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One of TV's all-time greatest anthologies in the biggest DVD set ever...
Blog, TV, People
Posted on Feb 22 2013 by Greg
Loretta Young was one of Hollywood's biggest stars and one of the first to transition to television. Her much-imitated (and parodied) trademark was to come sweeping through a door in a designer outfit. But there was much more to the show that a grand entrance.

Young was to early dramatic TV what Lucille Ball was to comedy. She and her husband, Tom Lewis, partnered in this "Lewislor Productions," much as Lucy and Desi Arnaz did with Desilu. Ironically, The Loretta Young Show was filmed, at least in the early stages, at "D-P-I," which was Desilu, with many of the same crew members as I Love Lucy. Like the Arnazes, both the business and personal partnerships did not end happily, with the respective actresses, both strong, skilled and assertive, took over the reins of their shows.

Anthology shows were common in early television, but most were live, not filmed. The Loretta Young Show was filmed on a fairly tight budget, relative to its ambitious attempt to use different characters in different setting every week. While many of the episodes are dramatic, some are light romances, some family stories and a few are out-and-out comedies. There are even some creepy ones, like The Mirror, co-starring the voice of Cruella DeVille, Betty Lou Gerson.

Each episode (a few are two-parters) is like a little movies, making up for their limits in scope with vivid characters studies and the indomitable presence of Ms. Young, who seldom played a submissive woman, whether in the role of a mother, executive, sheriff's wife, performer or political activist. Even when the story called for a woman in a position of being dominated (such as "The Bronte Story," in which she was oppressed by an unmoving father), it's seldom a permanent situation. For this series, Young won a Best Actress Emmy award three times.

One of the reasons Young chose the anthology form was to be able to play more than just the saintly characters she played in the movies. Her characters run the gamut of psychologically disturbed to bitter and insolent. By and large, though, she plays lots of good, hearty people, including a hospital nun named Sister Ann in several shows (based on a real-life friend) and a Swedish farm lady reminiscent of her Oscar-winning character in The Farmer's Daughter.

For baby boomers, film fans and TV enthusiasts, The Loretta Young Show is a treasure trove of familiar, beloved character actors (Jeanette Nolan, Kathleen Freeman, William Frawley, and iconic performers who were either well-known at the time (Hugh O'Brien, Jock Mahoney, Eddie Albert, George Nader, Beverly Washburn) or became so when they got their own series a few years later:  Hugh Beaumont and Eric Osmond (Leave it to Beaver), Alan Hale, Jr. and Natalie Schaefer (Gilligan's Island), Craig Stevens (Peter Gunn), Sandra Gould (Bewitched), Shelley Fabares (The Donna Reed Show), Frances Bavier (Tbe Andy Griffith Show) and many, many more -- playing roles sometimes very unlike the ones that they later became identified. Even Sally Field's actress mother, Margaret Field, appears in at least one episode.

The series ran from 1953 to 1961, producing 257 half-hour episodes. This new collection,
100th Birthday Edition: The Best of the Complete Series, is the most comprehensive collection ever released, with a total of 144 episodes on 17 discs. Some were omitted because Young fell seriously ill and several superstar Hollywood star friends stepped in to host the show -- but they didn't enter through "the door." Perhaps someday it will be economically feasible to include those shows in a future set, if they exist in good enough condition.

The estate tracked down as many classic episodes as possible in the best condition available (a few have short bouts of missing audio). Many episodes appear for the first time on this collection, including The Accused, which was entered into the Congressional Record.

Loretta Young had a complicated personal life but sincerely held to strong beliefs. The shows definitely convey positive messages and are largely family-friendly. Young once even lost a sponsor because it didn't want to advertise on her extra-length, extra-budget episode, The Road, about an agnostic woman with cancer who visits Lourdes. The sponsor balked, Young wouldn't back down and the episode was produced and aired with other sponsors.

The new collection contains all the episodes of previous DVD releases, without just a few of the bonus features, but you still get lots of rare home movie footage, interviews and more.

What you don't get is a booklet with a complete episode guide -- and the episodes are not all in consecutive order. The 17 discs are packed in two plastic cases in a slipcase. Here is the entire list of shows as they appear on the set:



1. Trial Run (Season 1, Episode 1, September 20, 1953)

2. A Family Out of Us (Season 1, Episode 21, February 7, 1954)

3. Prisoner at One O'Clock (Season 1, Episode 3, October 4, 1953)

4. Girl on a Flagpole (Season 1, Episode 4, October 11, 1953)

5. The Turn of the Card (Season 1, Episode 5, October 18, 1953)

6. Earthquake (Season 1, Episode 6, October 25, 1953)

7. The One That Got Away (Season 1, Episode 7, November 1, 1953)

8. Kid Stuff (Season 1, Episode 8, November 8, 1953)

9. The Bronte Story (Season 1, Episode 9, November 15, 1953)

10. Laughing Boy (Season 1, Episode 12, December 6, 1953


1. Love Story (Season 1, Episode 12, November 29, 1953)

2. Thanksgiving in Beaver Run (Season 1, Episode 10, November 21, 1953)

3. The Faith of Chata (Season 1, Episode 13, December 13, 1953)

4. The Night My Father Came Home (Season 1, Episode 14, December 20, 1953)

5. Hotel Irritant (Season 1, Episode 15, December 29, 1953)

6. Inga #1 (Season 1, Episode 16, January 3, 1954)

7. Lady Killer (Season 1, Episode 17, January 10, 1954)

8. Secret Answer (Season 1, Episode 18, January 17, 1954)

9. "The Mirror" (Season 1, Episode 2, September 27, 1953) 

10. The Hollywood Story (Season 1, Episode 20, January 31, 1954)


1. Act of Faith (Season 1, Episode 22, February 14, 1954)

2. Big Little Lie (Season 1, Episode 19, January 24, 1954)

3. The New York Story (Season 1, Episode 23, February 28, 1954)

4. Man's Estate (Season 1, Episode 29, April 11, 1954)

5. Nobody's Boy (Season 1, Episode 24, March 7, 1954)

6. The Count of Ten (Season 1, Episode 25, March 14, 1954)

7. The Clara Schumann Story (Season 1, Episode 26, March 21, 1954)

8. Son, This is Your Father (Season 1, Episode 27, March 28, 1954

9. First Man to Ask Her (Season 1, Episode 28, April 4, 1954)

10. Forest Ranger (Season 1, Episode 30, April 18, 1954)



  1. Dr. Juliet (Season 2, Episode 2, August 29, 1954)
  1. Double Trouble (Season 2, Episode 3, September 12, 1954)
  1. The Lamp (Season 2, Episode 4, September 19, 1954)
  1. You're Driving Me Crazy (Season 2, Episode 5, September 26, 1954)
  1. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (Season 2, Episode 6, October 3, 1954)
  1. On Your Honor, Your Honor (Season 2, Episode 8, October 17, 1954)
  1. The Girl Scout Story (Season 2, Episode 9, October 31, 1954)
  1. No Help Wanted (Season 2, Episode 10, November 7, 1954)
  1. Something About Love (Season 2, Episode 12, November 21, 1954) 
  1. Our Sacred Honor (Season 2, Episode 13, November 28, 1954)


  1. Feeling No Pain (Season 2, Episode 33, April 17, 1955)
  1. Three Minutes Too Late (Season 2, Episode 17, December 26, 1954)
  1. Evil for Evil (Season 2, Episode 15, December 12, 1954)
  1. The Girl Who Knew (Season 2, Episode 18, January 2, 1955)
  1. The Flood (Season 2, Episode 19, January 9, 1955)
  1. The Refinement of 'Ab' (Season 2, Episode 21, January 23, 1955) 
  1. Decision (Season 2, Episode 20, January 16, 1955)
  1. 600 Seconds (Season 2, Episode 22, January 30, 1955)
  1. The Case of Mrs. Bannister (Season 2, Episode 23, February 6, 1955)
  1. Dickie (Season 2, Episode 24, February 13, 1955)


  1. Option On a Wife (Season 2, Episode 25, February 20, 1955)
  1. Tale of the Cayuse (Season 2, Episode 26, February 27, 1955)
  1. Case Book (Season 2, Episode 27, March 6, 1955) 
  1. Inga #2 (Season 2, Episode 29, March 20, 1955)
  1. Dateline Korea (Season 2, Episode 28, March 13, 1955) 
  1. Mink Coat (Season 2, Episode 30, March 27, 1955)
  1. Let Columbus Discover You (Season 2, Episode 31, April 3, 1955)
  1. He Always Comes Home (Season 2, Episode 32, April 10, 1955) 
  1. The Little Teacher (Season 2, Episode 34, April 24, 1955)
  1. I Remember the Rani (Season 2, Episode 35, May 5, 1955)



  1. Christmas Stopover (Season 3, Episode 17, December 25, 1955)
  1. Inga #3 (Season 3, Episode 17, January 19, 1956)
  1. The Secret (Season 3, Episode 22, January 29, 1956)
  1. The Pearl (Season 3, Episode 23, February 12, 1956)
  1. Gesundheit (Season 3, Episode 25, February 26, 1956)
  1. His Inheritance (Season 3, Episode 27, March 18, 1956)
  1. But for God's Grace (Season 3, Episode 29, April 1, 1956)


  1. Double Partners (Season 4, Episode 1, August 26, 1956)
  1. The Question (Season 4, Episode 2, September 2, 1956)
  1. Little League (Season 4, Episode 4, September 16, 1956)


  1. Now a Brief Word (Season 4, Episode 6, September 2, 1956)
  1. The Years Between (Season 4, Episode 7, October 7, 1956)
  1. Goodbye, Goodbye (Season 4, Episode 9, October 21, 1956)
  1. The Great Divide (Season 4, Episode 10, October 28, 1956)
  1. The End of the Week (Season 4, Episode 12, November 11, 1956)
  1. Inga #4 (Season 4, Episode 13, November 18, 1956)
  1. Somebody Else's Dream (Season 4, Episode 15, December 9, 1956)
  1. Three and Two, Please (Season 4, Episode 15, December 16, 1956)
  1. Imperfect Balance (Season 4, Episode 17, December 30, 1956)
  1. Queen Nefertiti (Season 4, Episode 18, January 6, 1957)


  1. My Favorite Monster (Season 4, Episode 19, January 13, 1957)
  1. Miss Ashley's Demon (Season 4, Episode 20, January 27, 1957)
  1. Tension (Season 4, Episode 22, February 17, 1957)
  1. Wedding Day (Season 4, Episode 21, February 3, 1957)
  1. The Room Next Door (Season 4, Episode 26, March 31, 1957)
  1. So Bright a Light (Season 4, Episode 27, April 7, 1957)
  1. The Legacy Light (Season 4, Episode 29, April 21, 1957)
  1. The Countess Light (Season 4, Episode 31, May 5, 1957)
  1. A Mind of Their Own (Season 4, Episode 32, May 12, 1957)
  1. Royal Parners, Part 1 (Season 4, Episode 33, May 19, 1957)
  1. Royal Partners, Part 2 (Season 4, Episode 34, May 26, 1957)




  1. A Dollar's Worth (Season 4, Episode 1, October 7, 1957)
  1. Innocent Conspiracy (Season 4, Episode 3, November 3, 1957)
  1. The Little Witness (Season 4, Episode 5, November 24, 1957)
  1. Friends at a Distance (Season 4, Episode 7, December 8, 1957)
  1. The Demon and Mrs. Devon (Season 4, Episode 8, December 15, 1957)
  1. The Accused (Season 6, Episode 29, April 26, 1959) **FROM SEASON SIX
  1. Dear Mr. Milkman (Season 5, Episode 29, February 9, 1958)


  1. A Greater Strength (Season 5, Episode 17, February 23, 1958)
  1. The Oriental Mind (Season 5, Episode 19, March 9, 1958)
  1. Time of Decision (Season 5, Episode 21, March 23, 1958)
  1. To Open a Door (Season 5, Episode 23, April 6, 1958)
  1. Dangerous Verdict (Season 5, Episode 25, April 20, 1958)
  1. South American Uncle (Season 5, Episode 27, May 4, 1958)
  1. A Strange Adventure (Season 5, Episode 28, May 11, 1958)


  1. A Day of Rest (Season 5, Episode 29, May 18, 1958)


  1. The Near Unknown (Season 6, Episode 2, October 12, 1958)
  1. A Visit to San Paulo (Season 6, Episode 4, October 26, 1958)
  1. The 20 Cent Tip (Season 6, Episode 6, November 9, 1958)
  1. In the Good Old Summertime (Season 6, Episode 3, October 19, 1958)
  1. The Woman Between (Season 6, Episode 8, November 23, 1958)
  1. Black Lace Valentine (Season 6, Episode 19, February 8, 1959)


  1. The Happy Widow (Season 6, Episode 10, December 7, 1958) 
  1. Sister Ann (Season 6, Episode 15, January 11, 1959) 
  1. Incident in India (Season 6, Episode 17, January 25, 1959)
  1. The Portrait (Season 6, Episode 21, February 22, 1959)
  1. Mr. Wilson's Wife #1 (Season 6, Episode 26, April 5, 1959)
  1. The Prettiest Girl in Town (Season 6, Episode 23, March 8, 1959) 
  1. The Tenderizer (Season 6, Episode 24, March 21, 1959)


  1. Mr. Wilson's Wife #2 (Season 6, Episode 27, April 12, 1959)


  1. The Road (Season 7, Episode 1, September 20, 1959)
  1. One Beautful Moment (Season 7, Episode 2, September 27, 1959)
  1. Mask of Evidence (Season 7, Episode 4, October 11, 1959)
  1. A New Step (Season 7, Episode 7, November 8, 1959)
  1. Lady in a Fish Bowl (Season 7, Episode 9, November 22, 1959)
  1. Alien Love (Season 7, Episode 12, December 13, 1959)


  1. Little Monster, Tell Tales (Little Miss Tell Tales) (Season 7, Episode 15, January 10, 1960)
  1. Mrs. Minton (Season 7, Episode 17, January 24, 1960) 
  1. Second Spring (Season 7, Episode 20, February 21, 1960)
  1. The Trouble with Laury's Men (Season 7, Episode 22, March 13, 1960)
  1. Faith, Hope and Mr. Flaherty (Season 7, Episode 27, May 8, 1960)
  1. The Eternal Now, Part 1 (Season 7, Episode 28, May 15, 1960)
  1. The Eternal Now, Part 2 (Season 7, Episode 29, May 22, 1960)



  1. Long Night (Season 8, Episode 1, September 18, 1960)
  1. Fair Exchange (Season 8, Episode 3, October 2, 1960)
  1. Love Between the Acts (Season 8, Episode 6, October 23, 1960)
  1. The Seducer (Season 8, Episode 8, November 6, 1960)
  1. Conditional Surrender (Season 8, Episode 10, November 20, 1960)
  1. These Few Years (Season 8, Episode 12, November 11, 1960)

Bonus Features: "In her Own Words," Movie Trailers


  1. Quiet Desperation (Season 8, Episode 17, February 5, 1961)
  1. Subtle Danger (Season 8, Episode 17, February 5, 1961)
  1. Doesn't Everybody? (Season 8, Episode 15, January 15, 1961)
  1. Emergency in 114 (Season 8, Episode 26, April 23, 1961)
  1. The Forbidden Guests (Season 8, Episode 30, May 28, 1961)
  1. Not in Our Stars (Season 8, Episode 31, June 4, 1961)

Bonus Features: Loretta Young's Home Movies; Beverly Washburn Interview

"...Well, goodnight. See you next week?"

Think of a wonderful film...any happy little film...and this might pop into your head
Blog, Movies, Music
Posted on Feb 15 2013 by Greg
With Peter Pan, Walt Disney enjoyed something he could not with Alice in Wonderland, even though both were established through books, plays and other versions. While Alice defied interpretation (though I contend Disney's still comes the closest of all films), Peter Pan seemed to work perfectly as a Disney animated feature and has been one of the studio's most consistent crowd-pleasers.

Except for the "What Made the Red Man Red" sequence, which veers precariously into politically incorrect territory (especially the song lyrics), Disney's Peter Pan is very contemporary in many ways, particularly in its approach to the story as part fairy tale / part Archie comics triangle. I say this as a compliment, as I love Archie comics and the infinite way they expound on a series of simple themes, particularly the love triangle.

In Disney's Peter Pan, the little girls all seem to have matured into young ladies eager to be the one who captures Peter's heart. Wendy is like Betty, Tinker Bell is more like Veronica. (I guess that might make Hook like Reggie).

In a way, Peter isn't so much a child who doesn't want to grow up, he's an adolescent who doesn't want puberty to hit, much as today;s young boy whose voice is changing might keep choosing video games over girls until nature takes its course (though he never gives up the video games even as an adults). This Archie-like love triangle is standard operating procedure for much of today's youth-targeted films and TV, as it is in many grown up rom-coms.

One of the most interesting among the many bonus features (this one from the earlier DVD release) is a storyboard of a deleted sequence in which Wendy and Peter are about to part and the dialogue gets so romantic it might have been a scene from An Affair to Remember.

Speaking of bonus features, those who are not into Blu-rays will notice from the list below that the lion's share of extras are now only on the Blu-ray. You might want to keep the 2007 edition just in case.

However, unless you get the Blu-ray Diamond Edition, you're missing a lot of wonderful, colorful "Mary Blairyness," in addition to other magnificent sights in the crisp, vivid Blu-ray picture. (You can also get it with a digital download disc and storybook app.) I love the scene in "Following the Leader" in which the boys march into a field that towers over their heads. The bright yellow is striking.

By the way, the singers of that song are the Bob Mitchell Choir, who sang in Going My Way, The Flying Nun and hundreds of other Hollywood TV shows and movies. The late Bob Mitchell also used to play the organ at ball games.

And that flying sequence -- I don't care how 3-D movies get, there is nothing like that last flight off Big Ben out over London and into the otherwordly dimension where Never Land exists. One of the best aspects of Disney's version is how it avoids being literal about dream versus reality. Everything is nicely vague and left to the imagination. Too many films ground everything in a stark reality -- even fantasy films!

Besides the delightful feature, don't miss the 40-minute featurette, "Growing Up with Nine Old Men," another holdover feature from the earlier release. It's a charming, warm and memorable way to get to know the families and lives of these great artists in a very human way, thanks to Ted Thomas, son of animator Frank Thomas.

Blu-ray-Only Bonus Features

Growing Up with Nine Old Men
Deleted Scenes: The Journey Home; Alternate Arrival
Deleted Songs: Never Smile at a Crocodile; The Boatswain Song
Classic Bonus Features (from previous release):
Disney Song Selection
Audio Commentary
Deleted Song: The Pirate Song
Never Land: The Lost Song
Never Land Performed by Paige O'Hara
Second Star to the Right - T-Squad
Classic Backstage Disney (from previous release):
You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan
In Walt's Words; Why I Made Peter Pan
The Peter Pan That Almost Was
The Peter Pan Story

2013 DVD & Blu-ray Bonus Features
Intro by Diane Disney Miller
Tinker Bell: A Fairy's Tale

Also, the superb soundtrack album is available on DVD, there's a new "Songs & Story" version and a new edition of Disney's "Lost Chords" series (with digital booklet by Disney artist/historian Russell Schroeder) available for download, in which several deleted songs are presented in their original demos and in new stereo versions.

Did you know you can suggest movies for the National Film Registry?
Blog, Movies
Posted on Jan 25 2013 by Greg
Just watched a fascinating documentary called "These Amazing Shadows" about how the National Film Registry came about and what they do. I did not know you could submit suggestions -- up to 50 a year -- for their consideration.

At their website, they have the full registry list and another list of films that did not make it yet. Of course, there were a few that they didn't have on either list, but that didn't stop me. The review board seems to prefer very eclectic choices, so naturally here's how I obliged with my first 25 picks:

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Cynical yet endearing musical/non-musical; a forerunner for the savvy tone in family films of today; a brilliant satire on mass media frenzy that only gains momentum in its shrewd truth

Babes in Toyland (1934)
The first musical fantasy on film; an operetta that stands up today despite changing tastes; a masterwork of Laurel & Hardy comedy

Babes in Arms (1939)
The first "let's put on a show" musical that also cemented the power of youth-driven cinema that took full hold with the dawn of rock

The Three Caballeros (1945)
The quintessential WWII "friendship" effort with some of the most mind-bending sequences ever (the "Wedding of the Wooden Doll" sequence in "Singin' in the Rain" owes a bit to this film

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

Time capsule of a makeshift family brought together by circumstance, particularly returned servicemen from the war, the changing roles of labor and management

Hans Christian Andersen (1952)
Hollywood's greatest example of transforming a real person into a figure of pure fantasy and childlike wonder; personifying Danny Kaye as an ambassador to children through the strength of music and storytelling

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
The "Citizen Kane" of budget drive-in teen movies in which all the elements work to their fullest effect, from the supporting characters to the guest stars; captures an era and an environment that millions believed to actually exist.

Pollyanna (1960)

One of Walt Disney's finest live-action films, not the saccharine dreck that the title suggests, but a great cast, great script and a vivid portrayal of small town Americana with more than a little bite

Mad Monster Party (1969)
No, I'm not kidding. The first mainstream feature length stop motion feature featuring legendary character designers in a quirky production that has influenced numerous Pixar artists and surely Tim Burton himself, many years before the "dark" animation of such films as "Nightmare Before Christmas"

House of Dark Shadows (1970)

Also not kidding. Barnabas Collins was the first vampire with a conscience and this film not only compressed about a year of daily TV soap opera drama into one film with economy and style, it also was such a moneymaker it helped save MGM at the time.

Skeleton Dance, The (1929)

The first of Walt Disney's "Silly Symphonies," another blueprint that countless filmmakers have followed

Superman (1978)
Still the finest of the tentpole action/fantasy epics of its time and any time, as it hits multiple audiences at once, tells a great American folk tale and makes its premise seem completely believable while winking with wit at the same time.

Mary Poppins (1964)
The culmination of an entire filmmaker's career, and that of his studio, in one film -- combining everything Walt Disney and his team could do in film, music and story -- with a nod to the Audio Animatronics Theme Park technology that became commonplace in movies in later decades

Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966)
The seed of one of the world's most popular stories and character casts, told with faith to the illustrations -- with a literal book and pages -- a great voice cast and a restrained simplicity rare among animated films of the time

Alice in Wonderland (1951)
The most imaginative vision of the virtually unfilmable world inside Lewis Carroll's mind; breaks all the rules of conventional Disney storytelling; becomes more contemporary as its moves forward in time; a masterpiece of design, madness and relentless abandon; truly like a dream realized on film

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Certainly groundbreaking in so many well-known ways, but also significant in that it made cartoons and animation -- and the love of such -- a perfectly grownup and artistic endeavor. Just ask those of us who took flack for liking cartoons as kids.

That's Entertainment! (1974)

A final -- or close to final -- look at the stars who made the great MGM films of the Freed unit; the last glimpse of the MGM wonderland before it was destroyed; also the movie that was supposed to draw a curtain over the genre but instead was so successful it spawned three sequels

The Long, Long Trailer (1953)
The only feature film to capture the electric dynamic between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz at the top of the career and marriage success; a portrait of American "on the move" in which trailer parks were like folksy small towns

Charlotte's Web (1973)
The work that transcends the easily and too often dismissed factory animation of the Hanna-Barbera studio and elevates it to something rare and profound -- perfection in its imperfections, a film that is moving and memorable despite its budgetary limitations thanks to inspired casting and an effecting score. When the remake was being tested, audience members asked "where was the smorgasbord song?" This film gained a following as one of the first animated features to be readily available on cable and video before Disney started opening its vault. It's the "Wonderful Life" of animated features.

The Shaggy Dog (1959)
Originally a TV pilot, this modest, yet strangely dark, comedy made millions and influenced not only the Disney fantasy/comedy genre, but decades of film and TV escapist fantasies after it

Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)
The postwar baby boom suburban experience presented with charm and unforgettable humor

Cheaper By the Dozen (1950)

A slice of early 20th century life with many real-life misadventures adapted directly from the book by real-life Gilbreths; also notable because Lillian Moller Gilbreth broke down gender barriers, was her husband's partner in ways unusual for its time and was even on a U.S. postage stamp

Quiet Man, The (1952)
John Ford's sweeping portrait of the people of his heritage and perhaps the best example of chemistry between John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, as well as the vivid characters the people so many Ford films

Finian’s Rainbow (1968)
Francis Ford Coppola's only musical (his second commercial feature), the last film in which Fred Astaire danced, Petula Clark's first American film and a surreal look at racial issues with a foot in 1948 as well as 1968

Head (1968)

What might have been intended by the producers as an attempt to "bury" their creations, The Monkees, this stream-of-consciousness experience is one hand a melange of ideas and social commentary and on the other, an extended (albeit wilder) version of their series, still the most successful attempt at launching a fictional pop band that actually became a real one and rebelled against their creators.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Jan 18 2013 by Greg
There's a tendency to see Blu-ray as a boon to color films and it is. Babes in Toyland, as reported earlier, is true eye candy. However, when it comes to black-and-white film, Blu-ray accentuates the details and makes the clarity sharp as can be.

Such is the case with the Blu-ray of Frankenweenie. As with so many Tim Burton movies, there are those who just can't get into his very specific vision and those who can't get enough of it. If the latter is you, Frankenweenie is, to quote Fawlty Towers, a "televisual feast."

My kids enjoyed it, particularly my son, but the family agreed that it was very intense viewing for young children. Please don't just plop this into the player and let the kids loose on it if they're very young and impressionable -- but you're the best judge of where your kids are in relation to movies and TV (we waited a loooong time before we showed Bambi to my son).

Frankenweenie, in Burton style, is grotesque yet touching, strange yet perceptive. If you haven't seen the 1984 live action short that inspired it (included on the Blu-ray but not the DVD), it's the Burton world of a misfit in a suburban environment of eccentrics that screams "Who's the real crazy one?" This motif is especially strong in Frankenweenie, in which the neighborhood kids are much weirder than the odd central character.

Things get pretty monstrous in the final climax, much like a vintage sci-fi matinee (only done with a great deal more time and budget). The animation is as amazing as ever. There is just nothing like stop-motion and its kinetic excitement. The massive work behind this kind of art is nicely shown in another Blu-ray only feature, "Miniatures in Motion."

DVD only viewers will also get a look at the traveling Frankenweenie exhibit that spent some time at Disney California Adventure Park. But the original short, "Captain Sparky vs the Flying Saucers" is also Blu-ray only. It's a charmer, very much a nod to Burton's Ed Wood and Plan Nine From Outer Space, as well as hundreds of amateur movies made by eager young filmmaking kids. Too bad it's so short, but then, so was a reel of 8mm film.

The voice cast is uniformly superb, including Burton's Lugosi from Ed Wood -- Martin Landau -- and SCTV alums Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short (who turns in a lovely, restrained performance).

Blog, TV
Posted on Jan 01 2013 by Greg
Until this year, I had no idea there was a live musical spectacular based on Babes in Toyland on NBC in 1954 and 1955, but this year, it showed up on DVD from the same folks who gave us the treasure of The Stingiest Man In Town on DVD last year.

This production, produced and directed by Your Show of Shows' Max Leibman, was co-written by Neil Simon not long after the young scribe was in the Show of Shows writers room. It was likely to be a very big event for TV viewers in '54 and '55, as it starred the Today Show host Dave Garroway as a department store Santa who narrates the story, as well as Wally Cox as toymaker Grumio (a character from the original 1903 script). Cox was starring in Mr. Peepers at the time.

Dennis Day, best known as Jack Benny's confused tenor, is perfect as Tom (Tucker this time, not Piper). Ellen Barrie and the legendary Broadway/cabaret performer Barbara Cook play Joan, in the '54 and '55 broadcasts, respectively. Jack E. Leonard plays villainous Barnaby to the hilt in the most wisecracking, sardonic version of the character to date (likely benefitting from the comedy material supplied by Simon, William Friedberg and Fred Saidy (the latter the co-ilbrettist for Finian's Rainbow).

Musically, many of the Victor Herbert/Glen McDonough songs are intact, along with several instrumental melodies throughout, particularly during two lengthy clown performances that put one in the mind of "Circus Day" on the Mickey Mouse Club. Irwin Kostal did the orchestrations, with such landmarks as West Side Story, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music ahead of him.

It's cool to watch both years' broadcasts and compare them. There isn't a lot of difference overall, except the female leads and the ending, which contains a more overt plug for the "Rocket Engine Oldsmobile" in the second show. You'll notice changes in the technical quality and some improvements to the sets as well.

Because both shows are live (presented here in very good kinescopes), there are the occasional flubs. Most notable is Garroway's stumble over his lines about the meanness of Barnaby, getting ice cube trays and eggs scrambled up in the 1955 show (he does is perfectly in 1954).

Babes in Toyland showed up again on NBC in Living Color on the December 1960 Christmas episode of The Shirley Temple Show, hosted by Shirley Temple Black, former star of such movie hits as Dimples and Curly Top, now grown up with three kids of her own. About a dozen of these charming shows are available through her own website.

Originally called Shirley Temple Storybook, this weekly anthology series managed to do a full-fledged musical almost every week. Such an ambitious undertaking had mixed results, as the show was delightful but limited to the TV capabilities of the day. It was also NBC's competition to the Disneyland series on ABC. The following year, Disney would take over Temple's time slot on NBC as Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color.

Unlike the Disney film of 1961, which retained the original score -- adding new lyrics to songs and melodies and keeping others intact -- the Temple version of Toyland is perhaps the first to replace most of the score with completely original songs. The remaining songs are "Toyland," "Floretta," "I Can't Do The Sum" and "March of the Toys."

Though it's difficult to assume because so many rewrites of Babes in Toyland took place between its major stage runs, touring companies and local shows, the concept of "Meantown" takes place, at least on the Temple show, for the first time on TV. Within a few years, a Pickwick children's record would also incorporate Meantown, which is exactly what the name implies: a town where everyone is cranky.

The cast appearing with Shirley Temple (who also plays Floretta the gypsy witch) is especially notable -- Jonathan Winters as Barnaby with Joe Besser, Carl Ballantine and Jerry Colonna as his bumbling crew; plus a very young Angela Cartwright as Jane. Even Temple's own children appear as she narrates.

Babes in Toyland didn't show up on TV in another version for decades. Meanwhile, the Disney film was broadcast twice on network TV since its theatrical release and the Roach/Laurel & Hardy movie became a staple of local programming throughout the '70s. At the dawn of the home video era, TV would take one last official trip to Toyland.

I couldn't wait for the night in 1986 when a new musical TV movie version of Babes in Toyland would premiere. How could it miss? New songs by Leslie Bricusse (Scrooge, Willy Wonka) conducted by Ian Fraser! Great character actors in the cast, like Eileen Brennan as Mother Goose and Richard Mulligan as Barnaby! Fresh from E.T., there was a slightly older Drew Barrymore as the star, with a young Canadian lead actor named Keanu Reeves. The whole was even filmed at the same Munich studio where Wonka was made.

Sadly, it was not to be. The entire production has an earthbound feel to it. The Toyland outdoor set looks like office bungalows that had porches and quick paint jobs and signs added. One of the climactic battle scenes took place on little go-karts. All but "Toyland" and "March of the Toys" were removed, yet apparently some of Bricusse's songs were cut, too, leaving a few that I am sure he doesn't like to think about.

If this were a low-budget schlock kiddie movie like Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny, it might make sense. But considering the credits of almost everyone involved, it makes one wonder whether anyone really knew what they were getting into when they agreed to do it. This film did make it to VHS, even sold for one Christmas season at McDonald's (perhaps to cash in on Reeves later fame), but it never made it to DVD.

The last non-stage version of Babes in Toyland was the only animated version ever produced. MGM had intended it for theatrical release, but after the failure of All Dogs Go to Heaven 2, the project became direct-to-video (and I suspect the budget was cut). The resulting film was released to VHS and is now available on DVD.

MGM's animated Toyland has its head in the '90s, very much a product of the "second Golden Age" of Disney animated musicals and modern-day sensibilities. Virtually the entire storyline is new. Mary (who bears a resemblance to Disney's Belle from Beauty and the Beast, is now the modern concept of a strong, assertive woman who runs her late father's toy factory. Tom is her employee, a dreamer who resembles the hunky male lead in Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.  Mary says Human Resources phrases to Tom, like "I admire your enthusiasm." Both characters have those wedge haircuts that came and went in the '90s.

Gone is the Herbert score again, except the "big two." The new songs are quite wonderful, very much in the Howard Ashman/Alan Menken mold of the Disney films (and every studio's animated feature that tried to repeat their successes).

That may be a bit of nitpicking, because this Toyland is actually quite entertaining, especially for young children. It is animated very much like the high-grade TV animation of Animaniacs, with lots of action, though it does sag a bit (as do many direct to video features). Despite its 90's-ness, it holds up very well and is worlds better than the 1986 Barrymore TV movie.

One thing that this version seems to prove, though, it how it becomes more and more difficult to produce a filmed Babes in Toyland for a modern audience that incorporates any of the original Herbert/McDonough creations. The further we get away from the original in time, naturally the more our music, social mores, storytelling tools and mass tastes change. Many kids today don't know who Mother Goose is, much less her rhymes and characters.

However, it's awfully tempting to take such a fanciful story and melodic score and try something. One thing is for certain -- there are never enough remakes to suit the entertainment industry. Perhaps the law of averages will tilt in Toyland's favor and there will be a new vision. It may not be the best version, but, like the others, it sure will be fascinating.

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