Tuesday, March 29, 2011

DVD Review: Cartoon Commercials: Volume One

Cartoon Commercials: Volume One

(Released: 2004 by Thunderbean Animation LLC)
Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

All right maybe not “looong”, but certainly “extensive”!

What we have here is 1:25:13 worth of TELEVISION COMMERCIALS, which are completely, or partially, animated! The years covered: 1951-1977. The subject matter: Everything under the sun – from cigarettes and beer, to automobile polish, to the United States Marine Corps… and of course sweetened breakfast cereals! Oddly, of all products, Wildroot Cream-Oil Hair Tonic is particularly well represented, with 7 different ads over the presentation.

These commercial messages come at you relentlessly… but joyously! Every 30-60 seconds you’ll make a new discovery, or become reacquainted with an old familiar friend.

Contemporary viewers will be amazed at just what a staple animation was to advertising during the period covered. Especially the ‘50s and ‘60s. Now that CGI can create anything in simulated reality, traditional animation has become rare in TV ads – with the notable exception of breakfast cereals. But, our cartoon friends hawked darned near everything in these delightful days gone by.

An optional feature allows you to view the presentation with subtitles that provide additional information, such as year released, production studio, animators and directors, featured characters, announcers and other character voices. I found this VERY useful, and will likely utilize it for any and all future viewings.

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


It’s Not Long Enough: If you’re anything like me (…and Heaven help you, if you are!) you’ll not get bored during the procession of animated commercials. They could double this, and it would still be great fun.

It’s Just a Tad Too Long: No, that’s not a contradiction of the previous item. It is, in fact, about 10-15 minutes too long… but only because that last portion represents commercials from (Shudder!) the seventies! It never fails to amaze me how nearly everything that was good about the previous decade or two, just declines in the seventies. Comic books, prime time TV, animation in general, music, fashion, general quality of life… you name it.

TV commercials are no exception. Notice a nearly complete lack of the humor that punctuated the commercials of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Fortunately, the set’s primary focus IS the ‘50s and ‘60s, with a handful circa 1970-1973 (still kinda okay) – and only two ads dating from 1975, and one each from 1976 and 1977. These last few are just so different in their approach; they really don’t even belong in the same package. So, the set might have been better served if limited to artifacts that are strictly pre-1970. …But, that’s just me!

Only One Hanna-Barbera Character Commercial: Hanna-Barbera characters were well known for selling Kellogg’s cereals. Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, and Pixie, Dixie, and Mister Jinks were all employed in this capacity – and all of them save the “cat and meeces” had their images plastered across various cereal boxes. Yet, save the lone (and notorious) exception leading off our “PROS” section, not one H-B character ad is included. Oddly, the H-B produced “Hillbilly Goat” (voiced by Howard Morris in his “Mushmouse” voice), who succeeded Huck Hound on the box of “Kellogg’s Sugar Stars” about 1966, is present. Nice to see that, at least. …But, WHERE are the rest?!


Smoking Flintstones: Not only is the infamous Winston Cigarettes Flintstones ad included, but also the ad bumper that begins the end credits sequence – where Fred gives Wilma a light and we move-out to the “Winston Advertising Billboard” overlooking Bedrock! Only Fred and Barney actually speak in the ad. I guess they didn’t wanna pay Jean Vander Pyl and Bea Benederet.

On the various FLINTSTONES DVD sets, we get many of the “safe” commercials like One-A-Day Vitamins and Welch’s Grape Juice, but now I finally own a copy of the Winston (Win-stone?) ad – and can imagine it playing the next time I watch an early Flintstones episode, like “The Swimming Pool” or “The Flintstone Flyer”.

Pete and Harry the Carnation Rabbits: A pair of Rabbits, “Pete” (sardonic, voiced by Pat Harrington Jr.) and “Harry” (enthusiastic, voiced by Lennie Weinrib) push various Carnation products, and unfortunate or embarrassing things end up happening to Pete. He ends each commercial with “Thanks a lot, Harry!” The odd thing is I don’t ever recall seeing any of these air on TV back in the day! These mini-masterpieces were directed by Bill Melendez, with additional voices by Gene Moss. There were 22 consecutive such ads, and I never once tired of them!

The Contributors: An astounding array of talents is represented here! Animators and Animation Studios, Voice Actors, established Cartoon Stars and other Icons of Merchandising, and even noted personalities appearing in live action. Let’s break ‘em down… alphabetically, so as not to inadvertently editorialize my preferences.

Animation Studios: Depatie/Freleng, Gamma Productions, GrantRay Productions, Hanna-Barbera, Jay Ward, MGM, Murkami-Wolf, Pantomine Pictures, Playhouse Pictures, Quartet Films, Terrytoons, Total Television, Tower Twelve Productions (Chuck Jones), UPA, Walter Lantz, Warner Bros.

Animators and Directors: Hal Ambro, Tex Avery, Gerard Baldwin, Art Bartsch, Ted Bonnickson, Gerry Chiniquy, Herman Cohen, Fred Crippen, Shamus Culhane, Phil Duncan, Len Glasser, Manny Gould, Vic Haboush, Ken Harris, Gene Hazleton, John Hubley, Mark Kausler, John Kimball, Michael Lah, Abe Levittow, Bill Littlejohn, Ed Love, Bob Matz, Peter Max (Yes, THAT Peter Max!), Robert McKimson, Bill Melendez, Ken Muse, Grim Natwick, Don Patterson, Ray Patterson, Manny Perez, Connie Rasinski, Virgil Ross, Milt Schaeffer, Rod Scribner, Grant Simmons, Ed Soloman, Irv Spence, Iawo Takamoto, Dick Thompson, Bill Tytla, Ben Washam, Richard Williams… WHEW!

Voice Actors: Don Adams, Dayton Allen, Jim Backus, Dick Beals, Jackson Beck, Herschel Bernardi, Mel Blanc, Bradley Bolke, Tom Bosley, Daws Butler, William Conrad, Hans Conreid, Kenny Delmar, June Foray, Paul Frees, Joan Gerber, Art Gilmore, Pat Harrington Jr., George S. Irving, Chuck McCann, Bob McFadden, Dal McKennon, Sheppard Menkin, Don Messick, Howard Morris, Tom Morrison, Wayne Morton, Gene Moss, Thurl Ravenscroft, Alan Reed, Bill Scott, Hal Smith, Grace Stafford, Arnold Stang, Allen Swift, Dick Tufeld, Lenny Weinrib, Nancy Wible, Paul Winchell… WHEW, again!

Cartoon Stars: Barney Rubble, Betty Rubble, Bugs Bunny, Bullwinkle J. Moose, Chumley the Walrus, Daffy Duck (…in one ad, actually WINS decisively over Bugs Bunny!), Elmer Fudd (…voiced by Hal Smith and directed by Tex Avery!), Farmer Al Falfa, Filmore Bear, Fred Flintstone, Mighty Mouse, Mister Magoo, Pink Panther and “Long-Nose Guy”, Road Runner, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Tennessee Tuxedo, Uncle Waldo Wigglesworth, Wilma Flintstone, Wizard of Oz characters (…Dorothy, Tin-Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion – by Chuck Jones’s Tower Twelve Productions), Woody Woodpecker, Wyle E. Coyote, Yosemite Sam… Triple WHEW!

Icons of Merchandising: Cap’n Crunch, Carnation Rabbits: Pete and Harry (“Thanks a lot, Harry!”), Charlie the Tuna, Cherrios Kid (…called “Harry” in 1955!), Count Chocula, Elsie the Cow, Franken-Berry, Frito Bandito (…voiced by Mel Blanc and directed by Tex Avery!), Hillbilly Goat (…Iawo Takamoto designed ad!), Lucky the Leprechaun, the M&Ms, Quake, Quisp, the Quick Bunny, Snap, Crackle, and Pop, Sonny and Gramps (Cocoa Puffs), Sugar Bear (…can we even SPEAK HIS NAME these days?), Tony the Tiger and Tony Jr., Trix Rabbit, Twinkie the Kid… I repeat… WHEW!

Appearing in Live Action: Ben Alexander, Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Hillary Brooke, Johnny Brown, Rose Marie, The Monkees (…minus Peter Tork – but PLUS Bugs Bunny!!!) Grady Sutton, Lawrence Welk… and, ironically, in the only included commercial WITHOUT animation, Mel Blanc – doing his American Express Card pitch! …One final time: WHEW!

Extra Features:

“Industry on Parade”: (Runs 02:20) A publicity piece, produced in the 1950s, by the National Association of Manufacturers. The focus is on “The Alexander Film Co.” of Colorado Springs – a producer of television advertising.

Still Gallery: A 1950s “How-To” collection of stills on cartooning for advertising, by cartoonist and Golden Age comic book artist Chad Grothkopf. Nice look at “what to do” and “what not to do” when working up ideas for a sponsor.


What an UTTER DELIGHT this DVD set is! It’s the kind of thing you’ll want to haul out and show to a group of friends. Guaranteed, everyone will find something they like! And you, yourself, won’t believe just how much you’ve forgotten until you see it!

If there is a “Volume Two”, and it does not continue from the 1970s-on, but offers more wonders from “Golden Age of Animated Advertising”, I’ll be there for it.

Thunderbean is also the producer of “PRIVATE SNAFU GOLDEN CLASSICS” – a 2010 collection of the various WW II Era “Private Snafu” cartoon shorts, produced for the military by Warner Bros (…utilizing the same directors and animators from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies). This collection harkens back to the LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTIONS of years past – with the best available presentation of the Snafu shorts, commentaries by animation luminaries, and other welcome special features. …In other words, everything the current LOONEY TUNES SUPERSTARS collections are not! They produce lots of other neat stuff I’ve yet to view, as well.

…So, let’s hear it for Thunderbean!

This collection is highly recommended for enthusiasts of animation, television history… and all the rest of you!

Monday, March 21, 2011

DVD Review: Little Caesar (1930)

Little Caesar (1930)

(Released: 2005 by Warner Home Video)
Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Mnyaah! I’ll be somebody!” -- The great Edward G. Robinson in the seminal Warner Bros. film “Little Caesar”.

It isn’t often that one is witness to the “creation” of something big. But, Robinson, director Mervyn LeRoy, and the Warner Bros. studio machine, for all intents and purposes, “created” the Gangster Film – and, if not the “Gangster Film”, certainly the “Gangster Genre” – with “Little Caesar”.

While gangsters had been the subject of a number of silent-era films, “Little Caesar” is the film that put them on the map. (…At least I didn’t say: “Made Them Number One with a Bullet!”) Many successful films, starring the likes of James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and of course, Robinson would follow in its wake. Our collective fascination with gangsters would continue into “The Godfather Trilogy”, “Goodfellas”, “The Sopranos”, and beyond.

…And it all began with this early “talking picture”, with a running time of a mere 1:18:22. Here’s a spoiler-filled recap! So, if ya don’t want spoilers, leave now, see? Mnyaah!

Little Caesar” is the story of Caesar Enrico Bandello and his cohort Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. ), small-time hoods who knock-off gas stations just to get by. Each aspires to something greater. Rico fancies himself a big-time gangster. Joe wants to give up crime and become a dancer (…yes, really!)

They head to Chicago where Rico hooks up with the mob of mid-level boss Sam Vettori, and Joe becomes a professional dancer in a nightclub. There, Joe meets another dancer, Olga, and they fall in love. Rico, on the other hand, “falls in love with his gun”, and is quick to use it. A bit too quick for the comfort of Vettori who, nevertheless, admires Rico’s… um, moxie.

Rico uses Joe’s position at the nightclub to pull a brazen New Year’s Eve robbery as the club patrons celebrate. In the process, Rico murders one of the city’s top cops. Joe wants out, but Rico will have none of that – not when he’s about to make his move. On leaving crime behind, Joe laments to Olga: “I’ve never seen the guy who could get away with it yet!”

With the successful heist, and using Boss Vettori’s objections to the cop killing as an opportunity to sway members of the gang, Rico takes over the Vettori mob. He maneuvers his way up another level or two to become “Little Caesar” – delivering such great lines as: “If anyone turns yellow, and squeals, my gun’s gonna speak its piece!”, “If you ain’t outta here by tomorrow morning, ya won’t ever leave it, except in a pine box! and "I’m takin’ over this territory! From now on, it’s mine!”

Rico’s savagery and quick trigger propels his rise to the top. Wanting a clean life for herself and Joe, Olga desperately phones the police to have Joe claim that Rico was behind the fatal New Year’s Eve shooting and robbery. Rico gets word of this and goes to shoot Joe before the police arrive to take his statement. …But, surprisingly, he cannot murder his old friend. He runs, as the rest of his gang is arrested.

At rock bottom, in a flop-house, Rico reads in the paper of the police calling him “yellow”, and daring him to show himself. He takes the bait, and is shot dead (ironically behind a billboard for the act of Joe and Olga).

His final words: “Mother of Mercy… Is this the end of Rico?”

Warner Bros. answers him with the words “THE END”, as we fade out! Gosh, that sounds like something Tex Avery or Bob Clampett might have done to end a Warner Bros. cartoon, doesn’t it? Oh, well… he deserved it, and at least it didn’t end with “That’s All Folks”!

Two additional oddities: “Little Caesar” must have been so early in Warner Bros. history that the Warner Bros Shield does not appear to introduce the film. Instead, there is the image of a PENNANT reading: “A First National Talking Picture”! …MAN, that’s early!

The cover of the DVD set shows Edward G. Robinson as Rico brandishing a tommy-gun. Actually, though Rico is anything but shy about introducing bodies to bullets, he never once uses such a weapon. Handguns, for more close-up killing, were more his style. Though, oddly, the police use a “chopper” to bring him down at film’s end.

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


Beyond the above-mentioned inaccurate cover image, there aren’t really any “CONs” to list. When Warner Home Video was great (as they were during this release period), they were GREAT! So, let’s move on to…


The Film: Not only are we witnessing both film history and an iconic performance by Edward G. Robinson (…that is still homaged and satirized to this day), but the presentation is as sharp, clear, and perfect as an 81 year-old film could possibly be! …Yes, I said “81 year-old film”!

The Cast:

Edward G. Robinson as “Rico”/ “Little Caesar”.

• Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as “Joe”.

• Glenda Farrell as “Olga”.

• Stanley Fields as “Sam Vettori”.

• Thomas Jackson as “Sgt. Flaherty”.

Menus: Menus are easy to navigate, and are nicely illustrated with images of Rico and other characters from the film. The Main Menu has a particularly nice subtle touch: There are images of Rico drawing his gun and Joe and Olga romantically among a fluffy field of clouds – enhanced by “wispy digital effects” to indicate both the smoke from Rico’s gun and the dreamy quality of Joe and Olga’s clouds. Oh, and for the record, the image DOES NOT indicate that Rico SHOT Joe and Olga, despite my description of it.

Extra Features:

Theatrical Trailer for “Little Caesar”:  This was too early in the game for the expected narration by Robert C. Bruce (In fact, there was no voiceover whatsoever!), so we settle for animation of a tommy-gun and a pistol “crossing animated fire” resulting in large text exploding across the screen. Considering it was 1930, this was actually quite good and effective. I’ll assume Leon Schlesinger’s studio did the animation.

In the text, the film is described as a “picturization” of the novel upon which it was based. If “picturization” was ever a word, in even moderately common usage, it has certainly faded into antiquity now. Want proof? My spell-checker refuses to recognize it as a word!

Commentary Track by Richard Jewell (USC Professor) Jewell’s observations include:

• “Little Caesar” opens, not with dialogue, but with a gunshot (Rico and Joe’s gas station holdup), punctuating the new era of sound.

• Rico, like the rest of us, merely aspires to the “American Dream” – only as a gangster.

• Warner Bros. Pictures specialized in “gritty” over “glamorous”.

• The “Joe Massara” character was based on actor George Raft who, in real life, broke away from the underworld to become an entertainer.

• Edward G. Robinson was born in Romania, and came to the US at age nine.

• “Little Caesar” was banned in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia – and the Pennsylvania State Censorship Board cut some of the brandishing of guns.

• Gangsters were regarded as appealing to Depression Era audiences, especially those who defied Prohibition.

• Hollywood censorship activities would eventually change the emphasis of films from the “heroic gangster” to the crime fighter. This is particularly evident in 1936’s “Bullets or Ballots(See that review HERE!)

• Jewell draws parallels between Rico and real-life gangster Al Capone – as well as the rise and fall of Julius Caesar.

• Though unequivocally dead at the end of “Little Caesar”, Edward G. Robinson appears to have REVIVED the character of Rico, as “Johnny Rocco”, in 1948’s “Key Largo”. (See that review HERE!) In my own opinion, “Rocco” is certainly what “Rico” would have become, had he survived. (…Apparently, it wasn’t “…the end of Rico” after all!)

Warner Night at the Movies: Not so long ago, when Warner was the BEST DVD PRODUCER of them all, it offered the outstanding “Warner Night at the Movies” with select DVD packages. I couldn’t be more pleased, when I uncover one of these gems!

Warner expertly reconstructs the movie-going experience of the day as a viewing option for “Little Caesar”. The film may be viewed as part of the entire program, on its own, or the viewer may pick and choose among the included items.

An optional introduction to the program by film historian Leonard Maltin is quite valuable in putting the presentation in its historical perspective – helping modern viewers to best appreciate the experience.

The program consists of:

A theatrical trailer for “Five Star Final”: The next picture for Edward G. Robinson – in which he plays a newspaperman for a scandal sheet. Also in this trailer is an uncredited appearance by Boris Karloff.

Newsreel: (Runs 01:44) From “Hearst Metrotone News”... “Legs Diamond’s Girl Talks after Gunman is Slain. Boston American Reporter Interviews Kiki Roberts, Ex-Follies Dancer”. Well… THAT certainly tells you all you need to know! A look at the sad side of real-life gangster culture. Nice thematic linkage with the main feature.

The Hard Guy”: (Runs 06:25) A very young Spencer Tracy stars in this mini-drama about a struggling Hell’s Kitchen family man in the depression (…which, let us not forget, was in full force at the time!). My past experiences with “Warner Night at the Movies” led me to expect a comedy short. Instead, this was an interesting surprise that was more like a short story with a twist ending. This short is introduced with a “pennant”, rather than the WB Shield”, as is “Little Caesar”.

The Hard Guy” was filmed at the Warner Bros. Brooklyn (!) studio, and was released under the banner of “Vitaphone Varieties” (Along with “First National Pictures”, “Looney Tunes”, “Merrie Melodies”, “Vitaphone Melody Masters”, and who knows how many more… Warner Bros. sure had a lot of banners for different products.)

…And, at a length of 06:25, this was actually SHORTER than the cartoon that followed it!

Lady Play Your Mandolin”: (Runs 07:14) A Merrie Melodies cartoon starring “Foxy”. A Hugh Harman – Rudolf Ising cartoon production. Abe Lyman’s Brunswick Recording Orchestra (Was Carl Stalling with Disney at the time?) Leon Schlesinger – Producer.

The WB Shield and Pennant introduce our interlude with Foxy, who looks just like Mickey Mouse but with a fox’s ears and tail! Not to mention that the “lady” who “plays [her] mandolin” is also a duplicate of Minnie Mouse, with the same add-ons.

As one might expect for the time, the cartoon is a typically plot-less affair that exists only for the sake of some tenuously connected music-oriented gags – and to further put Warner-owned songs before the public. Still, it’s professionally done – and it’s cute! Oh, and a horse gets drunk and whoops it up! …Good for him!

The Film Itself:  If I haven’t praised “Little Caesar”, enough already – yes, I’ve come to PRAISE “Caesar”, not to BURY him – allow me to do it once more. This is one heck of a film – especially when one considers the “very recent” technical advances that it reflects. It is the film and the role that made Edward G. Robinson the icon he remains to this day!

Other Extra Features Include:

Little Caesar: End of Rico, Beginning of the Antihero”: (Runs 17:06).

Warner has produced a number of these mini-documentaries for its various gangster collections, but this 2005 feature is certainly one of the best! Chock full of information on the film, the times, the actors, and the studio.

Film critic Gerald Peary describes “Little Caesar” as the “…the Anti-American Dream story”, noting that “…We can tumble as quickly as we rise.”

Film historian Dr. Drew Casper observes that other studios produced “romantic idealism”, while Warner Bros, “…tuned its attention to persons outside of society – outlaws and gangsters”, and that Jack Warner and Daryl F. Zanuck were fond of “…the arc of the topical gangster”.

In consideration of “Little Caesar” as an early talkie, film critic Andrew Sarris notes: “The two genres that really profited from the coming of sound were the musical, of course, and the gangster film – because you could hear the gunfire!” To this, Dr. Drew Casper adds: “It really couldn’t crystallize as fiercely as it did, if it weren’t for sound on film.”

Additionally, the feature reveals:

• The Hollywood Production Codes, that so affected Robinson’s “Bullets or Ballots”, would be instituted within three years of “Little Caesar”.

• Edward G. Robinson was cast due to his resemblance to real-life Chicago gangster Al Capone – upon whom the novel “Little Caesar” was based.

• Clark Gable was once considered for the role of Rico, and later for the role of Joe, but was rejected by Jack Warner for his “big ears”. Gable went to MGM… and managed to do rather nicely for himself in the end.

• Rico’s death scene was originally to contain the line Mother of GOD… Is this the end of Rico?”, but was changed to Mother of MERCY… Is this the end of Rico?” in the final draft. And it is noted that Rico was played as genuinely shocked that he could ever have met such an inglorious end. That being the reason for such a memorable closing line.

Other participants include: Martin Scorsese (Director of “Goodfellas”), authors Robert Sklar and Mark A. Vieira, filmmaker Alain Silver, and (on film) a contribution by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

“Re-Release Foreword”: (Runs 0:43) Later on, both “Little Caesar” and James Cagney’s “The Public Enemy” were re-released as a twin-bill. With Hollywood taking a more conservative stance on gangster films, and the glorification of crime in general, this video disclaimer was offered before the show:

Perhaps the toughest of the gangster films, ‘Public Enemy’ and ‘Little Caesar’ had a great effect on public opinion. They brought home violently the evils associated with prohibition and suggested the necessity of a nation-wide house cleaning. Tom Powers in ‘Public Enemy’ and Rico in ‘Little Caesar’ are not two men, nor are they merely characters – they are a problem that sooner or later we, the public, must solve.”

Warner supplies us with an interesting curio of the times that has it modern-day equivalent on the warnings it rightly adds to its classic animation DVD collections, concerning the attitudes and prejudices that were prevalent when the animated shorts were produced.


Little Caesar” is an amazing piece of work, given the time in which it was created. Viewing it from that perspective makes it difficult to believe that how rapidly the techniques of cinema had advanced in such a short period of time. “Little Caesar” is also a seminal work of the gangster genre and, along with James Cagney’s subsequent “The Public Enemy”, defined the gangster film. It’s a well-preserved piece of film history, where “rods”, “gats” (…but no “roscoes”) abound… and one great story, to boot! Seen in the context of “Warner Night at the Movies”, it is a truly remarkable experience!

It is highly recommended for fans of Edward G. Robinson, gangster films and crime drama in general, and enthusiasts or scholars of the early sound-era of Hollywood.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

DVD Review: The Fugitive: Season One Volume One

The Fugitive: Season One Volume One

(Released: 2007 by CBS Paramount Home Entertainment)

Another Looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

It was perhaps the finest television drama of the early to mid 1960s – and one of the finest of all time. It was certainly one of the most popular. And, despite my fondness for all things sixties, I somehow managed to never see this program until turning to DVD in 2011.

It is THE FUGITIVE (1963-1967), and the first volume released to DVD is the subject of this review.
Giving credit where credit is due, it was the fine members of HTF (The Home Theatre Forum at THIS LINK) whose postings moved me to try THE FUGITIVE. Thanks, guys, if you’re reading this!

Back in the day, THE FUGITIVE was run at my bedtime. I have vivid memories of the opening, but never got to see any of the episodes, because it was time to “hustle upstairs” for the night.

Still, I can remember the show’s narrator, William Conrad, speaking these lines in a more deliberate manner and with less humorous hyperbole than he employed on ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS and THE BULLWINKLE SHOW:

The name: Doctor Richard Kimble.

The destination: Death Row, State Prison.

The irony: Richard Kimble is innocent.

Proven guilty, what Richard Kimble could not prove is that, moments before discovering his murdered wife’s body, he saw a one-armed man running from the vicinity of his home.

Richard Kimble ponders his fate, as he looks at the world for the last time – and sees only darkness.

But, in that darkness, fate moves it huge hand…”
…What more do you need to know? They sure knew how to efficiently set-up show premises in those days!

David Janssen is perfect as man-on-the-run Richard Kimble, who moves from town to town, becoming involved in various intrigues and narrow escapes from the law – both the local authorities and the omnipresent Lt. Philip Gerard (Barry Morse), from whose custody Kimble escaped.

With a drive and single-minded obsession to rival that of literature’s Captain Ahab, Gerard pursues Kimble across this great land of ours – with different settings and a new cast of characters introduced each week, to make things interesting.

Asked why he goes to such incredible lengths to apprehend this escaped prisoner, Gerard states: “The Law says he’s guilty. I enforce the Law.”

Complicating things is Kimble’s essential “goodness” (…perhaps, the result of his Hippocratic Oath) that compels him to “do the right thing” for the people he encounters, even at his own peril of discovery by the authorities. Sometimes, even I want to SHAKE HIM, and say “JUST GET OUTTA THERE!”

But, making things easier for our fugitive is that he existed in a time that predated the extensive identity checking and information exchange methodology of the present day. He could adopt an alias, accept a job “on a handshake”, and be paid in just enough cash, to finance his expedition to the next small town – to become another nameless face.

Only once, in these first 15 episodes, was the matter of his Social Security Number addressed – and then quickly forgotten. Perhaps the best quote on the subject is this:

Mr. Tallman (Kimble’s alias of the week), it takes a unique talent to slither through the 20th Century without numbers. Now, I have to assume that you didn’t spring into life like Dionysus from the thigh of Zeus. A man with no past may be hiding one…”
Nevertheless, “slither” Kimble does, always one step ahead of the law, and through some of the best and most suspenseful dramas TV of the time had to offer.

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

No Origin Story: The first episode, “Fear in a Desert City”, though a good story, was disappointing to me, because it did not tell the story of Richard Kimble’s trial and escape, the murder of his wife in Stafford, Indiana, the intrigue of the mysterious One-Armed Man, his “association” with Lt. Gerard, the train wreck that freed him, etc.

This episode could just as easily have been plucked from mid-season, for all the “origins” it gave us. Once again, however, the members of HTF came to the rescue, by advising me to watch Episode 14 “The Girl from Little Egypt” DIRECTLY AFTER the first episode. This one actually fills-in, in flashback, many of the details I felt the pilot episode should have presented.

Extra Features: The Fugitive: Season One Volume One has NO Extra Features. This is extremely disappointing for a series with as much historical significance as this one.

The Packaging: The hard plastic packaging for The Fugitive: Season One Volume One opens like a book. It is good, sturdy packaging, offering proper protection to the discs therein. The four discs reside within the package thusly: Disc One on the “inside front cover” of the package (if one were to view the package as a book). Discs Two and Three on a hinged holder in the center of the pack, and Disc Four on the “inside back cover”.

This is all fine and well… EXCEPT that the CONTENT NOTES (listing the individual episodes) are also on the “inside front cover” and the “inside back cover” – making the episode lists impossible to read without handling and removing Discs One and Four. In my view, the content notes should never be obscured by discs – and should always be easily available to read.

Robo-Promos:Robo-Promos” is my term for advertisements that play automatically before you even reach the initial menu. They are unavoidably inflicted upon the viewer before “getting on with the show”. CBS Paramount is particularly good in this regard, as The Fugitive: Season One Volume One’s initial display on Disc One offers a CHOICE of “Previews” or “Main Menu”, thus avoiding the infliction of “Robo-Promos” on the viewer – unless he or she wishes to see them!

Music / Underscore: The unique “mood-inducing pieces” of THE FUGITIVE’S underscore for this first season was composed primarily by Peter Rugolo. Previously known for BORIS KARLOFF PRESENTS THRILLER (where Rugolo certainly induced his share of “mood”) and later for (among other things) the “Space-a-Delic” theme that punctuated the LOST IN SPACE episode The Promised Planet (uncredited). I can STILL hear that thing running through my head. It may NEVER leave me!

The reason I even mention this is because, in the Season Two and Three releases, Rugolo’s underscore will be removed and replaced – and this will cause its share of controversy. So, I say, enjoy it while you can.

The Players: A stellar list of guest players appear in The Fugitive: Season One Volume One. (In order of appearance)

Brian Keith, Vera Miles, Harry Townes, Patricia Crowley, Elisha Cook Jr., Sandy Dennis, Frank Sutton, R.G. Armstrong, Susan Oliver, Robert Duvall, James Edwards, Ruby Dee, Robert F. Simon, Brenda Vaccaro, Lou Antonio, Chris Robinson, Geraldine Brooks, Murray Matheson, David White, Tim O’ Connor, Gene Lyons, Jack Weston, Henry Beckman, Garry Walberg, Frank Overton, Paul Carr, Ian Wolfe, Leslie Nielsen, Edward Binns, Jack Klugman, Billy Halop, Ed Nelson, Pamela Tiffin, Diane Brewster, Bill Raisch (as The One-Armed Man), Andrew Prine, Jacqueline Scott, James B. Sikking, Billy Mumy, Clint Howard… and, throughout the season, Paul Birch as Lt. Gerard’s patient superior “Captain Carpenter”.

…Also, joining us each week, are William Conrad as the “in-episode narrator” and Hank Simms as the “title narrator”.
How’s THAT for a cast list!
The Episodes: 15 suspenseful episodes of THE FUGITIVE, from the first half of the 1963-1964 television season! Here are some highlights, rated up to four stars. ****

Fear in a Desert City”: As a bartender, Richard Kimble becomes involved in the conflict between the establishment’s attractive piano player, and her estranged and abusive husband. Well done but, as noted, this premiere episode does little or nothing to set up the show’s premise, beyond William Conrad’s weekly opening narration. ***

The Witch”: A disturbed little girl makes trouble for Kimble and her schoolteacher with her compulsive lying. As seen here, little girls can sometimes be scarier than gangsters and monsters combined! **

Never Wave Goodbye: Parts One and Two”: Kimble finds happiness with the boss’ daughter while working in a New England sail factory. Oh, but here comes Gerard to spoil it all! The life-endangering lengths Gerard goes to in pursuit of Kimble at the end of Part Two is where I draw my parallels between the lieutenant and literature’s Captain Ahab. ***

Decision in the Ring”: When Kimble applies his medical skills to assist “Joe Smith” an aspiring boxer who’s taken a beating in the ring, he is hired by the boxer’s manager to work as a “cut man”. Kimble soon realizes that Smith may have a potentially fatal brain injury, and urges that he quit the fight game. However, despite having studied medicine himself, Smith believes that boxing is the best ticket for a black man in those days. The episode features James Edwards, the mess steward who ate the “legendary strawberries” in the Humphrey Bogart classic “The Caine Mutiny” as “Joe Smith”. Written by Arthur Weiss, who was a major contributor to the 4th Season of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. ****

See Hollywood and Die”: Kimble and a female motorist (Brenda Vaccaro) are taken hostage by a pair of young punk killers and endure a perilous ride from New Mexico to Los Angeles. “Old Friends” to fans of sixties sci-fi TV Lou Antonio (STAR TREK: “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield”) and Chris Robinson (VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA: “The Death Clock”) are superbly fear inducing as the killers! ****

Ticket to Alaska”: Kimble travels from Washington to Alaska via a passenger boat, when the craft is boarded at sea by a police detective seeking an undisclosed suspect. When the lawman is murdered, suspicion falls over everyone aboard – especially Kimble, the one man without a verifiable past. ****

Nightmare at Northoak”: A wandering Kimble saves a group of children and the unconscious driver from a wrecked and burning school bus. The unwanted publicity he receives for his Samaritan act attracts the attention of Lt. Gerard, who travels to the small town and places Kimble under arrest. This outstanding episode is notable for Kimble’s recurring nightmare sequence (where he is shot and captured by Gerard) and for a GREAT ending scene… no spoilers! ****

Terror at High Point”: An earthmoving crew in Utah is Kimble’s latest refuge. That is until the crew-boss’ wife is attacked in what is clearly a sort of homage to “Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho” (…indelibly burned into our collective psyche just a few years prior!) and a mentally deficient “water-boy” is blamed for the crime. Jack Klugman gives one heck of a performance as the boss – and is the only one, thus far, to even broach the subject of our many-named fugitive’s social security number. ****

The Girl from Little Egypt”: A stewardess, upset by her married “boyfriend”, drives off with emotions racing… and hits Kimble walking along the side of the highway! (He has the WORST LUCK, doesn’t he?). While injured and under sedation, Kimble inadvertently reveals many details of the murder of his wife, his trial, conviction, and flight as a fugitive. This is all nicely presented in flashback, giving us the ORIGIN STORY we should have had at the series’ beginning. ****

Home is the Hunted”: Word of his father’s heart problems reaches Kimble, and he risks great jeopardy to reunite with his family – loyal sister “Donna” and her husband, resentful younger brother “Ray”, and Donna’s two kids played by consummate child actors Billy Mumy and Clint Howard. Needless to say, Gerard is also present – for once not even having to leave town to pursue his quarry. ****

We try to be as spoiler free as we can… but, if you plan to watch THE FUGITIVE all the way through to the climactic finale (in THE FUGITIVE: Season 4 Volume 2 DVD set), play close attention to at least TWO of the episodes described above. As a “favor” to you all, I’ll not say which two!

As previously stated, THE FUGITIVE was (and remains) one of television’s most significant dramatic series. The impact of its historic series finale is still felt today.

THE FUGITIVE’S impact on subsequent series of the era is also apparent. Producer Quinn Martin “ported over” the “Man Alone and on the Run” concept to a Sci-Fi platform for his later THE INVADERS.

And, remaining within Sci-Fi, I get the same vibe from THE FUGITIVE that I get when watching LAND OF THE GIANTS! The “On the run from the authorities”, “Everyone’s out to get you!”, “Get outta there!” and “Stop helping those strangers!” feeling. …And GIANTS’ “Inspector Kobick” is just one great big, giant-sized version of Lt. Gerard – only with better hair!

Nevertheless, THE FUGITIVE remains unique in the history of television drama. And, thanks to DVD, you can experience the adventures of Richard Kimble and Lt. Gerard – whether they occurred “before you were born” or “after your bedtime”!

Highly recommended! Thanks, HTF-ers!

Monday, March 7, 2011

See You In the Spring!

Now that Winter is all but over, let’s get ready to “Spring forward” with some upcoming Disney comic book titles from the good folks at Boom! Studios / Boom Kids! There will be a little extra “Spring in MY step”, as I have some dialogue scripting contributions coming up. In order of publication they are:

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS (and Stories) # 718 (April): “To the Moon by Noon” (10 pgs.) teams Mickey Mouse with Ludwig Von Drake. This “lost” (…in space?) effort dates from the year 1963 and, for reasons that will become clear upon reading, is SET in that year. Art is by the great Mickey Mouse comic book artist Paul Murry! Needless to say, I am quite honored to have had the opportunity to “collaborate” with one of my most favorite Disney comic book artists – though separated by nearly five decades!

This is my first turn at writing dialogue for both Mickey and Ludwig. I’m quite familiar with Murry’s Mickey, but Ludwig Von Drake was more of a challenge. I feel that Ludwig wasn’t always handled properly in comics past. Perhaps the “newness” of the character, when many of his early-to-mid 1960s stories were created, resulted in his being characterized sometimes less than authentically. Often, Gyro Gearloose could have been substituted for Von Drake in those stories, with little noticeable difference.

One notable exception to this was “The Planet X Mystery”, written by Bob Ogle and drawn by Tony Strobl, in 1965’s DONALD DUCK # 102. Indeed, this story had poor Donald literally overwhelmed by BOTH Ludwig AND Gyro! If ever a comic book story “got” the difference between the two, this was it!

Drawing on this story, and the brilliant voice characterization Paul Frees employed for “The Professor”, I made my best effort to write Ludwig in character. Bombastic, egocentric, absent minded, often trailing off into digressions, etc. Hopefully, you will let me know if I succeeded.

UNCLE SCROOGE # 403 (May): As if it weren’t enough to “collaborate” with Paul Murry, I get to do the same with Romano Scarpa in this issue! Again, separated by a few decades! (…Livin’ the dream, folks!)

The Pelican Thief” gives us 17 pages of the wonderful loopiness you expect from the maestro – which made such a perfect counterpoint to the comparatively “straight and logical” Scrooge stories created by Carl Barks. Scrooge’s Money Bin is being looted… by trained pelicans! Where did they come from? Who is using them for criminal activities? And, how does this tie in with the abrupt pre-emption of Scrooge’s favorite TV show? Do the Junior Woodchucks have the answers? …Whadda you think!

I peppered my script with every gag, show-biz, and political reference I could dig-up, in service to Scarpa’s art for this tale. And, I believe I’ve done something with the villain that has never been done before. …All because I didn’t care for the name he “came with”.

DONALD DUCK # 366 (May): “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold – Again!” is the figurative and literal “Crown Jewel” of this trio of scripts. This is an Italian sequel to one of the most famous Donald Duck adventure stories of all time: 1942’s “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold”. The first American long adventure story for Donald Duck was drawn by the soon-to-be-legendary Carl Barks and famed Disney cartoon short animation director Jack Hannah. In the classic tale, the parrot “Yellow Beak” takes Donald and the nephews on an extended treasure hunt – with Pete close on their trail.

In the sequel, Ol’ Yellow Beak knocks on Donald’s door in the midst of a fierce storm, seeking the comfort of old friends – and with plans for a NEW treasure hunt up his salty sleeve. However, as Donald is quick to point out, “Things have CHANGED since the days of Barks and Hannah-built schooners!”

For instance, SCROOGE McDUCK is now the driving force of the Duck Family and, per the authors of the original work; he and his perpetual conflicts with the various sects of The Beagle Boys take center stage.

Another thing that’s changed is that, unlike the original “Pirate Gold” yarn – which was, in many spots, a wordless, glorified animation storyboard – this version was chock full of dialogue balloons for me to fill with humor and characterization. So, please allow for such differences in storytelling between the two.

But, at its core, it’s still Ol’ Yellow Beak, Donald, the nephews, an old ship, and another treasure map! And, I’m proud to be along for the 22-page ride!

But, please don’t wait until spring… The entire Boom! Disney line has never been better! Check out some examples of their fine work at THIS POST! It’s a great time to be a Disney comics fan!