One Fictional Night

Bill Russell Joins Ali & Brown 3 Years Later

 DATELINE: One Night in Miami

Upon hearing that a storyline made into a one-set play and thence a movie concerned a one-night meeting of Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown, all black men in the early 1960s on the cusp of change in civil rights for oppressed people, it’s hard to believe. It sounds like a fantasy of historical fiction.

Yet, it really happened.

The opening of the movie is not part of the original play and historical theories, though based on fact. The director Regina King had to open it up with white actors.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had his bugs planted to listen in on a hotel room chat among these men in February of 1964.  It’s hard to believe they even knew each other or would have anything to say to the other. Yet, they did.

In fact, Muhammad Ali (not yet Cassius X) was a close friend of Sam Cooke. They truly hit it off:  an intellectual who read avidly like Cooke would seem to be swayed by the egotistic charm of Clay, but they had a kind of fame and cultural tie.

The training camp of Ali, he would attract the attention of Malcolm X and/or football star Jim Brown. Yet, it did, but the movie broadens the tale to include white hangers-on like Johnny Carson

Would a gospel Christian like Cooke even speak to a Muslim? Well, Cooke had been called the devil for singing pop tunes, and it would not be a big reach to be condemned for cavorting with a Muslim.

Would men whose personal ego and self-absorption in their careers be even remotely interested in anything larger? Well, segregation and racism would be a factor.

We suspect that Hoover had a detailed transcript of the discussion these men held: whatever fanciful chat that derives from the play/movie.  Two would be dead within a year, and one would become a political controversy. Was Hoover’s unseen hand involved? This story doesn’t say.

The film blatantly ignores Jim Brown’s assault history on women, which could also be a Hoover set-up, but this is not explored.

Only Brown still lives, having gone into movies (Ali later followed).  We suspect Cooke would have been a bigger star than all of them had he not been murdered (assassinated for black power over-reach?).

The movie is akin to a stereotype acting job, broad as a Marx brothers farce anchored in political doom. It’s ironic and iconic, but we’d rather see J. Edgar Hoover’s actual transcript of the night they all met.

On Jan. 22, Sam Cooke would have celebrated his 90thbirthday.

Classic Celebrity Commercials

Hi-yo, Pizza Roll!

DATELINE: Olde TV Bad Habit 

Back in 2013 there was another compilation of “hucksters,” from advertisements and commercials on TV in the mid to late 1950s. It seems a bit unfair to call these old stars “hucksters,” as appearing at the end of their series or show (often in character) to sell a product was just a means of enhancing their income.

This delightful collection is a bit tiresome. Who wants to sit through one hour of commercials, even in fun?

A couple of points are particularly distressing. Most of the commercials were done in black and white, and most of them actually run for a full sixty seconds, which is maddening in our attention deficit age.

In particular, Steve Allen takes a Polaroid photo of Lou Costello and we actually wait while Steve talks for sixty seconds for him to show us the newly developed photo.

Yet, the compilation also features some fun moments and images we’ve never seen:  John Wayne sells Christmas Seals on set, and his director really is Wild Bill Wellman!

We were thrilled to hear the William Tell Overture selling some Jeno pizza rolls—and at the end of the commercial, in color no less, Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels show up in costume as the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

One funny bit features a color King Kong climbing off the Empire State building and driving off down the avenue in his king-size car. He puts his little blonde companion in the passenger seat.

Almost as stunning is to see Marilyn Monroe in full throttle, selling gasoline.

A montage of TV western stars of the era each smokes a different cigarette. We almost want to cry out to stop, please!

Leo G. Carroll as Topper smokes too, as do his ghosts, Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling as Marian and George Kirby.

We also see James Arness smoking away with Today Show host Jack Lescoulie! We had not seen him in fifty years.

Quite a collection.

 

 

 

 

Lucy & Desi: Together Again

Home Movie

DATELINE: Being the Ricardos 

  With the recent controversy over the casting of a new biographical movie about Lucy and Desi, it seemed like a good time to reconsider daughter Lucie Arnaz’s 1993 documentary about her parents, Lucy & Desi: A Home Movie.

Lucie Arnaz is defending the casting of Nicole Kidman as Lucy and Javier Bardem as Desi. Indeed, we think it is most interesting to see them play the real people during one dramatic week that the couple played the Ricardos.

They are not remaking I Love Lucy.

Back in 1993, Lucie Arnaz directed and produced, interviewed people, collected film clips, and put together a fairly honest and direct look at her famous parents, warts and all. She never received the full commendation she deserved. As she said, her mother was a “pack-rat” and kept all kinds of home movies that Lucie never saw. They were from the decade before the TV show and before the kids arrived.

What can you say about two people who were always “on.” They were the epitome of show biz, but alas, when home, their love story didn’t have a script they could embrace.

Lucy was the Queen of Comedy and pratfall on screen, and she loved being a performer and working. Off-screen she might have given Mommie Dearest, Joan Crawford,  a run for the roses.

 Desi was a talented man of show biz, and even more talented with business acumen, but never came out of the shadows. He loved Lucy too much. Their cultural differences, cute and remarkable, were also their downfall.

Desi’s Latino view of philandering infuriated Lucille Ball, but he was the love of her life. When two titans fall in love and clash, you have a big production called DesiLu, and you have shambles that make for great theater.

The home movies their daughter puts together are stunning and insightful. We suspect the movie docudrama of their lives by Aaron Sorkin will be even more stunning with brilliant actors playing the first great TV stars. We are, of course, most interested in who will play Fred and Ethel in Being the Ricardos. No word yet.

 

 

 

 

 Out, Out, Damned Spot! Trump Cut!

Trump Cut Out of Movie

DATELINE: Fans Direct Home Alone Cut

You know Donald Trump’s legacy is in trouble when his innocuous scene in Home Alone 2 is now under editorial attack. You can yell, “Cut” or “Hang Mike Pence,” but Trump is about to be given the digital age’s equivalent of Marie Antoinette’s fate.

Called Lost in New York, the sequel to the beloved movie that launched Macauley Culkin now will cast fate to the wind and Trump to the dust bin.

Off with his head is now a movie production shot heard round the world. Donald Trump is being digitally removed from a scene of several seconds as he gives Macauley Culkin direction to the hotel lobby.

Culkin has given his imprimatur to the action.

Not since Kevin Spacey was edited out of a finished and unreleased movie two years ago have we seen such a use of movie-making techniques. Spacey was sliced and diced out of the movie for his sexual peccadilloes. Trump now shares an infamy with sex abusers (though that is another story).

Not safe for children may be the new mantra when parents want to show Home Alone 2 to their kids: you better make sure that liars, provocateurs, and sedition-guilty insurgents are out of the picture.

An adult Culkin not only supports the move, but is prepared to replace Trump as the man in the lobby. So, an adult version of himself addresses the child, which is fairly funny and poetic justice. It’s also a little creepy.

Trump may suffer more inglorious fates in the years ahead, but like Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr, he has reached a new low in American movie history.

 

One Step Beyond’s Spooky Storyline

Stepping Out

 DATELINE: First Season Titanic Show

On the 62ndanniversary of the show called One Step Beyond, just after watching the last 2020 documentary on Titanic, we tuned into the seond episode of the series that predated Twilight Zone.

Of course, One Step Beyond  based its episodes on real historical events, like the Titanic disaster.  Rod Serling used fictional stories about a far-out dimension in time and space.

John Newland was your host and also the director of the episode, a rather low-budget black and white show with some stock footage from the 1953 movie about Titanic.

In this show, Newland begins with showing an unknown book in the library from 1889, which he keeps to himself, but will reveal at the end of the half-hour.

The main story is about a newly-wed Grace who dreams she will drown. Then, her bridegroom husband arranges a honeymoon on Titanic.

End of suspense. Yet, the story also threw in a couple of other precognitive incidents: a passenger who has free-floating anxiety about the ship—and in Canada, a minister who changes the church service choir song to one about a sinking ship.

These incidents were actually in the minor key of paranormal, but perhaps others were not so well-known. The real author W.T. Stead also wrote a story about a luxury ship that hit an iceberg. But, Stead on on board. The 1889 novel, Futility, was the second prediction novel.

The series had spooky little riff that came up on the sound-track at suitable moments, which may be the most memorable aspect of the show.

 

 

 

 

Bela Lugosi’s Death Kiss

No Deadly Kiss from Bela Lugosi

Only rarely do we have a chance to see or to review a Poverty Row movie from 1932 that stars Bela Lugosi.  Death Kiss was made on the heels of Dracula. (1931) and provided the cast to reunite and play it for laughs.

Death Kiss starts out like a house afire. Its opening scene is well-produced and puts a movie within a movie. The star is shot to death in pivotal scene while on the sound stage. It seems real enough.

The film released 90 years ago, almost to the day, features colorized, tinted scenes. That alone was intriguing enough to want to watch a bad murder mystery.

Lugosi is a studio manager working under a bad impression of L. B. Mayer in New York Yiddish accent. The studio novelist/writer thinks he is Angela Lansbury, but acts like a supercilious Hercule. He is insufferable, as played by David Manners.

On top of interfering with inept Los Angeles police (how things never change), he is having an affair with the leading lady who is prime suspect as the ex-wife of the victim who is in for an insurance wind-fall.

Adrienne Ames is stunning in the movie star role. Her B-movie career was short and she died young, but she is highly watchable here.

Lugosi telegraphs villainy at every step. Indeed, he seems to be the shadowy killer in at least one scene where he can identified. He is the tallest member of the cast, imperiously straight-backed.

The film progressively deteriorates, but does end with a surprise or two. As far as the color tints are concerned, it was a weird experiment to say the least. It is minor and pointless.

Autopsy on Andy Warhol

No House Calls Please: Dr. Hunter

DATELINE:  Squeamish Forensic Show

Dr. Michael Hunter, host of the Reelz network series called Autopsy, is said to be a leading forensic pathologist in a major American city. It’s unnamed to protect the innocent.

In his series, you must come to trust his judgment and theories, as he either confirms or adds to the official closing on the lives of famous singers, celebrities, or people in the news. We thought to look at his outlier, Andy Warhol, surely a famous figure, but one highly misunderstood and often dismissed.

Since Warhol died in 1987, at age 58, there are only a few first-person friends who agree to be interviewed for their insights. These include a biographer, a fellow photographer of lesser note, and Warhol’s two nephews. They are all highly devoted and deeply mournful over his loss, even decades later.

The case of Andy Warhol starts in youth, as Hunter points out that he had rheumatic fever as a child and watched his parents succumb to hospital ineffective treatment. It made him cautious of hospitalization, and finally terrified of even driving past one.

Andy never took recreational drugs, which seems a surprise to Hunter, but he leaps on two points. Warhol took one diet pill every day and was hooked on painkillers like Demerol (and for good reason).

Despite his suffering and weird social life, Warhol was a hard-working and productive artist whose playful media image made him seem slightly ridiculous.

Hunter does describe the horrific attack by nutcase Valerie Solanis who shot Warhol multiple times in 1968 and left him a pitiful shell. He had incisive hernias and had to wear a girdle to hold in his intestines for 20 years. Adhesions and scars gave him intestinal pain, and he never wanted to see his naked body, riddled with scars.

What Hunter fails to note is that Warhol’s would-be killer was a free woman after 3 years in a mental hospital. He was terrified she would return and finish the job. He used body doubles (also apparently unknown to Hunter) and photos may be of a double, not Andy. He also used assumed names and avoided public appearances where Solanis might find him.

He refused gall bladder surgery for years, and finally relented. It went well, but the patient still died mysteriously. Warhol’s death is inexplicable even by modern pathology, and you may feel Andy’s pain. He did not deserve the horrid fate he suffered.

Black Life, 1950

Legendary Ethel Waters

DATELINE: Guest Writer Today

Back in 1950, the first time I saw a black person I was two-years old. I had never seen any such people of color.

My mother took me one day to Woolworth’s Five and Dime. It was always pleasant because they had a soda fountain, and often we stopped for ice cream.

One day we did not.

As was my habit, I wandered away from mother who was preoccupied at some bin of clothing. As I turned the corner and looked up, there standing at another bin doing her shopping was an elderly black woman, immaculately dressed and even with a hat squarely on her head.

In those days, you dressed up even to go out for a walk.

Of course, she did not notice me, but I screamed in horror and pointed at her with alarm.  I was traumatized and shocked.

Never in my life had I seen such a thing: a human of such color!. My mother ran over and apologized profusely, and the old lady was without reaction. Later I would imagine she had experienced far worse in her long life.

My mother dragged me out of the store, explaining repeatedly that there was nothing wrong with her: the old lady was not ill, nor disfigured. Her skin was a dark color, that’s all. She was born that way. Some people in the world were of different skin color. I am not sure that mollified me.

Later in the week, she sat me before our tiny round-screen TV set (a tiny Zenith model, first on the block) and put on a show called Beulah,which starred the marvelous and legendary singer and actress Ethel Waters .

It was a rarity: TV with black people back then. Beulah was the benevolent and wise housemaid to a family of rich white people. She solved their problems with grace and respect on each episode. It was some kind of fantasy world.

But that was life in 1950. When I thought about today’s human rights movement, Black Lives Matter, the little silly incident came back to my memory.

John le Carré’s Cold Spy Diamonds

George Smiley’s Best Friend

 DATELINE:  Spy Writer of Cold War

With the passing of  John le Carré at age 89 at the end of 2020, we have the true ending to the Cold War. If anyone managed to portray it for forty years in all its cold-hearted, ruthless, black and white ennui, it was this master writer.

If you wanted spy humor, you went to James Bond. If you wanted spy thrills, you turned the the former spy who worked for MI-6 and then worked for himself as a novelist.

Back in the 1960s, if you  wanted a thinking man’s spy thriller, you went to a film based on John le Carré, and if you wanted a thriller with twists, you went to Mission: Impossible. If you wanted laughs, you turned to James Bond.

He created one dull master spy who was deadlier than 007. That was George Smiley. Some of the greatest actors jumped at the chance to play him—even if they changed his name to something less ironic in the adaptations.

You can find Alec Guinness, Richard Burton, Denholm Elliot,  Gary Oldman, and James Mason, all playing Smiley.

In one film version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, you will find Tom Hardy as a slimeball gay agent. Now he has graduated to be the next James Bond.

All-star casts wanted to play small roles in these chess-match movies. You needed nerves of steel to be an espionage agent who was treated like T-paper at the end of the roll. Great actors like Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Oskar Werner, Hugh Laurie, Maximilian Schell, and others wanted roles in various versions.

The stories and characters are all of a piece, no matter who directed and when they came together. The seminal opener was The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, or two versions of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  You might find The Night Manager a surprise, or Deadly Affair  so different from your usual spy novel/movie fare.

This grand writer of espionage and spies has left us with a brilliant legacy and a smorgasbord  of human drama. Whether it happens in the rivalry between Soviets and Americans, the psychology and personality of the men who did this work make for compelling tales.

We think John le Carré (a pen name for David Cornwell) will live forever, and we did enjoy his cameo appearance inThe Night Managerin his latter years. Start anywhere. You can’t go wrong with watching—or reading a master storyteller.

 

 

 

Roswell UFO Conspiracy Unlocked

Philip Mantle

DATELINE:  Not again?

Good heavens, not another Roswell saucer crash history? This has just been released as an hour-long documentary of 2020. Can there be anything new here? We were held in place because this looked like a high-quality and stylish film, well-produced.

It became somewhat worse after the first half that went over fairly worn ground. It used some interviews with notable people from the case, Dr. Jesse Marcel, Jr. and Frankie Rowe, two young people in 1947 who have since died.

Their participation is noted by main narrator Philip Mantle, a British UFO expert and investigator for 40 years or more. He is straight-forward and pleasant enough. His perspective is the mainstay of the movie.

The worse part becomes the second half that is a new, kind of apology for the alien autopsy movie that has long been debunked as fake.

Ray Santilli, its producer, is an associate of Mantle who seems to think he is Mickey ready to hit a home run for revealing some new info on the 1993 phony and grotesque autopsy on some hideous little person who looks pregnant.

Mantle comes across as a dedicated and sincere researcher who has dedicated his life to solving a mystery and feels that one theory is that there was an original autopsy film from the 1947 era, whether faked by the CIA or real that resembled the fictional recreation done in a style that would never have passed muster in a World War II military.

Something may still be out there that has confused witnesses of the original and the fake that seems like new footage from the original.

This odd film does enough to raise again the ugly specter of the alien autopsy being real, just not the one you’ve seen on TV and Internet.

 

 

 

 

 

Hat Trick for Monolith

Popping Up like Daisy, Daisy

DATELINE:  Threesome

Like 2001 A Space Odyssey, we just keep running into these monoliths. The latest is not in Keir Dullea’s bedroom, nor have the Chinese found it on their latest Moon landing. It’s not running circles around Titan and Jupiter.

Like Davy Crockett, they seem to be born on a mountain top, though not necessarily in Tennessee, or have they looked at Cumberland Gap yet?

No, this one has suddenly appeared on Pine Mountain, a molehill in California.

These monoliths must have a monorail system giving them a tour of the highest mountaintops where they can bask in the sunlight for a few short days.

Yes, the monoliths live; they are the monoliths. They feel, they watch sunset glow. They reflect something peculiar. Could they be totems to ward off the corona virus?

Scarce heard amid the vandals below, they are the monos. Short days ago there were others, but now they lie in the field, felled by pushy monkeys.  They keep showing up at the darndest places with a shine and now a stainless steely grit.

The aliens appear to be working out the kinks. Alas, vandals may have more kinks than creatures from another dimension. We hear the Gregorian Chants.

The Monoliths seem to cry out: “We are the monuments to your folly.”  They are testimony to the age of viagra.

What are the odds this one bites the dust before the weekend? The money is on the monkey.

 

 

Kubrick Monolith Inspires Monkeys Everywhere!

DATELINE:  Ape Uses Bonehead?

With the news that the late Stanley Kubrick has sent a monolith to Utah, we have had flashbacks about the meaning for humankind.

In Kubrick’s movie, this led to rediscoveries on the Moon and on an orb going around Jupiter.

The heavy footed plodding of officials have muffed all chance of finding footprints or other characteristics of a forensic nature. We have some reports that the metal object is made with screws: no word on whether they are Phillips head.

It is interesting that the item is in a remote and difficult to reach place, presumably dropped there by chopper or UFO. We would have been much more impressed if the item had been found at the White House Rose Garden, or even in Joe Biden’s basement.

There is no word if this indicates we will have a cure for coronavirus soon, or whether it means the Dow will hit 30,000 for the first time.

We feel that it supersedes having Xmas decorations needed during a national crisis. The government should send everyone in the United States, who is eligible, a postcard photo of the monolith. It will replace stimulus checks.

The strange object is illegal, of course, but the meter maids have yet to stick a parking ticket on the shiny silver object.

We think someone has usurped the season’s findings at Oak Island. This monolith was supposed to be found by Gary Drayton’s metal detector next to Captain Kidd’s treasure.

The real impact of the monolith has been dulled because we do not hear the Gregorian chants emanating from its radio dial.

 

Escape from Devil’s Island

co-star/co-author Jan Merlin

 

DATELINE: 1973 Blaxploitation Movie

 Jim Brown’s prison movie about the 1917 French island prison came before the prestige movie with McQueen, titled Papillion. They had overlapped during filming, but the speed of Roger Corman could not be matched. He was not interested in “art.” He wanted a product that might titillate audiences

I Escaped from Devil’s Island  had all those ingredients.

The film began on a high note: Jim Brown is dragged from his cell in the tropical prison to a makeshift guillotine. He is about to be beheaded before the credits even roll. No flashback was required because the sado-masochistic guards had set this up, knowing a general amnesty for all French prisoners had arrived and no one would be executed. It was cruel kindness.

Of course, this Roger Corman quickie was called a blaxploitation film, geared toward making black audiences approve of a black hero. It’s hard to realize Brown was really doing trail-blazing work, and perhaps the other shocking part of the movie was the open homosexual relationships in the movie. The gay characters are in eye-makeup and are called “fancy boys,” who have boyfriends like James Luisi and Chris George. Rick Ely played the pretty boy who has his nipples tortured in one scene.

Jan Merlin, in eyeglasses, played the leader of the political prisoners—and a communist, which was a true work of performance since Jan was a Republican. For him it was another character unlike his cultured, soft-spoken self,  playing at abrasive, uncouth villains. We must confess to be transparent that Jan co-authored many books with Ossurworld.

The “F” word is used surprisingly often for the first time in movies here, often just to discuss homosexual relations. And nearly every male to male encounter is fraught with both sexual and sadistic overtones.

Once the escape plan takes hold, the movie seems to peter out. Yet, films like this paved the way for leading men of the future like Denzel Washington.

The film deteriorates toward the end with a chaotic fireworks display in a city to help the escapees flee authority.

The best performance in this movie was given by Acapulco, the Mexican resort town, playing Devil’s Island.

Lady Frankenstein

 Baron Cotten, we presume.

DATELINE: Great Actor Misused

The 1971 schlock version is one of those international efforts done on a shoestring budget, re-imagining rather poorly the better done Hollywood stuff of several decades earlier. This title was redone a few years ago, but the original starred Rosalba Neri, who never made it to Hollywood, and never made it much beyond bad movies in the title role.

The real draw of this film done on cheap film stock that has not held up is one of the foremost gentleman stars of Old Hollywood:  Joseph Cotten. Without his presence, we’d probably have shut this off well before his exit from the picture at around 40 minutes, not quite half the movie.

Cotten must have needed a paycheck, but he must have known his name would guarantee this drive-in drivel would be seen in the U.S..  No matter for him, his best roles were behind.

He never won an Oscar, despite working with Hitchcock as the Merry Widow Killer in 1942, or as a costar to Orson Welles many times, including Ciitizen Kane and The Third Man.  He even did a turn opposite Marilyn Monroe in Niagara. Here, the great star slums in his work with Mel Welles, not Orson, as director. Instead of respected classics, Mel Welles was known for low budgets like Little Shop of Horrors (again, the original).

There are no real names here, except Mickey Hargitay as the captain or constable of police. And, unlike the old Universal classics in which the aristocrats had British accents of the first order, here you have a mishmash of American and international accents that make the setting hard to fathom.

One villain, the Resurrection Man, is named Lynch, which is hardly Eastern European like the original Frankensteins. Here too, Cotten is both Baron Frankenstein and Doctor, though he seems to prefer Dr. His daughter is an early Suffragette of sorts, having done med school and is also a surgeon who will take over Dear Old Dad’s lab.

The Monster is disfigured by accident by lightning during the revival process, but his brain—as usual—was defective from the get-go. Oh, well. Better luck next time.

Die, Monster, Die!

Karloff in wheelchair, Adams in trenchcoat.
 

 DATELINE: Lovecraft’s Color of Space 

This little nugget was an H.P. Lovecraft short story from the 1920s that was set in Arkham, Massachusetts, and had a Boston hero. When American International took hold, they moved Arkham to England, made the story contemporary, and made a nicely filmed mystery horror.

It is not what you might expect from the Beach Blanket Bingo producers at A_I.  They had Boris Karloff in 1965, still a powerful presence playing another mad scientist living in seclusion on an estate only remotely protected. No need: the townsfolk won’t go near it.

The second star is Nick Adams, unusual here as a bland leading man. It was a role dozens of actors of the era could have sleep-walked for a paycheck. He is all the more puzzling as a college friend of a bland Karloff daughter (Suzan Farmer) who is so effervescent that it defies sugar-sweeteners. She is also the epitome of obtuse.

You keep thinking Nick Adams must be up to something—and that actually helps the film and gives Karloff a young hambone who wants to equal the Master. You can’t do much better than pitting Frankenstein’s Monster against Johnny Yuma.

It was meant to be a drive-in special double-bill, which is grossly unfair to its reasonable quality.

The title seems an attempt to draw on Karloff’s Frankenstein days, but the actual story is about a meteorite and was called “The Color of Space,” making it more sci-fi than horror.

Art director of many 1960s cheap horror films, Colin Southcott set designed the English manor house of Karloff was clearly an early advocate of LSD, as the house is overwrought and overdone.  And, the film really is devoid of music, making it even more creepy literally as characters clatter on the floor tiles. Hitchcock did something similar with The Birdsa year earlier.

The green phosphorous stone from outer space is kept, obviously, in the greenhouse—and it creates “a zoo from hell,” according to Nick Adams whose college science knowledge convinces him there is radiation all around the manor house—and it is dangerous and could mutate people. This is forty years before Chernobyl.

What an unusual low-budget gem.