A Bittersweet Tour Through Yesterday

Back in the 1960s, resorts in the Poconos attracted fun-seeking young marrieds and celebrities, sort of an alternate Catskills. Numerous fancy schmantzy hotels & spas dotted the landscape.

And now, many of them are abandoned ghost resorts. Lance Longwell of Travel Addicts has a nice article about a lot of the abandoned resorts here – check it out for background and then…

Check out this great piece on dcist by photographer Pablo Iglesias Maurer where he took old matchbook cover photos and postcards of the resorts in their heyday (like the pic above) and then took current-day photos of the same locations from the same angles, cross-fading them online. It’s fascinating and depressing all at once, watching the slick resort locales dissolve into graffiti-laden ruin.

Then for more wonderful photography of the abandoned sites, Seph Lawless’ work can be found here in some clickable galleries.

I’d like to think the ghosts of Morty Gunty and Tubby Boots are still putting on shows in those places… but it all has an eerie “The Shining” vibe to it, don’t it?

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DVR Theater: Don’t Trust Anyone Edition

If I’m watching a movie where the characters keep messing with each others’ minds, I should be enjoying the experience of having my own mind messed with.

I appreciate a movie that can fool me. I’m always trying to outguess them, either solving the mystery halfway through or even predicting a gag here and there.

So the first time through movies like Sleuth or The Usual Suspects or The Last of Sheila are a great joy – because there’s nothing I respect more than the movie that can fool me. Granted, Sleuth & Sheila fooled me when I was a kid and Usual Suspects almost fooled me… yeah, that’s right. There’s a very strong tell about halfway through the movie.

Sometimes the tell can be the casting, if you’re up on the inside jokes. That’s what gave away Dead Again to me.

Games (1967) stars James Caan and Katherine Ross as a rich young art collecting NYC couple who enjoy playing scary practical jokes on people. Simone Signoret inserts herself into their lives and joins in. And then these punkings continue until they get very much out of hand, involving the murder of a creepy grocery boy (Don Stroud), paranoia and the occult.

BUT as with Dead Again, I figured the ending because of the tell. Still not a bad film about no one trusting each other. The one thing that made me doubt the (correct) solution I’d figured about halfway in was a lack of what I felt was a reasonable motive. When the motive was revealed, it still really didn’t add up. I can’t say more without major spoilers, sorry.

Well, maybe one major spoiler for anyone who remembers Simone Signoret in the wonderful French film Diabolique.  Actually, just making the connection is spoiler enough.

Also – an excellent TV remake of Dialbolique starring Joan Hackett, Tuesday Weld (in the Signoret role) and Sam Waterson is on youtube. Reflections of Murder, directed by John Badham. Thumbs up!

Onwards to a very relaxed & realistic Cold War spy drama, a purposeful flipside to the gadget-and-superheroesque Bond/Flint/Matt Helm type stuff filling screens around the same time – The Quiller Memorandum from 1966 features George Segal as an American operative put to work by Alex Guinness in West Berlin to smoke out a nest o’Nazis led by Max Von Sydow while getting involved with eye candy Senta Berger. The striking thing in this one is just how bad Segal is at his job – he gets captured easily, finds himself at the mercy of his enemies repeatedly, and totally misreads the people around him, both friend and foe. The pacing is slow, deliberately, and the affect of everyone is extremely methodical and calm. The screenplay by Harold Pinter is terse, intelligent and direct. I’m so used to seeing Segal in comedy that he seemed miscast, although that makes him the perfect spy, I guess. No one would suspect him.

This one sits on the Cold War spy movie scale as less depressing than The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and certainly less ridiculous and silly than ANY of the Bond movies. It’s also better than the Harry Palmer series, since it manages to depict the tedium of intelligence work without taking the self-hatred of the main character so far as to make the audience wonder why they should care either. The cast is great, as well as some wonderful locations in West Berlin used well. And while not approaching the total paranoid nihilism of 1970s spy thrillers like Three Days Of The Condor, Quiller creates a similar cynical atmosphere where our central character really can’t trust anyone around him.

So a thumbs up to Quiller, and a meh to Games, I guess.

Summer Of Movies: Bedtime Story (1964)

I play hooky from writing by watching more and more old movies. And the combo of whatever speed bumps I’ve hit while working on Wagstaff 3 and the discovery of WAY too many old noirs and the like on youtube have produced a lot of regular movie viewing the past few weeks.

I also needed to screen a bunch of stuff to evaluate for classes.

So I’ll begin a run down of what I’ve viewed so far, with some brief reviews and commentary.

I started with Bedtime Story from 1964, the original version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. David Niven and Marlon Brando play the roles that’d be redone as Michael Caine and Steve Martin, while Shirley Jones gets to play the mark that’d be redone with Glenn Headley. And redone better, actually – in the original, Jones is basically the innocent, whose honest love reforms the Brando character. Changing her to another con artist in the remake is a rare example of a story change in a remake that improves on the original. The character change for Headley is altogether brilliant – a way to basically redo the original set-up, where the Niven/Caine and Brando/Martin characters have their private challenge to see who can get rid of the other by taking Jones/Headley for a sap. We can have all the same gags where Brando/Martin pretends to be the soldier with psychological paralysis and Niven/Caine swoops in pretending to be the psychiatrist and so forth, but now our memory of the entire story arc changes when we find out that Headley was not the sappy mark but instead a superior con artist playing both of them (and us) at the same time. I kept waiting for that in the original, but instead got the standard character-reformed ending common to older films.

The original is still fairly funny. Niven is a natural, and Brando isn’t too bad at comedy.  This was post-Mutiny on the Bounty, when Brando’s star power had waned and his reputation for being difficult started to affect his casting, but I suspected he only did a little movie like this only to work with Niven, possibly bed down with some of the babe extras playing other marks, and a little research proved me right, at least on the Niven part. Jerry Lewis’ theory on Brando (and actors in general) was that directors that worked well understood how to confer with the inner “troubled child” inside every actor – Kazan could confer with it, but Lewis Milestone could not. Watch Hearts of Darkness to see Coppola deal with it, or perhaps, lose the ability he once had during The Godfather. Or even better, watch Lost Soul, a fascinating 2014 documentary on Richard Stanley’s failure to complete the awful Island of Dr. Moreau remake. Brando’s sabotage of the film seems to be an act of revenge in defense of Stanley once he had been fired. Val Kilmer’s sabotage was more in defiance of Stanley’s authority on set to begin with. Two great docs on moviemaking, and windows into the later career of Brando, anyway.

Brando took direction here, however. And from Ralph Levy, a longtime TV director. This was his only feature. He went back to episodic TV right afterwards. And this was back in the days where television people were routinely looked down upon like minor leaguers in the entertainment field.

And now we see how important the Niven factor may have been, eh?

For some reason this one never turns up on TV or TCM and I’d never seen it. But you can find it on youtube, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

And yes, I know it’s presently being remade AGAIN with the STARTLINGLY ORIGINAL IDEA of SWITCHING THE GENDERS!!!!!

OMIGOD!!!! THAT’S NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE!!!! Pat yourselves on the back for that one, Hollywood!

And yes, let’s make sure we follow save-the-cat/McKee story structure like it’s Holy writ, people.

And yes, make sure to insert current pop culture catch-phrases, buzzwords and the like.

And to run the table: keeping in line with the current trend in Hollywood comedies, let’s go totally overboard on bathroom humor, body excretions, and other overused and trite attempts at gross-out humor.

Oh dear GOD, will it most certainly SUCK.

Hollywood actually got a remake correct back in 1988, I guess they couldn’t just let it be. Gotta make sure all remakes are unnecessary and pointless somehow. Just another day at the office.

Meh. The more I think about what will most certainly be in the upcoming re-remake, the more I like the simplicity of the original, and the silliness of the first remake.

When do we get the gender swapped version of Victor/Victoria? I think we will have reached the singularity by then.

 

 

 

Right Next To The Dog Faced Boy

It might be the 23rd century, thousands of light years from Earth, but I love that Kirk packs his things in a clunky American Tourister model, circa 1966.

I knew they were tough when gorillas bashed them around, but who knew they’d last the centuries?

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m a smartass Trek nerd. Maybe I should have been a mechanic. Then I could treat little tin Gods like you…

Here’s director Ralph Senensky on the episode I’m talkin’ ’bout…

It’s also one of my favorite closing scenes, and lines, of any of the series. Senensky directed nearly all the episodes where Spock (or Nimoy) got to show emotion, too. They both handled it well.

Khan Is Tired Of Your Shit

You TASK him….

Face it, you’re screwed. He’s got five times your strength, can quote Milton and Melville, and also has this little bastard in the wings waiting for you.

Ugh…. just drop them off on Ceti Alpha 5 and wait for its orbit to shift. Then, fuck ’em. You’ve got bigger things to think about, you know?

Wonderful Behind The Scenes TV Stories From Prolific Director Ralph Senensky

I’d forgotten that Don Rickles once played a villain on The Wild Wild West, and rewatched that episode today. And then in looking up some stuff about it online, hoping to find perhaps links to outtakes and blooper reels where he became Don Rickles and commented on the mystical evil magician dialogue he’d been given or on Robert Conrad and Ross Martin, I came across this behind-the-scenes story on the filming of the episode written by its director, Ralph Senensky.

Senensky directed TONS of television from the 1960s thru the 1980s, logging episodes of so many of yours & my favorite shows that’s there’s too many to mention here – and it turns out he’s been blogging for years on his memories of them, and has a fantastic website containing all that material, organized by show and episode.

This site is a GOLD MINE! Senensky writes beautifully about what working in television was like back in the days of my favorite old reruns. He brings to life assorted names you’d see on numerous credits of numerous shows – Gene Coon or Quinn Martin and so forth – as well as including interesting stories dealing with both the technical limits & possibilities of the industry all those years ago.  His entries on specific episodes (and check out that sidebar menu for the sheer volume of ’em) include scans of script pages with rewrites & director cues…. amazing stuff, especially for photographic memory geeks like me who can replay the episode in my mind while I’m reading.

And not just the Star Treks he did, either. I can do a lot of the others because ALL I DO IS WATCH TV.

For anyone interested in TV history, or just the old shows & stars & writers you follow in your little nerd-heart-of-hearts, this stuff is indispensable. I can’t believe I didn’t know about it until now.

To quote Spock: “Fascinating.”

Oh, and Rickles? He didn’t disappoint…. Senensky tells us that inbetween takes, he went the full Vegas act on everyone, even making Billy Barty jokes about Conrad’s height. Rickles remains my fuckin’ hero.

And it looks like Ralph Senensky celebrated his 95th birthday a week ago. Happy Birthday, Director!

 

 

It Would Have Been….Glorious

They added a new channel to my satellite, another one of the “let’s run everything in the library” old TV rerun stations.

In other words, something else I’ll be wasting time on. This one runs EVERY version of Star Trek EVERY GOD DAMN NIGHT!!!

They even run the Star Trek Saturday morning cartoon on Sunday nights! The animation is Space Ghost Coast To Coast level, but the scripts are pretty good, and lots of ’em are by original series writers.

“Heroes And Idols” also runs a ton of old cop shows and westerns, albeit during the day when I WORK FOR A LIVING, FELLA. But it’s nice to sporadically watch old reruns of Hill Street Blues again. The show manages to hold up & give me ’80s nostalgia all at once.

“Family Entertainment TV” is another one I found. They run Hart To Hart & TJ Hooker up the wazoo, along with Maude reruns, but they also run Barney Miller & Peter Gunn.

“MeTV” rounds out the pack, maintaining my Rifleman and Hawaii 5-0 interest. They’re putting all of their better sitcoms, now relegated to a late-night Sunday junkyard, into the vault, alas. I’m hoping they rotate stuff they own like Dick Van Dyke, all the MTM ’70s shows, Bilko, The Honeymooners, Get Smart and The Odd Couple into their prime time slate and finally put Andy Griffith and Hogan’s Heroes to bed for a while.

Yes, this is what I spend my time thinking about.

I’d like to see them add Antenna TV and Decades to pretty much take care of all the other old crap I like being put back on, although for the life of me, I have no idea who owns “Burke’s Law,” a marvelous bit of 1960s Madmen-era silly detective cool that’d actually make a great pairing with Peter Gunn. The episodes posted on youtube will have to suffice.

I realize we’re living in what can be accurately called a new golden age of TV, with upper-end shows like The Americans, Game of Thrones, Curb Your Enthusiasm and so forth being produced with cinematic quality, and writing/character development far superior than most feature films.

But I’ll never get tired of watching those old shows. They retain their honor and glory. Just ask Commander Kor. (Or wait a few years for him to be Baltar.)

Let’s Hear It For Cris Shapan

Perhaps while surfing online,  you’ve come across some amazingly campy magazine cover, or album cover, maybe it was a pulp book from a long-ago celeb and couldn’t believe it existed…

Well, that’s because it probably doesn’t, except in the work of graphic artist Cris Shapan.

I highly recommend following Shapan’s Facebook Page where he regularly posts this stuff, as well as his Funny Or Die page.

The style of humor reminds me a lot of Drew Friedman, who loves to pick out his favorite childhood celebrities and illustrate them all too realistically in bizarre settings. Check out “Jimmy Durante Boffs Young Starlets” for example.

I’m surprised he doesn’t maintain some sort of regular website containing all this stuff, it looks like he’s content to use Facebook. My other theory is that this guy clearly gets his jollies posting this stuff & then kicking back to watch people repost it thinking it’s real. Shapan’s handle on the recognizable & realistic graphic designs of the stuff he’s goofing on from yesteryear is amazing. The colors, fonts, details of wear & tear, etc. are absolutely wonderful. Look at the wax paper lighting effects on that Avery Schreiber bubble gum pack (I wish I had one of those!) giving it real texture and depth. Great stuff.

Nice to see he gets work in Hollywood, hopefully they’ll let him apply his comedy genius somewhere.

“They don’t write like that anymore…” – Greg Kihn

UPDATE:

Welcome to all the B3TA people who found this post on your board!

Feel free to look around the rest of this blog. Check out the topic menu. Or just keep scrolling & enjoy. Lots of film & TV articles on everything from film noir to Punk Rock Quincy to The Oscar, cat pictures, stupid jokes, you name it.

And MOST DEFINITELY click on the “Buy My Books” tab and check out my comic detective novels on Amazon. Help feed me, or so help me God, I’ll summon the spirits of Karl Malden and George Kennedy to wreck YOUR toilet. You’ve been warned.

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