The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries 1.12 – The Mystery of the Ghostwriters’ Cruise

Well, I knew this would be a show with its ups and downs, but after five incredibly implausible but entertaining and cute installments, man, did we ever hit a turkey. “The Mystery of the Ghostwriters’ Cruise” is terrible. Characters don’t know things about their own pasts they should definitely remember, other characters have utterly astonishing technical skills that border on the supernatural, and other characters are just plain annoying. The direction and editing are unbelievably clumsy, too. In order to keep conveying a sense of mystery and keep everybody a suspect, the camera lingers on everybody way too long. It’s a very annoying hour of television.

A couple of interesting cast notes, though. David Wayne plays the famous mystery writer John Addams, who is retiring and taking a cruise, but somebody plans to kill him, and TV’s first Captain America, Reb Brown, is one of about six people set up as suspects. Les Lannom, who had been so entertaining as Lester Hodges in several episodes of Harry O, gets to play the ship’s entertainment director, who is pretty much the only man on the ship who doesn’t seem to want to kill Addams. Sadly, he’s so incredibly creepy and pushy and touchy in that seventies way that he’s more troubling than a potential murderer.

Also, the wannabe killer misspells “you’re” as “your” in the first threatening note. I thought that Nancy would say something about that. I’m not sure what prison sentence awaits the would-be assassin, but because of that note, I hope they threw away the key.

The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)

A couple of months ago, I checked out The Aristocats from the library to show our son. Before the film, there was an ad for other Disney selections and our son hooted. “I want to see that cowboy movie,” he yelled. Well, if we must, I said.

I don’t know how I’ve never seen this movie, but I guess I never did. Between HBO showing all sorts of live-action Disney movies and the public library having summers of films, I thought I must have seen this and forgotten, but I didn’t recognize a frame of it. I guess I must’ve seen the sequel!

For more than an hour, I figured I’d write something brief and possibly dismissive about this silly movie. It’s cute, but it didn’t raise much more than a chuckle. However, that wouldn’t be entirely true. Honesty compels me to report that John McGiver delivers a line about how stupid Theodore and Amos are that, a full minute later, had me gasping for air, I laughed so hard. I mean, you miss a minute of a movie from laughing, you can’t call it a bad movie.

McGiver’s just a small piece of a terrific cast. I’ll always make time for a seventies Disney live-action film because they’re full of great character actors. Everybody seems to think of this as a vehicle for Don Knotts and Tim Conway, but they’re actually providing supporting roles to a story led by Bill Bixby as a hapless gambler suddenly burdened by three orphans. He thinks that a marriage of convenience to a stagecoach driver played by Susan Clark might give the kids a home as well as a chance to nip out and play some poker, but things get complicated when the children, who own a deed to a mine everybody thinks is worthless, unearth a giant gold nugget valued at more than $87,000. Suddenly everybody wants to be part of these kids’ lives. Harry Morgan tries to keep order as the town’s sheriff, judge, and barber, with supporting roles for McGiver, David Wayne, and Slim Pickens.

But Conway and Knotts do walk away with the proceedings in one perfectly-timed slapstick scene after another. They play criminals so incompetent that the sheriff just lets them wander around freely, because bad guys who can’t afford the bullets to “throw lead” don’t present much of a danger to the public. I can imagine that, in lesser hands, stopping a movie’s narrative for a full five minutes to watch two characters steal a ladder might be an indulgence, but darned if our son didn’t spend every second of them chuckling and giggling. This is perfectly judged comedy for seven year-olds. It ends with a chase and everybody getting dunked in the river, inevitably, but our kid whooped that this was the greatest “chase montage” he’s ever seen, and the “boat fire truck” that Bixby and Pickens find themselves on in the end was his favorite part of the movie.

I’m not entirely sure I need to watch the sequel. Or Million Dollar Duck, if there’s an ad for that hiding on some other DVD at the library. Fingers crossed.

The Twilight Zone 1.6 – Escape Clause

In pretty sharp contrast to the most recent episode of The Avengers that we watched, which featured an element that your typical secret agent show had never seen before, here’s an episode of The Twilight Zone with a twist that I can’t imagine any adult in 1959 finding at all surprising. I picked this one for its guest appearance by David Wayne as a bored hypochondriac, but the real fun is seeing an actor called Thomas Gomez, who plays the Devil, under the name “Mr. Cadwallader,” with a mischievous sense of fun with all the dialogue that he’s been given.

Again, we had to pause to explain the narrative a little bit. Newly immortal, David Wayne’s character becomes a thrill-seeker arranging accidents and then collecting thousands in insurance money. Sometimes, we watch the story unfold with a little smile before remembering that there’s a six year-old in the audience. “So… this probably doesn’t make any sense at all to you, does it?” Still, he understood enough to see what a mess Wayne had got himself into with the devil, and facepalmed admirably when the inevitable problem came crashing down, which is delicious for younger viewers if obvious to their parents. The sentence the court passes on this immortal character for the crime of murdering his wife is, of course, life imprisonment.

Batman 2.36 – The Mad Hatter Runs Afoul

Part two of this story is indeed better than part one, as I remembered. That’s despite a completely ridiculous subplot about Batman and Robin’s supposed death. They apparently chose to fake their deaths in the nuclear reactor to put the Mad Hatter off guard, but word got out and kind of got away from them. Within hours, President Johnson, Premier Khrushchev, and the Queen of England are all flying to Gotham City, Aunt Harriet is organizing a funeral committee of four thousand women, and the same two bits of stock footage of crowds that were employed in the Batman movie get used again.

But never mind that, this has one of the all-time great Batfights, which looks like it happened because the stunt team convinced the producers that they could stage a really great one on a water tower. There’s absolutely no practical reason in the plot for the Mad Hatter’s hideout, at the defunct Green Derby restaurant, to have a water tower, and the best that the writer can come up with is that the Hatter plans to zap Batman and Robin with his mesmerizer as they climb the ladder. But the wind carries his hat off, so it’s down to fisticuffs, and you know what? It looks terrific. That is a great, great fight scene.

But never mind that either, the crowning moment comes when the news of our heroes’ deaths breaks to the citizenry and the villains plan their next move. The Mad Hatter is overjoyed that he’s done what the Joker, the Puzzler, and the Riddler have all failed to do and killed Batman, elevating him to one of the greats. Interestingly, though, Commissioner Gordon, who’s usually naming every costumed menace in town as the most dangerous and lethal lunatic on the planet and more than a match for any policeman, has no respect for the Mad Hatter whatsoever, labeling him an inconsequential “pipsqueak.”

So in a scene that is made more glorious by David Wayne’s extremely mannered and fussy body language and fey delivery, the Mad Hatter basks in his infamy and immediately sets about plotting the next details of his plan. Then moll-of-the-week Polly, played by Jean Hale, wonders whether they’re being disrespectful to Batman’s memory and Mad Hatter patiently corrects her. Since Batman and Robin were made into celebrities because of criminals, then the best way to honor their memory is to be crooked. “It’s the LEAST you can do!” What a delightful, funny¬†scene!

Batman 2.35 – The Contaminated Cowl

I am almost certain that I remember that part two of this story has a couple of very entertaining moments. I hope I’m right, because part one is incredibly dumb and boring.

In the previous story, writer Charles Hoffman gave us a Batcomputer that spits out spaghetti. This time, Hoffman again thinks that computers are great opportunities for comedy. We learn that the computer is tired of crimefighting, and so Batman has to activate a compute-harder switch to make it come up with some possible suggestions for Mad Hatter’s next move. That’s about the level of thought put into this story.

Last time, Mad Hatter wanted Batman’s cowl. His big plan this time is to irradiate it and turn it pink, so Batman has to go to a nuclear plant to have it decontaminated and he can intercept it. We also learn that Batman has several other cowls in the wash – bad timing, Alfred – and that new cowls are on order, so, you know, he could have just thrown the pink one away and wait for the dryer cycle to finish.

This is all going to turn out to be Batman planning ahead, of course, but it’s all so unbelievably stupid that it really took us all out of the moment. Daniel, who was horrified to the point of tears by the Mad Hatter last time, was really bored. From the look of things, David Wayne, who played the Mad Hatter, was pretty bored himself. Fingers crossed for tomorrow…

Batman 1.14 – Batman Stands Pat

Well, Riddler, you have lost your crown as “most unnerving Bat-villain.” The Mad Hatter succeeded in freaking the almighty blazes out of our son tonight. Not content with dumping super-fast hardening plaster over Batman last time, he and his men had a big fight with our heroes in a room with a deathtrap machine on a conveyor belt and Daniel did not enjoy it at all.

This really struck me as unusual until I thought about it. See, the Batfight is always Daniel’s favorite part of the episode. He jumps and swings and laughs and enjoys them tremendously. But this time out, they really sold this machine as something full of spikes and blades and the Mad Hatter couldn’t wait to get Batman on it and… this gets really outre… stretch him and shrink him and turn him into a hat.

“He’s flipped his lid,” said one henchman to the other.

So now, with this silly machine firmly established as a really ugly threat, the Batfight in this room – which, incidentally, goes on forever – had Daniel on the edge of his seat, teeth clenched, security blanket in hand, and then Robin got knocked onto the darn thing and the world ended.

“I HATE the Mad Hatter! He’s worse than the Riddler!” Daniel bellowed. And he must be. The Riddler only made Daniel cry once in four episodes. The Hatter is two for two!

My daughter and I talked with Daniel about it and reminded him that Batman will always win, and always beat the bad guy, but I’ll tell you, friends, if they made a show in which Adam West and Burt Ward rescued kittens from trees, it would probably go over a little better. Thank heaven we’ve got Thunderbirds next…

Oh, and how did Batman get out of that plaster “shroud” in which he was encased last time? He held his breath until he was chipped free. Seriously.

Batman 1.13 – The Thirteenth Hat

Oh, dear! I’m afraid that Daniel was upset by the cliffhanger to this episode, the first appearance of one of Batman’s sillier foes, the Mad Hatter. Everything was going swell until the very end. Previous villains unnerved him simply by virtue of their laughs or appearance, but David Wayne’s very mannered and prissy antics didn’t frighten him.

I think he was charmed on the one hand by the Mad Hatter’s moxie – just stepping up behind people and snatching their hats from their heads, before zapping them with his mesmerizing zap-eyes in his own hat – and bored on the other, because his scheme involves taking revenge on the twelve jurors who last convicted him, and Batman, who was a witness for the prosecution, and he is four, and doesn’t know what a trial is. Nor has he seen or been read a version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland yet, so he asked “Why is he mad?” a couple of times.

It really got confusing for him when the Mad Hatter disguised himself as the sculptor Octave Marbot. He couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then he cheered and laughed when the fight started, and then everything fell apart. Mad Hatter tried to zap Batman, but our hero quickly raised a mirror to reflect the rays back. But the Mad Hatter ducked and the rays zapped Robin instead! Daniel bellowed “Oh, no!”

Distracted, Batman then got shoved against a wall and Mad Hatter yanked a chain, and Batman got drenched by super-quick hardening plaster. Daniel lost it. “NO! WHY DID HE DO THAT?!” And there were tears. It took a couple of readings of a Mo Willems book before a bath, and he got calmed down.

This episode’s lineage is a very strange one. Wikipedia notes that it’s a mash-up of three different comic book adventures, but unlike the episodes we’ve looked at so far, none of them were available as reprints for the producers to easily pick up in late 1965, and the first of them hadn’t been seen since its original appearance in 1949. I wonder where they got copies? Maybe somebody looked through DC/National’s archive after all?

On the acting front, David Wayne had been in dozens of films in the 1950s, the best known of which are probably Adam’s Rib and How to Marry a Millionaire, before spending about five years on the New York stage and making very sporadic TV and film appearances. This is kind of the career arc for many of the Bat-villains, as the major studios started deliberately scaling back the number of pictures they released each year in the sixties, and former leading men, now in their forties, found themselves less in demand and with lots of TV options available. His sidekick Lisa is played by Diane McBain, in the first of her two supporting roles as different characters in the show.