Sunday, June 03, 2007

Some Recent Viewings

THE MAN WHO WOULDN'T DIE (1942)
The second of the four movies included in 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's MICHAEL SHAYNE MYSTERIES VOLUME 1 collection, this snappy little number was actually the fifth of seven Fox B-mysteries starring Lloyd Nolan as Brett Halliday's "keyhole dick" hero. (After an interim of a few years, the character was resurrected at PRC in the person of Hugh Beaumont, of all people.) Marjorie Weaver, Nolan's leading lady in the series opener MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, returns as the daughter of a senator under investigation who hires Shayne to pose as her husband to unmask a "ghost" who goes around firing bullets into her bedroom at night. Essentially an "old dark house" thriller in then-contemporary guise (admiring a sunken marble bathtub in his room, Shayne quips, "Did DeMille have something to do with that?"), the movie has some superbly creepy atmospherics, a fun supporting cast (Billy Bevan, Olin Howland, Jeff Corey), and a beautifully executed opening sequence that runs a full three minutes without dialogue.
"Ozzie's Triple Banana Surprise" (1957)
The first family-authorized DVD release of THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE & HARRIET was recently released as a self-styled "BEST OF." As much as I'd love to endorse it (and I do recommend it to the show's fans), it's hardly all that it claims to be -- it emphasizes the later college-and law office-set episodes featuring the Nelson sons, skimping on the early episodes featuring Ozzie Nelson. For an essential core sampling of the real "Best of OZZIE & HARRIET, check out Mill Creek's 38-episode FUN WITH OZZIE AND HARRIET, which offers such must-see classics as "A Night with Hamlet" (with guest John Carradine) and "Tutti Frutti Ice Cream," an obsessive-compulsive gem in which Ozzie Nelson embarks on a nighttime quest to re-experience the forgotten taste of a favorite dessert of yesteryear. Even more extraordinary is this surrealist masterpiece, co-scripted by future GREEN ACRES scribe Jay Sommers, in which Ozzie's consumption of two Triple Banana Surprises at the malt shop inspires a sleepless night of adventures that make Abbott & Costello's "Who's On First?" routine seem lucid and linear. This single episode is worth the cost of the set, which gives you so much more -- and most of the programs include the original commercials for products like Kodak cameras, Hotpoint dishwashers (hawked by Mary Tyler Moore as "Happy Hotpoint") and Prophylactic Toothpaste (you heard me). How's the quality? Uneven, but generally as good as many of these episodes looked during their 1980s Disney Channel run.
"The Night of the Golden Cobra" (1966)
I was never a devotée of THE WILD WILD WEST when it was on the air, but David J. Schow's writing about the show for VW has been making a convert of me. In preparation for editing a forthcoming VW feature about the second season of TWWW, I watched this recommended episode without knowing beforehand that its Special Guest Star was Boris Karloff! The master of menace is in fine form as Dr. Singh, garbed in flowery silks and satins, and '50s genre heroine Audrey Dalton is on hand as his daughter. It amazes me how Robert Conrad, wearing a green suit that appears to be painted on him, could walk in such outfits without feeling sudden breezes, much less do his own stunts. The sitar-spotlighting score of this episode is unusual for its time and adds nicely to its exoticism.
And this week's disappointment:
Directed by Brian W. Cook -- Stanley Kubrick's first AD on every film from BARRY LYNDON to EYES WIDE SHUT -- this is a black comedy about the late Alan Conway, a flamboyantly gay British nutter who successfully impersonated Kubrick as a ticket to free meals and travel in the 1990s. (Kubrick had been out of the limelight for so long during this period, such a masquerade was actually possible, though Conway looked nothing like the great filmmaker.) The movie begins well, juxtaposing squalid scenes from Conway's life and the wake of his mischief with familiar classical cues from Kubrick's oeuvre, in ways that are not only hilarious but thematically mirroring as they point up the vast (unperceived) gulf between the real artist and the con artist. As Conway, John Malkovich is a somewhat sunnier shade of his usual Persian cat self, with a slippery accent that changes practically from scene to scene. At one point, "Conway" references Malkovich as an actor he is considering hiring for his next movie, making Cook's film a kissing cousin to the metafiction of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. Scripted by Anthony Frewin (Kubrick's former personal assistant), it's a clever but rudderless time-waster with fun moments, some delightful dialogue, but otherwise lacking in momentum, variety, and steerage. Ending abruptly with a crawl about Conway's fate, it doesn't amount to much more than the conventional wisdom that everybody is some sort of fake, at least while climbing the rungs of show business.

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