Friday, July 30, 2010

Comic Book Covers: Nyuk, Nyuk Ducks?

…Or “Donald Duck and Uncle Stooge”!

…Or, hey porcupine-nephew, start the outboard motor! …Okay, Moe-Mc Duck!

While Duck comic covers abound with gags, both good and bad, how many of them actually indulge in honest-to-goodness THREE STOOGES style slapstick?

The cover of DONALD DUCK # 167 (November, 1975) does – and is one of the very few to elicit an involuntary giggle from me upon first seeing it.

Alas, as were many such covers of the era, it was drawn by Kay Wright and, as such, is nowhere near the Nyuk-fest that it might have been.

Oh, if only a more skilled practitioner had (um…) “drawn” this assignment! Tony Strobl, Daan Jippes, or dare I dream Carl Barks.

Give the level of violence that his version of Scrooge routinely inflicts upon Donald, Don Rosa would have been the perfect artist for the job!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Just Because He’s Smarter (and better drawn, than currently rendered in CGI) Than the Average Bear!

As my simple response to the images of the Yogi Bear 2010 CGI film that have begun appearing on the Internet (Check out this post from our friend “YOWP”), here’s the way Yogi SHOULD LOOK.

The cover of Gold Key’s YOGI BEAR # 19 (January, 1965) is by the great Harvey Eisenberg. And, if Yogi and Boo Boo were to speak, they would be voiced by the great Daws Butler and Don Messick.

As a well-known comic book legend (whose outfit also published Yogi in the late ‘70s) would put it: ‘NUFF SAID!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Comics Review: Sergio Aragones’ Groo and Rufferto (Trade Paperback)

And, say… Why don’t we do MORE COMIC REVIEWS at this Blog?!

There are lots of great “dog characters” in comics. Perhaps the most famous is Charles Schulz’s Snoopy. Others range from friendly and familiar Marmaduke to the unnamed surly bulldog that follows LOBO around.

My two favorites are Paul Murry and Don R. Christensen’s Pluto of the 1950s Dell Comics (whose thought captions give him more character than one would believe possible)… and RUFFERTO, the blindly faithful hound to Sergio Aragones’ bumbling barbarian GROO THE WANDERER.

In 1999, Rufferto finally received title billing in a four-issue limited series published by Dark Horse Comics (…as author Mark Evanier might say: the only publisher of GROO still in existence). In 2000, it rightly received the “trade paperback treatment”.

As one might expect from a GROO story titled “GROO AND RUFFERTO”, Groo and Rufferto spend nearly the entire four chapters (comprising the original four issues) SEPARATED IN TIME! A greedy King’s wizard has sent Rufferto into the future – our grimy, barbaric, and dangerous PRESENT), and Groo (quite admirably) brings the kingdom to a total halt – and the miserly monarch to his knees – until his dog is returned to him!

No further spoilers, but this is one of my all time favorite GROO stories (certainly one of the best not to feature my personal favorite “guest” character “Captain Ahax”) – and when one says this about GROO, one is certainly saying SOMETHING! The usual suspects are on hand: Words by Mark Evanier, colors by Tom Luth, letters by Stan Sakai (as has been since the ‘80s) and, of course the genius of Sergio Aragones!

All four of the Rufferto “One-Page-Gags” are present, as well as an introductory text by Evanier – who also prepares an INDEX to the book, which is wonderfully part-real, and part-gag.

Sometimes, actually story points are properly indexed as follows:

allows thieves to escape, 9
attempts to think, 49

(And, yes, these things happen on the designated pages)

Then, there are intentionally “gaggy” references mixed in among the others:

(Still under "Groo")
makes head hurt, see attempts to think

And there are gags that incorporate the “page number” into the gag itself:

I.Q. of average Groo reader, 63
Past editors of Groo, 43
Past editors of Groo still in comic book business, 0

Finally, those that defy description:

Who to blame, see publisher credits
Your dentist, see twice a year

It is impossible not to enjoy Groo… and this collection is as highly recommended as any could be! Even more so if you love faithful Rufferto!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Can One “Spoil” the Future?

As I’ve noted in the past, listening to DVD Commentary Tracks for TV series DVD sets can be like negotiating treacherous waters. You never know when a Big Spoiler is going to rise up and bite you on the (shiny metal) “You Know What”.

That’s why, most often, I’ll only listen to them if it’s a show I know very well, or I’ve already completed the entire set of episodes. My experience with LOST Season 2 has taught me that well. (Click HERE for details!)

So, I’d like to commend the producers of the FUTURAMA made-for-DVD epic “Bender’s Big Score” (2007), and series executive producer David X. Cohen in particular” for uttering the following on the commentary track:

SPOILER ALERT: We’re gonna start discussing things that RUIN THE ENDING so, if you’ve not watched it without the commentary, turn it off now. Watch it, and then turn us on later!”

Considering the wonderfully confusing (and I mean that in a GOOD SENSE) nature of the story – and, especially, its wrap-up – that was very sound advice from Mr. Cohen.

Oh, and there will be more FUTURAMA in this Blog’s… uh, future!

Monday, July 26, 2010

DVD Review: High Sierra (1941)

High Sierra (1941)

(Released: 2003 by Warner Home Video)

Another (Not so long, this time!) DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

High Sierra”, while not a Hollywood legend like later films “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca”, is notable as the “breakout film” for the great Humphrey Bogart.

It was directed by Raoul Walsh, from a book by W.R. Burnett, with the screenplay by famed director John Huston. Indeed, the long relationship between Bogart and Huston begins here. Bogie takes second billing to Ida Lupino in this film. It would be the last time he does so.

In the film, Bogart, as newly released con “Roy (Mad Dog) Earle”, heads straight to another “job” set up by crime boss “Big Mac” – a jewel heist from a luxury lodge in the California Sierras. A lodge insider is set to assist Earle, who’s been given two green punks, with whom to commit the robbery.

Accompanying one of the punks is Maria (Ida Lupino), who quickly falls for Earle. Along the way, Earle becomes acquainted with a poor family and takes a shine to their club-footed young farm girl, Velma. (Joan Leslie) Oh, yes… there’s also a “dog of death” (ill fortune follows him and those who adopt him) named “Pard” who also becomes affectionate toward Earle. Pard conjures up images of “Vincent” in LOST.

For most of the film, Roy Earle keeps a foot in both worlds, reluctantly going along with the crime plan and Maria’s attentions, and cozying up to Velma to the point where he pays for her operation.

Where do things go for Roy (Mad Dog) Earle? I’m not tellin’! We don’t do spoilers here, but all sorts of unplanned complications ensue! Okay… One hint! Mt Whitney!

Suffice it to say this is a great, underrated film – and it’s small wonder that it led Humphrey Bogart to bigger and better things! Next stop would be “The Maltese Falcon”!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

If there were a “CON” to list, it would have to be that the Extra Features are not plentiful, when compared to releases of the more famous Humphrey Bogart films.

Most notably, there is NO COMMENTARY TRACK to accompany this film! Such features on other Bogart films have proved to be of great interest, and so the lack of one here is unfortunate.

The Film: Story, cast, and print quality are all first rate. Not much more to say!

Extra Features: Only two, but they’re goodies!

“Curtains for Roy Earle: The Story of High Sierra” (Runs 15:06).

A brief history of Warner Bros. “Gangster Pictures”, Humphrey Bogart’s contributions to them, and the film “High Sierra” in particular. Participants include: Bogart biographer Eric Lax (who has provided excellent commentaries on other Bogart films – too bad he wasn’t tapped for this one!), film historians Leonard Maltin and Robert Osborne, and performers Leslie Howard and Joan Leslie (the film’s Velma).

Maltin describes Bogart’s “Earle” as “A killer with a soft spot” and, per the documentary, this was a somewhat unusual portrayal in those more [figuratively and literally] “Black and White” times.

Theatrical Trailer for “High Sierra”

Golden Age Hollywood Movie Trailers were a unique art form all their own! Consider this one, melodramatically narrated by one of the “Voices of Warner Bros.”

You may not know the name of Robert C. Bruce, but you certainly know his voice… if you are a fan of Looney Tunes and Merrie Meoldies of the early 1940s. Bruce was the man who contributed excited and melodramatic narration to many a WB cartoon of the period. If you know these cartoons, you will recognize the voice immediately. Cue the dramatic music… Here’s Mr. Bruce:

“THIS is the HIGHEST POINT in ALL OUR LAND! Mighty MT. WHITNEY! Looming above the wilderness with a strange SILENCE OF ETERNITY!

“Yet, stranger still, is the MISSION OF DESTINY that brings men to THIS FORBIDDING BARRIER! Held at bay by the MOST DANGEROUS KILLER since DILLINGER!


“HE’S TRAPPED because men can’t climb ANY HIGHER! And men never came ANY TOUGHER! What BROUGHT him here? What MADE him that way?”

Can’t you just hear that in some great old WB cartoon? …Well, can’t you?

This is a great film with good (but perhaps too few) Extra Features. It is recommended for Bogart Fans, and enthusiasts of the period, or the “tough guy / gangster” genre.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fan Runs Wild!

I know there’s not a lot to cheer about at a Baltimore Orioles game, but watch this guy run out onto the field… and be ignored by everyone!

He runs around and around, and escapes up into the stands… and COMES BACK FOR MORE!

He could have gotten away with it (if not for those meddling kids)… but he COMES BACK FOR MORE!

I have no words for this… Just watch!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

DVD Review: Star Trek Enterprise: The Complete First Season

Star Trek Enterprise: The Complete First Season

(Released: 2005 by Paramount Home Entertainment)

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Yes, you’ve seen some of these comments in other posts, but why not collate them into a more formal DVD Review? We could all do worse with our time…

In the beginning, Zefram Cochrine invented Warp Drive technology. The rest was (TV, movie, and merchandising) history!

Somehow, I’d never seen STAR TREK ENTERPRISE before. That had far more to do with my own life, circa 2001-2005, than anything concerning the show. That is until an DVD sale proved irresistible, and I finally took the plunge.

I didn’t know what to expect. What I did know is that, while I loved both STAR TREK THE ORIGINAL SERIES (“TOS”) and STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION (“TNG”- Great shows for different reasons!), each succeeding TREK series left me less and less satisfied.

I liked DEEP SPACE NINE (“DS9”) less than TNG, and VOYAGER (“VOY”) less than DS9. As VOYAGER was winding down, ENTERPRISE (“ENT”) was starting up. Life’s ups and downs notwithstanding, I was also not too eager to sample yet another TREK show that would presumably continue the downward trend.

Elaborating on why I felt this way toward DS9 and VOY, I can only say that each moved further away from the “core” of what I thought STAR TREK should be.

Both series were not about a ship (Extra points if the ship is named “Enterprise”!) in active service to the Federation. Yes, Voyager was a ship too, but it was (um…) “lost in space”, full of weird characters, and wasn’t nearly as much fun as was the Jupiter II.

There were also too many strange aliens on these shows. In contrast, TOS and TNG were far more relatable to us humans. Vulcans, Klingons, and the occasional Betazoid are okay, but I really started drawing the line at regularly featured Ferengi (DS9 – I HATE Ferengi!) and the very annoying Neelix (VOY).

ENTERPRISE goes back to the beginning and, much as J.J. Abrams has done in his recent feature film, starts to tell the story from the ground (Earth’s “ground”) on up.

Scott Bakula, as Captain Jonathan Archer, is the perfect middle-ground between “womanizer/ cowboy” James T. Kirk and “stiff-upper-lipped” Jean Luc Picard.

The crew he leads is predominantly human (Engineer Trip Tucker, Armory Officer Malcolm Reed, Navigator Travis Mayweather, and Translator Hoshi Sato), with just the right number of aliens… Vulcan Science Officer Sub-Commander T’Pol and genial Doctor Phlox (a Denobulan who is part of the “Inter-Species-Medical-Exchange”).

As this series took place a century before the original STAR TREK, efforts were made to look… not merely retro, but “pre-retro”, if you will. This Enterprise is small, almost cramped, compared with later models. Try as they might, the set design crew couldn’t always make this 2001 show look 100 years more primitive than its 1966 predecessor.

The clothing had to step back as well. Starfleet Admirals wore basic (but somewhat futuristically designed) military dress uniforms – and Archer and his crew wore garb that was a cross between NASA gear and the crew jumpsuits from VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA.

Oh, and Archer has a DOG! A beagle named “Porthos”. A first for a TREK series!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


Packaging: Why is it that ALL STAR TREK SERIES have packaging that is both annoying and difficult to open and negotiate?! The discs of STAR TREK ENTERPRISE are housed in a large “clamshell” pack that opens like an oversized stick of deodorant!

Attached to the package with TWO DABS OF GLUE is a cardboard piece that wraps AROUND THE TOP FRONT, BACK, AND BOTTOM FRONT of the package! You cannot open the package without removing the cardboard. BUT, on this cardboard, is the ONLY PLACE that it is identified as being the FIRST SEASON! So, if you remove it, nothing else on the package can distinguish it from subsequent seasons. WHY?

Menu Navigation: STAR TREK SERIES often have the most difficult, and outright noisy Menus to navigate. Though, I must admit that the menus of ENTERPRISE are easier to navigate than that of the Original Series. Still, it is a CON.

No Skipping the End Credits: To my surprise, I found that the EPISODE END CREDITS – the SAME end credits that Paramount routinely shrunk, squashed, and did not allow to be read in its original UPN TV broadcasts – COULD NOT BE CHAPTER-SKIPPED on it’s DVDs. Of course, I can choose to fast forward through them, if need be. BUT… Just thought I’d share the irony, folks!


Wide Screen: STAR TREK ENTERPRISE is the first TREK series to be filmed in wide-screen. As great as I’ve described TNG, when played on my HD and Blu-ray, this is BETTER! No TREK series has ever looked as good!

The Episodes – with a special emphasis on the pilot:

“Broken Bow”: No Star Dates here! This takes place in the almost-relatable year 2151!
It has been 90-100 years since Cochrine’s introduction of Warp Drive and travel to the distant stars is now a more a reality than a possibility.

The planet Vulcan has taken notice of these early experiments, and has sent emissaries to Earth… to “guide us” along the correct path. This is a SUPERB inversion of all those TOS and TNG episodes where the Federation declines or refuses to share its superior technologies with developing planetary cultures, due to the “Prime Directive”.

Resentment toward our Vulcan “friends” has grown, as they are suspect of holding back on technological developments and suppressing the development of Earth’s Warp Program efforts.

Jonathan Archer, the son of Henry Archer – an associate of Cochrine’s – is selected to be captain of the just completed “Enterprise NX-01”, a forerunner of the more familiar later USS Enterprise NCC-1701. The Enterprise NX-01 can reach the as-of-yet unheard of speed of Warp Factor 5! Later ships could travel at Warp 9 and above.

Without spoiling too much for those who STILL haven’t seen it, we have such grand moments as:

The great speech about “boldly going, etc.” that all starship captains seem to spout was actually from an historic speech by Zefram Cochrine. The speech is played on the occasion of the launch of the Enterprise NX-01.

The first human to go through a transporter. Under duress, I might add. It was originally, not thought of for human use. Shuttle-Pods are routinely used for transport.

The introduction of the “phase-pistol” (with two settings “Stun” and “Kill” – nothing in between).

No Deflector Shields yet. Instead, they “polarize the hull plating”.

No phaser-weaponry that can be fired by the ship. There are “photon torpedoes”, but they are exactly that – torpedoes that are physically loaded as on a submarine! “Phase Cannons” (the forerunner of ship phaser-weaponry) are developed during Season One.

Communicators are of the good old “flip variety”.

The initial mission involves a Klingon that was pursued to Earth by hostiles unknown, and the sensitive diplomatic mission to return him to the Klingon homeworld. Klingons were an unknown species at the time – the one was even referred to as a “Kling-got” by the admiral in charge.

The Fourth Season TNG episode “First Contact” stated that a botched First Contact mission with the Klingon Empire resulted in decades of hostilities between the two cultures. We never learn the true disposition of the Klingons, after Archer’s mission (though their final comment was something best left untranslated), so perhaps this ties into that.

Notably, the Klingons, at this early point in their development, DID NOT SPEAK ANY ENGLISH – nor had they ever met an Earther before. They were of their “movie and later TV series, ridge-faced appearance”, and not the more conventional look of the Original Series. I’m hoping that story of that is dealt with over the course of ENTERPRISE.

We also meet the series’ new major villains: The Suliban. This race is conducting a campaign of aggression against the Klingons and other species, taking its marching orders from a mysterious presence from “The Future”. This campaign, referred to as the “Temporal Cold War” slowly unfolds over the course of the season – and beyond.

Some pilot, eh? Now, a few other highlights…

In an almost eerie parallel with old favorite series LOST IN SPACE, the first two “regular” episodes, “Fight or Flight” and “Strange New World” respectively, concern NX-01’s first encounters with a derelict ship and an unknown planet.

“The Andorian Incident”: Archer and crew stumble onto the ongoing hostilities between the Vulcans and the blue-skinned, antenna-ed Andorians, with unexpected revelations. Perhaps my favorite episode of this season.

“Cold Front” Archer is surprised to find his steward hails from 900 years in the future, and is a player in the “Temporal Cold War”.

“Dear Doctor”: A grim choice on the part of Archer and Doctor Phlox results in the first contemplations of “The Prime Directive” of non-interference with alien cultures.

“Sleeping Dogs” Archer and company assist the crew of a doomed Klingon ship. They don’t want the assistance.

“Shuttlepod One”: Trip and Malcolm’s ordeal marooned aboard a lost shuttlepod.

“Acquisition”: A boarding party of Ferengi incapacitates the crew of NX-01, and begins to loot the ship. ENTERPRISE does the impossible. A Ferengi story that I actually like!

“Detained”: A militaristic society imprisons Archer and Travis in a detention camp filled with Suliban victims.

“Vox Sola”: A web-like creature invades the Enterprise, takes over a cargo hold, and wraps its captured victims as would a spider! The images of Archer and his fellow captives webbed-up are effectively disgusting. A visual masterpiece! What Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’s “The Monster’s Web” was to 1966, this is to 2002!

“Desert Crossing”: More striking scenic visuals, as a seemingly friendly desert warlord takes Archer and Trip hostage to obtain knowledge of his enemies. Clancy Brown (“Superman the Animated Series”, “Lost”) is a standout as the warlord.

“Shockwave”: Ah, what would a modern STAR TREK series be without a season-ending cliffhanger episode! This one reveals tantalizingly more about the “Temporal Cold War” and the devastating consequences for the Earth when Archer is removed from the time stream.

Extra Features:

Numerous features on the genesis and background of the series are included. Scott Bakula appears in a featurette to introduce the series. Bakula is also profiled as Captain Archer. There are also cast impressions of the season and outtakes.

There is an audio commentary track for the pilot, “Broken Bow”, with producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, and two additional pop-up “text commentaries” by production staffers Michael and Denise Okuda.

My favorite feature is: “Star Trek Time Travel: Temporal Cold Wars and Beyond”. The “Temporal Cold War” of ENTERPRISE is examined, along with all other notable instances of time travel that occurred in the various TREK series and films.


I’m sorry I missed STAR TREK ENTERPRISE in its original 2001-2005 run. From this first season – and what I’ve seen of the second season thus far – it is severely underrated, likely from its having come along at a time when the mass audience (myself included) was suffering a prolonged case of “Trek Fatigue”.

If you are so inclined, give it a chance. You won’t be sorry!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

DVD Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season One

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season One

(Released: 2005 by Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia
It boasts one of the most famous openings in television history. The classical piece “Funeral March of a Marionette” plays, as the drawn outline of a rotund man fades into view. A dark silhouette, fitting the outlined profile, slowly walks into frame, matching it contour for contour. The camera pans over to our host, who greets us with a simultaneously familiar and chilling: “Good Eve-ven-ing!”

It is ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, one of those underappreciated television gems that has become more a part of our culture than most folks realize. AHP continues to demonstrate its brilliance through the courtesy of DVD, the first such collection is the subject of this review.

Renowned director Alfred Hitchcock both introduces and offers a coda to each of his weekly tales of mystery, suspense, and usually murder – the grizzly detail of which often seems to surpass the perceived norms of 1950s TV. Mr. Hitchcock employs top-notch actors, writers and directors for his television “plays” (as he calls them) and sometimes directs certain choice episodes himself.

So much a staple of our popular culture did this program – and its host – become that it was often lovingly parodied in the media of its time. Hanna-Barbera Productions created not one but TWO Hitchcock parody characters: Alfy Gator, an alligator sophisticate and gourmet out to ingest little duck Yakky Doodle, and the memorable one-shot “Alvin Brickrock” on The Flintstones.

The latter did Hitchcock to a “T”, right through the coda that leaves one with the impression that Brickrock actually got away with murder.

The “plays” themselves are fun to watch, and deliver the best suspense the era had to offer. But Alfred Hitchcock really puts them “over the top” with the innovative ways he leads into and out of the stories – and introduces commercial messages.

Sample this typical Hitchcock introduction, taken from the episode: “A Bullet for Baldwin”. (We open with Hitchcock seated at a desk.)

Good Eve-ven-ing! I hope you’ll excuse me if I appear a trifle excited, but I’ve just come into possession of a cure for insomnia. [He produces FIVE BULLETS and stands them up on the desk, neatly in a row.] It comes in capsule form. For best results, they must be taken internally. [He produces a GUN.] Here is the handy applicator.
It is an amazingly simple device. An idiot can operate it – and, indeed, many do. These objects play an important part in tonight’s tale. It is called ‘A Bullet for Baldwin’.

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

Disc One: In what I hope is strictly my own experience, The Adventure of Disc One is one of those quirky happenings that Mr. Hitchcock would no doubt appreciate. Episode Four “Don’t Come Back Alive” froze little more than halfway through. It would then skip forward a bit and resume without incident. This happened in exactly the same way on multiple players.

Amazon was excellent in quickly delivering a duplicate of the set, and leaving me a generous amount of time to return the original defective one.

My first impulse was to immediately play “Don’t Come Back Alive” to see what I missed. To my surprise, the same flaw manifested itself – only EARLIER in the episode – and skipped to a LATER POINT before resuming!

Now, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the “freeze” perfectly coincided with a commercial break fade-out (making the fade-out just seem longer than usual, and the flaw somehow “neater”). I considered keeping this one, and sending back the original – even though I was missing more of the episode.

Then, I found an ADDITIONAL such flaw on the SAME DISC in Episode # 5 “Into Thin Air” – which just happens to be one of the best of the set! So, I flurry-watched every episode of the ORIGINAL SET, and sent back the replacement – which, sadly, was more flawed than the original.

Apparently, I was not alone in such difficulty, as THIS REVIEW from DVD TALK reveals.

Chapter Skipping: In short, there is none. At any point in an episode, pressing “Forward Chapter Skip” will take you past the end of the episode and back to the menu. Compare with a comparable half-hour show like TWILIGHT ZONE, which will have three chapters per episode, and one each for “Rod Serling’s Next Week Preview”, and End Credits. But, the worst is yet to come, in the form of…

Spoilers and Inaccuracies: When selecting “Play” for each episode, an “Episode Summary” screen appears, offering a description of the story before allowing the “Play” option. This is a nice idea, but for two quibbles. These summaries – all too often, alas – either give away the endings… or are inaccurate in describing the story. WARNING: Do not read this material until AFTER viewing the episode in question.

One of these gives away the ending to the best mystery story of the set! How could Universal’s quality control allow this?! A major detriment to the enjoyment of this fine set.

The Players: A stellar list of names, often appearing multiple times over the season: (In order of first appearance) Ralph Meeker, Vera Miles, John Forsythe, Cloris Leachman, Warren Stevens, Percy Helton, Ellen Corby, Gene Barry, Darren McGavin, Robert Emhardt, Patricia Hitchcock, Alan Napier, Elisha Cook Jr., Joseph Cotton, Everett Sloane, Olan Soule, Peter Lawford, John Williams, Robert F. Simon, Barry Fitzgerald, Arthur Space, Carolyn Jones, John Qualen, Sebastian Cabot, John Cassavetes, Jo Van Fleet, Robert H, Harris, (A special cameo by Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories # 177 SEE THIS POST), Michael Ansara, Robert Foulk, Cyril Delevanti, Claude Rains, Charles Bronson, Werner Klemperer and John Banner (In the same episode!), Sean McClory, Claude Akins, Estelle Winwood, Amanda Blake, Lorne Greene, Biff McGuire, Alan Hewitt, Frank Gorshin (very brief cameo), Harry Townes, Skip Homeier, and Joanne Woodward. With Paul Frees in an uncredited role as a radio announcer in the final episode.

How’s THAT for a cast list!
The Episodes: 39 glorious episodes of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, from the 1955-1956 television season! Highlights include:

“Revenge”: The series premiere, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Never take the law into your own hands!

“Triggers in Leash”: A tense confrontation between western gunfighters Gene Barry and Darren McGavin breaks out – over breakfast!

“Into Thin Air”: Alfie’s daughter, Pat Hitchcock, stars as a frightened young British woman whose mother disappears during a stopover in Paris. Mother disappears without a trace – and everyone denies having ever seen her. Hitchcock acknowledges the familial connection at episode’s end: “Oh, incidentally, I thought the little leading lady was rather good… didn’t you!”

“Don’t Come Back Alive”: Yes, the one with the “skip” in it. A scheming older man almost gets away with murdering his wife. Wonderful ending moment!

“Breakdown”: Hitchcock directs Joseph Cotton in what may be one of the most incredible dramatic television presentations of the era! Paralyzed, pinned in an auto wreck, and unable to speak, Cotton is presumed dead by all who encounter him! His frantic thoughts, communicated only to the audience, prove otherwise. Unforgettable!

“A Bullet for Baldwin”: A meek office clerk shoots and kills the boss (Sebastian Cabot) that fired him. The next day, the boss is back at his desk, with no one the wiser.

“The Older Sister”: The “real” story of Lizzie Borden. Did she REALLY “take an axe, etc…”?

“Whodunit”: An angel (formerly a pompous old mystery writer) requests that he relive his last hours on Earth, to learn who murdered him. Naturally, he gets more than he bargained for.

“Never Again” The unexpected can happen when you drink! So, don’t drink!

“The Gentleman from America” Two nearly bankrupt Britishers bet a bragging wealthy American that he can’t (…wait for it) spend the night in an old haunted house! How many times, and in how many different ways, was this plot done! Well done here, though!

“The Belfry”: A murderer hides in the bell tower of an old schoolhouse, waiting for the moment to kill the teacher who spurned his affections.

“The Creeper”: Second best episode after “Breakdown”! Young blonde women in a New York City neighborhood are being murdered by a killer dubbed “The Creeper”. Our story focuses on a housewife’s efforts to cope with the situation. A SUPERB mystery that presents at least five suspects in its 25 minutes of play.

BEWARE: The “Episode Summary” that displays before the episode plays GIVES AWAY THE IDENTITY OF THE KILLER!!! You are warned to just blow past this display before watching “The Creeper”!

Oh, and don’t look this one up on IMDB either. They give it away, too!

Extra Features: “ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: A Look Back”, a 14:44 documentary on the series and Alfred Hitchcock.

I love this set and its contents… BUT, while the CONS do not outweigh the PROS, they are too severe to ignore. Again, I hope I am more-or-less alone in my experiences with disc flaws, but I doubt it.

Give it a try… but, like any character in one of Hitchcock’s television plays, be wary!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

DVD Review: Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 2

Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 2

(Released October 27, 2009 by Warner Home Video)

Another Looong (and profusely illustrated) DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Once upon a time, theatrical cartoons came to the infant medium of television. They were so successful that made-for-TV cartoons soon followed, with producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera leading the way. Most often, they populated afternoon (and sometimes early evening) timeslots.

Then, someone discovered that kids would flock to cartoons run on SATURDAY MORNING, perhaps to celebrate completing a hard week of school! (Hell, I know *I* did!) This movement reached its height in the 1960s (…when Saturday morning cartoons would run until as late as 2 PM!) – and so is the premise for Warner Home Video’s release Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 2.

A set this diverse in content and approach, by definition, can never be “perfect”. Personal preferences and differences of opinion will always see to that… but it IS a great set and is, in many ways, improved over its predecessor – Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 1. (Reviewed HERE)

Disc One in order of Appearance: Quick Draw McGraw, Space Kiddettes, Young Samson and Goliath, The Bugs Bunny Show, The Porky Pig Show, Adventures of Young Gulliver, The Wally Gator Show (Huh?), and The Jetsons.

Disc Two in order of Appearance: A SECOND Quick Draw McGraw Show (Yes!), Peter Potamus, The Road Runner Show, Atom Ant, The Tom and Jerry Show, and Magilla Gorilla. Pure sixties ecstasy!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS. And, we’ll add a catch-all category we’ll call OTHER.

Content Notes: Just as with Volume One, there is NO CONTENT LISTING anywhere inside the package! One disc is on a “hinged holder” and the other disc rests on the inside back wall of the packaging! But, beyond that, there is no list of titles, no order, and no indication of what disc they are on. Ditto for the extra features.

I may be second to none in my admiration of the groundbreaking animated product of the 1960s… BUT, are these shows such classics that we’re already SUPPOSED TO KNOW what they are before viewing?! Especially with a set THIS diverse in content, you MUST list the titles somewhere on or inside the packaging!

Print Quality: In some instances, the set has its faults with lesser print quality. Specific examples include The Bugs Bunny Show, The Road Runner Show, the Wally Gator and Touché Turtle cartoons. But, a disclaimer is offered to mitigate that, so at least they’re playing fair with us. Offsetting that are surprisingly good prints of Quick Draw McGraw and Lippy the Lion – and the print of Magilla Gorilla is much improved over that in Volume One.

The Extra Features: Or should I say “Extra FEATURE”! WHV products continue to get SKIMPIER AND SKIMPIER! Be it lack of content notes, fewer episodes per set, and (most notably) fewer Extra Features per set – if any at all!

Here we have just ONE short background piece devoted to Magilla Gorilla. Featured are animation figures including Mark Evanier, Earl Kress, Scott Jeralds, Jerry Beck, Jerry Eisenberg, and a posthumous contribution by Magilla’s voice actor the great and vastly underappreciated Allan Melvin. Much is what is presented here, however, is redundant with the Extra Features content of the Magilla Gorilla Show DVD set of 2006.
Each disc has a short preview feature titled “Saturday Morning Wakeup Call”, a guided tour of the contents of the disc, narrated by Gary Owens. It’s nice, but not much of an Extra Feature – and, unlike Volume One, it is not even designated as such here.

Too Much Funny?: Some online forum contributors have lamented an overall lack of super hero / adventure series for this set. Everyone’s mileage will vary in this matter, but I tend to agree. The sixties were where (Fleischer’s Superman excepted) the adventure cartoon was born – and came to dominate the field. At the same time, I love all the “funny” series included, so I won’t squawk too loudly. This can always be adjusted in future volumes.

The Very Idea: First and foremost, for someone like me who watched nearly every cartoon the three networks could offer from the early sixties onward, it would be the very existence of such a package!

The Shows Contained Herein: With the possible exception of a show from Jay Ward (Bullwinkle, Hoppity Hooper, or George of the Jungle) or Total Television (King Leonardo, Tennessee Tuxedo, or Underdog) – which are not owned by Warner Bros. – Saturday morning in the sixties pretty much WAS Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros.

Filmation also became a player from 1966-on but, with the exception of the (as of yet unseen on DVD) 1968 Filmation BATMAN series, most other Filmation product that Warners has the rights to include would be double-dipping.

Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 2 offers a superb mix of the FAMILIAR (Bugs Bunny, Quick Draw Mc Graw, Road Runner, Magilla Gorilla, Tom and Jerry) and the OBSCURE (Space Kiddettes, Young Samson and Goliath, Young Gulliver, and not-so-young Touché Turtle)!
No Anime: The presence of Anime show Marine Boy in Volume One was both jarring when set against comfortable WB and H-B favorites, and not particularly representative of the Sat AM ‘60s experience. WHV wisely leaves Anime to other venues, where it is likely better appreciated.

Double-Dipping: Volume One had at least FOUR double-dips and, depending on your precise definition, had many as six. Here, only THE JETSONS is a “true” double-dip – as I don’t count properties presented as FULL SHOWS with credits and interstitials as “D-D’s” compared with previous instances where they were presented as individual, stand-alone cartoons. I’d prefer a new obscure cartoon, as long at it fit the “Sat AM ‘60s Profile” over a more familiar duplication any day!

Menu Navigation: Volume Two allows you to view the shows as a WHOLE and also as individual cartoons. Volume One, in most cases, returned you to the menu each time a cartoon ended – rather than allow you to watch the complete show without having to work your remote. Thanks to WHV for recognizing that problem!

Credits and Interstitials: Most of the shows have original sixties opening and closing credits AND INTERSTITALS! Over time, the cartoons represented here have been “sliced-and-diced” through various syndicated and broadcast and cable network incarnations. Even when shows were left relatively intact, interstitials were the first to go, in favor of additional commercial time. Some cartoons were originally theatrical releases – and eventually returned to their Big-Screen stand-alone versions.

But, here – as it SHOULD BE, per the intentions of such a set – shows are reconstituted into their sixties Sat AM network versions.

All those great theme songs we thought were gone forever: “On with the show, this is it!”, “Rooooad Runner, the Coyote’s after youuuu!”, “The high-fallutin-est, fastest-shootin-est, cowboy you ever saaaaaw… That’s Quick Draw McGraaaawww!” and “We’ve GOT a GORILLA for sale…”! Wonderful stuff!

This set is simply “INTERSTITIAL HEAVEN!” So many lost or forgotten little bits of different shows turn up here!

The interstitials for BOTH Quick Draw McGraw Shows – where Quick Draw introduces Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy and Snooper and Blabber – were missing… BUT the full credits to each of the three cartoons (with the writing credits for Michael Maltese and other animation credits – excised from Boomerang showings) were there. So, it’s a trade off.

They also have the FULL original Kellogg’s opening and closing, which were trimmed from the shows on Volume One. This makes for much additional animation!

“The Bugs Bunny Show” restoration is a noble effort, even if some of the Goofy Gopher interstitials were missing! They used to exist after every cartoon. I’m guessing they presented whatever was preserved. Incomplete, perhaps… but still very worthwhile!

The end credits for “The Bugs Bunny Show” are the proper ones, as you can glimpse the titles of the cartoons (nearly microscopically) at the lower left at one point in the end credits. The original “Bugs Bunny Show” also had teaser previews and “next week scenes”, but I don’t believe those ever survived prime time to make it into the Sat AM version of the show – so we can appreciate the “authenticity of the Sat AM experience”, if not the completeness.

“The Porky Pig Show” has many of the same interstitials as did Volume One – but there is a different one of Porky and Daffy (existing footage from a Bob McKimson cartoon) and what appears to be one that might have been originally produced for “The Bugs Bunny Show” (of Bugs playing a piano – on the “stage background” for “The Bugs Bunny Show”) that sets up the cartoon “Baton Bunny”!

“The Road Runner Show” has many (about five) Road Runner and Wyle E. Coyote interstitials that bookend all of the commercial breaks. They appear to have been done by Rudy Larriva, who WAS doing the Road Runner theatrical cartoons at the time, and have Bill Lava music as did the contemporary cartoons. Most folks don’t exactly care for Larriva and Lava vs. Chuck Jones and Carl Stalling, but these are interesting “lost” bits – and have value in that alone!

Atom Ant, surprisingly, has two interstitials – one for Atom Ant and one for Precious Pupp!

And, best for last, Tom and Jerry has the original sixties opening and closings! The opening is mostly stock clips from the Hanna and Barbera days – with an ending gag produced by the Chuck Jones Unit, which was making the current theatricals. There are also a few Jones Unit interstitials throughout the show! So, here’s your chance to see some lost Jones (or Levittow/Noble) animation!

I recall more than one opening credit sequence… distinctly one that ended with Jerry flying a “rocket-powered cream pie” (!) into Tom’s face with the “Tom and Jerry” logo appearing over that! So, there are more such goodies that can appear in future volumes.

If there is one area in which this set ABSOLUTELY EXCELS, it is in the preservation and restoration of title and credit sequences and interstitials. Many of which have not been seen since their original sixties broadcasts! Well done!

The Writers: The best cartoon writers of the age are represented here: Michael Maltese and Warren Foster (perhaps the two best of ALL TIME given their body of work on both theatrical and television shorts), Joe Barbera (we’ll assume for Tom and Jerry) Tedd Pierce, Tony Benedict, Homer Brightman, Ken Spears, Joe Ruby, Dalton Sandifer, and more.

The Voice Talent: A true “Who’s Who of Cartoon Voicing” is headlined by Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Don Messick, Paul Frees, Jean Vander Pyl, June Foray, Hal Smith, Doug Young , Bill Thompson, Howard Morris, Allan Melvin, John Stephenson, Alan Reed (NOT as Fred Flintstone – but as Touché Turtle’s sidekick “Dum-Dum”!), Bea Benederet, Henry Corden, George O’Hanlon, Penny Singleton, Janet Waldo, Lucille Bliss, and so many more!

“The Wally Gator Show”? To the best of my recollection, there never was a REAL “Wally Gator Show”. The three cartoon series that comprised it were syndicated “stand-alones” (here in New York, at least) that were run as part of weekday shows starring local kiddie-hosts.

“Droopy Dragon” WAS the first Wally Gator run back in 1962 (again, here in New York, at least). My recollection is clear on that. I don’t think it was the case for the other two.

The Touché Turtle was particularly dark for a Hanna-Barbera cartoon – especially one not made for prime time. No spoilers, but imagine getting away with the line “I didn’t lose that leg in a card game!” – or the unsettling ending gag – today! …Or, even just a few years later.

Lippy the Lion seemed remastered, while Wally and Touché certainly were not! Odd!

“The Bugs Bunny Show”: The Post-Theme-Song opening line “Presenting that Oscar-winning Rabbit… Bugs Bunny!” was (awkwardly) excised from the opening! Could that be because “Oscar” is now copyrighted – like “Super Bowl” – and perhaps you can no longer use the term freely?

And “Big House Bunny” seemed to be uncut (unlike like many a Saturday morning broadcast that I can recall), with all of the “prisoner beating”, hanging, and electric chair gags left intact! Let’s hear it for WB on that one!

“The Quick Draw McGraw Show”: Both episodes were from the third season (1961-1962) where the familiar Hoyt Curtin music scores create no music clearance issues for WB.

All entries are perfectly representative of the series. Quick Draw features El Kabong and Snuffles, his dog biscuit-addicted blood hound. Augie Doggie again contacts his Martian friend and Snooper and Blabber get rematches with both “Quick Change Quinton” and the J. Evil Scientist Family!

“The Porky Pig Show”: Features “Scardy Cat”, the first entry in what I call “The Cowardly Sylvester and Stupefyingly Oblivious Porky in Danger Trilogy”, with the pair vs. a houseful of killer mice!

“The Road Runner Show”: About the last two seconds of “The Wild Chase” (the infamous late entry that combines Road Runner, Wyle E. Coyote, Speedy Gonzalez, and Sylvester) is cut off. Missing is where “THE END” is spelled out by the final explosion – compare it with your LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION Volume 4. Though I DO believe that’s the way it was shown on “The Road Runner Show” back in the day – and, frankly, I doubt anyone really cares if THAT ONE is slightly nicked, if it reflects the Sat AM TV experience.

OVERALL: Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume 2 is a great success, often surpassing Volume One. The “CONS” are fewer and the “PROS” are greater! It is highly recommended for those who were there – and for those who WISH THEY WERE!