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.

 

 

 

 

Pascali: No Man an Island

Dance & Kingsley Top of Acting Game!

 DATELINE:   Extraordinary Movie

Over 30 years ago, we missed Pascali’s Island, one of those “think piece” movies that have already become an extinct movie genre. It was too good for Masterpiece Theatre in 1988, and it is too smart for audiences today.

It’s a spy story set in the Ottoman Empire of 1908 where a lowly informer, Pascali (Ben Kingsley), toils without much appreciation, stuck in a backwater.  Into the mix comes a British archaeologist Bowles (Charles Dance) who immediately charms artist Lydia (Helen Mirren). You won’t trust any of them from the earliest moments.

Mirren was not yet big enough to have her name over the film title, but this is a 3 character drama of high order. Performances are stunning, and direction from James Dearden is top-drawer, and you won’t find a more spectacular setting or production.

It’s apparent that a minor functionary spy is in over his head when it comes to stolen antiquities. He knows he is caught in the middle of intrigue with a Pasha who will execute and ask questions later.

The Greeks are ready to overthrow the Sultan and a bloodbath of revolution is ahead for Pascali, though he won’t accept this fate.

Kingsley is marvelous as the man with nightmares, and spying that borders on voyeurism as he watches Dance and Mirren cavort naked. His own peccadilloes entail the Turkish bath boy who resembles, not accidentally, the 2000 year old bronze boy they dig up and plan to steal.

Kingsley is a tortured soul as Pascali works against himself and ultimately must find meaning in meaningless acts of violence. This is a brilliant film, worth waiting thirty years to see. Alas, there will likely be few more in this genre.

The days of moral turpitude being punished may be over in movies, and in life. This movie hales poetic justice .

 

 

 

 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.

 

Chesley Bonestell: Futuristic Artiste

Titan Viewpoint

DATELINE: Sci-Fi Art 

An artist you likely never heard of by name may be one of the most intriguing personalities of the 20thcentury. His name is Chesley Bonestell, and you have seen his work all over the world.

A staggering biographical documentary called A Brush with the Future tells his amazing story.

Living to be nearly 100 years of age, he passed away in the 1980s But, his life transcended the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake to days of Old Hollywood and New York City at its pinnacle.

He managed to succeed in whatever he put his energy. Though he preferred to be an artist, his first years in a profession was work as an architect. After the great earthquake in his hometown, he helped to re-build the city with Willis Polk. It was Chesley who drew the illustrations for investors and made the schematics come to life.

When he went to Los Angeles in the late 1930s, he took a job for several studios as the matte painter. You’d think that to be a rather anonymous job, but he transformed it into a peak of success by making all the set designs for Orson Welles in Citizen Kane and also Magnificent Ambersons.  It was his vision of Xanadu, interior and out.

Between jobs, he did the design brochures for Golden Gate Bridge and made it a popular idea across the world with its startling originality and beauty.

Later, he designed the architecture for the movie version of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.  Then, in New York, he worked on the Chrysler building. It was a full life: but not his true fame.

Yes, in 1944 for Life magazine he did some color illos of the planet Saturn that looked like a rover had landed. It was a true vision of the future, and made him a staple of science fiction.

His terrain paintings of Mars, the Moon, and other planets, decades ago showed a man who saw the future and painted it as it is. It was his teaming with scientist Willy Ley (from TV’s Tom Corbett Space Cadet)  who  co-authored a book called Conquest of Space.  Ley was a friend of Frank Thomas and Jan Merlin,  stars of the show (who later teamed with this writer). How many degrees is that?

Jan Merlin and Dr. William Russo collaborated on six books.

Titanic/James Cameron 2020 Vision

DATELINE:  More Underwater Pix

Titanic: Into the Heart of the Wreck  is another new documentary on History Channel that gives us the lowdown on how the shipwreck is melting away in those frigid depths, owing to an iron-eating microbe.

What an ignominious end to a grand liner.

There is a history of underwater diving, photography and subs, which calmed down the divining rods.

James Cameron was the star of this documentary, the primary witness, though one Russian oceanographer has done 57 dives to the wreckage. A handful of people have gone to it many, many times.

James Cameron admits he made the famous movie version because he wanted to dive on the ship—and has done so over 30 times.

Cameron mentioned that his camera was in D-deck D35, which was next to passenger Richard White’s compartment. He switched out of D-26 one day after they sailed because a room was empty and he preferred not to share with his father.

Cameron also mentions that he does not believe in ghosts, but the pairs of shoes indicate victims. He did not believe artifacts should be taken from the inside of the ship, though that now is debated and legally challenged.

As for seeing ghosts, Cameron disbelieves—except for an overlay of memory that he feels is present. He is no scientist, holds no science degrees, but he has had 30 trips to Titanic, ahead of legit scientists.

This is similar to the electrons never die theory of Thomas Edison who felt traumatic memory was far more likely to survive as electrons in the atmosphere.

Nothing is discussed of the recent efforts to retrieve the Marconi radio. And, experts now believe the ship may last up to 500 years underwater, despite 27 forms of bacteria eating it.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Second Monolith Bites Dust

Criminal Intent

DATELINE:  Monkeys Win.

After a heist of art critics of the Utah monolith, there has now been a second brazen attack in Romania. The bad copy of the first monolith has now disappeared into the night.

Apparent vandals who moonlight as art critics came to the national park with a wheelbarrow and a brazen attitude, telling people to take their pictures now because the monolith would soon be gone.

Reports are now circulating that these were Trump supporters who believe they can make a monolith disappear at will—and they plan to make the recent U.S. presidential election disappear too.

The culprits include a man who has boasted of his crime against crime, setting himself up as a vigilante to remove “trash” from pristine desert areas. It turns out this cretin was banned from the national parks for his own abusive behavior.

Self-styled art critics, trash collectors, and Trump conspiracy theorists, now have combined to steal whatever is not nailed down. Ballots are next.

Whether the same crew flew into Transylvania, or whether it was a local group of crypto-Nazis we have not yet determined.

 

In any respect, the people above the law are now making the law the rest of society. So it usually is before a Hitler take-over.

 

From dust to dust, so goes the short lifecycle of a monolith.

 

 

 

 

 

Monkey See, Monkey Do Another Monolith

Twin Mono Peaks

DATELINE: Next Stop, Romania

 More shenanigans have resulted in a second Monolith discovery, this time in the historic mountains of Romania, not far from the castle of Vlad the Impaler, we suspect.

We hate to cross pollinate A Space Odyssey with Dracula, but satire knows no boundaries.

The hacked version is not as aesthetic as the original, but it is still a hollow tin cup of mystery. This one is smudged with lettering in some foreign tongue spoken in Alpha Centauri.

We now see how easy it is to double your mono.

And, the Monolith (black only in its heart) is placed on lands protected by government fiat. Yes, we have another illegal parker, nosy or not. Romanian meter-maids are on their way with tow-truck in hand.

Our monolithic LSD trip now brings us to face Romania’s Mount Ceahlau, which locals call the Holy Mountain. 

So, what are we to make of monkey business that now includes international placement of Zarathrustrian proportions.

Are these things dropping from the sky, or simply being downloaded by UFOs? Beam us up and your Monolith too.

Art for art’s sake is now causing more monkey business than we can joke about.

Keir Dullea has still not tweeted his impressions of the biggest event of his life, waking up with a Monolith in his bedroom.

Stanley Kubrick may be laughing somewhere in the Universe, having taken the route of celestrial light with him. Or, perhaps, we are talking that signpost up ahead reading, “Twilight Zone.”

Simultaneous Plots to Kill JFK

Dealey Plaza, Grassy Knoll

DATELINE: Anniversary 57 Years  Nov. 22, 1963

 Having put together a book and collection of movie, documentary, and docudrama reviews of an odd bunch of film, we have come up with an unusual theory about the JFK killing in Dallas in 1963.

Kennedy & Oswald According to Movies and TV  takes the usual suspects—the mob, the CIA, Hoover, LBJ, Oswald, Edgar Hoover, the Cubans, Castro, and even UFOs—and puts them all together to see how it holds. You have some theorists who even place Marilyn Monroe in the dead center of the conspiracies.

In fact, JFK had more enemies coming at him from so many different directions that it is likely that he was the victim of several plots and plotters all converging in Dallas on that fateful date of November 22.

Working independently and discretely, these killers may have found the time and place to their liking, which made JFK the unluckiest man in America. Without knowing of other plots and plotters, one group would target the President successfully. If they failed, they had the likelihood (knowingly or not) of having someone else do the dirty work.

Conspiracy theorists are all correct: their particular conspiracy idea was merely one of several, all occurring at the same time.

If one of the rival conspiracies, whether it was Oswald, Giancana’s men, or Angleton’s agents, would have a built-in fall guy and cover to escape.

Dealey Plaza offered multiple sniper nests and chances to shoot the POTUS, and they did not need to be in coordination with the others. So, quite by accident, JFK was doomed by multiple enemies all gathered in one location.

No one is innocent, as they all had the plan to kill a president. Afterward, Oswald may have wondered who knew what he was up to—especially if he did not accomplish the murder. He surely knew he was now a fall guy.  

This would explain why some minor Mafia hood like James Files could confess years later that he fired the fatal bullet—and know he was living in prison for some other crime.

If the CIA or FBI had set multiple plotters up and let them work in a state of ignorance, they had a solution and could turn away from guilt and point a finger at one of their set-ups.

Dr. William Russo’s new collection of reviews of JFK/Oswald films concludes that multiple plots against Kennedy unfolded simultaneously. Kennedy & Oswald According to Movies and TV is available on Amazon.

 

Enola Gay Holmes Springer

 Cast of Enola.

 DATELINE:  Conan Doyle Rolling in Grave

The remnants of the Arthur Conan Doyle estate have scrapped together a lawsuit against the elements of Sherlock that are not public domain. These ten points of contention are the part and parcel of some post-feminist novels by one Nancy Springer.

We are more horrified by the endless string of ridiculous anachronisms the story seems to throw at history.

Netflix, ever the opportunist, has adapted the novels to a film on their ersatz network of third-rate shows, figuring a ripoff of Holmes fits right in.

It’s likely no mistake that the name of the airplane that dropped the atom bomb on Japan to end World War II is named “Enola.”

The lawsuit takes umbrage with the emotional turmoil when Sherlock must deal with a younger sister as well as a smarter brother. Talk about family troubles.

Throw in Sherlock’s mother as some kind of harpie, and you have the makings of a legal argument. We never had much faith in these family ties or family feud with Sherlock. We always suspected that Mrs. Hudson was his out-of-wedlock mother. She did refer to Mycroft once as a “reptile,” which surely is not motherly. Or is it?

Ignoring an upstart sister seems a fairly proper approach for Sherlock, but he had to put up with an obtuse Watson, mostly created for movie humor, but to give Holmes more emotion than Mr. Spock seems a stretch to the law offices of our solicitor.

We are now feeling emotional blackmail to tune into a Netflix series to give our usual slice and dice approach to all things un-Sherlockian.

To update Sherlock like he is one of the Ma and Pa Kettle movie series of the 1940s is enough to make us eshew the Poverty Row studios once and for all time. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Almost in a Sherlock Holmes Movie!

Terry Kiburn & Frankie Thomas, Rivals

 DATELINE: From Sherlock to Nancy Drew 

Sometimes I forget how old I am.  One of my late friends actually auditioned for a role in the first Basil Rathbone movie of Sherlock Holmes.

Passed over to play the page boy Billy in Mrs. Hudson’s employ for the Rathbone version of Adventures of Sherlock,child star Frankie Thomas was busy with other projects in 1939, but as a standard freelance actor now in his mid-teens, he could have easily played the role of Billy.

Having cut his teeth playing Bonita Granville’s sleuthing boyfriend in the Nancy Drew series, he was ripe for a role in his favorite reading material, the Holmes stories. 

Frankie’s family were Broadway theater professionals, part of a clique that dominated social strata in Hollywood of the era. Through his father and mother, youthful Frankie met Basil Rathbone, the emerging Holmes of the film world. The coveted role of Billy went to Terry Kilburn, a native British boy who had picked up the mantle of Freddie Bartholomew.

Nevertheless, Frankie loved the Holmes stories and read all avidly. He later, as an adult, when out of Hollywood’s limelight, wrote a series of novels that featured Holmes and Watson in new adventures.

Frankie’s Holmes titles, over a dozen, are still in print. He disliked the Bruce portrayal of Watson intensely and would alter that in his own books, but always favored the actor he saw frequently on the studio lot, Basil Rathbone.

 Frankie also had a key role in a series of Nancy Drew mysteries made in the late 1930s. As a teenage boy, he was cast as the boyfriend of Nancy. In fact, he played Watson to Bonita Granville’s female Sherlock.

Recently I put together a book called Sherlock in Movies: Personal Views & Reviews, in which I tried to do honor to Frankie.

Broken Noses, Unbroken Style

DATELINE: Weber’s Boys

Bruce Weber, as a film-maker and fashionista, made a career of studying masculinity in all its forms. He started with a young boxing coach named Andy Minsker and his latest is a bio-doc about Robert Mitchum.

In between during his long career, Weber has run into the wall of many from his generation: the values and relationships with male models he created in the beginning have not held up to today’s more overly sensitive accusers.

Yes, Bruce Weber has suffered charges of sexual harassment from a dozen or more men who might have let it slide years ago. Today, money-struck and fame-driven revenge pulls these guys into a world of accusations, both dubious and false.

In Weber’s first movie, Broken Noses,he took on a lookalike to jazz beauty Chet Baker. This young man, born in 1982, had been a teenage boxing champ—and coached other adolescents in how to box.

Today with horrors over concussions and other masculine pursuits deemed too violent, that world of homoerotic attraction is far more dangerous for other reasons, like being a Boy Scout leader.

Minsker was adorable, charming, and could likely win followers with his easy-going personality. His image on T-shirts from youth still may bring him fame. Weber made him into a book of photos—and relentless celebrity.

The film in black and white from 1987 is hypnotic and staggering to think it could never be made today. Even back then, the Olympic people warned boys to avoid Weber. Andy Minsker was utterly intrigued by the alarms and pursued Weber.

Interestingly, Weber next went on to do a film  Let’s Get Lost  on Chet Baker right before the jazz great met a hideous end.

As for Broken Noses,you might see more than the surface and inclinations in that regard are like reading Tarot cards. You may see something insightful, or you may just go off the deep end.

These young adolescents were part of a norm for the 1980s, and they were the last of a breed. Soon political correctness and re-defined masculine codes would end this world of seductive youth.

Weber’s career has its notoriety and its sublime beauty, and to see Broken Noses thirty years later is like looking at an extinct animal in the wild.

You may fall out of the orbit of Weber’s men and boys, but you cannot deny his sociological and psychological truisms.

Essential Movie Critic: Pauline Kael

DATELINE: Role Over Model

A documentary on the life of movie critic Pauline Kael would seem to be counter-productive. The late genius of insight into movies was hardly the stuff of action melodrama, but this film takes on her life—unwed motherhood, marriages of convenience, a history of working in low-level jobs trying to find herself.

What She Said is about the art of Kael. It is more about words than images. For that reason it is a topic doomed to be wordy and not visual, yet there are plenty of home movies and photos of Kael. That notion might not please her. Her ideas were the key.

When she first sells a movie review in the early 1950s to the New Yorker, it was a scathing attack on Charlie Chaplin’s bloated egotistic movie, Limelight. It won her an audience and a career.

Her insights into movies, which she loved as a medium, contain brilliant insights that some movie makers in this film tell us were influential to their productions. We don’t believe it. They may have read Kael, but it was to see how she shot down their rivals.

We would have preferred a film in which someone simply read some of her most scathing comments about well-known films over her life. She collected about 14 books of her critiques. And, they are delightful to read.

Sometimes she is utterly wrong about a film and its importance, but she always gives an interesting perspective on what the cultural or artistic value really may be. Her views are meant for the wider, lasting meaning of life in the film world.

We admire Kael and used to read her work when it came out. It frequently put good movies into a framework, and bad movies into a trash can.

She might have been the first to tell you this documentary is unnecessary and superfluous. Just read her books.

Enchanted Cottage: Ghostly Choice!

DATELINE: More Augurs

Into the Vortex?

When I entered the library this morning, where I have many Titanic books and keepsakes, there was once again something out of place. The house once belonged to a couple of victims who died on Titanic, and their presence is never far away.

So, on the floor, tossed off the wall shelf was a single DVD, tossed quite a distance. It landed on the edge of a new addition to the room: a vortex rug.

When psychics told me there was a vortex in the floor, through which the spirit world had a rapid transit station, I covered it with a vortex rug.

How appropriate that my spirit resident nearly had a bullseye with his toss.

The DVD is The Enchanted Cottage,little fantasy movie from 1945 about a wounded war veteran, harmed emotionally and physically, and an ugly girl who is the cottage housekeeper. They soon find the house makes them see the world differently. The stars are Robert Young and Dorothy Maguire.

A spirit at the cottage makes them see each other as whole and spiritually lovely. They grow beautiful and young. It is all tied together by a blind man (Herbert Marshall, of course) who helps them understand.

The film was based on a play by Sir Arthur Wingo Pinero and was adapted by DeWitt Bodeen for the screen.

The film is a trifle, but my ghostly resident thought enough of it to give it a look. When he visits books or DVDs, he finishes up by tossing them to the floor. He seems to have the power to enter them as an orb and see what’s inside. 

Since I set up the library, he has put many a film or book to the carpet, including a couple of Titanic books and DVDs, as well as a photo of his family homestead on Diamond Head, Hawaii. He likes to visit these items, and I am happy to make them available to interested ghostly parties.