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One of Curly's last.appearances is one of the best of the Stooges efforts
At some point in late 1944 or early 1945, Curly Howard suffered the first of what was to be a long series of strokes. Due to this, his ability to function and to perform varied widely from day to day and week to week. Always-protective brother Moe insisted he check into a hospital, where the younger Howard was diagnosed with acute hypertension, obesity, and eye problems. He had also been a heavy drinker for years. The doctors (and Moe) insisted that Curly rest; as a result, the Stooges cut back production in 1945. Over the next two years, Howard's abilities varied greatly; the comedian often appeared sluggish, and many scenes had to be shot repeatedly. Nonetheless he made 16 more shorts in the interim, until a massive stroke on the set of "Half Wits Holiday" ended his career in early 1947.
Fortunately for Stooges fans, Curly was near the top of his game for "Micro Phonies," because it is one of the best that the trio made. With new director Edward Bernds at the helm, the film is put together well, with a good mixture of slapstick, music, and dialogue.
Observant viewers will notice that Curly is lip-syncing most of the actual words to "Voices of Spring" (which was actually sung by Christine McIntyre). The Italian aerie that Gino Carrado is trying to sing as the boys throw cherries into his mouth is "Vieni Sul Mar." And during excerpt from the recording of the Sextet from Lucia, while there is considerable clowning around,, you can actually see Larry and Curly lip-syncing many of the correct words of the their parts of the aria --- in Italian! This isn't surprising to Stooges fans, as all three were known to be perfectionists who took their craft, slapstick or not, seriously.
It should also be known that Moe was a good bass-baritone singer who was in casual quartets. Larry was a studied violinist and pianist, but he wasn't known as a singer.
Overall, "Micro Phonies" is one of the better Stooges works, and it deserves a look if you find it on TV or the internet.
Hogan's Heroes: Hogan, Go Home (1968)
CBS's Laugh Track Experiment
From its beginning, the artificial laugh track was controversial, with those who liked it and those who didn't. Most wanted or tolerated the laugh track. By and large, those shows whose creators and/or stars objected to laugh tracks or live audiences had their shows canceled after short runs. A notable exception was Charles Schultz; his Peanuts specials were met with critical acclaim, sans the canned laughter.
In the summer of 1967, CBS executives decided to try an experiment. They chose a sitcom with both comedic and serious elements, "Hogan's Heroes," and made two versions: one with and one without a laugh track. Then they screened them to different audiences. The versions with a laugh track were well-received, and those without largely failed. The shows with the laugh track were aired (I remember them well), and CBS ended the experiment, although they did tone down the laugh track in select future series.
Through an error, some of the shows without the laugh track were distributed to certain outlets (i.e. METV), including this one, and they're shown as-is. The United Kingdom went a step further: they removed the canned laughter from all episodes (which is possible if the laugh track has its own channel), preferring to emphasize the serious aspect of the show.
M*A*S*H was made this way, with the laugh track made optional to distribution points, and it's well-known that it was eliminated from operating room scenes early in the series.
CBS experiment soon discarded
As television was developing in the mid-to-late 1960's, the three networks did a good bit of experimenting with show formats, story lines, novelties, special effects, and backgrounds. In the 1967-68 series, One of the things that CBS decided to try was elimination the laugh track on a comedy that was considered to be "intelligent." "Hogan's Heroes," which was a comedy with serious elements, fit the bill as well as any other on the air at the time, so the network decided to eliminate the laugh track during one episode to see if the comic element could stand on its own merits. Ratings showed that the laugh track was needed, and it was used thereafter, although CBS did lessen its use in certain situations, such as the operating-room scenes in M*A*S*H after the first two seasons.
The story itself is well-done here and is a cut above most in the series.
Lost in Space: The Questing Beast (1967)
Harris in a brief serious role.
Hans Conried and June Foray were well known for their cartoon voice work. Among other credits, both worked on the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" shows, Foray as Rocky, and Conried as Snidely Whiplash. Conried also did Uncle Waldo on "Hoppity Hooper," and Foray did many voices for Warner Brothers, notably Granny in the Tweety cartoons. Conried was also known as Uncle Tonoose in "Make Room for Daddy," which meant he had worked with Angela Cartwright.
In this episode, Conried plays a bumbling medieval knight named Sagramonte, who finds his way to the Robinson's planet in pursuit of his quest beast Gundemar (voiced by Foray). Conried's "armor" looks like castoffs from various B movie sets, and Gundemar's outfit appears to have been made by primary school students on a budget of less than $10.
The plot follows slapstick for the first 40 minutes. Without warning, it turns stone-serious, as Dr. Smith realizes that he and Sagramante have betrayed Will and left the boy hurt and cynical. Smith leaves his pompous panicky bumbling usual character, puts on his big boy pants, and goes out and rectifies the situation in a mature manner. Harris plays the stern serious role very well. His line to close out the episode is excellent and memorable: "It isn't the quarry that makes the hunt, nor the goal the game, and the wistful lines that follow are so out of Smith's usual character that Angela Cartwright has to struggle to keep a straight face.
Fans of the series should view this episode. It's one of the few times we get to see Harris in a serious and mature moment.
Denver Pyle and Glenn Strange in dramatic roles
Most people remember Denver Pyle as the Uncle Jesse on "The Dukes of Hazard," Buck on "The Doris Day Show," or perhaps Briscoe Darling on "The Andy Griffith Show." Before he began playing father figures and gruff older men, Pyle had many dramatic roles, mostly in westerns. He was one of director John Ford's go-to actors. Pyle has a substantial one in this episode as a troubled self-proclaimed preacher with character flaws., and he does well with it.
Most remember Glenn Strange as Sam the bartender in "Gunsmoke." Strange was well-cast in Westerns, because he was a cowboy himself. His talents on the guitar and violin are showcased in various episodes of Gunsmoke. In this episode, he has the role of a down-to-earth rural type who is sympathetic towards Pyle's preacher character.
To tell more is to provide spoilers for the plot, but fans of the series should see this episode when it airs on TV.
At War with the Army (1950)
Lewis and Martin's first starring roles is not one of their better efforts
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had been a team since 1946 and had already appeared together in two movies in supporting roles: in "My Friend Irma" and My Friend Irma Goes West." Lewis and Martin were so popular with moviegoers n both pictures that they were giving starring roles in this movie.
This movie isn't as good as their later efforts. The pace is uneven, the movie drags in spots, and much of the comedy is dated to the era, an issue that they avoided in later movies. Martin is overbearing and intolerant of the antics of Lewis, another issue that was corrected in later films. Lewis wasn't as unbuttoned as he got in later movies, and oddly: Lewis is given more opportunities to sing than Martin got.
There are a few gems in this rough effort; one comes towards the end of the movie: when Martin and Lewis recreate a scene from "Going My Way," but it's largely dull and boring, compared to what was to come.
Hank Patterson has a field day
Hank Patterson, who began as a serious musician and who spent many years in vaudeville, is probably best-remembered as Fred Ziffel on "Green Acres" and "Petticoat Junction." When he gravitated to TV in the early 1950's, he was at the age when which most people retired. Instead, he put his weathered-looks and gravel voice to good use, playing various old codgers on many CBS westerns in the 1950's and early 1960's. And the man could act, too, as is evident in this role, and he was a natural for this role. Writer Shimon Wincelberg wrote this episode with the idea of casting Hank Patterson in the role of Pappy French. It was a good choice. The self-deprecating Patterson became the self-deprecating old codger in the role. To tell more would spoil the plot.
Of course, we know that Richard Boone was a fine actor. The two of them dominate the episode, with only bit appearances by Westerns staple Charles Horvath and William Stevens, and it doesn't get boring or drag on at any point. Be sure to see this episode when it shows up on TV.
For those wondering the words spoke by Paladin at the end of the episode are from Ecclesiastes 9:12.
Willam Tannen Has His Day
William Tannen was the son of the well-known vaudeville monologist Julius Tannen and the brother of actor Charles Tannen. After a brief career on Broadway in various revues and productions, Tannen made his way to Hollywood. From 1935 until his retirement in 1970, Tannen found steady work in movies, and later on TV. With over 300 screen appearances, most uncredited, the versatile actor appeared in many different roles and was respected for his abilities, but he didn't have the face, voice, or charismatic presence to be molded into a star. He eventually found a niche in TV Westerns, which were popular in the 1950's and 1960's, and he did considerable work in several of them. His best-known role is as deputy Hal Norton on "Wyatt Earp" during the years the series was set in Dodge City Kansas.
While most of his roles were small, he was given a few weightier assignments on "Wyatt Earp." The biggest of these was the episode "Shadow of a Man," in which Wyatt leaves Dodge for a few days and appoints his chief deputy as acting marshal. Deputy Norton handles various problems that arise through flashbacks showing how Wyatt dealt with similar situations or in which Earp explained his reasoning for certain decisions. Inspired by these, Norton rises to each occasion and handles them adequately, albeit very roughly and more than a bit unsure of himself. To pull off this kind of characterization without overacting the weaknesses or incorrectly becoming a carbon copy of the person portrayed is a challenge for even the greatest actors. Tannen manages it well, and the result is believable.
As a result of this, Tannen was given bigger roles in subsequent episodes of the show, and when the series moved to Tombstone and ended the need for Tannen's services, he was in high demand in movies and on TV until he left the industry in 1970.
Good story; the usual lack of attention to details.
This review is more of a rant. The story, adapted from a 1939 Superman comic book, is well-worn but satisfactory. A blind girl wins the Daily Planet contest, with the prize being to fly around the world in Superman's arms. Superman's perfect X-Ray vision, which is much more advanced than the X-Ray machines of that era, spots a piece of glass lodged in the girl's optic nerve. The new operation is successful, Superman takes the girl around the world in two hours, and everybody lives happily ever after.
The acting is good: A young Judy Nugent (who is probably best remembered as Jet Maypen on the Mickey Mouse Club "Annette" serial) steals most of the scenes; James Brown (Detective McSween on "Dallas") has an all-too-brief appearance; and Raymond Greanleaf, who made a career out of playing doctors, judges, and preachers, does well as the doctor.
Like most episodes of Superman, attention to details is sparse at best. This was intentional on the part of the writers. It was the same strategy used by the Reynolds company for the newly introduced Winston brand: 'Winston tastes good, LIKE a cigarette should." The grammatical error was deliberate, and millions of people people pointed it out. The end result was that Winston vaulted to second place among all brands of cigarettes. The same strategy worked with "Superman"; such people eagerly tuned in, looking for factual inconsistencies that they could point out to their family and/or friends. I saw this firsthand; my own family would point out all of the "goofs" from the series.
The two most blatant errors in this episode were:
In that day (pre-laser), somebody recovering from invasive eye surgery wouldn't be popping out of the recovery room the next day, with no operation scars, and with perfect sight.
Even more fantastic is the idea of the girl flying around the world in Superman's arms. According to the story, the trip was made in 2 hours. Assuming that most of the trip was made near the 40th parallel the circumference would be (circumference at the equator times the cosine of the parallel, or about 24,500 *.7 x 40) about 16,500 miles, meaning that Superman was traveling through the air at over 8,000 miles per hour, about 14 times the cruising speed of a commercial airliner, and a bit over 10 times the speed of sound. The girl is in a short-sleeve dress. The wind shear at Mach-10 would probably be deadly within seconds, and the temperature at 30,000+ feet (the height needed to safely cross the Himalayas shown in the episode) would be a balmy -50 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet the girl seems hardly phased by the elements.
But then, the idea of a man flying through the air at all and doing superhuman feats is fantasy in itself.
If you overlook the factual boo boos, this is one of the better episodes of the show.
Carl Reiner shows off his talents.
Early in his career, Carl Reiner decided to forego acting and channel his talents into writing and producing. In addition to producing the Dick Van Dyke Show, he also did much of the writing and was responsible for many of the story lines. Such was a full-time job, and when he did appear on the show, it was usually in a limited role. He did have a few fleshed-out roles: the eccentric painter Sergei Carpetna in "October Eve," the hard-to-understand writer Everett Sloane in "I'm No Henry Walden," and others. In this episode, he plays the role he played most often: Alan Brady. Without listing the details, the extended scene he has with Laura and Rob is one of the best sketches in the series. It's a must watch for fans of the show.
The Karen Carpenter Story (1989)
Heavily censored and modified fluff
Karen Carpenter had a singing voice that only comes along in the world every few decades. It was instantly recognizable. She had a full three octaves of range, with the lower two of those possessing a rich timbre and an uncanny ability for a very soothing slow-vibrato (my term).
Karen's problems were partly caused by her desire to be accepted and were intensely driven by her stage-demon of a mother, Agnes Carpenter. The problems perpetuated because her family lived in denial that a problem existed. They refused outside help until the damage to Karen's heart from her abuse of ipecac (which she eventually discontinued because she feared that it would damage her vocal cords) was irreversible.
The acting in the movie is good, and the songs are well-mixed, but it takes unreasonable liberties with reality. Over half of the scenes that Barry Morrow wrote were rejected by the family (mainly by Agnes Carpenter), who didn't want any negativity. It drove Morrow to the point where he refused to work on the movie any longer. His replacement had the same problem, and a third writer was brought in to finish. The whole thing is contrived, and to anybody who knew the actual situation, the movie has very little to do with how things really were.
Anybody who wants a realistic view of how things were should read the book "Little Girl Blue" by Randy Schmidt, which offers an objective view.
Ed Begley steals the show
Ed Begley had a long career on Broadway, in movies, and on television, specializing in dramatic roles. In this episode, Begley who won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award in 1962 for his role of Boss Finley in "Sweet Bird of Youth," and who had a notable role in the film "12 Angry Men," plays a harried judge in a small claims court who is obliged to deal with Rob's inadvertent attempt to turn a simple small-claims court case into an episode of "Perry Mason." He and Van Dyke play well off of each other, and his straight-reactions to Rob's bumbling make this one of the better episodes of the series.
Alvy Moore's portrayal of the man who misrepresented a sale to the Petries may have been a precursor to his later role of Mr. Kimball on "Green Acres."
Bat Masterson: Marked Deck (1959)
A very different Denver Pyle
When one thinks of Denver Pyle, one gets the image of a country guy, as per Mr. Darling, the down-to-earth Buck in "The Doris Day show, and Jesse Duke in "The Dukes of Hazzard." In this episode, Pyle plays a debonair, well-groomed, and well-dressed businessman who runs a crooked town. Pyle shows no trace of Southern Accent or any drawl in his role. One could easily not recognize him. It's a totally different role for the man who spent much of his career working for CBS in westerns and country-themed comedies.
The episode itself is formula for the series. Bat gets cheated out of $500 in a card game, finds a couple who got also got cheated by the same people, and gets his and the couple's money back by out-swindling the swindlers.
Dragnet 1967: Bunco: $9,000 (1969)
Nydia Westman steals the show
Jack Webb had an affection for actors and actresses that could play eccentric roles, as they provided a humorous counterpart to his straight-man character. Many such actors were called upon several times for his Mark VII television shows (i.e. Dragnet, Adam 12).
One such actress was Nydia Westman, who was playing eccentric elderly spinsters long before she became elderly herself. Webb used her on 7 separate episodes of Dragnet, usually in the role of a self-absorbed old gal. In "Bunco $9,000," Westman has a field day as a widow who rambles on and on, oblivious to Friday, who patiently tries to inform her that they've recovered $9,000 that she lost. The scene goes on for nearly 7 minutes, which is remarkable in itself, as Webb was known for fast-talking and for cramming as much as possible into a short period of time. The seemingly endless prattling of Westman's character doesn't get boring or old and is a refreshing change of pace from the usual format of the show.
This was one of Westman's last roles; she died of cancer, at the age of 68, a few months after this show aired.
Adam-12: Log 72: El Presidente (1968)
Del Moore steals the scene
Jack Webb liked actors who were good at playing offbeat characters, and he used them often on his television shows. Actors like Burt Mustin, Foster Brooks, Vic Perrin, and the ill-fated Jill Banner were called upon often by Webb. One of these actors which found work frequently with Webb was Del Moore. Moore, who began as a radio announcer, also did much work for Lucille Ball and Jerry Lewis.
In this episode, Moore plays a man who is mistaken by some Mexican tourists for the President of the United States and is letting them hold a fiesta for him. Moore's down-played interaction with Malloy and Reed is one that is best left for the viewer to see.
Dragnet 1967: Homicide: DR-22 (1969)
Burt Mustin Has a Field Day
Mustin began his acting career in 1951, at age 67. He did much work at CBS in the 1950s and early 1960s, working for such as Desilu, Danny Thomas, and Filmways. As these shows folded, Mustin made his way to other networks and production companies. One that was interested was Jack Webb's Mark VII Productions, who had used Mustin as early as 1954. Webb liked Mustin's spryness and fast, wisecracking style and called upon him at least nine times, mostly for bit roles involving eccentric old men.
Webb certainly had Mustin in mind when this episode was created. It's probably the most substantial role Mustin had in his long career. Mustin (who was 84 at the time) plays the 91 year old manager of an apartment building in which a murder was committed. Throughout the episode, Webb and Mustin exchange snappy one-liners with each other, with the manager telling Sgt. Friday and Officer Gannon how to do their jobs, the bad part being that what he's telling them is usually right. The two dismiss him as another police-fan, but they're in for a surprise later.
Malibu Beach Party (1940)
A treasure trove of caricatures of celebrities from the era
This short, made in 1940, has many caricatures of Hollywood celebrities who were popular at the time. Many subtle (and not so subtle) references are made. Here is the complete list of celebrities, in order of appearance, along with relevant notes:
The film opens with a printed invitation to Jack's party. The coupon for a free lunch (for 50 cents) is a poke at Jack's on-screen stinginess.
Jack Benny (as "Jack Bunny") and Mary Livingstone (Benny's real-life wife and partner until her retirement) appear. Livingstone pokes fun at Jack's outfit and weight. ----
GUESTS ARRIVING AND LEAVING:
Bob Hope walks in.
Bette Davis walks in, dressed as Queen Elizabeth from her 1939 movie "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex".
Andy Devine, a regular on Benny's show, walks in with his trademark "Hiya Buck!", which he frequently used.
Spencer Tracy walks up to Mary with the line "Miss Livingstone, I presume," a parody of his 1939 movie "Stanley and Livingstone".
As this happens, Kay Kyser pops in from the left, in the cap and gown he wore on his "Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge", and does his signature high-speed "That's it! That's it! Yeah yeah yeah yeah!"
Robert Donat leaves, dressed as he was in his "Goodbye Mr. Chips" role, and Livingstone delivers that line.
FIRST BEACH SCENE (left to right)
Carole Lombard, Don Ameche, Fred MacMurray, Loretta Young, Robert Taylor
FOR SALE SIGN of rafts:
George Raft, with his well-known coin flipping, a trick he learned when making "Scarface" (1932). Raft got stereotyped as a heavy and never really broke out of that mold during his career.
ON THE WATER:
Clark Gable, floating against the current,
Greta Garbo, trying to surf in oversize shoes (and no surfboard). This was a barb at her allegedly large feet, which got a bit of media attention in the day. In reality, Garbo's feet were said to be size 8AA.
SCENE FROM JULIUS CAESER AT BEACH:
Cesar Romero is laying on the sand, and John Barrymore delivers the line "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him" and starts shoveling sand.
--- COVER YOU WITH SAND SCENE:
Ned Sparks, with his signature deadpan face and grumbling, is laying on the sand. Fanny Brice, in her "Baby Snooks" role, comes up and asks him if she can cover him with sand.
Sparks's deadpan expression was so well-known, the it was said to have insured his face for $100,000 with Lloyds of London, such to be paid if anybody could make him smile. It turned out later that it was a publicity stunt.
SECOND BEACH SCENE (Before entertainment): left-to-right:
Charles Boyer (seated), Adolphe Menjou (standing), Claudette Cobert, James Cagney, Alice Faye
ORCHESTRA, DANCE SCENE, AND ARIA:
Eddie Anderson (as Benny's longtime servant Rochester (here "Winchester"), with another shot at Benny's miserliness.
Phil Harris, Benny's longtime orchestra leader, (s "Pill Harris") calls Benny "Jackson", something he did frequently on Benny's show.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers do a dance number.
An unnamed girl, probably a caricature of Deanna Durbin, sings a brief excerpt from Arthur Penn's aria "Carissima". The aria was actually sung by Warner Brothers studiosinger Gloria Curran, who would repeat the number in the 1947 cartoon short "Back Alley Oproar". Durbin even manages to bring a slow, painful smile to Ned Sparks's face.
As Durbin is singing, we see Mickey Rooney, in his Andy Hardy role, preening. Durbin throws the flower his way, but it goes to Cary Grant instead.
Of course, no Jack Benny party would be complete without Jack playing the violin. This manages to clear out the entire guest list, and even Winchester/Rochester tries to leave. The short fades with Jack's customary "Good night, folks."
Bonanza: A Dream to Dream (1968)
One of the better human interest episodes
The writers of Bonanza generally alternated an action story with one of human interest on consecutive weeks. The action stories were straightforward and familiar fare to viewers of westerns. The human interest angle was sort of an innovation at the time, one that Gunsmoke had tried (and which that series did more of after Bonanza started doing it).
Bonanza's human interest stories might be humorous, serious, wry, melodramatic, or a combination of those. "A Dream to Dream" is a bit of each. Hoss travels to a ranch to buy some horses. The rancher turns out to be a heavy drinker who is neglecting his family. The wife and kids, especially the latter, are quick to warm to the easygoing, friendly Hoss.
To tell more would be spoiling the story. Suffice it to say that the writers did a good job with the script, and it gave Blocker a rare opportunity to show off his considerable acting ability. Bonanza fans would do well to see this episode if the opportunity offers itself.
The A-Team: Holiday in the Hills (1983)
Dwight Schultz has a field day
This episode is especially good for fans of Dwight Schultz's "Howling Mad Murdoch." This episode appears to have been built around Murdoch, and Schultz takes advantage of the opportunity and literally steals the show. He makes the most of the ample opportunities to show off Murdoch's wild and crazy side. The glider scene is especially screwy.
But it's not all insanity. We get to see bits of Murdoch's serious side, when the character needs to be serious, and we even find out that Schultz has a decent singing voice.
The storyline has a few holes in it, but they're fairly well ignored among Schultz's various antics.
If you love watching Captain Murdoch in action, you'll want to see this episode.
Ridin' on a Rainbow (1941)
Better than average Autry vehicle showcases Mary Lee's talent
This isn't your typical Autry movie. This one focuses more on music, comedy, and characterization than on action. The storyline/plot is scant and only makes an occasional appearance to justify its existence; it's there mainly to provide a framework in which to fit everything else. The movie doesn't feature as much action as most of the other Autry offerings; it focuses more on entertainment.
The movie offers plenty of entertainment. There are healthy servings of several songs, the usual Smiley Burnette comedic relief, and even a tap sequence by the talented Carol Adams.
What sets this movie apart from the others is that Mary Lee is given more opportunity to showcase both her singing and acting talents, and she does well with those. If you're a Mary Lee fan, this is the movie you want to see.
This movie is shown occasionally on the Encore Western channel, and you can also find it on Netflix. It's a must-see for Autry fans.
Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958)
Not the same
The movie was an obvious attempt by MGM to capitalize on the huge success of the Andy Hardy series. The studio, suffering like so many others from the zooming popularity of television, was hoping to make more than one of the "new" Andy Hardy movies. Unfortunately, this film got a mediocre reception from both critics and theater-goers alike, and MGM abandoned the idea of continuing the series. In Rooney's own words: "The public just didn't care what happened to Andy Hardy."
The film brought back the four living cast members of the Hardy family(Lewis Stone having passed away in 1953): Rooney, Cecilia Parker, Fay Holden, and Sara Haden. Beyond those four, the cast is new. The producers tried to get Ann Rutherford to return and play Andy's juvenile love-interest now-wife Polly Benedict, but Rutherford's salary demands were too high, and the character was written out.
Andy's movie-wife is somebody named Jane (played by Patricia Benedict) who is unknown to Hardy movie fans. Old standbys such as Esther Williams, Judy Garland, and Lana Turner are absent, except in flashbacks. Sadly, Lewis Stone, the second most important character in the original series, wasn't even given a flashback; he's only seen briefly in portraits and photos. Rutherford's Polly Benedict character doesn't appear at all.
The movie itself is a disappointment, at least to me. It simply isn't faithful to the original series. The Hardy house is nothing like it had been in the original movies. The simple, wholesome Carvel that enchanted moviegoers of the late 1930's and early 1940's is gone, replaced by a more modern (for the late 1950's) theme and it's out of place. There are only a few flashbacks; they are too short and are seemingly randomly placed without rhyme or reason. The lighting is much brighter and upbeat than it was in the original series, and the effect destroys the old image. Generic sophistication takes the place of charming simplicity. There's way too much music in the movie; even the flashbacks have music dubbed over them. There are several scenes involving teens of that era doing such things as rock-and-rolling. Apparently, MGM wanted to appeal to both fans of the old movies and the modern audience (such as teens). If box office receipts and critical reviews are any indication, the middle- of-the-road approach managed to please neither group. The recreation by Andy and his son of a "man to man talk", an attempt to match the same by Andy and Judge Stone, falls flat on its face. There are a few niceties, such as Emily Hardy's talk with Andy Hardy's wife.
Separately, there's the ridiculous ending of the whole town changing their minds due to Andy's speech, Andy being offered---and accepting after a few minutes of thought---his late father's position as judge, and the new family portrait (a parody of the old one), along with the "To Be Continued" subtitle.
Of note, this movie was the screen debut for the sons of two famous stars: Teddy Rooney (Mickey's son), and Johnny Weissmuller Jr. It's also the first appearance by Gina Gillespie, whose older sister Darlene was one of the original Mouseketeers. None of the three had much of a career in acting, and their careers certainly didn't get a springboard from this movie.
I'm a big fan of the original Andy Hardy series, and when TCM had their recent Hardy marathon, I recorded and watched them all, including this one, but "Andy Hardy Comes Home" is in a different world than the other Hardy movies. It seems hastily thrown-together, and it's probably a good thing that the producers declined to resume the series.
Song of Russia (1944)
When were movies required to be realistic?
I'll be the first to admit that this film was a bald effort at propaganda. I'll also admit that the conditions depicted in Russia were far from reality. However, this isn't the first effort at propaganda by Hollywood, nor is it the first (or the thousandth) that takes a wide berth from reality.
If you look at the movie's setting (happy Russians with a benevolent leader) as fantasy, and imagine the Russia shown in the movie as a mythical nation, then you have a dandy story here. Propaganda aside, the storyline here is excellent; it's engrossing, well-written and intelligent. The acting is superb, from top stars Taylor and Peters down to the bit players and extras. The dance scenes are well choreographed.
The music, mostly that of Tchaikovsky, is superb, and the soundtrack is masterfully woven into the background throughout the story. The music is well-played and well conducted by Albert Coates (who also did the piano work). As for the piano, Susan Peters does a good job of finger placement that could fool all but the trained eye into thinking that she could actually play the piano (she couldn't at the level shown in the movie). The one fault herein is Taylor's attempts to imitate a conductor: suffice it to say that it's out of sync and overstated to the point of absurdity.
As a side note, many of the members of the Peter Meremblum orchestra (prodigal young musicians, many of whom went on to careers in music, and a few of whom became very well-known in the world of music) appear throughout the movie, mainly as extras and as kids in the village and youths in the Moscow Conservatory. The orchestra also performed some of the background music.
All in all, this is an excellent movie if one can overlook the propaganda and anti-realism and treat it as a fantasy/fiction.
About Groucho Marx
This was Groucho's final public appearance, and he hadn't been on television since his honorary Academy Award in 1974.
Marx was showing the signs of senility as early as January of 1973, and it's noticeable in his Tonight Show appearance in May of that year. By the time the 1974 Academy Awards show came around, he was very frail and had trouble making a short speech to accept the award. Groucho's son Arthur, who was embroiled in legal battles with his father's live-in companion Erin Fleming (for which litigation continued into the mid 1980's), was cognizant of this, and out of protection for his father, he made it known that Groucho was not accepting any further offers for public appearances.
When "Joys" was being cast, Bob Hope (out of courtesy) offered Marx a role in it. Arthur Marx was opposed to the idea but relented to persuasion by both Johnny Carson (who idolized Marx) and George Burns. Burns offered to do the scene with Groucho. It was said that the shooting of this short scene took quite a while, as Marx was somewhat disoriented and had trouble concentrating. The scene is a compilation of many takes (as is evident by the different sitting positions of Marx and the slightly different positions of his cap in seemingly contiguous time). The patient Burns worked with Groucho until they had enough decent footage to patch together the minute and a half scene, and the applause and laugh track were dubbed over it later.
But even in old age and senility, you can still see some of the old Groucho. When Burns notes that nobody is getting younger, Groucho asks George how hold he is. Burns (who was pushing 80 at the time) states that he's 76. Groucho retorts "You're getting younger." We even get to see a bit of the famous Groucho leer.
To correct another review, the final comment Groucho makes to Billy Barty (who played a miniature version of him in the scene) is "Don't just stand there, mingle; I want to have a good time."
It's a tribute to Marx that he even attempted this, and while it's obvious that this isn't Groucho in his prime (nor should that be expected), it's a darned good effort nonetheless.
You can find this clip on YouTube.
Light Time (1960)
Excellent religious show aimed at children
This 15 minute syndicated show, sponsored by The National Lutheran Council (forerunner of today's Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), ran on Sunday mornings from 1960 to 1964. The show was targeted to children and had a religious theme. It opened with a short song sung by James Stewart (no relation to actor Jimmy Stewart), accompanied by fireworks graphics.
There was nothing fancy about the show, nor was anything fancy needed. The set, graphics and music were simple, and the props consisted of a few hand puppets, the most prominent being Reggie the Rhinoceros and Digby the Duck. Mr. Stewart was the main player in every episode, accompanied by other actors on occasion. Each show consisted of a simple storyline, acted out with the help of the puppets, and each story taught moral values to the kids. Stewart and company taught these values elegantly, without talking down to the kids. As a result, the show's audience also had a large number of adult viewers.
At the end of most episodes was a short mini-sermon narrated by a spokesman for the NLC.
There's little doubt that Light Time helped guide many children of the early sixties along the proper path.
An Old-Fashioned Girl (1949)
The movie more or less follows the storyline of Louisa May Alcott's book of the same name, although the movie starts about a third of the way through the book, skips over some things and over-condenses others, particularly the last chapter, which is reduced to a few lines of dialog in the movie. The story is sat in the 1870's among the snooty-rich of Boston. Polly Milton (Jean), the poor relative to a rich family, refuses to enter their circle, preferring to make her way as a music teacher. After much ado, Polly serves as a relatively young Miss Fixit, patching up things here and there. If you like the movie, do check out the book.
The acting is first rate, especially 11 year old Elinor Donahue (of Father Knows Best fame), who is hilarious as the wise-cracking Maud, poking fun at her snobbish relatives.
Songs for Jean include "Beautiful Dreamer", "The Travel Song" (written for this movie by Charles Previn), part of Schubert's "Where" (arranged by Charles Previn), and parts of other songs (such as an abbreviated "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"). Jean, Donahue, and Frances Rafferty sing a song called "Kitchen Serenade" which threatens at times to break into a gadget-added number typical to those performed by Spike Jones and his City Slickers. Jean's voice is beautiful, as usual, and while the highest notes aren't tested as they were early in her career, her lower register is much fuller and more mature.
There's also an excerpt from the third movement of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor, performed by then 18 year old Sandra Berkova. Ms. Berkova (who was related to conductor Lorin Maazel) was a child prodigy who later faded into obscurity. She only plays the work modestly well here, and her inclusion in the movie was at the adamant insistence of director Arthur Dreifess, who was supposedly infatuated with Berkova (although not in a romantic way). The camera-work during the concerto is, to say the least, weird.
I haven't seen this movie on TV in over thirty years. Finding it can be difficult, except that you can, as usual, buy a copy from Gloria Jean herself at her website. IMDb policy forbids the posting of URL's, but you can find the site with your favorite search engine and the words "Gloria Jean Child Star" (or by putting those four words together, and adding a "." and "com" to the end).