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


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.

The Genius Of Old School Comedy

Car 54

So what does Wagstaff do over Christmas vacation?

Well, along with going through dozens of old movies & television shows of the horror/scifi variety for an upcoming class (yeah, yeah… blog entries forthcoming), I also grabbed some other DVDs from the vaults and wound up taking breaks from the ’60s spy shows & Vincent Price movies to watch the entire first season of Car 54, Where Are You? which I just discovered is available on disc. Season 2 came out this past year, and while the packaging isn’t great and the episodes aren’t in order, the video/audio quality is pristine and the shows are complete.

Car 54, along with Sgt. Bilko, comprise Nat Hiken’s amazing two-fer as a pair of entries in the funniest TV series EVAH contest.

And, of course, both shows are nearly impossible to find on the air, despite hundreds of cable channels & several channels devoted entirely to running old library material. But unfortunately, Antenna TV and TV Land do not run either of these two.

What struck me this time through, rewatching stuff I hadn’t seen since the late ’80s when Nick At Nite ran them, is how overtly Jewish Car 54 is – the line delivery, cadences of nearly every character, the comic confusion set-ups and payoffs… are all straight from the Yiddish theater/Eddie Cantor/borscht belt traditions. It’s not only Officer Schnauzer and his wife (Al Lewis & Charlotte Rae) whose entire schtick comes from self-deprecating Jew whining – that schtick permeates the entire show, and not only because of its Bronx neighborhood setting.

Much like Homer Simpson, Gunther Toody’s stupidity never gets old comically. Joe E. Ross began on Bilko as Sgt. Ritzik, forever the stooge for Phil Silvers’ con jobs, so the transition into playing the dumb-as-a-bag-0f-hammers cop alongside the smarter and nebbishly shy Muldoon (Fred Gwynne) was easy. Best friends in the show, the two actors couldn’t have been different off-screen – Gwynne, the Harvard grad Broadway stage actor & talented illustrator, Ross the vulgar nightclub comic who married 8 strippers from the parade of them through his dressing room, at least according to this immensely entertaining article.

It’s nice to see a sitcom devoted only to comedy – no messages, no lessons learned, no 1980s era moment of shit…. just characters who play off each other well, who don’t know they’re funny, and who wind up in situations where their mistakes & confusion lead to entertaining chaos playing off human imperfection. And above all, none of my current pet peeve against present-day comedy – none of the “too cool for the room” snark annoyingly ubiquitous in the comedy world. This was a different generation, and while a lot of the material is dated, most of it still works beautifully. Funny is funny.

Highly recommended, and if you’ve never seen it, it’s a must. Each season had 30 episodes – and to quote Colonel Potter, “not a bum in the lot.”

Now I think I’ll go back and watch some Bilkos as well!

Where Comedy Goes To Die (A Double Feature)

Part of my own, DVR-abetted alternative program schedule to the political conventions turned out to be two fairly awful comedy films that have always been on my need-to-see list despite their reputation. They both turned up on the ol’ cable this week, so I took it upon myself to trudge through them both.

Meet Wally Sparks was the easier of the two to like, since it actually had a couple of laughs in it. Rodney Dangerfield plays a ’90s-era Jerry Springer-esque talk show host who gets thrown in with a stuffy Southern family values pol.  The plot  first borrows from The Party when Rodney crashes the stuffy governor’s (David Ogden Stiers) fundraiser and wreaks havoc with a marble penis in his pocket and a drunken horse ride, and then turns into The Man Who Came To Dinner, as Rodney takes up residence and (of course) saves the pol while loosening him up a tad. Rodney rattles off a lot of his stand-up routine as we go – you’d think it’d be a good vehicle for him,

You’d think.

Unfortunately, it all has a been-there & done-that-better vibe to it throughout. The party scene, especially the gag with the marble schvantz, reminded me of watching those later Benny Hill episodes, where he’s basically repeating old schtick and phoning it in, and even when a gag or two is cleverly designed, the entire affair feels trite and tired. You can’t escape the feeling that hitting STOP and dialing up earlier work by the same comedian would be a better hit off their particular comedy bong…. ten minutes into The Big Store and I’d rather be watching Duck Soup.  Watching Rodney in this thing made me want to watch Caddyshack or Back To School instead.  As I sat through the endless and fascinatingly unfunny dick jokes of Meet Wally Sparks, I kept feeling like someone saw the bit in Caddyshack when Rodney, sitting at a table of bims at the posh country club, casually leans forward and lets out a fart louder than any Mel Brooks could have imagined and thought “Hey, let’s do that for a 90 minute movie!”

But a couple of one-liners made me laugh, I’ll admit. But overall Wally Sparks fails since Rodney’s character is only likable because he’s played by Rodney Dangerfield. In both Caddyshack and especially in Back To School, Rodney plays a guy we’d root for regardless, a guy who fought his way up into posh society while remaining real. Here, he’s just a walking dirty joke with nothing to ground him in reality, and a family relationship plot angle that reeks of being pasted on.  Now I want to watch both of those again.

What I DON’T want to watch again, EVER, is The Maltese Bippy, a Rowan & Martin movie (I can’t call it a comedy, I just can’t) that tried to cash in on the huge success of the Laugh-In show back in 1969.

This is a would-be comedy without a single laugh. Not a one – EVERY single routine, every line, every sight gag… everything… falls totally flat. I’ve never seen anything like it. I think it’s what kept me going through it as well – I kept wondering if it could keep up the streak of banal boredom and failed humor right to the end, and it certainly delivered.

Bippy attempts to be a mystery/comedy spoofing horror films, where Martin’s character thinks he’s a werewolf, Rowan’s exploitation film director/con artist character wants to exploit him,  and bad guys search for missing jewels in a spooky old house. You can’t escape the feeling that this entire concept may have begun as an attempt at a late ’60s revival of a Hope & Crosby comedy – you have Norman Panama directing, who had directed the final “Road” movie a few years earlier. You have Rowan playing a con man character a la Crosby, with Martin playing the nervous girl chaser a la Hope, complete with numerous scenes with Martin doing panicky cowardly one-liners identical to Hope’s recurring movie schtick. But instead of Hope & Crosby, we get Rowan & Martin, two Vegas lounge guys who made it very big thanks to a break given them on TV by Dean Martin, and who smartly surrounded themselves with a troupe of younger sketch performers in what is perhaps the most dated piece of television ever, in terms of any program being an obvious product of its cultural zeitgeist.

I can’t dislike these guys – they’re too much a part of my childhood. I loved Laugh-In as a kid and I still find it interesting to watch now as a bright, shining cultural artifact. And the Farkel Family is still funny, as is Uncle Al!

They get to do their usual stand-up routine over the opening credits & revert to it as they break the fourth wall and present alternate endings (something Hope & Crosby would also have done, I suppose). In any event, it may be the unfunniest film ever.

But I still preferred it over watching the conventions! Say goodnight, Dick!

Some New Hollywood Era Hardboiled: Point Blank (1967), The Outfit (1973) & Charley Varrick (1973)

These three films overlap a lot for me – they’re all pretty much from the same era & have similar plots – our protagonist is a small-time criminal who runs afoul of some big invisible (and non-ethnic) criminal syndicate and must fight back somehow.

They’re also all well worth seeing and indicative of a gritty hardboiled style (or self-conscious overstyle in the case of Point Blank) that you unfortunately don’t see made anymore.

Both Point Blank & The Outfit come from the “Parker” series of crime novels by Donald E. Westlake writing as Richard Stark. Parker is a machine-like criminal, plowing through the crime syndicate known as “the outfit” methodically & most often dispassionately, only interested in whatever money they owe him.

In Point Blank (based on The Hunter), Parker becomes Lee Marvin as Walker, left for dead at Alcatraz – shot by his girlfriend who has run off with his criminal cohort. Walker wants the money from that particular job as well as revenge, and works his way up the criminal ladder of the organization, beating the crap out of everyone as only Lee Marvin can. What makes Point Blank even greater than it would have been if it had been simply shot as a straight fist-puncher shoot ’em up with Marvin fighting suit ‘n’ tie corporate style Los Angeles mobsters is how director John Boorman basically turned it into his resumé film for Hollywood.

Boorman throws everything he has at the thing – the entire movie is framed in a way to leave us guessing as to whether it really happened, or if it’s Lee Marvin’s dying fantasy, or if he is some sort of avenging ghost. We get flashback, flashforward, intercutting with continuous sound, cuts that signify time passing without seeing time pass, and an overall surreal feel. There’s wonderful stark & sharply bright photography of 1967 LA, as well as interesting use of color – each character often has a color theme, reflected by their clothing and then, in turn, those colors are used in surrounding objects or lighting to symbolize plot themes.

Offhand, the only other movie I can think of that does this is Russ Meyer’s Beneath The Valley Of The Ultravixens,  – a very different movie, although the first 20 minutes and the last 15 or so are absolutely hilarious & I think Lee Marvin would have enjoyed co-starring.

But I digress.

For example – in Point Blank, there’s one scene where Angie Dickinson must get into John Vernon’s penthouse bachelor love nest to help Lee Marvin gain entrance stealthily. She’s clad all in yellow, Vernon goes from orange to red as he gets hornier (and bloodier). Previously, Marvin had used a bright yellow telescope to case the place. As he enters, we see bright yellow flashing police lights & bright yellow garage pillars. After he’s done the job and exits, both police lights and garage pillars are bright red.

If you want an example from Beneath The Valley Of The Ultravixens, you’re on your own – but if you can avert your eyes from Kitten Natividad’s fantabulous winnebagoes long enough to look at the furniture & walls, you’ll know what I mean. I highly recommend this article which compares it to Soviet film montage.

Are you back from that one? Told you it was worth your while.

Anyway, besides being a solid crime film, Point Blank‘s art house stylings and ambiguous realities elevate the material to something far more interesting.  It’s got a great cast, too – besides Marvin, Dickinson and Vernon (in his film debut), we also have Keenan Wynn, Lloyd Bochner and Carol O’Connor. And from Star Trek, Michael Strong! And from Hill Street Blues, James B. Sikking!

The Outfit follows a similar plotline from a later Parker novel – this time Robert Duvall plays the relentless criminal bent on revenge against “the outfit” after they kill his brother & try to kill him as payback for a past bank robbery at an outfit front. Duvall teams with the third member of his former gang, Joe Don Baker, to commit a series of robberies at other outfit operations until syndicate chief Robert Ryan pays him off. Unlike Point Blank, this one is directed in straightforward gritty-early-70s fashion, without the mysticism or art house touches – but it’s still a solid film with a good cast. Duvall & Ryan are great as always (I’ve lost count of how many times Robert Ryan has played the angry barking head of a crime syndicate), and the supporting cast includes numerous familiar faces in small roles, such as Sheree North as a horny wife.

Sheree North – did she ever play anything other than a floozy? I can remember her as an ex-hooker on Mannix, a sleazy lounge singer girlfriend for Lou Grant on Mary Tyler Moore, a hooker on Archie Bunker’s Place… jeez! I guess that’s how you get typecast when you basically look like the Peggy Lee dog from Lady & The Tramp.

The Outfit reminded me a lot of an admittedly better film with a similar plot – Charley Varrick. In this one, Walter Matthau plays the leader of a group of thieves who mistakenly rob a syndicate front bank, only to incur their wrath and get hunted down. This time Joe Don Baker is the bad guy, doing his familiar redneck schtick as before, hunting down Matthau (who plays the action hero against type very well here) who has a zillion con man tricks up his sleeve. Don Siegel’s direction is tight & economical, more of that early ’70s gritty feel.  Sheree North, another overlapping cast member from The Outfit, appears, along with Andy Robinson (everyone’s favorite psycho from Dirty Harry) as a member of Matthau’s gang.  Charley Varrick is a fast moving con game of a movie, right up to the very end, a real underrated gem from the early ’70s.

It’s nice to watch action movies where there is no need of huge explosions, CGI, or 360-rotation through slo-mo martial arts BS. It kinda makes you pay more attention to… GASP! Character and story! Combine that with solid cast members and you have a sure winner. I’ll watch Lee Marvin beat the crap out of people any old time.

In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “Here comes Lee Marvin! Oh, thank God! He’s always drunk and violent!” Only this time, he’s sober & REALLY violent! Yay!

Celebrity Dreams

I remember my dreams, most of them anyway.

I dream in color, often have dreams set in the identical parallel setting which I can only describe as an amalgamation of the Providence/New England area and Los Angeles, although from what I can tell, the layout and freeway route system seem to be identical from dream to dream (!).

In my dreams, the actions of the dream world around me are separate from the stream of thoughts running through my mind in reaction to it, just like in waking life.

And then, every so often, I have dreams featuring various celebrities.

Sometimes they turn up for obvious reasons – I’d just watched a movie with them, or read about them, or some such tidbit of conscious processing during the day that churned into dream material that night. Other times, I’m not sure where the hell it comes from. Shellfish seems to have a psychoactive effect on me sometimes, but not all the time.  Taking Zantac for my stomach certainly increased my dreaming intensity, often producing lucid dreams I could direct for a while before waking up. My doc at the time looked it up in the Merck manual and, yes, around 5% of the test subjects reported the same thing.

I could have told him my brain is directly connected to my stomach.

Here’s  a typical example from the other night, after some grilled salmon: I was in a second-season episode of “The Monkees” – and how did I know it was second season? Well, even in my dream when the end credits played showing the boy’s heads, the theme song was “For Pete’s Sake” and not the first season “Theme From The Monkees.”

Yep… even in my dreams, I’m a trivia geek.

Anyway, in the episode, I was pretending to be a gangster along withe the boys, and we all wore matching black pinstripe suits for the part. The episode ended and the credits played on a wall of the set, and I wandered off the set backstage. As I wandered down the hallway, I saw Jill St. John wearing some sort of bright red showgirl outfit, and then I got to an area of another set’s backstage area.

At a small round table the size of a lunch table sat Sean Connery in his underwear, reading from a script and rehearsing with some anonymous actress (I can’t remember what she looked like, and I did not identify her in the dream).

So, I say to Sean: “Look at us. You ought to be wearing this suit, and I ought to be dressed like you.”

Sean to me: “Eeh. That suit doesn’t really mean anything.”

Me to Sean: “Really? I think I look really good in it. You’re jaded ’cause you wear stuff like this all the time.”

Sean to me: “Maybe. But what I really want is to play more sensitive guy type comic roles, you know, the kind they always give Alan Alda.”

Me to Sean: “I can’t see you like that. No one would ever believe you’d cry over a dead chicken on a bus.”

He went back to his script, and I woke up. And I thought… I’m right. No one would ever believe Sean Connery would cry over a dead chicken on a bus like Alan Alda.

I’m guessing the “Monkees” bit resulted from a recent screening of Head, which I hadn’t seen in a while & would highly recommend. It’s a mobius strip of silliness, some good Monkees tunes including a great live performance of Nesmith’s “Circle Sky” (yup, it’s really them playing) that proves they were a decent garage band when they wanted to be. It’s also one of the earliest examples of the “New Hollywood” – a film designed to appeal to the youth market with the likes of Bob Rafelson & Jack Nicholson behind it, as well as, IMHO, the only stream-of-consciousness ’60s drug era movie that actually works.

Oh – and it’s also largely a backstage deconstruction of the band – hence, my backstage experience in the dream, I’d guess.

I keep a record of the more entertaining or silly celebrity dreams I have, writing them down as immediate to the experience as I can since the memories of those dreams tends to fade with time. I mined a lot of that material for the Wagstaff Novel since the interpretation of the dreams could figure well into an offbeat comic mystery story, and I think it worked out well for the plot.

I’d recommend keeping a dream journal of sorts for any writer or artist. After all, if you have a creative mind, it ought to really get creative when your unconscious runs free, shouldn’t it?

It certainly beats the dreams I have where I’m working – dreams so detailed that after dreaming of teaching some film class & leading a discussion on something, I wake up and get depressed that I have to do the exact same thing over again and then realize, once again, that I can literally do my job in my sleep.

Tonight, it’s spaghetti with Italian sausage & I’ll finish off that bottle of Sangiovese… I’ve got a few movies in the DVR… what dreams may come? I guess I’ll find out before my cat jumps on me repeatedly @5:30am to get fed.

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑