I GET MY KICKS WATCHING CLASSIC TEE-VEE!!!
A long time ago some knowitall of a human hemorrhoid came up with the absurd notion that this blogger's appreciation of the television, movies, music and general, er, culture of "the fifties" (note the quotation marks used here in order to denote a sense of sourness said hemorrhoid has for that particular era, perhaps because of the reputation those years have for being such a "repressive" time in the history of libertinism or something like that) was definitely based on the undeniable "fact" that the aforementioned era was a beneath-contempt decade when gays, women and minorities were (shudder!) "kept in their place." All these years later I've got to admit that I've pondered a bit about this particular comment that was derisively made about me, and after originally chastising the utterance and its utterer as well ("You must have been watching PLEASANTVILLE again!") the cold and unvarnished truth finally hit me...mainly that this guy was right after all!!! Don't believe me? Well, just read on MacDuff!!!!
Of course his ideas of what is "right" and mine certainly differ, but the guy does have a sick yet perhaps valid point in saying the above perhaps oft-used canard about moi. After all, I think people should stay in their "place" whatever place that may be, and that goes for gays as well as the rest of the populace as well. Y'know, I've gotten a little flack from a few quarters for basing my disdain on the current gay mindset (as opposed to the "homosexual" mindset I guess, since as Edgar Breau clearly stated, the latter is a technical term that can be used to describe those of same-sex attraction who at least know they are freaks of nature, as Justin Raimondo so eloquently put it while "gay" is a totally political description of events unfolding in front of our eyes as we speak) on the reckless hedonistic and downright dangerous lifestyles these people continue to lead, especially when I'd mention how sick it is that there's a sub-culture out there whose main goal in life is to live from orgasm to orgasm (and that goes for heteros as well, but we're talking same-sex attraction here). Not that I mind (or care) what other people do on their own off-time, but it kinda gets to me when these types engage in their destructive behavior and then want midwestern Polish plumbers to bail them outta their misery by funding AIDS clinics and supporting their arts and crafts with tax dollars that were always put to better use in said plumbers' own wallets. As for women, yeah I gotta say that they ought to stay in their selective places as well, at least given the quality of women these days who with their butch demeanors and aggressive ways undoubtedly gave way to the rise in homosexuality we've seen over the past umpteen years! Gee, does anyone out there other'n myself and Wayne McGuire remember those sainted words of yore "masculinity" and "femininity" which seem to have been tossed onto the same scrap heap as "please" and "thank you"!!!! And as for "minorities", dunno why the long-forgotten named commentator above thought that I had a mad-on about these people (given the vagueness of the term and what he meant), but if this person doesn't think there's something totally amiss in the general lack of moral culpability regarding the leadership of various minority groups then he's been sticking his head in the sand or some other way-appropriate hole (and it ain't a cheese bin!) for way longer than he could probably remember. As for me, I find the honest and dignified tactics of those searching to better themselves and their ethno/racial brethren one found in the fifties and sixties total class, as I'm sure even a downright hated political/social analyst as H. L. Mencken would have found these earnest people a lot more palatable than the kluxer fearmongers they were pitted against. Anyway, the situation has certainly done a 180 since those days of yore, and I dunno about you but I kinda get a whiff of the oft-tossed hypocrisy tag when I see these minority leaders scream and chastise the national consciousness when one of their own gets murdered by low-class white thugs, yet remain stony silent (along with just about every one else) or worse yet make excuses when their own lowlifes maim and kill white people as if all atrocities are not created equal!
So now you see why I like the fifties and people being kept in their places (and dear readers, that includes yours and mine, and remember what Lou Reed so eloquently sang at a time hardly anybody wanted to hear..."Jesus, help me find my proper place"...), so let me step off my soapbox for now and tell you about one of the really boss reasons I like the fifties...mainly TELEVISION!!! No bout a doubt it, fifties tee-vee was pretty snat, and I'm not talking about all that "brainy" PLAYHOUSE 90 stuff that snobs remember with total artsy pretense abandon...naw, I'm talking about the cool cop shows, the wild old movies, the local programming from kids to dance shows and all those things that made it such a groove for the baby boomers as well as their depression-bred parents to cop some cheap yet beneficial entertainment, at least until the former became campus revolutionaries and the latter wondered why despite not realizing that their own New Deal socialism wouldn't've led to anything but!
But I digress...true the fifties were a time for wild television viewing but really, if you wanna pinpoint the best years for cathode coolness I'd say that the bossest years to have been a couch potato woulda been roughly 1957-1967. Of course that particular point in time omits a lotta wonders both on the local and national level (such as ABBOTT AND COSTELLO, the half-hour HONEYMOONERS as well as a good portion of SGT. BILKO's prime-time run), but those were commonplace syndication fodder during the classic '57-'67 era and besides, considering the reams of monochrome wonders being aired by the networks at the time it wasn't like we had to totally rely on such old classics at least until the late-sixties started blanding things out (though the old timey reruns certainly did compliment the best of the seventies network programming, at least until that era started slipping way towards the end of the decade and black & white syndication packages were all we hadda rely on!).
Anyway, today I'd like to talk to you about some of the new DVDs consisting of classic television programming that I've come across as of late. Y'know, it's pretty sad that many of these series have not been aired even on the cheapest of UHF stations for quite some time (at least around here...though for years I used to fantasize about some up-the-dial station in Biloxi that was probably still airing SUPERCAR and SPACE ANGEL long after every one else forgot!), but at least we can actually now own these things for our own personal usage! Y'know, in some ways I kinda feel like one of those old-time classic film collectors who may have had the only print of some exquisite silent rarity and could watch it any time, only I have such things as GUNSMOKE and LOST IN SPACE to osmose at my disposal and I don't have to be an uppity snob about it as well! So yes, you can mourn the loss of such once-praised television programming vanishing from the airwaves, but at least be thankful that these same programs can now be found with relative ease with the mere search of a Wal Mart bin, or perhaps the search engine of your choice!
Anyhoo...the first program on today's itinerary is GUNSMOKE, that long-running (19 seasons!) western starring the famed mass of mulched monster James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon. I'm sure most of you readers or perusers of this blog have seem the later episodes which, as one would expect, reflect a great deal of what went wrong with the western genre by at least the late sixties (boring plots, tiresome acting, attempts to be up to date yet still retain enough grit for the lower-classes...), but the early half-hour (until '61) black & white ones continue to rearrange your brain in a way that tee-vee hasn't dared to in quite a good many years which is probably why these old GUNSMOKE pack the wild punch that most of these adult westerns certainly did at least until the middle part of the next decade.
It would figure that Sam Peckingpah used to write the screenplay for this series, since there's a load of his loser desperation in many of the characters and situations one can find in these early GUNSMOKEs. The gritty black & white look helps, as does the general bared-wire intensity that these early episodes seem to dish out on a minute-by-minute basis. (It would be no surprise that Lester Bangs himself, in a letter reprinted in THROAT CULTURE #2, mentioned how the old GUNSMOKEs in syndication were vastly superior to the network variant then still running on CBS.) And call me an old coot curmudgeon (I am!), but I must admit that I prefer the long-syndicated MARSHAL DILLON version with that stark opening and theme music (not to mention those fantastic crackles and film pops and the occasional lines running through the film prints), and let us lament the passing of such old technology which gave us all of those broadcast wonders of yore including film breakage and (best of all) upside-down and backwards reels that gave unaware six-year-olds an idea of what all those LSD trips they heard about actually were like!
The casting is great...you get Dennis Weaver as the limping deputy Chester, Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty (I wonder if a lotta kids were asking their mamas "Mom, why are all those cowboys going upstairs at the Longbranch???" before getting sent to their rooms, that is!) and Milburn Stone as Doc, he being the only actor to stick with Arness for the show's entire run mainly because...what other job could he get at his age! And don't forget all of the perennial fifties/sixties tee-vee guest stars from Cloris Leachman (in a particularly strong Peckingpah-inked program) to Barbara Eden, George Kennedy, Angie Dickinson (tho as an Indian bride???), Robert Vaughn, Chuck Conners (picking on Royal Dano!) and Swedish hot dish Anna-Lisa, and even a pre-producer Aaron Spelling plays this Texas cretin about to get hung by a bunch of ex-Confederates after they find out he fought for the North! You get one with Burt Reynolds as the half-breed Quint as well as the first Festus, sort of an "origin" episode before he decided to grow a beard! And yeah, I thought there were some particular episodes they coulda put in here as well as ones that didn't quite make the grade, but I'll trample any post-'65 western series to get to these old GUNSMOKEs anyday! (By the way, I've mentioned this before but has the British comic strip variation GUN LAW ever been collected? I'd like to read that...the ones I've seen look like early-seventies Peckingpah...kinda GARTH-like with cussing and nekkid broads...real hotcha stuff dontcha think???)
One show that didn't get the same class of television history notoriety as GUNSMOKE yet was definitely a top-40 tee-vee series of all time contender was NAKED CITY. I've blabbed about this program before in the pages of my own fanzine, though in all honesty getting hold of more tapes of this hard-boiled yet brainy television series was becoming harder and harder for this uptight tee-vee fanatic as the years rolled on. Thankfully someone decided to release choice episodes of NAKED CITY on DVD, and yeah I know that actually coming across new NAKED CITY fodder is a once-in-a-few-years treat, but it's a big one and should be celebrated with a big brass band and party food of one's choice, for this was a real life cop show with a cool early-sixties NYC metropolitian demeanor that certainly puts all pretenders like LAW AND ORDURE smack dab into the local commode of one's choice where they belong!
The NAKED CITY DVD I got features four classics from the hour-long 1960-63 run (perhaps the peak of BLOG TO COMM-sanctioned television viewing), and from what I've heard (at least from Don Fellman) the programs that appear on this 'un were from the cream of the NAKED CITY crop! Take the ultra-brainscrunching "A Case Study of Two Savages" (originally aired February 7, 1962) with Rip Torn and perennial jailbait Tuesday Weld taking the Starkweather/Fugate trip not only to New York City but to such terrifying heights that you woulda "sworn" that you were watching things as they were actually unfolding instead of just a mere television program. (The part where Torn sweet-talks a gun shop owner then shoots him directly in the heart (and it came as a surprise to me even though I knew it was gonna happen!) with the pistol he charmed the guy into showing him gave me such a weird creep that I'd swear wouldn't be seen in television or cinema until at least a decade later when they started making violent "R" rated films!) OK, the ending does come atcha a little too fast (unlike the fever pitch of, say, the very similar-minded Arch Hall Jr. classic THE SADIST), but its fine enough for me especially when you see Torn bashing someone to death in mid-traffic while Weld's cheering him on and then shoot cop Frank Arcaro in the chest before driving off as if nothing happened...whew!
OK, Glynis Johns as a museum curator on the hunt for a rare and valuable kidnapped statue ("The Hot Minerva", 11/29/61) looked more like a screen test for MARY POPPINS and I couldn't quite figure out why Peter Fonda and Martin Sheen would've been cast as a couple of teenaged Jewish guys in trouble (or Jo Van Fleet as Fonda's step-mother for that matter) in "The Night the Saints Lost Their Halos" (1/17/62), but that doesn't excuse the fact that both of these episodes are also top notch stomach-grinders in their own enveloping way. Still, either of 'em couldn't hold a candle to "New York to L.A." (4/19/61, the episode which gives this collection its title) which is a rager-par-excellence featuring Robert Blake and Frank Sutton as criminal brothers (!) who use their old psychiatrist (Martin Balsam) as a way of beating a prison term and possible death sentence because...well, I don't wanna give the entire thing away (let's just say that it's payback for being used as a couple of guinea pigs) but this one seems to "have it all" including a brazen escape scene where you get to see Sutton shoot Ed Asner in the chest! If you (like my detractor mentioned earlier in this tome) tend to think of the "pre-enlightenment" days of the fifties/early-sixties as nothing but hokum jive, give this one (and the entire NAKED CITY run) an eyeballing...as Jimi Hendrix might have said, "You'll never watch DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES again!" And, this one is also proof positive that Sutton, often derided as a cheap boobish ham, was perhaps one of the best that early-sixties dramatic acting had to offer (just check the final scene where he gets to confront Balsam with the sorry results of the latter's works!) whose career could have ended up totally different had his post-GOMER PYLE, USMC days gone off in just a slightly different direction.
Back when I was still in the single-digits the kids at school weren't really concerned about such subjects as civil rights or the Vietnam War...they had more important things on their minds like which show was better, STAR TREK or LOST IN SPACE! The kids never got that rambunctious about making a point about it either way (unlike the time during my sister's grade school days when a big riot brewed in the lunchroom over DR. KILDARE and BEN CASEY!) but if you ask me, the better of the two shows at least as far as their late-sixties sci-fi relationship to the psyches of young ethnic bunsnitchs go was definitely LOST IN SPACE! Yeah, STAR TREK may have been fun to stay up late for but it sure seemed "brainy"...like stuff for teenagers who used to write for poetry anthologies and get all misty goo-eyed over Franco Zefferelli's version of ROMEO AND JULIET. LOST IN SPACE was more geared towards the young and unaware doofus like me and yeah, as the years wind down all I gotta say is that I'd rather watch LOST IN SPACE anyday over STAR TREK even if both shows did, in their own peculiar ways, seem bred of the best early-sixties sci-fi/horror programming the likes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE and THE OUTER LIMITS, which I must admit did have their clunkers as well.
Watching the first season of LOST IN SPACE on DVD has been an evening experience akin to some seventies-attuned kiddo who had only first discovered it on syndicated weeknight runs long before that show was banished to the smallest of UHF stations and then eternity. And, despite the naysaying snobs who always hadda put their two-cents of worthless brainy commentaries in, LOST IN SPACE was engaging enough for low-achievement kids like myself...perhaps more so than STAR TREK and its overbearing relevancy that, like I said, was for the teenage and college crowd. Hey, Saturday Afternoon barbershop kids and their folks needed their entertainment too, and LOST IN SPACE probably filled these hoi polloi's adventure satiation quotas more'n a lotta the other programs on the market back then, dontcha think?
One reason for LOST IN SPACE's eternal coolness...its connection to the early-sixties brand of cheap-o sci-fi almost as if it could have been some weird spin off of THE TWILIGHT ZONE itself! (I've said the same about STAR TREK as well...it's not like the latter show was totally worthless!). Another...the classic actors from Zorro himself Guy Williams as clan head John Robinson to such early-sixties TV regs as Billy Mumy, June Lockhart and Angela Cartwright not forgetting (naturally) Jonathan Harris as Dr. Smith, a character who pretty much stole the series as the evil turncoat spy turned into a lovable Uncle Dudley-type in the W. C. Fields/Kim Fowley vein. And along with the stellar cast and Irwin Allen's production gimmicks LOST IN SPACE continues to stir the mind up whether it be from the cliff-hanging endings (that used to drive me nuts ALL WEEK!) and the boss tuning-in on the youth monster/gadget/sci-fi mindset of the times, or whether it be from the memories I have of delighting the fellows at the lunch table with my impressions of the robot (with forks in each hand and sweater rolled up over said hands with waving arms) muttering "DANGER DANGER WARNING WARNING!!!"
For today's final trek into tee-vee past treat we have this neat surprise, a DVD set collecting the first season of none other than the famed cop show ADAM 12, which is perhaps a little outside our timescope (1968-1975) but still fitting enough with its tangential connections to early-sixties tee-vee. (Martin Milner being half of the traveling duo on ROUTE 66 while Kent McCord got his tee-vee start as one of Ricky Nelson's fraternity brothers on THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET which I guess would explain the occasional appearances of such former O&H regs as Skip Young and Kris Nelson!) But still, this Jack Webb-produced series about a couple of fantastic-beyond-belief El Lay cops does seem too good to be true...I mean, they're neat, courteous, nice to not only old ladies but kids and they don't go around picking fights with ethnics or creepy hippie types even! They don't even shake down shopowners for protection money which makes me wonder...how real can this show about El Lay cops be!!! They say the stories are true, but these two seem so perfect that I doubt there ever were any cops like this onna beat in ANY major US city...they woulda been shot down in a minute, and not by the crooks but by the other cops!
But still, ADAM 12 does have the same look/feel of DRAGNET with the same victims and patented Hollywood hippies painting swastikas on lawns and the same sense of what goes on in the inner workings and lives of the cops, who seem to live just as staid and tiresome existences at home as the rest of us. Unlike DRAGNET, an episode of ADAM 12 may cover what goes on in an entire shift rather than just one continuous story where the team of Malloy and Reed go after everything from humorous calls (like the time noted character actor Benny Rubin's wife began taking judo lessons and started throwing him around the place!) to the usual danger-at-every-turn ones, sometimes with the same tragic consequences one would see in more than a few DRAGNETs...no drowned babies alas, but we do get kids overdosing on their mom's (one of 'em being Cloris Leachman!) stash and intellectual teens trying to kill themselves while playing the same droning sitar music you used to hear on DRAGNET when Friday and Gannon would bust into some pad fulla tripping hippies. Maybe these kids were trying to kill themselves by listening to that horrid drone (I know it'd kill me if I hadda endure more than a few minutes of it!) but that's beside the point...ADAM 12 is a pretty hot ticket as far as police action television goes perhaps because of the way it mixes the mundane, humor and intensity...I wonder if the later episodes are any good or if they sorta sink into the miasma of Ford-era blanditude..I don't remember.
Anyway, there you have it...four DVD collections that not only will fill you mind with wonder and excitement and bring back the glory days of fifties/sixties tee-vee, but will certainly give you a better option regarding entertainment than a few hundred cable channels ever could. And in closing all I gotta say is something I've said a million times before (but will repeat for the sake of the uninitiated who may have stumbled upon my muttering while looking for the likes of "Felchblog" or something along those lines!), "NAKED CITY or CSI...the choice is up to YOU!!!!!"
Sunday, June 04, 2006
I GET MY KICKS WATCHING CLASSIC TEE-VEE!!!