Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

It’s another morning where I don’t feel like writing a great deal, so for posterity, I’ll mention that before we got started with 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, I told him that Paul Newman and Robert Redford were among the biggest movie stars of their day, and that he should look out for Ted Cassidy in a small role as a really big guy. But mostly we talked with our son about postmodernism and the film’s writer, William Goldman. I made sure to point out that Goldman wrote the novel The Princess Bride a few years after this. I won’t swear that the film is necessarily among his favorites, but his mom and I think it’s fantastic.

But the late sixties was a time when really good writers, like Goldman, were experimenting with expectations in popular media, and one of the trillion reasons I think Butch and Sundance is among the all-time greatest American films is that this movie does not do anything at all the way audiences in its day expected it to. The protagonists are villains, but they’re so affable that they never appear villainous. For almost the entire film, they break laws, but they are never cruel or sadistic, and don’t wish to hurt anyone. The narrative wants to force the protagonists to engage with the rising action of the posse that is chasing them; instead they spend a full quarter of the movie running away from it. And then there’s the end.

Despite the thirty minutes of running away, our son says that he really enjoyed this. His favorite moment was certainly the “too much dynamite” explosion, but some of the dialogue had him giggling good as well. “If he’d just pay me what he’s paying them to stop me robbing him, I’d stop robbing him” is certainly one of my all-time favorite lines in any movie. I can see why many viewers in 1969-70 were unhappy with Butch and Sundance because it was so unlike typical westerns, but the unusual structural things that it did are a little more commonplace today, and so it didn’t seem quite as weird to our son. It’s just an amusing film, photographed beautifully, with occasional action and an unforgettable finale. If you haven’t seen it, you really, really should.

Halloween With the New Addams Family (1977)

This morning, one of our rare forays into the world of bootlegs for a seasonally appropriate unavailable film. Halloween With the New Addams Family was shown on television only once, when I was six, and later turned up on a budget VHS label called Goodtimes. There’s kind of a folk memory of this being pretty awful, and unfortunately, this is one of those cases where the folk memory is correct. I didn’t make it through the film when I was six, and had occasionally seen repeats of the original series, and the somewhat similar Munsters, on WTCG-17. I had not seen any of the episodes with Cousin It, and his very brief appearance in this film unnerved me so much that I switched off around the 24 minute mark. That was the only thing from the movie I remembered at all, and I remembered it remarkably well.

So like a lot of other reunion programs from its era, this gets called “The New” presumably to distinguish it from repeats in an era when most people got their TV news from little grids in the newspaper without much information. But it’s a reunion of almost the entire cast: John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan, Ted Cassidy, Lisa Loring, Ken Weatherwax, and Felix Silla are all back as the Addams clan. The only recasts are Blossom Rock’s Grandmama, now played by Jane Rose, and Morticia’s mother, by Elvia Allman.

So that’s not recast versions of Wednesday and Gomez in the photo above, those are actually new and completely unnecessary characters. That’s Wednesday Jr. and Gomez’s brother Pancho. It’s a weird, weird movie, on top of being incredibly boring, because it kind of feels like a backdoor pilot for a relaunch of the show, but it also feels like it started life as a one-hour special and the network decided they wanted it for a 90-minute slot instead. So it gets really, really long and tedious, with several unfunny gags repeated and the most interesting character in the thing getting dropped partway through.

Vito Scotti completely steals the show as one of a gang of criminals who’s sent to case the Addams house. A lot of what he does is seen-it-before reaction comedy, but when he gets back to their headquarters, he’s a complete scream, stumbling around in shock and babbling. Then the film leaves him behind and the others pose as distant relatives to get into the house during the Halloween party and find the Addams millions. The party is so tedious; it’s just extras in costumes dancing. The head criminal gets more lines than Uncle Fester. Did somebody involved with this movie actually think anybody in the audience wanted that?

Wednesday and Pugsley were often sidelined in the original show, but there’s no excuse for that happening ten years later. Loring and Weatherwax each get a kind of spotlight scene when they return home – she plays the piccolo and he’s a witch doctor – and then they’re on the sidelines again. They even do a recurring gag where Wednesday can hear her father playing Morse code on his own piccolo, but they don’t let Loring have any additional lines as she whispers instructions to Cousin It. There are two new children, who are called Wednesday Jr. and Pugsley Jr. and look just like their older sister and brother, and they don’t add anything to the narrative. Henry Darrow plays Gomez’s younger brother Pancho, who is also in love with Morticia. Madly, they remember to let Carolyn Jones dress as Morticia’s older sister Ophelia and do some judo, but decline to resolve this complication by marrying the two off. Best I can figure, this film was done on such a low budget that they couldn’t afford any rewrites.

Well, the kid laughed several times, and I enjoyed Scotti’s bit, but otherwise this really was as bad as its reputation has it. I adore the original series and rewatch episodes often, but was a dull and agonizingly long 75 minutes, and not at all the finale these actors deserved. Spirit of Halloween? Humbug, I say!

Star Trek 1.7 – What are Little Girls Made Of?


Some of my friends who follow this blog probably just did a double-take, because my dislike of and/or ambivalence to Star Trek in all its myriad forms is pretty well documented. But Marie’s father and brother both enjoy the series – her dad is quick to emphasize that he is only interested in the original run – and at Christmas, Daniel spotted his uncle’s latest addition to the line of Star Trek spaceship ornaments. It captured his imagination and curiosity, so I said we’d watch a little of it at some point. After all, the kid should make up his own mind.

So I picked a run of seven eight episodes, which are available to stream at CBS All Access. I picked the only one I’ve ever seen that I like, one that Marie remembers enjoying, the one that everybody in the world seems to like and which I’ve never seen, and four which seemed to have interesting guest stars. Hence Robert Bloch’s “What are Little Girls Made Of?”, which has Ted Cassidy as an android wearing one of my late Aunt Lera’s old blouses. Also, Kirk tries clobbering the android with a great big penis. If you haven’t seen the image, you can certainly Google it. I think the costume and prop guys at Paramount were seeing what they could get away with. On the strength of this episode, murder.

So I didn’t pick a very good introduction. Of the famous regulars, only Kirk, Spock, and Uhura are in this episode. Majel Barrett’s recurring character of Nurse Chapel is a principal character, because her genius scientist fiancĂ©, who has been missing for years, has resurfaced with a remarkable discovery. Much of the story is set in an underground complex that he has found, and where he has learned to build lifelike androids. The story hits on several familiar themes from the sci-fi of the age – can machines be programmed to love, do emotions make us inferior or superior, that sort of thing – and it’s a little interesting as a historical curiosity about how TV treated these themes in the 1960s. Sherry Jackson plays one of the androids. Is Captain Kirk so incredibly manly that he can smooch a robot into becoming irrational, emotional, and jealous? Of course he is.

The kid wasn’t completely taken. He thought it was pretty good, but he got a little restless and naturally he got tired of the smooching. After all, he’s seen these themes in more modern television already and you can’t expect eight year-olds to be really interested about how people fifty-five years ago saw them. He did get worried when the Ted Cassidy android started hunting Kirk, and he really does love the design of the Enterprise. Marie actually bought him a very small plastic model of the ship which snapped almost instantly despite his care. I went to eBay and got him a sturdier die-cast version from one of the eighties movies which can stand up to a little battering, but seeing the quasi-original version onscreen – these are the remastered episodes, with wholly unnecessary CGI replacements of the perfectly fine visual effects from the time it was made – made him want a great big Enterprise. He can save up his allowance for such a thing.

The Six Million Dollar Man 5.5 – Bigfoot V

This was an odd little hour. It’s almost entirely on location, filmed in summer but pretending to be the chilly high mountain elevations with patches of fake snow on the ground and the actors dressed in jackets and parkas. Apparently, Steve’s alien buddies have gone home but left the sasquatch behind for a very lengthy regeneration process that will remove all of his bionic circuitry and eventually leave him a simple Earth animal again. But this gets interrupted by some humans, some of whom, like a character played by Geoffrey Lewis, are up to no good. This leaves Bigfoot maddened and confused, and Steve only has a short time to return his old sparring partner to hibernation before he short-circuits and dies.

Ted Cassidy’s back as Bigfoot in this one, which would prove to be the last outing for the character. I think the producers must have realized that there’s not a lot you can do with this character without the secret space aliens, and everything you can do with him gets done in this episode. It’s perfectly entertaining, and pleased our son greatly. He said that the first part was very surprising, and then it gets very exciting, and it finished up both surprising and exciting.

The Bionic Woman 2.1 – The Return of Bigfoot (part two)

Happily, our son wasn’t horrified by tonight’s conclusion to this epic two-parter. How could he be? Jaime plays defense against Bigfoot in her two fights much more effectively than Steve does, and doesn’t get thrown like a rag doll against any power converters with exploding sparks everywhere. From the evidence provided by this show, the main strategy one should employ when fighting cyborg sasquatches is to fight them outside. Indoors, you get clobbered.

I tease, but this silly story is a downright masterpiece in writing for under-tens. It has Bigfoot and it has an erupting volcano. Our son was a little leery when we got started, and was really worried about Jaime at first, but then he realized that the villains had moved their headquarters underneath an inactive volcano. He’s savvy enough to realize that in adventure fiction, volcanoes rarely remain inactive for long.

The Six Million Dollar Man 4.1 – The Return of Bigfoot (part one)

The pre-credits scene revealed that Bigfoot was back, and things looked good. Our son glowed. “He caused so much destruction last time! Don’t you remember all that destruction that he caused?!” But before the hour was up, things would fall apart.

So, famously, the 1976-77 season of the Bionic series opened with a very celebrated crossover, the seventies ABC equivalent of the annual Arrowverse get-together on the CW. The aliens who control Bigfoot have had an uprising, and a gang of them have stolen both the Sasquatch and their wonder drug, and are now pilfering top secret facilities to get the parts they need to build a force field. One of the aliens restores Steve’s memory, he tries to stop Bigfoot alone, fails, finally tells his co-stars, including Jaime, what’s going on, nobody believes him, and he makes another attempt as they go for the last isotope they need.

And Steve Austin gets his ass handed to him. It is a beatdown to remember.

But first, let’s look at just how forward-looking Kenneth Johnson’s story is. This episode is more than just simply crossing over the two shows with the extremely popular Bigfoot. It’s done with some really impressive guest casting. Severn Darden and Stefanie Powers are back from the first Bigfoot story, and they’ve brought Sandy Duncan along as a newly-introduced alien, and the leader of the villains is that omnipresent baddie of seventies teevee, John Saxon. That’s a great cast, and everybody is working hard to sell this silliness. I love the way that the plot of the story is simplicity itself, but explaining all this stuff about hidden aliens and time-dilation devices and Bigfoot is so convoluted and ridiculous that Steve looks completely crazy telling his friends about it. I really like Lindsay Wagner’s acting in this scene; her life is already unbelievable, but this tall tale is pushing it.

Our son was enjoying it even more than I was until that second fight. Again, you have to consider the time and the audience. Television superheroes suffer a lot worse these days with all sorts of blood and bruising, but for a seventies show, in the eyes of a six year old, this is horrifying. Bigfoot’s been amped up by John Saxon, and Steve doesn’t have a prayer. Andre the Giant did not return to the role; Ted Cassidy plays Bigfoot this time out, and he just makes mincemeat of our hero. It finally ends with Steve’s bionic legs being crushed underneath some huge thing or other, which made even me gasp, and that’s with me knowing the grievous injury that we’re going to see Jaime suffer in a few days’ time.

Our son couldn’t bear to watch. He left the room completely with his security blanket, and came back shaking. He was a mess. He curled up on the couch as Dr. Wells gave Steve less than 24 hours to live, and Steve whispered instructions to Jaime, to get help from the aliens. We did our best to assure him that Jaime will save the day. Man, I hope so…

Batman 2.27 – The Penguin’s Nest

We have to say that Daniel didn’t like this episode much, apparently because the Penguin successfully escapes from jail. Perhaps when he’s older, he’ll appreciate how completely hilarious it is, because Penguin wants to go to the big, proper state prison with all the supercriminals. Batman, knowing that he’s up to something, deliberately ignores some of Penguin’s more egregious criminal acts, which include popping Commissioner Gordon in the face with a pie, and busts him for a violation of the local sanitation code, sending him to the city jail with the rest of the petty crooks.

This episode features the second appearance of one of the Addams Family cast in the show, this one in character! Ted Cassidy, as the Addamses’ butler Lurch, interrupts a little performance of that program’s theme song on a harpsichord (unseen, of course) to stick his head out the window. The Addams Family had been canceled by ABC a few months earlier; had that black-and-white show continued into the 1966-67 season, it would have been made in color. I adore that series, but as the lousy TV movie Halloween With the New Addams Family would show us a decade later, nobody would have wanted that.

There’s another tiny Addams connection this week; Vito Scotti, who played the recurring role of Sam Picasso on that show, is one of the Penguin’s henchmen, Matey Dee. He’s joined by Lane Bradford and Grace Gaynor, and they’re all present at one of the most memorable of the show’s cliffhangers, one of the handful in which the Dynamic Duo do not appear.

The gang got away with O’Hara as their hostage, and they have him stuffed in a trunk on a slide above a swimming pool. They have a machine gun battery to mow down our heroes when they arrive, and they’ve also got leads dropped into the water to electrocute O’Hara, and any superheroes who swim in to save him, with 100,000 volts, just in case they avoid the bullets. But oddly, we don’t actually see Batman and Robin in danger. The episode ends with the villains waiting for them. A usual Batman cliffhanger leaves you wondering what ridiculous and goofball way our heroes will get out of their latest deathtrap. This one’s more like spotting the dozens of ways they can avoid the problem entirely!