Monthly Archives: July 2015

Batman 1.25 – The Joker Trumps an Ace

The Joker has an amazingly funny member of his gang in this episode. He keeps his blue cap down over his eyes, and as they debate whether they’re going to kill the Dynamic Duo (naturally, the bad girl of the week, this time played by Jane Wald, doesn’t want him to die), he delivers this amazing line: “That’s right! We gotta get rid of ’em! We owe it to the criminal woild!”

Front and center in the image above, though, is Henchman # 1, wearing the blue shirt and white cap, played by Norman Alden. He’d go on to star as Frank, the inventor of Crimescope and valued assistant to Electra Woman and Dyna Girl a decade later.

This episode is a really good one, since we spend the whole thing completely baffled as to what the Joker is up to. Cesar Romero’s actually only in three scenes, and one of them’s just a tiny establishing shot to confirm that Romero did accompany the rest of the cast to the golf course, where his men abduct a visiting maharajah.

Daniel wasn’t very interested in this episode, though. Earlier today, he got the gift of a Doc McStuffins tent in which he may do his thinking. It lured him off the couch a time or twenty. He’s a great kid, but doesn’t have the longest attention span in the world.

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H.R. Pufnstuf 1.13 – A Tooth for a Tooth

It’s a rare day when Billie Hayes gets upstaged in this show, but one of the very few examples comes in this episode. This time out, when Jimmy escapes into her forest, she calls out the always-incompetent evil trees again, leading to one of this goofy show’s goofiest moments.

You sometimes wonder whether this program’s writers, Lennie Weinrib and Paul Harrison, actually remember their previous scripts, because the trees are so patently bumbling that you’d think Puf would, by this point, just sit back and wait for Jimmy to kick the bejesus out of them as he’s done at least five times before. But Pufnstuf fears the worst and calls for the good trees to step in.

Now, up to this point, Hayes has, as always, been the star of the show. She gets to rant and rave because she has a toothache, pose as a little girl to get her tooth pulled by Dr. Blinky (reusing the costume from “The Stand-In“), and, once she’s given the whammy of a love potion, act like a bundle of sunshine who loves everybody on Living Island. But then the trees have a fight, which turns into a dance once the evil trees get a dose of the love potion, and it’s the funniest thing in the universe.

I’m impressed by so much about the bizarre costuming and puppetry in the Krofft series, and just the way the actors navigate around each other while wearing these silly things is always amusing. But this is a really funny spectacle of chaos, especially when Jimmy takes off his jacket so he can start swatting one of the evil trees from behind. We loved it!

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Thunderbirds 1.12 – The Perils of Penelope

Last month, writing about the hopeless episode 7, “Vault of Death,” I said that maybe a separate Lady Penelope series wouldn’t have been a good idea. But then there’s this episode, and it’s terrific. It might be the best of the first twelve.

Lew Grade’s company, ITC, had been making spy and action thrillers for a few years at this point, with shows like The Saint and… well, a whole lot of shows that were a lot like The Saint, until they started making shows that were a whole lot like The Avengers instead. Foreign intrigue, mysterious clues, hideous traps, and so on. “The Perils of Penelope” is exactly like one of those shows, written down a fair bit for younger viewers, but otherwise it’s a perfectly serviceable ITC thriller. Lady Penelope does end up needing a rescue from Virgil and Gordon in the end, but, with Parker and the able Sir Jeremy to assist, she’s a really great secret agent, with gadgets and guns and moxie.

The rescue and gunfight at the end is, no debate, completely awesome. It is an amazingly well-directed scene, with Gordon taking shots at the villain while Virgil gets Penelope out of the path of a runaway train. In a beautiful nod to the past, the train is a monorail – and you can forgive the reuse of the train model from the previous episode since they went to town on a Paris outdoor cafe set – and so to “tie the heroine to the tracks,” the baddies tie her to a ladder and lower it into the tunnel, high enough for the monorail to crash into her!

As much as I enjoyed this episode, however, it might have been Daniel’s least favorite so far! It’s awfully light on gadgets and vehicles, and he squirmed, restless for most of the hour. Perhaps he’ll come back to it one day in a different light, because it’s as F.A.B. as they come.


Incidentally, if you enjoy classic Thunderbirds, check out this amazing project by Stephen La Rivere on Kickstarter to celebrate the show’s 50th anniversary: New Episodes from 1960s Recordings. I’m a backer, and you should be, too!

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Batman 1.24 – Give ’em the Axe

Considering the previous entry, I guess I’m not sure. The American Revolution costumes might be more suspicious-looking than the criminals’ regular togs after all… but not by a whole lot.

I absolutely love where the Riddler finds the Incan treasure. It’s in a sarcophagus which is on loan to the Gotham City Museum. Batman goes on about how absolutely priceless this is to archaeology and to good diplomatic relations with our neighbors to the south. So, get this: on a day where the Museum is closed to the public and totally unstaffed and unguarded, the Riddler and his gang go to a basement room full of unused exhibits. These are five torture / restraint devices – one for each of ’em plus Robin – and stacks and stacks of empty cardboard boxes.

This is where the priceless treasure is “housed” – more like dumped – before it goes on display. It’s in a single big crate clearly labelled, as all things are in Batman, something like PRICELESS INCAN MUMMY SARCOPHAGUS, DO NOT EXPOSE TO AIR, with six or seven boxes stacked on top of it. I’d rather like to sit down with the executive committees of both the Mexican Museum and the Gotham City Museum and give ’em, not an axe, but an earful. This is no way to treat your priceless exhibits, people!

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Batman 1.23 – The Ring of Wax

A couple of stories ago, Catwoman was after a lost treasure. This time, it’s the Riddler’s turn, and he’s pretty certain he has found a riddle that only he can solve which will lead him to a lost Incan super-treasure. A villain who doesn’t want a fight with Batman would just arrange to read the rare book at the Gotham City Library during the appropriate hours, but of course the Riddler really, really wants to outsmart Batman every bit as much as he wants the treasure.

The villain and his henchmen and dame-of-the-week, Linda Scott as Moth, ambushed the Caped Crusaders while disguised as wax figures from Madame Soleil’s museum. This is all part of the convoluted plan to bring a deadly wax solvent that can eat through anything past customs and into the US, where it’s illegal. But it’s used in Madame Soleil’s figures, so Riddler starts this scheme by stealing the Batman statue, melting it down to get the solvent, breaking into the library to get the book, then waiting back at the museum for when Batman and Robin figure out what he’s up to.

Beautifully, after bringing our heroes back to his headquarters, Riddler tells his gang that they need to get into their regular clothes, because they look too suspicious dressed like this. Their regular clothes aren’t exactly inconspicuous!

Daniel did much better with this episode than he did with the previous two Riddler outings. Frank Gorshin is, of course, unhinged, manic, and unnerving, and he hid his eyes a couple of times, but this wasn’t a bad shocker. Whew!

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H.R. Pufnstuf 1.12 – Flute, Book and Candle

The first thing that crossed my mind about what I might say about this episode is that the film print is a complete disaster. Every other episode in this set has been cleaned up and remastered and looks completely wonderful – every episode so far, that is – but this is a horrible, scratchy print with multiple skips and dropouts. What a shame, because it’s a good and funny episode.

But the most remarkable thing about it came when Jimmy disguised himself as a beggar asking for alms and Marie said, “Huh, he looks like the Artful Dodger!” I almost had to pause the episode for a few minutes to stare at her in bewilderment before I said “That IS the Artful Dodger!”

Casting Jack Wild in H.R. Pufnstuf had been a huge coup for Sid and Marty Krofft. He had been nominated for an Academy Award for his role in the film Oliver!, which was his first major role. Working in California for the Kroffts got him several other movie parts and a recording contract for Capitol Records. He also started drinking around the time he was making this show, at age 17, and he had squandered pretty much everything away, including any goodwill he might have had, within four years, at which point he was a full-blown alcoholic.

His records were never hits outside the bubblegum crowd (his cover of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” must be heard to be believed), and the Kroffts threw him a rope to guest star as himself in one episode of Sigmund & the Sea Monsters after nobody else in Hollywood wanted anything to do with him. The episode, as I recall it, was kind of pathetic, suggesting that in the alternate reality of Sigmund, Jack Wild really was a huge teen celebrity and his records sold by the ton. (A British equivalent might be all those mid-period episodes of The Tomorrow People that insisted that Flintlock, a group with exactly one dent in the top 40, was some kind of huge mega-act.)

Wild’s story really is a sad one, especially since – well, let’s be honest, a lot of what he does in Pufnstuf is not all that unique or amazing. But every so often, like in this episode, they write a song and dance bit for him. “The Moment That I Saw Your Face” is intentionally reminiscent of “Consider Yourself,” and Wild danced just magically, and had star power written all over him. He shouldn’t have been in California; he should have been on Broadway and the West End. He died from cancer of the mouth in 2006, way too young at 53, and with far too few moments of greatness captured on film.

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Thunderbirds 1.11 – Brink of Disaster

I love this image. Jeff Tracy is so pissed off they’ve had to give him a different head.

This is a really fun episode, despite featuring the most scatterbrained criminals I think the show’s ever had. Jeff correctly predicts that the president of the Pacific-Atlantic Monorail Company will have to appear before a government inquiry. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that spectacle in the Senate. The gang – dey all speak in telebishun gangster – have all been funneling money from race track and casino operations and jewelry heists into monorail investments, apparently thinking that profits from ticket sales will be even higher than knocking over Monte Carlo. The line evidently passes through Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook.

The monorail’s president, and head of the gang, is dis guy named Grafton, who calls on Lady Penelope to see whether she might be interested in a legitimate investment, while simultaneously casing da joint and immobilizing her alarms so other members of his gang can come by later and snatch all her jewels. Lady Penelope passes on investing, but sets up a meeting with Jeff Tracy. Okay, so this is a kids’ show, but it’s amazing that Grafton’s even been able to convince his own gang of anything when his approach to a potential huge investor is so comically “bad guy.”

There’s the expected inability of the writers to predict anything about costs in the future, which is also pretty funny. Grafton’s desperate for an infusion of $40 million to complete his coast-to-coast line. As I write this, the Georgia DOT is partway through a four-year, thirty-mile project in Cobb County which will literally cost 24 times that amount, and will soon begin the work on an interchange between two highways in Fulton that is going to run a cool billion. $40 million in the year 2065 is what dis guy will need for about 2500 feet of track.

The action splits between two problems: a couple of hoodlums have a wacky time breaking into Lady Penelope’s place and getting shot at while, simultaneously, in the USA, a helijet pilot proves Grafton’s “nuddin’ can go wrong” shtick to be a fib by crashing into the monorail and screwing up the automatic brakes. Grafton is trying to sell Jeff on an investment, and digging a hole with every word, but fortunately, Jeff brought Tintin and Brains with him so that when things do go wrong, they can shut down the runaway train. It looks pretty bleak right at the end, which is when Jeff puts on his “pissed off” head. I can imagine the director calling to the puppetry team and requesting a new, angry head be sculpted, because the usual one just isn’t cutting it.

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Batman 1.22 – Not Yet He Ain’t

Occasionally, watching these episodes, I remember that there’s a potentially alarming bit around the corner. That’s what happened this time, when Batman and Robin fake their deaths, with a little help from the police department and a couple of hundred rounds of blank ammo. “Oh, yes,” I remembered, and looked at the little fellow watching with me, “this could go over badly.”

So I began priming him for the unpleasantness. “Did you see how Batman had Robin call the commissioner? He has a plan. It’s going to look really, really bad, but it’s going to be okay. They’re going to trick the Penguin into thinking something really bad has happened… but it’s a trap. Okay?”

I probably should have distracted him and zoomed past the actual shock moment. He pouted and growled and narrowed his eyes, and I hugged him. “It’ll be okay, it’s all part of Batman’s plan.” I don’t think that he stopped frowning, though, until all the Penguin’s trick umbrellas went off in the posh penthouse where he’s planning a fake wedding to Sophia Starr, filling the room with confetti. By then he was chuckling again, and he loved the conclusion, with our heroes driving home with the Penguin and his two goons tied to the hood of the Batmobile, like the end of a fine weekend of hunting in the mountains.

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