Sunday, June 30, 2013

Favorites :: Vintage Ads :: 132 Pieces! Two Complete Armies! Historical Action at a Scale You Won't Believe!

For those wondering if these things actually existed, and if so, what they really looked like, well, you're in luck. For, back in the days of 4-Color yore, enticed by that great Russ Heath art on the majority of these ads, I managed to con my folks into letting me mail in my hard earned allowance and aluminum can recycling money on a couple of these enticing offers. Including this one...

And after several months of agonized waiting, this junk arrived.

Pfeh. Not quite what six year old me had imagined. Double pfeh. It's not that the ad lied, mind you. Everything promised was there, just not quite to scale as imagined. And for someone used to the stuff Marx was putting out (Battleground, Comanche Pass, Fort Apache and Navarone playsets), it should come as a surprise to no one that the majority of these wound up as melted slag, victim of my Mattel Godzilla and a handy Zippo. Speaking of scale...

The only other Lucky Product Inc. set I managed to order and receive was the Revolutionary War playset. Again, not quite the scale I was expecting, which is never mentioned in any of these ads, 'natch. Officially, they're HO scale, which, in layman's terms, is really, really, really tiny. Anyhoo, despite the size and a lot of defective mold work, these were kinda fun -- at least they weren't flat. And after some digging, I managed to unearth the right coffee can that held what has survived since the summer of 1976.

Now, sharp eyes will quickly note these two opposing armies consisted of the exact same figures (-- with horse and rider counting as two separate figures), with the exact same sculpts, with the only difference being the color. Also scattered among these figures were some Cowboys and Indians that I couldn't quite place with any comic book ad:

But after some more digging, I found out they were most probably a premium from the long gone Post cereal, Sugar Coated Rice Krinkles.

And we'll polish this post off with a great parody ad from the comic mag, What The -- ?:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Blogathon Alert :: We're Coming to Get You, Barbara. Stanwyck, That Is.

Heeding the overtures of Aubyn Eli, proprietor of the truly wonderful The Girl with the White Parasol, I will be participating in The Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon this July, where, and I quote, "Participation is open to anyone who who wants to write about Barbara Stanwyck. As it gets close to July, I'll draw up a schedule for the participants but even if you don't want to sign up now, I'll still accept entries during the Week that shall hereafter be known as the Week of Barbara Stanwyck. Cause she deserves it, brother." I couldn't agree more. Hurry, its first come first serve on the films and choices are dwindling fast. As for me, I've managed to lay claim to a double-feature write up of this:

And this Made for TV classic.

I'm participating. Are you?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In Memoriam :: Richard Matheson, Creating Nightmares, and the Science of the Macabre.

As a child growing up in the 1970's I'm hard pressed to name somebody who gave me more sleepless nights than Richard Matheson. Yeah, from The Night Stalker, to The Twilight Zone reruns, to that damned killer doll in Trilogy of Terror (and countless other MFTV boob-tube encounters) they all definitely gave me a bad case of the drizzles. And as I grew older and developed into the cinema nut I am today, I had a blast connecting the dots from some of my favorite books (Hell House, I Am Legend) to some of my of favorite TV shows (Duel, The Stranger Within) and a crapload of highly entertaining movies (The Raven, The Devil Rides Out) via their connecting link: Richard Matheson. 

I honestly have not the words to convey my feelings on the news of  Matheson's passing. So, instead, here's some scribbling I scribbled almost a decade ago while reviewing his novel Hell House and the movie it was based on:

"What I really like about Hell House -- and all of Matheson's work, for that matter, is how he can explain things like psychic phenomenon and Barrett's complex theories so the layman can understand them. I barely survived high school physics but Barrett's intricate explanations on the nuts and bolts of ectoplasm, bio-energy and electro-magnetic radiation made perfect sense to me. 

"Matheson can also bring the reader a wonderful sense of dread and foreboding with an economical efficiency of words that a lot of writers could learn from. One thing Matheson isn't, is verbose. A lot is left to the imagination. He handles the action scenes in the exact same way, keeping things nice and taught as the reader burns through the pages to see what happens next. And his efficiency is actually displayed better in his book, I Am Legend. With a few simple words and descriptions he can make several months pass as Morgan teaches himself the knowledge he needs to fight off the vampire contagion. In Hell House, his characters are likeable, annoying, heroic, sanctimonious, stubborn and a lot more braver than they should be in some situations. And also rightly frightened in others. In other words, very human considering the circumstances."

And lastly, here's a link to a wonderful obit written by my friend Zack Handlen that sums up Matheson's impact and influence on a lot of things I hold dearly better than I ever could.

Richard Matheson

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Boob-Tube'n :: Pilot Error :: Back in the (Blazing) Saddle Again with Robert Butler's Black Bart (1975)

In the wild western town of Paris, Arizona, a totally hip black sheriff overcomes the hostility of the townsfolk with a cunning wit and a sharp tongue as he tries to bring the corrupt mayor's gun-slinging nephew to justice for blowing off several hayseed's toes while forcing them to dance for his amusement at the local saloon. Mayhem ensues. 

The first thing you'll probably notice while watching Black Bart, the failed TV pilot / spin-off of Blazing Saddles, is that Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman and Madeline Kahn aren't listed in the credits. Or Mel Brooks, for that matter. What we get in their stead is Lou Gossett Jr., Steve Landesberg, Noble Willingham and Millie Slavin trying hard to fill some very large boots and saddles.

The only holdover from the film was scriptwriter Andrew Bergman, who had written the original treatment for Blazing Saddles; a treatment that was set to be filmed sans Brooks and company several years earlier as a vehicle for James Earl Jones and slated to be directed by Alan Arkin, then under the title, Tex X (a sagebrush spin on Malcom X, 'natch). When this adaptation fell apart at the last minute, the script wound up in Mel Brooks' lap, who loved its potential, and he invited Bergman to join a rewriting roundtable with Norman Steinberg, Alan Unger and Richard Pryor for a little overhauling. And the rest, as they say, is cinematic history.

When the film hit big at the box-office, Warner Bros. decided to cash-in with a TV spin off. This was nothing new. M*A*S*H and The Odd Couple are probably the best examples of this, but that's barely scraping the surface. Logan's Run, The Bad News Bears, The Planet of the Apes and Shaft all made the transition. Even Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (Alice), Animal House (Delta House) and Westworld (Beyond Westworld) found their way onto the tube. And while most adaptations barely lasted a single season, others managed to even eclipse their big screen progenitors. But unlike those mentioned, Black Bart never made it past the pilot stage.

Again, Bergman is listed in the credits for the pilot but I honestly don't know how much he contributed, if anything, or was just credited as the originator of these notions and characters. Regardless, he's joined by co-writers Michael Elias and Frank Shaw with directing chores falling to Robert Butler -- the latter three men also serving as the pilot's producers. Elias and Shaw already had plenty of sit-coms and variety shows on their resumes, and both had already worked together on The Bill Cosby Show. And some evidence suggests this whole thing originated as another Elias and Shaw treatment / cash-in called Superdude that was quickly dusted off and folded into this pilot when Warners OK'd an official adaptation. Butler is probably best remembered for his work at Disney, especially shepherding a young Kurt Russell through all those Dexter Reilly movies, but he was no stranger to the boob-tube, having directed several episodes of Batman, I Spy, and Hogan's Heroes

Just like with the movie, the producers first choice to play Bart was Richard Pryor but a wary studio nixed this again. (Pryor's substance abuse problems and penchant for disappearing made them nervous. There's a legend that while writing Blazing Saddles Pryor failed to show up for several days until he phoned in saying he was in Detroit and needed money to get back to L.A.) Cleavon Little wasn't interested in reprising the character and so the role went to Gossett Jr., who does quite well, comically speaking, and he's truly great as the voice of reason amongst all those deaf ears. I've always loved Landesberg, starting with his work as Det. Arthur Dietrich in Barney Miller, and aside from his cracker accent, he holds his own as our Waco Kid surrogate. Willingham, another familiar face, is fine as our villain of the piece, and Slavin really overachieves on a character saddled as nothing more than a walking sight-gag based on her accent, limp and eye-patch. Sharp eyes will easily spot Brooke Adams as a saloon girl and 1970's comedy stalwart Gerrit Graham as a witless minion. 

Cursed with a repeating laugh-track (a truly evil bane of this era) Black Bart tries very hard to mine the same mother lode Blazing Saddles had struck. Alas, Butler lacks Brooks' sense of comedic timing. The notes are there, but those behind the camera just can't seem to find the tune proper. It's not necessarily bad, it's just not that good and there was no real potential present aside from the slapstick elements to see it expanded any further than this one joke premise. However, one should note the language used was fairly salty, with the liberal use of several "N"-bombs that had my eyes and ear wide open barely two minutes in. And when the end credits rolled one can only weep over how far Hollywood's spine over such things has eroded. 

It's said that films like Blazing Saddles could never be made today. Sadly, even a watered-down version like this TV spin-off would never see the light of day either. This makes me sad. What Brooks did in that movie was nothing short of brilliant; an open and brash assault on the ignorance and stupidity of racism by tearing it apart and laying it bare and beating it to death via some full-frontal comedy. It may sound naive but think this is a far more effective tactic than trying to politically-correct something out of it existence. (I'm looking right at you, Crash.) I don't know if this is what Elias, Shaw and Butler had in mind for the series but they (and we, as an audience) never really got the chance to find out.

Black Bart premiered on April 4, 1975, on CBS, but was never heard from again until resurfacing as a bonus feature on the 30th Anniversary Special Edition DVD of Blazing Saddles almost a decade ago. (Yes. Blazing Saddles is nearly 40 years old. Wow.) After a lot of digging, I was unable to unearth the exact reasons as to why it was never picked up. Too volatile a subject matter? Perhaps. Too thin a premise? Maybe. Was it just not good enough? Probably. Personally, I found the pilot to be not all that terrible -- definitely not as bad as I thought it would be; and it had a lot more bite than you'd think, especially without the freedom of an R-Rating. One certainly cannot discount the enthusiasm of all involved, even if their end results teetered between kinda funny and fairly dumb. But in the end, you get a sense that they'd exhausted all of their jokes already in just a mere 25 minutes, leaving both the cast and crew of Black Bart with nowhere else to go.

Black Bart (1975) Warner Bros. Television :: CBS / EP: Mark Tuttle / P: Robert Butler, Michael T. Elias, Frank Shaw / D: Robert Butler / W: Andrew Bergman, Michael Elias, Frank Shaw / C: Michael D. Margulies / E: Neil Travis / M: Tom Scott / S: Louis Gossett Jr., Steve Landesberg, Millie Slavin, Noble Willingham, Gerrit Graham, Brooke Adams

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Movie Poster Spotlight :: Foreign Jobs :: A Set of Italian Foglios, Photobustas and Lobby Displays for Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).



 Lobby Display: 

Other Points of Interest: 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966/1968) Produzioni Europee Associati :: Arturo González Producciones Cinematográficas, S.A :: Constantin Film Produktion :: United Artists / P: Alberto Grimaldi / D: Sergio Leone / W: Sergio Leone, Luciano Vincenzoni, Furio Scarpelli, Angenore Incrocci / C: Tonino Delli Colli / E: Eugenio Alabiso, Nino Baragli / M: Ennio Morricone / S: Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli
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