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Girls About Town

Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman
This one remains a favorite pre-Code with Kay Francis and Lilyan Tashman playing a couple of party girls who work with Alan Dinehart to bilk the out-of-town rubes who come to New York City for a good time. Lots of zippy one-liners as the "girls" parade around in plunging gowns and dripping with jewels. After they ditch the boys from Des Moines (George Barbier, Robert McWade) they go on a yachting party and get involved with Joel McCrea and Eugene Pallette from Lansing. While Kay falls for McCrea, Lilyan tangles with Eugene and his wife (Lucile Gleason) to wrest some needed jewelry from cheapo Eugene. Great fun. The film takes a dramatic turn toward the end when Kay's discarded husband (Anderson Lawler) shows up on the mooch. Louise Beavers has a funny role as the girls' maid and Frances Bavier appears as one of the party girls.

Not to be missed!

Sweedie Learns to Swim

Sweedie Makes a Splash
Superstar Wallace Beery had his first big film success in a series of 30 or more short comedies as Sweedie the Maid. The kicker was that Beery played the character in semi drag, making Sweedie an ungainly comic figure without a hint of femininity.

In SWEEDIE LEARNS TO SWIM, she gets the itch to swim when she runs into a gaggle of girls in swim suits. She find's Martin Delaney's book on learning to swim on dry land and tries it out some moves in a beach with her pal (Ben Turpin).

Later, back at the house where she works as a cook, Sweedie rigs up a contraption so she can practice swimming strokes and dives in the family bathtub. But of course the bathroom floods and crashes down onto a card party. This leads to a comic chase and Sweedie pays for her thoughtlessness.

Very few of the Sweedie films seem to have survived. Luckily, SWEEDIE LEARNS TO SWIM survives intact. It's also a marvelous time capsule of of Lake Michigan's beaches.

Wallace Beery of course would establish himself as a star actor, alternating between comic roles, villainous roles, and his trademark lumbering oaf that endeared him to moviegoers for decades.

Blues for Willadean

Three Remarkable Actresses
BLUES FOR WILLADEAN offers three remarkable performances in a story about an abusive husband and three women who live in a trailer park in Texas. Written and directed by Del Shores and based on his play, the plot is a mix of drama and his patented Southern comedy.

Beth Grant plays Willadean, a simple, bible-toting woman who is married to a drunken bully. He's never forgiven her for getting pregnant in high school and costing him a chance at professional football. In his mind, it was all for nothing, since his son is gay and their daughter was killed in a car crash, and now he's stuck with her. Her neighbor, LaSonia (Octavia Spencer) is a commonsense woman who tries to broach the subject of domestic violence, but Willadean will not listen. She forever regrets that she could not save her sister from domestic violence. Rayleen (Dale Dickey) is pure white trash and works as a cocktail waitress at the local bar Willadean's husband goes to. She's also sleeping with him.

The three women share stories of their lives and hopes, but of course they are all trapped in their failed lives ... and in the trailer park. The three actresses are just plain amazing. Great performances. David Steen, also very good, plays the thankless role of the bully.

The only thing I didn't like was the "blues singer" who shows up to punctuate the dramatic moments with a song. Maybe this is a remnant from the stage play but it doesn't work on film and her lip sync wasn't very good.

Bryan Inc.

Same old thing. Phony drama and hammy actors mugging for the camera. Baldy and Blondie ... Same old formula.

The Opposite Sex

Starring June Allyson
Sort of a remake of the 1939 classic, THE WOMEN. It's more of an update with music. No matter. It stands on its own.

June Allyson stars as Kay Hilliard, a happily married woman with a trove of female friends. There's her unmarried writer friend Amanda (Ann Sheridan) and catty Sylvia (Dolores Gray), and the always-pregnant Edith (Joan Blondell). When Sylvia gets wind that Kay's husband is having a fling with a showgirl Crystal (Joan Collins), she can't wait to stir things up.

When Kay goes to Reno for a divorce she meets the oft-married Countess (Agnes Moorehead) and cabaret star Gloria (Ann Miller). When it turns out that Gloria has stolen Sylvia's husband, all hell breaks loose among the women.

Eventually Kay starts to fight back when she learns that Crystal marries her husband and starts an affair with another man.

The stars are all in fine form and Allyson gets to sing a few numbers like "Young Man with a Horn" and "Now, Baby, Now." On the down side is a horrible stage show about bananas, a terrible bit by Dick Shawn, and the nightclub opening featuring Buck Winston (Jeff Richards).

This version has men in it. There's also Leslie Nielsen, Bill Goodwin, Jim Backus, Harry James, Sam Levene, and Jonathan Hole. Co-stars include Alice Pearce as Olga, Charlotte Greenwood as Lucy, Barbara Jo Allen as Dolly the gossip columnist, and Carolyn Jones and Barrie Chase as dancers.

High points are Allyson's musical numbers, the catfight between Miller and Gray, and Allyson's slap across Collins' face that sends her earrings flying.

Gray sings the title song over the opening credits.

Anybody's Nightmare

The Law Is a Ass ... a Idiot
Patricia Routledge stars in this drama based on the real-life conviction and jailing of Sheila Bowler. Bowler was imprisoned for 4 years for the murder of her husband's aunt despite there not being a shard of evidence against her. She was finally able to overturn (quash) her conviction thanks to her children and a scrappy neighbor.

Harrowing story has Bowler taking the old lady out of the nursing home and driving her back to Rye for a visit. Along the way, she gets a flat tire and leaves the old lady in the car while she goes for help. When she gets back, the old lady is gone.

When she's found in the river a few days later. the local cops build a case against Bowler since the old lady was supposedly an invalid and could not have wandered off. Despite having no hard evidence of any kind, Bowler is eventually convicted by circumstantial evidence and supposition. She also seems to have had a totally inept legal defense.

Her children are totally ignorant of the legal system and only start to fight back when a neighbor pitches in and badgers the kids and the lawyers into seeking appeals.

Eventually they discover just how inept the legal defense was and start chipping away. The British legal system, however, fights them every inch of the way.

Routledge is superb as Bowler, the middle class music teacher who endures the harsh prison life for 4 years. Also notable is Nicola Redmond as Angela Devlin, on whose book this film is based.

Southern Baptist Sissies

Split Personalities
There's an important message in this play, and the performers are all in top form, but there seem to be two plays taking place. The main play is , as the title suggests, about the lives of four young men growing up and the influences of their church on their lives. The second play, which seems to act as both comic relief and something to fill time while costumes changes occur, features two barflies commenting on their lives.

The four boys encompass the range of gay lives. Mark (Emerson Collins) is the defiant one who sees the hypocrisy in bible teachings; Benny (William Belli) embraces his queerness to become a drag queen, Andrew (Matthew Scott Montgomery) becomes a victim of his own personal demons, and TJ (Luke Stratte-McClure) denies his gayness and lives a forced hetero life. These stories are quite moving.

The barflies are an aging queen (Leslie Jordan) and an aging woman (Dale Dickey) who tell their stories and compare their lives while quietly getting drunk, night after night. There's a quiet desperation underlining their stories and only alcohol can brig relief.

Jordan and Dickey are just plain great, perched on their bar stools and trading gossip and quips while they hoist glass after glass. They could center a play all by themselves. Montgomery becomes the dramatic center of the sissies.

The cast also includes Newell Alexander as the clueless preacher, Rosemary Alexander as Andrew's frantic mother, Ann Walker as Benny's grandmother, Bobbi Eakes as Mark's bible thumping mother, and Joe Patrick Ward as the pianist at the bar.

Many of these actors appear in other works by Del Shores and people his sordid universe of eccentrics and zealots.

The Fireball

Mickey Rooney Is Terrific
This is a terrific ultra low-budget film that hits its marks and offers a few surprises. Mickey Rooney stars as an orphanage kid no one wanted. He's past school age (Rooney's 30ish here) but the priest who runs the joint (Pat O'Brien) can't get him motivated to learn a skill. After a big fight, Rooney runs away ... much to O'Brien's delight. Now he'll have to learn a skill. Faced with harsh reality he steals a pair of roller skates and tries to hawk them and eventually lands a job as a dishwasher in a dive. But those skates. He goes to the local rink for lessons and his world changes. He finally finds a passion and becomes a roller derby star until tragedy hits and he learns a thing or two about fame, humility, and life. Fascinating film with Rooney doing much of his own skating. Beverly Tyler is the girl, Ralph Dumke is the dive owner, Milburn Stone is the rink owner. And Marilyn Monroe shows up and gets a few lines as a fan. She even gets a couple scenes with Rooney. I remember roller derby from 1950s TV. It made no sense to me then or now.

The Colgate Comedy Hour: Anything Goes
Episode 22, Season 4

Three Great Stars
Ethel Merman had starred in ANYTHING GOES on Broadway back in 1934 and the film version with Bing Crosby in 1936. The indestructible star had recently starred in ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and was hot in films again with CALL ME MADAM and THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS.

Frank Sinatra had just finished a little number called FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, and a few months after this show aired would win his Oscar for that great film. Bert Lahr was winding down his legendary career and even though he was only 59 here, he looked a decade older.

Highlights of this live TV show are Sinatra's "All Through the Night" and Merman's "Blow, Gabriel, Blow." Both of these songs were cut from the 1936 film version. And yes that's Sheree North as the blonde flapper.

In 1956 another film ANYTHING GOES would be released with almost all the original songs but they totally scuttled the plot and characters.

So in many ways this 1954 TV show was the last real version of Cole Porter's great show to be filmed. Sinatra and Lahr blow a few lines here and there, but Merman is unstoppable. And to think she still had GYPSY ahead of her!

The Glorias

Lousy Director and Kill the Puppets
Plods along for 140 minutes in its telling of the life and times of Gloria Steinem. Her life has to have been more interesting than this windbag story into which director Julie Taymor injects her damned puppets in a Wizard of Oz riff. Title derives from having four actresses play Steinem at various ages. In small roles, Bette Midler is zesty as Bella Abzug as is Lorraine Toussaint as Flo Kennedy. But all four of the Steinems are pretty dull. The two adult versions are played by Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore. Stealing the film, ironically, is Timothy Hutton as Leo Steinem, Gloria's unorthodox father.

For those interested in Steinem, they'd be better off watching the recent TV miniseries Mrs. America.

The Boys in the Band

Kenneth Nelson Is Superb
This is the film version based on the 1968 Off-Broadway play and with that production's original cast of actors. And they are excellent.

The plot revolves around a birthday party among a small group of gay friends and the uninvited guest who may or may not be gay.

Kenneth Nelson stars as Michael, a 40-ish gay man who is probably a lapsed Catholic and feels a sense of guilt for being gay, based on his religious upbringing. He apparently lives well but is much in debt.

Among the guests are Donald (Frederick Combs) a friend who's seeing a "shrink," Larry (Keith Prentice) who's in a relationship with Hank (Laurence Luckinbill) but who is not faithful to Hank who is divorcing from his wife. There's also Emory (Cliff Gorman) a flaming queen, and Bernard (Reuben Greene) a quiet Black man.

The birthday boy is Harold (Leonard Frey), a acerbic aging gay with bad skin and an imperious manner. His birthday gift is a gay hustler (Robert La Tourneaux) who dresses as a cowboy and who's not very bright.

The men drink heavily as they trade insults amid gossip and music and witty barbs. Into this mix comes Michael's old college roommate Alan (Peter White) who desperately wants to see Michael. But he's shocked by what he sees and is apparently unaware that Michael is gay.

The party quickly devolves into a series of arguments and even an act of violence. Very drunk, Michael insists they play a telephone game where each man has to call the person he truly loves and tell them so. Secrets are exposed.

Kenneth Nelson is superb as the bitter Michael, a many who's probably never found real love and is adrift in his life. Equally superb are Leonard Frey as Harold and Cliff Gorman as Emory. These are towering film performances. Every else is quite good.

Kenneth Nelson was basically known as a musical theater star. Indeed he played "the boy" in the original production of "The Fantasticks" along with Rita Gardner as "the girl" and Jerry Orbach as El Gallo. Ironically, he won a Golden Globe nomination for this film as "best newcomer."

This film is a time capsule of what it was like to be gay long before gay rights and even predates Stonewall and the AIDS epidemic. It's a trenchant look at a period of time. And this is a superb production and much better than the flimsy 2020 film remake.

Jazz on a Summer's Day

Like a Cool Ocean Breeze on a Hot Summer Night
A treasure to savor is JAZZ ON A SUMMER'S DAY is a concert/documentary of the 1958 jazz festival at Newport, RI. It captures a time and a sound, a mood of America that's now only a fairly distant memory. Interspersed with the music are shots of the Americas Cup trials, some shots of Newport etc. But the focus is the music and the stars. Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Anita O'Day, Gerry Mulligan, Thelonius Monk, Mahalia Jackson, Chico Hamilton, and Jack Teagarden. And in a nod to more contemporary stuff (and a portent to the end of cool jazz), Chuck Berry also sings. There's also Big Maybelle, who I never heard of. It's all cool and relaxing and the audience seems happy and well dressed. Dig those crew cuts and all those people smoking!

While the photography and sound are a little primitive, they don't detract from the stars. Armstrong and Teagarden do their "Rockin; Chair" duet, Washington sings "All of Me," O'Day scorches "Sweet Georgia Brown" Monk plays "Blue Monk" on piano. There's also an impossibly young Mulligan wailing on his sax, and Jackson in a moving set of songs.

The audience is fascinating. Society matrons amid the hipster fans. Smoking, drinking, dancing. Kids and adults. It was a time when music still spoke to a universal audience. Shots of kids enthralled by Chico Hamilton's hypnotic drum set. Smiling faces enjoying the music and patter of Armstrong and Teagarden.

Within a few years, the famed Newport Jazz Festival would be geared more for rock and roll, screaming crowds, and higher decibels. That's exactly what makes this 1958 outing such a cool treat.

Coastal Elites

Bette Midler Is Superb
This HBO film, a series of five blistering monologues (comedic with an edge) about the current state of politics, the pandemic, etc. was written by Paul Rudnick. Each of the five actors plays a character dealing with life in 2020 America. Each character talks to a camera while in quarantine. And no it's not static; it's a lively and engrossing 90 minutes (or thereabouts).

Bette Midler starts things off superbly as Miriam, a woman who has been booked for attacking a man in a coffee shop. She talks about her life in New York as a middle-class Jewish woman and the things that are important to her. Next is Dan Levy as a gay actor in LA trying to get a role in a gay superhero movie and dealing with gay stereotypes.

Third is Issa Rae as the daughter of a wealthy Black businessman who has political ties through her years in boarding school and who talks about the politics of wealth and privilege. Fourth is Sarah Paulson as a meditation guru who talks about her visit back home with her working class family and the blindness of political fervor. Last is Kaitlyn Dever as a NYC nurse dealing with the day-to-day grind in a hospital flooded with pandemic patients and the loss of one special patient.

Tough, trenchant, and funny.

Love Sarah

Bake Me a Julekaka
British movie from a woman director about the bonding of three women when they open a pastry shop in Notting Hill which had been the planned project of dead Sarah. It's Lifetime movie posing as a feature film, devoid of any depth. A couple of subplots are thrown in but the director never scratches the surface of these women. Celia Imrie plays the well-to-do mother of Sarah. Imrie seems to have owned a circus but we never learn much of anything. The granddaughter (Shannon Tarbet) is a dancer. We know this because we see her strike a few poses in a dance class. Sarah's friend (Shelley Conn) is some sort of business executive who used to bake. Aside from this stirring stories, we get lost of close-ups of pies.

To add zest to the story (if not the pies) we get Bill Paterson as a neighboring inventor who sparks Imrie and Rupert Penry-Jones as an "old friend" of Sarah who may also be the granddaughter's father. He's not, so that subplot goes nowhere.

After the pie hole fails, we're told that London is the most multi-cultural city in the world, so the gals go out and get recipes for "foreign" food and all the immigrants (in Notting Hill) come flying to buy the goodies. Again, lots of close-ups of pastries but no information at all. In the end, it would have been more exciting to watch the dough rise for a Norwegian julekaka.

Joanna Lumley in the Land of the Northern Lights

Lumley on Ice
Probably the best of Joanna Lumley's travelogue shows. In this one she travels to the Arctic Circle in northern Norway in search of the Northern Lights. And boy does she ever find them! The show culminates in a spectacular display of pulsating blue and green and purple lights over a snowbound landscape.

Along the way she visits several villages, treks by dog sled, and even sleeps in an ice hotel. Amazing stuff.

I Am Woman

Pleasant and Superficial
This comes off as a Lifetime movie and it's a shame. This biopic of Helen Reddy, one of the biggest names in 1970s music, skates over the politics of the day and concentrates on her marriage to Jeff Wald and her hits songs of the decade. The political climate is definitely in the background.

Reddy comes to New York from Australia in 1966 to be a singer. She gets work in nightclubs but is going nowhere. She meets and befriends a writer (Lillian Roxon) and a would-be manager(Wald) who guide her career.

Wald powers through the corporate music structure and gets Reddy a music contract. Out of her first album comes a hit song, "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and a minor song "I Am Woman," which gets picked up as an anthem for the women's liberation movement of the time.

From then on Reddy is a star and makes a ton of money. Wald manages a few other acts but has a drug problem. Reddy has a string of hits: "Delta Dawn" "You and Me Against the World," "Angie Baby, "Leave Me Alone," etc. but by the end of the decade, her hits have stopped and she's broke because of the husband and a crooked business manager.

Despite women's empowerment, it's telling that Reddy accepts no responsibility for the money problems and basically drops out of the business. When she returns, she becomes a nostalgia act (no new hits) and the film ends with her singing "I Am Woman" at a women's rally.

The film, directed by a first-time feature director, also swishes by Reddy's songwriting, implying she wrote "I Am Woman." She wrote the lyrics only. The song was written and arranged by Ray Burton. There's no other mention of Reddy as a songwriter or lyricist.

Ultimately, we get a look at a talented singer whose career was created and then possibly ruined by her husband. It's typical of this Lifetime style of movie-making that while the husband is outed for his excesses (and yes Wald was no angel), that the woman/wife is presented as a wide-eyed innocent.

In the long run, it presents Helen Reddy as a major singer of an era that also included Karen Carpenter, Carole King, Anne Murray, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler.... but we don't know any more about her as we do them.

Oh yes, and the Helen Reddy vocals are provided by Chelsea Cullen.


I Am Big. It's the Pictures That Got Small ... Real Small
Back in 1952, silent films were still is the memories of lots of Americans, but by 1952 the great majority of the silent idols had long since vanished into obscurity. Yet they lurked among us!

Here we have a staid Literature and Latin professor (Clifton Webb) and his dull daughter (Anne Francis) living quietly at a small college. The phenomenon of television has produced a series that uses old silent films to hawk a line of women's perfumes. The pitchwoman for the stinkum is a famous silent movie star Gloria Marlowe (Ginger Rogers).

When the campus kiddies get a look at this cheesy TV show they instantly recognize that the hero of these over-the-top silents is none other than their boring old professor. Embarrassed and outraged over his new-found fame, Webb launches a legal battle to have the old movies removed from the small screen. Of course he also has to tend with Rogers, who relishes the rekindled fame and glory.

Silly, yes, but great fun, especially the recreated silent scenes with Webb and Rogers hamming it up in hokey romantic adventures that defy all logic ... in a way similar to how silents were pictured in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, also released in 1952.

Rogers and Webb are terrific and give it their all. Anne Francis is stark as the daughter. There's also Elsa Lanchester as the head of the college, Paul Harvey as the lawyer, Jeffrey Hunter as the love interest, Fred Clark as the agent, and a very funny Victoria Horne as the swooning waitress. Oh, and the sexy dancer in the TV commercial is Gwen Verdon.

In real life, Webb, Lanchester, and even Paul Harvey had all appeared in silent films. Indeed, Webb was in five silent films, dating back to 1917. Rogers came close, making her first film in 1929!

I don't recall that any real stars of the silent era are mentioned by name, but Webb seems to be playing a cross between John Gilbert and Douglas Fairbanks, while Rogers seems to be playing a Gloria Swanson type. Swanson actually starred in a TV series in 1948.

The ending is a surprise.

To Rome with Love

Ozymandias Melancholia with Charm
Woody Allen's TO ROME WITH LOVE weaves together four separate stories set in the Eternal City. Story one stars Roberto Benigni as a clerk who suddenly and for no reason becomes famous. The paparazzi follow him everywhere, fawning over ever word, desperate for a quote on any subject at all. And as soon as he becomes used to the fame and adulation, they dump him for a man walking down the street. As in STARDUST MEMORIES, this is Woody's musing on the stupidity of the fame culture. Story two has Jesse Eisenberg as an architecture student living with dumpy Greta Gerwig. When her friend (Ellen Page) comes to Rome, he becomes infatuated with her. Alec Baldwin plays an older version of Eisenberg remembering this bittersweet and youthful love, trying to inject some common sense into his younger self. Good luck. Love flies out the window when Page rushes back to the US for an acting part.

Story three involves some country rubes from Pordenone who are excited to move to Rome. When the wife goes out to book a banquet hall she gets lost and falls in with a movie crew, leading to an affair with a great Italian star. Meanwhile, a hooker (Penelope Cruz) enters the husband's hotel room by mistake. When his relatives barge in, they pretend she is the wife. The rubes learn about love. Story four has Woody Allen and Judy Davis visiting Rome after his retirement as a small-time producer. Their daughter (Alison Pill) is engaged to a local and when Woody hears the guy's father singing in the shower, he sets out to make him an opera star. Problem is, he can only sing in the shower.

Charming and wistful but not a laugh riot. The film earned nearly $74M worldwide and the Roman locales are beautifully filmed. The best line may belong to Woody when he opines to wife Davis about singing in the shower: "In life I have a terrible voice, but when I'm soaping myself under hot water, I sound just like Eartha Kitt."

Tales of the City

Farewell, the Journey Is Over
This ten-part miniseries has some very high highs and some very low lows.

Back at Barbary Lane are Laura Linney as the sometimes annoying Mary Ann and Olympia Dukakis and the magical Anna Madrigal. Two superb actresses. Also back is Paul Gross, the original Brian. Michael is now played by Murray Bartlett, a huge improvement over smarmy Paul Hopkins in the previous two outings, but not as sweet as the original Michael played by Marcus D'Amico. Barbara Garrick also returns as DeDe, but she's a marginal character here.

Chief among the newcomers to Barbary Lane is Ellen Page as the tough Shawna, the daughter of Brian and Mary Ann .... or is she? We also get a complicated lesbian couple (Garcia and May Hong), a snoopy "reader" (Victor Garber). and a strange lesbian filmmaker (Zosia Mamet).

I found DeDe's misbegotten twins extremely annoying. I'm not sure if they were meant to be comic relief, but they ain't funny. There are several other recurring characters but they're not terribly important.

A few name actors pop up in one or two appearances: John Glover as an old cop, Mary Louise Wilson as the home resident, Luke Kirby as a 1960s cop, Stephen Spinella as a dinner guest, Molly Ringwald as an art collector, and Danny Burstein as Connie's old husband.

The standout episode of this series in #8, which re-enacts the infamous drag queen riot at Compton's Cafeteria in San Francisco. This looms as the backdrop to the flashback of Anna's arrival in San Francisco in 1966 as a 40-something woman.

And despite a largely annoying storyline that clutters the achingly sad finale, we finally clear the gaudy debris and get to the great loss we all knew was coming.

Many kudos to the indomitable Olympia Dukakis for her portrayal of Mrs. Madrigal over the decades and to Laura Linney for her chirpy performance as Mary Ann and also for producing this series.

Tales of the City: Days of Small Surrenders
Episode 8, Season 1

Superb Episode, Based on Facts
This wonderful episode traces Mrs. Madrigal's arrival in San Francisco in the mid-1960s. Her story is set against a now forgotten riot at Compton's Coffee Shop.

While Anna is able to "pass" as a woman (although she's still pre-surgery at this point in time, she meets and befriends many other drag queens and transexuals who work the streets as hookers. Anna gets a job in the famous City Lights bookshop and meets a man.

While she angers several of the girls, she's also accepted into their world as a fellow traveler. Eventually they learn that Anna's man is a cop, and this distances them from her. To the girls, the city cops are the enemy. They harass the girls, arrest them for female impersonation (still on the books in the 1960s as being against the law). The cops also take bribes from the gay-oriented businesses in the Tenderloin as shakedown money. There are no laws that protect the drag queens from the predatory cops.

All this comes to a head in August 1966 when the drag queens stand up to the the manager at Compton's and refuse to leave. The cops are called and a riot breaks out. The riot attracts gay men as well as the other queens and, although it's hushed up by the city and the police department, it serves as a political flashpoint in uniting the various gay groups against the crooked cops.

A 2005 documentary called SCREAMING QUEENS details the story of this riot, three years before Stonewall, as a major event in the march toward gay liberation. The makers of this episode are clearly familiar with the documentary as many of the characters and events are derived from it.

Excellent acting here by Jen Richards as Anna, Eve Lindley as Lily, Daniela Vega as Ysela, and Luke Kirby as Tommy.

The infamous event of the drag queen throwing hot coffee into a cop's face (an act that starts the riot) as neatly depicted. We also learn exactly how Anna comes to own the house at Barbary Lane.

For lovers of this extended series, this is a seminal episode and is not to be missed.

The Iron Petticoat

Bad Is Putting It Mildly
And in the "what were they thinking" department we have THE IRON PETTICOAT (1956) a sodden sorta remake of NINOTCHKA with Katharine Hepburn as a Russian pilot who defects to the West and Bob Hope as an American military man who's assigned to "westernize" her. Jokes about ancient Cold War crap fall flat (there's even one about Joe McCarthy) and there's absolutely zero chemistry between the stars. Hepburn apparently thought she was getting into an updated Ninotchka-type story but it turned into a Bob Hope movie. The stars didn't get along and the director couldn't stop Hope from ad libbing. Scripter Ben Hecht tried to get his name removed. The British supporting cast is mostly employed to play Russians (James Robertson Justice, Sidney James, etc.).

Instead of her fascination being with a silly hat (Garbo version) Kate's fascination is with a lacy undergarment but she passes on the inflatable bosom. But all that frippery gets buried in a nonsense plot about kidnapping, Hope wrestling with a big woman, and a nothing subplot about Hope trying to marry into the British aristocracy.

It was said that Hope got MGM to announce that despite limited showings, the film still made a small profit. Cook them books!

Unsellable Houses

How phony can you get? These twins whiz into a house and and redecorate and then sell it, splitting the profits with the owners.

It's all cosmetics. They never deal with any structural problems, roofs, leaking plumbing, etc. With a minimum of interior construction, the majority of their "work" is all smoke and mirrors ... or in their case, pillows and wall hangings.

And they talk and talk and talk. They might be even worse than that mother/daughter show. They don't actually DO anything.


Pretentious Garbage
I looked forward to learning a little about Nikola Tesla, the inventor moved into the shadows of people like Edison and Westinghouse by history. Instead, I got a pretentious muddle of history and fantasy given in an underlit and murky tableau that's as dull as the narrative.

Ethan Hawke plays Tesla (sans accent) as if sleepwalking. But it doesn'r matter because the story has nothing to tell us anyway. We get disjointed scenes that depict this and that, some historical and some made up. They add up to not much of anything. The "device" of throwing in anachronistic touches (Google, cell phone, Coca Cola, etc) backfire. But the major atrocity is when Hawke's Tesla picks up a microphone and starts a karaoke session of "Everybody Wants to Rule the Word."

Avoid this garbage and spend your time reading the Wikipedia article on Tesla.

More Tales of the City

Jackie Burroughs Is Mother Mucca
This miniseries aired five years after the original TALES OF THE CITY mini. The first series aired on PBS; the second was shown on Showtime cable TV. Although filmed 5 years after the original, the story picks up one year after the first series. Only a few of the original actors have returned: Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney, Barbara Garrick, William Campbell, and Thomas Gibson. The other returning characters are played by different actors and the the change is noticeable in a bad way.

Mouse is now played by Paul Hopkins, Mona by Nina Siemaszko, Brian by Whip Hubley, Frannie by Diana Leblanc, and Doro by Francoise Robertson.

Among the new characters are Jackie Burroughs as Mother Mucca, Colin Ferguson as Burke, and Swoosie Kurtz as Mona's mother.

Plot continues as Mouse and Mary Ann (Linney) look for love and Mrs. Madrigal (Dukakis) tells more of her backstory. DeDe continues the story of her pregnancy.

The loss of Chloe Webb as Mona and Marcus D'Amico as Mouse is felt. The new actors can't come close to filling out their quirky characters. But the second installment is saved by the fabulous Jackie Burroughs as the outrageous and foul-mouthed Mother Mucca, a character who ties together the story threads of Mona and Mrs. Madrigal.

Unfortunately, the new storylines for Mouse and Mary Ann aren't very interesting. And production values as a whole are a step down. This Canadian production seems skimpy and set-bound, compared to the original.


Turn Your Head and Cough
Dreary re-telling of Marie Curie's life as a scientist. Based on a graphic novel and directed by a woman I'm not familiar with, this one presents Madame as a rather nasty piece of work (maybe she was in real life) and sidelines Pierre Curie to a husband and assistant. Be that as it may, the really jarring things are the flash-forwards to show the evil uses of the radioactive elements the Curies discovered. Aside from a medical flash of little Johnny getting a cancer treatment, we get to see Hiroshima, Chernobyl, and an atomic bomb testing in 1950s Nevada. Even worse, while she is ill from radium poisoning and working as nurse (more or less) during WW I, she hallucinates the faces of the victims from the future. Please!

Rosamund Pike and Sam Riley play the famous pair. Pierre died in 1906 when his head got crushed in a street accident; Marie lived on until 1934 and finally died of radium poisoning.

I don't remember the Greer Garson/Walter Pidgeon 1940s film, but I guess I'll wait a while before I watch it

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