We’re very sorry to hear that actor Chuck McCann has died. He was also a writer and TV presenter, and an omnipresent face in the 1970s, with appearances on everything from commercials to Columbo. I knew him best as Barney in Sid and Marty Krofft’s hilarious Far Out Space Nuts and was really sorry to hear that such a funny, popular guy has left us. Our condolences to his friends and family.
After the previous episode of this show, which was a deeply unfunny trainwreck, it’s back to silliness, wit, puns, and in-jokes with “Music Man.” This script, like the first three, is just so much better than it needed to be. It’s easy to overlook the dopey production since the jokes are so good.
The villain this week is played by Marty Allen. He plays a no-talent singer who robs a telethon and his name is, if you’re ready, Lorenzo Musica. There are gags about Rona Barrett, President Buchanan, Rin Tin Tin, and Lassie. Stanley Ralph Ross co-wrote the script with Chuck McCann and Earle Doud, and Ross played the host of a TV telethon to fight natural causes. As in, the leading cause of death is natural causes.
In a double in-joke, in the real world, Ross actually used to don a tuxedo and work the phones at the annual Chabad Telethon. So here’s the second link to Mark Evanier’s site in one week, because as soon as I realized that was Ross playing the comedian begging for money, I remembered this great story about how Ross would take the phones when people called to complain about the telethon. You should check that out.
Our son loved it even if he can’t be expected to get any of the really funny show business in-jokes, and probably doesn’t even know who Rin Tin Tin was. It ends with another deeply ridiculous fight scene which had him guffawing. Marty Allen was a trouper, especially with the costume and makeup people turning him into a horrible version of Roy Wood or Gary Glitter, but I wasn’t surprised that he just barely participated in that part of the story, and allowed himself to be taken out of the action pretty much instantly rather than prolong the embarrassment.
“This is really going to try your patience,” I told Marie, and I was right. There’s only one episode of Sid and Marty Krofft’s Far Out Space Nuts available commercially, and I swear it’s the worst of the series. It ran in the fall of 1975 on CBS, alongside Filmation’s Shazam!, Isis, and The Ghost Busters, and six or seven of the episodes are really, really funny.
In 2002, Rhino released a three-disk sampler set containing one installment each from thirteen different Krofft shows. They didn’t pick the one with the space haunted house, and they didn’t pick the one with John Carradine (!!). They picked the one with the chicken-people. The adults suffered in silence. The five year-old loved it to pieces. He laughed and giggled all through the thing somehow.
Far Out Space Nuts starred Chuck McCann and Bob Denver. Many of the episodes were either written by McCann and his writing partner Earle Doud or, like this one, by Ray Parker, who wrote dozens and dozens of Hanna-Barbera cartoons in the 1970s, but I don’t believe he did any other work for the Kroffts beyond this. FOSN is typical mid-period Krofft, with the gigantic and intricate sets of their earliest days abandoned in favor of smaller sets – meant to represent different places on different planets but invariably all looking the same – and guest stars. The fun is watching Denver and McCann do their delightful physical comedy – it’s Gilligan and Hardy, basically – and grumbling wordplay while being threatened by various ridiculous aliens, almost all of whom observe them from the same “monitor” prop. I guess all alien supervillains shop at the same electronics store.
It’s a shame this one hasn’t been properly collected. Most of the show appears to be on YouTube in various quality bootlegs, but I’d really like to teach our son to respect artists and creators by buying official releases where possible. He’d love to laugh at some more of this show, and I’d love to see the space haunted house one again.
To be absolutely clear, Herbie Rides Again is not one-tenth the film that The Love Bug is. But tell that to our son, who enjoyed it more. He laughed all the way through it, loving all the slapstick, but he especially loved “the army of punch buggies.”
He had such a ball that it would be churlish to complain much, but it really does feel like a series of badly strung together set pieces without any logic connecting them. Still, the set pieces are mostly entertaining, thanks, again, to Disney’s fantastic casting.
Helen Hayes, an actress we’ll probably see a few more times as we show Daniel more of the Disney catalog, leads the cast as the aunt of Buddy Hackett’s character of Tennessee from the earlier film. Stefanie Powers (who, coincidentally, was in an episode of Harry O that I watched this week and was made the same year as this) and Ken Berry take the young heroic parts with a romantic meet-cute. Keenan Wynn is the villain, and supporting parts are played by recognizable faces Chuck McCann, Vito Scotti, and John McIntire. Wynn does the same over-the-top authoritarian loudmouth thing he always did – in fact, Wikipedia tells me that this is the exact same character that he played in two earlier Disney films – but it’s reliably entertaining to watch.
I did laugh out loud once – a window washer gives quite specific instructions to Keenan Wynn’s office – but this movie just didn’t have the ability to charm adults that its predecessor had, even relying quite early on a lengthy flashback from that movie just to give us more Herbie action. Herbie’s world of living technology grows quite a bit in this film, and there’s more than enough slapstick, and scenes of Herbie driving where cars are not supposed to be, to keep the kids happy, which is what matters. It’s by some distance a weaker film than Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but it’s much, much more likely that Daniel will want to watch this again.