Thursday, May 17, 2018

Purview Press: The Saint and The Falcon

Fans of both The Falcon and The Saint will be pleased to know there were two new books recently published, taking into full account the radio programs of the same name. Author Ian Dickerson is responsible for both publications, released through his independent Purview Press.

Simon Templar, better known as “The Saint,” began as a series of dime novels, later adapted for the big screen, comic-strips and multiple television series (starring Roger Moore and Simon Dutton). A recent television pilot was filmed for a revival of The Saint, which failed to capture interest with a network, but thankfully we have the RKO classics available commercially on DVD to enjoy. To date, at least 15 actors have played the role of Simon Templar and when one thinks of the radio program, they tend to think of Vincent Price – who once quipped, “I really enjoyed playing The Saint.” 

The Saint on the Radio is aptly titled as the history of the novels, motion-pictures, comic-strips and other mediums are not covered extensively here. After all, there is already an all-inclusive book documenting the history of the franchise. Instead, Dickerson chose to focus on what has often been dismissed by biographers of Leslie Charteris, creator of the Simon Templar character. 

Beginning with Terence de Marney as The Saint over the BBC Forces Band, first transmitted in October of 1940, the book extensively covers the history of future incarnations from Edgar Barrier (early 1945), Brian Aherne (summer of 1945), Vincent Price (1947-1951), to Paul Rhys (1995). Also included is documentation of audio books, and a reprint of two radio scripts (one written by singer-actor Dick Powell). A major portion of the book consists of an episode guide but the history of the program, including behind-the-scenes documentation for each incarnation, is a fascinating read.

Of greater interest was Dickerson’s Who is The Falcon?, a comprehensive history of the fictional detective that is considered by many as a bland imitation of the Leslie Charteris character. Guy Stanhope Falcon, the freelance adventurer and trouble-shooter, originated from Michael Arlen’s 1940 short story. To others he is Guy Lawrence, the English gentleman detective portrayed by George Sanders in the RKO films of the early 1940s. “Ready with a hand for oppressed men, and an eye for repressed women,” The Falcon character was once referenced in Leslie Charteris’ 1943 novel, The Saint Steps In, as “a bargain-basement imitation.” 

Very little has been written about The Falcon, which is why I was pleased to see the fictional character and the franchise documented extensively. Commentary on the character’s birth in print, a complete overview of his time on the silver screen, a broadcast log of his adventures on radio (both in the United States and in Australia), and an accounting of the short-lived television program is contained within the 360 pages. There is also a full reprint of a Falcon story from Radio Mirror magazine. Help show your support and display of thanks to Ian Dickerson for going to the effort by digging through archives to produce these welcome tomes.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Calvin and the Colonel: The Animated Adventures of Amos n' Andy

In the fall of 1961, a new half-hour animated cartoon made it primetime network, one year after The Flintstones premiered as the first primetime animated cartoon series for network television, and the networks were all scrambling to compete. The series was Calvin and the Colonel, the creation of Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, produced by Kayro Productions in association with MCA-TV/Revue Studios. The cartoon was anything but new; it was the reincarnation of Gosden and Correll's Amos and Andy radio program, also voiced by Gosden and Correll.

Colonel Montgomery J. Klaxon, a shrewd fox and Calvin T. Burnside, a dumb bear, were the central figures (ala Kingfish and Andy). Their lawyer was Oliver Wendell Clutch, who was a weasel (literally). The colonel lived with his wife, Maggie Belle, and her sister Sue, who never trusted the colonel. Colonel Klaxon was in the real estate business, but always tried a number of get-rich-schemes with Calvin's unwitting help.

Several of the radio scripts were adapted for use on the animated series, with minor revisions to character names and locale. Because of low ratings (not because of complaints from Southern television stations as rumors commonly and falsely circulate), the program was cancelled after two months. The series returned later in the season to complete the terms of the contract. Lever Brothers, makers of Rinso Soap, sponsors of the radio program, bought time slots for the animated rendition and their contract was for 26 half-hour episodes. Reruns were later aired on Saturday mornings, syndicated across the country afterwards, but the minimal number of episodes handicapped syndication success. 

Because Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, script writers for the radio program and the animated series, also produced television's The Munsters, a brief clip from one of the episodes can be seen on a television set in the 1966 episode, "A Visit from Johann." 

Comic book fans know of the two Calvin and the Colonel Dell Comics that were published in 1961, highly sought after by fans of Amos and Andy.    

The episodes "supposedly" fell into the public domain, copyrights never renewed after the 28-year initial issuance. Twelve of these episodes have been floating about in collector hands from 16mm masters, a few easily found on YouTube and a few recently released commercially with a company logo superimposed on the screen, along with the addition of sound effects to the sound track to brand the altered version. (Before purchasing any episodes, ask the vendor if their copies are "un-altered.") 

Of recent a new book was published through Jerry Beck's Cartoon Research publishing label, written by historian Kevin Scott Collier. Documenting as much information about the television series as possible, Collier explores the two animated Amos n' Andy cartoons produced by Van Beuren in 1933 (which have recently received restoration through Thunderbean DVD), and the radio program for which Calvin and the Colonel originated. Publicity photos, budgets, the NAACP controversy, artist model sheets for the characters, and much more can be found in this book. Godson's recollections are quoted, and reprints of episode promotional synopsis were scanned and reprinted. 

After reading the book I was pleased to learn things I did not know about the television program. I knew the program was filmed in color but was unaware that ABC still telecast in black and white at the time so viewers never saw the cartoons in color in 1961. There was a Calvin and the Colonel board game, "High Spirits," and two talking dolls produced by Mattel in 1962. There was also a coloring book which I am now seeking out on eBay this week. (Yeah, I was bitten by the collecting bug years ago when it comes to Amos n' Andy.) The 65-page book is available from Amazon.com and if you want to buy a copy, a link is provided below for your convenience. Fans of Amos n' Andy will want a copy of this book.

https://www.amazon.com/Calvin-Colonel-Reincarnation-Amos-Andy/dp/1986106152/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525475595&sr=8-1&keywords=calvin+and+the+colonel+book

Netflix Brings Back Lost in Space

Count on the folks at Netflix to deliver us another winner. With the convenience of having statistics on their side (they know which DVDs were the most rented, which TV programs were streamed more than others) they chose to co-produce a reboot of the Lost in Space saga made famous by Irwin Allen in the mid-sixties. Avoiding the pitfalls of the Batman-camp style from the 1960s, this rendition is a tad moe gritty, dark and intriguing. A vast improvement for those who know the characters but disliked the cheap production of the original.

Set 30 years in the future where Earth has become a wasteland of pollution, and colonization on another planet half way across the universe appears to be mankind's only hope, the Robinson family join others through the silence of space for dangers unknown. Along the way something goes horribly awry and the survivors find themselves stranded on an alien planet. The first episode pretty much summarizes the first half of the first season, with the Robinson family facing more perils than most television protagonists face in a given season. 

Subtle nods to the original series are evident from one cameo, alias names (June Harris was obviously a tip-of-the-hat to original cast members June Lockhart and Jonathan Harris), and similar perils faced in the original series. Thankfully, no space hippies or giant vegetable rebellions here. The Robinson family is progressive with a black daughter from a prior marriage and a female rendition of Dr. Smith, while a tad dysfunctional as they gather their bearings on the new world. John and Maureen also have an ongoing marital relationship on the rocks and it takes a number of death-defying perils for them to settle their differences.

Parker Posey as the evil Dr. Smith
Overlapping the entire premise are a number of teasers: just how did we get such advanced technology so fast without alien involvement? Why did the robot go crazy and start killing humans on the space station? What did Maureen trade in return for that favor from a mysterious figure so Will could qualify for the mission? Such questions may be answered in the second season.

The casting is superb: everyone who plays a role was perfectly cast. Standing above all others is Parker Posey as Dr. Smith, both lazy and incompetent, but always with a hidden agenda that benefits one. Will Robinson bonds with an alien robot via Spielbergian touches, and it does not take long for the catch-phrase to utter from the robot's mouth.

If you try to compare this new rendition with the original, you will be disappointed. If you are looking for something to binge watch this summer, and were on the fence about streaming the remake, take my word for it: this is worth watching. I am so looking forward to the second season.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (Spoiler Free Review)

Avengers: Infinity War marks the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and as post-credits teasers and interjected scenes have routinely suggested, this was the movie that would culminate ten years of superhero action. Up until now the routine for most Marvel films has been simplistic: hero develops powers, villain tries to gain control of some weaponry that can destroy the hero’s home or universe, hero faces inner turmoil while villain blows things up, people run and scream, second battle, final showdown and of course, a Stan Lee cameo and a post-credits sequence.
Throughout the past few years Marvel Studios, taking a page from Disney, focused on the story-telling agenda so each sequel was never the same as others in the franchise. Thor: Ragnarok was an intergalactic buddy road trip, Iron Man 3 quickly eliminated the arch nemesis and Downey Jr. was more Tony Stark than Iron Man, and Spider-Man: Homecoming was a teen comedy told entirely from the viewpoint of a teenager. This ballsy approach is what sets Marvel films apart from superhero movies produced by other studios.
Avengers: Infinity War continues this formula with Thanos, “The Mad Titan,” who sets out to collect and wield the power of six infinity stones in a customized gauntlet. If he accomplishes his mission, Thanos can destroy fifty percent of all life in the universe with the snap of his fingers. Believing this will create balance in a universe of chaos, Thanos becomes the central character in this movie through a number of flashbacks, revealing his motive. Standing in his way are The Avengers.
With the superheroes secondary characters in this particular film, every superhero receives equal screen time throughout the movie, each with a number of fantastic scenes that give the audience something to cheer for. This balance was a crowd pleasure, to be sure, and essential for the closing minutes of the movie that set the stage for the second half of the story arc — Avengers 4, due out May 2019. The action is relentless and top-notch, with verbal exchanges witty and at times humorous. With each scene transitioning from a closing remark in the previous scene, it can be assumed that the formula was established by Joss Whedon, who scripted the first Avengers film and Marvel Studios, while parting ways with Whedon after the sequel, was inspired to copy the same success.
The story was easy to follow even for someone who has not watched all 18 Marvel movies up to now. The closing act in the film may frustrate some in the theater, without understanding that this is only the first half of an intergalactic epic that will conclude on a high note one year from now. During the screening on opening night, I was witness to people sobbing and crying at the end of the film… but is this not a movie that was supposed to jar your emotions? Yes, because this was epic.
So was Avengers: Infinity War worth all the hype, and ten-year publicity build-up? Much certainly so. This was a funny, balanced and ambitious movie that raises the bar… and leaves you speechless during the film’s closing minutes. The financial payoff will be huge for Marvel Studios in the weeks to come as fanboys will return to the theater more than once to witness the spectacle that will be talked about at Comic Cons for the next twelve months.
Post Script: You do have to wait until after the closing credits for a brief scene that is essential for The Avengers 4.