Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Dungeons and Dragons 01x02: Eye of the Beholder

Daisy is back for another guest installment of D&D! If you're interested in swapping posts or doing a guest recap of your own, contact me at jvonhalsing@gmail.com for details and guidelines.

Episode Two of Dungeons and Dragons is ‘Eye of the Beholder’, and it has noticeably fewer villainous pet rabbits and randomly teleporting dragons than the first one, but also way more bumbling knights.  Whether you consider that an improvement or not is probably a matter of taste.  I find that this episode gets overlooked a lot, especially in terms of how it relates to Eric’s characterization, but I think that has more to do with most of the plotline being kind of forgettable than anything else.

So let’s get to ‘Eye of the Beholder’.

We start out with a scene of the kids walking in the desert again.  Oh joy.  The horses from the last episode are gone.  I guess they returned them to Helix in a fit of upstanding behaviour.  Or maybe they died.  I mean, it’s not like anybody is really an expert on horse care here.

Presto:  “It must be a hundred and twenty degrees in the shade.  And there isn’t any shade!”

Sheila:  “You can say that again!”

Diana:  “With four suns up there, what d’you guys expect?”

There are four suns this time?  Oh my god, is Eric dead?  But, no, there he is, standing with the group.  The rest of the kids sit down to take a break except for Eric, who keeps standing.  I have suspicions that his sweat has rusted his armour shut and he can’t bend enough to sit down.  In the foreground we see Uni get hit with a couple stray blasts of sand.  She shakes her head and goes to investigate the source of the flying sand.  Eric talks about how he’s been in this situation before, but at the time he was actually just lost in his parents’ safari-size backyard.

Eric:  “I was lost.  The sun was baking my brains.”

Presto:  “So that’s what happened to your brains.”

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Liebster Award

My goodness! The ever-lovely and very gracious Emily over at The Flapper Dame has nominated me for a Liebster Award!

The Flapper Dame is an amazing blog that you should all go visit. She's always up for a good blogathon, and if you're a Grace Kelly fan, or you like historical dramas, it is the place to be.

Speaking of, I'm going to do a double promotion here and let you all know that The Flapper Dame is hosting a Royalty on Film blogathon this summer, which I'll be participating in with a couple of looks at Cleopatra movies. It's going to be a great event, and there's still time to sign up and do something for The Slipper and the Rose or The Son of the Shiek or any number of unclaimed Disney favourites.

So, onto business. What, exactly, is a Liebster Award and how is it won?

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Donald Duck: Good Scouts and Sea Scouts

I love Donald Duck.

I've seen some of these cartoons hundreds of times, and still I laugh so hard that I straight up hyperventilate. It's just silly, joyful stuff and a great way to kick off summer.

Up top there is a 1928 short called Good Scouts, which marked the second on-screen appearance of Huey, Dewey and Louie. The nephews actually made their debut in the Donald Duck comics first, which is one of those facts you can shout at a dinner party during an awkward silence.

Good Scouts was nominated for an Academy Award, in the same year and category as Disney's other shorts: Ferdinand the Bull, Brave Little Tailor, and that forgotten classic Mother Goose Goes Hollywood. In fact, the only non-Disney title nominated for Best Short Subject (Cartoons) in 1938 was something put out by Fleischer Studios called Hunky and Spunky. You're all responsible for your own jokes about that. Also, I do not recommend googling it without safe search on.

Ferdinand won, as it happened. And it remains the only time a single production studio had four nominations in one category.

Good Scouts was so popular that a sequel was made in 1939 called Sea Scouts. As you'll see below, it's pretty much the same thing but on the ocean.

What's cool about this is how you can see the early stages of development for one of Disney's most famous pieces of animated slapstick – the sequence where the crocodile chases Captain Hook in 1953's Peter Pan.

Both of these shorts were filmed in Technicolor, by the way. It's funny to think, but in 1932, when Walt Disney premiered the first cartoon to use the three-colour dye transfer system, people thought it was a mistake. Everyone was like: "Walt, that's insane! If people see cartoons that have colours like paintings, they won't be able to distinguish reality from art and civilization will crumble!" 

Herbert Kalmus, one of the inventors of Technicolor, originally had a five-year contract giving Disney exclusive use of the system for cartoons. But it was quickly renegotiated to a one-year contract when the other major studios sent out their leg-breakers.

The good news is that the one year was still more than enough to give Disney a leg up financially, allowing for a higher quality of Donald Duck cartoon! Hooray!

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Bonanza 01x06: The Julia Bulette Story

Hey! Want to watch Little Joe fall in love with a manipulative older woman who reminds him of his dead mother? It doesn’t matter how you answered that question because we’re doing it anyway.

This episode begins with Adam and Hoss meeting up with Little Joe, coming in off the San Francisco stagecoach. It’s been two months since they’ve seen him, so Hoss tells him he hasn’t been eating right and Adam says that San Francisco somehow made his face fat. Brothers are like friends you can never get rid of, no matter how hard you try. Little Joe tells them they both suck, and that he sold their cattle for five dollars a head more than Adam got last year. Nobody tells him that markets fluctuate, they just let him have the little victory.

Hoss suggests celebrating in town, and Adam teases that they can take him to a place called Julia’s Palace. Little Joe looks excited, and Hoss is like: “Adam, that’s mean. He thinks you’re serious.”

Since Virginia City is a land of unbelievable coincidences, right after we hear of Julia’s Palace for the first time ever, trouble comes from that direction. Well, actually, the sounds of gunshots and a wounded man come staggering from that direction. The Cartwright boys rush over to investigate, because Adam and Joe are super nosy, and Hoss is some kind of unlicensed veterinarian who sometimes operates on people. The bartender decides to announce to them that it was a fair fight, or at least as fair a fight with the notorious Jean Millain can be.

Adam notices that Millain’s latest victim isn’t dead, and he asks Hoss to help carry him to the doctor’s office. Leaving Little Joe unsupervised in front of Julia’s Palace.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Sister Kenny (1946)

In 1952, somebody knocked Eleanor Roosevelt out of the number one spot as America’s Most Admired Woman, according to a poll by Time magazine. Her name was Elizabeth Kenny, and in her own time she was a controversial rebel who fought the medical establishment, got a movie made of her life starring Rosalind Russell, and saved countless children from suffering.

It’s hard for today’s generation to get a sense of how terrifying polio was to our parents and grandparents. In 1952 – the year Sister Kenny made her mark – there was a record high of 58,000 new cases. Between 1946 and 1953, there were more cases of polio than at any other time in history, surprising for a disease that is traceable as far back as ancient Egypt, with little end to the epidemic in sight.

The standard treatment in the early 20th century was focused on immobilization of the muscles, but an Australian bush nurse was beginning to change that, and in the process contribute enormously to the progress of what we now call physiotherapy. She had no formal training, but had served on “dark ships” during the First World War and had earned the rank of Sister, which at that time in the commonwealth was reserved only for formally trained nurses. (That was another point of controversy. The woman was a lightning rod, and her public dismissal of doctors and her courting of press coverage didn’t help at all.)

In 1943, what started in Australia moved to the United States, as she began teaching her methods and establishing Sister Kenny clinics. A number of notable people regained mobility thanks to these clinics, including Alan Alda, Dinah Shore, and Martin Sheen.

Rosalind Russell was fascinated by Sister Kenny, and admired her greatly. When there started to be murmurs of a biopic, Russell leapt at the chance. Despite the poor box office performance of Sister Kenny, it’s a performance that deservedly won her a Golden Globe. And the financial underperformance had way more to do with the mood of the era than the quality of the film. In 1946, the year the film was released, people didn’t want to see downer movies. War pictures, medical pictures, things where the two romantic leads separated in a moving but tragic finale, these did not do well.

Sister Kenny has all of those elements.

Its structure is pure biopic, even at the expense of reality. (But never let reality get in the way of a good movie, I say.) We start with young Elizabeth Kenny deciding, against the wishes of a totally fictitious mentor played by Alexander Knox, to devote herself to care of rural bush communities with limited access to hospitals.

After a few years of setting broken bones and helping the locals through various bouts of this and that, she finds herself facing a totally new challenge when a little girl named Dorrie starts to exhibit the symptoms of infantile paralysis. Dorrie, like all the kids in the movie, is heartbreaking in her pain. When she tries to move her legs and can’t, it’s a tear-jerker.

But Sister Kenny bucks the odds against little Dorrie, and by the end of her makeshift treatment, Dorrie can walk, cartwheel, and dance just like she wants to.

Yes, its melodrama, but its effective melodrama.

You’ll probably need a box of tissues for the scene where Sister Kenny and her paramour, played wonderfully by Dean Jagger, take Dorrie to the big city hospital to be examined by Australia’s foremost authority on infantile paralysis. There, Dorrie meets a little boy in leg braces whose excitement to show her how he can kick a ball is the biggest weepy moment in a movie almost totally comprised of them.

It’s a good movie if you’re in the mood to watch somebody stick it to the establishment, and it’s an important movie if you don't know very much about what the world was like during the polio epidemic.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Tabatha (Unaired Pilot)

A little while ago, we took a look at the first episode of the short-lived Bewitched spin-off Tabitha, starring Lisa Hartman. That show aired in 1977, and it was a retooling of an unsold pilot for a series called Tabatha starring Liberty Williams.

We learned on Mother’s Day that spelling it “Tabatha” is painful to Elizabeth Montgomery’s soul, but that’s how they chose to spell it for this production, and we have to respect that? I guess?

Surprisingly, I like this pilot way more than the one that was actually sold. I’m of the opinion that it’s better to mimic story elements rather than character dynamics if you’re going to ease people into a show by knocking off your source material. This first pilot, helmed by Bewitched director/producer William Asher, captures the spirit of a ‘70s single girl update while keeping some fresh ideas in there, and he does this not by trying to recapture the “types” of characters, but by calling back to structure of “I, Darrin, Take This Witch, Samantha.”

The episode opens with scenes of steep hills and charming cable cars, letting us know that the newly grown-up Tabatha Stephens now lives in glamorous San Francisco. (When we see the size of her apartment, you’ll know that a hell of a lot of witchcraft is involved in keeping her rent down.) Tabatha herself looks every inch a career girl of the times, with her Dorothy Hamill haircut and her brown pantsuit, as she races across the street to hail a taxi.

I feel like I should explain that in days of yore, when our mothers were teenagers, there was a major Battle of the Haircuts. You were either a Dorothy – a variation on the short wedge cut made popular by figure skater Dorothy Hamill, or a Farrah – barrel curls and volume in the style of Farrah Fawcett. The Dorothy was shorthand for being practically minded, while the Farrah meant you liked to have more fun. This was a serious conflict, and I’m shocked that it isn’t taught in history class.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

I Dream of Jeannie 03x02: Jeannie or the Tiger

Why not follow up last month’s double bill of doppelgängers and this month’s Bewitched entry with the episode of I Dream of Jeannie that introduces her lookalike sister? Sounds fun, right?

Yes it does, don’t be difficult.

I Dream of Jeannie is a 1966 sitcom about an astronaut (very chic at the time) finding a genie in a bottle on a remote island in the Pacific. He’s a handsome astronaut played by Larry Hagman, and she’s a warm-blooded young genie played by Barbara Eden, so she’s constantly making moves on him that – for some baffling reason – he turns down. We establish pretty quickly that he’s straight, btw, so that torpedoes the usual theory.

Jeannie uses her powers to try and improve her beloved Major Nelson’s life, but it never goes well. Nine times out of ten, it’s Major Nelson’s fault because he never adequately explains why she shouldn’t just use her cosmic powers to fix things.

(What is your actual deal, Major Nelson? How can you be trying to go to the moon while ignoring the possibilities this type of magic can bring to mankind?)

Rounding out the cast was Bill Daily as Major Nelson’s best bud, the reasonably greedy and excitable Roger Healy. Roger is also an astronaut, and the only person who seems to grasp that Jeannie is a magical super-being. He’s a pretty good guy, but he tends to use Jeannie’s powers for personal financial gain like anybody would, let’s be real. Everyone is a Roger.

Their chief nemesis was Hayden Rorke as NASA psychiatrist Dr. Bellows, an uptight and rigid professional who has no time for everyone bending the laws of physics when there’s a moon to land on. He usually thinks the boys are going insane, or that some kind of Russian sabotage is in play, but he never does anything about it except shout and look confused.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Bewitched 02x18: And Then There Were Three

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than watching Bewitched. I watched it with my mother, she watched it with her mother, and one of the central relationships is – despite them having fantastical powers – one of the best TV depictions of a relationship between an adult daughter and her mom.

It’s not mired in remorse or resentment like you always see in dramas, the mother isn’t ditzy or sweetly old fashioned like in sentimental comedies. Samantha and Endora are both fully realized characters as individuals, and their personalities dictate the style of the frustrations and joys that come with their love for each other. In the later seasons of the show, both of them were painted with pretty broad strokes and a lot of the stories were rehashed from earlier episodes, but in the first two seasons, both witches and the business of being a mother and daughter were wonderfully nuanced.

The episode we’re watching today introduces two new characters to the Bewitched universe. The first is Cousin Serena, a dual-role for Elizabeth Montgomery, and a fun addition to her extended witchy family. The second is baby Tabitha, who transforms the mothering dynamics in a pretty significant way.

For all of the second season so far, Samantha has been pregnant. It’s been pretty smooth sailing, apart from briefly losing her powers thanks to a black Peruvian rose, and that time Endora gave Darrin all the discomforts of pregnancy because he wasn’t being sympathetic. (He deserved it.) It all coincided with Elizabeth Montgomery’s real life pregnancy with her second child. Her first pregnancy had also been while she was filming Bewitched, but the network thought it was inappropriate for newlyweds to have a baby in the first year. I don’t know why.

But this is it.

The big day for a lot of people.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Lux Radio Theater: It Happens Every Spring

I'm insanely busy with work this week, so no recap today. Instead, I offer you this episode of Lux Radio Theater, in which Ray Milland deals with the sport of baseball in an adaptation of Fox's 1949 It Happens Every Spring.

In other news, it's Audrey Hepburn's birthday today, so try to watch one of her movies tonight! I'm picking my favourite "I'm on auto-pilot and ordering pizza and not answering the phone" film of all time, How to Steal a Million. Chances are good I'll fall asleep halfway through, but I'm pretty confident that I remember the ending. (The important thing is remembering to put the leftover pizza in the fridge.)