Tuesday, August 19, 2014

RIP Don Pardo

I saw "Saturday Night Live" for the first time in June of 1976. I remember recognizing the voice of announcer Don Pardo right away. I can't rightly say where I knew it from but I knew it. The show has been on the air for almost four decades and he was there for all but one misguided season. The powers that be corrected that mistake quickly.

When the last new show of the current season aired, I actually thought of Don and how long he's been at this, Googled his age and was surprised. I loved the man, and loved his sense of humor, and his ability to deadpan a joke when needed. He did this to great effect in "Weird" Al Yankovic's "I Lost on Jeopardy" and when his usual announcement that "guests of Saturday Night Live stay at the Marriott's Essex House" became part of a bit. He did it with the same finesse as always.

Don Pardo passed away yesterday, quietly in his sleep at the age of 96. SNL is probably what he was known for most even though his golden voice has graced many other shows, games and news, with the same warmth and professionalism. The man and his voice are legend, and I know "Saturday Night Live" will ever be the same again.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Hobbit 1966

I was surprised to find this treasure on YouTube as I had never heard of such a thing before. This twelve-minute short from 1966 is indeed the first animated version, predating the Rankin-Bass film by eleven years. Rumor has it the producer, William L. Snyder, had to make a movie before selling off the rights. By making a short, Snyder walked off with quite a profit, and then made more from the rights sale.

This version directed by Gene Dietch, while using rather primitive animation and designs by Adolf Born, is actually quite watchable. Gandalf is Gandalf but Bilbo is a bit like David Tennant with hairy feet, it's fun. The narration by Herbert Lass is somber and appropriate, almost like a serious Edward Everett Horton from "Fractured Fairy Tales." I like him, it's like velvet.

The only thing that may stop viewers in their tracks is a previous knowledge of the JRR Tolkien story. Snyder has irrationally changed character names, streamlined events, and eliminated a few dwarves and details along the way. It seems just fine to the uninitiated however.

I am reminded of HBO's "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child." This is fun, and an oddity for the Tolkien fans, worth checking out.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Brewster's Millions 1945

The 1985 version of Brewster's Millions with Richard Pryor and John Candy is one of my favorite guilty pleasure films. It's silly, it's funny, it's predictable, but the talent involved elevates the movie to a new level. I'll watch it whenever it's on, and laugh every time.

Brewster's Millions is an old idea however. Previous to Richard Pryor's updating, there was a 1945 film, one of a total of ten movie versions, radio dramas, stage plays on and off Broadway, a musical, and numerous adaptations for TV either veiled or obvious. It's been done in cartoons, to music, and even in Bollywood. The story of a man forced to spend money to learn the value of money is resilient. Old ideas get around.

As I recently watched it again, today I'll be talking about the 1945 film. Like all versions of the story, it's based on the 1902 novel by Richard Greaves AKA George Barr McCutcheon, author of the now largely forgotten Graustark book series. There are also elements of the stage play in this. Each version features updates to the times, though originally a stockbroker, here Brewster is a GI returning home from the war.

Here's the gist. Penniless Monty Brewster comes home from the war to find he's inherited eight million dollars, but in order to get it, he must first spend a million dollars in sixty days, with no assets, and not let anyone know why he's doing it. His dead uncle wanted him to hate spending money.

Dennis O'Keefe is in the title role, with Helen Walker as his fiancée, both serviceable. Look for Neil Hamilton, Commissioner Gordon from "Batman." Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson plays the family servant (for lack of a better word, butler maybe? later he's a majordomo) and is by far the best part of the movie. The actor, best known from "The Jack Benny Show," gets all the best lines, the best laughs, and steals the movie. Notably, a sign of its times, the film was banned in Memphis because his character was portrayed and treated too well.

There is care, and comedy, in the style of the decade depicted, but no one on screen approaches the charisma level of Eddie Anderson. I think I would have really dug the movie more had he been cast as Brewster. Still, it's a pleasant entertaining film, and I was happy to see it again. See it if you get the chance.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Gay Purr-ee

Gay Purr-ee ~ At a time when most animated features were made by Disney, this non-Disney entry is largely forgotten. Written by Chuck Jones and his wife, who was moonlighting on his regular gig with Warner Bros., Gay Pur-ee is the rather simple tale of a country cat who comes to the big city, Paris in 1890.

An animated musical, it stars Robert Goulet in his big screen debut and Judy Garland during one of her final comebacks. Uninspired songs, complex fine art inspired backgrounds, and failure to capture the imagination of either adults or children led to its unfortunate sweeping under the rug.

As a kid I remember being bored by it, but even then recognizing the later Chuck Jones style, and that I disliked it. As an adult, I do appreciate the backgrounds a bit more, but they do little to enhance the subpar Jones characters, mannerisms, gimmicks, and inadequate pacing. Red Buttons is annoying here, and the talents of Hermione Gingold are sadly wasted.

Judy Garland had moderate success with "Paris Is A Lonely Town," but truth be told, she could sing the phone book on her worst day and make it sound wonderful. The music here is not good, and none of the songs memorable. As opposed to today, the characters didn't even resemble the actors. Gay Purr-ee is nice to see maybe once, but perhaps otherwise best forgotten.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

RIP Lauren Bacall

Award winning actress of the stage and screen, as well as model and Hollywood legend, Lauren Bacall has passed away. She was 89.

Ms. Bacall first made the scene as a model but soon swept the world, and Humphrey Bogart, off its feet with her film debut in 1944's To Have and Have Not. She continued her film noir journey in Hollywood with beau and eventual husband Bogart in Key Largo, Dark Passage, and The Big Sleep. She continued to model, and act on the screen and on the stage for decades.

Watching her interact and play against Humphrey Bogart was one of the great delights in film history. Their chemistry was undeniable any time they worked together. Lauren Bacall was one of the last queens of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and she will be missed.