Tag Archives: john fiedler

The Twilight Zone 2.11 – The Night of the Meek

How appropriate that we should watch this famous Christmas installment of The Twilight Zone now, during this season of mall Santas. “The Night of the Meek” was written by Rod Serling and stars Art Carney – heavens! another future Batvillain – as Henry Corwin, a bum who dresses as Santa, badly, for a department store every December.

How lousy a Santa is Corwin? A few years ago, I was doing some social media stuff for the Children’s Museum of Atlanta, where we’d hired a Santa for our members’ holiday bash. I asked him to wink for the camera for a sweet little picture and he couldn’t do it without opening his other eye and his mouth like some deranged alcoholic pirate bellowing about doubloons. We didn’t use the photos. Henry Corwin is about that bad. He looks dirty and drunk because he is dirty and drunk. It’s startling that the store allowed him in the building, never mind built their holiday expectations around him.

Our son was a little skeptical and I made sure to clarify that this is not Santa Claus, but a man named Corwin. But the line between the two begins to blur and he was incredibly pleased with what happens next. He loved it when Corwin’s grouchy manager, played by John Fielder, gets a hilariously specific gift from Santa’s bag, and the charming, inevitable, climax certainly thrilled him. Not a bad little Christmas episode, really.

Interestingly, the producers tried to save money this season by videotaping six of the 29 episodes instead of filming them. This is one of three that I plan for us to watch, and I found it completely fascinating. It’s a little cramped and hard to believe – whenever anybody tries recreating a busy street in a studio, it’s not going to completely work – but I was so impressed by how the director kept the world they were building fluid and moving. I would have loved to have been in the studio when they taped this.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under twilight zone

The Rescuers (1977)

Did my son wake you this morning? Today, we watched what he pronounced as his all-time favorite movie. He went all Spinal Tap on it. I asked him how much he enjoyed Disney’s The Rescuers on a scale of one to ten, and he replied, “If ten is my absolute favorite movie ever, then this is a ten! No! It’s an ELEVEN!” This was after the longest, loudest fit of laughter I can remember. From the bit where the albatross, Orville, gets his tailfeathers singed by a firework to the destruction of the old organ on the rotting riverboat a quarter of an hour later, he was in stitches.

He’s seen a few Disney cartoon films before, most recently Robin Hood, but he’s never loved one quite as much as this. I agree completely. You, dear reader, almost certainly enjoy Disney cartoons more than I do – I just scrolled down the list and maybe find about five tolerable – but there are two that I adore: this and 1970’s The Aristocats.

But actually, looking over Disney’s animation work, I see that The Rescuers was made at a really curious time for the company. For some weird reason, they were only releasing a new cartoon feature about once every four years. I think that they all at least looked splendid – The Rescuers in particular is blessed with some amazing painted backgrounds – but, in the sixties and seventies, these were all taking a back seat to their far superior live-action films.

And I think that this corporate malaise and disinterest in cartoons is what cost Disney their best asset at the time: Don Bluth. He was apparently the lead of four credited “animating directors,” working under three other credited as “directed by,” and, sick of the bureaucracy and wasted time, set up a rival studio with about 20% of Disney’s staff, and then spent a decade kicking the mouse’s rear at the box office. I’m also deeply disinterested in almost all of Bluth’s output, with only Secret of NIMH and Anastasia of any note, but I find the history fascinating. And I think it’s really neat that The Rescuers and Pete’s Dragon, on which Bluth also worked, both came out in 1977. Good year for for a talent like Bluth to flex his muscles. I can believe that had Disney not turned things around in ’89 with the successful Little Mermaid, they probably would have retired their feature animation unit entirely, and our popular culture would be radically different today.

The Rescuers features Eva Gabor and Bob Newhart as two employees of the International Rescue Aid Society, whose office is in a mousehole in the UN building. Gabor plays Miss Bianca, an agent from Hungary, and Newhart is Bernard, a brave-but-shy janitor who is assigned as her co-agent. Other voice work is provided by people who had some more history with Disney, like Bernard Fox and John Fiedler. Jeanette Nolan and John McIntire would come back to do voice work for Disney’s next cartoon, The Fox and the Hound.

The movie is paced brilliantly. It’s a lean 77 minutes, with songs at the appropriate moments, and the action is really funny. Madame Medusa admittedly may not be in the upper tier of Disney villains, but she’s amusingly vulgar and violent. I love the scene where she’s threatening Penny while removing her false eyelashes before bed. She’s so garish and hideous.

Sure, there’s a lot about The Rescuers that falls into standard tropes, like all the heroic animals being capable of speech and the big mean henchbeasts (here a pair of alligators called Nero and Brutus) mute and stupid, but it’s a movie which is funny when it needs to be and nail-bitingly dramatic when it’s called for. The scene where Penny and the mice find the missing diamond and only have moments to extract it before the tide comes in is just remarkably tense, a downright perfect little scene.

I think that The Rescuers came at an interesting time in animation. I don’t believe this film was shown on HBO, but I still group it, emotionally, with some other favorites that were shown on that channel in 1979-81 or so, movies like The Mouse and His Child (which I’d love to see again), The Water Babies, Dot and the Kangaroo, that Raggedy Ann movie with the blue camel, and, of course, Watership Down. I wasn’t aware of them at the time, but Galaxy Express 999 and the Lupin III film everybody knows, Castle of Cagliostro, which are both excellent, also came out during that period. It was a good time for good cartoons, I think. Maybe we’ll watch some for the blog down the line, and see whether any of them get rated as high as eleven.

Leave a comment

Filed under disney, movies

Ark II 1.13 – The Cryogenic Man

I’m again impressed by the guest casting on this show, with actors you wouldn’t expect would show up on a kids’ sci-fi series. This time, it’s Jim Backus and John Fielder. Both men played dozens of roles in the seventies. Fielder, apart from everything else he did, was a regular patient on The Bob Newhart Show and had a recurring part as Gordy in Kolchak: The Night Stalker, but he’s probably best known as the voice of Piglet for Disney. Backus had also been in everything, and had worked for Filmation before on an episode of The Ghost Busters the previous season.

In this episode, they play men from the distant past of the 1980s who had been cryogenically frozen. Backus is, of course, the rich guy and Fielder his subordinate. Backus is unethical, doesn’t understand ecology, and thinks the Ark II crew are a bunch of bureaucrats.

2 Comments

Filed under ark II, filmation