Monthly Archives: March 2016

Captain Scarlet 1.32 – Inferno

We finished up Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons today with another episode that Daniel really enjoyed because it’s just packed with explosions and destruction as the bad guys get a decisive victory in their war of nerves. This time, the Spectrum Angels blow an Aztec temple to rubble in a desperate attempt to destroy a hidden transmitter that’s bringing an inbound rocket to Earth at top speed; in the valley beneath the old temple, there’s some gigantic factory that the baddies want destroyed. They blast the temple all right, but too late to alter the rocket from its doomed course; everything gets blown to smithereens this week.

I wasn’t counting, but it seemed like the Mysterons succeeded about a quarter of the time, which is really an astonishingly high percentage of the time for a kids’ show, with a fierce amount of collateral damage and civilian deaths even when they did lose. Plus, the villains killed off two of the Spectrum captains, Brown and Indigo. Compared to most kidvid antagonists, that’s pretty amazingly successful. Cobra Commander and the Decepticons just wish they were as good at being bad as the Mysterons.

I’m not incredibly clear on the chronology, but I think that the team at Century 21 did not get a very long break at all after the 32nd episode was filmed, and were soon back at work designing and getting ready for their next Supermarionation series, which was called Joe 90. Many of the writers from Scarlet, including this episode’s scriptwriters Tony Barwick and Shane Rimmer, worked on Joe 90, which also used many of this show’s puppets.

Joe 90 is available on Region 1 DVD, but I have never cared for the show at all and so we won’t be watching it. (You’re welcome to give it a try yourself if you like, though!) The program that Anderson made after Joe 90 was called The Secret Service, and I really like that one. It’s not available in Region 1 yet, so it’s just as well I bought a new player this month. Fingers crossed that we’ll come back to The Secret Service in a few months, but next up in our rotation is something a little more recent…

One final note: the voice of Captain Scarlet, Francis Matthews, went on to star in the BBC’s really successful detective series Paul Temple, which ran for four series in the early 1970s and which sounds like a must-see for people who enjoy British TV from that era. It was produced by Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin, who had just finished up the black-and-white years of Doctor Who and featured all sorts of recognizable talent behind and in front of the cameras. I would love to enjoy that show, just as I’m presently enjoying Jason King, made in the same era, after Daniel goes to bed. Unfortunately, of the 52 episodes they made, only sixteen still exist, because of the BBC’s old policy of junking and deleting old tapes. More on that subject down the road as well.

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Batman 3.14 – Catwoman’s Dressed to Kill

Well, here’s something unexpected. Fashion designer Rudi Gernreich appears in this episode as himself. Whose wacky idea was that? He’s the guy who designed the “monokini,” which had everybody at Playboy very pleased for about a decade, and who later designed the Moonbase Alpha costumes for Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999.

Oh, sorry, I was so surprised to have Rudi Gernreich pop into a Batman episode that it actually overshadowed, briefly, the return of Catwoman, now played by Eartha Kitt. I think she’s tremendously entertaining in the part, even if she doesn’t appear to be the same character who Julie Newmar was playing in the doomed romance storyline across the second half of season two. Perhaps the Catwoman we had been enjoying really did meet her demise in the West River, and this is a new villain who picked up where the original Catwoman left off?

Like the earlier Newmar stories, this is also written by Stanley Ralph Ross, and he didn’t include any real tangible link to Batman and Catwoman’s earlier flirtation. I wonder whether Ross knew that Eartha Kitt had been cast when he wrote the script? American television networks were incredibly worried about depicting interracial romance in the sixties; when NBC allowed William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols to kiss on an episode of Star Trek a year later, half of the network’s executives feared that their affiliates would revolt. So no, West and Kitt do not make goo-goo eyes at each other, much less resume their discussions of a possible married life together.

It didn’t even register with our son that Catwoman had been recast at all, which is nice. He still hated this episode, however, because Catwoman has a particularly gruesome fate in store for Batgirl, leaving her strapped to a conveyor belt to be sawed in half. Come to think of it, the Riddler did something very similar to Robin in season one and he completely hated that deathtrap, too.

There are some really funny lines in this one, as you’d expect from a Ross script. At one point, Catwoman safely ducks into the women’s dressing room, knowing that Batman and Robin will not follow her into this “hallowed and forbidden no man’s land!” Outside, Robin protests that they can’t go in after her, because, yes, that’s right, “it’s a hallowed and forbidden no man’s land!” Pure genius.

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Land of the Lost 1.16 – Hurricane

I did promise our son that this episode was not a frightening one, but he sure pretended that it was, and found reasons to run and hide whenever possible, just because he enjoys the little rush. Even the reasonably harmless triceratops, Spike, had him making a dash for safety. About which, I’ve always wondered why the miniature unit shot that dinosaur in such a long shot. You know the one, they used it about five times, with the beast at the far end of a clearing, munching away, and making a sudden turn toward the camera as though something startled it.

This episode, written by Larry Niven and David Gerrold and directed by Bob Lally, sees a one-off visitor to the Land. Ron Masak, who would later have a major recurring role as Sheriff Metzger on Murder, She Wrote, plays Beauregard Jackson, a pilot from at least twenty years in the Marshalls’ future, who parachutes in from a glider, or possibly a Moonbase rocket, after Will opens a time doorway which slices off the back of Jackson’s ship.

The story includes another of the all-time freaky images of the show, as the characters use Jackson’s high-powered binoculars to look across the Land and see themselves from behind. It’s such a neat visual that it will make you forget that the mountaintop backdrop behind them has a great big vertical line running down the center of the sky, because it’s two separate panels badly aligned.

It also has fun with the reality of an open doorway from our world into the closed universe. Will opened the doorway into Earth’s upper atmosphere, where the wind is traveling much, much faster than the calm breeze of the Land. Interestingly, the skylons appear and try to tell the humans how to correct the weather, but their instructions don’t fix anything; the wind that is coming in is unnatural, and the force growing. I’m intrigued that the pylon used in this story can manipulate both weather and time doorways, and also that the pylon and one of the skylons are actually swallowed by the doorway, where, presumably, they plummeted into the ground or the ocean from several miles in the sky and were smashed to pieces.

Also of note: Jackson flat out says that the pylon is “bigger on the inside than the outside,” which is exactly what everybody says when they first step into Doctor Who‘s TARDIS. Now, at the time this was made, only thirteen of Jon Pertwee’s first fourteen Doctor Who serials had been offered for sale in the United States, and Jo Grant does indeed use that line in part one of “Colony in Space,” but only sixteen markets in the country ever picked up the package over the four years it was offered, and KCET in Los Angeles didn’t start airing it until 1975. While it is technically possible that Niven or Gerrold could have seen the concept and description in Who, it’s more likely that this is a delightful little coincidence.

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Freaky Friday (1976)

Wow, is this movie ever dated! Smoking moms, electric typewriter class, male chauvinist pigs… was this really made forty years ago, or four hundred and forty? It’s really entertaining, but is it ever a time capsule, and not just in society’s attitudes toward women, but back to those days when men’s careers in TV and movie entertainment were forever on the brink of disaster for fear of blustery, easily-displeased clients and bosses. You recall how every single episode of Bewitched featured Derwin – I mean, Darrin – perpetually skating between a successful sale and Larry Tate spontaneously combusting? The dad in this movie, played by John Astin, is similarly between the Scylla and Charybdis.

And with that world of crazy white-collar suburbia comes the life where Dad needs a new freshly-pressed suit for three important gigs a day and Mom is scrambling between catering for two dozen at no notice, pressing silk shirts (with Jon Pertwee-frilled fronts), and seeing that the drapes and curtains are regularly cleaned by professionals. The oil change and detailing place does to-your-garage delivery for $14.50 (about $63 in today’s currency, but this was California, after all), but at least you don’t have to drive your thirteen year-old daughter to the orthodontist, because she goes there herself on the city bus.

And looking back, yes, I do kind of recall the 1970s being kind of like that for my parents. Mom’s days included constant trips to the dry cleaners because men wore three-piece suits in every profession the other side of soda jerk, and I swear we must have had an expense account at the package store for all the evening entertaining they did. So yeah, once she got done ironing blouses and shirts, and having conferences at the school, she’d enjoy a quick break with Days of Our Lives before heading to the cleaners and the salon and probably the package store before taking my brother and me to the pediatrician or the dentist or the barber shop, and really only somebody as naive as a thirteen year-old could possibly want to swap places with a “stay-at-home mom” in the 1970s.

As a teenaged actress, Jodie Foster was omnipresent in the 1970s. This was the first of two Disney live-action films that she made, and far better-remembered than Candleshoe, which is also really entertaining. Astonishingly, she made Freaky Friday the same year that she made Taxi Driver, which I expect the PR people at Buena Vista did not mention. She’s fun as Annabel, but she doesn’t seem to be having half the fun that Barbara Harris, who plays her mother Ellen, does. Harris gets to chew gum and skateboard and dance and own the neighborhood baseball diamond and throw boomerangs while making goo-goo eyes at teenaged neighbors.

The water skiing stuff is all stunt doubles and rear-screen projection, of course, but the fun comedy of errors, which mainly involves lots of slow-burns in the classroom as Mom-in-Jodie Foster’s-body has no idea how to fit in, slowly gives way to more slapstick and a car chase happening at the same time as the water skiing tomfoolery.

Daniel was kind of restless during the movie, but did he ever come alive at the climax. It’s really entertaining, with Harris’s stunt double creating all kinds of skiing chaos while Foster leads police on a wild chase across Los Angeles landmarks. I’m almost positive they take the family’s red VW bug down the same staircase that David Janssen’s stunt double went down on a motorcycle in the Harry O pilot a couple of years earlier. Then they invariably end up in the concrete-channeled Los Angeles River, where they successfully avoid running into any model shoots or giant ants and the funniest thing that Daniel has ever seen happens: one of the police cars gets squashed triangular by one of the tunnels.

Almost immediately, this gag became the second-funniest thing he’d ever seen, because the final remaining police car gets cleaved in half when it runs into a concrete fork in the river, the driver’s side running up the left channel, and the passenger side running up the right. I have never heard this kid laugh so hard. When he’s old enough for me to let him hear Jackie Gleason swearing for a hundred minutes, he is going to die laughing over Smokey & the Bandit.

Perhaps it’s a bit wrong for Foster, Harris, and Astin – never mind a pretty deep bench of recognizable supporting players including Ruth Buzzi, Sorrell Booke, Marc McClure, Dick Van Patten, Alan Oppenheimer, and Al Molinaro – to get totally upstaged by stunt drivers and gimmick cars, but he is only four, dear readers!

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Captain Scarlet 1.31 – The Inquisition

As is often the case with adventure shows, one of the last episodes of the run is a clip show. This one has a frame story of Captain Blue being interrogated by somebody claiming to be from Spectrum Intelligence, and it features clips from the episodes “Big Ben Strikes Again”, “Crater 101,” and “The Trap.” The clip from “Crater 101” includes a clip from earlier in that episode, so at one point, yes, Captain Blue relates a flashback of a flashback.

Since there’s not much to say about clip shows except how frustrating they are, I’ll note that the only real disappointment in this set from Timeless Media Group is that every one of the episodes contains actor Ed Bishop’s narration, “Leading the fight, one man whom fate has made indestructible. His name: Captain Scarlet!” Some of the episodes were later given a new voiceover by Donald Grey: “Captain Scarlet is indestructible. You are not. Remember this; do not try to imitate him.” I love that and wish it had been included!

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Electra Woman 1.7 and 8 – Ali Baba

One of the great fun sidebars in watching this zero-budget show is watching how, with no extra money to spend, the Kroffts and their directors avoided spending even the little that they have. This time out, our heroines have a new gadget called Electra-Freeze – I’m pretty sure that’s the brand name of a soft-serve ice cream dispenser – and the villains, Ali Baba and the Genie, have a gong that creates illusions. In order to “freeze” the prop and make it shatter, the director zoomed in on Sid Haig, playing the Genie, as he reacted to what we couldn’t see, dubbed on a sound effect of a crash, and then Malachi Throne got to pick up some clear plastic, representing the frozen metal. There’s cheap and then there’s this.

And it doesn’t matter at all, because the villains are played by Malachi Throne and Sid Haig. Haig is more of a legend to fans of grindhouse horror films, but Throne also had a pretty terrific career, and was the only actor to appear as both an Electra-villain and a Bat-villain. He was False Face in 1966.

The absolute joy in this episode is watching really good actors having a ball overacting amazingly. The plot this time revolves around a Professor Nabokov, who invents a formula that makes you your opposite. Ali Baba sprays Dyna Girl with it, making her evil. Do you remember that episode of The Young Ones where Vyvyan invents a formula that turns you into an ax-wielding homicidal maniac? (“It’s basically a cure… for not being an ax-wielding homicidal maniac.”) It’s about like that. So Judy Strangis gets to join in and have a ball rolling her eyes and going nya-ha-ha-ha. Sure, it’s stupid, but how can you object when they’re having so much fun?

Daniel spent the episode running from in front of the sofa to behind it, largely unhappy about Dyna Girl turning evil, but he started singing the theme song in the bath, so I figure the world really didn’t end. But we’ll take a break from this show for a few months and finish up Batman all the same. Until then, keep your Electra-comps charged!

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Land of the Lost 1.15 – Elsewhen

If I cared more for American TV sci-fi of this period – I generally don’t at all – then this blog would probably see an awful lot of D.C. Fontana’s work. Yet another veteran of Star Trek, both the original show and the cartoon, to be brought on board by David Gerrold, she would go on to write for several later Trek shows and its competition / descendants / peers / ripoffs / what have you, almost none of which I’ve ever seen and have barely heard of. I’ll tell you this, though: “Elsewhen” is so darn wonderful that I’m tempted to track down what Fontana came up with in her scripts for gobbledygook like Automan and Babylon 5.

I remembered this one having the promise of being particularly rough for Daniel, and boy, was I ever right. The entire thing is set inside the Lost City, with the Marshalls stubbornly deciding to risk the Sleestak in order to fiddle with Enik’s time doorway, and then they go looking into a weird hole in the wall of a deep chasm. While they’re exploring, a strange woman named Rani, played by Erica Hagen, comes through to give Holly a pep talk and a word or two of predestination. Inevitably, for people used to television’s later embrace of timey-wimey business like this, Rani is revealed to be Holly’s future self, but for a kid’s show in 1974 this was mind-blowing.

(And I obviously reference Doctor Who in that sentence, but heck, Daniel’s familiar enough with the concept from a favorite Spongebob Squarepants that sees dozens of Mermaid Men and Barnacle Boys from different points in their history all showing up. Children’s television, across the board, may be infinitely safer and less frightening than it was forty years ago, but it also assumes a lot more intelligence of its audience.)

But yes, the Lost City is very much marked out in Daniel’s understanding as A Bad Place, and it was a little bittersweet watching him hum and sing along with the theme music, ready and hoping for more dinosaur fun, knowing that the entire episode was going to be one darkly-lit underground nightmare with Sleestak. He didn’t like this one much at all. I had to promise him the next episode is nowhere as terrifying.

Notably, though, apart from the time doorway business, this one also features that astonishingly, thunderously strange and powerful image of the sun rising while Holly is in the hole, holding on to the rope, to see that, thanks to the Land being a closed universe, she has emerged… well, it’s unclear. The obvious answer is that she’s gone down so far that she’s come back out the top and is holding on while the distant mountains rise upside down beneath her, but that doesn’t explain why the sun would rise when it was already daylight. There were two pylon keys mounted into the walls on the climb down to the hole. Was this a doorway to a parallel universe? A time doorway to an earlier, or later point in the Land? Is that upside-down landscape the ancient Altrusia of Enik’s time?

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Captain Scarlet 1.30 – Attack on Cloudbase

“Gasp! It was all… A DREAM!” Yes, the less said about this, the better.

I figured that Daniel would be quite shocked at the attack and the mounting casualties among our heroes before the cop-out revelation, and I was not wrong. He just didn’t like seeing the good guys losing at all. We were initially unsure whether he was growling – and Daniel hasn’t growled about villainy in TV in quite some time – about the good guys all dying or the “whew!” finale. After he consented to talk to us again, he confirmed it was the ending. Nobody, not even four year-olds, likes a “bad dream” story. I told him he’s going to wade through a whole lot of these in life.

The dream does reveal that Symphony Angel is a little sweet on Captain Blue, so there’s that at least.

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