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Any script based on the Johnny Stompanato murder is worth seeing. Great exegesis on the series "Naked City" and thanks for the episode update.

 

Recently I was at a store selling many boxed dvd sets and saw the "Naked City" one and realize I should purchase it due to its great panache in storylines ripped from the headlines.

Thanks for the fine review.

 

You're welcome. Hope you purchased the DVDs and are enjoying them.

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The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968)

 

I tend to focus on the post-Barney Fife episodes. The earlier stuff seems like ‘The Don Knotts Show.’ But to me, the real star is the town Mayberry itself and the philosophy of Mayberry.

 

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“Aunt Bee’s Crowning Glory” — October 10, 1966; written by Ronald Axe; directed by Lee Philips

The stories on this show are very heavy-handed in their message against non-conformity. This episode is a perfect example. Andy refuses to support Aunt Bee’s decision to wear a wig and change her look. He doesn’t even seem to say one nice thing to her in the entire story. Opie thinks it’s cool and Helen is very supportive but not Andy. The character of Clara Edwards is just as bad, and so are the other women who talk about Bee behind her back.

The writers introduce a new reverend character who’s never seen Bee in her old hairstyle. Of course, he just so happens to be giving a sermon about “being yourself.” This is done by the writers so Bee will feel she is not being herself. The writer conveniently glosses over the fact that sometimes women need a change to feel good about their appearance. Instead Bee’s actions are meant to be seen as a folly, untrue to her real nature. She becomes so racked with guilt about upsetting the status quo of Mayberry she goes back to the frumpy old style she started with at the beginning of the episode.

Despite the ridiculous conformity angle, there are some charming bits in this episode. Most of those are supplied by Howard McNear as Floyd the Barber. He’s one of the better cast members, and the scene where he’s trying to feel Bee’s wig in church is quite humorous. He’s also very funny in the next scene which takes place at Andy’s home. He and Andy are playing checkers and when he makes a wrong move, and Opie does not support him, he says Opie would naturally side with Andy against him. It’s like Floyd is feeling as persecuted as poor Aunt Bee.

 

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“Goober Makes History” — December 19, 1966; written by John L. Greene & Paul David; directed by Lee Philips

In this episode we have Goober experiencing a transformation of sorts. After not shaving for a few days, he has grown a full beard and now thinks he’s a deep thinker (obviously a jab at beatnik culture). The change in Goober tries Andy’s patience. Andy becomes very annoyed with Goober’s newfound confidence about American history– a subject the adults are studying together in a night class. Andy quickly starts avoiding Goober, and so do Helen and Howard because they don’t want to hear what Goob has to say about anything.

The writing for this episode suggests people should be middle-of-the-road in their intelligence. Instead of Goober being encouraged to construct new ideas, he’s treated like the plague. By the end of the story he has to adhere to a strange idea of conformity and go back to how he was. If everyone had to shut up and be afraid to express their intelligence, where would the engineers, scientists and doctors be? Also, we see Andy being sympathetic when Goober is afraid to speak up in the beginning. So why can’t he be sympathetic when Goober starts to talk too much? Wouldn’t a friend be able to see that Goober is fluctuating from one extreme to the other and eventually he’d balance out on his own?

The scene where Andy yells at Goober in the barber shop because Floyd is unable to tell him to stop is about as unkind, unsympathetic and unfriendly as it gets. This entire episode makes the adults appear like crotchety ignoramuses. Even Opie starts sounding that way in his complaints about Goober.

 

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“Floyd’s Barber Shop” — February 13, 1967; written by Jim Parker & Arnold Margolin; directed by Lee Philips

The story for this one involves Howard Sprague taking over the building where Floyd’s barber shop is located. Howard wants to raise the rent fifteen dollars a month and Floyd refuses to pay the increase. He then decides to move his business to Mount Pilot. Of course, it is all ironed out in the end, thanks to Andy’s reverse psychology and a compromise reached by the new owner and his tenant.

I think this episode captures the essence of Mayberry perfectly. In some ways the people are against progress and do not want to move into the future too rapidly. They prefer their town to be more laid back, and they need a place like Floyd’s where they can shoot the breeze and play checkers. It is the center of Mayberry activity, at least for the men. They are in no hurry to force Floyd into an early retirement. I found the scenes where everything is in a state of flux to be very comical. Where the sheriff’s office has become a temporary checker parlor, and where Andy’s home has become a barber shop so that Aunt Bee can give Opie a haircut. A truly fun episode, and Howard McNear is great as always.

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The Virginian (1962-1971)

 

In the 1960s, Universal produced television’s first 90-minute western series in color. It ran for nine seasons and turned James Drury and Doug McClure into household names.

 

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“Doctor Pat” — March 1, 1967; written by True Boardman; directed by Don McDougall

Twelve years prior to the filming of this episode, Warner Brothers made a film called STRANGE LADY IN TOWN starring Greer Garson. It was about a female physician in the old west (long before Jane Seymour’s Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman). According to the Internet Movie Database description, STRANGE LADY is about ‘a brilliant woman who has studied medicine in Europe and has several new techniques.’ We see that in this episode of The Virginian.

 

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What’s important is the way writer True Boardman shows how ‘progress’ affects our lead male character (James Drury). The Virginian is a ranch hand, and he’s the one whose life is most affected by the arrival of Doctor Pat. In one scene, he gets to help her operate. There is a nice romance that develops but ends somewhat abruptly at the close of the episode. It would’ve been nice had she returned to Medicine Bow in a later season and they had reconnected.

What also strikes me about this episode is how it has two very separate plots that do not really intersect until more than two-thirds of the way into the story. We sort of figure the crooks in the subplot will eventually need medical attention and cross paths with Pat. I like how these people seem rather isolated in their criminal pursuits, then with an interesting twist of fate, they suddenly jeopardize her standing in the community through no fault of her own.

 

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“Nightmare at Fort Killman” — March 8, 1967; written by John Hawkins & Ward Hawkins; directed by Abner Biberman

This episode is worth discussing because of how it addresses the justice system. This time, the Virginian is off in San Francisco, and Stacy Grainger (Don Quine) is traveling to meet him but gets shanghaied along the way. He is forced to endure harsh conditions at a military outpost. Both he and his grandfather (Charles Bickford) get caught up in the political cover-up that is occurring at the fort.

I found some of the dialogue to be a bit over-dramatic (Stacy becomes the victim of ruthless tough-talking men). But the the machinations of the guest characters are rather interesting. At each turn, it seems as if Stacy will not beat ‘the system’ or escape, even with his grandfather’s help. There is a great scene where Stacy does get away, but they come to get him at the Shiloh Ranch and he must go back and face murder charges (of course we know Stacy did not really kill anyone).

Eventually, good does triumph over evil and Stacy is released as a free man. But there are some setbacks along the way. A particularly poignant moment involves the death of a fellow black soldier that had befriended Stacy. While the previous episode, ‘Doctor Pat,’ seems to advance the feminist cause, this one is likely influenced by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

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The Virginian (1962-1971)

 

In the 1960s, Universal produced television’s first 90-minute western series in color. It ran for nine seasons and turned James Drury and Doug McClure into household names.

 

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-6-11-32-pm.png

“Doctor Pat” — March 1, 1967; written by True Boardman; directed by Don McDougall

Twelve years prior to the filming of this episode, Warner Brothers made a film called STRANGE LADY IN TOWN starring Greer Garson. It was about a female physician in the old west (long before Jane Seymour’s Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman). According to the Internet Movie Database description, STRANGE LADY is about ‘a brilliant woman who has studied medicine in Europe and has several new techniques.’ We see that in this episode of The Virginian.

 

screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-6-07-32-pm.png

What’s important is the way writer True Boardman shows how ‘progress’ affects our lead male character (James Drury). The Virginian is a ranch hand, and he’s the one whose life is most affected by the arrival of Doctor Pat. In one scene, he gets to help her operate. There is a nice romance that develops but ends somewhat abruptly at the close of the episode. It would’ve been nice had she returned to Medicine Bow in a later season and they had reconnected.

What also strikes me about this episode is how it has two very separate plots that do not really intersect until more than two-thirds of the way into the story. We sort of figure the crooks in the subplot will eventually need medical attention and cross paths with Pat. I like how these people seem rather isolated in their criminal pursuits, then with an interesting twist of fate, they suddenly jeopardize her standing in the community through no fault of her own.

 

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“Nightmare at Fort Killman” — March 8, 1967; written by John Hawkins & Ward Hawkins; directed by Abner Biberman

This episode is worth discussing because of how it addresses the justice system. This time, the Virginian is off in San Francisco, and Stacy Grainger (Don Quine) is traveling to meet him but gets shanghaied along the way. He is forced to endure harsh conditions at a military outpost. Both he and his grandfather (Charles Bickford) get caught up in the political cover-up that is occurring at the fort.

I found some of the dialogue to be a bit over-dramatic (Stacy becomes the victim of ruthless tough-talking men). But the the machinations of the guest characters are rather interesting. At each turn, it seems as if Stacy will not beat ‘the system’ or escape, even with his grandfather’s help. There is a great scene where Stacy does get away, but they come to get him at the Shiloh Ranch and he must go back and face murder charges (of course we know Stacy did not really kill anyone).

Eventually, good does triumph over evil and Stacy is released as a free man. But there are some setbacks along the way. A particularly poignant moment involves the death of a fellow black soldier that had befriended Stacy. While the previous episode, ‘Doctor Pat,’ seems to advance the feminist cause, this one is likely influenced by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

 

A great series, I never get tired of watching the episodes.

 

I especially like the ones with Lee J. Cobb.

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A great series, I never get tired of watching the episodes.

 

I especially like the ones with Lee J. Cobb.

 

The last season, which had a slight format change and starred Stewart Granger, is kind of interesting. It has more of a spaghetti western feel.

 

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The Big Valley (1965-1969)

 

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“Earthquake” — November 10, 1965; written by Oliver Crawford; directed by Paul Henreid


Episodes of The Big Valley usually combine strong storytelling and sharp performances. This is the first story of the series that focuses specifically on Victoria, so Barbara Stanwyck has plenty to do. She plays most of her scenes underground with guest star Charles Bronson.


As the action gets underway, Victoria arrives at the local church on business and enters the old mission structure moments before a huge temblor strikes. It is nearly leveled to the ground, and there are continuous aftershocks. We see that Victoria has become trapped underneath with two very different people. The first one is a poor native woman about to give birth; and the second one is a guy with a grudge against the Barkleys (Bronson). Victoria tries to appeal to his sense of decency in helping them get out alive, but he’s intent on revenge. Soon the baby comes, and in the midst of all the uncertainty and debris, Victoria must play midwife to help deliver the young woman’s child.


There’s a superb scene where Victoria takes a bottle out of Bronson’s hand and smashes it against a wall. She uses the cut glass like a weapon to ensure his cooperation. She’s tough and means it. Bronson quickly understands that Victoria Barkley is not a lady you mess with or double cross.
 

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“Boy into Man” — January 16, 1967; written by A.I. Bezzerides; directed by Paul Henreid


This one features a young Richard Dreyfuss. What I really love about this episode, and I will not give away the outcome of the plot, is that there are two separate story lines running at the same time. We see an old gold prospector (J. Pat O’Malley) as well as a teen boy (Dreyfuss) whose mother has disappeared. The stories are not at all connected in the first half, and a murder neatly brings them together. The boy has taken his two younger siblings to live with the Barkleys, and while he attempts to run away and locate their mother, he gets caught up in the murder.


At first, I thought it was going to turn out the kids were orphaned and the mother had died. But she turns up very much alive and in a most interesting way. Diane Ladd plays the mother. The scene where she and Victoria confront the boy in jail about whether he had anything to do with the killing is excellent.
 

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“A Noose Is Waiting” — November 13, 1967; written by Arthur Browne Jr.; directed by Joe Mazzuca


In this episode, Bradford Dillman guest stars as a deranged doctor who kidnaps and tries to kill Audra (Linda Evans). There are some rather spooky scenes in the fourth act that are obviously inspired by Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. And of course, it goes without saying that Dillman is channeling Norman Bates during the story. Dillman had played a slightly different but equally troubled man involved with Audra back in season 2’s ‘Day of the Comet.’ He’s a pro at these kinds of roles, where his character is basically tormented and experiences great mental anguish.


What makes this plot work so well is the way the story builds. Initially, there are scenes with Victoria Barkley coming down with pneumonia. Audra takes her to see the new doctor in town, where a series of grisly murders have been occurring. Later Victoria’s health takes a turn for the worse, and Dillman goes out to the ranch to treat her. At this point we get a clearer sense of how psychotic he is. He nearly suffocates her with a pillow, until he decides that harming Audra would harm Victoria and the rest of the Barkleys more. It would cause prolonged suffering for them. He is doing all this to exact vengeance on the people he blames for his father’s death years earlier.


Pieces of the backstory are carefully revealed through voice-overs. Dillman’s character remembers problems experienced by his father and mother after several bad business deals. He was an impressionable boy and internalized all their pain, and it became a burden which he carried with him into adulthood. We can’t help but feel sorry for him. Audra’s brothers will come to her rescue at the end, but nobody will be able to save a man who is too far gone.

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Lou Grant (1977-1982)

 

In the fall of 1977 Ed Asner transferred his popular character fromThe Mary Tyler Moore Show over to an hour-long format that was substantially more dramatic.

 

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“Boomerang” — January 19, 1981; written by Steve Kline; directed by Alexander Singer

This offering contains some very noteworthy scenes. The beginning where a man dies because of faulty equipment sets the story in motion. It seems that substandard products are being dumped on developing nations, and it comes at the risk of endangering those populations. I learned a lot watching this episode, and it didn’t surprise me that certain products like contraceptives were not allowed in the U.S market but sold overseas with the U.S. government’s knowledge, and in some cases, assistance. The more I think about it, this is a real gutsy episode. It challenges the way our government looks the other way when it comes to turning a profit overseas. Those kinds of things are still happening years later. One of my favorite scenes in this episode is when Mrs. Pynchon (Nancy Marchand) stops drinking her coffee because she says that the coffee beans have probably been sprayed with unsafe pesticides from American companies that are not allowed to be used in the U.S. The scene points to how domestic and foreign policies should work in tandem.

 

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“Execution” — November 9, 1981; written by April Smith; directed by Burt Brinckerhoff

I don’t know how many women have been executed in California, but we get a sense of the individual circumstances surrounding a woman like the one featured in this episode. Having Rossi (Robert Walden) get emotionally attached to her makes it that much more real. She’s scheduled to die, and she does die at the end, but April Smith’s script is a nail biter and you keep thinking she will be granted a stay of execution and somehow live…it’s truly suspenseful television. What I think Smith does well, as she has in other stories, is plant little revelations about the character’s life and what probably led to this outcome. For instance, we learn about the girl’s relationship to the other killer, her boyfriend (sort of like Bonnie & Clyde) and we learn about her mother and how she ran away from home and was raped as a teen. Of course, these events do not excuse her criminal misdeeds, and Lou as the gruff bad guy in this episode, represents the other side that is clamoring for justice, which might really be code for revenge. Robert Walden does a great job in this episode and so does Christopher Cazenove as a slick British reporter. My only quibble is that when Billie goes to interview the girl’s mother she asks questions that I think would’ve been gone over in court and would’ve been in the transcripts of the trial.

 

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“Hometown” — November 23, 1981; written by Michelle Gallery; directed by Gene Reynolds

Michele Gallery turns in a nice script, and Ed does a great job with it. The story is rather simple, with Lou revisiting his hometown in Michigan after the death of an aunt. There are numerous odds and ends he must take care of, such as his aunt’s estate auction, the selling of the house and his own need to put the past into perspective. He also meets the girl he let get away (superbly portrayed by Georgann Johnson). And he gets caught up in the town’s problems when a factory that happens to be the major source of jobs and income faces being shut down. The story of a dying small town is as relevant today as it was when the episode was produced. But I think what makes Gallery’s script so good is that she shows how these events reverberate through the town and how all its people, including its many generations, are affected. The music that is used when Lou first arrives and especially when he leaves at the end really helps convey a sense of nostalgia AND importance.

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Simon & Simon (1981-1989)

 

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“Little Boy Dead” — March 10, 1988; written by Fred McKnight; directed by Vincent McEveety

There’s very little humor in this episode, and nearly all the drama centers on Lieutenant Abigail Marsh after she shoots a 12 year old in a run-down part of town. The Simon brothers and their mom support Abby through the grueling ordeal that follows, with Rick and A.J. helping to clear Abby’s name. But for a while, things don’t look too good.

 

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The trouble has occurred because Abby chased a suspect into an apartment building after a nearby liquor store had been robbed. As she turned a corner and looked upstairs, the suspect’s gun was being aimed directly at her. Abby ended up shooting and killing the person holding the gun, who was not the suspect, but instead a young boy. Of course, the suspect had given the gun to the kid, but it becomes a matter of proving it.

 

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Proving it is harder than they realize, when most of the people in the apartment building refuse to step forward. Abby goes through a lot of turmoil; she is placed on suspension and ordered by the department to undergo counseling. She just wants to leave San Diego and be with her family in Colorado; during this process, she realizes the Simons are her family, too. A break in the case finally occurs when an older woman named Bessie Copland (Maidie Norman in her last screen appearance) calls A.J. with the intention of ratting on the killer. But the killer is there and offs her before his identity can be revealed.

It’s up to another woman, the mother of the killed boy, to right the wrongs. She is portrayed by Joan Pringle who does an extraordinary job with a tough role. She is supposed to be grieving the loss of her son but conflicted about loyalties in the ghetto. The final scene where she takes the law into her own hands is powerful, and the episode ends on a very serious note because of it.

 

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“Sudden Storm” — March 17, 1988; written and directed by David Moessinger

This episode gives viewers a lot to ponder– and I believe this is what good television does. It uses a very tragic situation and offers insights into the show’s main characters. And as the final shot indicates, this is a close family unit and any pain that one of them experiences, they all experience together. They suffer together, and ultimately they heal together.

 

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The plot focuses on catching an unknown assailant who has entered Cecilia’s home one stormy night. After turning the lights off, he enters through a kitchen window, uses a pillow to cover Cecilia’s face, then assaults her. The rape scene is brief and is intercut with the Simon boys on separate dates. Abby Marsh is having dinner with A.J., who gets a call from his mother and quickly learns she’s in distress. The scenes that follow, where A.J. and Rick comprehend what has happened, and they see Cecilia in her hospital room after she’s been examined, are simple but intense. All of the leads do a stellar job portraying the aftermath.

 

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But the episode is more than just a story about a violent physical act. It’s also a mystery, because they have to find out who the culprit actually was. I thought it was excellent the way David Moessinger, the scriptwriter and director, set Rick and A.J. both up on a path of vengeance. Parallels are drawn between their actions and lynchings. At one point, Abby tells them about an officer whose daughter was raped– a man who killed a suspect shortly before the actual attacker stepped forward to confess.

So we have a mystery about the rapist’s identity going on, but we also have Cecilia’s two sons attempting to find “evidence” against two separate men they think might have been responsible for terrorizing her– a handyman with a history of mental illness (A.J.’s suspect of choice); and a chiropractor who’s a frequent date of Cecilia’s (Rick’s suspect of choice). What’s interesting is they are both wrong; and we’re told it’s a third person they know– someone they never would ever have suspected.

 

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Amen (1986-1991)

 

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“The Morning After” — October 11, 1986; written by Peter Noah; directed by Lee Shallat Chemel

In this episode Thelma (Anna Maria Horsford) cooks duck in wine sauce, and it causes her father (Sherman Hemsley) and the reverend (Clifton Davis) to get drunk. After dinner, the reverend kisses Thelma passionately for the first time. She doesn’t realize he’s drunk and misreads the incident as the beginning of a hot new romance– which in a way it is!

 

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Davis and Horsford seem very well matched, and they get the chance to start building a relationship for these two lonely characters, even if it all starts because of a misunderstanding. Meanwhile, the Hetebrink sisters are shown assuming administrative duties at the church office. They act like catty women who find it funny that Thelma has misinterpreted the reverend’s kiss. In subsequent episodes, the sisters will be much warmer to Thelma, if not exactly towards the deacon.

 

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“Thelma Says I Do” — November 18, 1989; written by Eric Cohen & Arthur Julian; directed by Shelley Jensen

In this episode Thelma is ready to recite her vows at a fancy church wedding to Reuben. But when he passes out during the ceremony, it seems as if she may not be marrying the man of her dreams after all.

 

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This is truly a classic episode of the series. Clifton Davis gets to fall down at the altar, not once, but twice. They carry him into the office and he is spread out on a desk, where Thelma, the deacon and Reverend Crawford attempt to throttle him into regaining consciousness. Sure, it’s all a bit over the top, but it’s funny stuff and enjoyable to watch. And the episode doesn’t stop there. The next scene back at the deacon’s home shows Reuben waking up (fourteen hours later!) and Thelma is determined to have the ceremony take place at the house. Of course, the problem is that Reuben simply isn’t ready, and this leads to drastic action on Thelma’s part, who runs off and enlists in the army.

 

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“The Wedding” — February 3, 1990; written by Bill Daley, Paris Qualles & Marty Nadler; directed by Shelley Jensen

In this episode Thelma and Reuben finally tie the knot in a ceremony attended by relatives and friends of First Community Church.

 

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Considering the long wait involved, this has to be one of the more satisfying episodes of Amen. Again the deacon (Sherman Hemsley) brings Thelma (Anna Maria Horsford) up to the altar, and again, someone passes out– this time, the minister– and again, the wedding is stalled. But Thelma and Reuben do finally marry, with Reuben performing the ceremony himself. What makes the episode even better is the deacon’s surprise for the wedded couple: a group of children drummers and dancers perform at the church and lead the congregation out to the reception. Moments like these make Amen a treasure to be cherished. The show, at its best, is a successful combination of humor, spirituality and artistry.

 

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Coming up in April

 

Adeline De Walt Reynolds…the face is familiar even if the name may not be.

 

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Recommended westerns…a two-part column.

 

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Actresses and their techniques…what makes some of the ladies on screen so special?

 

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Made in the 70s and set in the 30s…one era seemed focused on another.

Film star quotables…who said what.

 

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Join me in April!

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Adeline De Walt Reynolds

 

Some screen performers are more unique than others. Adeline De Walt Reynolds is one such example. She was born in 1862 and lived until one month before her 99th birthday. Her first screen role occurred when she was 79– it was in MGM’s comedy COME LIVE WITH ME where she played James Stewart’s grandmother.

 

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Adeline was no stranger to show biz. Her husband had been a vaudeville juggler, but when he died in 1905, Adeline suddenly found herself raising four children with no money. Then a year later the big San Francisco earthquake struck. Somehow she had a survivor’s instinct and the family made it through difficult times.

 

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After her children had been raised, Adeline relocated to the Los Angeles area. She decided to get a college degree; so in 1926, when she was 64, she became one of the most mature freshmen ever to enter the University of California. She graduated at the age of 70, earning a B.A. degree. Several years later she began her acting career in Hollywood.

 

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In addition to the James Stewart movie, she also had a memorable role in GOING MY WAY. In the film she played Barry Fitzgerald’s elderly mother. She also appeared as Madame Zimba in SON OF DRACULA. Other hit films included STARS IN MY CROWN, where she was cast as Granny Gailbraith; KIM in which she was seen as an old maharanee; and she even worked with Tyrone Power in PONY SOLDIER. She portrayed an elderly native woman that time around.

 

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In the 1950s she had many small roles on classic television series. She turned up in episodes of Have Gun Will Travel and Peter Gunn. Amazingly she kept working until her 98th year, and her last credit was in a 1960 episode of Playhouse 90. She had a late start as an actress yet managed to accomplish so much. Interesting to think a gal born during the Civil War who had been through everything, could leave her mark in movies and television.

 

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Adeline De Walt Reynolds

 

Some screen performers are more unique than others. Adeline De Walt Reynolds is one such example. She was born in 1862 and lived until one month before her 99th birthday. Her first screen role occurred when she was 79– it was in MGM’s comedy COME LIVE WITH ME where she played James Stewart’s grandmother.

 

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-8-11-17-pm.png

 

Adeline was no stranger to show biz. Her husband had been a vaudeville juggler, but when he died in 1905, Adeline suddenly found herself raising four children with no money. Then a year later the big San Francisco earthquake struck. Somehow she had a survivor’s instinct and the family made it through difficult times.

 

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After her children had been raised, Adeline relocated to the Los Angeles area. She decided to get a college degree; so in 1926, when she was 64, she became one of the most mature freshmen ever to enter the University of California. She graduated at the age of 70, earning a B.A. degree. Several years later she began her acting career in Hollywood.

 

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In addition to the James Stewart movie, she also had a memorable role in GOING MY WAY. In the film she played Barry Fitzgerald’s elderly mother. She also appeared as Madame Zimba in SON OF DRACULA. Other hit films included STARS IN MY CROWN, where she was cast as Granny Gailbraith; KIM in which she was seen as an old maharanee; and she even worked with Tyrone Power in PONY SOLDIER. She portrayed an elderly native woman that time around.

 

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In the 1950s she had many small roles on classic television series. She turned up in episodes of Have Gun Will Travel and Peter Gunn. Amazingly she kept working until her 98th year, and her last credit was in a 1960 episode of Playhouse 90. She had a late start as an actress yet managed to accomplish so much. Interesting to think a gal born during the Civil War who had been through everything, could leave her mark in movies and television.

 

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Where do you find them?!

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Where do you find them?!

 

Great question, Ray. LOL Actually I had watched her in an episode of Peter Gunn not long ago. And she just had such a unique screen presence. When I started researching her life, I remembered her from the Jimmy Stewart picture and from GOING MY WAY.

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Coming up in April

 

Made in the 70s and set in the 30s…one era seemed focused on another.

 

 

Oh, I can save you time on that one now:  After Bonnie & Clyde (which wanted to be "youthful rebellion" in the 60's), it hit a sudden chord with Nixon-era fans that with our malaise, unemployment and inflation, we might just as well BE in the Great 30's Depression.

Which is why Paper Moon, The Sting, etc., created a cottage industry for either the glorious myths of Dillinger gangsters racing their bank-robbery getaways through the Dust Bowl, or the idea of 30's con-men outwitting the Depression for a few quick bucks on the side, and sticking it to authority.  (Especially the authority 70's moviegoers were stuck with.)

 

At the same time, the complaints against gritty 70's Golden Age movies being too harsh and R-rated brought up a silent-majority sentiment for what "old-fashioned entertainment" 30's movies must have been like (that's "must have" because nobody really watched them on local-station late shows), and there was a love-hate relationship with homaging gangster films, Bogart detectives, westerns and musicals as too cliche'-silly, squeaky-clean and Hays-Code virginal compared to our troubled, complex times.  (That's the era the first Mel Brooks parodies came out of.)  Chaplin, Gone With the Wind and Animal Crackers were also just coming back into the headlines, which got us to rediscover them again.

And then That's Entertainment came along in '74, and opened up the whole "Old Hollywood" floodgates, until all the "Flash Gordon/Wizard of Oz" comparisons on Star Wars in '77 found a useful outlet for them.

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Oh, I can save you time on that one now:  After Bonnie & Clyde (which wanted to be "youthful rebellion" in the 60's), it hit a sudden chord with Nixon-era fans that with our malaise, unemployment and inflation, we might just as well BE in the Great 30's Depression.

Which is why Paper Moon, The Sting, etc., created a cottage industry for either the glorious myths of Dillinger gangsters racing their bank-robbery getaways through the Dust Bowl, or the idea of 30's con-men outwitting the Depression for a few quick bucks on the side, and sticking it to authority.  (Especially the authority 70's moviegoers were stuck with.)

 

At the same time, the complaints against gritty 70's Golden Age movies being too harsh and R-rated brought up a silent-majority sentiment for what "old-fashioned entertainment" 30's movies must have been like (that's "must have" because nobody really watched them on local-station late shows), and there was a love-hate relationship with homaging gangster films, Bogart detectives, westerns and musicals as too cliche'-silly, squeaky-clean and Hays-Code virginal compared to our troubled, complex times.  (That's the era the first Mel Brooks parodies came out of.)  Chaplin, Gone With the Wind and Animal Crackers were also just coming back into the headlines, which got us to rediscover them again.

And then That's Entertainment came along in '74, and opened up the whole "Old Hollywood" floodgates, until all the "Flash Gordon/Wizard of Oz" comparisons on Star Wars in '77 found a useful outlet for them.

 

That's great, Eric. I should have had you write the column for me! Actually I didn't go that in-depth concerning the economic issues, but I looked at it more in terms of nostalgia-- and I expanded beyond film to also give examples of television programs that were in on this particular trend.

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Recommended westerns part 1

 

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BRIMSTONE (1949). Excellent cinematography, everything shimmers. Walter Brennan plays a vicious patriarch, continuing where he left off in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE. It uses all the basic genre conventions but does so with gusto. Brennan’s biographer told me the actor enjoyed making this one, and you can tell.

 

DALLAS (1950). I re-watched this one a few months ago and found the whimsical aspects of the story quite charming. Probably Gary Cooper’s best western at Warners. Ruth Roman never looked lovelier, and the story moves along without any dull stretches.

 

ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953). It was a big hit for MGM. There’s something about the pairing of Eleanor Parker and William Holden that works. John Forsythe is also quite good and doesn’t get enough credit for the films he made. The use of Ansco color and on location filming puts it over.

 

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FLAMING FEATHER (1952). A modest Paramount programmer that benefits from Sterling Hayden’s sterling performance as the hero and Victor Jory’s clever villain. Almost all of it was shot outdoors and in actual buildings, not sound stages. The climactic sequence at the end is exciting and well-choreographed.

 

THE GUNFIGHTER (1950). One of the best black-and-white westerns from Fox. Gregory Peck called it his favorite. You know his character is doomed from the start but it’s how he can’t escape his fate and must go out with dignity that makes it so remarkable.

 

GUNSIGHT RIDGE (1957). Sometimes I’m in the mood for a slower, character-driven western. This one qualifies. Joel McCrea is an excessively bland lawman but it provides a good contrast to Mark Stevens who plays a killer with soft, artistic “tendencies.”

 

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JOHNNY GUITAR (1955). Nicholas Ray’s cult western is in a category by itself. Leading lady Joan Crawford is a force of nature, and you don’t want to mess with her. Imposing characters, towering sets and Trucolor photography in the hands of a master, carried forward by the main diva and a competent group of Republic stock players.

 

THE LAST COMMAND (1955). John Wayne was the intended star but a dispute with Republic boss Herbert Yates saw the actor leave the studio and make his own version of THE ALAMO five years later. Wayne’s production tries to be grand but it’s small potatoes compared to this one. The story is told concisely with allusions to things more epic beyond the scope of what we see. It also benefits from a remarkable use of Trucolor and the casting of strong actors in supporting roles– Richard Carlson; Ernest Borgnine; Arthur Hunnicutt; and Ben Cooper.

 

Coming up: some more recommended westerns…

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Recommended westerns part 1

 

screen-shot-2017-03-25-at-5-30-11-pm.png

 

BRIMSTONE (1949). Excellent cinematography, everything shimmers. Walter Brennan plays a vicious patriarch, continuing where he left off in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE. It uses all the basic genre conventions but does so with gusto. Brennan’s biographer told me the actor enjoyed making this one, and you can tell.

 

DALLAS (1950). I re-watched this one a few months ago and found the whimsical aspects of the story quite charming. Probably Gary Cooper’s best western at Warners. Ruth Roman never looked lovelier, and the story moves along without any dull stretches.

 

ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953). It was a big hit for MGM. There’s something about the pairing of Eleanor Parker and William Holden that works. John Forsythe is also quite good and doesn’t get enough credit for the films he made. The use of Ansco color and on location filming puts it over.

 

screen-shot-2017-03-25-at-5-46-51-pm.png

 

FLAMING FEATHER (1952). A modest Paramount programmer that benefits from Sterling Hayden’s sterling performance as the hero and Victor Jory’s clever villain. Almost all of it was shot outdoors and in actual buildings, not sound stages. The climactic sequence at the end is exciting and well-choreographed.

 

THE GUNFIGHTER (1950). One of the best black-and-white westerns from Fox. Gregory Peck called it his favorite. You know his character is doomed from the start but it’s how he can’t escape his fate and must go out with dignity that makes it so remarkable.

 

GUNSIGHT RIDGE (1957). Sometimes I’m in the mood for a slower, character-driven western. This one qualifies. Joel McCrea is an excessively bland lawman but it provides a good contrast to Mark Stevens who plays a killer with soft, artistic “tendencies.”

 

screen-shot-2017-03-25-at-5-50-43-pm.png

 

JOHNNY GUITAR (1955). Nicholas Ray’s cult western is in a category by itself. Leading lady Joan Crawford is a force of nature, and you don’t want to mess with her. Imposing characters, towering sets and Trucolor photography in the hands of a master, carried forward by the main diva and a competent group of Republic stock players.

 

THE LAST COMMAND (1955). John Wayne was the intended star but a dispute with Republic boss Herbert Yates saw the actor leave the studio and make his own version of THE ALAMO five years later. Wayne’s production tries to be grand but it’s small potatoes compared to this one. The story is told concisely with allusions to things more epic beyond the scope of what we see. It also benefits from a remarkable use of Trucolor and the casting of strong actors in supporting roles– Richard Carlson; Ernest Borgnine; Arthur Hunnicutt; and Ben Cooper.

 

Coming up: some more recommended westerns…

 

Great selection, "Escape from Fort Bravo" should be a better-known film and Joan Crawford and Ben Cooper should've starred together in a Western.

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Great selection, "Escape from Fort Bravo" should be a better-known film and Joan Crawford and Ben Cooper should've starred together in a Western.

 

Crawford and Cooper were together in a western;   Johnny Guitar.    Who can forget Cooper as Turkey Ralston.  

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Recommended westerns part 2

 

More can’t-miss classics:

 

LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL (1959). The lead actors (Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn) both costarred in LUST FOR LIFE, a completely different type of film. John Sturges’ direction is solid; there are good supporting turns from Carolyn Jones and Earl Holliman; and Hal Wallis’ top-notch production values make it a pleasure to watch.

 

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THE LONG RIDERS (1980). It was a labor of love for director Walter Hill.  The Keach brothers (Stacy & James) play the James brothers (Frank & Jesse). They’re joined by other acting bros– the Quaids (Randy & Dennis) as Clell & Ed Miller; the Carradines (David, Keith & Robert) as Cole, Jim & Bob Younger; and the Guests (Christopher & Nicholas) as Charley & Robert Ford. Yes, nepotism is alive and well in Hollywood, but sometimes it leads to more authentic performances.

 

PASSAGE WEST (1951). I love the interplay between John Payne and Dennis O’Keefe– it works so well. The script is properly structured– each act takes us to a new level of development with the characters on their journey. It’s episodic, almost like three short films connected to make one very interesting longer picture.

 

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THE SHOOTIST (1976). I’ve corresponded a few times with the son of Glendon Swarthout who wrote the original story. As I read the novelette, I could see what the filmmakers had done to make it more cinematic but I think they left some of the best parts out. Everyone talks about it being Duke’s last picture so the focus is on him. But when I read the story I realized how Lauren Bacall made her character stronger on screen than she was on the printed page. Bacall deserves a lot more praise for her work in this picture.

 

3:10 TO YUMA (1957). The remake is a lot more violent and not necessarily better. It’s a character-driven piece about two very different men on the same journey because of necessity. I admire Van Heflin’s performance. He takes what would ordinarily be a dull good-guy character and turns him into a fascinating and powerfully complex individual. His subtle work overtakes the scene-stealing bad guy (Glenn Ford).

 

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TRACK OF THE CAT (1954). John Wayne’s company produced it, but Robert Mitchum stars. It seems unusually stage bound, but when you have people like Beulah Bondi and Teresa Wright in supporting roles, you don’t notice how confined the action might be. And even if you do, I think it helps convey how claustrophobic life is in their remote environment. The symbolism of the cat and the bleakness of the story have to be appreciated.

 

WELCOME TO HARD TIMES (1967). It was intended as a TV movie which seems hard to believe because of the excessive gore, especially for television of the 1960s. Aldo Ray is over the top as a menacing brute; and Henry Fonda goes to the other extreme as a sweet-natured hero. But the ideas in the screenplay make us think about the meaning of a sometimes meaningless existence out in the middle of nowhere.

 

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WYOMING (1947). Another great Republic western. Bill Elliott plays a rancher who brings a European wife (Vera Ralston) and her grandmother (Madame Ouspenskaya) to the American west. The quieter domestic moments are balanced by strong outdoor action sequences. It’s a delicate yet rugged western. The black-and-white cinematography is outstanding.

 

YELLOW SKY (1948). A Fox western that pairs Gregory Peck with Anne Baxter. It’s sort of the opposite of THE GUNFIGHTER. This time we have an outlaw who reforms and is saved by love. It has a feel-good ending, and who doesn’t want to feel good.

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Actresses and their techniques

 

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JULIE HARRIS looked at all the elements, then boiled it down to see what would work and what wouldn’t work. Even when she had a role that was ‘off,’ she brought a greater truth to the situation. She put her unique stamp on roles, regardless of the genre. She never served the plot. She used the plot to gain insights about character and make us relate to her and what her character was going through. I can never tell if Julie Harris brought something from her own life into the roles she played, or if Julie Harris took something from each role and applied it to her own real life.

 

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JEAN ARTHUR had to be the sweetest movie star of all time. Painfully shy in real life, and someone who didn’t like to look at herself in the mirror, Jean radiated a fragile warmth on screen. She also had a knack for picking good material, good directors and good costars. She made more classic films than most.

 

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JEAN HARLOW took a monologue and turned it into a long run-on sentence. Then she delivered it in one breath. She would pivot, look at her costar and get ready for the next rapid-fire delivery. At the same time, she used her mind to absorb the plight of the character and exaggerate it for comic effect. She must’ve had attention deficit disorder, way before it was ever diagnosed in people.

 

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MARION DAVIES was unrivaled in terms of concentration. She lived inside the world of each of her characters. A lot of actors break ‘the fourth wall.’ They do it consciously when they look at the director (because they think the camera is not on them); or unconsciously, because they are aware of the mechanics of storytelling, and are not fully experiencing the story from the character’s point of view. But with Marion, there was a total suspension of outside reality, in an effort to concentrate on make-believe and turn it into something real.

 

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HELEN HAYES did scorching pre-code roles early in her screen career. Later she graduated to neurotic women in social message dramas. Then in the last phase of her career, she played warm character parts. It doesn’t matter what stage of Helen Hayes’ career you look at, because she was consistently good through the years. She used the hysterics of the plot to convey a real, subtle moment of understanding for the character. She would bring it up full-throttle, then she slowly lowered the boom.

 

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LUISE RAINER brought multiple realities to the screen. She liked to combine the ideas of past writers and directors and superimpose it on to her current performance. She was very deliberate in this process, and earned two Oscars for her efforts. In an episode of The Love Boat where she plays a woman and her doppelgänger, you can see how she creates a distinct philosophy for each of her characters.

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Actresses and their techniques

 

screen-shot-2017-03-25-at-6-45-08-pm.png

 

JULIE HARRIS looked at all the elements, then boiled it down to see what would work and what wouldn’t work. Even when she had a role that was ‘off,’ she brought a greater truth to the situation. She put her unique stamp on roles, regardless of the genre. She never served the plot. She used the plot to gain insights about character and make us relate to her and what her character was going through. I can never tell if Julie Harris brought something from her own life into the roles she played, or if Julie Harris took something from each role and applied it to her own real life.

 

screen-shot-2017-03-25-at-6-49-51-pm.png

 

JEAN ARTHUR had to be the sweetest movie star of all time. Painfully shy in real life, and someone who didn’t like to look at herself in the mirror, Jean radiated a fragile warmth on screen. She also had a knack for picking good material, good directors and good costars. She made more classic films than most.

 

screen-shot-2017-03-25-at-6-52-48-pm.png

 

JEAN HARLOW took a monologue and turned it into a long run-on sentence. Then she delivered it in one breath. She would pivot, look at her costar and get ready for the next rapid-fire delivery. At the same time, she used her mind to absorb the plight of the character and exaggerate it for comic effect. She must’ve had attention deficit disorder, way before it was ever diagnosed in people.

 

screen-shot-2017-03-25-at-6-55-28-pm.png

 

MARION DAVIES was unrivaled in terms of concentration. She lived inside the world of each of her characters. A lot of actors break ‘the fourth wall.’ They do it consciously when they look at the director (because they think the camera is not on them); or unconsciously, because they are aware of the mechanics of storytelling, and are not fully experiencing the story from the character’s point of view. But with Marion, there was a total suspension of outside reality, in an effort to concentrate on make-believe and turn it into something real.

 

screen-shot-2017-03-25-at-6-47-31-pm1.pn

 

HELEN HAYES did scorching pre-code roles early in her screen career. Later she graduated to neurotic women in social message dramas. Then in the last phase of her career, she played warm character parts. It doesn’t matter what stage of Helen Hayes’ career you look at, because she was consistently good through the years. She used the hysterics of the plot to convey a real, subtle moment of understanding for the character. She would bring it up full-throttle, then she slowly lowered the boom.

 

screen-shot-2017-03-25-at-6-46-40-pm.png

 

LUISE RAINER brought multiple realities to the screen. She liked to combine the ideas of past writers and directors and superimpose it on to her current performance. She was very deliberate in this process, and earned two Oscars for her efforts. In an episode of The Love Boat where she plays a woman and her doppelgänger, you can see how she creates a distinct philosophy for each of her characters.

 

Each of these stars had a unique personality.

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Each of these stars had a unique personality.

 

And a certain type of discipline, when it came to building the characters they played. For this column I wanted to highlight actresses that seemed to almost over-prepare for their roles. Kim Stanley's another one I could've included.

 

My theory about Marion Davies (and I could be all wrong about her) is that she was inhabiting make-believe so completely, because she and Hearst did elaborate masquerades with guests at their parties. So she had a lot of practice with this sort of thing. And I have a feeling when she told her daughter bedtime stories she went out of her way to make them as real as possible to capture her daughter's imagination. She wasn't going to attempt a story (even a poorly scripted one) unless she could make it fully come to life. A lot of actresses give up at some point, but I never feel she does. She goes all the way with it.

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Made in the 70s and set in the 30s

 

Recently I watched THE OTHER, a 1972 horror film from 20th Century Fox. It’s set on a New England farm in 1935. Usually period pictures have anachronisms in them, but this one isn’t too bad. I did think they were trying a little too hard, though, with some of the set design inside the farm house. We just had to hear radios tuned to 30s style big band music in the background. And we just had to see someone reading a newspaper that had a headline about Charles Lindbergh.

 

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The movie made me think about how filmmakers of the 70s were focused on stories about the Depression, especially stories that involved rural folks. If we examine films made in 1935, Hollywood did not seem to care about things that happened 37 years earlier in 1898. There was no wave of nostalgia where they were trying to go back and capture America as it had existed four decades earlier. But in the 70s, this was a very prevalent trend.

 

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Director Curtis Harrington made a few movies during the 70s that were set in the 30s– WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? (1971) and RUBY (1977) come to mind. George Roy Hill’s caper film THE STING is said to occur in September 1936. Elia Kazan’s last film THE LAST TYCOON takes place in the 30s, and so does Roger Corman’s BLOODY MAMA.

 

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On television the trend continued with The Waltons, which was based on Earl Hamner’s recollections of growing up in Virginia during the hard times of the Depression. In the fall of 1974 CBS and Paramount television aired Paper Moon, inspired by the hit movie– a young Jodie Foster took over Tatum O’Neal’s role. It only lasted for 13 episodes.

 

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And in 1978, after her role on Maude had ended, producer Norman Lear gave Rue McClanahan her own sitcom. It was called Apple Pieand was supposed to remind audiences of the deliciously funny days of the 1930s. But it was cancelled after just two weeks when audiences took a bite and didn’t care for the flavor of a forty year old pastry. Some trends in Hollywood go stale.

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Film star quotables

 

Answers are below:


1. Which actress declared: “How can a motion picture reflect real life when it is made by people who are living artificial lives?”
 

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2. Who said this about Leslie Howard: “I got on very well with him, and, luckily, he didn’t want to go to bed with me, as he did with quite a few people he worked with.”
 

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3. A formerly closeted actor was quoted as saying: “I still don’t look at it as if I’ve come out. Coming out, what does that mean? What I’m concerned about is people as human beings. Are you a decent human being? What are you contributing? That’s important.”
 

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4. When referring to his last picture in the franchise, a Bond star was quoted as saying “I was only about four hundred years too old for the part.” Who couldn’t find the Fountain of Youth?
 

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5. An actress who didn’t have kids in real life remarked: “Most of the time I played mothers. That’s acting!” Name the individual who said this.
 

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6. “I never met a man who didn’t like dad.” 
 

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7. One actress liked being known for her outrageous reputation. “Say anything about me, dahling, as long as it isn’t boring.” 
 

 

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Coming up in May

 

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The night Mrs. Crosbie shot her lover dead…and got away with it.
 

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Bad acting…makes you appreciate good acting.
 

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Do you mask what you feel?…how characters must face what’s inside.
 

screen-shot-2017-04-12-at-12-09-22-pm1.p


More observations from Pauline Kael…her comments on several actresses of the ’30s.
 

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Jeanette MacDonald’s husband…life with Gene Raymond.
 

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Join me in May!

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