Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Remembering two long forgotten TV shows...

Just finished watching episodes of two of my all time favorite TV shows, both very short-lived: It's a Man's World (1962-63) and The Richard Boone Show (1963-64). I was particularly affected when It's a Man's World was canceled in mid-season. The show centered on four boys living on a houseboat docked near a small, Waltons-like town. As a 15 year-old, I greatly identified with the coming of age plots.

Henry Mancini scored Boone's anthology series.

[I was perusing my overly large VHS collection, and almost forgot I had these video gems.]
Enjoy the opening to It's a Man's World: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGBST4I69Ds

Never confuse Kansas City, Kansas with Kansas City, Missouri!

By Steve Crum

Being a born and bred "Dotte" from Wyandotte County aka Kansas City, Kansas, I am always amused when I watch both Stagecoach (1939) and International House (1933) because of their references to KCK. Donald Meek, who portrays the whiskey drummer in Stagecoach, repeatedly corrects anyone referring to his hometown of Kansas City, Kansas as Kansas City, Missouri. Meek (left) is pictured with co-star Thomas Mitchell. 

W. C. Fields, in International House, arrives on the scene via air, shouting, "Is this Kansas City, Kansas or Kansas City, Missouri?!" Indeed, we Dottes are pretty sensitive about this issue.

I saw Bernadette Peters in concert at The Music Hall in Kansas City, Missouri 20 years ago when she got loudly booed upon sincerely telling the audience, "I'm so happy to be here in Kansas City, Kansas." Boo to you Missourians! 

Yours truly with Bernadette, in her dressing room, after the concert.

Check out Donald Meek as he proclaims his Kansas City, Kansas heritage to Thomas Mitchell in Stagecoach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbBmEUfe8Tg

Count me among Mitch Miller's Gang...and send me royalties

I actually sang along with Mitch when he appeared at Emporia State (Kansas) in 1967. [In those days, it was known as Kansas State Teachers College.] Miller led us from the stage in the familiar, robotic arm waving, cupped hand style we got to know on his Sing Along With Mitch TV show, which ran on NBC, 1961-64. I was part of the packed audience in Albert Taylor Hall that read mimeographed copies of his song sheet and sang along. 

Such was his entire show. This we did for over an hour. If I recall, pre-recorded instrumental music accompanied us. 

I am still kind to my web-footed friends.
Let's ALL Sing Along With Mitch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dY9gtYeHhk

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Robert Altman, Harry Belafonte share 'Kansas City' enthusiasm

My separate 30-minute interviews with Robert Altman and Harry Belafonte were combined in a feature story published August 16, 1996 in The Kansas City Kansan. They were in KC for the premiere of Kansas City, directed by Altman and starring, among others, Belafonte. 

By Steve Crum

“People who really don’t like jazz music should not see this movie,” director, co-screenwriter, and native Kansas Citian Robert Altman speaks softly and bluntly. It was just a few hours before last week’s North American premiere of Kansas City, and Altman is laid back. Now and then he pinches the downturned brim of his signature straw hat and lifts it to stroke his follicle-challenged pate.

Harry Belafonte, of Kansas City’s stars along for the premiere ride, enjoys the film’s attention. He is relaxed, cool, and looks a decade or two this side of his real age of 69. Even though his husky, low-key delivery underplays Altman’s demeanor, Belafonte is obviously hot on Kansas City, and not just for its artistic merits.

He is enthused because of the film’s historically realistic depiction of black culture, about which he feels Holllywood has been negligent. Only a handful of films have really depicted “realistic culturalism,” he says, The Color Purple being one.

“Black life has been perceived almost exclusively as innercity turmoil,” Belafonte says, “which is why I took this role (as hoodlum Seldom Seen).” Except for last year’s White Man’s Burdon, which he links in time frame with Kansas City, this is his first film in 20 years.

“Seldom Seen was written for Belafonte,” explains Altman, recalling that after repeatedly pressuring him to take the part, he finally got Belafonte to agree to at least read the script. Belafonte okayed, read his part, and phoned Altman.

An exasperated Harry Belafonte then shouted at Altman, “There are no lines here, for Christ’s sake! I don’t have any lines!” “Write ‘em,” Altman calmly replied.

“And he did,” Altman grins.

“Let’s just say that improvisation (throughout the film) was extensive,” Belafonte adds. “Altman is one of the very few directors who trusts actors.”

The film itself, which will be reviewed as it opens next Friday, has a loose, reality feel that is typical of Altman’s work. In 1975’s Nashville, for example, Altman encouraged actors to write their own songs as well as ad lib dialogue. Belafonte explains Altman’s style as “surrendering the set to all his artisans.”

Kansas City’s music was also done in one-take sets and live, beams the director, with “no post production editing or sweetening.” Not that it was easy to incorporate a jazz score. Altman says that “since it is difficult to use jazz as background music, commanding too much attention, I had to make the film fit the music.” Hence the riff-like acting and plot avenues.

The story centers on Blondie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) kidnapping the laudanum-addicted wife (Miranda Richardson) of an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt. Blondie’s husband (Dermot Mulroney) is held by Belafonte’s kingpin Seldom Seen for robbing one of his gambling customers.

Blondie’s skewed plan is to ransom an exchange for her husband. Even real life KC crime boss Tom Pendergast gets involved.

“There’s a cynicism to this movie that’s absolutely wonderful,” Belafonte says as he leans forward, his hands apart, palms out. Punctuating.

“This is not only the best jazz film that’s ever been made,” Altman himself riffs, “it’s the only one.”
Check out the Kansas City trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66rtqQ2Q-Wk

Showbiz Crumography: Bette & Joan, Together Again...Briefly

A very rare shot of Joseph Cotten, Bette Davis, director Robert Aldrich, and Joan Crawford during a script reading of 1964's Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Not long after this photo was snapped, Crawford snapped, quit the picture, and was replaced by Olivia de Havilland.
Here is the backstory of the controversial making of Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yV9252EVJgM

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Showbiz Crumography: George O'Brien Is Home On The Range

Cowboy star George O'Brien acts in a scene from one of his many RKO B-westerns. Like hundreds of low budget westerns of that time, shooting on location (not far outside Los Angeles) provided authenticity and eye candy via its built-in, gorgeous scenery.

Get your George O'Brien fix, cowpokes, by watching the COMPLETE 1939 RKO B-western, Marshal of Mesa City:

Showbiz Crumography: Garland & 'Annie Get Your Gun'

In costume as Annie Oakley, Judy Garland is entertained off camera by fellow cast member Keenan Wynn. After recording her songs for the movie and shooting a handful of musical sequences, Garland was fired (due to illness, absences, tardies), and replaced by Betty Hutton. Despite all its rocky production challenges, including the death of Frank Morgan as Buffalo Bill, "Annie Get Your Gun" was a 1950 box office hit. [Louis Calhern replaced Morgan.]
Enjoy this rare footage of Judy Garland singing "Doin' What Comes Naturally" from Annie Get Your Gun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GuOt5SN4q8

Jolson's voice reinforces his 'World's Greatest Entertainer' legacy

I am a huge Al Jolson fan, but the blackface issue will forever diminish his memory for many. Frankly, it's nearly impossible to defend, except to put it in perspective of its time. There is also its theatrical, harlequin aspect. 

Nonetheless, Jolie remains my favorite singer of all time.

Jolson sings again! It's "Alabamy Bound" from his Kraft Music Hall radio show, 1947: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6V3LhpAFy-g

Remembering DICK aka DICKIE JONES...

Dick Jones (also known as Dickie Jones when he voiced Pinocchio in the 1940 animated classic) has died at 87. He helped make Pinocchio my favorite Disney cartoon as well as playing two of my childhood cowboy heroes on TV, Dick West (The Range Rider's sidekick) and Buffalo Bill Jr.  

At left are Dickie and Ukulele Ike (Cliff Edwards), voicing Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket. 

Peacefully rest.

Here's Dick Jones' TV obituary spot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfp39J2AZWk
...And a complete episode of Jones in Buffalo Bill Jr., 1955: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nx96kJc17yA

Showbiz Crumography: The Landscape

Hollywood when it was a land...during the 1920’s.
The story of the Hollywood sign: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9VagHHgEPcs

Showbiz Crumography: Blame It On Otto Preminger

A cast pic of 1967's Hurry Sundown, a quaint little movie that explores the seamy, racist, hormonal-driven, violent, husband-cheating, wife-cheating South. Bring the kids.
The sexy sax scene from Hurry Sundown, featuring Jane Fonda and Michael Caine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uOMZ2Aa118A

Humor + Crum = CRUMOR

It just dawned on me to add a link to Tony Orlando and Dawn singing "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWn1Oj2V7Xw

Friday, July 11, 2014

Jaw-dropping effects add to superb ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

By Steve Crum
It has been years, maybe decades, since a movie has mesmerized me to the extent of not even once squirming in my theater seat from the opening sequence to the end credits. Such is Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. What a terrific film, what a technical achievement. If you were impressed three years ago with the special effects in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and surely you were, prepare to be blown away with this sequel. 
Director Matt Reeves’ previous work, Cloverfield (2008), remains on my all-time unfavorites list (all that hand-held camera nonsense!). A big however, however, is due since he has redeemed his reputation first with 2010’s Let Me In and now this Apes sequel. More good news: Reeves is set to make the next Apes chapter.
Of course, Reeves is not alone in deserving plaudits. Screenwriters Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver have fashioned a story line full of believable characters (including the apes), plot twists, and suspense. Acting is way above par, especially for a sci-fi production, but then again the script is packed with intelligent, telling dialogue. Michael Giacchino’s evocative score deserves recognition as well. 
The incredible Andy Serkis returns as Caesar, a chimpanzee who leads his ape colony that includes elder orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval) and the ruthless Koba (Toby Kebbell). 
Notable humans are played by Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
Without exposing specific plot details, be aware the story is set 10 years after the last film, wherein a pandemic due to the ALZ-113 virus has supposedly wiped out every human on earth. Again, supposedly. Cut to a forrest shot in an undisclosed location as simian hunters led by Caesar down a deer but have to fight a ferocious grizzly bear to claim their prize. Throughout the jaw-dropping action, it appears an honest to goodness trained bear was used. Permit me to reveal that not only is the bear digitalized, but so is the deer. Add to that the ape actors (via “motion capture”), and the effect is awesomely accomplished.  These apes are not humans merely wearing monkey fur and face masks, as in 1968’s Charlton Heston starrer, Planet of the Apes...as well as the string of Planet of the Apes films carrying that phase of the franchise into the 1970's.
Updating to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it turns out, as shown in previews, there are still humans alive, one large pocket of them living in the ruins of San Francisco. (Didn’t you see what’s left of the Golden Gate Bridge in the trailer?) It is inevitable the humans and apes meet, and so goes the storyline. Thanks to human experimentation on many of the apes 10 years before, Caesar and his crew have near-human intelligence, including speaking ability. Incidentally, the virus did not affect these apes. 
Distrust and disloyalty fester among both humans and apes, even though positive strides are taken to live and work together in peace. As in real life, peace rarely lasts, so a good deal of the film deals with explosive war. Amidst the bloodshed, however, is underlying humanity and desire to end the fighting. The human effort is led by Malcolm (Clarke), who befriends Caesar and his family early on, gaining trust and respect. Malcom’s wife Ellie (Russell) and teen son Alexander (Smit-McPhee) work with him to achieve camaraderie with the ape village. 
Working against them, out of vengeance, is fellow human Dreyfus (Oldman). Caesar’s nemesis, Koba, is dangerously hateful against humans as well as his own leader, Caesar. It makes for a complex, compelling story that is greatly enhanced by the jaw-dropping digital effects. Seeing it in 3-D is frosting.  
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is all about survival and trust, and superbly told. This is not only the best picture of the summer, so far, but the best picture of the year, so far. Very likely one can say the same at the close of 2014. 

GRADE on A-F Scale: A+
The official trailer of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpSaTrW4leg

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

‘Tammy,’ tell me true, why couldn’t you have been funnier?

By Steve Crum
Melissa McCarthy is a funny lady. That is, she can be. As the title character in Tammy, however, she has some funny moments, but that is about it. Those moments are sporadic and way overplayed. Here is a failed comedy suffering from SNL-itis. That is a Saturday Night Live sketch that drones on past its punchline, not knowing when to conclude. Sure there are some potentially choice comedy nuggets in Tammy, but they are obliterated by amateurish writing and editing. 
On the up side, Tammy has an impressive cast that includes Susan Sarandon in an untypical comedic role, and Kathy Bates, who similarly lowered her acting chops to play Adam Sandler’s swamp mom in The Waterboy. On the down side, both actresses made a poor choice by appearing in a no-brainer like Tammy
McCarthy and her director-husband, Ben Falcone, have co-written and produced a comedy typical of the barrage of witless comedies hitting movie screens over the past two decades. The comedy of Melissa McCarthy has already defined itself in the handful of films she has made since 2011. She was vulgar and raucously funny in Bridesmaids, and raucous and vulgar in The Heat and Identity Theft. Her Tammy character is raucous as well, but this time more so pitiful. Tammy capitalizes on McCarthy’s forté of fall-down, slam-into humor. What continues to amaze is how she accomplishes this kind of physical schtick while being so overweight. Of course, therein lies the big laugh. It worked for silent film great Fatty Arbuckle, whose comedy thrived on pratfalls, and he was even named “Fatty.” 
The first half of Tammy is spent proving how idiotic a loser she truly is. After a confrontation with a deer, being fired at her fast food workplace, and discovering her husband having an affair with another woman, Tammy angrily packs up and heads to Niagara Falls on a road trip with her alcoholic, sexually charged Grandma Pearl (Sarandon). Tammy displays her anger in a rebellious way, more like a child running away from home. She obviously suffers from arrested development, and floozy grandma is a kindred spirit. Now and then the two behave like a jaded Thelma and Louise. (Sarandon fared much better in that movie.) 
Inspired by Grandma Pearl’s advice of “changing the trajectory of your whole life,” the two encounter love and lust via a father and son (Gary Cole and Mark Duplass) they meet in a bar. Not giving away too much, crime and jail occur before hooking up with cousin Lenore (Kathy Bates) en route. The crime sequence especially showcases McCarthy’s specialty of slam-bang laughs. The problem is it goes on too long, belaboring the core, sparse humor. 
Again, the flaws are in the editing, writing, and direction. Melissa McCarthy is gifted at improv, but it does not work as well in a structured, 96-minute motion picture. Most likely the scene was scripted, and McCarthy was given reign to improvise. 
Add screenwriting to the failure list. During the final third of the film, Tammy miraculously becomes more mature, dresses better, and lightens up, per se, on the body slam yocks. The transition just does not sell. Was the scene where she gets a lobotomy edited out? 
Look for cameos by Dan Akroyd as Tammy’s dad, Allison Janney as her mom, and Sandra Oh and Toni Collette in lesser roles. Director Ben Falcone shows up as Tammy’s boss. 

GRADE on A-F Scale: D
The trailer tells us all we really need to know about Tammy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eejJiKQe50k