Monthly Archives: November 2016

The People That Time Forgot (1977)

There’s a bit about fifty minutes into The People That Time Forgot where the heroes are being led on horseback toward a fairly good matte composite of what’s clearly a drawing of a city that looks like a bunch of giant skulls. Now, up to that point, this has been a perfectly good adventure film with dinosaurs and cavemen, with lots of great location filming in Spain. Then they go into the drawing and it’s all a laughably obvious set at Pinewood, with a volcano that’s not so much “lava” as it is “lava lamp,” and for the final twenty minutes, the ground keeps exploding and makes little Rick Wakeman keyboard noises along with the booming. Few films fall so far, so fast, as this one.

It’s not so much a sequel to The Land That Time Forgot as it is its inverse. That film starts with a half-hour of power struggles about the U-boat before it gets to the mysterious continent of Caprona. This one begins in the icy waters of that huge island, and within six minutes, the “amphib” seaplane bringing our four heroes inland is getting divebombed by a pterodactyl. And it’s a good pterodactyl, too. The winged dinosaur in the original film was probably that movie’s weakest part, a big inanimate prop swung around on a crane with huge, thick wires. This one is a proper puppet with a moving jaw. It’s Kevin Connor and Amicus Productions letting us know they’ve learned from some of that movie’s mistakes. Shame the company folded once the picture was finished; after twenty years as the chief British rival to Hammer in the world of horror and science fiction, they closed down and The People That Time Forgot was released through American International and MGM.

Dinosaurs are a much smaller part of the action in this one. It’s set a few years after the original. Doug McClure’s character, Beau Tyler, had last been seen throwing a “message in a bottle” into the seas of Caprona containing specimens and a detailed account of events. So a childhood buddy, played by Patrick Wayne, comes to the rescue, financed by a British newspaper. The niece of the paper’s owner is played by Sarah Douglas, best known as Ursa in Superman II. Also along, a scientist played by Thorley Walters and a mechanic, Shane Rimmer. And they’re all eclipsed by blues singer Dana Gillespie and her barely-there cavegirl costume.

Incidentally, before this movie, I knew Gillespie best as part of David Bowie’s glam-era retinue. She was part of the gang that appeared on the John Peel show in ’71 to promote Hunky Dory, and she sung a downright terrific rendition of “Andy Warhol.” So see, I’m not nearly as focused on her breasts as this movie’s cinematographer was.

So anyway, this chugs along as a perfectly good seventies adventure film, punctuated by better special effects and an ongoing competition between Wayne and Rimmer to see who can say “hell” and “damn” the most. Gillespie’s cavegirl character, Ajur, leads the heroes to the tribe called the Nargas that had abducted Tyler a few months before. The Nargas are wearing quasi-samurai armor for some reason. I was rolling around some kind of explanation – maybe a Japanese ship crashed here in the 1600s or something – and then we get to the drawing of Skull City and things get interminable.

The Nargas leader is played by the huge Milton Reid, who was usually holding axes and standing next to big gongs without his shirt on in lots of these sorts of movies. There’s a volcano god and of course the ladies have to be sacrificed, because this is, in fact, this sort of movie. The menfolk, including Doug McClure, who finally shows up without saying either “hell” or “damn,” rescue everybody, get out of the Pinewood set and back to Spain and have the big climactic gunfight while the ground explodes making “peee-sssshewww!” noises. Climax achieved, the film still has twenty minutes to go.

Marie’s theory is that the production company brought all the explosives they could carry to Spain, and by golly, they weren’t going to finish this movie until they’d set off every one of them. At one point they get cornered in a cave by a small four-legged dinosaur with a rocky, armored carapace and the camera keeps showing us the trembling roof and stalactites. An eternity later, one of them finally falls and impales the beast. Then there are more explosions and Shane Rimmer yells at the airplane’s engine to start. Apparently Caprona is alive and, unhappy that the wrong body fell into its volcano – well, given the choice of Reid or Gillespie, who can blame it? – it’s trying to keep them all from leaving. Nevertheless, it is all astonishingly fast-forwardable.

So, over to our five year-old critic, who was very excited by all the action, babbled at the evilness of the bad guys, and hid his head under his blanket during an unintentionally hilarious bit where the heroes are trying to rush through a narrow tunnel with monster heads lunging from the walls at them. I kept imagining the monsters on the other side of the wall standing at awkward angles trying to fit their necks through the hole, somehow figuring that this was a sensible way to find food. Anyway, he said that the best part of the movie was the airplane having the dogfight with the pterodactyl. I actually agree with that almost completely. That was the best part of the movie that didn’t have Dana Gillespie almost naked in it.


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Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks (part one)

Well, that was… interesting.

So, tonight was Daniel’s introduction to Doctor Who and we began with one of the slowest ones. I’d been planning to start him with “The Tomb of the Cybermen” next month, which was his big brother’s first look at the show back in 2002 or so, but then the BBC went and announced this animated reconstruction of a lost serial, the one that introduced Patrick Troughton in the role and was first shown fifty years ago. So we sat down to watch it, and it was interesting and slow. Thankfully, he enjoyed it. I was really worrying whether he would.

I really didn’t know what to expect. “The Power of the Daleks” is one of a handful of black and white serials about which I really don’t know much. I’ve never cared for the telesnap reconstructions or listening to the audios of the missing stories, and nor have I absorbed novelisations or even detailed episode synopses for a few of these stories, so this one, like “The Savages” and “The Space Pirates,” is almost completely unknown to me.

And so what I didn’t know is that the lengthy opening scene really must have relied a lot on the body language of the actors, Troughton, and, playing his two companions Polly and Ben, Anneke Wills and Michael Craze. With silent seconds passing like glaciers and these drawings standing motionless on the screen, it’s very far from exciting.

I think there must have been a decision to have the animators adhere closely to the original camera script. A few years ago, the BBC released a 1964 serial, “The Reign of Terror,” with cartoon versions of the two missing parts of the story. That animation was almost exciting and modern, with lots of cuts and fast editing. I thought that was very interesting, but there was a lot of pushback against it from fandom since it was so unlike the visual pacing of the rest of the story.

It’s a shame because this must have been a thrilling moment of mystery to 1966’s audience. Most of the lore of Who and its changing lead actors came long after this episode. The Doctor’s people, the Time Lords, weren’t named for another three years, the planet Gallifrey and the word “regeneration” came five years after that, and the “I can do this twelve times” limitation was added a full decade after he did it the first time. So this strange moment of a new actor looking around the TARDIS and digging in the toybox was, in 1966, utterly bizarre, but it falls completely flat as animation. This should have been a scene of weird, mysterious magic, and not drawings standing still.

Unsurprisingly, our son was quite restless after about ten minutes of such slow and quiet television, and as we reach the planet Vulcan (no, not that one) and meet a colony full of drawings of middle-aged British actors in pajamas, he wasn’t all that interested. Opening the inner compartment of the capsule and meeting the seemingly dead and dormant Daleks finally got his attention, and he pronounced the show, in the end, “creepy and cool” and he’s looking forward to part two.

He did ask why we couldn’t go ahead and watch the next part tomorrow instead of waiting a week. Well, just as soon as the DVD gets here (it’s released in the UK on Monday), we’ll start watching a day at a time, but for now, we’ll wait for BBC America.

If you’re wondering why the heck this is a cartoon, and what I mean by “lost serial,” stay tuned. I’ll explain why there are missing episodes in next week’s post.


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Space Academy 1.13 – Space Hooky

There’s a cute double-meaning in the title of tonight’s episode, another in the series that’s written by Samuel A. Peeples. It seems to be referring to Loki and Peepo sneaking into space without authorization, but then they meet a couple of odd aliens – simple colored lights, which is actually more effective than covering a body stocking with silver tinsel – who are also playing hooky. The alien “children” can hide in human minds and possess people, but they’re not malevolent, only immature and mischievous.

That said, our son did get briefly worried when one of the lights pops into Gampu’s head. He gets to pull faces and act about as silly as the actors who play Arashi and Ito on Ultraman, actually.

Also of note this week, one of the cameramen made a really odd error filming this episode and stuck a circular “POV” lens (or something) over the action, so about half the shots in the climactic moments have this curious “halo” effect around the picture. Here’s another screen grab, so you can see what I’m talking about.

Honestly, this is purely to illustrate the odd camera error, and not to give you a bonus picture of pretty Maggie Cooper. Surely not.

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Dr. Shrinker 1.9 – Slowly I Turn

It’s true that I wear Krofft blinders and adore most of the company’s output beyond reason, but there are three of their shows that I just don’t enjoy: Lidsville, The Lost Saucer, and this ridiculous show, Dr. Shrinker.

In the 1975-76 season, ABC was really pleased with the numbers they were getting from Krofft productions, both on Saturday morning with Saucer and in prime time with their first variety show, Donny & Marie. So for the 1976-77 season, ABC ordered a blend of the two: a variety show for kids with different comedy and adventure programs within it. The Kroffts had actually started their Saturday morning careers building the suits for another example of the format in 1968: The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.

The first season of The Krofft Supershow was comprised of edited repeats of Saucer along with three new series: Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, which we watched earlier this year, Wonderbug, and this comedy adventure, which starred Jay Robinson as the maddest of all mad scientists. The Supershow was hosted by a kid-friendly band of five glam rockers called Kaptain Kool and the Kongs, and their interstitial segments, musical numbers, and comedy bits were taped at the Omni complex in Atlanta, where the Kroffts were losing money in an ill-fated indoor amusement park, while all the actual shows were, of course, taped in Los Angeles.

So, cast-wise, we’ve got Jay Robinson, finding one note and playing it precisely and without any others in his repertoire, as Dr. Shrinker, the “madman with an evil mind,” and Billy Barty as his assistant Hugo. The unfortunate “shrinkies” are all-American Brad, played by Ted Eccles, his girlfriend B.J., played by Susan Lawrence, and her brother Gordie, played by Jeff MacKay, who later went on to star in several prime-time shows in the next decade. Everybody argues with each other, nobody is happy, and I have always found this show to be tedious. Even as a kid, I questioned why Dr. Shrinker needed to recapture “the shrinkies.” He doesn’t actually need them anymore, not to “prove” that his shrinking ray works, does he? All he has to do is take the weapon to the next mad scientist convention and shrink something else.

But we’re watching this with my kid, and he enjoyed the daylights out of it. The example installment on this Rhino sampler set is an amnesia episode, but I guess our son hasn’t seen enough of these yet to find them tiresome. He was captivated, concerned for “the shrinkies,” jumped up and giggled during the climactic chase, and went upstairs singing the theme song. Whaddaya know?

Incidentally, a couple of years after this show, writer Mark Evanier worked with Jay Robinson on another Krofft show, about which more in a couple of weeks. When Robinson died in 2013, Evanier penned one of his fascinating obituaries about the actor, which includes a remarkable incident where Robinson had a lengthy “come to Jesus” talk with one of the Bay City Rollers. Hollywood’s a strange place.


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The Goodies 1.1 – Tower of London

Back to 1970 tonight and the very first episode of The Goodies, which I’d never seen before, and once again I am forced to do the parent-gritting-teeth bit because I’m showing this to my five year-old and Bill Oddie somehow conspired to put a picture of a topless girl on the screen. What a naughty man. I’m working under the idea that just not commenting or drawing any attention at all to anything slightly racy is the best idea. That, and remembering these little bits of bawdy business so that when he’s eight or nine and has a friend over and asks “Hey, Dad, can I show my friend The Goodies,” I’ll know what to say to avoid a tricky conversation with another parent.

Of course, saying that, it’s more likely that if he does want to tell his pals about this show, they’ll probably be sharing videos on YouTube to each others’ tablets or whatever and bypass me entirely. Groan. I do remember, at least, not to show him the episode “The End.” That one’s got a blackface gag – Oddie again – that I once showed my older kids and had a whole lot of ‘splaining to do.

Mommy missed the episode due to work and asked him what the episode was about. “It’s about a burglar who stole… (beat) the crown jewels! There was also a horse chase! There was a burglar on a horse and the Goodies were trying to get that horse!”

Somewhat lost in that description is that the Goodies were hired on their very first case by a mysterious man in the Tower of London played by the great George Baker to find out who was stealing the beefeaters’ beef. The culprit is none other than Prince Charles and a “by appointment” associate burglar, the first of dozens of cheeky references to the royals across the Goodies’ run of nine series. There’s the usual filmed shenanigans and slapstick that had him howling.

It culminates in a genuinely surprising bit of first light location filming, where the “Charles” on horseback escapes with our heroes, dressed as beefeaters, right behind him. They run right up to the gates of the real Buckingham Palace, with all the moxie of guerrilla film making. I wonder whether the BBC sent Her Majesty’s secretary a note asking the Palace guards to kindly ignore any tomfoolery taking place in the road that morning.

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Ultraman 1.16 – Science Patrol into Space

This episode is fantastic. “This is kind of scary!” Daniel said at one point, and he raced behind the sofa a little later. Good. I was starting to think that, after the comedy episode a little while back, this program had lost its power to unnerve him. Nope, the return of the Baltans took care of that.

I wish this show had more enemies like these guys. When one of them pops up on the video screen in the scene above, it’s a genuine jump-out-of-your-seat moment. The plot’s almost superfluous to the Baltans blowing things up and acting creepy and Ultraman cutting them in half – I repeat, CUTTING THEM IN HALF – with some laser sawblade weapon. The boy’s been a little hyper all day, the school tells us. This episode didn’t help calm him down.

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Space Academy 1.12 – My Favorite Marcia

There have been a few episodes of this show that I didn’t like. Most of them have been pleasantly entertaining. This one, however, is just wonderful. It’s so cute! Dena Dietrich, whom we all remember as Mother Nature in Chiffon Margarine’s decade-long ad campaign, plays an old flame of Commander Gampu’s. She’s a treasure hunter who gets stuck on a planet whose sun is about to explode while hunting for diamonds, and she runs afoul of a war machine that has wrecked her ship.

The war machine is played by a slightly modified Robby the Robot, wearing a new head. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this version of Robby before.

Honestly, it would be a fun enough simple story if anybody had played Marcia Giddings, but Dietrich and Jonathan Harris are just electric together. They haven’t seen each other in twenty years – when Gampu was a captain – and they resume bickering instantly, each of them completely convinced that the other was the one who was always getting in trouble. Events on the planet assure each of them they were always right. It’s always the other’s fault.

We never learn much about their history; we don’t have to. They admit their love at the end as Marcia takes her leave and reveals Gampu’s first name as Isaac, much to the cadets’ amusement, and we’re left with a supernova that explodes in seventies disco color – the whole episode impressed our boy, but that effect most of all – and the absolute pleasure of watching two really good actors create lifetimes of backstory, two old sweethearts who crossed paths for one more adventure. The chemistry was absolutely perfect, and the episode a simple joy.

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The Lost Saucer 1.10 – Return to the Valley of the Chickaphants

I sort of picture Sid and Marty Krofft meeting in the office one afternoon trying to figure out what to do since one of ’em sold ABC on a “lost in space” comedy that morning, at the same time that the other sold CBS on a “lost in space” comedy. They had to come up with two different enough programs so as not to confuse the public. I can’t swear that they did, because people constantly confuse The Lost Saucer with the much, much funnier Far Out Space Nuts, but I really think the shows are very different.

Space Nuts is pretty much the same show every week, enlivened by the genuinely hilarious antics of Chuck McCann and Bob Denver. Every episode, it’s a different villain with some scheme that involves one or both characters. The Lost Saucer isn’t about villains. It’s usually about weird cultures and odd sci-fi ideas taken to extremes, like a planet where nobody has a name or individual identity, or one where everybody must smile, and the conflict comes down to bureaucracy. These “lost in space” travelers refuse to fit in! Of course, the one on Rhino’s World of Sid and Marty Krofft DVD set is one of two that don’t have a weird future city and isn’t a decent sample of the show at all.

The problem, once you watch a couple of episodes of each series, is that Space Nuts could easily repurpose the same barren desert set as a dozen different planets, and redress the villain base a few different ways. The Lost Saucer had to create the illusion of larger worlds and populations, and it seemed like all the money went into the downright impressive flying saucer exterior and interior. With the moths escaping from the wallet, what was left behind for set design and costuming for the sixteen episodes was nowhere near enough. The Kroffts were always mocked – really unjustly – for bargain-basement costumes and special effects even as their shows were running, but not even I can defend the woeful props and robots on offer in this program. The suit in “My Fair Robot” is frankly the worst robot costume I’ve ever seen on television.

And of course they didn’t want to waste money on sets when they had good actors to pay. Everybody on this show is better than the material and the production. Guest stars included Billy Barty, Johnny Brown, Gordon Jump, Marvin Kaplan, Joe E. Ross, and Vito Scotti. They’re backing up the headliners Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi as the androids Fum and Fi, and they get to talk real slow when their batteries wind down, and slap each other in the back when they start repeating words. That kind of comedy. Lost in space and time with them: ten year-old Jarrod Johnson, who was the first person of color to get transported from our world into one of the Kroffts’ weird fantasy lands, and Alice Playten, who played his babysitter. They usually get to bring along the perspective that hey, the 20th Century may not have the technology of the future, but we knew how to treat each other respectfully.

But I was talking about the lack of money, and nowhere is that more evident than in the two chickaphant stories, the second of which was included in Rhino’s collection that we’ve resumed watching. Having made the modest investment into this goofy puppet, they decided to use it again in another episode, prolonging the audience’s misery. They saved a little more of the budget by taping these two on the Land of the Lost jungle set at General Service, while the crew put together a new city plaza/apartment set to use in the next couple of episodes.

Our son mostly enjoyed it, but there’s a bit where two cavemen start fighting that actually had him worried and unhappy. On the other hand, the bit where one of the cavemen chases Ruth Buzzi around a cave had him roaring with laughter. (I can actually hear them putting this show together as I type… “We’ve got a bit where a caveman chases an android woman around a cave and she’s running out of power. We need Ruth Buzzi for this part.”) And somehow, through the eyes of a five year-old, the giant and hopelessly phony chickaphant has a surprisingly potent ability to shock and startle.

We have five other Krofft shows to sample. It’s going to get a whole lot better, but not immediately.


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