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The Twilight Zone 1.33 – Mr. Bevis

On the off chance that I’ve infuriated any hardcore Zone fans with some of my frustrated commentary, I’m happy to say that “Mr. Bevis,” the pilot for a lighthearted show that never got off the ground, was much more entertaining. It stars Orson Bean as an eccentric oddball who meets his guardian angel at the end of a horrible day of the world forcing him to conform to its mediocrity. The angel is played by veteran Henry Jones – we saw him as Steve Austin’s arch-enemy Dr. Dolenz in a trio of Six Million Dollar Man stories – although I understand that Bean wouldn’t have been available for the proposed series and it was offered to Burgess Meredith before it was shelved.

The strangest thing about this episode from today’s perspective is how normal Mr. Bevis appears to modern eyes, and how stilted, boring, and downright Victorian the world of 1960 appears. Granted, leaving a cup and saucer on the sofa on the way to work is a little absent-minded, but Mr. Bevis’s desk, cluttered by enough knick-knacks to enrage his dull boss, looks like the desks at pretty much every job I’ve worked in the last twenty years. Well, the pop-eyed minstrel clock wouldn’t get on anybody’s desk any more, thank God, but you know what I mean. He dresses kind of flamboyantly for the period – not unlike Jimmy Olsen in the fifties and sixties, now that I think about it – and drives a forty year-old car, but he makes everybody except his boss and his landlady happy.

Overall, this is a cute half-hour that doesn’t have the malice or the misogyny of other episodes that we’ve sampled. It’s also got small parts for William Schallert and Vito Scotti, and our son said that he liked it more than other Zone installments as well. I don’t know that I’d want something this whimsical every week, but I’m glad to have made Mr. Bevis’s acquaintance. He’s welcome to come by after dinner for a few games of Munchkin and Gloom whenever he’s free, and I wouldn’t say that about most of the occupants of the Twilight Zone that we’ve met.

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The Bionic Woman 1.11 – Fly Jaime

I selected the episodes of the bionic series that we’d watch quite some time ago. I chose the ones with the big-name villains, and the ones with interesting guest stars. Spencer Milligan, Vito Scotti, and Christopher George are in this one. I didn’t pay attention to what the stories were actually about.

But I’m glad I picked this one for the novelty. It’s a remake of Mann Rubin’s story from the first season of Six, “Survival of the Fittest,” only with Jaime and Rudy Wells in trouble, and not Steve and Oscar. They even have the medical student who needs redemption, a wound that needs cauterizing via the wires in a bionic finger, and the producers hired the same three actors for the airplane’s crew so that they could reuse some footage of them bouncing around a cockpit and shouting “Mayday!” About the only thing new to this story is Scotti’s character, a swooning romantic fool named Romero who’s besotted with Jaime.

Marie had a late day and came home about six minutes before the end of the story. “Didn’t we watch this story just a few months ago with different characters?” she asked. If he noticed, our son didn’t say a word. He was thrilled by the plane crash and scared of the snake as though they were brand new problems.

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Monster Squad 1.13 – Albert/Alberta

And so we reach the final episode of Monster Squad, and it’s pretty dire, even by this show’s low standards, although our son adored it and laughed all through the final fight. He claims this was his favorite episode of the series, but his mother and I don’t honestly believe that, on account of the most recent thing he’s watched is almost always his favorite thing.

I did like the way the villain/villainess forces Dracula and Bruce to surrender, by threatening to throw a puppy out a porthole. What a rotten man/woman! He/she is played by Vito Scotti, helping to prove a theory that Vito Scotti was in everything.

As we discussed earlier, NBC’s 1976 Saturday morning schedule was a total disaster and everything got canceled, so this would be the last appearance of these heroes. Fred Grandy almost immediately landed on his feet. He co-starred as Gopher in the Love Boat TV movie in the spring, and went on to appear regularly for nine years there before retiring from Hollywood to go into politics. Over the last couple of years, he’s had a recurring role in The Mindy Project.

Sadly, all three of the actors who played the monsters have died. Buck Kartalian, who was in his mid-fifties when they made this show, continued in small roles before retiring a decade ago. He passed away this spring at the age of 93. Henry Polic II was best known as a voice actor, taking on dozens of roles in all kinds of cartoons, and is perhaps best remembered as the Scarecrow in the celebrated Batman animated show. He died in 2013. Michael Lane played thugs, bodyguards, and henchmen for almost thirty years before retiring in the early nineties. He passed away last year.

Behind the camera, William P. D’Angelo, Ray Allen, and Harvey Bullock worked together as a production company for a few more years and their series The Red Hand Gang became a very fondly remembered hit in England, where it was repeated many times. I won’t claim my nostalgia for this show was really rewarded by it being very good, but more than half of the episodes had some pretty good jokes and it was fun to see some of the guest stars, and, most importantly of all, our son really loved it.

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Ark II 1.14 – Don Quixote

I have to say, I really prefer the episodes of Ark II that are built around the popular sci-fi tropes of the time, like evil supercomputers or telepathic teens, than the ones that do another version of some old bit of folklore, like Robin Hood or Don Quixote.

Don Quixote was played by Robert Ridgely, who worked principally as a voice artist. Among many, many other credits, he took the lead role in Filmation’s Tarzan, which started the next season and ran for a few years. The omnipresent Vito Scotti played Sancho Panza. Scotti was in everything back then, and he’s much more watchable than this script. Looking ahead, I notice that we’ll be seeing Scotti again for the blog in a month or so.

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Napoleon and Samantha (1972)

This morning, we enjoyed Disney’s 1972 film Napoleon and Samantha, which I’d never seen before. It’s a surprisingly heavy film for something that the company, these days, promotes as a nice, light, and breezy part of their back catalog. It stars Johnny Whitaker, one of the biggest child actors of the day, along with a rising star named Jodie Foster. Wonder what happened to her?

In the movie, Johnny plays Napoleon, a ten year-old kid who lives with his ailing grandpa in a small town. They take ownership of an old lion from a retiring clown (Vito Scotti!), which is a bit contrived, but you have to make allowances to get the plot going. Grandpa dies, and Napoleon asks an unemployed “hippie” named Danny to help bury him on a hill. Danny is played by an amazingly young Michael Douglas. If you thought he looked like a baby in The Streets of San Francisco, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Facing the orphanage, Napoleon and his friend Samantha leash up the old lion and undertake one of those “incredible journeys” that were common in the era, hiking up and down a few mountains looking for Danny’s cabin. They’re naive enough to think they won’t be missed, and that they won’t get into trouble. There’s a tumble off a high mountain peak, a cougar, and a bear to contend with on the way.

About which: I was conflicted about some of the events of the movie, but that wrestling match between the lion and the bear was downright impressive. Would any filmmaker today try anything like that? Even understanding that was a pretty old lion and a big crew of wranglers must have been right behind the camera, wild animals can be really dangerous. Just ask Foster: she was mauled, and permanently scarred across her back, by one of the old lion’s younger stand-ins!

But we were expecting a lighthearted adventure, and while the middle of the movie provides that, the first and last third of the film were each quite heavy. Will Geer’s grandpa character is marked for death right from the beginning, and it’s a huge weight on the tone. Last month, we watched an episode of Isis that dealt with death and I mentioned how, in tune with the times, the explanations were built around a discussion of seasons, calling it “Ecclesiastes by way of the Byrds.” Well, before he goes, Grandpa specifically talks about seasons, and at his small funeral on the hillside, Danny recites Ecclesiastes. It was the seventies, man.

But the climax is what really surprised me. Danny leaves the kids in the care of a friend at his cabin and hikes back to town to explain to everybody where the children are. Samantha’s family housekeeper fingers him as the weird hippie with whom the missing Napoleon had been seen, and he’s arrested by policemen who do not want to listen to him. Awaiting the police chief, Danny spots a wanted flier in the station. His friend is a dangerous criminal on the loose, who’s escaped from a mental institution.

It’s typical in Disney films of the seventies to have a climactic chase, with goofball cops having safe but hilarious accidents. But bizarrely, the director chose to keep Napoleon and Samantha completely offscreen, so Danny’s escape and race back to his cabin, with cops in pursuit, is a chase in the dark, a race against time. And sure, we know perfectly well that in a ’72 Disney film the children will be perfectly safe, but the director elected to ratchet the tension and desperation off the chart, and the wacky motorcycle stunts aren’t funny when the tone is deadly serious.

Our son was a good deal squirmier than usual, in part because he was looking forward to a late morning swim, but I think he felt the weight of this movie. He enjoyed it and thought it was “pretty cool,” and I enjoyed it and was intrigued by the wildly varying tone. It’s an uneven film, but I’m glad we gave it a try.

Some neat casting notes: Whitaker and Foster were reunited the following year in United Artist’s Tom Sawyer. His next film, however, was another one for Disney called Snowball Express, which also featured Mary Wickes, an actress who had a small three-line role here. After Express, Whitaker made a TV movie for Disney called The Mystery in Dracula’s Castle with his friend Scott Kolden. In 1973, Sid and Marty Krofft scooped up Whitaker, Kolden, and Wickes to star as the humans in Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. And you just know that they must have wanted Jodie Foster for the recurring part that Pamelyn Ferdin ended up playing!

Aggravatingly, The Mystery in Dracula’s Castle does not appear to have ever been released on home video. There’s another thing I’d like to watch with my son for this blog but can’t.

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Herbie Rides Again (1974)

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.

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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!

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