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The Red House (1947)
About as good as later Edward G. Robinson gets
Probably nothing he could ever have done in his career would've topped "Little Casear", but he was great in the supporting role as the head of the insurance company's fraud unit in "Double Indemnity", and he's great here, as a seemingly noble but distant farmer in a remote rural area. One cannot help but think that this area's major farm export was its youth; it seems like the sort of place that most people can't wait to leave as soon as they finish high school, then or now. His plans to hold onto his adoptive daughter seem to be crypto-incestuous until we learn why he is so obsessed with her; then it becomes somewhat difficult not to feel at least some sympathy for him. His noble, self-sacrificing sister is a memorable character as well, but the high point of the film is Robinson's facial expression when he drives his pickup truck off of the bluff into the icy fate that awaits him; the one he desires and feels that he deserves. One of the few ''films noir'' in which the ''femme fatale'' is a high school girl, although I'm pretty certain (I've not looked it up) that the actress portraying her was considerably older than that.
Petticoat Junction (1963)
A great childhood memory
My parents were inveterate fans of "The Red Skelton Show" but would go to bed as soon as it was over and let me stay up to watch this. I loved the pretty girls and didn't even mind how they kept changing into different girls over time, as the replacements were always pretty, too. I sure envied the little dog (who later became "Benji") who got to swim with them in the train's water tank in the opening sequence! Lori Saunders was my favorite, and I loved seeing her in the commercial that she did for Fantastik spray cleaner, even. Red Skelton led me to another dream girl, Julie Sommars, later on, when "The Governor & J.J." became what followed him on Tuesday nights after "Petticoat Junction" had moved to Saturday night.
That Girl (1966)
A pleasant childhood memory
I wonder how many preteen boys had a crush on Marlo Thomas like I did during the run of this program. She was soooo beautiful, and Ted Bessell seemed like an awfully lucky guy to me, except that he had to live in constant fear of Ann Marie's father, which was realistic enough as Mr. Marie was rather menacing, which by the time the series ended I realized was because he considered the Donald Hollister character a threat to his daughter's virginity. (Wonder how much different, if any, Danny Thomas was about that issue in real life?) In retrospect, this show requires suspension of disbelief even more than most sitcoms, as Ann, a supposedly struggling actress, had a better apartment and nicer clothes than many steadily-employed New Yorkers could have possibly have afforded, then or now. It's a shame that the show only went as far as Donald's bachelor party; it would seem to have been better if they had actually shown the wedding with the implication that "they all lived happily ever after" and that this show, after all really was a modern fairy tale. A fun aspect of the show was seeing how they were going to work the words "that girl" into the opening sequence.
The New Andy Griffith Show (1971)
This show had one big problem
The problem with "The New Andy Griffith Show" was pretty obvious; it wasn't the OLD "Andy Griffith Show", which is what people still wanted to see. They wanted to see it so badly that at the time this show came out, "Mayberry R.F.D.", which was a pretty pale continuation/spin off/sequel or whatever you want to call it of the original show was still on, and still in the Nielsen Top 20. Another, related, problem was the continuity or lack thereof. As mentioned previously, Andy's "Mayberry" friends like Barney and Emmett came by to wish him well on being the new mayor of his hometown, so they knew him. How come they didn't see anything wrong with his name now being Andy Sawyer, not Andy Taylor, his having a different wife, Lee, rather than Helen, whom he had finally married at the end of the old show and the beginning of "R.F.D.", and that he wasn't coming home to Mayberry, where he had grown up, but to Greenwood, which was now where he had grown up? I've heard of "retrocon", but this was ridiculous. That having been said, I wonder how this show would have done had it come out five or seven years after the old one went off, rather than two, or how it would have done if it had been the first TV show ever done by Andy Griffith. (It should be noted that "The New Dick Van Dyke Show", even though it ran for three years rather than part of one, was universally regarded as vastly inferior, largely because it was impossible for it to rise consistently to the level of the old one, and not because it was truly abysmal, for it was not, and really, neither was this.)
"Dobie" was a fine show
This show is consistently underrated in my opinion. Created and largely written (even the theme song) by the talented Max Schulman, who later brought us such gems as the movie "House Calls", the program gave us such classic characters as the boy-crazy Zelda (ironically portrayed by a Lesbian, Shelia James), Maynard, the closest thing to a "beatnik" most of Middle America ever saw, and Dobie's dad Herbert (played by the great character actor Frank Faylen), the grocer who needed very little prompting to remind whoever was listening, "I was in The Big One, W W 2!" but who was deep down a fine guy (he reminded me a lot of one of my uncles). Dobie's pining for Thalia, and his soliloquies in front of the copy of Rodin's "The Thinker" in the local park, were close to priceless. I think that the fact that this show was filmed in black and white has hurt its chances for being rerun in recent years, even on "TV Land" or "Nick at Nite".
The Edge of Night (1956)
Best of the soaps
'The Edge of Night' was an event around our house; my mother tried to have her housework done in order to see it where with most other soaps she just worked with them on in the background. My father liked it too; he carried the mail and was home by mid-afternoon. Apparently this was the only soap, at least of that era, with a significant male viewership Both of my late parentes were really big-time fans of the late John Larkin and never accepted the later Karrs as much; as a kid I guess I was more flexible, and besides, Forrest Compton was a known quantity as he had been "The Colonel" on "Gomer Pyle". Walter Grezea was superb as Police Chief Marceau; the supporting cast was really good, especially Ann Flood as Nancy and Donald May as Mike's colleague Adam Drake. This show had better plot lines than the other soaps because of its legal setting, with things like blackmail, loansharking and drugs (even back then) that would not likely have been on other soaps of the era. Even as a kid knowing nothing of the background, I saw that Mike Karr was really a daytime Perry Mason, but that just made the show better. In fact, because it moved so much more slowly since it was on for a half hour a day, the trials could be much more realistic and the real criminal didn't always have to break down on the stand and admit why they were the one who had done it; also Karr, unlike Mason, sometimes lost his cases. Three plot lines stick out in my mind; the Karr's in-laws the Capieces (Mike Karr and Phillip Capiece were married to sisters, Nancy and "Cookie", getting involved with a criminal named Calvin who wound up robbing their wall safe (first time that I'd ever seen one); the evil Jonah Lockwood, who I could tell, even as a kid, was based on Charles Manson, and finally (after I was a young adult), even the riff on "The Fugitive" where a wrongfully-convicted man escaped from the train taking him to prison. (Got to admit that a ripoff that flagrant took real brass!) This show, and "As the World Turns", were the last live soaps, so live that one day I can remember the announcer stumbling through his words and saying, "And now ... The Urge of Night!"
Search for Tomorrow (1951)
Shows like Mom used to watch!
In my case, this IS a show my Mom used to watch (she watched all of the CBS serials to varying degrees) and unlike today's soaps, as all of the marital infidelity, etc., was never on screen, I suppose it was all right for a little kid to see, although I seem to remember that JoAnne Tate lost a son about my age and it bothered my mother a lot. In those days the plot lines really moved slowly; I could go back to school for nine months and still know what was going on the next summer! I've always wondered how actresses like Mary Stuart who played the same character on the same show for decades did financially; presumably it was good enough that they didn't go look for other work. I've heard that more of the people whose TV careers started on this show became stars after they moved on than any other soap opera. And this show was really that - a true soap opera in every sense with all that implies. When I was a kid it still had the ominous organ music, a carryover from soaps on the radio (even though that this one, unlike "The Guiding Light" with which it shared a half-hour when they were both 15 minutes, did not go all the way back to the radio itself).
A fine show that should have run longer
This show was a really good one in many ways, although certainly an atypical Western with the hero (?) riding around on a motorcycle rather than a horse, due to the 1914 setting, very "late" for a Western, which tend usually to be set between 1866 and 1890. I remember some controversy about its cancellation at the time but didn't really watch it during its time on NBC. When I came to see it and love it was a decade later when I was in the Army stationed in Germany and it was shown every week from the beginning on Armed Forces Television. By then, Margot Kidder was famous as Lois Lane but I'll also always think of her as Nichols' girlfriend. In a lot of ways, Nichols was a lot like Maverick; both were much more attracted to getting rich with little effort than they were fighting. It was in the little TV magazine that they distributed at the PX (not really an authorized edition of "TV Guide" but made to resemble it as closely as possible without getting into copyright trouble) that I first learned the real story behind the cancellation. I really wonder what the next season with the more violent twin would have been like if they had really made it as planned. Of course, by the time this show was made the "Western era" of TV had been in decline for around a decade; someday I hope to be able to write that the "reality era" has been in decline for that long! While "Gunsmoke" and "Bonanza" were still running, they were both nearing their ends and it had been years since a new Western had really caught on; I think that this trend did a lot to hold "Nichols" back, and was the main reason that NBC executives doubted that it would ever find a large audience But to me, a good Western, unlike a show set in contemporary times, is somewhat timeless, as are other "period" shows; changing fashions and the like do nothing to make them look any more "dated" than they were supposed to be, and I think that watching this show, 10 years after it was produced, is really what brought this point home to me. Also, this show is an early pairing of Garner and Stuart Margolin, who is really one of the all-time great sidekicks, and not just in Westerns.
The New Perry Mason (1973)
They did make frequent TV movies of Perry Mason, but ...
They did make frequent TV movies of Perry Mason in the 80s and early 90s (until Raymond Burr died) and they were very successful even thought they were not part of a program "wheel" as were "McCloud", "Columbo", "McMillan and Wife", and such. They were successful because they starred the original Mason, Raymond Burr, and the original secretary Della, Barbara Hale, who had a tremendous screen chemistry between them. They had nothing to do with the Markham attempt at revival. It is hard to imagine what CBS was thinking to try to bring back such a big hit with an all-new cast just seven years after the original ended and while its star was still appearing in a second hit show, "Ironside". I also don't know what they were thinking in trying to have Monte Markham as Mason, either; the casting could hardly have been worse. Markham can play lot of things; Mason was NOT one of them.
Our Family Honor (1985)
No real new ground broken
This mid-1980's series could hardly be described as groundbreaking. A critic called it "a series you can't refuse" and it was a pretty apparent effort at taking advantage of the "Godfather" movies' success. Throw in love between a son from one rival family and a daughter from another, a plot which was already old when Shakespeare used it in "Romeo and Juliet", and you've pretty much got it. That having been said, the show had an expensive, movie-style look about it and a fine cast. Ironically, this probably helped to kill it. Most soap-opera type shows (and this pretty much was that) take a good while to build an audience; with the amount that this show must have cost to make per episode there was little time for that to happen due to the amount of money being lost. (Another problem is that serial-type shows have to be huge hits in order to have more than nominal value as reruns; without huge buzz few viewers will watch again to see the outcome of story lines they already know.) This show was better than lots of the other fare available at the time but suffered also from being against "Remington Steele", arguably a better copy of James Bond-style intrigue (and starring a future Bond) than this was of "Godfather"-style crime wars, and was failing to hold for ABC the audience share which it was being delivered by another high-cost show, "Moonlighting", so it had to go.
Soap-operatic, but still somehow compelling
The military as a source of soap opera-type stories had been little-mined in the 1970s, though it certainly was going to be in the future (at least on American network TV) with shows like "For Love and Honor", "Emerald Point N.A.S." (also starring Weaver), and, arguably, "Tour of Duty" (not to mention the champ of them all, "China Beach"). To take the sweeping course of events in 1941 Hawaii and use them as a source of stories more about personal lives and interactions than grand strategic plans was an interesting course of action; somehow it must have mostly succeeded or there likely never would have been the (far superior) "Winds of War" a few years later on the same network.
Rage at Dawn (1955)
Above-average Western, except for location
This is a well-cast, well-directed, tightly-scripted film (only 87 minutes). The cast is amazing for what had to be a fairly low budget RKO picture from the mid-1950's; Randolph Scott was an established star while Forrest Tucker, J. Carrol Naish, and Denver Pyle were all established, talented Western performers and Edgar Buchanan was one of the best Western character actors of all time. What hurts the movie severely and is its major flaw is the setting. Nothing about one single shot of the film looks anything like Southern Indiana or anywhere else in the Midwest, and exactly like California, where it was actually shot. This lack of authenticity is distracting, in some scenes more than others, but never completely destroys the fine performances. Like some of the others, I would like to know more about the historical Reno Brothers and how closely this film represents their true story; I'm sure that it's somewhat closer than Elvis' ''Love Me Tender'', which is about the same topic and came out the next year.
The Price Is Right (1956)
Great for Its Day
The original TPIR would likely never fly today; the bidding process would be considered to be entirely too tedious; it should be noted that what is now handled in "Contestant's Row" during this early run comprised the bulk of the show as contestants were allowed to bid and rebid or conversely "freeze" to avoid going over. The highlight of the show would often be what Bill Cullen called his "gimmick", usually a mechanical toy that had caught his fancy. My father really loved this part and was a fan of Cullen and the show in general; I'm surprised how vividly that I remember this early version given my age at the time that it ran.
Mancuso, FBI (1989)
The Best of Loggia
Robert Loggia was at his best in this tale of a maverick FBI agent. Old and set in his ways, he was much more interested in seeing justice done than he was in meeting all of the Bureau's latest paperwork requirements or in playing the political games that were expected, especially of Special Agents assigned so close to the Bureau's Washington, D.C. headquarters. Nick Mancuso was what you want a TV cop (and real ones, for that matter) to be, hardworking, dedicated to the truth, and very bright, with a willingness to "let the chips fall where they may". The character had been in the miniseries "Favorite Son" which was shown on NBC the fall before Mancuso, F.B.I. came on. While the show was not renewed for a second season, NBC thought enough of it to rerun what they thought were the best episodes in the summertime four years later.
Island Son (1989)
An underrated program
"Island Son" was well done and it is a shame that it never really had a chance to find an audience. It would be easy to say that this was hindered by its being moved in mid-season, but this was almost certainly an attempt to get it away from "thirtysomething", which was killing it in the ratings and had an almost-unimaginable amount of "buzz" going for it at the time. I think that Chamberlain's performance was fine, as usual. It should be remembered that this was his first regular series (as opposed to miniseries, of which he was/is the recognized "king") role since "Dr. Kildare" over two decades earlier. Perhaps older viewers were unimpressed at the idea of seeing him as a doctor again, I don't know. Maybe most viewers who watched the show saw the plot as too complicated as it involved not only his work at the hospital but also his relationships with his (adoptive) parents, his son, and a love interest who (in violation of most norms for a show of this type) was NOT a nurse at the hospital where he worked but a high school drama teacher who was also a single parent. In any event, far lesser shows got more than 18 episodes aired.
Guestward Ho! (1960)
Another Dennis sitcom
"The Pruitts of Southampton" is based on a Patrick Dennis novel as well. It aired later in the 60's on ABC and starred Gypsy Rose Lee and Phyllis Diller. However, it wasn't based on a book of the same title but rather one titled "House Party". Both of these shows had the concept of characters which were "larger than life", like the sisters played by the actresses above, and like the Indian "Hawkeye" in Guestward, Ho! who sold "Indian" trinkets which were really made in Japan. These characters are somewhat like Dennis' most well-known character, Auntie Mame, who was even more outrageous because she had a full-length show to fill with herself (acutally, two, as Dennis also wrote a sequel) rather than just a half-hour (22 minute) sitcom.
Shamelessly manipulative, yet wonderful in its own way
"Rudy" is an old-fashioned tear-jerker of a movie, but such a good one that's it's very easy to forgive. The fact that it's based (quite closely I understand) on a true story makes it all the better. I first became aware of Rudy's story on a CBS Sunday Morning piece, and actually met Lou Holtz after the season it was filmed at Notre Dame Stadium, but before its release. You do not have to be a football fan (which I am) or a Notre Dame fan (which I'm not) to enjoy this movie, but it would help. Football as a metaphor for life is hardly a new concept to the movies, or to coaches, or to sportswriters, but this movie is unusually adept at making the application. Anyone who has ever seen a movie can see where the plot is going and the emotional manipulation of the viewer is straightfoward and blatant, but far from ruining the picture somehow enhances it. This is the sort of movie you probably thought that they stopped making about 1955.