chapters, that Shadow is one of the best Columbia cliffhangers I’ve seen (keep in mind that I have oodles and oodles of their serial product to go through) even though it’s derived more from the pulp stories than the radio show (for instance, the Shadow can’t cloud men’s minds to make himself invisible…but the villain of the piece can with a narrow beam of light)…and to be completely honest, the plot is straight out of The Spider’s Web (1938).

You have a metropolis menaced by a mysterious, masked villain called the Black Tiger (in Web, it’s the Octopus) who seeks to take over all of the city’s industries by terrorizing its powers-that-be.  The hero is a scientist/criminologist whose secret identity as The Shadow (in Web, it’s the Spider) gets him in Dutch with both the authorities (who suspect that he and the Black Tiger are one and the same) and the underworld.  Naturally, to keep tabs on the underworld he must don another disguise (in Web, it’s Blinky McQuade): that of Lin Chang, an Asian antiquities dealer.  (Let me just say that those of you horrified by Sidney Toler or Peter Lorre’s performances as Asians need to take a gander at star Victor Jory’s Lin Chang—a character that makes Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto the very picture of political correctness.)  He is assisted by his confederates, Margo Lane (played by Veda Ann Borg…who I actually like in this part, even though I usually associate Borg with floozy roles) and Harry Vincent, Cranston’s wheel-man (played by Roger Moore…and not the one you’re thinking of).  If I had to nitpick, I wished someone had eliminated the Vincent character—popular in the pulp stories—and substituted Moe “Shreevy” Shrevnitz instead.  (“You was wantin’ somethin’, Mr. Cranston, you was wantin’?”)

However, the major difference between Web and Shadow is that the latter refuses to take itself too seriously—the goons working for the Black Tiger are among the most inept henchmen in serial history, which provides some wonderfully comic moments; my favorite is in Chapter 9—“The Devil in White”—when the Tiger’s chief henchman, Flint (played by TDOY fave Jack Ingram) tells his fellow thugs: “Now listen, men…we’ve got to do something—he’s really gettin’ mad!”  (I know it doesn’t play funny in print, but Ingram’s performance has a sort of “Will you guys stop pissing around?” quality to it.)  Much has also been said about the uninventiveness of the cliffhangers, a goodly portion of which consist of the ceiling falling down on Cranston/Shadow at each episode’s end.  Sure, this is undeniably funny and off-putting to those who shun comedy in serials…but I like how these events act as violent comic punch lines, similar to Wile E. Coyote tumbling off a cliff or Daffy Duck getting his face shot off by Elmer Fudd.  By contrast, the thugs in the Spider serials (well, Web, anyway) are pretty ruthless customers, despite the fact that they can’t seem to hit the broadside of a barn.  (The speculation on this is that the serial’s producers were ordered to downplay the violence as a result of rulings by the Hays Office.)

But the strengths of Shadow are many, chiefly Jory’s performance in the title role.  (He not only has a great voice, he can do the Shadow's laugh...which is more than Orson Welles could ever do.)  Jory was apparently banished to this serial by the studio for some slight or troublemaking he caused, and it’s a shame that Columbia didn’t punish him more often because he really grabs hold of the role and refuses the temptation to do shtick with it (he reminds me a bit of Basil Rathbone, who would have been the ideal choice to play the Shadow though that would in all likelihood not have happened).  I also like the serial’s brisk pacing; despite its fifteenth-chapter length it never gets boring (this might be due to the fact that director Horne would often direct scenes of people running or driving in slightly sped-up fashion…or as Laughing Gravy so memorable put it, “People moving as if their asses were on fire”)—and the effective atmospheric backdrop of a city under siege by sinister forces is grade-A. Though the identity of the villain is pretty easy to dope out, the ride there is nothing short of entertaining.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Along came a Spider

For the next few days, I’m going to be jotting down random thoughts about some of the cliffhanger gems in the oeuvre of James W. Horne, the veteran comedy director and prolific serial helmsman whose work has frequently created tendentious dissension among chapter-play fans.  Fortunately, Horne’s first assignment (which he co-directed with Ray Taylor…who presumably kept Jimmy’s excesses in check)—The Spider’s Web (1938), a serial based on the popular pulp magazine hero—is generally received with favor by those both pro- and anti-Horne…not only it is considered his best cliffhanger but it is also in contention for the best serial to come out of Columbia’s stables, a studio that tried like Avis but unfortunately churned out some embarrassing (and not only that, boring) stinkers.

Future Strike It Rich host Warren Hull (who also starred in serials as the Green Hornet and Mandrake the Magician) plays Richard Wentworth, a master criminologist/scientist who agrees to help a frustrated police force (presided over by Commissioner Kirk, played by Forbes Murray) capture the Octopus, a mysterious masked villain heck-bent on destroying the industrial infrastructure of an unnamed but big honkin’ metropolitan city in a desperately insane bid for raw, unchecked power.  (Sort of like Dick Cheney…but warmer.)  Assisting Wentworth are fiancée Nita Van Sloan (played by Columbia’s “Queen of Serials,” Iris Meredith), chauffeur Jackson (Richard Fiske, the poor sap driven to distraction by the Three Stooges in their 1940 two-reeler Boobs in Arms), a butler named Jenkins (Donald Douglas), and Ram Singh (Kenne Duncan), a turban-wearing “warrior” adept at knife-throwing but for most of the serial’s running time spouts cryptic proverbs and calls everyone “Sahib.”

Wentworth’s gang are in the serial (granted, they do on occasion pull his fat out of the fire in tight moments) primarily because they’re carryovers from the pulp stories but for the most part the criminologist does all right for himself with two secret identities.  The first is costumed hero The Spider, who not only strikes terror into the hearts of evildoers but is mistrusted by the forces of law and order, who are convinced that not only is he working against them but that he may, in fact, be the Octopus his own self.  Because “The Spider” is not particularly chummy with the criminal element, Wentworth must don a third disguise as two-bit lowlife Blinky McQuade, who nevertheless is a pal to any other losers he encounters.

The Spider’s Web is undeniably a rip-snortin’, slam-bang actioner, filled with impressive stunts (and the fight sequences aren’t too shabby, either) and a suspenseful plot that features great cliffhangers…that are, unfortunately, spoiled due to Columbia’s unfortunate habit of “telegraphing” future events with their ill-advised codas at the end of each chapter.  The performances are also good, particularly Hull and Meredith’s—it’s a shame that Meredith’s services couldn’t be retained for the 1941 sequel, The Spider Returns; actress Mary Ainslee takes on the Sloan role, and though I suppose you could argue that the fact that Nita has been waiting three years to march Richard down the aisle for the rice-and-old-shoes routine—with precious little success—it still doesn’t excuse Ainslee’s often irritating approach to the part (she’s a bit of a detriment, to tell the truth).  Hull and Duncan returned to reprise their roles (though Duncan’s Ram Singh really gets shunted to the background in Returns), with serial vet Joe Girard (the geriatric Major Steel in Captain Midnight) as Kirk and Pete Smith Specialties star Dave O’Brien (Captain Midnight himself) as Jackson the wheel-man.  (I like O’Brien’s approach to his role; it’s not entirely winking-at-the-audience but he doesn’t skimp on the tongue-in-cheek either.)  This time, the Spider takes on the Gargoyle (a better villain than the Octopus, in my opinion—though his identity is fairly obvious), a meanie who’s out to put a monkey wrench in the burgeoning defense industry (even though we’re technically not in the war yet, there’s still a ton of propaganda in this baby).  In all honesty, I thought Returns was every bit as good as Web, but there are scores of people who disagree with me.  There’s a scene in Chapter 6 (“The X-Ray Eye”) in which the Gargoyle spies on his henchmen…only to learn that they’re throwing a little office party, complete with drinks and floozies.  (One Serial Squadron member told me he and a friend fell on the floor laughing at this.)  Hey, when your head goon is played by Anthony Warde—the hardest working henchman in the serial business—shouldn’t he be entitled to a little R-and-R every now and then?  If you prefer your serials with a much smaller laugh quotient, then Returns will definitely not be your particular meat.

Friday, April 27, 2007


Via a post at Jaime Weinman’s Something Old, Nothing New (and the Home Theater Forum post that reveals the depressing news) I’ve learned to my consternation that the Shout! Factory release of The Best of The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet due out the first of May will contain the heavily-edited syndicated versions of the cherry-picked episodes of the long-running domestic comedy; last seen in repose on the afternoon schedule of GoodLife TV (“the channel where old TV shows go to die”).

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this turn of events.  First, I preordered the set—which usually spells trouble from the get-go.  Second, during its stint on GoodLife, Ozzie & Harriet were paired with another famous 50s sitcom family, the Williams’s (Danny, Kathy, Terry, Rusty and Linda) of Make Room for Daddy (a.k.a. The Danny Thomas Show) fame—a series also put cut to ribbons in syndication and whose repeats were used for the first (and of this writing, only) DVD release (dubbed “The Complete Fifth Season,” completely ignoring the Jean Hagen years).  On this boxset, the celebrated episode that served as the pilot for what later became The Andy Griffith Show is practically incomprehensible due to its chainsaw-like editing, a fate that also befell the Daddy episode that introduced Joey Bishop in the pilot for his 1961-65 sitcom.  (Though I maintain that much of the slicing-and-dicing of that half-hour is an insidious conspiracy instigated by Marlo Thomas to keep people from seeing what she looked like before she learned she didn’t have to go through life with her father’s nose.)

Since David Nelson has decided to go the cheap rate with his family-sanctioned DVD set. I’m guessing that the “radio episodes” that are to be included as extras in this collection are probably ones already in circulation among old-time radio fans.  I had heard quite some time ago (and I apologize for not having the full story—it’s hell getting old) that more of Ozzie & Harriet’s radio “adventures” are extant—only they’re under lock-and-key in some library collection of some college (I believe my source said Northwestern, but I could be wrong about this), tucked safely away from an admiring public.  This is a similar fate that befell some of Fred Allen’s broadcasts, which are now ensconced in the Boston Public Library (where Allen was employed while a mere sprat) so that greedy OTR entrepreneurs can’t get hold of them and sell them to people like myself.  (Joe Mackey and I once discussed an elaborate Ocean’s Eleven-like plot to rescue these tapes…but admittedly, the master plan is still in its embryonic stages.)

I don’t know if any Ozzie & Harriet fans are going to bite the bullet and still purchase the Shout! Factory set despite this revelation (in fact, I don’t know many Ozzie & Harriet fans period) but I will suggest an alternate route: check out this latest Mill Creek Entertainment release.  It’s advertised as Fun with Ozzie & Harriet, a public domain collection of thirty-eight episodes…but if you order it from Deep, it will arrive at your doorstep with one hundred episodes under the title The Essential Ozzie & Harriet Collection.  All for the low price of $6.58, which you cannot beat with a stick.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

“We’ve been tricked by cleverness!”

Laughing Gravy, who tears the tickets in half at the must-read classic films website In the Balcony, has alerted his loyal readers to a pair of cliffhangers available on DVD and currently being offered sporadically on eBay by a company calling itself Restored Serials.  Both of these serials are widely available from other dealers, but the Restored Serials versions feature slightly superior prints of two fan favorites: The Spider Returns (1941) and The Adventures of Sir Galahad (1949).

Returns is a sequel to The Spider’s Web, a 1938 chapter-play considered by many serial fans to be the best that Columbia Studios offered.  It was directed by James W. Horne, a man whose name is anathema to about fifty percent of serial aficionados…and a godsend to the other half.  Horne’s experience as a veteran comedy director (among his resume you’ll find Laurel & Hardy’s The Bohemian Girl and Way Out West) had a tendency to drift into his cliffhanger productions, often devising bits of intentional comedy that die-hard serial fans have denounced as the work of the Devil.  (In my opinion—and I stress that this is my opinion only—comedy can only help a serial.  Horne directed Captain Midnight, one of my favorite entries among Columbia’s prolific serial output.)  One member of the Serial Squadron, who vehemently disagrees with my comedy cliffhanger thesis, nevertheless told me in a chat session last night that if I continue to cling to my theory I will positively adore The Spider Returns.  Despite our disagreement, I value his judgment and am looking forward to seeing it.

Galahad is pretty much what the title implies; a romp with the famed Knight of the Round Table (played by future Superman George Reeves) and his quest to recover the sword known as Excalibur.  It has its detractors and defenders and while I haven’t viewed it yet, any serial that attempts to do something different always gets a vote of confidence from me (though Who’s Guilty almost put the kibosh on that).  Hopefully I’ll get a chance to slip it into the DVD player soon, but this evening I turned my attention to another serial purchased from Restored Serials, Republic’s The Crimson Ghost (1946).

Republic Studios’ reputation as the go-to guy for cliffhangers is, of course, legendary among serial fans—though I’ll risk blasphemy here and state that while some truly fine chapter-plays were cranked out from the “Thrill Factory,” some of them were so bad they made Columbia and Universal’s product look like masterpieces.  Many of the post-war Republics are like this; you can find a nugget among the dross but you have to look mighty hard.  Well, look no further than Ghost—an engaging little vehicle that moves at breakneck speed with energetic stunts and unique chapter endings to compliment its first-rate cast and script.

Professor Chambers (Kenne Duncan) is a scientific genius who’s developed a device known as the Cyclotrode, designed to detect and repel atomic-bomb attacks which he intends to use for niceness instead of evil.  Unfortunately, a costumed villain known as The Crimson Ghost has other designs on Chambers’ toy, and he kidnaps the good professor, placing him under his power by placing a “control collar” around his neck that will make the scientist bend to his will.  (It also repels fleas and ticks for up to three months…but as far as heartworms go, he’s on his own.)  Chambers’ protégé, scientist and criminologist Duncan Richards (Charles Quigley), has his hands full over twelve chapters trying to stop the Ghost’s diabolical scheme, his identity unknown but is suspected to be one of four professors at a nearby university to whom Richard reports in each chapter.  Dunky is also assisted by his lovely assistant, Diana Farnsworth—played by none other than Linda Stirling, a.k.a. “Queen of the Serials.”

The mystery element of Ghost—who is the person behind this costumed creep?—is one of the things that makes the serial so entertaining; Republic cleverly concealed the villain’s identity by having the Ghost played by a stuntman (Bud Geary) and voiced by several actors—one of which is I. Stanford Jolley, who receives fourth billing even though he has a tiny role as a man posing as a government-appointed psychiatrist.  The plot is also top-notch, Quigley is a likable (if slightly stiff) hero, and Stirling is always lovely to look at…though I prefer to watch her in cliffhangers in which she has more to do, like Zorro’s Black Whip (1944) and The Tiger Woman (1944).  I like how the serial’s plot contains a few interesting twists: one of the major characters snuffs it in the third chapter, and there’s a nail-biting sequence where Quigley attempts an operation on Stirling to remove a “control collar” bestowed upon her by the villainous Ghost.  (Previous attempts to remove these collars ultimately result in the deaths of the unfortunates.)  There are also some first-rate cliffhangers (my favorite is in Chapter 10, “The Trap That Failed,” in which a truck containing Stirling and one of the professors crashes through a wall of a warehouse and off the pier to the water below—I saw the warehouse and just assumed that the Brothers Lydecker would end up blowing it to smithereens) and slam-bang action sequences (Quigley’s stunt double steps off a wall in order to leap upon his opponent in the first chapter), and the ‘rents (who ended up watching it with me) enjoyed it as much as I did; Mom in particular, who was enchanted by the fact that her childhood hero, Clayton Moore, played the Ghost’s chief henchman.  (Hey—any serial that lets Moore appear not only in a gas mask but a surgeon’s mask, allowing the serial’s viewers to shout out “Who IS that masked man?” is aces in my book.)  Mom and I were also reduced to hysterics by the time of the twelfth chapter, in which the villains are subdued with the help of a ferocious dog named…wait for it…”Timmy.”  (“Get ‘im, Timmy!”)

During the viewing of Ghost, Mom started complaining that the only serials she ever sees Clayton Moore in are the ones in which he’s the bad guy.  (I guess she forgot about Jesse James Rides Again, which we watched back in January.)  If I can figure out what I’ve done with Perils of Nyoka (1942), I’m going to try and put that one on for her later this week—but if I’m unable to locate its whereabouts, we’ll have to settle for the too-boring-for-words Jungle Drums of Africa (1953).

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Chapter 2-15: Atom Man vs. Superman

Previously on Thrilling Days of Yesteryear:

Against my better judgment, I told the GM this morning that I could be persuaded—if necessary—to sit in on the first four hours of the audit to make certain these two were up to speed on the changes.  (I had also been asked by the full-time auditor at the La Quinta on 204/I-95 if she could sit in as well.)  Lord knows I did not want to do this, and in fact I was praying that the GM would say “Hell, no” because I’m already swimming in enough overtime to incur the wrath of his boss.  No such luck.  He’s given me the greenlight.

Why do I have a bad feeling about this?

So I arrived at work last night around nine-ish, and I’m making major preparations to finish the pre-audit in time so that Little Miss Weekend Warrior, Dreads and the I-95 auditor can benefit from my aggravations with our new Nite Vision system this past week.  At 9:45 p.m., one of the individuals manning the front desk answers the phone and on the other line is Dreads.  She tells him she will not be in this evening.

What followed was a high-pitched primal scream that broke the sound barrier, emanating from yours truly.  I knew she was planning to dick me over—I should have seen it coming.  Dreads worked for us once before as a front desk clerk before agreeing to move up to the assistant head of housekeeping position and being transferred to the Southside La Quinta.  She was relieved of her duties when she phoned the GM one Sunday morning five minutes before her shift to inform him that she couldn’t come to work that day…a pattern that she had established on several other occasions.

I take the front desk person who spoke to Dreads into my confidence, and instruct him to call the GM, telling him that he needs to let our GM know that there is no way on God’s green earth that I will work out the rest of the audit—that is not what I agreed to, and if necessary I will walk the hell out right now.

Co-worker phones the boss, who chats with him for a minute or two, and then asks to speak to me.  “It’s a good thing you agreed to come in tonight,” he says weakly.

“Listen—I’m serious about this.  If that dame thinks she’s going to get away with this, she’s nuts.  I am not going to…”

He cuts me off and tells me I’m “jumping to conclusions.”  He’ll find someone else to finish out the shift.  (As it so happens, he talks my co-worker into it—my co-worker is a bit of a night-owl anyway—and because I really appreciate him stepping in and taking the bullet, I buy him a bacon cheeseburger and fries from Denny’s later that morning.)  The GM then lets me in on the knowledge that he also feared that Dreads would be a no-show as well.  Apparently Dreads is scheduled to go on a cruise beginning Sunday night, and the GM has the Big Balls in Cowtown to remark that the AGM (assistant general manager) at Southside was concerned about this because that meant the relief auditor would have to work six days straight.

Talk about chutzpah.  “I notice she never displayed that kind of concern when she was working over here and scheduling me for six days in a row,” I remarked through clenched teeth.  He tries to weasel out with an explanation on how the Southside’s relief auditor is on some sort of disability but at this point in the conversation I have ceased to care.

Naturally, the rest of the evening did not go as planned.  Miss Weekend Warrior also failed to show (in fact, I believe they tried to call her to come in for Dreads, with no luck) and the planned midnight audit was stalled when I learned that no one—despite my mentioning it to at least three individuals that morning—had bothered to make sure that the rooms for a group that was in-house would all be routed to the same folio.  (Yes, I ended up having to do this.)  Then I learn from my new best friend at the front desk that we still have three more rooms to rent (the housekeeper who cleans at night failed to bring this to my attention, though in her defense I was sort of busy at the desk selling a bunch of rooms we were stuck with because no one cancelled the 6pm arrivals) and so we were trying frantically to rent those before closing out the day.  At 1:30am, I get a call from the I-95 dame that the reason she missed her midnight appointment was that she drove her car into a ditch (I didn’t ask; apparently her driving skills are legendary as well as atrocious).  I tell her that if she can find a way to the motel she can still witness the audit since I’ve not been able to start it yet.

I ended up clocking out around 3:30am, which is when I sashayed over to Denny’s to buy breakfast for myself and my front desk colleague.  I then secured a cab about an hour later, stumbling into the house about 4:55.  By that time, I wasn’t in the mood to sit down with pen and paper and chronicle the events of Chapter Two of Atom Man vs. Superman (1950)—instead, I just put the DVD on and started to watch the rest of the serial until its completion.  Let’s be honest—I have no idea what the next round of Saturdays are going to be like (I think it’s safe to say Dreads won’t be pulling down any more shifts at either location, and that they’ll find some prized schmuck to fill in on Friday nights…to quote Dick Powell, “Yours truly will likely get a chunk of it”) and while I have made every attempt to emulate the ways of my serials mentor, Laughing Gravy (watching a chapter a week) I’m failing miserably at it.  My craving for instant gratification has necessitated the cancellation of Saturday Morning Serials for the time being, and from now on cliffhangers will be devoured in one full gulp.

There are, however, some loose ends to tie up.  I’ve stated in the past that I’ve thought the first Superman serial was the superior chapter-play…but after re-watching Atom Man, this statement doesn’t hold water.  Atom Man is a better serial, though it’s not without its faults.  To start off, the whole Atom Man character—dictated by the plot to be a decoy persona for arch-nemesis Lex Luthor (Lyle Talbot), who is pretending to go straight—is completely unnecessary.  Talbot spends a great deal of screen time resplendent in black choir robe and a helmet that looks like a cross between a champagne bucket and ornate planter, and he speaks with an accent that sounds like a bad Bela Lugosi impression.  The character comes across as totally embarrassing and ridiculous—if they needed to include Atom Man, they should have used the one from the radio Superman that was played by Mason “With a name like Smuckers’, it’s got to be good” Adams.

The other debit in Atom Man is that its interesting plot peters out much too quickly—though this could be due to Columbia’s infuriating habit of padding out material over fifteen chapters, when twelve would have sufficed.  The major scenario—Luthor invents a device that will scatter Superman’s atoms hither and thither through out outer space—gets underway in Chapter Eight, and concludes around Chapter Ten.  This leaves five more chapters of the same-old, same-old shenanigans: Luthor’s henchmen are able to commit crimes and vanish from the scene thanks to coins with a special alloy in their pocket.  It would have been better to shuffle the series of events so that the Man of Steel’s trip into “the empty doom” was featured in Chapter 13 or 14.

Apart from all this, Atom Man is a fun (good, but not great) serial; one of Columbia’s best, in my humble opinion.  The cliffhangers are better than those in the previous Superman outing, the characters more engaging (though the source material has more to do with that than anything) and there are some nicely nuanced throwaway bits to lighten up the proceedings.  There’s a priceless scene where Clark Kent (Kirk Alyn) helps Lois Lane (Noel Neill) blow out the birthday candles on her cake with his “super breath” and Perry White is featured in a funny running gag in which he pulls out a stogie but can’t find a light.  Atom Man also contains one of my favorite jokes in a cliffhanger: Lois tells Jimmy Olsen (Tommy Bond) that they must return to Metropolis (whose destruction has been threatened by Luthor) to “write the story—even if it’s our last.”  “I’d rather read about it!” is Olsen’s hysterical reply.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My stinkin’ job

If you keep up with the frantic activity on this blog (that’s a joke, son!) you might remember a previous occasion when I went out of my way to do something nice for the hotel that employs me as a night auditor…only to see it turn around and bite me in the ass.  (I’m referring to the time that I suggested that our former doofus of a security guard, “Slappy,” be transferred to Sunday/Monday nights in an effort to protect our declining hotel scores…only to have the rug pulled out from under me when they saddled me with him for both nights, working Monday and Tuesdays.)  I swore to myself that I would not allow this to happen again…but of course, I’m an idiot, and I rarely learn from my mistakes.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning.  This past week, the La Quinta Midtown followed the lead of other La Quintas in the chain and switched operating systems over to something called Nite Vision, which is without a doubt the least audit-friendly system that I have ever encountered.  Our former system, known as LISA, was designed for accounting purposes.  Nite Vision—touted by the powers-that-be as the greatest idea since the walking man—is geared more toward hotel and motel management…but because auditing, in my opinion, is basically accounting I am hating the new system with the intensity of a thousand white-hot suns.  We converted to Nite Vision Monday night, and by Tuesday evening everyone who went near the damn thing was reduced to a helpless, gibbering idiot (though for some of the people at the front desk, this is barely noticeable).

I was given the extreme pleasure of conducting our first Nite Vision audit, a task that has since become a blur because not only did I spend what appeared to be forty-eight hours on it (okay, I may be exaggerating a tad) anything that could conceivably go wrong did that evening: some numbnut neglected to buy more copier paper, the phones went out, etc.  But did I let the system defeat me?  Did I break down crying, curled up in a fetal position and wishing for it to go away?  Of course I did—several times that night, in fact.  But eventually I wrestled the bull by the horns (okay, maybe this isn’t the best analogy but work with me here) and took control of the situation.  And with each subsequent night, as I became more and more confident with using the system…I became more and more convinced that it’s a steaming pile of horse crud.

It has definitely changed the face of auditing around the Midtown location because I have no earthly idea of knowing whether anything is correct because I cannot print out any pre-reports—I have no idea of knowing whether the rates are correct or the tax exempts have been applied right because the system either does not allow me to print out certain reports or I can’t locate the reports that, if they can be printed, need to be printed out.  It’s almost like the people who designed this damn thing just assumed that no one at that front desk ever makes a mistake, a thought that makes me cackle wildly to the point where I’m ready for a friggin’ strait-jacket.

I’ve been the guinea pig on this thing all week, and the GM is still convinced that the powers-that-be have made the right decision (though he says this in a “Raymond-Shaw-is-the-kindest-bravest-warmest-most-wonderful-human-being-I've-ever-known-in-my-life” Manchurian-Candidate kind of way).  But here’s the real test: will the relief auditors, “Little Miss Weekend Warrior” and the other gal (she works four days a week at our Southside location, and one at Midtown) I refer to as “Dreads,” be able to perform this new audit.  The smart money says no: Warrior made no attempt to attend any of the sessions conducted for the new system (though she did sit in and watch me do half the audit before taking off, explaining she had to go) while Dreads, though she was present and accounted for at the night auditor Nite Vision session, has ignored the conversion completely.

Against my better judgment, I told the GM this morning that I could be persuaded—if necessary—to sit in on the first four hours of the audit to make certain these two were up to speed on the changes.  (I had also been asked by the full-time auditor at the La Quinta on 204/I-95 if she could sit in as well.)  Lord knows I did not want to do this, and in fact I was praying that the GM would say “Hell, no” because I’m already swimming in enough overtime to incur the wrath of his boss.  No such luck.  He’s given me the greenlight.

Why do I have a bad feeling about this?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Spirits and demons beware

Before Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (oh, and Ernie Hudson) began investigating something strange in your neighborhood, Saturday morning kidvid aficionados knew who the real Ghost Busters were: a pair of bumbling paranormal investigators and their pet gorilla who answered to Spenser, Tracy and Kong.  (For the record…Tracy was the gorilla.)  I mentioned back in February that BCI-Navarre was bringing this Saturday morning perennial to DVD, and since it arrived in the mail this week (along with my Criterion copy of Brute Force)…well, let’s just say curiosity did the rest.

Premiering on CBS in the fall of 1975, The Ghost Busters was part of a Saturday morning tradition of live action shows produced especially for kids and adults with no discriminating taste (I used to belong to the former group—now I’m in the latter).  It reunited former F Troop co-stars Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch and allowed them to do their patented vaudeville burlesque in a series that honestly hasn’t changed all that much from what I remember.  (I will issue a caveat here: if you’re unlike me and you look upon F Troop as a television travesty, you will not want to order this DVD set.)  Though the humor is unabashedly corny and kid-oriented (many of the jokes are the sort that even Abbott and Costello would have taken a pass on) it is still amusing once I go to my “silly place.”  The running gags (Storch’s weekly struggle with a mind-of-its-own file cabinet, plus the fact that all the ghosts choose “the old castle near the cemetery” as their hideout), Bob Burns’ wonderful gorilla-suited turn as Tracy and the one-of-a-kind chemistry between Tucker and Storch still brings a smile to my jaded face (the fact that both actors unabashedly give their all to material that neither Oscar Wilde nor Noel Coward contributed to is inspiring, to say the least).  Burns observes in an interview on the DVD set that he was in such awe of his two co-stars that it affected his performance; he held back as the “gorilla” fearing he would upstage their antics.  When he finally summed up the nerve to discuss it with Tucker, the actor shrugged it off and told him not to worry about it because “I’m too old to care and Larry is too dumb.”  (Burns also reveals that Storch would refer to his pal as “Sarge,” something that as an F Troop fan I find oddly endearing.)

But the best thing about Ghost Busters is that the series attracted an impressive wattage of character talent that felt the same way Tucker and Storch did: they were there to entertain people and only too happy to get the work.  That’s why you find performers like Ted Knight as “The Canterville Ghost,” an outing that also co-stars Family Affair’s Kathy Garver and Len “Uncle Leo” Lesser.  Knight had a long association with Filmation, the producers of Busters, having done voice work on their animated shows like Fantastic Voyage and Journey to the Center of the Earth.  (Knight even posed as an animation editor on one occasion in an effort to convince a visiting businessman to invest in the company.)  Other character greats to appear on the show include Bernie Kopell (channeling KAOS’ Siegfried as Dr. Frankenstein), Lennie Weinrib, Marty Ingels, Severn Darden (as Dr. Henry Jekyll), Joe E. Ross (as Mr. Hyde—though he appears to be wearing his caveman get-up from It’s About Time), Howard Morris, Jim Backus and Ronny Graham.

Fifteen episodes of Busters were produced at breakneck speed (I believe they mentioned that it was done in about three months in one of the interviews) and of those fifteen my favorites are “The Maltese Monkey” (the plot is too stupid for words but I like Good Times’ Johnny Brown’s impression of Sydney Greenstreet and Billy Barty’s take on Peter Lorre) and “Which Witch is Which?”  This last one is a real hoot: The Dick Van Dyke Show’s Ann Morgan Guilbert is a Salem witch who comes back to take revenge on the ancestor of the man who burned her at the stake (if you guessed that it’s Storch, then you can skip this one) and Bowery Boy Huntz Hall plays her incredibly dense sidekick (and yes, he does the “Motorlips” bit).  Hall’s character (an amiable dunce named Gronk) must have been well received because he turned up in another episode, this time stooging for “Merlin the Magician”—with the titular sorcerer played by Carl Ballantine of McHale’s Navy fame.  (How Gronk met up with Merlin is left unexplained.)

This two-disc set features some generous extras, including interviews with Burns and producer Lou Scheimer, photo galleries and some trailers for Filmation series either already out on DVD or due to come (including Ark II, Space Academy, Jason of Star Command and The Secrets of Isis).  Curiously, there’s also an episode of the animated Ghost Busters, which followed the exploits of Spenser, Tracy and Kong’s descendants.  This show was so terrible that I didn’t even mind when a rival cartoon—using the characters from the Murray-Aykroyd-Ramis film—called itself The Real Ghostbusters.  (Because I know who the real originals are:  “With us on the job/troubles will fade/the Ghost Busters do it againnnnn…”)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Leave of absence

I know, I know.  “Where the hell has he been the past several days?”  “Why has he neglected the blog?”  “Oh, Kee-rist—he’s babbling about his job again…”  These and many other thoughts are probably parading through the mind of the vast readership (in the high two figures) at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

Truth be told, there are two explanations.  One, I have been busier than the proverbial one-armed paperhanger.  This past Saturday and Sunday were the two weekend days that required my presence at the La Quinta Midtown because the relief auditor (who I have now seen fit to dub “Little Miss Weekend Warrior”) has that prior commitment to Uncle Sam that she neglected to mention to management until after she was hired.  As such, this requires me to work six days straight, and while I’ve been doing that I’ve also had to juggle a pair of outside writing projects…one of which was due today.

The other excuse for my blog reticence has to do with writing—namely, a crippling case of writer’s block.  It’s a condition that I have succumbed to many times in the past, often forgoing a go at the old pen and paper (or in this case, Microsoft Word) to instead lie about listlessly watching nostalgic television or classic movies…and having no desire to jot down my impressions.  (And when you’re in the middle of projects where people are paying you to write, it can be mighty inconvenient.)

But I hope to have something substantial up on the blog within the next day or so—except that I just realized I used the words “substantial” and “blog” in the same sentence.  If push comes to shove, I can always bitch about my job.

Friday, April 13, 2007

“From West Virginia they came to stay/In sunny Cali-forn-i-a…”

While looking at some new releases over at DVD Price Search, I saw a listing for The Real McCoys: Season #1 that is apparently going to hit the streets May 22, 2007 courtesy of Infinity Entertainment.   McCoys was a monster sitcom hit for ABC (and later CBS) from 1957-63, starring character great Walter Brennan as cantankerous Amos McCoy, the patriarch of a West Virginia family who uprooted their holdings in the Mountain State and moved westward to California like a modern-day Joad family.  Dick Crenna (now being billed as Richard) co-starred as his grandson Luke, who was married to the magically babe-a-licious Kathleen Nolan as Kate; other regulars in the cast included Lydia Reed, Tony Martinez, Michael Winkelman, Madge Blake and Andy Clyde.

The Real McCoys isn’t entirely new to DVD; Rhino released two “Best of” collections a good while back but I’m glad to see that season-by-season sets are being attempted since the series ushered in the spate of rural situation comedies (The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, etc.) that dominated American television in the 1960s.  The series, although relying on the broad depiction of mountain folk for much of its humor, is one of the very few that featured positive images of West Virginians (the only other one I can think of right-off-the-bat is receptionist Jennifer Marlowe, played by Loni Anderson on WKRP in Cincinnati); the family McCoy might have been a bit uninformed on the ways of their adoptive state, but they were certainly a good role model for families back then.  I can’t help but think of the program when the University of Virginia’s “Pep Band” poked fun five years ago at their West Virginia University competitors during half-time by portraying a West Virginia girl as a “Beverly Hillbillies”-type they raised the ire of West Virginia’s then-governor Robert Wise, who demanded an apology from University President John T. Casteen III for the slight.  Had I been in Wise’s shoes, I would have painstakingly pointed out to U.Va. that the Beverly Hillbillies were from Arkansas (not West Virginia), thus saying all that needed to be said on the intelligence running rampant in that institution.  (Sadly, people still invoke the “Beverly Hillbillies” example in describing Mountain State natives to this day, as in the case of this overpaid clown from USA Today.)

Anyhoo, CD Universe is listing the McCoys set at $16.44 (which seems like a steal except their s&h rate is $6.99) for the time being…and there’s also a link to another set being released at the same time entitled Suspense: The Lost Episodes Collection which sounds as if they’re putting together episodes of the television version of “radio’s outstanding theatre of thrills.”  It sounds intriguing; I only wish there was more information to go with it.

Update: I spoke too soon about the Suspense set, has the collection on their website and confirms that it contains thirty episodes from the 1949-54 series based on the long running radio anthology.  Nifty!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

“Powerful tiny fists…”

Apologies to all for having neglected the blog this long, but I’ve been kind of taking advantage of my three-days-off occurring in the middle of the week this time ‘round to work on outside projects…and for some odd reason, spending every free moment in front of the DVD player watching what can only be called a Scrubs marathon.  Even though I don’t watch the series on a regular basis as I once did, I have been dutifully purchasing the season-by-season box sets…and after sampling a two-hour mini-marathon last Saturday (while at Sister Kat’s) on the Comedy Channel I thought I would bring myself up to speed with the goings-on at Sacred Heart Hospital.

When Scrubs first premiered in the fall of 2001, I counted myself one of the sitcom’s biggest fans—I liked the show’s sharp, witty dialogue and its frequent forays into the absurd (something, I remember reading reviews at the time, the critics did not particularly care for).  But for some odd reason, the show was sort of the red-headed stepchild in NBC’s comedy lineup, never earning the accolades of a show like, Friends, for example.  I’m glad to see that with each passing season, the sitcom has finally gotten a little respect (winning a coveted Peabody award this month).  Scrubs’ strengths include its expert blend of comedy and pathos and fast pacing, not to mention its superb ensemble cast—not only the major players but its backup team of utility actors as well.  In the beginning, I tried to get my mother hooked on it but I think the show’s MTV-style gaggery has a tendency to go over her head.  Still, I have not given up hope—her favorite television hunk, Christopher Meloni (from Law & Order: SVU), guest stars in “My White Whale,” an episode from the third season and I plan to unspool this one for her when she gets back from her business trip this Saturday.

The only sand-in-the-crankcase during my Scrubs marathon is that the first disc in the Complete Fourth Season set has a big honkin’ scratch of undetermined origin, effectively keeping me from seeing episodes four through nine.  I will have to rectify this tragedy as soon as possible.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Buh-bye, Slappy

If you’ve just stumbled onto this blog, you might want to go back and revisit the TDOY archives to learn the story of “Slappy,” the sharp-as-a-marble security officer who provides endless amusement for the front desk staff at the La Quinta Midtown…except for one, the cranky night auditor who is frequently driven to distraction with his man-child antics.  (In case you haven’t figured it out, that night auditor is me.)

It’s a little too premature to be reporting this, but as of Tuesday morning, Slappy has been relieved of his part-time La Quinta duties.  We had a new man patrolling the hotel’s grounds Tuesday evening and though he described himself as a “floater” I’m hoping that the security company will be providing a suitable replacement by next Monday eve.

Monday night, Slappy informs my co-worker (the individual who’s manning the desk from 9 to 11pm until I come on) that he can’t climb upstairs anymore because he’s afraid of heights.  Why this realization took more than a year to discover I do not know, but said co-worker tells me he’s going to have to drop a few things off at several upstairs rooms because Slappy refuses to go.  I venture out of the back office and, seeing the Slapster is seated at one of the tables in our lobby, I inform him that this does not bode well for his career at La Quinta.  What I said was, “I don’t think the boss is going to allow me to call those individuals getting out of hand or creating a disturbance to ask them if they can move it downstairs so that my security guard can handle the situation.”

Slappy tells me he’s not feeling well.  “I’m sick, man—real sick,” he continues to wail over and over and over again.  He reveals further that he’s not necessarily afraid of heights, it’s that he gets dizzy climbing the stairs and he feels like he’s going to fall.  So I tell him that if he’s ill, he needs to call his office…inform them of his situation…and let them know that they need to send someone out here in his place.  I hand him the phone and he complies with my request.

This past week, we’ve been tres, tres busy here at Midtown—due in part to Spring Break and also the Masters Tournament in Augusta.  (Yes, hotels are busy to the point where guests are actually forced across the state and into Savannah.)  So the audit has been a little heavier than normal, and I find myself with precious little time to devote the usual amount of adult supervision in Slappy’s case.  He did discuss the matter of his being sick with the guy in charge of the security office, and he tells me that the individual told him to sit tight while he made preparations to get a replacement out to us.  I then told Slappy (in retrospect, kind of stupid I know) that he could either walk around the property to a) get some fresh air and b) pretend he’s doing his job or he could sit down for a breather until his substitute arrived.  Naturally, he chose the option that would involve sitting down.

And he sat…and he sat…and he sat…for about four-and-a-half hours, according to my watch.  At first, I wasn’t too concerned about this because this security company is notoriously slow in getting a relief man (or woman) out to us.  But gradually, it becomes apparent that the guy he talked to apparently rolled over and went back to sleep, because after two hours he’s still sitting there and no one’s coming to relieve him.  On top of this, he starts complaining to just about everyone who walks into the lobby (the driver of the CSX van, our two Carolina Trailways drivers, etc.) about how the people who employ him aren’t doing him right—he’s sick, and when he talked to his boss he told him to “stick it out for the rest of the night.”

As you may have guess, the part about “sticking it out for the rest of the night” doesn’t jibe with the rest of his story—particularly the part about his company sending out a replacement.  When I call him on this, he assures me that help is on the way—but with every passing hour, it’s not looking good.  In fact, when he told the CSX van driver about how cruel his company was for making him work while he was sick, the driver gives me the hairy eyeball, thinking I’m the slave driver.  I shot back a look that I hoped conveyed the message: “Do you see him sitting there?  Does it look like he’s working?”

By this time, I was grabbing items out of our makeshift kitchen and bringing them out to the breakfast area in preparation for our award-winning continental breakfast.  It’s about twenty minutes before Slappy’s shift officially ends, and as I enter the lobby through the back door he says to me excitedly: “Hey!  I know now what was making me sick!  My blood sugar was low!  I just checked it and it was low!”

So I just stood there, silent and not moving a muscle, because to do so would involve me strangling the little twerp and I’m not entirely 100% certain a jury is going to let me walk—this is Georgia, you know.  He proceeds to produce a hamburger that his wife made for his lunch and pops it in the microwave, wolfs that down and then asks me if he can have some toast.

“Slappy—a half-hour ago you were at freakin’ death’s door…and now, just as it becomes time for you to leave you’ve got the nerve to ask for breakfast?”  I continue to stare at him as his pudgy little fingers shove the remaining bits of burger into his maw.  He then realized that we had this conversation about sponging off the breakfast area last week, and decides that it was bad form to ask me for toast—but instead, picks up the house phone and calls his wife to let her know he’s on his way home…and asks if she’ll make him some pancakes for breakfast.

As he gets ready to leave, he says to me: “Well, I guess I’ll see you tonight.”  He turns to go, and I interrupt him with the aural equivalent of floodgates being opened.

“Slappy—I’m going to do everything in my power…move heaven and earth if I have to…to make sure you never cross that threshold in an employment capacity ever again.  Your career here at La Quinta is over, my friend.  You’ve spent the last four-and-a-half hours with your fat ass in that chair, complaining you’re sick, and now I learn that it’s all because you refuse to take care of yourself.  You played me, man—and the camel is buried in a big straw stack.”

He interrupts me with “No, I didn’t play you” but I’m not finished.  “Slappy, I don’t know why I felt sorry for you.  You’re a diabetic, and yet you continue to shovel crap and garbage down your gullet that completely violates the diet of any known diabetic.  If my father ate even half the shit you do, my mother would be a widow now.  There wasn’t anything wrong with you this evening that a proper diet wouldn’t cure, but instead you decided to play the illness card and faked being sick so that you wouldn’t have to do a goddamned thing.  Well, it’s over, my friend—I’m done protecting your job.  I’m fed up with your mooching and napping and your just-plain-laziness.  The GM and I are going to have a talk in the morning about this, and again…if you’re still employed here by the time we finish our chinwag, I can assure you that I won’t be.”

I related this incident to my boss in pretty much the same manner as set down in this post, and even though he looks upon Slappy as some sort of hotel court jester, he reluctantly agreed that Slappy had to get the yank.  He says to me: “Did you really tell him about doing everything in your power to keep him from coming back here?”

“You better believe it,” I responded.  “My only request is that you don’t make a liar out of me.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The magnificence of the Ambersons

I mentioned back in January that I had ordered a copy of Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) on a Region 2 DVD available from Universal (UK) via, and I just recently got around to slipping it into my DVD player for a look-see.  This amazing film—which some argue tops Welles’ freshman effort, Citizen Kane (1941)—receives a not-too-shabby treatment on disc…though once again, I’m curious as to how Universal (UK) obtained the rights to an RKO property that now belongs to Warner Home Video (courtesy of Ted Turner, natch).  I suppose I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth—after all, it could have been colorized like the loathsome Region 2 DVD treatment of The Big Steal (1949).

The grapevine says that WHV is bringing Ambersons to disc sometime next year, so I suppose I could have waited (if they do it up nice and include some interesting extras I may purchase that version) but this disc will do for the time being…and besides, I don’t know where I’ll be a year from now.  There is an interesting interview with Bill Krohn (a director-writer-producer on the 1993 documentary It’s All True, which partially reconstructs Welles’ ill-fated 1942 project of the same name) included on the Region 2 version that provides an interesting timeline on the events surrounding the butchering of Ambersons (approximately fifty minutes of the finished product was cut, leaving a bowdlerized version with a tacked-on “happy” ending), a film that just may very well have been (in its completed form) Welles’ true cinematic masterpiece.  The featurette is sort of tough to slog through, mainly because of Krohn’s halting French (but, hey—he speaks the language better than I do, so I suppose I should shut up), but I was taken with his argument that what sealed the director’s fate at RKO was not the poor box-office reception of Kane or Ambersons (Krohn argues that RKO wasn’t expecting either film to do boffo b.o. because of their “art” status) but that of Journey Into Fear (1942), the programmer produced and partially directed by Welles (who also played the memorable role of Colonel Haki) that the studio was counting on to recoup the losses from the first two films.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Takin’ care of business

Close to twenty years ago, I was toiling as a CSR (Customer Service Representative) for a Blockbuster Video franchise here in Savannah and in retrospect, it was one of the best jobs I ever had.  (It all went south when I was forced into becoming an assistant manager.)  Being a movie buff, I generously took advantage of the store’s free rental policy for its staff (you usually had to wait for the new releases, but for a classic film geek like me all the older stuff was there for the taking) and caught up on my sadly neglected film education.

One of the movies I rented simply because I was tickled by its premise was Heartbreak Hotel (1988), a rock ‘n’ roll fable whose plot centers on the kidnapping of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll (David Keith) in 1972 by an Ohio j.d. (Charlie Schlatter) and his pals in an effort to cheer up his mom (Tuesday Weld), who’s been laid low in a car accident.  Hotel was cute and forgettable (though Weld is always worth a look-see—plus it features two of my favorite country music singers, T. Graham Brown and Hal Ketchum) and yet I always believed that someone missed out on turning it into a TV series (kind of a Route 66 affair) that would feature the King driving from small town to small town, tackling odd jobs and helping small communities by healing the sick, making the lame walk, etc.  (The idea of Elvis being alive and well was later co-opted by an episode (“Spotting Elvis”) of a short-lived series, Johnny Bago, starring Peter Dobson as a hood on the run from both the Mafia and his vengeful ex-wife.  The King was spending his declining years in a trailer park in that one.)

I sort of expected the same Heartbreak Hotel whimsy during the wee a.m. hours of this morning when I put Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) in the DVD player but I was surprised after watching it to see most of the cast playing it straight—well, as straight as a movie starring Bruce Campbell can be.  Bruce plays a geriatric Elvis biding his time in an East Texas nursing home when he and his pal John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis—and that’s not a typo) learn that an Egyptian mummy is prowling the halls of their facility and sucking out the lifeforce from the souls of its residents.  The King and JFK team up to defeat this undead menace in a horror film generously laced with deadpan comedy, directed and written by Don Coscarelli, who’s a legend among horror fans for the Phantasm series.  (The screenplay for Bubba was adapted from a short story/novella written by Texan Joe R. Lansdale.)  Bubba is a hell of a lot of fun for viewers who park their brains in neutral: Campbell channels Elvis extremely well and in addition to Davis’ performance there are also impressive turns from Ella Joyce (who played Charles S. Dutton’s ever-patient spouse on the underrated Roc sitcom) and Larry “Dash Riprock” Pennell as a resident who thinks he’s the Lone Ranger.  I can’t wait to see Ho-Tepís prequel, Bubba Nosferatu and the Curse of the Vampires, which features the King running afoul of a Louisiana vampire coven while shooting a film; Campbell is set to reprise his role, and Paul Giamatti will be tackling the part of Colonel Tom Parker.  (Wild!)