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Gunsmoke: The Bobsy Twins
Episode 36, Season 5

"The Bobsey Twins" is utterly mean-spirited entry in series
In 1960's "The Bobsey Twins," the title seemingly being a spoof on the popular children's classic books, the subject matter here isn't anything a child would ever want to watch. Two imbecilic hillbillies (the "Twins") roam about aimlessly on the prairie outside of Dodge City and murder some hapless victims. Their disgusting acts include allowing a distraught woman to run off into the wilds where she will eventually die from exposure. It is established right away that these men have absolutely nothing resembling a conscience, no ethics, and no brains. Then these two winners end up in Dodge and announce to all within earshot that their mission in life is to kill Indians. When Marshal Dillon gets wind of their plans, he immediately disarms them and chases them out of the Long Branch Saloon. Unfortunately, there's more than one watering-hole in Dodge City and the boys end up blabbing about their warped intentions in another drinking establishment. That's when a very young Richard Chamberlain decides to play a joke on these two bozos and tells them that the local blacksmith is half Cherokee (he's actually of German descent). The twins immediately drop their drinks and head over to the guy's shop to perform their civic duty. Luckily, the good Marshal hears about it before they can execute the blacksmith by hanging him from the rafters. After one of the hillbillies is shot in the shoulder and the other is threatened with death, the two sorry fellows surrender to the Marshal. Then the dumbest of the two nonchalantly blurts out that they didn't get to kill any Indians after all, "only a few white people." That's all the evidence the Marshal needs to solve the other murders. Then Dillon "nonchalantly" informs the two twins that they'll both be hanged by the neck until dead. This entry, written by series creator John Meston, is one of the most mean-spirited and cruel stories in the entire twenty-year run of the program. Maybe he wanted to convey just how bad it was out in the Old West. If that was his sole intent, he certainly succeeded. All that was missing was for the television audience to witness the Twins hanging from the gallows of Hays City. It was certainly a fate which they richly deserved.

Gunsmoke: Once a Haggen
Episode 18, Season 9

"Once a Haggen" gives Ken Curtis' "Festus" character a chance to shine
The 1964 "Gunsmoke" entry titled "Once a Haggen" is a pivotal episode in the popular Western series as Ken Curtis' "Festus" character begins to appear regularly on the program. This early version of Festus is a bit different than the character viewers would come to know (and some to hate) as the series went on. He doesn't have that scruffy beard and his hillbilly dialect is kept at a minimum. He also seems to have a bit more intelligence than the later version. In this episode, he befriends another slightly dim-witted character named Bucko (Slim Pickens) who's accused of murdering a slick poker player after losing to him in a high-stakes game at the Long Branch Saloon. There's more than one loser (including Festus), but the evidence goes against Bucko. At the trial, a local yokel named Pop Schiller (Roy Barcroft) gives testimony that he witnessed the murder and it all but seals Bucko's fate. Festus, however, is buying none of it and Marshal Dillon is also very suspicious of Pop's account. Their concerns don't matter to a gathering lynch mob led by a nasty guy played by Kenneth Tobey. He also lost his shirt at the card game and wants to stretch a few necks to get his "pound of flesh." Since Festus is standing in his way, Tobey decides to string him up too. But after a severe shakedown by the Marshal, Pop Schiller admits that he was threatened by the real killer to point the finger in the other direction. All's well that ends well when Dillon and Chester arrive just in time to prevent Bucko and Festus from swinging into eternity. Naturally, the real killer (an avid member of the lynching party) takes a fatal bullet from the Marshal before he has a chance to make a hasty exit. Festus Haggen soon started appearing regularly in the series as Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver) was phased out. Festus wasn't everybody's "cup of tea," but the limping and slow plodding Chester hadn't been either. This episode was directed by the prolific Andrew V. McLaglen. Also in the cast was the good-looking and very alluring Elizabeth MacCrae as April. She definitely livened up the atmosphere every time she was on screen. Her character seemed to enjoy Festus' company, which means she was probably having eyesight problems. Of special note in this entry is Marshal Dillon's interrogation technique when he needs to get information fast. It may be unconstitutional and bordering on torture, but it works every time.

Gunsmoke: Blind Man's Bluff
Episode 24, Season 8

More unsavory characters show up in "Blind Man's Bluff"
Guest star Will Hutchins stars in "Blind Man's Bluff" as an innocent bystander who is accused of murdering a fellow gambler in Dodge City. The victim's own last words condemn him and they're taken as the "gospel truth" even though the poor guy is delirious at this point. So Will has no choice but to skedaddle with Marshal Dillon in hot pursuit. At that point, the story takes a left turn. In another town, Dillon is mugged and left for dead in an alley by a motley crew of despicable bad guys. "Gunsmoke" specialized in presenting these kinds of rotten eggs, and they usually show up by the bushel load in the series. Dillon survives, but temporarily loses his eyesight from the severe beating. Still on the lam, Hutchins joins up with the muggers and they decide to finish off the Marshal once and for all. But Hutchins has a change of heart when he sees that his evil cohorts intend on roping and dragging the Marshal to death. He steps in at the last moment and saves Dillon. Miraculously, Dillon regains his eyesight just in time so that he can beat the hell out of the bad guys. After some persuading from the good Marshal, Hutchins reluctantly gives himself up even though he faces a death sentence if convicted. The episode ends on a happy note when the real killer has a pang of conscience and turns himself in at the last moment before poor Will goes on trial for murder. "Blind Man's Bluff" is a slightly above average entry in the series, and Hutchins' wide-eyed deer-in-the-headlights expression fits his character to a tee. You'd never know that Hutchins is actually 6-1 because he looks like a standing next to the 6-7 Marshal Dillon (James Arness). Hutchins is best-remembered now for his early 1960s western series "Sugarfoot" in which he played a character very similar to the one here. That being an innocent-looking fair-minded nice guy.

Born to Kill

"Born to Kill" is classic film noir
Long before he directed "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music," Robert Wise was directing turgid melodramas like "Born to Kill" (1947). If any movie ever pulled out all the stops, it's this one. Psychotic murderer Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney at his tersest) kills his poor unsuspecting girlfriend (Isabel Jewell) and her lover in a rage and leaves their bodies exactly where the two victims have fallen in an apartment house in Arizona. Then he meets recently divorced Helen (Claire Trevor) who has less moral fiber than himself (if that's possible) on a train bound for San Francisco. It's a match made in hell, but Sam soon finds out that Helen's half-sister (Audrey Long playing another naïve goody two-shoes gal) owns a newspaper and is rolling in the dough. He quickly moves in on her and marries her right under Helen's nose. Since they now all live together cozily in Audrey's mansion, Sam keeps up his relationship with Helen. Then Sam's cohort, played by Elisha Cook Jr. arrives on the scene to serve as Sam's "Best Man" at the wedding and see if he can help tie up some loose ends for his murdering pal. Seems that there's a detective (Walter Slezak at his sleaziest) investigating the murders in Arizona. The late Ms. Jewell had a best friend (boozy Esther Howard) who has paid Slezak to find out why she got killed. He's already figured out that Sam is most likely the murderer, but he believes that information is worth a lot more than what drunk Esther is paying him (a measly $500). By this time Helen has also figured out that Sam is a rotten, brutal and no-consciences murderer, but that turns her on even more. She's also engaged to be married to nice guy lawyer Fred (Phillip Terry) but that doesn't stop her from throwing herself at Sam every chance she gets. Fred soon figures out what the audience has known from the beginning: Helen is just plain no good and he drops her like a hot potato. Eventually, jealous psychotic Sam overplays his hand and knocks off his buddy Mr. Cook for merely having a conversation with Helen. At the 11th hour, Helen finally comes to her senses and calls the police to arrest Sam. But it's too late for her. In fact, it's too late for Sam. He gets what's been coming to him since the opening frame of the film, but Helen takes a bullet in the stomach. She ends up on the front page of Audrey's newspaper in the headline "Society Woman Murdered by Brother-in-law." Let that be a lesson for her. Claire Trevor could play a bad girl with the best of them, and she probably should've won the Academy Award for her role in this movie instead of "Key Largo." Lawrence Tierney's career careened all over the map, but he ended up with a great role in Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" in the 1990s. Despite great performances by the leads in this film, both Esther Howard and Elisha Cook Jr. nearly steal the picture, especially during their initial conversation when Cook cons Mr. Howard into thinking he can help her in the investigation. He really just wants to stick a knife into her guts and get her out of the picture. But it's Cook who ends up getting stuck. Call it "poetic justice." In the end, crime doesn't pay after all. Rich, young and beautiful Audrey Long is now a widow, but Fred is still available.

Gunsmoke: The Big Con
Episode 34, Season 3

"The Big Con" influenced future and similar plot lines
"The Big Con" uses a story line that will be very familiar to viewers who are fans of the 1966 film, "A Big Hand for the Little Lady." As in that film, a gambler with what appears to be a foolproof winning hand runs out of money and enlists a local banker to lend him enough cash ($20,000) to be able to call his opponent. His only "collateral" is the hand itself. In the movie, the banker was in on the con. In this original version, both gamblers are in on it. Of course, the gambler loses out and the bank is out the $20,000. But Marshal Dillon smells a rat after Doc Adams informs him that he's seen this kind of "game" before on a riverboat. After that, it doesn't take too long before Dillon is chasing the conmen down. Viewers will recognize Raymond Bailey, the banker from "The Beverly Hillbillies" playing one of the conmen and also Joseph Kearns (Mr. Wilson from "Dennis the Menace") as the naïve banker who lends him the money. The conmen kidnap Doc Adams to help them make their escape from Dodge City, but they're soon apprehended by Marshal Dillon and his trusty companion, Chester. It seems like they're not accustomed to the great outdoors of the Kansas Plains. After recovering the money and saving the good doctor, Matt ends up stranding them out in the wilds for a day or two to teach them a lesson. Call it "frontier justice."

Gunsmoke: The Gallows
Episode 22, Season 7

"The Gallows" is top-notch "Gunsmoke" episode from 1962
As most of the reviews suggest, this episode from the 1962 season of "Gunsmoke" was one of the best in the entire 20 year-long series. Jeremy Slate portrays a carefree drifter who somehow gets accused of murder even though it was obvious that it was self-defense. A vindictive judge sentences him to hang and Marshal Matt Dillon, who does not agree with the judge's verdict, is assigned to transport Slate to a nearby town to be hanged. On the way there, the Marshal is ambushed by a wild hillbilly and Slate steps in to save his life. Dillon, now feeling he owes Slate for helping him survive certain death (and believes his sentence is totally unjust anyway) allows Slate to escape. But Slate will have none of it. After wrestling with his own conscience, he rides back to Dillon and turns himself in. His explanation is that he didn't want to spend the rest of his life running and being a "wanted man." Dillon, with great reluctance, is now forced to bring Slate in for his scheduled execution. It is obvious that Dillon loathes this duty and can't help feeling that Slate does not deserve to die. He knows the law in this case is entirely wrong, but he's obliged to carry it out. Slate himself has given him no choice. The ending of this sad tale will stick with you long after the final credits roll. Both James Arness (Dillon) and Jeremy Slate (one of Hollywood's more under-appreciated actors) do great work in this episode and their chemistry together on the screen is outstanding. There's are a lot of reasons why "Gunsmoke" lasted twenty years on prime-time television. This grimly realistic and well-acted episode is one of them.

The Kid

"The Kid" wallows in violence and not much else
Despite some good performances, mainly by Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt, "The Kid" never gets too far past its opening shock scene where a woman is beaten to death by her husband. The brutal husband is quickly dispatched by his young son who subsequently stabs his uncle in the face to make a chaotic getaway along with his frightened sister. This initial orgy of violence hangs over the film throughout. The "Kid" of the title is not Billy the Kid, but the young boy ("Rio") who has killed his father and is played by Jake Schur. Rio and his sister Sara (Leila George) soon bump into Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan) and his gang who are also on the run. In a strange way, Billy sees a lot of himself in the young and impressionable Rio and quickly befriends him. DeHaan plays Billy as a cross between a juvenile delinquent and a world-weary philosopher and he is quite sympathetic. But before the two new pals can really get to know each other, Sheriff Pat Garrett arrives on the scene and Billy is soon in irons and heading back to Lincoln County to face murder charges, and most likely, a rope around his neck. On the way there, Garrett questions both Rio and Sara about how they arrived at their present messy state, but receives no satisfactory answer. Now incarcerated and awaiting trial, Billy playfully banters back-and-forth with his jailer, a mean-spirited psycho played by Adam Baldwin. "It'll be tough to see me hang when you're already dead," Billy tells him with a smirk on his face. He proves to be very prophetic in that regard. As history does record, Billy escaped from jail and killed two deputies in the process. Later, he gets shot down by Garrett under some murky circumstances. As for Rio and Sara, their evil uncle (Chris Pratt looking like a depraved madman) finally tracks them down, taking her hostage and then forcing her into prostitution. Poor Rio is thrown into the street to fend for himself. The rest of the film involves Rio's attempt to rescue her and eventually he is aided by Sheriff Garrett after explaining to him the whole sordid story. "The whole sordid story" pretty much sums up this film in a nutshell. Director Vincent D'Onofrio does a semi-competent job with a thinly-written script, but the local scenery should at least keep some viewers happy. Unfortunately, Rio's story and the Billy the Kid plotline mainly got in each other's way. You might say that the film had one "Kid" too many. I noticed some complaints from female reviewers mentioning that the women depicted were used as punching bags and not much else. Well, since the movie's action takes place in 1881, and long before Political Correctness was invented, what did they expect? The gals weren't voting yet either. As for this film, western fans will note that it covers some very familiar ground. Let's face it, the Pat Garrett/Billy the Kid story has already been done to death. "The Kid" doesn't add a lot to the tale except for some over-the-top violence and a few unfortunate ladies getting their heads bashed in. Pat Garrett himself was murdered in 1908. The exact circumstances of his demise are nearly as muddled as this movie.


"Anthropoid" recounts brutal history of Nazi atrocities
Most students of World War II are familiar with the sadistic career of SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the "Butcher of Prague." Even Hitler called him "cold-hearted." He was a relentless mass murderer who, among other things, oversaw the Wannsee Conference where he took a lead role in the "Final Solution" of the Jews in Europe. "Anthropoid" was the operational name for the plan to assassinate him and was engineered by Czech patriots under the supervision of the British. This movie tells the story of that operation and the brutal Nazi reprisals that followed. Jamie Dornan and Cillian Murphy play the two main assassins who parachute into Czechoslovakia and take up residence in a safe house to plan their attack on Heydrich. They soon found out that the local Czech resistance fighters are not all that keen on the success of such an operation for they have a sickening feeling about what will happen if Heydrich is actually killed. That is, a blood bath of the first magnitude. As it turns out, that's exactly what happens after Heydrich's death as several Czech villages are completely destroyed including the entire population of Lidice. In the end Murphy and Dornan seek refuge in the local Orthodox Church with several other resistance fighters. After a six-hour battle with the Waffen SS, they are all killed (several of the fighters commit suicide rather than be taken alive). The movie shows extreme torture sequences involving the Gestapo obtaining information using all means available. That includes presenting one of their victims the severed head of his own mother in a bucket while they're beating him half to death. This movie is not for the faint-hearted, to put it mildly. Dornan gives a serious performance and is nothing like his "Fifty Shades of Gray" character. Murphy, as always, is solid and cast well in his role. Charlotte LeBon does nice work as a Czech patriot who gives Dornan some cover as a girlfriend. Toby Stephens is around as an understated member of the resistance who's forced to take cyanide. According to some credible reports, Heydrich begged forgiveness to God on his deathbed for his crimes against humanity. If he did, it was too little and too late. "Anthropoid" was directed by Sean Ellis who deserves a lot of credit for staging the true events depicted in the film.

The Dawn Patrol

"The Dawn Patrol" makes serious statement on the tragedy of war
1938's "The Dawn Patrol" focuses on the responsibilities of command, especially when lives are at stake. During WWI, squadron leader Major Brand (an excellent Basil Rathbone) does everything he can to dissuade his commanding officers from sending his pilots to certain death during aerial combat with their German counterparts. He is unsuccessful in this endeavor and is ordered to send up as many planes available. Naturally casualties mount up and Brand is severely criticized by his subordinates who consider him cold and heartless. They also consider him responsible for the deaths of their fellow comrades. Errol Flynn (Capt. Courtney) and David Niven (Capt. Scott) are Brand's most vocal critics and also two of his most reliable pilots. But the shoe is soon on the other foot. Brand's orders for transfer finally come through and Flynn is promoted into his former position. "Now it's your turn. See how you like it!" Brand bitterly tells Courtney. Courtney discovers very quickly the difficulties that his former commander faced in dealing with death on a daily basis and the tremendous weight of the job. "The Dawn Patrol" could be construed as an anti-war film and it certainly makes a good point in that regard. The question "what is this all for?" is brought up at a critical juncture. But what the film really hammers home is its take on leadership and the awesome responsibilities that go along with it. As noted by other reviewers, much of the aerial combat cinematography here has been used in previous films. However, that does nothing to lessen the impact of it all. The film was directed by the prolific Edmund Goulding.

Gunsmoke: With a Smile
Episode 29, Season 8

"With a Smile" is "Gunsmoke" episode with a unique plot-line
On occasion, "Gunsmoke" would offer up an episode that eschewed the normal "good guys and bad guys" theme and shook things up a bit. This one, titled "With a Smile," involves a cowardly fellow (James Best at his weakest) who has been sentenced to death for killing an innocent bystander played by Sharon Farrell. But Best thinks his formidable father ("the Major"), played by R.G. Armstrong, has enough influence and pull to arrange for him to get a new trial, or a pardon, or a lighter sentence. The old man pulls all the strings he can, but to no avail. Best finally realizes that he's going to swing at the end of a rope and the mere thought of it drives him into hysterics. Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) confers with Armstrong who is ashamed of his son's actions in the face of death. He wants him to go out with dignity, if possible, and he's intent on making that happen---even if it means tricking his son. But that's exactly what happens. While squirming in his jail cell, Best is relieved to hear that his old man has made bribes to everyone involved in the execution. Best is told that the gallows will have a covering around the bottom so no one will view the body hanging after it drops. There will be a wagon underneath the gallows to cushion his fall. Without anyone seeing what's going on, the undertaker will declare him dead and all he'll have to do is lay down on the wagon until he's driven out of town. His father then hands him a $1000 so he can get a fresh start in Mexico. What Best doesn't know is that he's still going to hang after all. His father just wants him to think that he's going to live. The ruse works. Best goes to the gallows "with a smile" on his face and scoffs at the hangman when he offers him a hood. Then the lever is pulled and Best goes to his maker. R.G. Armstrong is given the $1000 back after the undertaker rifles through Best's clothing before they ship him off for burial. He turns to Marshal Dillon and says "At least he died with a smile." I wonder if poor Jimmy was still smiling when he felt that rope crack his neck. This episode was directed by the prolific Andrew V. McLaglen, a veteran of many a western TV series. Dennis Weaver co-starred as the limping deputy, Chester. Old time actor Dick Foran was also part of the cast as the sheriff of the town where the execution takes place. Best was an under-rated actor who played lots of weak-willed characters and shifty-eyed villains during his career. He got plenty of steady work on the small screen. I saw this episode as a young kid and it stuck with me. It was recently aired again and it had lost none of its impact.

Angels with Dirty Faces

Classic film from the 1930s with a heavy-handed moral message
"Angels with Dirty Faces" (1938) is a classic Warner Brothers "morality" film from the 1930s that has a heavy-handed message that's banged over the heads of all viewers. That is, CRIME DOESN'T PAY. Case in point: James Cagney's character Rocky Sullivan. He goes astray at a young age and ends up a well-known gangster who returns to his old neighborhood to further his racketeering career. Standing in his way is his childhood friend, Father Jerry Connelly (Pat O'Brien at his sympathetic best). But when we examine their relationship closely, we realize that Rocky earlier had helped Jerry escape the police and then took the fall for him. In other words, Rocky is directly responsible for sending Jerry on the "straight and narrow' path, and inadvertently sending himself down a much darker road. Meanwhile, Rocky has to deal with lowlifes like his crooked lawyer and accomplice, Frazier (Humphrey Bogart in extreme sleaze-mode). Rounding out the cast of characters are the Dead End Kids including Billy Halop, Bobby Jordan, Huntz Hall and Leo Gorcey, as well as "Oomph Girl" Anne Sheridan thrown in as a love interest for Rocky. There's also plenty of unintentional humor tossed into this finely crafted film. You'll never look at a basketball game the same way after you watch the Dead End Kids take the court. In the end, Rocky once again saves Father Jerry from being rubbed out, this time by Frazier and his gang. So what does Rocky get for his good deed? He get an undeserved death sentence for knocking off Frazier and a few of his gang members. The dim-witted Connolly never figures out that it's been Rocky who's been saving his ass all these years. On the night of his execution, Father Jerry proposes to Rocky that he act like a coward when they drag him to the electric chair so the Dead End Kids won't idolize him. "It's about courage that only you, me and God will ever know," he explains in hallowed terms to Rocky. So after all he's done for this sap, now Rocky hears that he has to act like a sniveling coward in his final moments to satisfy the good Father. Of course, Rocky initially refuses him, but on the way to the execution chamber, Rocky starts crying like a baby. Father Connelly looks up to heaven as if to praise the Lord for this startling and unexpected turn of events. So the question to viewers over the years has always been this: was Rocky really a coward, or did he fake it to ensure that the Dead End Kids didn't idolize him anymore? The last scene in the film shows the Kids reading the screaming headline "Sullivan Dies a Coward!" and in total shock to learn that Rocky went out crying like a baby. They walk away stunned with Father Connolly and follow him to church like good little "Angels." The true answer: Rocky was no coward because Jimmy Cagney doesn't play cowards. End of story.

Studio One: Man Under Glass
Episode 39, Season 10

"Man Under Glass" is unique story about "live" television
The Studio One production of "Man Under Glass" is certainly unique since it's a "live" television drama portraying the exact same medium. The story involves a much-reviled TV director, played by Albert Salmi at his histrionic best, who's on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He covers up his shortcomings and precarious mental state by screaming at his cast, his crew, and anyone else he happens to bump into. Salmi's character (called Lenny Shanks) purposely and foolishly leads an understudy on (a very young and pre-"Bonanza" Michael Landon) with false hopes, ridicules an old movie star trying to make a comeback (Jason Robards Sr.) and treats his main assistant, played by Peggy Ann Garner, like a despised ex-wife. Patrick McNee of "The Avengers" fame, is also in the cast as the only sane person in the director's "glass" booth. With its chaotic setting and flaring tempers, "Man Under Glass" exposes the nerve-wracking tensions that can exist on the set during the taping of a live TV broadcast. There can be absolutely no mistakes and everything has to be timed perfectly for it to work. Shank, with his head-filled neuroses, is the last person who should be in charge of directing this kind of production. In the end, he collapses in a heap but is given a reprieve and some much-needed comfort from his understanding assistant, Ms. Garner. A strait-jacket might have worked better for him. "Man Under Glass" gives its talented cast a workout and its frenetic pace firmly plants it in the reality of 1950s live television. As for Albert Salmi, he actually had severe psychological problems in his own life. He killed his wife and then himself in 1990.

Father Knows Best: The Grass Is Greener
Episode 25, Season 2

"The Grass is Greener" is poignant episode with a message
"Father Knows Best" was the best family comedy/drama series of the 1950s and its episodes were far more progressive and realistic than modern critics have given the show credit for. Each one usually carried an important message about growing up, family relations and how to interact with people of all types. The "Father" Jim Anderson, played by veteran star Robert Young, didn't always know best and many of the episodes featured him learning life's lessons---sometimes the hard way. Case in point, this one titled "The Grass is Greener." The Anderson family gets all excited to find out that Father is going to be mentioned on TV because one of his close college buddies is being interviewed. As it turns out, this man has become an industry titan and so is everyone else he talks about---with the exception of one person. The only one lacking supreme monetary success is (you guessed it) Jim Anderson. This leaves the Anderson kids a bit perplexed and they start to see their father as a failure in life. By the end of the running time of this episode, they learn that money isn't everything and that their father has something that money can't buy: a wonderful and very loving family. This fact isn't lost on their father either and after some sulking and self-evaluation, he sees himself in a whole new light. This may seem like a simple lesson but it is presented with enough reality and clarity to overcome any critical evaluation from even the most hardened cynic. This type of story was a staple for the series and belies its reputation as being merely a show about an "ideal family." The Andersons were certainly a close-knit group and none of them were getting arrested, but they were hardly an "ideal family." The show lasted six years and then was aired three more years in prime time with reruns. That longevity had everything to do with its material and characterizations. It almost goes without saying that "Father Knows Best" was a ratings winner and its episodes were well-written and confidently well-acted. Today's viewers could find plenty to like by re-visiting this classic series from a bygone era. It was always better than advertised.

A Bucket of Blood

"A Bucket of Blood" is first Black Comedy from Corman
Before there was "The Little Shop of Horrors," there was "A Bucket of Blood" a year earlier. Dick Miller, the hungry flower-eater in the former film is the star of "A Bucket..." He plays Walter Paisley, an inept moronic busboy who works at a very hip beatnik coffee shop and dreams of becoming one of the artists who frequent the establishment. Through a quirk of fate, it doesn't take very long before Walter joins this select group of pretentious phonies. He accidentally kills his landlady's cat and then covers it with plaster to hide his boneheaded mistake. When this "masterpiece" somehow makes its way to the beatnik haunt, Walter is soon hailed as the next great sculptor of the 20th century. Carla (played by Barboura Morris) becomes his chief benefactor and enthusiastically encourages him to take up sculpture as a career. But for Walter to create more "great art," he needs more dead bodies. Future game-show host Bert Convy is unfortunately next on the list. The body count piles up until Walter is finally revealed for what he really is: not only a complete idiot, but a criminally insane one. "A Bucket of Blood" is played mostly for laughs by director Roger Corman, and with its shoestring budget, he really has no choice. Ed Nelson, later of "Peyton Place," shows up as a nosy cop investigating the demise of poor Mr. Convy. I don't think Ed ever wanted this one to pop up on his resume. Lead actor Dick Miller was assigned to mostly bit parts after this "classic" although he later appeared in the original "Terminator" as the fellow who sells firearms to the wrong guy. Ms. Morris, who had some potential as an actress, died relatively young. Of course, Corman went on to make a slew of biker movies and adapted a number of Edgar Allan Poe works that probably made that literary master roll over in his own grave. But longevity has a way of making one respectable. Corman is now hailed as a great innovator of the cinema and was recently featured on TCM. I guess if you can make a movie like "A Bucket of Blood" in less than a week and for $50,000, you deserve some notoriety. Yes, Corman was the king of the "B" movies in the 1960s. But he never made anything that came within a country mile of an "A" film. When all is said and done, Corman will probably be best remembered for being the first director to give Jack Nicholson a role.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Final Arrangements
Episode 36, Season 6

"Final Arrangements"...but for who?
Martin Balsam plays the ultimate henpecked husband. His wife, played by Vivian Nathan, is a snarling unsympathetic invalid who blames him for her medical condition and everything else that goes wrong in her selfish world. According to her, Balsam doesn't make enough money, and worse, doesn't even take responsibility for her well-being and happiness. But then, Vivian is only really happy when she's nagging her husband to death. She also complains about her husband's daydreaming and obsession with traveling. In reality, Balsam doesn't make enough money to take a trip out-of-state. But there is an answer to his problems. Old Martin decides that there is only one course of action. He visits the local funeral home where he tells the director (O.Z. Whitehead) that he will need a casket and the best arrangements possible for someone who will be leaving this earthly world. After a brief stop at an old novelty shop (run by Slim Pickens), he decides not to buy the poison dart gun. There's a much better alternative to put someone to permanent sleep and rat poison purchased at a nearby pharmacy soon becomes his weapon of choice. After all, his wife never goes to bed without drinking her glass of milk.

"Final Arrangements," directed by the prolific Gordon Hessler (later a Hitchcock series producer), is well-crafted with a nice little twist at the end. It isn't entirely unexpected considering poor Martin's circumstances. The parts are all played to perfection, especially Ms. Nathan's nagging and pitiless wife. She'd drive any man over the edge. It's a wonder that her husband lasted as long as he did. As it turns out, there is a "happy" ending.

Flamingo Road

"Flamingo Road" is star-vehicle for Joan Crawford
"Flamingo Road" (1949) is a turgid drama involving crooked southern politicians, equally crooked policemen and women of ill-repute. It drives its points home with a sledgehammer and has plenty of fun doing it. It's also the perfect star-vehicle for Joan Crawford in her prime movie-making years. Similar to many of her other roles, Joan plays Lane Bellamy, a down-and-out waitress seeking a better life. But Joanie runs into more hard luck when she's deemed a persona-non-grata by the local police chief, played by Sidney Greenstreet at his snarling best. Old Sidney is a king-maker when it comes to state politics and he's groomed weak-willed Zachary Taylor to be the next governor. Unfortunately, Zach has fallen hard for Joan, so she's soon picked up on a fraudulent morals charge and thrown into the slammer. Out of sight and out of mind, is Greenstreet's thinking. This does not help Mr. Taylor, however, as he hits the bottle with a vengeance now that his sweetheart is out of the picture. But Joan is released from jail after 30 days and eventually hooks up with multi-millionaire David Brian. He's also politically involved and stands directly in Greenstreet's way to obtain more graft and influence. So Sidney decides that Dave and Joan both have to go. But being the resourceful woman she is, Joan is all for beating Sid to the punch. In the meantime, Zachary Taylor, after being discarded by his mentor Greenstreet, drinks himself into a stupor and kills himself. His death doesn't make much sense except to tie up a loose end of the plot as the showdown between Sidney and Joan races to its inevitable conclusion. You don't have to be a fortune teller to figure out who comes out on top during that encounter. "Flamingo Road" was a hit with the public and Ms. Crawford continued with these types of characters (and films) until they wore out their welcome. Director Michael Curtiz may have been "slumming" when he made this movie, but he probably collected a nice paycheck in the process. Gladys George has a small but pivotal part as the savvy matron of a local road house. Fred Clark also appears as a newspaper writer who actually thinks that honest politicians exist. He's the only one in this film that holds that opinion. There's plenty of drinking, understated sex and carousing going on in "Flamingo Road." The best line is delivered by David Brian. "Having fun is like an insurance policy. The older you get, the more it costs." That was true in 1949 and is still true today.

Fighting Father Dunne

"Fighting Father Dunne" based on real-life character
Pat O'Brien, a Warner Brothers contract player for years, had long left that studio when he made this film for RKO Studios in 1948. It was a role that O'Brien could do in his sleep for he had played countless Catholic priests in the past. This movie, based on the career of real-life character Father Peter Dunne, is a minor-league version of the highly-acclaimed "Boys Town" made a decade or so earlier. Dunne started an orphanage for homeless youths (mainly newspaper boys) in St. Louis near the turn of the last century in 1905. That kind of plot could never be made today considering all the trouble the Catholic Church has had in recent years with molestation scandals. In 1948, however, no one would ever question the intentions of the no-nonsense Father Dunne as played by the sturdy O'Brien. Along for the ride in this film are the great character actors, Una O'Connor and Arthur Shields. It almost sounds like a St. Patrick's Day celebration with this group of Irish folks. Dwayne Hickman, in his early teens, plays Dunne's main juvenile delinquent orphan and, unlike Mickey Rooney in "Boys Town," his end is tragic. This film was made "on the cheap," even for RKO standards, but the players make it effective entertainment. O'Brien, Shields, and the young Hickman were all first-rate actors and their performances carry the film. "Fighting Father Dunne" didn't win any awards and is hardly remembered at all today. That's too bad because it's a fine film with a heartfelt message that can still resonate with modern-day audiences.

Bride of Frankenstein

1935's "The Bride of Frankenstein" is classic in many ways
1935's "The Bride of Frankenstein, director James Whale's sequel to his earlier smash hit "Frankenstein," is considered not only one of the great horror films of the ages, but indeed, a classic movie in any genre. Bordering on "camp" at some points, but always on "message," "The Bride.." features several holdovers from the earlier film. Colin Clive, as stiff an actor as you'll ever find, returns as the Monster's creator, Dr. Henry Frankenstein. Boris Karloff, of course, reprises his role as the Monster, but this time learns how to speak with the help of O.P. Heggie as the blind hermit. Their relationship in this film has been the subject of debate for years due to Whale's own sexual preference. Karloff's "Monster" has a rough go of it throughout the proceedings and the mad scientist (even madder than Dr. Frankenstein) Dr. Pretorius doesn't improve matters for him one bit. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) is portrayed as perverted, cynical and unscrupulous (and possibly Jewish) and his own experiments have to be seen to be believed. His chief goal is for Dr. Frankenstein to assist him in making a mate for Karloff so that they can create their own "race." That sounds like a great idea on paper, but doesn't translate as well in the laboratory. The mate turns out to be the most frightening and distinctively weird female image in the history of cinema. At first glance, she and Karloff look somewhat close to a match made in heaven, but their "relationship" goes to hell in a hand-basket faster than you can say "I do." It seems she doesn't like his "appearance." She obviously hasn't looked in the mirror herself lately. Before this love match takes place, Karloff is subjected to one abuse after another from the townsfolk, from the police, and from a few shots from John Carradine's rifle. In one scene, an angry mob drapes Karloff over a cross and director Whale exhibits him as almost a Christ-like figure. Between that scene and a host of others, there's enough implied imagery and symbolism in this film to keep a team of psychoanalysts busy. As for the rest of the cast, Valerie Hobson plays Henry's wife Elizabeth, replacing Mae Clarke from the first film. She's better looking but not much of an improvement in the acting category. Veteran Una O'Connor provides some much-needed comic relief as the idiotic "Minnie." It's a role she could do in her sleep. Dwight Frye (the lunatic Renfield in 1931's "Dracula") has a small but effective part as a gravedigger. Lastly, Elsa Lanchester is the "Bride" of the title and also appears as author Mary Shelley in the film's brief prologue. According to her associates, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, little Mary has a lot of explaining to do. With some minor prodding, she soon gets the film rolling as she begins her "sequel" to the story. Without grading her on a curve, Ms. Shelley definitely deserves an A+ for originality.

Nobody's Fool

"Nobody's Fool" is unconventional comedy and love story
"Nobody's Fool" (1984), not to be confused with the later film starring Paul Newman, is an unconventional comedy with a few serious overtones. Rosanna Arquette is perfectly cast by director Evelyn Purcell in the lead role of Cassie. Living in a small Southwestern Arizona town, Cassie is lonely and depressed and bordering on madness after the break-up of her relationship with her longtime boyfriend (a very conceited Jim Youngs). She tries several comical attempts at suicide but they all come to naught. Her distracted mother (Louise Fletcher) doesn't seem to have a clue to her predicament. To make matters more complicated, Cassie was pregnant at the time of her break-up. She has the baby but puts it up for adoption. Now stuck in a dead-end job with a sympathetic co-worker (Mare Winningham), Cassie's life seems destined for the junk heap---until a Summer Stock company comes to town. She soon falls for the main technician for the troupe, Riley (Eric Roberts), but it takes her a while to admit the truth to herself. Her ex-boyfriend is beginning to show up at unexpected moments, and Cassie's heartstrings begin to pull in two different directions. Complicating the story further is that Riley doesn't seem any more stable than Cassie is. He's carrying a lot of serious baggage himself. In the meantime, Cassie decides to take on some acting classes and shines on stage in the film's penultimate moment when she performs one of Juliet's soliloquies from Shakespeare's famous play. At that point, Cassie realizes that she's come full-cycle in her formerly messed-up existence. It doesn't take her long to decide to follow Riley to Los Angeles and begin a new life. To quote the Bard, "after suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune," Cassie's story has a mostly happy ending.

"Nobody's Fool" was tailor-made for the talents of star Rosanna Arquette. Alas, her career had few high points after this picture. That's probably because this film was not anything close to a box-office success. That's too bad because all the performances were excellent and the story-line had a definite 1980s feel to it. Molly Ringwald may have been the teen queen of that era, but Ms. Arquette certainly cornered the market for the twenty-somethings back then. She is at least well-remembered for that and for the band Toto's song in her honor.

Platinum Blonde

"Platinum Blonde" features the great Robert Williams
1931's "Platinum Blonde" was an early Frank Capra "talkie" and one where he was still in the development stage of his eventual brilliant career as an iconic Hollywood director. Sadly, the film is now more noted for the outstanding work of lead actor Robert Williams who died only days after the premier of the movie from appendicitis. His natural and free-flowing performance in this film was decades ahead of any actor on the scene back then and he was sure to have become a great star if he had lived. The plot revolves are Williams' character, a fast-talking and brilliant reporter, who ends up marrying rich heiress Jean Harlow (the "Platinum Blonde" of the title) even though he's quite in denial of his true love, one of his junior colleagues, the absolutely gorgeous Loretta Young. Director Capra keeps the pace moving at breakneck speed and the dialog is well-suited for Williams' talents. Ms. Harlow's wooden personality and stilted delivery actually fits her character's shallow traits. She loosens up in several bedroom scenes with Williams and the movie served her well in what was considered her "breakout" performance. But there's no one else on the planet like the 18-year-old Loretta Young. She is a goddess in this movie and she doesn't need to dye her hair "Platinum Blonde." The great Reginald Owen has a nice role as the head butler in Harlow's huge mansion. He provides Williams with an excellent foil and their scenes together are priceless. It's all handled in the soon-to-be-famous Capra style. "Platinum Blonde" isn't a classic film, but Williams' performance makes up for any deficiencies.

Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment

"Morgan!" is dated film with "Swinging London" backdrop
Offbeat director Karel Reisz was behind the camera for some noteworthy films in his day including "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" and "The French Lieutenant's Woman." Unfortunately, his 1966 movie "Morgan!" isn't one of them. Its threadbare one-joke plot runs thin after a half hour and all that's left is some surrealism regarding the Marxists and a British fellow with a gorilla fixation. A young David Warner plays the title character. He's a fragile "artist" ready for a strait-jacket who's attempting to win back his ex-wife (Vanessa Redgrave before she became a communist) by acting like the lunatic he is. The highlight of the film is when he crashes her wedding ceremony (dressed up like a gorilla) to stiff-upper-lip Robert Stephens while their party guests have a collective fit. He then hops onto a motorbike while his costume's on fire and drives himself straight into the Thames. From there, the film quickly becomes a baffling amalgam of some Leninist babble coupled with a nonsensical and very staged mock execution. We then see Morgan led away and reappearing in an asylum for the insane tending to his "hammer and sickle" garden. His ex-wife also shows up (and pregnant) but it all may be just a figment of his lively imagination. How Ms. Redgrave secured an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress with this performance is a great Hollywood mystery that will never be solved. As for David Warner, he went on to a solid career, mostly as a character actor, and has carried on admirably in his profession despite this role. Needless to say, "Morgan!" did not make him an international star. Irene Handl is also in the cast as Morgan's mixed-up leftist/communist mother. With her parental guidance, it's no wonder he goes off the deep end. Maybe the point was that you have to be really crazy to be a communist. Viewers will find that you also have to be half-mad to sit through this entire movie. As for the "Swinging London" backdrop, it's about as exciting as Fresno on a bad day. "Morgan!" is a dated embarrassment to be seen by the curious only.

Young Mr. Lincoln

"Young Mr. Lincoln" is classic film from John Ford
1939 was a banner year for John Ford. He directed "Stagecoach," "Drums Along the Mohawk," and this excellent movie. All three films are now considered classics and worthy of in-depth analysis and study. "Young Mr. Lincoln" doesn't have the action sequences of the other two films mentioned, but it makes up for that with its atmosphere and an undercurrent of the coming Civil War. Despite the quaint rural setting, there seems to be a foreboding of doom just around the corner and the film is loaded with symbolism. On the outside, Lincoln, as played by Henry Fonda, can be easily mistaken for a good-natured country boy with little ambition. Inside, his character is far more complex and torn between which path to take in his life. Director Ford injects as much local flavor into the proceedings as he can with a county fair scene that's loaded with humor and coupled with a firm nod to history. The veterans of two wars pass by in a parade to remind viewers just how far the new country had progressed in a short period of time. The pie-eating contest with Lincoln doing the judging and a tug-of-war between locals are also highlights. The film eventually centers itself on a court case where the inexperienced Lincoln must defend two young farmers accused of murder. Using all the intelligence, wit and perseverance he can muster, Lincoln is able to win the day by exposing the real guilty party. It's his sharp eye for identifying the truth that saves him and his clients from disaster. Along the way, there are omens of the future dropped in from time to time. The last scene where Lincoln is walking alone near the top of a hill during a driving rain storm is symbolic of the rocky road that's ahead of him. All this would be nothing more than a brief trip down history in the hands of a less competent director than John Ford. Instead, this great film-maker is able to project a multi-faceted Lincoln who disguises his intelligence with jokes and stories, but can lower the boom on an opponent at a moment's notice. There's a lot going on in young Mr. Lincoln's head, and Ford makes sure his audience understands that. The rest of the cast includes Alice Brady as the mother of the two accused murderers, Donald Meek as the prosecuting attorney, and Ward Bond playing a duplicitous character named J. Palmer Cass. What Lincoln does with that fellow's name during a cross examination is hilarious. For true film buffs, look for Milburn Stone (Doc from TV's "Gunsmoke") in a small role as Stephen Douglas, Lincoln's nemesis and future political opponent. Also, the director's older brother, Francis Ford, appears in a brief but pivotal scene as a drunken juror named Sam Boone. As usual, the rest of John Ford's "Stock Company" of players are all featured.

Eyes Wide Shut

"Eyes Wide Shut" is disappointing final film for Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick made some great movies in his day---but this is not one of them. Simply put, "Eyes Wide Shut" meanders all over the place and the director himself never seems to know exactly what kind of film he's making. Is it a murder mystery? Is it an exploitative shocker? Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, the two totally baffled leads in this clunker, never really grasp any tangible idea that's being presented and act like they don't know if they're coming or going. Kubrick, being the iron-fisted controlling director that he was, completely stifles the couple and it shows. Both of them give the appearance that they'd rather be anywhere else but on the set. Ms. Kidman is only on-screen about half the time compared to her soon-to-be ex-husband Cruise. She's the lucky one. Cruise's character (a Manhattan doctor) is vapid, indecisive, confused and disillusioned---and that's just from him reading Kubrick's script. Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh were enlightened enough to have jumped out of appearing in this movie before the first morning rushes. Instead, Sydney Pollack does his best with the weak writing and nonsensical story as does poor Leelee Sobieski. As for the movie itself, the sex scenes fall flat as a pancake, the plot is irrelevant, and the actors look like they all want to hang themselves. Luckily for the public-at-large, only a few of them went to see this bomb. It's a shame because Kubrick was one of the great directors of his day. At least one can always rent "Lolita," or "Dr. Strangelove," or "Paths of Glory," etc. All of those films are far superior in every way than this woeful concoction. The only thing you can ask yourself if you happen to sit through this abomination is "What was Stanley thinking?" There is no answer. According to many sources, Kubrick himself was very disappointed that this movie was a dud and that he wasted fifteen months of his life making it. He wasn't the only one. The studio wasn't happy either. "Eyes Wide Shut" was also a box-office failure.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: A Very Moral Theft
Episode 3, Season 6

"A Very Moral Theft" is dour and sad entry in Hitchcock series
In the tragic "A Very Moral Theft," Betty Field plays a woman rapidly approaching Middle Age who has fallen for a seemingly indifferent fellow (Walter Matthau) much to the dismay of her brother (Karl Swenson). Swenson is about to be married and the only thing on his mind is what to do about his sister and the house they both share. In the meantime, Matthau's lumber yard business is failing and he needs a quick loan of $8000 to pay off a creditor or else he's bankrupted. To aid his cause, Betty floats a check at her real estate office and hands the cash equivalent over to Matthau after he promises her that he'll pay her back within a few days. He tells her he has another "deal" pending and that it's worth at least $8000. Of course, if he isn't good on his word, she stands to be indicted for embezzlement. Well, wouldn't you know it, Matthau "deal" doesn't materialize and now Betty is left holding the bag. Her brother isn't happy when he hears the news either. They'll have to sell the house just to keep her out of jail. But miraculously, old Walter turns up with $8000 after all, and hands it over to his grateful and very relieved girlfriend. Then the story takes a very dark turn. Matthau goes missing and no one seems to know what happened to him. After about a week, in desperation for some news, Ms. Field returns to a restaurant that she and Walter regularly frequented, but is given the proverbial "cold shoulder" by the proprietor (Sal Ponti). After much prodding, the truth is told. Walter is a dead man. He borrowed the money from the Mob so that his girlfriend wouldn't suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, he did the suffering for her. The distraught expression of total loss on Ms. Field's face when she learns of his fate is worth the price of admission. She quietly takes a seat, her face turned away from the camera, and the episode fades out. Excellent performances highlight this dour entry into the Hitchcock series with both Matthau and Field outstanding in their roles. Throughout the proceedings, Matthau's blasé attitude towards poor Betty is a cover for his true feelings and it completely throws viewers off regarding his intentions. He loves her, but he just can't bring himself to tell her. Tragically, she finds out too late for both of them. The episode was directed by Norman Lloyd, the associate producer of the show and a longtime Hitchcock collaborator. Walter Matthau, almost a regular on this series, went on to an Academy Award-winning career in some of the best loved movies of his generation. Betty Field received a late career boost in "Coogan's Bluff" (1968) playing Don Stroud's boozy mother, Ellen Ringerman. Her scenes with Clint Eastwood are classic.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents: I Can Take Care of Myself
Episode 31, Season 5

"I Can Take Care of Myself" goes dark quickly
Veteran actor Myron McCormick and young Linda Lawson play a piano player and a chanteuse in a popular nightclub owned by a guy named Joey (Will Kuluva). Unfortunately for the duo, a "regular customer" is a local mobster named Little Dandy (Frankie Darro) who shows up with his henchmen and immediately begins to hit on Ms. Lawson---and he doesn't take "no" for an answer. After withstanding all his unpleasant advances, Little Dandy finally grabs her roughly while she's walking towards the stage and she ends up dumping her drink on his head. A brawl ensues with McCormick jumping in to aid his singer. The two entertainers have a sort-of father-daughter relationship and he does his best to keep her safe from hoodlums like Little Dandy. But then the story takes a very bleak detour. Ms. Lawson is beaten to death a few days later by an unknown assailant and McCormick is warned by a detective that he may be next to get "hit." An "Insurance Salesman" (Pat Harrington Jr. from "One Day at a Time" fame) also appears at the bar and threatens McCormick with bodily harm. In the end, this dour and violent tale has nowhere to go except to kill off McCormick. Without his lovely singer, he didn't have much to live for anyway. This episode was directed by the competent Alan Crosland Jr. but there isn't much he can do with the limited script. Ms. Lawson had a long and productive career as did Mr. McCormick. Of course, Pat Harrington's "Schneider" on "One Day at a Time" is one of television's more memorable comic roles. This is one of those few Hitchcock entries that totally lacks suspense. The "surprise" ending is anything but, and the plot itself is weak and pointless. Two nice people get killed for nothing more than defending themselves. End of story.

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