Tuesday, November 30, 2010

R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010).

Has any actor reinvented himself as successfully and effectively as Leslie Nielsen?

Okay, maybe John Travolta – from his “Up your nose with a rubber hose!” and Saturday Night Fever persona to what he is today.

But, with 1980’s “Airplane”, Leslie Nielsen veered off into over the top comedy, from the “standard leading man” type, and has had an amazing second career! Best highlighted by the series of “Naked Gun” movies.

As enjoyable as all that has been, I miss the “old” Leslie Nielsen.

The one that starred in the greatest ‘50s Sci-Fi film of them all: Forbidden Planet. This landmark film was the “father” of both STAR TREK TOS and LOST IN SPACE. You need only watch “Forbidden Planet” to see the profound influence it had on both TV series – and so much thereafter.

Indeed, Leslie Nielsen, as Commander Adams, was the PROTOTYPE for Captain James T. Kirk! The galaxy’s ultimate “good guy”.

And, in one of those things that is “just too much to be a coincidence”, Leslie Nielsen guest starred on VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (in The Creature1965) as “Captain Adams”! Aboard the submarine Seaview, he was a “bad good guy” – but, though seriously misguided, a “good guy” nonetheless.

Rest in peace, Leslie Nielsen… and thanks for all the great memories!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving 2010!


Here’s one of Carl Barks’ last covers for WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES – Issue # 351 Cover Date: December, 1969.

Clearly, the TURKEY has something to be thankful for.

So, do we… and I don’t just mean that Carl Barks gave us such a great body of comic book and animation work.

We ALL have things to be thankful for! Maybe even things (and persons) we take for granted! First, foremost, and always on my list is Esther!

Let’s remember those persons and things – and just how lucky we all are, each of us in different ways!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

DVD Review: Key Largo (1948)

Key Largo (1948)

(Released: 2006 by Warner Home Video)
Another (Not so long, this time!) DVD Review by Joe Torcivia


At the southernmost point of the United States are the Florida Keys, a string of small islands held together by a concrete causeway. Largest of these remote coral islands is Key Largo.”

Key Largo” was directed by John Huston, and starred Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, and Clare Trevor.

I’d never seen “Key Largo” before this DVD. In fact, I’ve never even heard of it. The only reason I sprang for it was that its TRAILER was included as an Extra Feature on the TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE set (read that review HERE), and it looked too good to pass up. I was not sorry!

Key Largo” is the story of “Frank McCloud” (Bogart), former Major in WWII, who journeys to the far-flung island to visit the father and wife (Barrymore and Bacall) of a fellow serviceman killed in battle under McCloud’s command.

However, when he arrives at “The Largo Hotel”, owned by the wheelchair-bound Barrymore, he finds the place taken over by gangsters – Edward G. Robinson, his four henchmen, and his oft-drunken girlfriend “Gaye Dawn” (Claire Trevor).

Bogie and Bacall may have star billing (…and the film is even a component part of the DVD set “Bogie and Bacall – The Signature Collection”), but make no mistake; this picture BELONGS to Edward G. Robinson!

Though he doesn’t appear until 25:45 of the film’s 1:40:20, Robinson, as “Johnny Rocco”, former prohibition gangster out to make a comeback, is EVERYTHING one could ever expect of him! Why, he even uses the phrase “dirty rat”!

They called me an undesirable alien! …Me! …Johnny Rocco! …Like I was a dirty rat, or somethin’!”

Yes, I know “dirty rat” is associated with James Cagney, but there’s something “just so right” about that phrase coming from a gun-waving Golden Age Hollywood gangster.

Not to be outdone in the “character department”, here’s how Bogie’s Frank McCloud introduces himself to Gaye Dawn, unaware of her association with Rocco: “McCloud, Frank… By John, out of Ellen!” (!) …Gotta try that one someday!

Rocco and his gang are laying low on Key Largo, until they can complete a (ahem!) “business transaction”. Then, they’ll be on their way to Cuba. Unfortunately for them – and the rest of our cast – they all find themselves trapped on the island, riding out a powerful hurricane in the old hotel! Tensions rise, leading to eventual action! No more spoilers! Let’s just say this one was an unexpected treasure of classic film!

The legendary chemistry between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is not quite up to its usual heat. Not with the great Edward G. Robinson around to cramp their style!

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

The CONS:


Extra Features: A decided “CON” is the lack of Extra Features! I don’t expect a film such as “Key Largo” to be laden with the type of goodies reserved for the true classics, but WHV’s effort here doesn’t even measure up to that of another “lesser” Bogart film: DARK PASSAGE (See review HERE)

Not only is there no commentary track, but there isn’t even a nominal “Making Of” piece. A few screens of illustrated text, titled “Behind the Scenes”, offers the only background information on this fine film. Surely, they could have done better!

The PROS:


The Film: Why this isn’t more of a classic, I’ll never know! It’s got everything you’d look for in a film of this sort. Star power, a top director, compelling characters, tension, action (both in cramped quarters and at sea), romance – and a damned good SFX hurricane for the standards of 1948.

Print quality is great for a film of its age, especially viewed in “upconverted” form on a HD TV.

The Cast:

Humphrey Bogart as “Frank McCloud”.
Lauren Bacall as “Nora Temple”.
Edward G. Robinson as “Johnny Rocco”.
Lionel Barrymore as “James Temple”.
Claire Trevor as “Gaye Dawn”. (Academy Award Winner 1948: Best Supporting Actress for “Key Largo”).

Oh, and as if animation fans needed any more proof that Edward G. Robinson was the basis for the voice of Chief Wiggum on THE SIMPSONS – and that Lionel Barrymore was the same for UNDERDOG’s Simon Bar-Sinister – this film will supply all you need!

Extra Features:
Only one truly worth noting as a “PRO”…

Theatrical Trailer for “Key Largo
How many of these wonderful “products of their time” has “The Voice of Warner Bros.” Robert C. Bruce narrated? I wonder if any one knows! Here’s Mr. Bruce:

KEY LARGO! Key Largo – Where adventure inflames men to violent action… and romance smolders in women, until it conquers or kills! Key Largo – A lonely island off the coast of Florida! Sultry, heat-ridden, cloaked in the strange menace of the sea!

"But stranger still, is the destiny that brings these people to this remote outpost! To be held at bay with a price on their lives… by a man with a PRICE ON HIS HEAD!”

How do you not love stuff like this!


Overall:
Key Largo” is a far better film than its reputation (or, perhaps, lack of same) would indicate. Its mix of gangsters and the awesome force of nature make it unique. Its stars make it vastly more memorable than that!

The severe lack of Extra Features diminishes the package as a whole… but there’s no diminishing Bogie, Bacall, and Edward G. Robinson. Not to mention the directorial efforts of John Huston. It is recommended for Humphrey Bogart fans, Edward G. Robinson fans, adventure advocates, gangster groupies, natural disaster lovers, and plain-old enthusiasts of the immediate post-war period.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

On Sale Today: DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS # 360!


Wanna get some… er, “kicks”? Go directly to your favorite comic book shop and pick up a copy of DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS # 360! Like last week’s UNCLE SCROOGE # 397, it is brought to you by the fine folks at BOOM Kids!

The striking (well, some guys ARE being “struck”) cover is by Pat and Shelly Block, two great talents from whom we can never see enough!

Inside, you’ll find Part Two of “Son of the Rising Sun” (…a wonderful title if you give some thought to the earliest work of Don Rosa), continuing the Tekka-Don “dream-u-mentary” adventures of Donald in Feudal Japan.

Backing that is my American English script for the story I call “The Titan of Tae-Kwon-Duk”, in which Donald’s martial-arts-misadventures continue when he’s AWAKE!

Full disclosure: The incomparable David Gerstein wrote nearly all of Page One but, once I had a nephew crack-wise at the bottom of that page, there was no stopping me until the end of this eight-page, far-eastern fun-fest!

The original story was written the great Gorm Transgaard, so you know it’s gonna be good – with (martial) art by Jose Maria Manrique, so you know it’s gonna be… aw, you know!

Can Donald go from “Zero to Black Belt” in a matter of days? And, if so, what other misfortunes will befall him? Among said misfortunes, will there be a big, strong, bearded misfortune – with a vaguely familiar name to match his appearance – ready to challenge him for a certain “title” that matches the title of our story?

…And what will it take to make me stop asking so many questions?


How about if you promise to get a copy of DONALD DUCK AND FRIENDS # 360!


…I’ll be monitoring you – and making up lots of new questions as I wait!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On Sale Today: UNCLE SCROOGE # 397!


Run, drive, bike, or skate (…even walk, if you must) to your favorite comic book shop and pick up a copy of UNCLE SCROOGE # 397! Brought to you by the fine folks at BOOM Kids!

The great Carl Barks “sailboat” tribute cover, beautifully executed by Diego Jourdan and based on Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories # 108 (September, 1949), will LEAP off the racks into your waiting arms!

If it doesn’t do that, just pick it up. It may be shy about doing tricks for strangers.

Inside, you’ll find my first American English Disney comic book script ever to appear in the “standard” comic book format – and my first ever lead story: “DuckTales: The Last Auction Hero”!

(Original story by Paul Halas and Dave Angus, with art by Jose Maria Millet Lopez.)

I had a grand time dialoguing Scrooge McDuck and Flintheart Golmgold, at a heated auction for the fabulous Wrathakhan Emerald. They empty their pockets of cash – and anything else they can find – in the name of their ages old rivalry! Add the unique comedy stylings of Launchpad McQuack and the DuckTales Beagle Boys, and you’ve got yourself a game! …A game of what, I couldn’t say!

The gang’s all here, as David Gerstein and Jonathan Gray follow suit with “DuckTales: Big Blimp in Little Trouble”! (Original story by Halas and Tom Anderson, with art by Lopez.) And William Van Horn offers his own unique take on Launchpad and Gyro in “A Dolt from the Blue”!

With ALL THIS, how can you go wrong?
Hint: YOU CAN’T! Enjoy it!

Friday, November 5, 2010

LSD on NBC! (A Looong TV History Lesson!)

Dum-De-DUM-Dum!
The mid-1960s was a highpoint for sci-fi and fantasy television programming. Never before had there been as much “fantastic television” in prime time – nor would there be again, at least until very recently.

Indeed, the 1966-1967 TV season is (and will likely always be) my favorite of all time. Sadly, for the enthusiasts of such programming, virtually all of it would be gone by end of 1968, with only a scant few stragglers “keeping the flame” until 1970.

I believe I can pinpoint the exact date when the change began to take place… January 12, 1967 – with the premiere of DRAGNET 1967 on NBC. (Available on the DVD collection: DRAGNET 1967: Season One – released in 2005.) Cue the show’s announcer, George Fenneman:

The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

Jack Webb’s DRAGNET 1967 was an updated revival of the prior incarnation of the series (1951-1959) with Webb reprising his role as Sergeant Joe Friday with new partner Bill Gannon, played by Harry Morgan (later of M*A*S*H*).

As if to let you know, right out of the gate, that this wasn’t… um, “your older brother’s” DRAGNET, here’s Joe Friday:

A powerful NEW DRUG, capable of producing weird and dangerous hallucinations, had found its way onto the streets of the city. It had fallen into the hands of juvenile experimenters. We had to try and stop it.”

That “new drug” happened to be LSD!

Stop, for a moment, and try to process this in the mindset of the times.

We’d just left behind the black and white “comedic styling” of I LOVE LUCY and FATHER KNOWS BEST. We’d transitioned into color broadcasting, with such shows as VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, BATMAN, and STAR TREK taking full advantage of the new visual potential now available to the home screen.

And, abruptly, here comes Jack Webb with the stark truth of the drug problem facing America’s youth. Specifically focusing on the new menace of LSD.

Webb drives the point home with dialogue by a police chemist (played by 1960s Filmation Batman animated voice actor Olan Soule) who informs us that LSD was developed in 1938 Switzerland, is odorless, colorless, and tasteless, and comes in two forms – liquid and powder.

Soule’s character goes on:

It’s new. We can’t be sure about physical addictions but, one thing we’re certain of – in every case so far, every one of the individuals has had a psychological dependence on it. Now, you tell me which is worse!”

Hampering Friday and Gannon – and law enforcement officials everywhere – is that, at the time this “true story” is supposed to have taken place, there is NO LAW covering the sale and use of LSD.

Over the course of the tightly scripted half hour, in response to the alarming rise in LSD use, both Federal and California state laws are passed, classifying LSD as a dangerous drug. Friday and Gannon leap into action – and hope is implied for citizens everywhere.

Make no mistake; I am not mocking this superb episode of DRAGNET 1967. Its message was powerful for its time and, honestly, remains so today – even if the nearly fifty-ish Webb tends to come off a little too stiff and clipped.

In fact, I would wager that this was the FIRST TIME much of mainstream America may have even heard of LSD – and both Webb and NBC are to be commended for devoting airtime to this very serious subject – especially when the “more fantastic” was the television order of the day.

NBC quickly followed DRAGNET 1967’s success with Raymond Burr’s IRONSIDE – and that would signal the great proliferation of cop shows that would debut over the coming seasons.

Both DRAGNET and IRONSIDE were (and to this day remain) two huge favorites of mine, but I can’t help but wonder if the death knell for sci-fi / fantasy television was first sounded on January 12, 1967. …Damn those kids and their LSD!

As a total digression, a copy of the DC comic book MY GREATEST ADVENTURE can be glimpsed during the episode.

In direct contrast with DRAGNET 1967’s episode “The Big LSD”, let’s see what other popular series of the time were up to that same week…

Tuesday, January 10:

THE INVADERS (ABC) would also premiere with its pilot episode “Beachhead”. Architect David Vincent stumbles upon alien invaders, and would spend the next season and a half trying to convince our disbelieving world of the threat.

Wednesday, January 11:

BATMAN (ABC) “The Zodiac Crimes”. Part One of a rare THREE PART Batman camp-adventure, where The Penguin teams up with The Joker. You can see the “formula” needed variation by this time.

LOST IN SPACE (CBS) “The Questing Beast”. The bumbling Don Quixote of Space, well played by Hans Conreid, arrives on the Robinsons’ planet with the aim of fulfilling his noble quest.

Thursday, January 12 (Same Night as DRAGNET 1967: “The Big LSD”):

BATMAN (ABC) “The Joker’s Hard Times”. Part Two of the THREE PART Penguin / Joker team-up.

STAR TREK (NBC) “The Squire of Gothos”. Captain Kirk and the Enterprise are victims of “Trelane”, an omnipotent but naughty alien “child” – superbly played by William Campbell.

Friday, January 13 (Was last night’s DRAGNET premiere “Bad Luck” for all these shows?):

THE TIME TUNNEL (ABC) “Visitors from Beyond the Stars”. In 1885, predatory aliens destroy an Arizona town – leaving it to become an old western “ghost town”.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (NBC) “The Deadly Smorgasbord Affair”. Napoleon Solo goes LITERALLY “solo”, as Robert Vaughn does this episode WITHOUT co-star David McCallum! Solo travels to Scandinavia to keep a “Suspended Animation Device” out of the hands of THRUSH. Actor Robert Emhardt plays the villain – in a role that looks as if it were CREATED for Victor Buono. Emhardt was good… but Buono would have been PERFECT!

THE WILD WILD WEST (CBS) “The Night of the Feathered Fury”. In one of those great coincidences, while we didn’t get Victor Buono in U.N.C.L.E., we DO get him in TWWW – and on the SAME NIGHT! James West and Buono’s Count Manzeppi vie for the fabled Philosopher’s Stone!

Sunday, January 15:

VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (ABC) “The Heat Monster”. A malevolent entity, made of pure fire, is trapped below the arctic ice cap. Enter the Submarine Seaview.

And in the midst of ALL THAT, comes DRAGNET 1967 and “The Big LSD”! How’s that for perspective? Your thoughts are always welcome!