Shazam! 1.10 – The Brain

Yep, this is what teenagers looked like in 1974. My late uncle Ron graduated from high school in 1974. He lived with us then and owned three of those shirts. The green and white shirt’s worn by Biff Warren, who played Doomsday in NBC’s The Kids from C.A.P.E.R. a couple of seasons later. I’d like to see that show again, actually. (Checks YouTube. Oh. No, never mind, I wouldn’t.)

Oddly, I was just telling Daniel a couple of days ago how kids, when they become teenagers, start doing really stupid things. This one required us to pause it to explain what in the world is going on. Biff Warren’s character is the leader of that gang, and he makes the new kid that he doesn’t like undergo a dangerous initiation to hang out with them. Then he starts to lose face and needs rescuing.

The weirdest thing about this episode, another of the first batch that’s directed by Hollingsworth Morse, is that the new kid has one of Filmation’s publicity photos of Jackson Bostwick as Captain Marvel on his bedroom wall. What are we to make of this? In this universe, where Captain Marvel only seems to show up for two or three minutes at a time to stop a runaway horse or extinguish an underground coal fire, he nevertheless found time to stop by a studio somewhere and have some photos made. Did he need some head shots to send out for the Avengers’ or the Justice League’s next membership drive?

Also, it was written by Donald F. Glut, who wrote a Land of the Lost episode we looked at last month. It turns out this was Glut’s first professional job, but he’d been making superhero and dinosaur movies on Super-8 film with his friends for more than ten years at this point. He wrote dozens of episodes of Saturday morning and afternoon cartoons, along with comic books – usually horror titles – for all the major publishers in the 1970s and 1980s, and created most of the characters of Mattel’s Masters of the Universe toy line. He wrote the paperback novelization of The Empire Strikes Back, and wrapped up his career writing and directing a series of movies in which naked girls fight mummies and dinosaurs. Glut seems to be retired now, but that man can honestly be said to have lived every fan’s dream life.

The Secret Service 1.3 – To Catch a Spy

I believe that one of the most difficult things to do when making one of the Supermarionation shows must have been orchestrating the gunfights. But there’s a really terrific one that opens this episode, a prison break that the director, Brian Heard, managed with a series of incredibly quick cuts. I swear it looks like there are more cuts in sixty seconds of this gunfight than in an entire episode of Captain Scarlet.

But the gunfight at the end is a huge missed opportunity. Father Unwin has shrunk one of the villains, who then has a disappointingly static shootout with the also-shrunk Matthew in a greenhouse in Kew Gardens. Heard keeps cutting between the puppets and a pair of frogs who are also in the greenhouse. We kept waiting for one of the frogs to jump and knock the shrunken villain on his backside. That was a missed opportunity!

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Land of the Lost 3.8 – Hot-Air Artist

So I was mentioning David Healy the other day, and here’s the story. I’m not blogging about it because we’re not watching it with Daniel, but Marie and I are slowly making our way through the terrific Jason King, an ITC adventure series from 1973.

Part of the fun, for me, is spotting all the recognizable actors in the guest cast, people who also showed up on Doctor Who and The Avengers like Nicholas Courtney, Kate O’Mara, and Ronald Lacey. I try not to cheat, and wait until the episode’s over before checking out imdb.com, but when David Healy showed up as an undercover CIA agent, it drove me nuts because I knew that I remembered him from somewhere. I was pleasantly surprised to realize he had been among the voice cast of Captain Scarlet, which we’d just finished watching with Daniel, so I’d heard his voice on about twenty occasions over the previous six months. Then I read a little further over Healy’s long list of credits and realized we’d be seeing him in this episode.

So there’s your connection between Sid and Marty Krofft and Gerry Anderson. I was going to say that this may not be all that interesting, but it’s more interesting than this episode, but then Daniel got absolutely horrified by the climax, in which Healy’s character, a self-promoting aviator and adventurer from 1920 named Roscoe Post, attempts to abduct Cha-Ka. He drew up on the couch, eyes wide and hand over his mouth in shock, and was incredibly relieved when Cha-Ka escaped from the balloon’s gondola.

As is usual in season three, you sort of have to accept that however all these guest stars are getting into the Land of the Lost, they’re able to retrace their steps precisely, and rather than the manipulated time doorways of the previous seasons and the specific rules for them, there are just random cracks in time that people can access back and forth, because none of this makes any sense otherwise.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Today was a really special day for our family. It was Daniel’s first trip to a movie theater. All the TV and movie watching we’ve done as a group has been, in small part, getting him ready for enjoying a movie with a group and not being a distraction or anything to the other viewers.

Now, I’d actually hoped that his first big screen experience would have been Star Wars: The Force Awakens, because a Star Wars movie is a great one to claim as your first, but as regular readers know, our son is very gentle and frightens pretty easily, and the overwhelming spectacle of, not the movie, but all those maximum volume trailers of every PG-13 blockbuster – they’re all really just one film called Everything Explodes Again, starring either Vin Diesel or The Rock – would have been too much for him, I know, so we waited until he was a little older and wondered what would be a good, appropriate experience that we would want to enjoy with him, instead of giving up with something brain-dead about cartoon animals with Jimmy Fallon and Whoopi Goldberg’s voices. So a HUGE thanks to the great people at Fathom Events for programming Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth.

He had a great time and was extremely well behaved. He wasn’t completely flawless; he forgot the rules and did speak about three sentences, but the potentially frightening bits – the boat ride and the ceiling fan – didn’t shock him too greatly. He loved the whole weird, wild experience, especially that bizarre car that belches soda foam all over its riders.

I read that Roald Dahl was really unhappy with how the film evolved outside of his hands, especially the way that Gene Wilder just takes over the picture as the emphasis completely shifts to Wonka instead of Charlie and Grandpa Joe. You know, I think he just might have been right. Don’t get me wrong, Wilder is perfectly entertaining (and I do mean perfect), but Peter Ostrum and Jack Albertson have such an incredibly fun chemistry in the first half of the film, and the change in focus means the characters become supporting players in what had been, up to then, their movie. But that’s possibly an opinion many won’t share because Wilder is just so astonishingly fun. The only real flaw in this movie about which we’ll probably all agree is that, as mentioned the last time we watched a movie together, it all comes to a crashing halt during the deadly dull song “Cheer Up Charlie.”

Other standouts, on the other hand: Nora Denney is hilarious as Mike Teevee’s mother (did you notice that Mike signs his name T.V., by the way?), Tim Brooke-Taylor had me giggling in an uncredited part as a computer operator, Roy Kinnear and Julie Dawn Cole are just perfect together as the unfortunate Salts, and I really like Aubrey Woods as the guy who runs the candy shop. Several months after this was filmed, Woods did a four-part Doctor Who and was really theatrical, like a bad stage ham, and yet he’s very natural and believable here, so I wonder what the heck happened. And of all the giggle-inducing lines that Wilder delivers, there’s an exchange between he and an Oompa Loompa once Mike has been transmitted across the room and shrunk that had me laughing for a minute straight. It’s a really, really good film.

If you’ve never seen a Fathom Events / Turner Classic Movies presentation before, these monthly screenings of old movies are really worth your time. They’re a little costly – seats are going to range from $13 to $20 depending on your market – but the prints are in very, very good shape, the previews are exclusively for other Fathom Events instead of dumb new movies like Everything Explodes Again, and they’re topped and tailed with commentary by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz. Marie and I saw The Maltese Falcon a few months ago, which is how we learned about this month’s presentation of Willy Wonka. They don’t have any other family movies coming up in the next six months, but they do have Dr. Strangelove, one of my favorite movies, coming in September, and The Shining in October. I’ve seen Strangelove on a big screen at least six times, but I honestly don’t know whether I’ve ever seen The Shining projected. It’s been at least twenty years if I have. I hope we can get a babysitter for those!

Shazam! 1.9 – The Doom Buggy

How’d this episode come about? Well, somebody said “Let’s see. Kids like dune buggies, and they should be reminded to stay in school, so let’s do a story where a guy with a dune buggy is thinking about dropping out. That’ll work!”

Trying to convince the guy with the buggy to stay in school is actress Lisa Eilbacher, who had lots of small parts like this in the seventies before getting some choicer roles in the eighties, chief among them the recurring part of Nicky in the NBC drama Midnight Caller. She doesn’t have a lot to do in this other than ride a motorcycle around the desert with Les Tremayne’s stunt double.

I am pleasantly surprised that this show resonates with Daniel. He really likes it, despite my mocking of it here, so never mind what I say. This was made for kids, and this one enjoys it just fine.

The Secret Service 1.2 – A Question of Miracles

Tonight’s episode is the first of two Secret Service installments written by Donald James, who wrote for quite a few ITC programs of the day, including about half of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). He worked for Gerry Anderson for several years, contributing scripts to five of his programs along with screenplay of the film Doppelganger.

It’s also the first appearance in this series of the Captain Scarlet puppet. It’s used for another BISHOP agent named Paul Blake, who really gets the short end of the undercover assignment. The director of BISHOP gives him a crucifix on a chain and a pill to take at a set time. The pill instantly sickens him to the point that a base doctor sends for a priest, just as Father Unwin happens to be nearby to get called into the base to save the day.

Daniel has pleasantly surprised us by really enjoying this show even more than I thought he might. It will never replace Thunderbirds in his affections – he actually asked to rewatch several episodes of that over the last week – but he told us that he likes this even more than Captain Scarlet, which I wouldn’t have predicted.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)

Land of the Lost 3.7 – Flying Dutchman

My wife suggested that it was kind of inevitable that they’d do a Flying Dutchman episode. This or the Marie Celeste, I said. And it’s a little frustrating, because there’s the germ of a really, really good story here, but it never quite gels. Or perhaps it’s just a standard borderline-okay season three episode that’s really elevated by Rex Holman’s performance as Captain Ruben Van der Meer. He’s believably haunted, really fascinating in a quiet, compellingly understated way.

He’s especially effective when compared with Richard Kiel, back for a second appearance as Malak, all bluster and yelling. Malak helps sink what should have been a much more interesting episode. Perhaps Kiel was under contract for two stories and they had to find something for him to do? So there are two plots intertwined in a program with only twenty-three minutes to spare them. Neither is well developed, and the whole show seems very oddly rushed, damaging what seemed like a promising, weird story that would have benefited from more time.

Daniel said that this installment was “pretty cool,” though he was much less vocal and wild about it than the previous six episodes. He most enjoyed the too-brief animation of the galleon lifting off and vanishing into the mists, and a bit where they fire a mini-cannon to scare off the Sleestak.

Rex Holman, incidentally, never did find the star vehicle that he deserved. He had dozens of small parts in TV shows, mainly in the sixties and mainly in westerns, and these petered out instead of building into a regular part somewhere. Looking over IMDB, I can’t honestly swear that I’ve seen any but a few, but one of his great roles was as that odd version of Morgan Earp in my favorite Star Trek episode, “Spectre of the Gun.” Nobody believes me when I say that unloved, weird, no-budget hour is my favorite episode of that show, but it’s true.

Shazam! 1.8 – The Boy Who Said “No”

I always say that you have to grade Shazam! on a curve, because the reason this show is so timid is the same reason that the very first season of Super Friends – the one with Wendy, Marvin, and Wonderdog – is so much worse than all the rest of that show. And true, Super Friends was a pretty lousy show, ripe for all the decades of mocking that it’s received, but by 1978, you at least had the Legion of Doom actually killing all the heroes and requiring some celestial intervention to bring everybody back to life. The original Super Friends hour didn’t have any villains at all, just “misguided scientists.” Hamstrung by the likes of Peggy Charren and the Action for Children’s Television advocacy group, the Saturday morning superheroes of 1973-75, whether animated or live action, didn’t have anybody to fight.

So you get completely antiseptic situations like the one in this episode, where the criminal succeeds in pushing his way around and even forces a hostage to fly him off in a helicopter without a weapon, without even making a fist. And at the end, he apologizes for all the trouble he caused; he just needed some money and made a bad decision. It’s pretty awful.

And yet… the things that Hollingsworth Morse and Filmation got away with making their star do are just eye-popping from a modern perspective. Following up some of the surprising crane stunts in the last few stories, Jackson Bostwick genuinely hangs from a helicopter several feet off the ground in this one. A Captain Marvel program made today would probably have the Sivanas and King Kull in it, but the producers would be a little less likely to dangle their star fifteen feet in the air without some safety equipment.

The Secret Service 1.1 – A Case for the Bishop

Off to 1969 and one of the shows that Gerry Anderson made that people just don’t know all that well, The Secret Service is a very cute and very, very odd little spy series for kids. It doesn’t have any of the wild mayhem and crazy technology of the earlier Supermarionation shows. In fact it has a single fantastic element: a shrink ray.

By ’69, the spy craze kickstarted by the James Bond films was mostly calmed down, so this was a weird time to be making a spy adventure, but there you go. It’s set in what appears to be the present day and concerns an agency called B.I.S.H.O.P. which employs Father Stanley Unwin. The priest is played by the real Stanley Unwin, a popular comedian of the day whose shtick was talking in a nonsensical gobbledygook. Father Unwin uses a shrink ray to miniaturize his fellow agent Matthew and carry him into action, while he distracts authorities or guards by appearing as a harmless priest who babbles a lot.

The pilot, unsurprisingly, isn’t too complicated. It’s a basic little adventure about retrieving a stolen computer that takes time setting up the premise. But what no amount of backstory will prepare you for is how downright weird this show looks. See, every Gerry Anderson show has some of what Marie calls “cheat shots,” where they do closeups of human hands instead of trying to get the puppets to do intricate tasks. This takes things in the other direction entirely. It’s a live action show that just happens to have puppets in for the dialogue. All the exteriors and establishing shots and car chases are filmed by a crew with human actors, with the real Stanley Unwin driving his character’s terrific car, a 1917 Ford Model T called Gabriel. Then when anybody needs to talk, the puppets are used. So the team didn’t have to build as many puppet-scale exteriors, and they shot far less material on the small stages, and everybody at Century 21 got the practice making shows with real actors that would serve them well when they started making UFO and The Protectors.

Incidentally, both The Secret Service and its immediate predecessor, Joe 90, used several props and puppet bodies that were built for Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons two years previously – you can spot Captain Ochre in a small role here – and also many of the same voice actors. One of these is David Healy, who was often used for American generals or, here, Iron Curtain-nation diplomats. We’ll have a little bit more to say about David Healy in these pages shortly.

Daniel was honestly not completely taken by this, but he said it was pretty good and seems interested in seeing more. The car chase and gunfight certainly had his attention though, and we’ll see what happens in episode two very soon.

(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. Click the link to purchase it from Amazon UK.)