Tag Archives: Billy Barty

SATURDAY MORNING WITH SID AND MARTY KROFFT

Some may count the 1980s as the last great decade of pop culture. I disagree. The first half of the 80s was undoubtedly influential, but it was a continuation of the individuality of the previous decade. Around the halfway mark, the 80s gave way to the lack of personality blandness that saturated the 1990s (and beyond, to today). Rather, the 1970s was the last decade of pop heaven, and Saturday Morning With Sid and Marty Kroft serves well as the Calgon to take us away to that Neverland time capsule.

This Rhino DVD collection of pilot episodes will probably be best enjoyed with a bowl of Quisp cereal and some full blown Vitamin D milk. None of that wimpy 2 % or skim crap (you might also enjoy a bowl of Quake, if you can find it). Now, slip into a plaid robe, a pair of fuzzy house slippers, kick all those boring hyper-realists out of the house. Then, turn on the TV and hit play. DO NOT fall into the temptation of using the remote control (yes, it’s a DVD, but let’s try to get as close to the genuine experience as we can). Throw the pillows on the shag rug carpet and let the cartoons begin.

The pilots assembled here make for a grand psychedelic starter kit, but some are surprisingly subdued; the series would reach higher planes of inspired lunacy later. No matter. Sid and Marty Krofft stuck to their idiosyncratic formula, which was characterized by prepubescent heroes and heroines, puppet comedy relief, knee-tapping kitsch songs and (badly) canned laughs from the laugh track. It is extremely doubtful that the Krofft Brothers were insightful or perceptive enough to realize just how surreal their macrocosm was. Yes, for me, Sid and Marty Krofft are big bold, dopey examples of . It is no accident that the 1970s animated programs of Sid and Marty Krofft proved to be among the all-important aesthetic diving boards for many later and contemporary surrealists artists, such as Paul Ruebens, , and many more.

Still from H.R. PufnstufThe Krofft Brothers’ first three series shared much in common, and only a single season was filmed for each (although reruns kept them in syndication for an additional year or more). H.R. Pufnstuff is the first and most famous. The pilot premiered in 1969 and began as a series heavily influenced by The Wizard of Oz (1939) with a dash of “The Magic Flute.” The Oz theme of a child being transported to an otherworldly dimension would serve as the primary ingredient in the Krofft recipe.

Jimmy (Jack Wild) and his magic flute, Freddy, are shipwrecked on Living Island. Little do they Continue reading SATURDAY MORNING WITH SID AND MARTY KROFFT

GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

Gold Diggers Of 1933 is ‘s masterwork, assisted in no small way by the astute direction of , who had previously directed a number of stark, socially conscious films, such as Little Caesar (1931) and I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932). Like Berkeley, Leroy’s best work was at Warner Bothers and, like Berkeley, MGM would buy his contract and essentially neuter him.

This is the second of the Warners/Berkeley backstage 1933 musicals, beginning with 42nd Street and concluding with Footlight Parade. Gold Diggers is a mix of harsh realism and opulent fantasy, more so than any other musical from the Great Depression.  It jump starts in high gear fantasy mode with , dressed only in a skimpy outfit made of silver dollars (with one coin strategically placed over her crotch), singing “We’re in the money.” Rogers’ handling of the lyrics morphs into a glossolalia-styled Pig Latin aria that seems like it would be more at home in a Buñuel movie than a Hollywood musical. Behind her, a chorus of babes holding up undulating coins sings “let’s spend it, send it rolling along.” This is Berkeley’s phantasmagoric “F_ you!” to the Depression. And how would you climax such an opening? With a crash, as debt collectors break up the number, taking with them every prop, every stitch of clothing and everything, leaving only a crumb, a crumb even too small for a mouse.

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)Next we meet up with a foursome of Depression-era women. And these are determined women, bonding together to make it through a man’s world in hard times.  is at her innocent best.  is the wide awake, street-smart wisecracker. Aline MacMahon is the shrewd, conniving skeptic, and Rogers (who is a supporting character here) personifies the word “gold digger.” Although Rogers part is brief, she commands attention, especially in the opening scene, so much so that it is abundantly clear how and why she rose above her co-stars. Rogers could do Continue reading GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933

FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933)

Footlight Parade (1933) benefits greatly from the presence of actors James Cagney and Joan Blondell. Wisely, the film omits the coy indulgences of  regulars and , relegating them to the sidelines and musical numbers. Directed by  and choreographed by Berkeley, the film echoes Cagney’s rapid-fire delivery. It is often ranked as Berkeley’s best overall film.

The early 1930s were an era in which musicals and westerns pretty much ruled the roost, as far as quantity goes. As far as quality, with so many being produced, the bulk of Hollywood’s musicals, like their westerns, were wretched. MGM had a bigger reputation for musicals, but their Thirties’ output was predominantly tame fluff, and few have withstood the test of time. The grittier Warner Brothers productions, somewhat predictably, did it better, in no small part due to Busby Berkeley.

This is another “puttin’ on the show” extravaganza.  The advent of sound has put an end to silent films in the midst of the Depression. Producer Cagney feels compelled to keep his crew fed and working, so he racks his brain for ideas. He arrives at the concept of “musical prologues” to introduce talkies. Cagney is a Berkeley-like character who has to contend with a scheming ex-wife, a back-stabbing fellow producer (Guy Kibbee), and a planted temptress mole (the quite good Claire Dodd). This cast of characters serve as much needed antagonists for the hyper-intense Cagney to bounce off of.

Still from Footlight Parade (1933)Joan Blondell perfectly parallels Cagney. She is his snappy secretary of substance who secretly loves him. She is no push-over, and, displaying as much energy as her boss, she  exposes his crooked partner, saves him from the gold-digging Dodd, and  serves as his sounding board. Blondell damn near steals the whole film from Cagney, and that’s no easy feat. Her tough, no-nonsense humor gets the better of Dodd, and she sends her rival packing with a swift kick to the daily duties: “as long as there is a sidewalk, you’ll have a job!”  We’re almost as miffed as she is with Cagney for not Continue reading FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933)

THE PAUL LYNDE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (1976)

When it comes to Halloween entertainment there are perennial television special favorites.  Like most fans of the holiday, I would rank Charles Schulz’ It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966) and Rankin and Bass’ Mad Monster Party (1967) near the top of the list.  A few years ago, however, a friend sent me a slice of heaven in the greatest ever hour of Halloween entertainment : The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976).  Lynde, for the unenlightened, was a comedic entertainer who got his break in Bye Bye Birdie (1962), which lead to his popular role as the warlock Uncle Arthur on Bewitched (1964), to the The Paul Lynde Show (1972), and most famously to his entrenchment as the “Center Square” in the game show “Hollywood Squares.”  Lynde’s Halloween special is so stunningly beautiful, so representative of its era (and what an era the 70s was: the last great decade of American pop culture), that I felt a pronounced nostalgic lump in my throat.  This Halloween bash seriously belongs in one of those time capsule thingys that we occasionally shoot into space for Martians to peek at.

Of course, with the banality of reality TV and unimaginative attachment to hyper-realism, some will pooh-pooh my blushing exclamation as misplaced nostalgia.  Others may see the show as a bizarre curio from a long gone era (these are the boring and predictable types who think of everything pre-existing their entry into the world as relics from tens of thousands of years ago).  On my end, I will utterly dismiss the naysayers as being hopelessly constipated.  You know the type.  They prefer angst-ridden X-Men to Jack Kirby’s fun lubbin’ Jimmy Olsen who teamed up with Goody Rickles and the Hairys.  Stay far, far away from these people.  They will only bring you unhappiness.  They will turn you gray, incorporate you into their bourgeoisie, status-quo painted white picket fence world, or, heaven forbid, get you a job in a faceless institution.  Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!

Still from The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976)Now that we have that settled, you can kick back and immerse yourself in the glories of quintessential 70’s camp! Just think of The Paul Lynde Halloween Special like one those Roselyn Bakery Cakes with six inches of icing atop an inch of cake and indulge in this one-of-a-kind hallucination.

Paul bitchily rummages through the closet because he knows there’s a holiday of some kind around the corner.  Nope, it’s not Santa (love the wig).  No, it’s not Peter Cottontail (Lynde literally becomes a flaming bunny!).  Dagnabbit, Continue reading THE PAUL LYNDE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (1976)

GUEST REVIEW: ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1933)

Guest review by Scott Sentinella, a freelance writer whose work has appeared in “The Carson News”, “The Gardena Valley News”, “Animato”, “Videomania Newspaper”, “Cashiers du Cinemart”, Dugpa.com and ALivingDog.com.

DIRECTOR: Norman Z. McLeod

FEATURING: Charlotte Henry, Gary Cooper, W.C. Fields, Cary Grant, Mae Marsh, , Alison Skipworth, Charlie Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton, Sterling Holloway, and many others.

PLOT: A teenage girl named Alice travels through a mirror into a nonsensical fantasy world

Still from Alice in Wonderland (1933)

where animals talk, mad tea parties are held and queens threaten beheadings.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Because of the source material, and because of this version’s especially creepy use of bizarre, grotesque masks on many members of its all-star cast.

COMMENTS: Before Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland, every big-screen adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic book had flopped at the box office, and this early 1930’s curio was no exception.  Directed by Norman Z. McLeod (known for the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Horse Feathers), and with a screenplay by Joseph L, Mankiewicz (All About Eve) and William Cameron Menzies (better known as the art director on Gone With the Wind), this primitive-looking extravaganza rounded up some 22 stars from the Paramount lot and immediately hid most of them behind very unpleasant-looking masks and bulky costumes.  This Alice was made only five-and-a-half years before The Wizard of Oz, but some of the technology on display here looks like it was left over from the Victorian era.  (Incidentally, Alice’s then-starry cast now consists of three legends—Cooper, Fields, Grant; a lot of character actors familiar to viewers of Turner Classic Movies—Horton, Holloway, Ruggles; and then a host of performers unknown to even the most die-hard classic film buffs—-Jackie Searle? Raymond Hatton?) The results are a bit too disturbing, even for Lewis Carroll, but at least it captures the madness of the novel(s) in a way that Burton’s neutered, watered-down disappointment never really does.  Like most films based on Alice, this one liberally combines elements of both “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”  This time, Alice (Babes in Toyland’s Charlotte Henry) first finds her way through a mirror and then tumbles down a rabbit hole, where she meets the usual Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1933)