A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)

Even if you can’t stand sports or watching competitions on TV, you know how they end. The camera celebrates the winner. That’s why this lovely, lovely moment at the end of A Boy Named Charlie Brown remains one of my all-time favorite gags in any movie. Charlie Brown has blown it, again, and instead of showing the triumph of the kid who won the spelling bee, the camera focuses on the first loser. The winner is completely forgotten. Lucy – voiced by the wonderful Pamelyn Ferdin – switches off the TV to rant at her friends, turns it back on, and the focus is still on Charlie. It slays me every time. They should try that the next Super Bowl just to drive home how downright mean this is.

A Boy Named Charlie Brown is 51 years old. It probably didn’t feel that downright mean then. Just to put that in perspective, 51 years before that, we were trying to wrap up World War One. I’m fascinated by the way society moves and changes and evolves. Since our culture shifted the way we teach children from “stand up to bullies” to “don’t bully” – I’m not sure why it took so long for us to figure this out – Lucy comes across very differently today than she did in the 1970s and 1980s.

Another little thing that comes across differently to this family just in the last couple of months is that our son has mostly retired his security blanket. Regular readers have seen me mention his little blue blanket, named Bict, several times over the years. For a while, it was joined by several other stuffed animals. But those only watched TV with him for a few months until only Bict remained, and one day in the spring we realized Bict wasn’t with him anymore. Bict stays in bed for cuddling when he sleeps.

Poor Linus may never get to that stage. One day without his own little blue blanket and he’s a mess. He gives it to Charlie Brown for luck, and unable to stand its absence, he and Snoopy take a bus to New York City to find it. The idea of a kindergarten kid staying out all night looking in trash cans in the alleys around the NYPL might just be one of the most fanciful things we’ve ever seen.

I’ve always liked this movie and it holds up very well. I like the musical detours and the interesting changes to the animation and art direction when it leaves the plot behind for Schroder’s concerto and Snoopy’s game of hockey. Our son was really amused by the slapstick and silliness, but had his heart broken a little when Charlie Brown flops in the end. He was really getting into the spelling bee, too. We made sure to tell him afterward that real national spelling bees go on for a whole lot longer than the four or five minutes this one takes. They’re more like dance marathons than the Super Bowl, aren’t they?

Our son has seen some of the other Peanuts movies and most of the TV specials. I’d been saving the best one for last and I’m glad that he enjoyed it. He says that it’s the best of all of them – I’d say it’s probably joint first with the Christmas special, honestly – and added it to his DVD collection with a smile. He’ll be getting another of the old paperbacks for his next road trip next month. In fairness, he doesn’t quite enjoy Peanuts as much as Garfield, but a new-to-him book of strips is just the right thing for a long car trip.

Bad American Dubbing (1993)

There’s a bit in the English dub of Monster Zero where a woman, offscreen, bellows “AAAAAAAHHH!! LOOK OUT THE WINDOWWWWWW!!!” I, of course, replied “Proof positive that you can steal a scene without being in it.”

After the movie, our son thanked me for running the dubbed version. He said, “I prefer watching them dubbed because sometimes I have trouble reading the subtitles, and sometimes they go off the screen while I’m still reading them.” Reasonable points, both, but I cautioned him that sometimes the trouble with watching dubbed versions of movies made in other languages is that the dub is unreliable, stupid, or sometimes just plain ridiculous. And so I put on Bad American Dubbing, the first of three half-hour presentations of some of the worst moments that happened when American producers got their mitts and scissors on Japanese cartoons and live-action sci-fi.

My friends at Corn Pone Flicks made these presentations – documentaries is a bit inaccurate – in the mid-nineties, and I’m overheard in the peanut gallery at one point complaining about something. They’re pretty funny, full of deeply stupid moments and snarky commentary. They’re a bit insular, and rely on fan knowledge, especially from three decades’ distance. More subtitles definitely would help. One pops up at a helpful moment to clarify that it wasn’t Corn Pone who messed with the synchronization. No, one direct-to-video producer honestly released a tape where the dialogue between two characters had them mouthing each others’ lines.

But on the other hand, fans probably knew, in 1993, that Space Pirate Captain Harlock shouldn’t sound like the talking cowboy hat from Lidsville. But if you’ve never met the character before, you might not understand the problem. And while fans know that Sergeant Knox in the second season of Yamato most emphatically did not get out right behind the hero, the joke can only make sense to somebody who’d never seen it before if we got to see the cut scene of Knox getting shot full of holes. That would place the “nobody dies on American TV for kids” line in proper context. The moment also should have been placed right after a later, very silly moment where an actress’s death scene is undermined by somebody saying “She’s unconscious!” Suuuuuuure, she is.

It lands with punches more often than not, as actors talk in incredible run-on sentences, employ half-assed “French” accents and Bela Lugosi voices, and struggle to be heard under the poorly-mixed noise of two different musical soundtracks. Characters don’t think that women are people, modulation needs to be looked at to be believed, the Prince of Space needs to tell his enemies that their ray guns have no effect on him seven separate times in a ninety minute movie, and Flash Contrail and the Differentiated Idioblast remind us that the clowns writing the scripts for these dubs were taking the piss.

At one point, Nadia of Blue Water’s little red pendant begins to glow. It’s not actually a problem with the dub, but it’s a fun excuse for Dave from Let’s Anime, one of the narrators, to compare it to Ultraman’s warning light. Our kid howled laughing, and while he took my point that some dubs are pretty terrible, he would still rather watch Japanese movies and cartoons dubbed, and clarified “I loved that Ultraman riff!”

Click the image of Nick Adams and his space girlfriend to visit Corn Pone Flicks‘ site and enjoy the shows!

House on Haunted Hill (1959) at the Silver Scream Spook Show

Yesterday, we were back in Atlanta for another trip into the past with the boys and ghouls of the Silver Scream Spook Show, although our son was wishing for another monster movie. They always promise that they’re going to scare the yell out of us, and this time, they delivered. The film was William Castle’s 1959 classic House on Haunted Hill, starring Vincent Price, Elisha Cook Jr., and Carol Ohmart. I’d never seen it before, and I just had a ball. It’s a terrific haunted house movie, and I enjoyed every frame of it.

I told our son that it was an old horror movie, and probably not all that scary. Boy, was I mistaken.

So this one’s about a creepy party held by an eccentric millionaire at his even more eccentric wife’s behest. If any of the five guests can stay the night in this spooky old mansion – the exteriors were filmed at the downright bizarre Ennis House, which Frank Lloyd Wright designed to look like a Mayan temple – they will earn $10,000. The five guests were chosen because they are all strangers who need the money. The windows are barred, there is only one door, made of steel, and after the caretakers leave at midnight, there is no escape, and no way to phone the police when the eccentric wife hangs herself to death.

So yes, I thought it was great, and really enjoyed a startling reveal about twenty-five minutes in, when the camera lets us know that there’s somebody else in a room with actress Carolyn Craig. From there, it was half an hour of solid shocks for our kid, who was without comfort blankets and the rest of his menagerie and curled up in a tight ball next to me.

He missed the last fifteen minutes. Craig gets the wits scared out of her again when a rope somehow enters her room and she looks outside to see that on the other end of it, the ghost of the wife is outside, lit by the lightning, still with the noose around her neck. I heard a whimper and a moan and I leaned over to hear him tell me “I am really, really, super scared,” and told him to head for the lobby. I didn’t need to tell him twice. So Marie went to join him, and, after the hosts had provided one little interactive element of the movie, Professor Morte commiserated with the otherwise heroic eight year-old. Turns out when you’re that age, this really is a tremendously terrifying film.

I knew this was going to be a great presentation, because I was betting that the Spook Show gang was going to incorporate a famous element of the movie’s original release. Now, if you’ve Googled your way here without knowing anything about the Silver Scream Spook Show, quickly pop back and read our story about our first Atlanta trip for the show. This time, the show started with a silly bit of business about a haunted mirror. I’m still chuckling about Atlanta’s beloved Jim Stacy, dressed as a pirate ghost, bellowing “Turns out I’ve got a fetish for Alice in Wonderland fightin’ like Popeye!”

When House on Haunted Hill was originally released, it was with the promise that it was made in EMERGO, which meant that at a critical moment in the climax, a pulley system in the theater would activate and a skeleton would swing out from the rafters above the crowd. Well, the Plaza Theater didn’t have a pulley system, but they did have the next best thing, which was Professor Morte and one of his pals using a big wire puppet setup using the two aisles of the room. They raised a skeleton from a box placed below the screen, and with Morte in one aisle and his assistant in the other, they stalked the length of the room, with the skeleton dangling over the audience.

To say that the crowd loved this is an understatement. This was the most packed we’ve ever seen the Spook Show, with the room very nearly filled with classic film lovers. Let’s be fair: a whole lot more people want to see Vincent Price than Gorgo. And as for this film? I remember reading about EMERGO in middle school and never, ever thought I’d get the chance to actually see it played out in person.

It’s a shame that our kid missed out on the skeleton, but we visited friends and had barbecue and ice cream and got to see the dolphin show at the Georgia Aquarium and he otherwise had a great day. He’ll be telling his friends down the line that this sixty year-old movie was the scariest film he’s ever seen, but he had a great day. This was the Spook Show’s last performance of 2019, but we thanked Professor Morte in the lobby and said that we’d see him again next year.

Image credit: LyricDiscorde