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DVD REVIEW: Rodgers & Hammerstein's CINDERELLA starring Lesley Ann Warren
Blog, TV, People, Music
Posted on Oct 24 2014 by Greg

There is no shortage of great performances of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s only musical created for television. Of course, there is the original 1957 CBS live telecast starring Julie Andrews, the recent Broadway show, a British panto starring Tommy Steele, a touring production with Eartha Kitt and the 1997 version starring Brandy and Whitney Houston.

Each version has its own special magic, but the 1965 version (now in its 30th anniversary year) starring Lesley Ann Warren has the distinction of being smack in the middle of an era spangled with full-color, escapist entertainment still dear to baby boomers. Premiering on February 22, 1965, the CBS special came along just as musicals—like Mary Poppins—seemed to be having a resurgence in Hollywood, and before such programming became passι in the minds of many.

Pat Carroll, who became legendary as the voice of The Little Mermaid’s Ursula (and the original Mother Magoo), was an oft-welcomed presence on series TV, game and talk shows. In this production, Carroll played one of the stepsisters. The other sister was played by Barbara Ruick, who appeared as Carrie (“Mr. Snow”) Pepperidge in the movie version of Carousel. Ruick was the wife of composer John Williams, who among other projects at the time, was scoring episodes of Gilligan’s Island and Lost in Space (and that's not a diss -- his work elevated both shows). Sadly, Ruick passed away in 1972, before she could experience Williams’ colossal success with Star Wars and his other sweeping movie scores. Oscar and Tony winner Jo Van Fleet (East of Eden), properly snooty as the Stepmother, gives the suitable impression that she constantly smells  some very strong cheese.

R&H favorite Celeste Holm played the traditional fairy Godmother in 1965, in contrast to Edie Adams’ sassy fairy in the 1957 show. And the Prince was Stuart Damon, later to play Alan Quartermain on General Hospital (which included a “prince” nod in at least one script, maybe more). Damon reveals in the bonus documentary (from the previous DVD release) that Jack Jones dropped out of the show as the Prince, so he filled in at the last moment and it was a "Cinderella story" for him.

The production values, as far as the imaginative sets and costumes, is magnificent, but because TV was still relatively young, this videotaped production has some special effects that would make Electra Woman and Dynagirl sneer, especially the flying horses (from a Marx "Best of the West" playset?) and the final materialization of Holm, whose chroma-key glitch gives her have a "Max Headroom" spell.

No matter, the show is still first class and one of TV's all-time best, made back in a time when musical variety was still a major force. And the Columbia/Sony cast album is excellent, too, with a few bonus tracks on the CD/download and a great overture created just for the record by conductor Johnny Green.








BLU-RAY REVIEW: Million Dollar Arm with Jon Hamm
Blog, Movies, TV, People
Posted on Oct 24 2014 by Greg


"Million Dollar Arm," aka "The Jon Hamm Movie" is the "Mad Men" star's debut as a big-screen lead, so the whys and wherefores of the film are as interesting to ponder as the movie itself.

Of course, this being a Disney sports film, the ending is as clear as Cinderella's glass slipper. The attraction is journey to the goal. In this case, Hamm plays a narcissistic, deal-driven but down on his luck sports promoter who gets the idea that Cricket players from India might have the potential to be star baseball players.

This raises a lot of issues, some covered in the film and some not. There is a stark contrast between the jaded, wealthy American star players who are just as manipulative as Hamm's character, and the naive, trusting Indian newbies who are overawed by elevators and such.

But isn't Hamm (sorry, but it IS a vehicle for him) also exploiting this difference? Yes, and the film points that out, as well as his dismissive attitude towards the young men he has relocated and then left on their own. They see him as a father figure, he sees them as commodities. But what is not really addressed is that he is also outsourcing; he still yearns for the American star player but the Indians will do until his dream player comes along.



SPOILER • SPOILER • SPOILER • SPOILER • SPOILER

Of course, Hamm learns a lesson because this is a Disney movie. The pure, genuine warmth and integrity of these young men change him. Had this been a Judd Apatow movie, it would have been the other way around. Good gravy Marie -- they actually think he should marry his attractive neighbor! Don't they know this is America and we're free to be you and us? Sakes alive!

Anyway, Hamm does a fine job but is really not allowed to stretch as an actor -- and as his Saturday Night Live appearances have proven, he has a lot more to give. But this is an ingenious way to reach the big screen because it's a low-budget, low-risk endeavor, unlikely to dent his aspirations in a way that a tentpole movie debut would. It proves that he can carry a movie, but it will be interesting to see if he gets another shot at a big screen role that is more than "Don Draper-light."







DVD REVIEW: The Best of The Danny Kaye Show
Blog, Reviews, TV, People, Music, Books
Posted on Oct 14 2014 by Greg


THE DANNY KAYE SHOW isn't good. THE DANNY KAYE SHOW is great. It has a firm place in classic TV comedy/variety between YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS and THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW.

And it is Burnett Show that bears such a close kinship with the Kaye show, both of which were taped at Television City at CBS in Hollywood, likely on the same stage. Kaye's show ended just as Burnett's began. And both featured Harvey Korman.

So much of this is priceless treasure: Rod Serling sending up his own TWILIGHT ZONE series, which was on the air at the time; Art Carney is top form playing comedy against Kaye--as does the underappreciated Alan Young--creating a chemistry not found anywhere else.

Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Belafonte, Michele Lee, Nana Mouskori, John Gary and more. These are both revered names and also names that should be celebrated today. You'll see why.

And you get more of the purest form of Danny Kaye's talent, a quality never fully realized on the movie screen. It's simply Kaye sitting down and speaking to the home and studio audience as if each were an individual to him. The elegance of his hand gestures, the intent eye contact, the melodious voice. Like the image of Hans Christian Andersen he portrayed, Kaye was more than anything a true storyteller.

You'll also want to look into the other two fine Kaye DVD collections:
Christmas with Danny Kaye
The Best of Danny Kaye - The Television Years

and David Koenig's superb book: Danny Kaye, King of Jesters, for a full account of all his TV episodes, films and shows.



GUESTS
• Gene Kelly
• Rod Serling
• Liza Minnelli
• Michele Lee
• Art Carney
• Alan Young
• Jackie Cooper
• Harry Belafonte
• Ella Fitzgerald
• Nana Mouskouri
• John Gary
• Buddy Greco
• Jack Benny (cameo)
• Sergio Mendes and the Brasil '66

REGULARS include: Harvey Korman, Joyce Van Patten, Jackie Joseph, The Clinger Sisters, Tony Charmoli Dancers, The Earl Brown Singers, Paul Weston and His Orchestra

WRITERS: Mel Tolkin, Paul Mazursky, Larry Tucker, Saul Ilson Ernest Chambers Herb Baker, Sheldon Keller, Billy Barnes

SONGS

DANNY KAYE
• Consider Yourself
• You Make Me Feel So Young
• I Like the Likes of You
• Do You Ever Think of Me
• Pavlova
• Pennies from Heaven
• A Fellow Needs a Girl

DANNY KAYE AND GUEST STARS
• It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing (with Ella Fitzgerald and Buddy Greco)
• Mood Indigo (with Ella Fitzgerald and Buddy Greco)
• We Like Each Other (with Ella Fitzgerald and Buddy Greco)
• By Myself (with Michele Lee)
• Just an Honest Mistake (with Alan Young and John Gary)
• Let's Talk it Over (with Liza Minnelli)
• Ballin' the Jack (with Gene Kelly)
• Who Will Buy? (with Harry Belafonte)
• Mama Look at Bubu
• Hava Nagila (with Harry Belafonte)
• Opa Ni Na Nai (with Harry Belafonte and Nana Mouskouri)
• You'll Never Get Away (with Michele Lee)
• Side by Side (with The Clinger Sisters)
• Cherry Pies Ought to Be You (with Lovelady Powell)
• Medley (with Gene Kelly): I Could Write a Book / New York,
  New York / Long Ago and Far Away / 'S Wonderful / Singin' in
  the Rain

ELLA FITZGERALD
• Moment of Truth
• Body and Soul

HARRY BELAFONTE
• Raindrops
• Walk On

LIZA MINNELLI
• Maybe This Time
• For Every Man There's a Woman

NANA MOUSKOURI
• Telalima

MICHELE LEE
• I Could Write a Book

JOHN GARY
• The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
• Hawaiian Wedding Song

BUDDY GRECO
• Charade
• Satin Doll

LOVELADY POWELL
• Bye Bye Blackbird

JOE & EDDIE
• Children, Go Where I Send Thee

SERGIO MENDES AND THE BRASIL '66
• Goin' Out of My Head







DVD REVIEW: Witch's Night Out
Blog, Reviews, TV, People
Posted on Oct 14 2014 by Greg
Gilda Radner voices a bizarre, eccentric old witch in this Canadian production that aired in on NBC in 1978 and later in syndication.

If you're familiar with the artist-driven, independent-style animated films of SESAME STREET, this is a nostalgic throwback to the kind of free-form cartoon style prevalent in the '70s. The characters are usually painted in one color (kind of like Colorforms kits), in a wide range of imaginative countenances.

I seem to remember at least one other special from Leach/Rankin Productions, with some of the same designs and character names (how could I forget Bazooey?). The "Rankin" in this case is not Arthur Rankin of iconic holiday special company Rankin/Bass, but animator Isobel Jean Rankin, who co-wrote the film with partner John Leach.



Mill Creek also included a video comic book version of the story plus a handful of Halloween-themed cartoons to round out the package:

Casper the Friendly Ghost:
• There's Good Boos To-Night 12/23/48
• The Friendly Ghost (Casper's Debut) 11/16/45
• Boo Moon (Originally in 3-D) 12/1/54

Felix the Cat (Original Theatrical Version)
• Skulls & Sculls (1930)

Hoppity Hooper / Uncle Waldo Show (Jay Ward)
• Ring a Ding Spring (9/12/64)

Space Angel (Synchro-Vox TV Series)
• The Ghost & Crystal Mace (All Five Parts / 1964)

Popeye
• Spooky Swabs 8/9/57

The New Three Stooges (Cartoon with Live Action Segments)
• Mummies Boys (1965)

Walter Lantz's Meany, Miny & Moe
• House of Magic 3/8/37







DVD Review: Lucille Ball: First Lady of Comedy
Blog, Reviews, Movies, TV, People
Posted on Oct 09 2014 by Greg


Who doesn't love Lucy, or just needs use a laugh? How about just an "I can't believe what I'm watching" reaction as you watch?

The four Lucille Ball feature films in this 2-disc Mill Creek set run the gamut of pretty good, kind of weird, so-bad-it's-delightful and best of the bunch. All four are nicely restored, so if you've been trying to find decent copies of them on various budget DVDs, you'll have them here.

THE MAGIC CARPET (1951)
Co-starring John Agar and Patricia Medina


This infamous so-bad-it's-delightful "sort of color, sort of spectacular" adventure/fantasy/comedy is notable for several reasons. Check out this history from everythinglucy.com:

"Hoping to force Lucille Ball into breaking her contract, Columbia Pictures chieftain Harry Cohn assigned her to the low-budget Arabian Nights escapade The Magic Carpet. Much to Cohn's amazement, the plucky Ball agreed to appear in the film, forcing Columbia to pay her salary until her option ran out. While Lucille Ball is quite attractive in her harem duds, the viewer cannot help but notice that her bare midriff is often obscured by props and furniture; that's because she was pregnant with her daughter Lucie Arnaz during the filming of The Magic Carpet."



The Magic Carpet
also co-stars (and what old movie did NOT co-star?) George Tobias and the comic relief sidekick--and Raymond Burr as the scheming villain. Imagine Abner Kravitz and Perry Mason in the The Arabian Nights and there's even more to chortle about.

HER HUSBAND'S AFFAIRS (1947)
Co-starring Franchot Tone


A lower-echelon Adam's Rib crossed with a kind of weird Son of Flubber, Her Husband's Affairs is not about infidelity, but about a wife who is (GASP!) more talented and savvy than her pompous, egomaniacal husband. Those who cringe at the pre-feminist aspects of films of a long ago mindset might want to skip Franchot Tone's insufferable whining and fuming about how Lucille Ball bails him out time after time. To be positive, it might be interpreted as a statement about how women should have been treated and were not.



Anyway, it goes from a husband-and-wife conflict story to a very odd fantasy sitcom about wacky inventions and their consequences. Ball is fine as ever, but Tone is probably miscast because his overall disaffected, cool style makes his character unlikable, while a more genial actor might have pulled off the role of this dolt at least a little better.

MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND (1949)
Co-Starring William Holden


Ball and Holden play masterfully against each other in this pretty good, Damon Runyonesque tale of "a lovable bunch of bookies and their dashing leader who would reform if only the right woman could change him."



Lovers of I Love Lucy can revel in the comparisons between Holden and Ball in this film and Holden and Lucy Ricardo in the famous "nose-lighting" episode of the classic series. What makes this extra special for classic TV fans is the appearance of Gloria Henry--Dennis the Menace's mom--as one of the young postwar newlyweds. She looks a little different, but there is no mistaking that lovely voice.

THE FULLER BRUSH GIRL (1950)
Co-Starring Eddie Albert


Like Miss Grant Takes Richmond, this is one of the most widely played of Ball's film comedies. Of all four in this set, it's the best of the bunch for its snappy pace, beautifully timed slapstick, engaging story and the chemistry between Ball and Arnold, who play the postwar couple this time around.

If you watch this with young people, you might have to start by explaining that Fuller Brush people were like Avon or Mary Kay sales people who went door-to-door with household gadgets or, in this case, beauty products. Ball and Anold's characters are as hapless as can be and you can see each successive catastrophe mounting a mile away, but that's part of the fun and part of the filmmaker's craft.

It was also scripted by Looney Tunes director turned Hollywood movie director Frank Tashlin, so like his Jerry Lewis hits, the action is very cartoony and was very likely storyboarded in the same way as animation.



Only one year away from becoming Lucy Ricardo, The Fuller Brush Girl is a prelude to I Love Lucy for Lucille Ball as well for her fans. You can imagine see how Ethel, Fred and Ricky might have reacted to all the zany hijinks.












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