Friday, December 31, 2010
For maximum irritation, fire all three up at the same time. Sleep tight!
Kodachrome, the first successfully mass-marketed color film, officially ended in 2009 when the last roll of the film was manufactured, but Kodak promised to supply Dwayne's Photo, home of the last Kodachrome processing machine still in operation, with the necessary chemicals to develop the film until the end of 2010. Well sir, it's the end of 2010, and yesterday the machine was shut down for the last time.
Photographers praised the rich color qualities of the Kodachrome system, which introduced the color dyes into the processing stage rather than into the film emulsion itself, but as a Kodak spokesman said, "For all its magic, Kodachrome is a complex film to manufacture and an even more complex film to process." Kodachrome's market share had long been eroded by less expensive rivals such as Fujifilm and Kodak's own Ektachrome, but of course the ring-the-bell moment was brought on by the rise of digital photography.
And if you're saying to yourself, "Kodachrome? Is that anything like Photoshop?", then you'll have to excuse me while I sob uncontrollably in the corner for a few hours.
(Photo: "Shaftesbury Avenue from Picadilly Circus, in the West End of London", Kodachrome photo by Chalmers Butterfield. High resolution scan at other end of link. Used under Creative Commons license ShareAlike 3.0)
Thursday, December 30, 2010
(Both photographs used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. As part of the CC deal, I'm pretty sure I have to tell you this every time.)
- 9 Major Stories Everyone Got Wrong This Year (via Cracked)
- The AV Club gets all listy right about now, but these are the less obvious ones: Best comedy albums, best podcasts, worst new series, worst films, and least essential albums.
- Wired (whice really needs to get on that Vaporware thing already) gives us "The Year The Internet Went To War", about the top Internet-related news stories of '10.
- Esquire's 102 Things That Made Us Proud This Year.
- Time's Best Blogs of 2010 and Best Websites of 2010. Obviously this one isn't included, but maybe next year, maaaaaan... (But is there any reason these were apparently posted during the summer? Beating the rush, are we?)
- And what the hell, Perez Hilton? The best of 2010 mashed up into one song, that's what the hell.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Well, the snow is finally dissipating and the grass is finally showing its head above the ground, which only goes to show you that as much as someone wants to hang onto the holidays, the New Year won’t wait any longer. So rather than the full treatment, here are the rest of the episodes in one lump.
Dupont Theater: “The Blessed Midnight”. Original Broadcast: December 18, 1956. Teddy O’Hara, a scruffy downbeat boy with a nasty piece of work of a father (hitting and shouting nasty), steals a fancy cake for his beloved aunt, and while the whole neighborhood is out to get him, his best friend Billy Hayes tries to help him. Maureen O’Sullivan plays the Sister who is the boys’ teacher in Catholic school, while Frances Bavier (Aunt Bea!) is Billy’s mom. A real winner.
Four Star Playhouse: 1) “The Answer”, starring David Niven (one of the four stars of the title, who is also billed as the producer). Original Broadcast: December 23, 1954. Bart Thomas, a burned-out Hollywood screenwriter, returns to his old neighborhood and his uncle’s bar to try and find his way around the block he’s hit. He runs across Deacon (Niven), an intellectual/booze hustler, and manages to pry out the details of a play Deacon has been working on for 15 years. The telling is a transformative experience for everybody involved.
2) “The Gift”, starring Charles Boyer (also billed as producer on this episode). Original Broadcast: December 24, 1953. Boyer plays a businessman who becomes difficult and sour around Christmastime, an attitude connected to his estranged son who didn’t follow in his footsteps, and the night that turns him back around. Another very nice story, and another television episode directed by Robert Aldrich. Maureen O’Sullivan plays Boyer’s wife.
General Electric Theater: “A Child Is Born”. Original Broadcast: December 23, 1956. A musical version of the Nativity as told from the point-of-view of the innkeeper’s wife. From a play by Stephen Vincent Benet with original music composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann. Narrated by Ronald Reagan (again). And no video (ugh…again). Pretty ambitious holiday television, but whether you view it as overdone or not depends on your tolerance for operetta.
It’s a shame I had to do these as a sudden death overtime wrap-up, since they were some of the best straight holiday television of the lot. Something to kick off next year? We’ll see.
And that, good neighbors, is where our Scrounger’s Cheapjack Christmas Special comes to an end. In spite of the technical hiccups in the early going (and the occasional duds), this collection was well worth the handful of bills I paid for it.
“But really, Mister Scrounger Cheapjack,” I hear you say, “what did we learn from all this?” Well, first of all, that’s not my name, kid. But it’s a good question after processing such a large slab of video, so let’s look back:
- We learned that if a sitcom isn’t willing to put its metaphorical back into the season, the results are going to be kind of embarrassing. And sometimes even if it does.
- Even decades beyond his time, Liberace still maintains his eerie power to make you distinctly uneasy.
- When Frank asks “Well, what’s it all prove, Joe?”, Joe can tell you exactly what it all proves.
- The less likely the Christmas connection in a show, the weirder everything gets.
- And finally, the real gift of the whole experience: sometimes the simple stories work the best, especially at Christmas.
Thank you for sticking around this far, and as the kid with the crutch said, God bless us every one.
(Now what to do for an encore…any suggestions?)
Sunday, December 26, 2010
If I sound a little dopey in these last few entries, it’s because I keep looking through my window at the second white Christmas I’ve had in my lifetime. Snow on the 25th in the Carolinas…as it just seems so ridiculous. I can’t stop laughing. Of course, no way in hell I’m actually travelling in it.
Anyway, nature made the decision that I never could: Christmas isn’t over until the snow is over. Also, I’m still kind of tuckered out from yesterday. And now, back to the home stretch of our seasonal distraction.
Just Enough Information: It should be A String of Blue Beads (as a stand-alone title without the quotes), since this show was intended as a pilot for a proposed anthology to be called Screen Writer’s Playhouse. All the episodes would’ve been based on short stories and shot in color, which is very strange for a show aiming for a 1954 start date, but color TV had been just around the corner for quite awhile. Regardless, nobody bought it, and all that remains is this one orphan episode being passed around from dollar-bin label to dollar-bin label.
We’re introduced to some narrator who presents the premise of the series that never came together, then shows us a string of blue beads in the shop window. And then…wait, puppets?
Okay, whatever it takes to get the story going. Santa Puppet pulls a cute lady puppet out of his bag for a sad man, and everybody goes all marionette happy. That’s a transition, of course, to Peter and Marilyn, a young man and young woman who are all kinds of non-marionette happy because they’re engaged.
Peter runs the shop with Marilyn, so when an old lady wants to buy the beads in the window, and Peter offers them for a firm $37, she’s even more surprised than the customer. Why, she asks, did you tell her $37 when just this morning they were $27? “Those blue beads belong on you.”
Mrs. Loomis, cleaning lady and generally helpful person, offers to watch the shop while the two young people get some alone time. They grab a soda and Marilyn tells Peter that she loves him but she’s scared because things have gone too smoothly, which is underlining that something might be about to happen, but just you shut your mouth about that.
(…and from here on is where the spoilers happen. That’s how we roll around here.)
Peter returns to the shop alone, happy as a bucket of clams in a non-shellfish-eating household, but that doesn’t last, because Mrs. Loomis takes an awful telephone call that Marilyn died in a house fire. Peter drifts out the door in a sort of fugue state, and then…well, then we get Santa Puppet and Peter puppet again, with a little back and forth implying that Peter turned his back on Christmas—turned his back on everything—after losing his love. Well, if that’s the way you want to say it…
Flash forward three years later, and Peter is still holding on to those beads, still clinging to the past, and he’s still asking $37. One regular customer says “For a young man, you’ve become old in a hurry!”, and really, you can see why. A little girl named Barbara Mae sees the beads in the window and asks how much, and Peter softens and says $27. It turns out she only has 11 cents, but she refuses his offer of going to look for another present closer to what she has to spend. The present is for her sister, and she wanted something very special. Then when she leaves, he really softens and takes off after her with the beads.
Let’s just jump ahead to when the sister returns to the shop with a present she can’t in good conscience accept, since they’re far too fine for something her little sister could afford with her few pennies. How could she pay for them?
And the answer is Our Holiday Lesson For Today: Well, here’s the line from the story, which gets to the heart of the matter a little bit better than the script. “‘She paid the biggest price anyone can ever pay,’ he said. ‘She gave all she had.’” And then he offers to walk the lady home, and Santa Puppet brings Peter Puppet a happy Christmas.
Oh, and then the narrator comes back and (since this is a TV pilot) makes his sales pitch for the rest of the series. Sounds like it might have been fun, but as it is, what we have is a sad, sweet story that would turn up every year if there was a place for it.
Spot ‘Em: Louis Jourdan, recent (as in 2010 recent) Légion d'Honneur recipient who got his first big Hollywood break in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Paradine Case and went on to play in a number of memorable films, plays Peter, while Margaret Hamilton (who will get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too) is Mrs. Loomis. Ellen-Cobb Hill, who was Marilyn, later played Ellen Tyrell Ames on the soap opera The Secret Storm, for those who remember things like that.
But Don’t Take My Word For It: Just go with it. Trust me.
Next (fingers crossed): Dupont Theater!
Just in time for Boxing Day, some two-fisted Western action!
Just Enough Information: Produced by Gene Autry’s Flying A Productions for syndication, Annie Oakley was inspired by the renowned 19th century sharpshooter and first female star of the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. In this highly fictionalized story, Annie (Gail Davis) and her little brother Tagg (Jimmy Hawkins) lived in the town of Diablo, Arizona with their sheriff uncle, and when trouble was afoot (which it always was, because HELLO MCFLY, IT’S A WESTERN) Annie, Tagg, and Deputy Lofty Craig (Brad Johnson) would go all shooty-fisty to set it aright. 81 episodes were produced between 1954 and 1957.
The Christmas Episode: “Santa Claus Wears A Gun”. Original Broadcast: December 9, 1956 (or thereabouts, since it’s syndication).
No, they wouldn’t jerk us around and give us a real Santa Claus packing heat (dare to dream), but we do start the show with a poster of a very familiar-looking mountain man/sharpshooter named Snowy Kringle. Tagg’s very impressed, especially when Annie points out how old the rifle is.
When Annie and Lofty enter the station house they find a stranger loading his gun…and an ominous musical sting. The man introduces himself as D.K. Rodney, federal agent arriving in advance of an Army payroll shipment. He also claims that Kringle is responsible for shooting another station agent in a Dodge City holdup…and he’s riding in on the next train. The train with the money. Dun dun duhnnnnn…
Don’t listen to him, Annie! That music cue is telling a different story!
When Kringle does arrive, he’s a sweet old guy who’s happy to show off for the starstruck Tagg. But the old fella changes his tune in a heartbeat when Tagg tries to sneak a peek at Kringle’s pistol later.
Sure enough, a man in a sackcloth mask and Kringle’s boots shows up later to blow open the safe, (highlight for spoilers) but the first clue that things aren’t what they seem is that the hold-up man doesn’t sound a thing like the real Kringle. To cut to the chase (and yes, there is one), a phony Kringle is conspiring with Rodney to frame the old man for the robberies and get away with the cash. There’s also a logical reason why he was extra protective of the pistol, too.
To get to there from here involves some hard ridin’, two-fisted fightin’, and (of course) fancy shootin’ (but, because it’s pretty much kid’s TV, not fancy killin’). Annie Oakley doesn’t skimp on any of the above, and compared to the other Christmas adventure stories we’ve seen so far, this show really moves. So yes, by all means go for it if you can find it.
Our Holiday Lesson For Today: Looks can be deceiving. Sometimes when you see a fat man with a bag over his shoulder, it’s Santa. Other times, it’s just some hobo stealing your XBox.
There’s all kinds of Annie Oakley video on the Intertubes, but not this particular one, sooooo…
Next (if the current conditions prevail): A String of Blue Beads!
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Just Enough Information: Meet Corliss Archer was a short-lived syndicated television adaptation (April-December 1955) of the long-running radio sitcom, both of which were inspired by the magazine stories of F. Hugh Herbert. Corliss, played by Ann Baker, was a cute, perky teenage girl on the edge of 16, attached to sweetheart Dexter Franklin, a nerdy bumbler who obviously had a box of four-leaf clovers in his closet. Her father Harry is a level-headed lawyer (Level headed? What fun are those guys?) and mother Janet is…well, not.
CBS also took a crack—although a bizarrely scheduled one—at Corliss as a live production during the 1951-52 season, once during the summer with two live stagings going to different parts of the country on different days, and then again as a brief midseason replacement. Bobby Ellis, who played Dexter, was the only cast member who played in both TV versions. The radio series managed to outlast them all, closing shop in the fall of 1956 after a little over 12 years on the air.
The Christmas Episode: “The Christmas Presents”. Original Broadcast: c. December 1955. According to every episode guide online, this was the last episode of the series released into the wild.
One of Harry Archer’s hobby horses throughout the series was the battle of the sexes, and it’s obvious that the battle escalates into psychological warfare when it comes to hiding Christmas presents. It doesn’t help the whole unfortunate “men are smarter” vibe that both Corliss and her mom turn into a couple of snoopy kids when confronted with the challenge that they won’t find (and sneak a peek at) the presents this year.
To twist the whole “the husband is the adult of the house” knife, he goes directly to their packages (which are hidden in obvious places, like on the floor), gives them a single shake, and cooly declares “I have a notion I’m getting an ocean of lotion.” Hahaha, you jerk.
Haw haw, gurlz is so prediktabul.
So the rest of the A-plot—how do you like that, we actually get a sub-plot in this show!—is Corliss and Mrs. Archer sneaking around the house like nosy ten year-olds desperately trying to find the hiding places, while the Mister very easily stays ten steps ahead of them every time until it starts to bum you out. When you get exchanges like “Isn’t it just like a man.” “What?” “Being right.”, you know you’re cruising on the wrong side of the cultural divide.
Haha, dance puppets! Dance!
(Oh, the cleverest part of the series is that the scene transitions are represented as still cartoons, while the narrator rattles off some chatter. Nicely done.)
Then there’s Dexter, who has decided that this year he’s making his own presents and has asked for the usage of the Archer workshop for that purpose. This is where karmic retribution finally comes in, because now Harry has the snooping-around bug and, while helping Dexter in hopes of picking up a clue, gets innocently and repeatedly brutalized by the hopelessly clumsy boy.
You remember that Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode where Joel and the robots were watching a movie about an animal trapper and our guys were rooting for the animals? Same thing here.
(highlight for spoilers) As a final bit of cosmic punishment, Dexter’s gift to Mr. Archer is a freshly laid cement pathway in the back yard…right over the hiding place of the presents. Serves you right, jackass.
You can probably tell this show lost me early on (and you can probably tell why, too), but like a lot of radio-to-TV sitcom flops, there was also a problem in the casting the central role. Don’t get me wrong, Ann Baker’s just adorable here, even if the story breaks against her, but Corliss on the radio for a massive portion of its run was the most excellent Janet Waldo, who played the girl with the breathless wonder and exasperation that would transfer in one piece into the voice role that most non-radio fans remember her for, Judy Jetson. You compare the two, it’s easy to see which is the “genuine” article. Ms. Waldo casts a long shadow.
Our Holiday Lesson For The Day: A marriage is built on love and mutual trust…until Christmas, when it’s built on subterfuge and an overarching sense of craftiness.
But Don’t Take My Word For It: Internet Archive has a nice selection of the series, if you think further investigation is necessary.
Next: Annie Oakley hopefully restores the balance of gender bias!
It’s Christmas! With pirates! Arrrrrr!
He even says ARRRR! right before the title comes up. Just for that, this show is awesome.
Just Enough Information: Produced in Australia in 1955 for the American and British markets, The Adventures of Long John Silver is a series loosely based on characters from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, although as with a number of television adaptations, some of the sharper edges are sanded off of the title character. As portrayed by Robert Newton—reprising his remarkable take on the role from the 1950 Disney adaptation—Long John is more of a loveable rogue, and (get this) actually working for the British governor to keep the villainous Spaniards at bay. Also surviving the transition to the small screen was cabin boy Jim Hawkins, played by Kit Taylor.
There were 26 half-hours made, and there probably would have been more if Newton hadn’t passed on after those were completed.
The Christmas Episode: “The Orphans’ Christmas”. Original American Broadcast: Syndicated c. 1955-6...or somewhere in the neighborhood.
Meet Miss Willoughby, the woman who runs the orphanage on the island of Portobello. She’s a joyless harridan, drilling her charges like they were in the army. Jim Hawkins, who also happens to be an orphan, doesn’t like it one bit, and takes his case back to the only adults in his life, the gang at the Cask and Anchor Inn.
The Reverend Monaster warns everybody that as nasty a piece of work Willoughby is during the year, Christmas really brings out a fresh slice of Hell in her, but there’s not much the law can do as long as she feeds, clothes, and educates the children and doesn’t actually beat them. They decide there’s no harm in pressing the case, but Willoughby makes it clear that “children should not expect things for nothing…least of all orphans.” She also uses the phrase “pagan revelry”. Ouch.
Of course, if you’ve seen as many Christmas TV shows as I have this month, you just know they’re just setting her up for the breaking dawn of renewed love and fellowship. (highlight for spolers) The key to all of this, as Long John finds out during an old-fashioned pirate-style intervention (from the end of a pistol), is in a box of letters from a lost love, a man who was supposed to return to marry her on Christmas Day but never got around to it. Long John actually served with the man, and spins her a story about how he died on Christmas with her name on his lips, and that's all it takes to bring the joy of the season back to her heart. The fact that “her Richard” really ended up on another island with a wife and eleven children (Catholic much?) is something best left unsaid. Especially while she’s in the room. Don’t let her catch you sharing that last pre-credits laugh, either.
Anyway, the orphans get their Christmas and everyone’s full of the happy and the joy.
Our Holiday Lesson For Today: If you really, really want to stay a sour misanthrope, December is a great time to stay in your misery bunker, lest armed pirates break in and try to bring you around.
But Don’t Take My Word For It: Here ya be, ye scurvy swabs…but first, the title sequence for the full impact.
Next: Meet Corliss Archer! Yay, another sitcom…
Friday, December 24, 2010
Duck and cover, here comes another helping of the Velveeta of fine music…
The Christmas Episode: “Christmas Show”. Syndicated c. 1953-1955.
Everything that I said before Thanksgiving applies to the Christmas show: song, talk , song, talk, song, closing credits. Simplest musical format in the world, so it’s all that, but with Christmas! There’s canned applause when Lee does a keyboard roll and conjures up fake snow. There’s a couple of canned audible gasps when another trill cues the camera on the Christmas tree. It’s like those little keyboard doodles are magic! Liberace is a witch! Shall we burn him?
I feel a little gypped that we don’t see the top of the tree. It could be a trunk for all we know. Maybe they got a bargain by letting the guy at the lot sell the top to Charlie Brown and Linus.
Lee does read a Christmas poem, and he plays a number done up in white on a rotating pedestal, which must’ve blown the production budget for the rest of the year.
And here’s something you probably didn’t expect to see.
No no, not that. We’re still not going there just now. It’s the whole Liberace family singing a chorus of “Jingle Bells”.
Again, if this is the type of thing you like, you’ll definitely like this particular thing.
But Don’t Take My Word For It: Here we go again...
Whoo, just whipped right through that one, didn’t we?
Next: Long John Silver! Yay, pirates!
Just Enough Information: Where’s Raymond? was stage and screen star Ray Bolger’s attempt to launch himself into sitcomdom, which ran from 1953 until 1955, with a major overhaul between seasons one and two. During both, Bolger played Raymond Wallace, a musical-comedy performer who had a really bad habit of not showing up until just before the curtain rises, causing hair-tearing pandemonium (hey! just like the show title!). The format gave Bolger a chance to fit a dance routine into every show, often based on one of his Broadway or film successes.
At the beginning of season two, there was an almost complete turnover in the supporting cast, premise, and even the name of the show (now just The Ray Bolger Show), which in even the best of conditions would have to be considered a bad sign.
The Christmas Episode: “The Christmas Show”. Original Broadcast: December 24, 1953.
This episode is more of a variety show than an actual sitcom, so there’s not much to sum up. Raymond runs into his young friend Ginny, who gets the idea that if everybody was Ray, the world would be much better…and then she imagines exactly that, in an extended set piece.
So in her fantasy, everyone she meets is her buddy Raymond…the guy in the Santa suit ringing the bell, the taxi driver, the toy clerk, and even…oh nonononono…even the giant dancing Sambo doll.
Consider this a consumer warning.
I mean, the dancing is excellent, but seriously, what the hell? Yeah I know, “different times”, and yes, the wind-up dancing blackface doll was a real thing for a long time, but they seriously couldn’t have made him the clown?
If you can get through that—or if you can fast-forward through it, take your pick—the last half is Ray and the Mitchell Boy’s Choir (the same group that sang almost the entire “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” over the credits of our Christmas Carol entry) caroling around town in a horse drawn sleigh.
And that’s pretty much it. Ray/Raymond is almost pixie-like in his cheerfulness, and it’s a bit baffling why he didn’t just front a straight variety show instead of a sitcom. It’s safe to assume this is not how a typical show ran. But really, what the hell was up with that tap dance?
Our Holiday Lesson For Today: Burnt cork can put a bad flavor on anything.
But Don’t Take My Word For It: Here’s the Youtube post. If you really want to avoid…well, the part you might want to avoid…it starts at 6:17 in part 1 and ends at 8:54. I wouldn’t be a good neighbor if I didn’t at least give you a fighting chance.
Next: Liberace at Christmas! We might just blitz through this one…
Just Enough Information: The Ruggles was one of the earliest family-oriented television sitcoms, broadcast live on ABC from 1949 to 1952. The show starred character actor Charlie Ruggles as company department manager Charlie Ruggles. His family consisted of wife Margaret, coed daughter Sharon, son Chuck, and the younger children, twins Donna and Donald. Playing without an audience or laugh track, the show did it’s business with the type of gentle, low-key humor which unfortunately didn’t have a snowball’s chance outside of the rare air of early television.
The Christmas Episode: “Christmas Eve”. Original Broadcast: circa December 1949 (probably).
It’s one of those cozy nights in the Ruggles’ house, and the twins are collaborating on a letter to Santa, making sure to include everybody. “Bring Daddy a checkbook so he can write some more money.”
Martha gets the idea that they’ve had so much over the course of their lives together, maybe they should share a bit of it with someone less fortunate. Chuck and Sharon really latch on to the idea, and Sharon in particular remembers Elaine, a high school classmate who lost her father in the not-too-distant past and wasn’t well-to-do enough that she got to go to college. While Charlie isn’t against the idea, he’s a bit concerned that Sharon knew all of this during the rest of the year and didn’t do anything with it until just now. He reminds Sharon and Chuck that you shouldn’t neglect your duties throughout the year and try to make good during the holidays. Not that he’s against the idea, you understand, just that he wanted to register how he felt.
Eventually, Charlie, Chuck, and Sharon make the trip out to Elaine’s house. Chuck makes a few poverty (almost-)gaffes, while Sharon doesn’t seem to be entirely comfortable. Charlie finally gets the kids back on mission, about how they’re thinking about the less fortunate at this time of the year and…
And that’s when Elaine cuts them off with a list of a few people in the neighborhood who she thinks are in dire straits, which Charlie tactfully decides is a great idea. They do manage to offer to share their Christmas Eve dinner with Elaine, whose mother is out of town, leaving her alone for the holidays. So she invites all of them over to her house, and the Ruggles in turn invite the dinner they were preparing. Everybody has a happy holiday.
Absolutely charming. There’s no way they’d make another like it today.
Our Holiday Lesson For Today: This is a good one, too, from father Charlie. “Happiness is within one’s self. It isn’t what we have or how much we have that counts. It’s how much of what we have that we enjoy.” The gift, Charlie reminds us, is enjoying what you’ve been given and sharing with others.
But Don’t Take My Word For It: The Internet Archive has a stream, except as I’m writing this the site isn’t cooperating 100%. I’ll leave the link just in case everything goes wonky again and hope that it all comes together eventually.
Next: Ray Bolger!