A Moment of Comedy Bliss with Tim Conway and Harvey Korman

As the world still mourns the loss of Doris Day yesterday, another great has left us  – TV comedy genius Tim Conway, who died today at age 85. Tim rightfully deserves a tribute post of his own, and he’ll get it, but until then, enjoy this classic bit of comedy gold from THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW (and watch Harvey Korman try to keep a straight face!):

Tim Conway (1933-2019)

Once I Had A Secret Love: RIP Doris Day

You wouldn’t think from reading most of the content I publish – Western actioners, horror flicks, film noir, exploitation trash – that I’d be a big Doris Day fan. But the first film I can remember seeing on the Big Screen is THAT TOUCH OF MINK, with Doris and Cary Grant, and I’ve been in love ever since. Talent is talent, and the iconic singer/actress, who died earlier today at age 97, had it in bucketloads. Doris’s career spanned nearly 50 years, from the Big Band Era to Cable TV, and was “America’s Sweetheart” for most of her adult life (not to mention “The World’s Oldest Living Virgin” due to her squeaky-clean screen image!).

Cincinnati-born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff, born in 1922, wanted to be a professional dancer, but a severe car accident in 1937 curtailed that dream. Instead she turned to singing, and became a local sensation, eventually landing a gig with Les Brown and His Band of Renown. Brown’s orchestra, carried by Day’s stylish phrasing, rose to the top of the pop charts in 1945 with a song that resonated deeply with GI’s returning home from World War II and became a jazz standard, “Sentimental Journey”:

After spending two years as the featured singer on Bob Hope’s radio show (where she honed her comedic skills), Doris was signed by Warner Brothers and made her film debut in 1948’s ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS, an amusing bit of musical romantic fluff that starred Jack Carson, Janis Paige, Don DeFore, and Oscar Levant, in which she introduced the Oscar-nominated song, “It’s Magic”:

Doris was a hit with movie fans, and a series of musicals followed: MY DREAM IS YOURS, TEA FOR TWO, LULLABY OF BROADWAY, ON MOONLIGHT BAY, APRIL IN PARIS, BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON. She began getting some dramatic roles as well, as in  1950’s YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN, which found her as the love interest for alcoholic trumpeter Kirk Douglas. STORM WARNING (1951) found Doris enmeshed in a Southern town dominated by racism and the KKK, along with Ginger Rogers and Ronald Reagan. I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS (1951) was a box-office smash, based on the life of famed early 20th Century songwriter Gus Kahn (played by Danny Thomas).

One of my personal favorite Day movies is CALAMITY JANE (1953), a rollicking musical set in the Wild West. Doris is the uncouth, rowdy legend Jane, while Howard Keel plays the object of her affections, Wild Bill Hickok. Doris gets to play broadly, mugging it up and having a grand old time, and introduces another #1 hit, the Oscar-winning “Secret Love”:

Her next two films are classics. LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955) is the musical biography of famed torch singer Ruth Etting, whose involvement with gangster Moe “The Gimp” Snyder (James Cagney) shocked the nation. Alfred Hitchcock’s THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956) was a remake of the director’s 1934 film about an American couple abroad (Doris and James Stewart) embroiled in international intrigue and the kidnapping of their child. Both these films were hits, and Doris was now one of America’s top 10 box office draws (an honor she held ten times, including eight consecutive years, from 1959-1966).

Most fans remember her screen teamings with Rock Hudson in a series of ‘sex comedies’,beginning with 1959’s PILLOW TALK. This adult-oriented farce has Doris sharing a telephone party line with swinging playboy Rock, and the battle of the sexes that ensues. Tony Randall added to the fun as Rock’s pal, and the three reunited for 1961’s LOVER COME BACK, with Doris and Rock as rival Madison Ave ad execs. Last (and my favorite of the bunch) was 1964’s SEND ME NO FLOWERS, which has Rock as Doris’s hypochondriac hubby, who thinks he’s dying. The two stars remained lifelong friends, and Doris stood by Rock’s side as he was slowly slipping away due to complications from AIDS.

The times (and tastes) were a-changing during the 1960’s, and Doris moved to television, starring for 5 seasons on THE DORIS DAY SHOW. The sitcom went through numerous cast and setting changes during it’s run, never falling out of the top 40, but by this time Doris Day was symbolic of an earlier, more gentler era. She basically retired from show business, appearing in a few specials and talk show appearances, and hosted her own chat show, DORIS DAY’S BEST FRIENDS, on cable in the mid-80’s. Mostly, she was involved with her Doris Day Animal Foundation, and was an advocate to ‘reduce pain and suffering’ for animals worldwide. Doris Day’s passing today marks the end of an era, as Hollywood’s surviving Golden Age members are shrinking in numbers. It  may not be hip or cool to be a Doris Day fan, but if so, then I guess I’m not so hip and cool after all. God bless you, Miss Day, and thanks for the memories.

Rest in peace, Doris Day

1922-2019

 

 

Pulp Fiction #3: Batman At 80

Whether you call him the Caped Crusader or the Dark Knight, it’s hard to believe Batman has been in the public eye for eighty years! Making his debut in Detective Comics #27 (cover dated May 1939) in a story titled “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” by co-creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Batman has gone from mere comic book crimefighter to king of all media! Not bad for a poor little rich kid from Gotham City!

BATMAN BEGINS 

Artist Bob Kane (1915-1998) had been toiling in the nascent comic book field for three years when DC’s superhero character Superman took off like a rocket. Comic houses were scrambling to compete in this new genre of costumed cavorters, and Kane came up with some sketches of a masked vigilante, basing his design on Lee Falk’s Phantom, Douglas Fairbanks’ ZORRO, and the 1930 horror/mystery THE BAT WHISPERS. Kane asked writer Bill Finger (1914-1974) to look at them, and it was Finger who came up with some suggestions: Batman’s iconic cape and cowl, gauntlets, and dark color scheme. Though Kane got sole credit for decades in Batman’s creation, without Bill Finger, the character probably would’ve faded into obscurity like a thousand other masked men gracing the pages of early comics. Finger also wrote that first story, and contributed to much of the Batman Mythos, like secret identity Bruce Wayne.

The Bat-Man (as he was originally called in that first story) was heavily influenced by the pulps of the era, especially Walter Gibson’s The Shadow. He worked outside the law, and even carried a gun, but soon evolved into his own (bat) man. Batman’s utility belt was introduced in Detective #29, complete with chemical pellets, grappling hook, and sundry other Bat-devices added later on. The Batarang, Batman’s most well-known weapon, debuted in Detective #31, along with the Batplane. The Batmobile was at first just a red car, but as time went on morphed into the familiar batwinged vehicle we all know and love.

Batman’s origin wasn’t explained until Detective #33, as we learned millionaire Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed by a mugger when he was just a child. Young Bruce vowed to wage war on crime, and studied voraciously, learning everything he could about the criminal mind, becoming proficient in science, and immersing himself in the fighting arts. Batman proved so popular he was given his own comic in 1940, and featured in other books like World’s Finest (where he’d have a long-running team-up series with DC’s top superhero Superman beginning in 1954).

THE FRIENDS OF BATMAN

Commissioner Jim Gordon was featured in that first Bat-story in Detective #27, at first an antagonist to the cowled crusader, later becoming a trusted friend and ally. Gordon’s main way to communicate with Batman was through the Bat-Signal, introduced in Detective #60. His daughter Barbara later became Batgirl during the height of the camp craze (but we’ll get to that later).

Butler Alfred Pennyworth made his first appearance in Batman #16. Originally a chubby comic relief character, Alfred later lost weight and became Batman’s sounding board. Alfred was popular enough with readers to have his own four-page featurette in Batman Comics lasting thirteen issues, with the (then) bumbling butler solving crimes on his own.

Now we come to Robin The Boy Wonder, introduced to the world in Detective #38 as an eight year old, growing over the years into a teenager. Robin was the first comic book teenage sidekick, for better or worse, created to give kids someone to identify with, but I never identified with any of those those (as Mad Magazine once called them) “icky teenage sidekicks” – I’d rather be Batman! Be that as it may, young Dick Grayson debuted in 1940, a circus aerialist whose parents are murdered by gangsters. Bruce Wayne adopted Dick as his ‘ward’, leading Batman into some hot water with a certain psychologist – but like Batgirl, we’ll get to that later, too!

Robin was popular enough to be featured in his own solo adventures, in the pages of Star-Spangled Comics from 1947-52. The Boy Wonder was also one of the founding members of Teen Titans, along with other “icky teenage sidekicks” Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, and Aqualad. They made their debut in The Brave and the Bold #54 back in 1964, getting their own mag in ’65, and have been comic book staples ever since.

BATMAN’S ROGUE’S GALLERY

One of the best things about Batman has always been his enemies, the most colorful collection of costumed criminal creeps in comic book history! With apologies to all you Bane enthusiasts, here are Batman’s Top 10 Most Wanted:

THE JOKER (Batman #1, 1940) – The Dark Knight’s greatest adversary, this chalk-white, green-haired killer has been a thorn in Batman’s side from the get-go. According to legend, Joker was a crook called the Red Hood, chased by Batman into a chemical vat, causing his grotesque visage, and warping his mind as well. The killer became the Clown Prince of Crime after the arrival of the Comics Code, but returned to his murderous glory in the 70’s thanks to the Bat-team of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. Joker is one of the few super-villains to star in his own comic series, back in 1975.

CATWOMAN (Batman #1, 1940) – Selina Kyle was a slinky jewel thief whose relationship with the Caped Crusader has always been a bit complicated. Though she’s usually on the wrong side of the law, let’s just say she and Batman are more than just frenemies!

DR. HUGO STRANGE (Detective #36, 1940) – This maddest of mad scientists was Batman’s first recurring foe, until he was killed off in Detective #46, brought back to nefarious life in Detective Comics during the 70’s by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers in the story arc “Strange Apparitions”.

THE PENGUIN (Detective #58, 1941) – Oswald Cobblepot, that waddling master of foul play, used bird and umbrella motifs to commit his heinous crimes, always fouled by Batman. Penguin is certainly the most dapper of Batman villains!

THE SCARECROW (World’s Finest #3, 1941) – Psychologist Jonathan Crane, bullied as a child, used chemically-induced fear on the Dynamic Duo for two appearances in the Golden Age, returning with a vengeance during the 1960’s to become even more scarier!

THE RIDDLER (Detective #140, 1948) – Edward Nigma (E. Nigma, get it?) was a puzzle-obsessed crook compelled to leave cryptic clues at the scenes of his crimes. Riddler was really a minor figure in Batman’s world until Frank Gorshin brought him to life in the 60’s TV series (yes, we’ll get to that later, I promise!).

POISON IVY (Batman #181, 1966) – The beautiful botanist’s kiss put a spell on Batman, and like Catwoman, there’s more than meets the eye in their love-hate relationship. Poison Ivy emerged in full bloom in her debut, and it wasn’t until much later readers were given her full back story. In an interesting side note, Ivy’s look was originally based on pin-up girl Bettie Page!

MAN-BAT (Detective #400, 1971) – Dr. Kirk Langston, seeking a cure for his hearing loss, mutated into the hideous Man-Bat, terrorizing Gotham City. Code restrictions were loosened during the early 70’s, and horror-themed anti-heroes proliferated (ie, Spider-Man’s vampire foe Morbius). Like The Joker, Man-Bat also had a brief run in his own title.

RA’S AL GHUL (Batman #232, 1971) – This ancient eco-terrorist believes the world can achieve balance by wiping out most of humanity. Ra’s replenishes his life by frequenting The Lazarus Pit, and is leader of the League of Assassins, chief among them his daughter Talia, another villainess who’s more than fond of Batman! Speaking of more than friends….

THE SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT 

In 1954, eminent psychiatrist and world-class kook Dr. Fredric Wertham published an ominous tome titled Seduction of the Innocent, in which he claimed comic books were the leading cause of warping young American minds. Not just EC’s graphic horror and crime comics, but… well, I’ll let Dr. Wertham state his case:

“Sometimes Batman ends up in bed injured and young Robin is shown sitting next to him. At home they lead an idyllic life… Bruce Wayne is described as a ‘socialite’ and the official relationship is that Dick (Grayson) is Bruce’s ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases… Batman is sometimes shown in a dressing gown… It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.”

Well. Who knew?

Apparently nobody who read comics, but adults were up in arms about Wertham’s claims, which not only painted Batman and Robin as gay lovers, but Superman as a fascist and Wonder Woman a bondage-loving lesbian! Of course, newspaper editorials expressed their outrage over these four-color abominations corrupting American morals, and of course a Senate subcommittee was formed, led by headline-hunting presidential wannabe Estes Kefauver.

The comics industry, rather than succumb to governmental oversight, created its own Comics Code Authority, to which every publisher was to adhere. Among the many do’s and don’ts were no more use of the words horror or terror in their titles (effectively killing off EC Comics), all crime must be punished, respect for authority, no sexual perversion or abnormalities, no excessive violence, and no drawings of excessive female pulchritude. Or as Dean Wormer said in ANIMAL HOUSE, “No more fun of any kind!!!”.

Batman and his costumed cohorts (of which there were few, superheroes having gone out of vogue) were essentially deballed. The Dark Knight took on a much lighter tone, and the Dynamic Duo wren’t so dynamic anymore. Batwoman and Bat-Girl were introduced, just to prove Bruce and Dick weren’t sexual deviants after all. They were even given a pet pooch, Ace the Bat-Hound, who aided in their crimefighting efforts. Stories about inter-dimensional imp Bat-Mite were played for “laughs”, and all in all it was a terrible time to be a Bat-Fan.

ENTER JULIUS SCHWARTZ 

Batman was boring, so boring DC was seriously considering cancelling it’s line of Batman comics, until editor Julius Schwartz took over stewardship in 1964. Schwartz, a literary agent who’d once represented Ray Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft, entered the comics field as an editor in 1944. He helped usher in the Silver Age of Comics with revivals of The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Justice League of America, and now set his sights on returning Batman to his former glory. The “New Look” was initiated; gone were Batwoman, Bat-Mite, and all that silliness, and the writer/artist team of John Broome and Carmine Infantino brought back the detective aspect of Detective Comics. Batman was even given a little costume freshening, with the now-familiar yellow oval encircling the bat on his chest. Things worked out for the best, and Batman was Batman again… thank you, Julie Schwartz!

HOLY CAMP CRAZE! 

Batman first appeared onscreen in a 1943 serial starring Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft as the Dynamic Duo, battling the evil machinations of Japanese spy Dr. Daka (J. Carrol Naish). They wouldn’t return until 1949, this time with Robert Lowery and Johnny Duncan taking on criminal mastermind The Wizard (Leonard Penn). Batman and Robin wouldn’t be seen in live action form until 17 years later, this time on television.

BATMAN  debuted as a mid-season replacement on ABC January 12, 1966. To say it was an immediate hit is to put it mildly. This was the age of James Bond and THE MAN FROM UNCLE, of pop art and rock’n’roll, and the series’s style reflected the era. It was camp, it was hip, and it self-knowingly winked at its audience. Every kid in America with access to a TV set was talking about the show at school the next day (including Yours Truly!). Adam West and Burt Ward were perfect as the Dynamic Duo, helping to make BATMAN not only must-see TV for the small set, but getting teens and adults all a-buzz about it (remember kids, back in the day, there were only three TV networks!).

High camp was in, and every star in Hollywood wanted to get in on the act. Special Guest Villains were a prestige gig, and stars like Cesar Romero (Joker), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Julie Newmar (Catwoman) and the aforementioned Frank Gorshin (Riddler) were the Big 4 in Bad Guys. But there were plenty of others: Victor Buono (King Tut), Vincent Price (Egghead), David Wayne (Mad Hatter), Roddy McDowell (The Bookworm), Joan Collins (The Siren), Cliff Robertson and Dina Merrill (Shame and Calamity Jan). Mr. Freeze was played by three different actors: George Sanders , Otto Preminger, and Eli Wallach . Rock stars Chad & Jeremy and Paul Revere and the Raiders took part in the fun, and a cameo role on BATMAN became the in thing to do; Dick Clark, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Devine , Phyllis Diller, Jerry Lewis , George Raft, and Edward G. Robinson all popped up in brief bits.

Despite the initial outbreak of Batmania, the show lasted just two and a half seasons. Even bringing on Yvonne Craig as Batgirl failed to boost ratings, and the Bat-Craze of the mid-60’s came to an end just as fast as it began. But oh, what a glorious time to be a Bat-Fan it was!

THE LEGEND CONTINUES 

Batman soldiered on in comics, with memorable pairings of writer/artist teams like the previously mentioned O’Neil/Adams, Englehart/Rogers, and Bob Haney/Jim Aparo in the team-up comic The Brave and the Bold. Frank Miller’s 1986 miniseries “The Dark Knight Returns” restored Batman to his dark roots. In 1989, He returned to the screen in BATMAN, with Michael Keaton donning the cape and cowl, and Jack Nicholson a memorable Joker, and hasn’t left since (despite those two awful Joel Schumacher versions!). Batman continues to fascinate fans, whether in comic form, animated TV, live-action movies, or in his super-cool Lego incarnation. So happy 80th anniversary, Caped Crusader… here’s to 80 more! Now everybody Batusi!!:

You’re The Top!: Eleanor Powell Was BORN TO DANCE (MGM 1936)

Dancing masters like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and The Nicholas Brothers all agreed… Eleanor Powell was the tops! The 24-year-old star made a big splash in MGM’s BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936, and the studio quickly followed up with BORN TO DANCE, showcasing Eleanor’s tap-dancing prowess in a fun musical-comedy-romance featuring a cavalcade of stars, and an original score by Cole Porter. Yep, Leo the Lion was going big on this one!

The plot’s your typical Boy Meets Girl/Boy Loses Girl/Boy Wins Girl Back fluff, this time around concerning submarine sailors in port and the babes they chase after. Nora Paige (Eleanor) enters the Lonely Hearts Club (no, not Sgt. Pepper’s! ) looking for work as a hoofer (“You don’t use a fan?”, says wisecracking Jenny Saks, played by wisecracking Una Merkel ). Nora shows what she can do in the hot number “Rap, Tap On Wood”, a joyous dance number (that Eleanor makes look so easy!). Enter sailor Ted Barker (Jimmy Stewart… hey, what’s he doing here??) and it’s love at first sight, because that’s the way things work in these movies!

When Ted saves musical comedy star Lucy James’ (Virginia Bruce) pet peke Cheeky from drowning, the publicity machine gets cranking: “FAMOUS ACTRESS IN LOVE WITH GOB” read the headlines, and poor Nora is stood up while Ted dines with Lucy. Misunderstandings abound, as Nora tells Ted she’s a married woman with a child (actually Jenny’s kid, whose dad is Ted’s sailor pal ‘Gunny’) so he’ll leave her alone. Nora then gets a job as a Broadway understudy for… who else but Lucy! The temperamental Lucy gets Nora canned, Jenny spills the beans, and the whole thing ends up with a rousing, twelve-minute, patriotic, Depression-busting showstopper set on a battleship that becomes a dazzling showcase for the terpsichorean talents of Miss Powell.

The stars of “Born to Dance”: Frances Langford, Buddy Ebsen, Eleanor, Jimmy, Una Merkel, Sid Silvers

Eleanor has some marvelous numbers, and I especially enjoyed the athletic love dance she does in Central Park after Jimmy croons Porter’s classic “You’d Be So Easy To Love” to her – and far as Jimmy’s singing goes, let’s just say Bing Crosby had nothing to worry about! Curiously, while Stewart was allowed to sing, Eleanor’s vocals are all dubbed by Marjorie Lane (wife of actor Brian Donlevy). The number “Hey, Babe, Hey” is another stunner, performed by Eleanor, Jimmy, and fellow cast members Una, Sid Silvers (Gunny), Buddy Ebsen (Mushy), and Frances Langford (Peppy), each getting a chance to shine. And then there’s that finale “Swingin’ the Jinx Away”, where Eleanor is a whirling bundle of energy and shows just why her contemporaries considered her the best ever!

Beautiful Virginia Bruce

Virginia Bruce has never looked more beautiful to me, but then again I’ve only seen her in two other films – as the tortured victim in the Pre-Code KONGO and the title role in THE INVISIBLE WOMAN , where I hardly saw her at all! Miss Bruce gets to introduce the world to the Porter standard “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” here, and her voice is as lovely as the rest of her. Una Merkel gets all the good laugh lines; after seeing Ted with Lucy James in the papers, she quips, “That dame’s first name shoulda been Jesse”. And to her precocious daughter (Juanita Quigley): “Sally, you’re gonna drive me to stop drinking!”. Blustery Raymond Walburn is on hand as the blustery submarine captain, Helen Troy has a cute bit as a nasally telephone operator, and Reginald Gardiner plays a cop who comes across Ted and Nora in the park and breaks into a funny impersonation of famed conductor Leopold Stokowski.

Dependable Roy Del Ruth directed, and with this cast it must have been a dream job. I know I use the phrase “They don’t make ’em like this anymore” a little too frequently on this platform, but in this case the old cliché fits like a glove. And they sure don’t make stars like Eleanor Powell anymore, a multi- talented lady whose career was all-too-brief, but oh-so-memorable:

That’s Blaxploitation! 16: Pam Grier is SHEBA, BABY (AIP 1975)

The Blaxploitation Explosion was beginning to wind down by 1975, but genre superstar Pam Grier had a few more aces left up her silky sleeve. One was SHEBA, BABY, a film that doesn’t get much love, probably due to its lower-then-usual budget restrictions, but I found it a more than passable entry, mainly because of Pam’s charisma. She carries the movie on her sexy shoulders and makes it watchable, budget be damned!

In this outing, we have gangsters terrorizing local Louisville, KY businesses, including Andy Shayne. Enter daughter Sheba, a Chicago PI who comes home just in time to help. The cops refuse to get involved, so when Andy’s gunned down by hoods, Sheba’s on the case, and there’s no stopping her from getting revenge on those creepy criminals…

Pam is again one bad sista, decked out in stylish 70’s fashions as she pursues the villains with aplomb. In fact, SHEBA, BABY is a Totally 70’s Time Capsule, from the properly funky score by disco/jazzman Monk Higgins to Sheba’s fire engine red Mustang to a scene set at the local Louisville Burger Chef! Sheba is a Liberated Ass-Kicker who’s not afraid to take matters into her own hands, as we see when she tortures information out of the pimped-suited, jive-talking Walker (a funny Christopher Jay) in a car wash. Another effective scene has Sheba being chased through a carnival by bad guy Pilot (an over-the-top D’Urville Martin ) and his goons, turning the tables so the hunted becomes the hunter. The  climax finds Sheba a One-Woman Aquatic Assault Force, chasing down the smarmy, rich, white, narcissistic main villain Shark (Dick Merrifield) first on a jet ski, then in a speedboat, putting an end to the rotter with a spear gun!

Director/writer William Girdler was no Hitchcock or Welles, and he didn’t pretend to be. Instead, the Louisville native cranked out films that may have had low budgets, but were highly entertaining. His Kentucky-lensed proto-slasher THREE ON A MEATHOOK (1972) caught the eye of AIP honcho Samuel Z. Arkoff, who signed Girdler up for a series of horror films. ABBY (1974) was a Blaxploitation EXORCIST ripoff featuring Carol Speed and William (BLACULA) Marshall that did big box office, but his most famous flick is 1976’s GRIZZLY, a sort of JAWS-in-the-woods about a 15-foot prehistoric bear on a rampage, with Exploitation stalwarts Christopher George, Andrew Prine, and Richard Jaeckel among the cast members. Girdler only made nine films before his untimely death in a helicopter crash while scouting locations in the Philippines in 1978 at age 31, and though his filmography isn’t exactly Oscar caliber, genre fans may want to look deeper.

Pam Grier starred in one more AIP Blaxploitation flick (FRIDAY FOSTER) before her contract with the studio ended. She spent the next twenty or so years working in lesser roles until Quentin Tarantino reintroduced her to audiences in 1997’s JACKIE BROWN, reviving her career and putting her back in the spotlight, where she belongs. SHEBA, BABY isn’t her best action film, but it puts Pam front and center in a showcase for her talents. And Sheba’s got plenty of talent, Baby!

Sex And Drugs And BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (Allied Artists/Woolner Brothers 1964)


Welcome to the weirdly wonderful world of giallo, pioneered by the late Italian maestro Mario Bava . Though Bava’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (released stateside as EVIL EYE) is considered by connoisseurs the first, it was BLOOD AND BLACK LACE that defined the genre, with its comingling of crime drama, murder mystery, and horror elements coalescing into something truly unique. I hadn’t seen this film in decades before a recent rewatch, and was again dazzled by Bava’s technique. The film has proved to be highly influential in the decades-later slasher genre, yet has its roots set firmly in the past.

The opening sequence is a stunner, as we see the beautiful model Isabelle walking through a woodsy pathway on a dark and stormy night, stalked and then brutally murdered by a faceless, trenchcoated killer. From there, we’re introduced to the remaining cast, members of the haute couture fashion world run by Countess Christina Cuomo. Police Inspector Silvester is on the case, and he gets more than he bargained for, with all the players holding deep, dark secrets. Isabelle’s diary holds the key to the crime, and more gruesome murders follow, with suspects aplenty…

Bava gives us a compact but compelling shocker, and while rewatching, I couldn’t help but notice how much of the movie resembled the films of Val Lewton and 40’s film noir, with dashes of Hitchcock and Welles thrown in for good measure – only saturated with vibrant colors! Garish reds, blues, greens, and violets make the screen pop, aided by some brilliantly deep shadowplay. While Ubaldo Terzano is credited as cinematographer, Bava himself was no slouch in that department, having worked behind the camera since the early 1940’s, and did much of the work uncredited. Best known for his horror films (BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH, LISA AND THE DEVIL), he worked in every genre, and though he did his share of clunkers (DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS, for example), most of his resume contains movies well worth searching out.

Cameron Mitchell  and Eva Bartok are the most recognizable actors here to classic film fans. Mitchell had been around Hollywood since 1945; his best known roles were as Happy in DEATH OF A SALESMAN (a part he originated on Broadway), Lauren Bacall’s suitor in HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, and Jigger in CAROUSEL.  When his career dried up, Mitchell went to Europe to star in peplum films and Spaghetti Westerns before returning to Tinseltown for the TV series THE HIGH CHAPARRAL (1967-71). Bartok was familiar to American audiences for playing opposite Burt Lancaster in THE CRIMSON PIRATE, the early Hammer sci-fi SPACEWAYS, and Dean Martin’s first solo outing TEN THOUSAND BEDROOMS. Those well-versed in Italian cinema will be able to identify Mary Arden (A… FOR ASSASSIN), Franco Ressel (SABATA), Luciano Pigozzi (WEREWOLF IN A GIRL’S DORMATORY, CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD), and Enzo Cerusico (HERCULES, SAMSON, AND ULYSSES) among the cast members.

Most familiar to American audiences would be the voice of Paul Frees, who dubs most of the male cast (including Mitchell, for some strange reason). BLOOD AND BLACK LACE was considered controversial in its day, so much so that even American-International wouldn’t release it! It was up to the Woolner Brothers (ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN) to bring it across the Atlantic, releasing through Allied Artists. Critics of the time weren’t kind, but the movie has since taken on a cult status, in large part due to the artistry of Mario Bava. It’s pretty tame compared to today’s gore-fests, yet still manages to pack a punch, with one helluva triple twist conclusione.


And on another note… BLODD & BLACK LACE marks Cracked Rear Viewer’s 1,000th post! 

An Underrated Man: RIP John Llewellyn Moxey (1925-2019)

John Llewellyn Moxey’s “Horror Hotel” (1960)

You won’t find the name of John Llewellyn Moxey bandied about in conversations on great film directors. Truth is, though Moxey did make some features of note, he spent most of his career doing made-for-television movies, a genre that doesn’t get a lot of respect. John Llewellyn Moxey wasn’t a flashy director or an “auteur” by any stretch of the imagination, but he was more than capable of turning out a solid, worthwhile production, and some of his TV-Movie efforts are just as good (if not better) than what was currently playing at the local neighborhood theaters or multiplexes at the time. Moxey’s  passing on April 29 at age 94 was virtually ignored by the press, but his career deserves a retrospective, so Cracked Rear Viewer is proud to present a look back at the film and television work of director John Llewellyn Moxey.

Moxey was born in Argentina, his father the overseer of a coal and steel empire. He was a movie-mad youth, and after serving in the British infantry during WWII, found work as an editor and assistant director in England. He got the opportunity to direct a few TV shows before taking on his first, best, and  most famous feature, 1960’s HORROR HOTEL (also known as CITY OF THE DEAD). This now-classic tale is filled with shock after shock, and starred Christopher Lee in a tale of Satanism and witchcraft in New England. Moxey shows he knew how to handle a good horror story, building the tension slowly, and would become a genre specialist in the years to come.

The director followed with a string of low-budget British thrillers based (loosely, I might add) on the works of mystery writer Edgar Wallace: DEATH TRAP, RICOCHET, FACE OF A STRANGER, DOWNFALL, STRANGLER’S WEB; the films featured familiar actors like Maxine Audley, Patrick Magee, and Barbara Shelley. Also on tap was 1966’s PSYCHO-CIRCUS (retitled CIRCUS OF FEAR for American audiences by AIP), another Wallace crime drama with some horror elements. This British-German coproduction reunited Moxey with Christopher Lee, along with Klaus Kinski, Suzy Kendall, and Leo Genn. During this time period, Moxey worked in British television directing episodes of CORONATION STREET, Z-CARS, THE BARON, THE AVENGERS, and THE SAINT.

Moxey moved his base of operations to America in the mid-60’s, directing episodes of NYPD, JUDD FOR THE DEFENSE, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, NAME OF THE GAME, HAWAII 5-0, and THE MOD SQUAD. In 1969, the struggling ABC network took an old concept (the anthology series) and spun it on its ear with the ABC MOVIE OF THE WEEK. Budgeted at around $350,000 apiece and clocking in at 90 minutes (including commercials!), these were like the ‘B’ movies of the old studio days, featuring mainly faded stars of the past and up-and-coming actors in mysteries, romances, thriller, comedies, and even Westerns. Moxey’s first foray into the genre was THE HOUSE THAT WOULD NOT DIE, a haunted house chiller involving Revolutionary War-era ghosts terrorizing Barbara Stanwyck and her niece (Kitty Wynn) in Pennsylvania Amish country. Mr. Moxey had found his niche, and would become TV’s most prolific TV-Movie director. 1971 alone saw him do ESCAPE (Christopher George as an escape artist/private eye), THE LAST CHILD (a sci-fi drama dealing with overpopulation that featured the last acting work of Van Heflin ), A TASTE OF EVIL (psychological horror with Stanwyck, Barbara Parkins, and Roddy McDowell), and THE DEATH OF ME YET (a Cold War thriller with Doug McClure).

Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, “The Night Stalker” (1972)

The next season saw Moxey helming a true classic: 1972’s THE NIGHT STALKER. The Richard Matheson teleplay follows Darren McGavin’s down-on-his-luck reporter Carl Kolchak investigating a Las Vegas serial killer that turns out to be ancient vampire Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater). THE NIGHT STALKER was a huge hit, the highest rated TV Movie ever up to that time, and inspired a sequel (THE NIGHT STRANGLER, directed by producer Dan Curtis ) and a brief weekly series (KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER). This well-done little gem compares favorably to any horror/exploitation theatrical film of the day, and has become a cult favorite for horror buffs, thanks in large part to Moxey’s taut direction.

Alex Cord in “Genesis II” (1973)

More Moxey TV-Movies followed, including a pair of 1972 Westerns starring Clint Walker (HARDCASE, THE BOUNTY MAN). HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (’72) was a Christmas-themed shocker with Sally Field, Eleanor Parker, Julie Harris, Jessica Walter, and Walter Brennan; GENESIS II (1973) a pilot for a new Gene Roddenberry sci-fi series starring Alex Cord; A STRANGE AND DEADLY OCCURRENCE (1974) another haunted house chiller, this time with Robert Stack and Vera Miles; WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE? (’74), post-apocalyptic sci-fi with Peter Graves and Verna Bloom; CONSPIRACY OF TERROR (1975), a creepy Satanism-in-the-suburbs tale featuring Michael Constantine and Barbara Rhodes. Moxey was also busy doing episodic TV, like SHAFT, POLICE STORY, KUNG FU, and the pilot episode of CHARLIE’S ANGELS.

Deborah Raffin in “Nightmare in Badham County” (1976)

Two 1976 TV-Movie efforts are worth noting. NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY could have fit right in on a Southern Fried Exploitation double feature with MACON COUNTY LINE or JACKSON COUNTY JAIL. In this one, Deborah Raffin and Lynne Moody are travelling down south when they encounter sleazy sheriff Chuck Connors, who wants to write them more than a ticket, if you get my drift! They’re arrested on false charges and brought before the judge, who happens to be the sheriff’s cousin (Ralph Bellamy, no less!), and sent to a grueling labor camp, where they undergo the familiar harsh conditions and sexual harassment. Sure, it’s a TV knockoff, but extremely well handled by Moxey and his cast, which also features Tina Louise, Robert Reed, Della Reese, and Lana Wood, and is a personal Guilty Pleasure of mine!

“Smash-Up On Interstate 5” (1976)

SMASH-UP ON INTERSTATE 5 was the TV-Movie version of a disaster flick, done on a much smaller scale, concerning a 39 car pile-up on a California highway that results in many injuries and deaths. The movie follows a select few who’ll be involved on the fateful day, and like its big screen brethren, it features an all-star cast (though again, on a much smaller scale): Robert Conrad, Buddy Ebsen, Herb Edelman, Scott Jacoby, Sue Lyon, Vera Miles, Donna Mills, David Nelson, Harriet Nelson, and Terry Moore (with an early role for young Tommy Lee Jones as a traffic cop on the scene).

Sally Struthers and Dennis Weaver in 1977’s “Intimate Strangers”

Into the late 70’s and 1980’s, Moxey’s output slowed down, but there are a few worth mentioning. INTIMATE STRANGERS (1977) was one of the first films (TV or otherwise) to tackle the issue of domestic violence, with Dennis Weaver as the rage-oholic, Sally Struthers his battered wife, and Tyne Daly in an Emmy-nominated performance as her supportive friend. SANCTUARY OF FEAR (1979) was a pilot for a mystery series featuring Barnard Hughes as G.K. Chesterton’s priest/sleuth Father Brown. THE VIOLATION OF SARAH MCDAVID (1981) was another tough drama ripped from the headlines, as inner city teacher Patty Duke is brutally beaten and raped, and battles the system while the higher-ups (led by Ned Beatty) create a cover-up. DEADLY DECEPTION (1987) won an Edgar Award for Best TV Mystery Teleplay (by Gordon Colter), about a reporter (Lisa Eilbacher) aiding a father (Matt Salinger) locate his long missing and presumed dead son. LADY MOBSTER (1988) was an over-the-top melodrama with Soap Opera Queen Susan Lucci taking on the Mafia – and winning!

After directing 8 episodes of MAGNUM PI and 18 of MURDER SHE WROTE, John Llewellyn Moxey retired from filmmaking. His body of work features some outstanding efforts, and as a director he had a high batting average indeed. He’ll be remembered for his home runs (HORROR HOTEL, THE NIGHT STALKER), but the rest of his filmography features some solid doubles and triples, and though the mainstream press hasn’t paid much attention to his passing, Cracked Rear Viewer fondly salutes you, Mr. Moxey. Job well done.

RIP John Llewellyn Moxey (1925-2019)