Friday, October 22, 2010

Tom Bosley, RIP

I suppose he'll always be best known for playing Howard Cunningham, the father on "Happy Days." And I suppose there's nothing bad about that, though "Happy Days" lost me after Fonzie took over the show and the studio audiences began going crazy over everything he did.

And because Mr. Bosley seemed like a pleasant fellow, I had nothing against him making more money playing Father Dowling, even if I don't remember sitting through an entire episode of that show.

But I prefer to remember his more interesting roles.

Coincidentally, the night before I heard of his death, I saw watched him in an episode of "Route 66," doing a nicely shaded job as a sleazy, small-town businessman (with a mustache yet -- an adornment that made him look a little like William Conrad). The episode's characters also included a doctor, a small part featuring a young actor who didn't make much of an impression on me until the credits revealed he was Alan Alda, a light year or two away from Hawkeye. You can watch that episode here.

And I've always remembered him as Sidney Resnick, the hapless, hopeless, desperate guy who sells his eyesight to a rich, blind woman played by Joan Crawford in the pilot movie for "Night Gallery," written, of course, by Rod Serling. (The segment, one of several in the film, was directed by Steven Spielberg.)

He was, I suppose, among the last of an endangered species known as The Character Actor -- the kind of performer who never gets the girl (or guy) but who often captures the audience's affection (though they might not remember the name), along with a deservedly steady paycheck.

Sic 'em, Asta!

From The Hollywood Reporter:

"Johnny Depp and Rob Marshall, now in production on the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, are teaming up to develop a remake of classic private eye movie The Thin Man for Warner Bros.

"The project is out to writers for a take that would give a Sherlock Holmes treatment (meaning to contemporize the attitude but retain the period setting) to the classic Dashiell Hammett novel...."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Barbara Billingsley, RIP

I hear the sound of vacuuming above
As aromas from fresh cookies swirl.
I look up, toward the skies,
And then find a surprise
Resting in my closed hand:
One stray pearl.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

At the (old) movies: 'Innocents in Paris'

Some notes from a recent meeting of the local cinephile society:

I’d never heard of “Innocents in Paris” (Romulus Films, 1953), but given that it’s a British film (with location footage in France) and featuring folks such as Alastair Sim and Margaret Rutherford, I figured it was going to be one of those eccentric Ealing-type comedies, kind of like an old Alec Guinness film without Alec Guinness.

Turns out I was wrong, but as much as I enjoy the Ealing films, I certainly wasn’t displeased by “Innocents in Paris.”

The plot is the kind of setup you’ve seen many times before and will probably see many times again: A bunch of people (of various types, of course) go on a journey that will Change All of Their Lives.

Not that there’s anything particularly philosophical or dramatic going on here; it’s a gentle comedy about people who behave a lot like people in real life, with some exaggeration. The script is by Anatole de Grunwald, and Gordon Parry is the director.

Alastair Sim is a diplomat who has a bad stomach and does crossword puzzles during boring international meetings. Margaret Rutherford is an amateur artist. Claire Bloom, in one of her earliest roles, is a young woman (natch) going to Paris for the first time. Monique Gerard is the girlfriend of an apparently well-to-do businessman who’s too busy to catch the plane with her but says he’ll join her at the hotel.

Laurence Harvey, in one of his earliest roles, plays a room service waiter at the girlfriend’s hotel. When he hears that her boyfriend still can't get away to join her, the waiter is determined to give her, shall we say, service deluxe.

James Copeland is a na├»ve Scottish man who is taken aback when young women in Paris follow him, laughing at his kilts. Jimmy Edwards is a blowhard who doesn’t seem to sense how ironic it is that, once in Paris, he retreats to a British-style pub where he seems to spend most of his time.

Ronald Shiner is a drummer in a military marching band that’s set to perform.

The various plots work themselves out in ways that pretty much wouldn’t surprise you, but they do so with a mostly understated charm. Sim and Rutherford have roles that they could easily make a 10-course meal out of, but they’re wise enough not to overact – at least not too much. Or maybe the director was reining them in.

For me (and quite possibly this is because I’d never seen him before), the standout performer is Shiner, who looks like a somewhat more refined Shemp Howard (no disrespect meant there, Shemp), with a beaklike nose added on. Or, if you want another comparison, imagine a Victor McLaglen who can underact. Shiner’s character, the infelicitously named Dicky Bird, is hilariously impudent and, ultimately, a bit touching.

I doubt this film is shown very often, and apparently the only DVD version is, for no discernible good reason, a Spanish one that can't be played on a DVD player in the U.S. Too bad, because perhaps the highest compliment I can give the film is that I wouldn’t mind taking this trip again sometime.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Two new links in (or is it on?) the blogroll

Submitted for your consideration....

Planet Valenti is the new website of my longtime friend and former colleague Dan Valenti.

A newspaper columnist and former radio talk-show host in the Pittsfield, Mass., area (he's interviewed such great icons of my youth as Betsy Palmer and June "Rocky the Flying Squirrel" Foray), Dan offers his thoughts on local politics. And although chances are you won't know the names, there's a good chance that some of his trenchantly pungent (or is it pungently trenchant?) observations will apply to folks with other names who live in your area.

His site also contains links to two of his news enterprises: Europolis Management ("involved in artist representation and production") and Planet Media Books, which just published its first offering, "Spring's Third Day," a collection of poems by Laura Gross....

If you grew up watching TV in the 1950s and 1960s, Classic Television Showbiz is a must. It's run by Kliph Nesteroff, who finds great, obscure videos from those days and occasionally posts outstanding interviews from people of that era. If, for example, you want to know what master malapropper Norm Crosby has been up to lately, this is the site for you.

My only regret about posting a link to Classic Television Showbiz now is that I didn't do it sooner.

I hope you will enjoy these sites.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Physicians, hear thyselves

My primary-care physician recently referred me to a specialist.

In yesterday's mail I received something from that practice -- the usual instructions and forms to fill out.

The envelope, however, was addressed to "Mark Humphrey."

I called the specialist's practice, gave my primary care doctor's name and said they'd put the wrong name on the envelope.

The woman who answered the phone asked for my date of birth.

I gave it.

Then she asked for my name.

I said, "Do you want what you think is my name or my real name?"

"Yes," she replied.

I got things straightened out anyway, but all this doesn't seem to bode well, given the nature of the practice.

It's an EAR, nose and throat place....

Sunday, October 3, 2010

At the (old) movies with The Lone Wolf

Some notes from a recent meeting of the local cinephile society:

The title character in “The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance” (Columbia, 1941) got his start in a series of novels by Louis Joseph Vance. “The Lone Wolf” was the alias of Michael Lanyard, a gentleman jewel thief.

The character was featured in silent movies and talkies, and in this entry from Columbia’s B-movie series about the character, the Lone Wolf is a reformed jewel thief who now solves crimes, even though the cops are always more than willing to think the worst of him. This setup is similar to the Boston Blackie movies – also made by Columbia.

In this film, directed by Sidney Salkow, the character is played by Warren William, who had been an A-movie actor in the 1930s. The Columbia series also gave Lanyard a valet named Jamison, played by the great British comic actor Eric Blore.

When he’s unjustly accused of murder, Lanyard has to try to both clear himself and solve the kidnapping of a young man who has invented some much-coveted printing plates for the government.

A newsreel-within-the-movie shows that the inventor, Johnny Baker, has been keeping the plates in a special railroad car that he’s come up with. The car has a lock with a combination, and if you try to get into the car and get the combination wrong, you’re trapped by poison gas.

Of course, as Anton Chekhov once said, if you have a railroad car with poison gas in the first reel, then someone must be gassed by it – or in danger of being gassed by it – in the last reel.

(OK, OK, I know he said something like that somewhere. Can I help it if my knowledge of the Russian language is spotty? OK, OK, make that non-existent.)

If Warren William was disheartened by his drop in status from A’s to B’s, his performance doesn’t show it. He seems to be having a good time and seems livelier than he does in some of his A pictures.

The young inventor is played by a newcomer named Lloyd Bridges, many years before his “Sea Hunt” days and decades before he became better known in some circles as the daddy of Beau and Jeff. Lloyd made a number of Columbia B pictures in this era; he can be seen as a college student in a Blondie movie, and I once spotted him as a bus driver in a Boston Blackie film.

Although it’s a B movie, “The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance” seems to have been made with extra care, and although you might not remember much of it long after you’ve seen it, you’ll probably remember it as a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

(Footnote: The fake newsreel is narrated by Art Gilmore, the master radio announcer who also did a lot of movie voiceover work, perhaps most memorably as the narrator of the Joe McDoakes shorts, which starred George O’Hanlon, who later became the voice of George Jetson. I’d thought Mr. Gilmore had died some years ago, but he actually died a few days after I saw this movie. He was 98. By all accounts he was quite a gentleman, and he might well have been the last of the great living radio announcers.)