John Wayne in Forsaken TV

DATELINE: Wild West Satire with Wayne

 Not Laurel & Hardy!

Back in the 1950s when John Wayne was the number one box office attraction, it was a treat if he made a guest appearance on TV. The series is called Forsaken Westernsand features a plethora of deplorable episodes with Michael Landon, Leonard Nimoy, and many others before they made it big.

One of those syndicated series that collects odd-ball appearances of noted TV stars when they were unknown in lost pilot episodes, has also brought us a true peculiar and weird little dollop:  John Wayne in a satiric, overextended TV skit called The Northwest Killer,in which Duke Wayne is falsely accused of murder and hunted down by a relentless RCMP Mountie.

Now this is supposed to be comedy, a throwaway extended bit for a variety show in 1959. The host of the show is none other than the irrepressible Jimmy Durante.

Yes, Durante, the Schnoze, plays a variation of Sgt.Preston of the Yukon, in his Mountie outifit, red jacket lost in black and white. Durante marches around and pivots to Wayne’s amusement as he plays unlucky Pierre, trapped in bad TV comedy

This is probably 15 minutes of most excruciating and unfunny bits, done like a multi-scene Western ever put on TV. There are several fistfights between Durante and Duke—and hilariously (we supposed) Durante bests the box-office champ. Wayne turns to the camera and promises the kids, “I win the next fight.”

Of course, being funny was secondary here: the treat was to see Jimmy Durante and John Wayne in a western satire. It has all the promise and none of the quality you’d hope. Pratfalls are outrageous, and Wayne likely enjoyed doing some comedy as a change of pace. Also on the bill is a guest appearance of Gary Cooper with Jack Benny, equally unfunny, in which Benny in high-heeled boots is the same height at Coop. He nearly falls over several times and is rescued, unscripted, by the laconic Gary Cooper.

It was a surprise to find such stuff after 50 years, and the ghosts of Wayne and Cooper likely wish they had lost these horrors permanently.

 

 

Rupert, aka Xmas Wish

DATELINE: Two Orders of Ham.

durante

One of the most forgotten of low-budget Christmas movies is a strange concoction from 1950. It has been titled Rupert the Great, and when colorized in recent years in India, was re-christened, A Christmas Wish.

Whatever you call it, this is a bizarre film billed as “heart-warming,” but it is an odd duck about an odder squirrel.

Yes, Great Rupert is a Puppetoon squirrel in show biz (made from stop-action). He dances in kilts and is highly intelligent. The film comes from the mind and production of the great George Pal. Alas, Rupert is a mere second banana in a second-rate movie directed by Irving Pichel.

The star is non-stop action. It is the inimitable Jimmy Durante who pulls out all the stops.

Perhaps kids in 1950 were more easily entertained.

However, this does not prevent us from watching in utter fascination. Jimmy Durante pretends to be Danny Amendola, not the former Patriots player, but some kind of vaudeville comic. Don’t be fooled: it’s Jimmy Durante playing himself.

If you ever wondered why Durante never starred in more movies, this one reveals the amazing truth. He steals every scene, wipes out other performances, blows away any semblance of plot, and dominates every moment of the film.

Not even an animated squirrel can stand up to Jimmy. He is a happening, an event, a force of nature.

Terry Moore was supposed to star with top-billing, her major film role after Mighty Joe Young, another animated creature by George Pal’s protégé Ray Harryhausen. Miss Moore was too cute to worry about animals. Durante was another matter.

The film was re-tailored to allow Durante to do his usual patter and sing “Jingle Bells,” in one scene at the piano.

Even Rupert the Great never dared to show his rodent face when Durante was about. This is a weak Christmas film, but a work of stunning film history. Thus, we have rendered this year’s Xmas movie review moot.