Batman 3.11 – The Londinium Larcenies

The last time out, I said that we were tabling Batman for a bit, and we will. Its replacement show hasn’t arrived, and to be honest, I’m much happier to get this mess of a story over with rather than leave it as something to look forward to.

Yeah, time has not been kind to “The Londinium Larcenies.” It’s unusual, because I remember completely loving this story as a child and feeling that it was epic. Something clicked in my little kid head and I thought that Lord Ffogg was one of Batman’s greatest opponents, and that the story, which takes him away from Gotham City for the only time, left our hero out of his element. There’s also a really scary moment with a killer bee coming up.

About ten years ago, I went halfsies on a bootleg DVD set of this show, because it sure didn’t look like it was ever coming out legitimately. I left most of it alone as I never seemed to have the time, although I did marvel at the ten full hours of bonus features the bootleggers assembled. (No kidding; ten. It’s even got Peter Graves hosting an A&E Biography on Cesar Romero.) I did make time to rewatch the first two episodes of this story, expecting excellence, and couldn’t make it to the third. It’s awful.

A big part of the problem is the casting of Rudy Vallée, of all people, as Lord Ffogg. Why they couldn’t have hired, you know, an actual British person for this job is beyond me. The rest of the cast is full of the sort of expats who knew how to believably say “cor” and “blimey” and “stone the crows, missus, what a sticky wicket” and, like Glynis Johns (playing Ffogg’s sister Lady Penelope) and Maurice Dallimore, frequently ended up in Walt Disney films set in jolly, merrie old Engerlund. (Bizarrely, this isn’t the only example I can come up with of an ostensibly British criminal duo on TV played by a British female and an American male passing as English; there’s a Columbo with Honor Blackman and Richard Basehart.)

Anyway, Ffogg could have been played by Bernard Fox or Terry-Thomas or, heck, Dallimore himself would have made more sense, but they went with Vallée, fresh from the huge success of the stage and film productions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and he just sleepwalks through the episode like he could not possibly care less. Earlier in this blog, I mentioned how Adam West had some animosity toward guest star Otto Preminger. Yvonne Craig was, similarly, less than impressed with Vallée, and had some really choice words about him and his crummy attitude in West’s autobiography.

But the real problem with this story is that it’s smug and it requires everybody to be stupid. There’s not even a reason to suspect Lord Ffogg in episode one. Somehow, the Dark Knight Detective jumps from “the criminal creates his own fog” to “there’s this guy with a big lawn full of fog grass,” and fingers him. And the humor never rises above “Barnaby Street! Londinium! Ireland Yard! Get it?”

It is amusing, at least, that Monte / Monty Landis, another expat who started his career in the UK in the 1950s and moved to Hollywood around 1964, plays Lady Penelope’s cockney butler and somehow manages to be even more wooden than Parker on Thunderbirds.

Land of the Lost 1.11 – The Search

We’re hitting the run of absolutely amazing and child-traumatizing episodes of Land of the Lost, and this one is a complete nightmare. It’s written by novelist Ben Bova, whose only other TV credits were as a scientific adviser on the allegedly horrible Canadian SF drama The Starlost – I say “allegedly” because I’ve never seen it myself, but nor have I ever seen a good word written about it anywhere – and Bova just packed the horrors into this one. It’s not just Big Alice nearly getting Will, and Grumpy nearly getting Dad and Holly, this time the technology is really dangerous.

Experimenting with the crystals in an outdoor alcove near the Lost City, Rick Marshall receives a near-fatal shock. This would never, ever pass muster in today’s antiseptic environment of kid’s TV. Spencer Milligan screams in absolute agony and is weak and helpless for the rest of the show, accepting his fate and quietly urging his children to save themselves. Holy freaking anna, this is completely horrifying, and then it gets worse.

Holly drags her father back to the cave, and Kathy Coleman acquits herself as the show’s unsung heroine and an engineer-in-training, using a counterbalance on the baskets to raise her dad up to safety. She is awesome. Meanwhile, Will goes to Enik’s cave to try to convince the emotionless scientist – making his second appearance this season – to help them. Enik’s time doorway briefly opens to the Grand Canyon, giving Will a way home.

Already freaked out by the father’s injury and two near-misses with dinosaurs and Enik refusing to help them, Daniel just about completely lost it here, afraid that Will was going to abandon his family. We gave him some extra cuddling and attention, and he’s says that he’s ready for episode twelve now. Or so he thinks.

Technology note: A red and a yellow crystal, together, will cause a small explosion. We actually saw this two episodes previously, suggesting that the production order for the program might have been different than the broadcast one. Red and blue do nothing, but adding a yellow to the pair causes the near-lethal shock to the nervous system.

Captain Scarlet 1.26 – Noose of Ice

From the dull to the sublime, this is one of the most entertaining episodes of the show. Frequently in this series, we find overly-complicated power stations and secret bases, which the Mysterons use against humanity. This is a great one: a mining station at the North Pole at the bottom of a lake which is being artificially heated. When the booster station at the edge of the lake is sabotaged, the lake starts to refreeze, threatening to crush the tower and mining platform underneath many thousands of tons of ice.

This was huge fun to watch together, and the effects team did their usual amazing job, especially as the freezing lake destroys the bridge leading out to the tower. Some of Tony Barwick’s stories are a little rote, but this one really plays to the production team’s strengths, and it’s just remarkable to me how they put so much work into such incredibly complex sets that would only be used one time.

The other thing was this: did you ever play GoldenEye or its sister game Perfect Dark for the N64? I simply couldn’t watch this episode without thinking how incredible it would be to have a multiplayer fight on levels based on this facility; it is that well designed. You probably wouldn’t want to visit Eskimo Booster Station playing against me. I would have left proximity mines in the place before going out with a sniper rifle to wait for you above that roadway.

Batman 3.10 – Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!

Here are the most entertaining things about tonight’s Batman:

1. This episode reminded me of the Hodads, and for that, I’m grateful. If you were in Atlanta in the late 1980s, you may remember this band. They had really fun and silly flyers for their shows. Here’s their track “Motel Six.” A hodad is somebody who hangs out at the beach and thinks they know about surfing, but they’re really just squares, daddio.

2. Y’all, there are some gorgeous girls in bathing suits in this episode. I’m serious.

3. This installment can be used as evidence to prove that “Cowabunga” was a real surfer-slang word a good seventeen years before the first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

4. Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara, in disguise, look astonishingly like Jack Benny and Bob Hope in this breathtakingly unfunny skit from one of Benny’s shows.

5. Providing surf rock in this episode on the beach is a group called Johnny Green and the Greenmen, who claim, on their website, to have “played on 27 episodes of the Batman TV series.” Well, here’s one, and there are sixteen more episodes before we’re done, and math is hard, baby.

Speaking of before we’re done, Daniel asked to take a break from Batman. To be fair, we’ve been watching it straight, without a break, since we began the blog, so we’re going to take a few weeks off and slide something forward in the rotation. What will it be? Stay tuned!

Land of the Lost 1.10 – The Paku Who Came to Dinner

I’ve always been a little less patient with the Pakuni – dinosaur runaround episodes, preferring all the world-building and weird science fiction stuff, but this was one of the most frightening episodes yet for Daniel. He couldn’t understand why Ta and Sa would abduct Holly, and, as if it wasn’t already awful enough having this happen while Grumpy is in a bad mood and stomping around, the weather gets bad and a storm threatens. This was the closest that he’s come to actual tears in several months, and we had to pause the episode to explain everything a little more clearly and let him calm down.

“They’re in a closed universe,” he reminded us, grimly.

The colors are very, very badly washed out on this one, but in the foreground of the image above, Holly’s jacket is draped over a small bush. She spilled some perfume on it, and the Pakuni react to it like tabbies rolling around in catnip. Grumpy has also been following the peculiar smell and, in one chomp, he gobbles the bush and the jacket. Thank goodness for something silly. We kind of needed the tension broken so Daniel could relax.

Captain Scarlet 1.25 – Flight 104

You see how Captain Scarlet is asleep at the controls? So was everybody involved in this boring episode. Ho ho!

Well, I say that, but our son picked up the word “boring” recently and doesn’t seem very clear on what it means. We proposed that boring is the opposite of exciting, and he let us know that this episode is not boring at all, but very exciting. Says him.

Anyway, we have seven more episodes of the show after this, and I remember one of them as being really terrific. Fingers crossed!

Batman 3.9 – How to Hatch a Dinosaur

When you’re a little kid, you shouldn’t see through Batman. Yet I distinctly remember watching this show at the tender age of six or so and feeling unbelievably cheated by the downright dumb double resolutions of this half-hour.

As an adult, there’s enough that will make any audience cringe, but Egghead’s plan – to bombard a 40 million year-old Neosaurus egg with radium, hatch it, and then rule Gotham City – is a whole new level of ridiculous. But that makes sense for kids, in much the same way that “the Penguin has a tank made from solid gold and nothing can stop it” does.

No, what let me down at the age of six was that when the egg hatches, this happens:

Even at six, I knew that this was a guy in a terrible, silly suit. The costume was refurbished from a couple of appearances on Lost in Space, and I bet that when this aired in November ’67, half the audience recognized it. (Kind of like when an old Sea Devil showed up in a Blake’s 7!) Still, you have to admire their moxie: recapping over tea in Barbara Gordon’s apartment, everybody even mentions the great big plot hole. How did Batman, inside the Neosaurus costume, get inside the egg without being noticed? Nobody knows for sure, and they just admire Batman’s awesomeness in pulling it off. You’d think that with a hole that big, they’d just quietly avoid the issue. I wanted to know that as a little kid myself!

But that was me at six. Daniel at four was behind the sofa. He didn’t like seeing Robin and Batgirl in trouble in the first place, of course, but that hatching egg had him really, really convinced. I’m glad that he’s not quite seeing through television yet.

Batman 3.8 – The Ogg and I

Here’s a question for your bar’s trivia night. Who was the first actor to play two different Batvillains? It’s Anne Baxter, who had been Zelda the Great in season one, and now plays Olga, queen of the Bessarovian cossacks, in season three. Or is it? Milton Berle, star of the previous episode, might squeak in on a really obnoxious technicality. He played Louie the Lilac as well as a unbilled character called Laugh, in a cameo in season two’s Ma Parker story. Just because we never actually saw the story in which Batman and Robin sent Laugh to prison doesn’t mean he doesn’t count, you know. Pull that one on your trivia regulars when you’re mad at them.

Anyway, the only other things of note tonight are from a production standpoint. There is a three-part story coming up, but there are also some cases where we’ve got three episodes with the same villain broken into a two-parter and a one-off: these with Anne Baxter and Vincent Price, and some with Eartha Kitt. This whole thing feels very badly disjointed. I don’t remember what happens with Olga and Egghead in episode 15, but nothing that happens in episode 8 carries over into episode 9, does it? We’ll see what happens tomorrow night.

Oh, and Alan Hale Jr. plays a fellow named Gilligan who owns a diner. Hardy har. Otherwise, this whole episode is eggcrutiating, and I think it will just get worse.

The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

There are elements of Chuck Jones’ film version of The Phantom Tollbooth which I didn’t enjoy as much as I once did, but we still had a pretty good time watching this with our four year-old this morning. Daniel is still a little young to appreciate all the strange wordplay, silly puns, and world-building of this movie, and the lesson that learning is important, although memorization is not, certainly sailed over his head, but even for kids his age, this is a fun adventure movie.

What I didn’t like was the overuse of songs in the movie’s first half. It’s paced very badly in that regard, with one song after another, far too quickly. They slow down in the second half, which is appreciated, also because none of the songs are particularly good.

I was a little disappointed, actually. I remember the movie being a little better than I think it actually is. It’s been thirty-odd years since I saw it, but while the animated bulk of the film has a pleasing, psychedelic sense of design and a few very clever characters – the Terrible Trivium is particularly memorable – it really never lives up to what it could have been. I actually enjoyed the live-action bookends, which starred Butch Patrick as Milo, much more than I did the animation. Patrick conveyed Milo’s sense of boredom and ennui in the real world more than the cartoon did. I’ve got a lot of time for Chuck Jones, but this is honestly among his lesser works.

Daniel didn’t like the scene where Milo is nearly lost in the Doldrums, but otherwise he was attentive and curious about the whole adventure, and really loved the battles with the various demons in the land beneath the Castle in the Air. We paused the movie to briefly explain the Mathemagician’s claim that there is no “largest number,” which amused him. I think he might have appreciated it even more around age seven, but he enjoyed it all the same.

Land of the Lost 1.9 – The Hole

Addressing some of the production stuff first, this episode is Dennis Steinmetz’s first one back as director, and the three done by Bob Lally just kicked everything into high gear. There’s a sense of urgency and desperation in this one that’s really lacking from the first five episodes, and I still think that tiny bit of Grumpy killing another dinosaur last time had brilliant, long-term effect, as I’ll get to.

The script is credited to Wina Sturgeon, a journalist who was for many years writer Theodore Sturgeon’s girlfriend, although the two never married and she only used his name professionally on this single teleplay, according to imdb. Born Wina Golden, she was nevertheless identified as Sturgeon’s wife in some accounts, such as this one. Theodore himself had written a couple of episodes of Star Trek, unsurprisingly, and would contribute a script for season two.

Finally, this episode introduces the second group of Sleestak actors: Scott Fullerton, Jack Tingley, and Mike Westra. My own pet theory is that they shot the first eight episodes in the summer before school started, and the first three actors, who were all basketball-playing high schoolers, needed to head back to class!

So this is the story where some more answers are provided. Rick Marshall gets thrown into the Sleestak pit, where he meets an intelligent Sleestak called S’Latch, who’d been thrown down himself just shortly before. S’Latch, who can speak English, explains that his people are not completely belligerent brutes, but incredibly afraid and territorial. They don’t understand much of their world, and none of its history, but every few years a “freak” like S’Latch is born who possesses some race memory of ancient Altrusia, and who urges his people to not be violent and impatient. Every time one of these “freaks” are born, the others eventually get sick of his loud mouth and throw him in the pit to be eaten.

Reading between the lines, S’Latch explains that his people do possess enough language understanding to know the names of these humans, but they don’t care. They’re familiar with humans because some have been to the land before. Some have died and some have vanished. The convenience of English has to be handwaved away; I was reminded of how the early seasons of Stargate SG-1 gave careful consideration to the difficulty of translation, but by the time they made Atlantis, the producers just said screw it, everybody talks like we do.

I mentioned the urgency of this episode, and it did quite a number on Daniel. It actually opens with Will and Rick outside the Lost City about to get roared at by Big Alice, so it doesn’t even have the setup of coziness before we’re avoiding dinosaurs and getting chased through tunnels by Sleestak. When Will runs out for help, Big Alice lunges at him from out of nowhere and Daniel leapt straight off the sofa and spent most of the episode hiding behind it. Some playful scenes at High Bluff with Holly and Dopey lulled him into a false sense of security before Grumpy begins menacing them and the unseen Sleestak god-beast continues punctuating Rick and S’Latch’s conversation with its own hideous roars.

Breathless at the end of this installment, he pronounced “I REALLY liked that!” Almost an hour later, he still hasn’t come down from the adrenaline high.