Monthly Archives: September 2016

Ultraman 1.4 – Five Seconds Before the Explosion

Our son got really alarmed for the first time watching this show tonight. The monster shows up at the window of a sleeping girl and he leapt out of his skin. We reminded him that he left his security blanket at the kitchen table and he ran to get it, missing Hoshino’s latest moment of badassery. Last time, Hoshino stole a laser-bazooka to blast a monster’s eye out. This time, after the monster smashes the window, Hoshino grabs a kitchen knife and stabs it. This kid’s got more moxie than the grownups in the Science Patrol.

Speaking of the Patrol, Fuji’s on vacation in this episode, and she’s still wearing her “light duty” blue Amway suit while playing tennis. Captain Mura explained that she hasn’t had a vacation since joining the Patrol, so evidently she never had the opportunity to shop for anything else to wear.

Afterward, our son really impressed us by suggesting that all the giant monsters we see in this show are a result of that big blue sphere that landed in the lake in the first episode. He doesn’t know the word “mutate,” but that’s what he was trying to explain, that Bemular’s ship created all the other monsters. That’s clearly not actually the case – each monster’s origin is actually mentioned each time so far – but I’m extremely pleased with his creativity and constructive thinking as he attempted to tie everything together.

Actually, while this beast’s origin is briefly mentioned – it’s radiation from a nuclear bomb, bound by rocket for the planet Jupiter, that crashed in the Pacific Ocean – the English language dub does not clarify that this monster is actually a recurring foe. It’s a Ragon, an undersea species previously seen in the predecessor show, Ultra Q. Ragons are typically human-sized, kind of like the Creature from the Black Lagoon or Doctor Who‘s Sea Devils. Other Ragons later showed up in at least two of the many Ultraman sequel series.

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Ark II 1.15 – Orkus

In the final episode of Ark II, the writers once again tackled a familiar ’70s sci-fi trope: the mysterious community of immortals. This time, the group is led by TV vet Geoffrey Lewis, who IMDB tells us racked up an amazing 222 credits before his death last year, his longest-running role being the bartender on CBS’s Flo in the early ’80s. We’ll see him again in this blog a few times in the future.

This was a very surprising episode; in fact the show as a whole surprised me several times. It’s a much better program than I ever knew, despite its considerable budget limitations. This time, just a basic familiarity with this trope ensures that the grown-ups watching will know that Orkus and his gang of selfish five hundred year-olds are up to no good, but not really sure exactly what they’re after and why. It’s a very well-directed and creepy little episode, and Daniel really enjoyed the destruction of Orkus’s zero-budget “controller.” He liked the show a lot, and is a little bummed that we’ve reached the end.

CBS didn’t renew any of the three live-action Filmation shows from the 1976 season, although their cartoon Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle was a hit and returned with new episodes for a few years. Ark II was repeated on Sunday mornings after this before mostly vanishing. Jean Marie Hon and Jose Flores worked here and there into the mid-eighties before leaving the business. Terry Lester became a regular on The Young and the Restless and, later, Santa Barbara before passing away in 2003.

One final note: If anybody checks out the DVD set from BCI/Entertainment Rights, whether at crazy aftermarket prices or if you find a good deal on it somewhere, there is a mostly terrific half-hour documentary on it with some great contributions by Jean Marie Hon Trager, now a pharmacist, and several people on the show’s staff. I do take some umbrage at the claim made – twice – that Saturday mornings were all about cartoons until this show came along. Some of the contributors treated this series as though it was the mammoth hit that changed everything and launched the idea of live-action adventure shows for kids. As I hope this blog has demonstrated, that’s really, really far from the truth!

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Monster Squad 1.2 – Mr. Mephisto

Since his mother missed out on tonight’s episode, she was treated to a breathless recap of the mid-show deathtrap. Our son is absolutely loving this series, and, excitement overflowing, he explained that Dracula and Frank N. Stein were going to get turned into sausage – blood sausage and a frankfurter, of course – and then the Wolfman crashed through the window to rescue them, and I thought the kid was going to pop. I explained that we’ll probably watch the next episode Sunday morning. Waiting that long, he’ll definitely pop.

The villain this week is Mr. Mephisto, a crooked dollmaker played by Barry Dennen. We saw him several months ago as one of Shane’s hilarious henchmen in a season three Batman story. Dennen has had an amazing number of small roles over the course of his career, but he may be best known as that deliberately, extraordinarily normal character in The Shining who shows the Torrances around the hotel.

I’m absolutely loving all the underplayed gags and puns in this show, dropped without winks or tuning up the volume on the laugh track, just simply mentioned in the dialogue as naturally as any other information. This time out, there’s a gentle lob thrown at “Sid and Marty Craft,” lyrics from “Paper Doll” and “Guys and Dolls,” and the first appearance of a recurring character played by Griffin GA’s own Edward Andrews. He plays a guy named Goldwyn who is the mayor of the city, and we learn in this story that this city is simply called “Metro.” That’s right, Metro Mayor Goldwyn. We also learn that the wax museum is owned by a woman called Mrs. Tallow. For such a dumb show, it sure is making me chuckle.

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Ultraman 1.3 – Charge Forth, Science Patrol!

The other two regular characters in Ultraman are Fuji and her younger brother, Hoshino. He wasn’t actually her brother in the original show, apparently. That’s an invention of the English language dub. Fuji, who’s the radio operator back at base but also takes on investigations of her own, is played by Hiroko Sakurai, and Hoshino by Akihide Tsuzawa.

The third episode of the show introduces the first Earth-born menace that our heroes face, apparently. Hoshino has read that some soldiers, probably back in Japan’s feudal days, buried a creature called Neronga in the area, and, since the opening of a power plant, it’s been converting electricity into energy and growing to gigantic size. I’m not sure that the Science Patrol really needs to immediately accept some folklore anecdote from a ten year-old as provable fact, but then again, I’m not sure that the Science Patrol really needs to let Fuji’s kid brother have the run of their base, steal Arashi’s laser-bazooka, and get into trouble all the darn time, either.

Then again, Hoshino does actually blast Neronga’s left eye out with that bazooka, which is not only pretty gruesome, but is also more successful than anything else anyone tries until Ultraman shows up.

Speaking of eyes, here’s another example of one of these neat and very weird shots that you often find in this show. It’s a simple enough composite, but it’s also miles ahead of kidvid in the United States at the time.

Our son did really well with this episode. He has a long habit of getting worried and upset when kids or elderly aunts are put in jeopardy by villains and monsters, but Hoshino’s underground investigation was really exciting for him. I envision him exploring many “caves” with giant monsters on the end in the future.

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Ark II 1.14 – Don Quixote

I have to say, I really prefer the episodes of Ark II that are built around the popular sci-fi tropes of the time, like evil supercomputers or telepathic teens, than the ones that do another version of some old bit of folklore, like Robin Hood or Don Quixote.

Don Quixote was played by Robert Ridgely, who worked principally as a voice artist. Among many, many other credits, he took the lead role in Filmation’s Tarzan, which started the next season and ran for a few years. The omnipresent Vito Scotti played Sancho Panza. Scotti was in everything back then, and he’s much more watchable than this script. Looking ahead, I notice that we’ll be seeing Scotti again for the blog in a month or so.

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Monster Squad 1.1 – Queen Bee

An astonishing true fact: for several weeks in 1976-77 when Monster Squad was on the air, it was my favorite TV show. To say that it has aged badly isn’t really accurate. It was honestly not good in the first place, but wow, they got some fun guest stars.

So, William P. D’Angelo, who was briefly the head of NBC’s children’s programming, had created the hit Run, Joe, Run in 1974. In ’76, he formed a production company with Harvey Bullock and Ray Allen, and they produced a film (The Nativity), a couple of TV specials, and a handful of series. These included the first season of Alice and a whole mess of live-action Saturday morning shows, like The Red Hand Gang, McDuff the Talking Dog, Big John Little John and this adorably dopey show. With a lot of help from Stanley Ralph Ross, with whom D’Angelo worked on Batman, they stole the hearts of all hundred and two people who actually watched this series.

I adored it. I had the coloring book, the magic slate, and the Milton-Bradley board game, which immortalized a couple of the Monster Squad’s baddies long after this show was canceled and forgotten. If it was ever repeated anywhere, it’s news to me. When a company called Fabulous put it out on DVD a few years ago, I thought it was an April Fool’s prank. They pressed enough copies to sell to all hundred and two people who knew what it was, and it’s been out of print ever since.

So it’s a superhero show, starring famous monsters. A young criminology student played by Fred Grandy, later to serve the good people of Iowa in Congress, builds a supercomputer in the basement of a wax museum where he works. The computer’s “oscillations” bring statues of Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s Monster to life, and, feeling guilty about all the naughty things their real incarnations did, they vow to fight crime.

Okay, so that origin is actually a lot sillier than Captain Scarlet’s.

The show was made for no money at all. I’ve said that about shows we’ve watched here before, but I mean it this time. They didn’t even have enough green makeup for Michael Lane’s eyelids. Lane plays Frank N. Stein, and Buck Kartalian – occasionally a gorilla in the Apes movies – is Bruce W. Wolf, and Henry Polic II, best known as the sheriff in When Things Were Rotten, is Count Dracula. A typical Monster Squad installment has two sets: the goodies’ base, and the baddies’ base. Using the budgetary know-how that D’Angelo and Ross got from season three of Batman, the baddies’ base is inevitably a black “limbo” set, with props and dressing in front of black curtains.

So all the money went to the guest stars, and there are some very, very surprising faces turning up here for, what, maybe two days work for a couple hundred bucks? The Monster Squad’s first arch-villain is the Queen Bee, played by the amazing Alice Ghostley, who was in darn near everything back then, from Bewitched to Grease. One of her “henchbees” is Hamilton Camp, who would later play one of the versions of HG Wells in the timey-wimey episodes of Lois & Clark.

The budget is totally ignored by the writing, which assumes the show will be able to pull off anything. Actually, as scripts, they’re not bad. I like how the writers throw out some gags just in case anybody’s paying attention and the actors underplay them. This time, there are acronyms for agencies that spell out the US TV networks. A later episode has a parody of the just-launched Famous Amos cookie brand, which nobody outside Los Angeles had heard of at the time.

From adult eyes, it’s cringe-inducing and dopey, but it’s perfect for children. Ours watched with curiosity and interest until the fight scene at the end – about which, more in a later installment – and then he started hopping up and down and punching the air. He absolutely loved it. I don’t imagine anybody over the age of about nine could embrace this very much, but this seems like one of the neatest things he’s ever seen.

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Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

When I was a kid in the seventies, we took a family trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. It wasn’t the Haunted Mansion that scared me senseless, nor the hideous animatronics in the Hall of Presidents, it was just the idea of the Swiss Family Treehouse. Somehow I got the notion that you had to walk all around the attraction on tightropes, and if you fell, then tough luck, you would plummet to the ground or a raging river below.

Well, somehow I got over it and really enjoyed that part of the trip. I hadn’t seen the movie or read the original novel, but there was a Swiss Family Robinson TV series on the air around that time, which starred Martin Milner as the father, and I liked watching that a lot as a kid. I wanted to add that to our rotation here at the blog, but the darn thing’s never been available on home video. I guess we’ll have to make do with Disney’s version, which I’m reasonably confident is a bigger and better production anyhow.

This is a classic adventure tale in the tradition of many Disney films of the day, with one darn thing after another befalling the attractive cast. The Robinsons decided to flee the Napoleonic wars of Europe for a new life in the colonies of New Guinea, but are shipwrecked. From there, they have to put up with sharks, tigers, snakes, you name it. Oh, and pirates. These are fairly awesome, no-joke, downright mean south Pacific pirates, too. None of that “arrr” nonsense.

The cast is led by John Mills, and by chance I’d just finished watching him in a fun 1974 series called The Zoo Gang, which is kind of a Mission: Impossible cash-in set in the south of France. As for familiar Disney faces of the day, there’s also Dorothy McGuire, from Old Yeller, Janet Munro, from Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and James MacArthur, who had made Kidnapped the previous year and would stay hugely in demand throughout the sixties before co-starring for more than a decade as “Danno” Williams on Hawaii Five-O.

While it is a good film, this was a long, long one, and boy, did we ever feel it. The problem is that once Fritz and Ernst rescue a cabin boy who turns out to be a girl disguised as a boy to avoid a grisly fate at the hands of the pirates, the simmering jealousy between them becomes incredibly tedious. If, perhaps, you’re a girl who wouldn’t mind imagining yourself in the place of Munro, with two good-looking shirtless young men to choose from, the twenty minutes they spend stewing might possibly be a little more bearable.

There’s enough animal action and close escapes in the film to keep our five year-old entertained, and the climactic battle against the pirates completely thrilled him. The whole film is full of surprising stunts and physical business between the animals. I wondered how on earth the stuntmen playing the pirates didn’t escape with serious injury, never mind the poor ostrich that keeps being mounted, and the tiger and two dogs that get into a rumble. It builds to a terrific climax and some surprising decisions taken in the conclusion, and is overall a very well-acted and well-made movie. If it were not for some mushy stuff as Munro comes closer to making her decision which boy she likes better, he’d probably have called it a complete success!

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Ultraman 1.2 – Defeat the Invaders!

It’s one of those oddball little coincidences in fantasy TV: Doctor Who introduced the Daleks in the show’s second serial, the Sleestak first showed up in the second episode of Land of the Lost, and Ultraman‘s most memorable recurring enemy, the Baltans, showed up in the second episode, too. The Baltans – there are more than sixty billion of them, according to this episode, the size of bacteria – continued to plague the various Ultra-heroes over the years, making more than a dozen return engagements as far as I can tell.

I thought these guys would unnerve Daniel just a little bit, and I was right, thanks to the really good direction of the scene where Arashi investigates a science research institute and keeps finding frozen, green-lit security guards. It’s a great example of the way the show really isn’t filmed like a kiddie show, even though it’s frequently written for the youngest members of the audience.

Case in point: we didn’t really meet the characters in episode one, so this installment focuses on Arashi (played by Sandayū Dokumamushi), the “muscle man” of the Science Patrol, and Ide (called “Ito” in the English language dub, and played by Masanari Nihei), who’s the wacky and sometimes cowardly member of the team. Ide sports a black eye in the opening and closing bookends of the story, during which he talks to the camera, to the kids in the audience, with goofy grins and face-pulling, as the tale behind his accident is revealed.

Ultraman has endured for lots of reasons, but an important one is that the scary moments are tamed by silliness like this, and indeed when Arashi stomps on Ide’s foot, and later when we see how Ide got that black eye, our son howled with laughter. But when the program is trying for something unusual, it’s shot like something made for grown-ups, with really interesting camera tricks and cinematography. So we get thunderously odd images like Hayata’s body floating away in episode one, and the green, frozen guards in this one. I appreciate the way the producers kept everybody in the audience in mind.

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