Make ‘Em Laugh: RIP Tim Conway

If comedy is a gift, then Tim Conway was America’s Santa Claus, delivering bags full of laughter directly into our homes for over fifty years. The cherubic Conway, who died May 14 at age 85, was mainly known for his television work, but also starred in films, on stage, and in the home video field, making him a true Renaissance Man of Comedy.

Tim and Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson

Young Tim got his start in his hometown of Cleveland, not exactly a hotbed of humor (with apologies to Jim Backus, Kaye Ballard, and British transplant Bob Hope ), writing and appearing in skits with local TV personality Ernie Anderson during breaks in a morning movie show. Anderson himself would later gain fame as a horror host (Cleveland’s Ghoulardi) and  a network announcer, ‘The Voice of ABC’ (“Tonight on The Loooo-ve Boat….”).

Comic actress Rose Marie, on a cross-country tour promoting THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, saw some clips of Tim and Ernie’s skits and helped him land a spot on Steve Allen’s national program. This led to Conway being cast as the bumbling, naive Ensign Charles Parker on a new sitcom titled MCHALE’S NAVY,  set during WWII and starring Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine as the conniving Lt. Cmdr. Quenton McHale. Parker’s inept ensign was a constant thorn in the side of stuffy Capt. Binghamton (‘Old Leadbottom’), played to perfection by the nasal-voiced Joe Flynn, who was always trying to find a way to rid himself of McHale and his crew of reprobates. But it was Conway who was the comic glue holding things together during the series four-year run, and his slapstick antics delighted both kids and adults out there in TV land.

The series proved popular enough to inspire two feature films, the first (1964’s MCHALE’S NAVY) featuring the entire cast. 1965’s MCHALE’S NAVY JOINS THE AIR FORCE was made without Borgnine (who was busy filming FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX), giving Conway the chance to showcase his comedy talents. This one finds Ensign Parker embroiled in a case of mistaken identity with an Air Force lieutenant (Ted Bessel), and bumbling his way into becoming a war hero! Conway and Flynn made a great comic duo, but no more MCHALE’S films were made.

“Rango” (1967) with Norman Alden & Guy Marks

Tim tried and failed several times at starring in his own sitcom (RANGO, THE TIM CONWAY SHOW, ACE CRAWFORD PRIVATE EYE), but was in demand as a guest star on other programs. Most notoriously, he hosted the first (and as it turned out, only) episode of TURN-ON , a sketch show ripped off from the then-popular ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN that was so offensive, it was immediately cancelled after the first airing. Tim’s hometown of Cleveland didn’t even wait that long – station WEWS pulled the plug before the show was halfway through! Conway took his sitcom failures with good humor, though; his license plate read “13 WKS” (which was how long most of them lasted!).

“The Apple Dumpling Gang” (1975)

It didn’t look like Tim would ever be more than a second banana, until Disney came a-calling. His first for the studio was 1973’s THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHLETE, with the late Jan-Michael Vincent as a jungle boy who brings sports success to a failing college program. Tim’s next Disney movie was fortuitous indeed; 1975’s THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG paired him with another sitcom refugee, Don Knotts , as a pair of inept Wild West outlaws mixed up with a gold heist and a trio of cute kids. Critics trashed it, but families turned out in droves, and THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG was the tenth-highest grossing film released that year, spawning a sequel, 1979’s THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG RIDES AGAIN.

Tim & Don in “The Private Eyes” (1980)

Tim and Don teamed in a pair of comedies that Conway co-wrote: THE PRIZE FIGHTER (1979) and THE PRIVATE EYES (1980). The former has Tim as a broken down boxer and Don his manager, the latter finds the duo as slapstick sleuths on the loose in London. Both give Tim and Don plenty of opportunities to strut their silly schtick, and were box office hits for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. They would team one more time in a cameo as goofy Highway Patrolmen in CANNONBALL RUN II, and we fans wish they would’ve made more movie madness together!

Mrs. Wiggins & Mr. Tudball

Tim had been making guest appearances on Carol Burnett’s weekly variety show since it began in 1967, and became part of the regular ensemble in 1975. He was given free reign to create crazy characters and out-there comic skits, and really began to shine. His pairings on the show with fellow funnyman Harvey Korman  are TV classics,  as Tim never failed to break Harvey up with his insane antics and ad-libs. A case in point is the classic skit “The Dentist”, which you can find here . His shuffling, stumbling World’s Oldest Man was another comedic highlight, as was his Swedish boss Mr. Tudball, constantly frustrated with blonde bimbo secretary Mrs. Wiggins (Carol in a blonde wig and tight dress). He also joined in on ‘The Family’ sketches (which later morphed into the sitcom MAMA’S FAMILY) as Korman’s bungling employee Mickey, and this outtake shows why Tim was the Comic’s Comic:

Life after Carol found Tim hitting the lucrative home video market with DORF ON GOLF (1987) as a so-called sports expert. Dorf talked in the same accent as Mr. Tudball, but was only about four feet tall (Tim achieved this by effect by sticking his knees in a pair of shoes). More Dorf videos ensued, each as popular with home audiences as the next.

Tim made new fans later in his career as the voice of Barnacle Boy, sidekick to superhero Mermaid Man (voiced by Tim’s old buddy Ernest Borgnine) on the Nickelodeon cartoon show SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS. Tim Conway delighted TV and movie lovers for generations, and he was rewarded for his efforts with six Emmys. Inventive, fertile comedy minds like his don’t come around too often, but fortunately for us, we can still enjoy his peculiar brand of silliness for generations to come. Thanks for all the laughter, Tim, and rest in peace.

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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

 

 

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)

RIP Larry Cohen: Maniacal Movie Maverick

While everyone on TV and social media are babbling about The Mueller Report, I came across some bigger news: Larry Cohen has passed away at age 77. You can debate politics all you want, but you can’t debate the fact that Cohen was a true artist, despite working within Exploitation genres and dealing with budgetary limitations throughout most of his career. Cohen’s unique vision was his own, and he made some truly great films – some turkeys too, granted, but his overall batting average was high indeed.

I’ve written extensively on this blog about Cohen’s film and television work because I love his style. Like a cinematic Rumpelstiltskin, he frequently turned straw into gold. Born in Manhattan in 1941, Larry Cohen was obsessed with B-movies and hard-boiled fiction, and after graduating from CCNY with a degree in film studies, he got a job as a page at NBC. Cohen worked his way into writing, and had scripts produced for series  like SURFSIDE 6, CHECKMATE, THE DEFENDERS, THE FUGITIVE, and KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATER before getting the green light on a show he created, BRANDED.

The Invaders (1967-68)

From there, Cohen created the TV spy drama BLUE LIGHT, the noirish thriller CORONET BLUE, the youth-oriented Western CUSTER, and his small screen magnum opus, the paranoiac sci-fi series THE INVADERS. I wrote a post on the Small Screen Adventures of Larry Cohen, which you can peruse by clicking this link . Cohen then turned his attention to the Big Screen, but didn’t abandon TV completely, writing the mystery TV Movie IN BROAD DAYLIGHT (starring Richard Boone), three episodes of COLUMBO, and (much later) an episode of NYPD BLUE.

Bone (1972)

Cohen’s first film screenplay was 1967’s RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT 7, a sequel to John Sturges’ 1960 classic. Yul Brynner was actually the only one of the originals who “returned”, joined by Robert Fuller and Warren Oates in this enjoyable Western. He wrote a pair of low-budget shockers (SCREAM BABY SCREAM and DADDY’S GONE A-HUNTING) and another oater (the Spaghetti-influenced EL CONDOR with Jim Brown and Lee Van Cleef) before getting his shot in the director’s chair with 1972’s BONE, a disturbing black comedy about a home invasion featuring Yaphet Kotto, Joyce Van Patten, and Andrew Duggan (who’d make several later appearances for Cohen). BONE wasn’t a box office hit, but it got Larry noticed by someone who would have a big influence on his career – AIP’s Samuel Z. Arkoff.

Black Caesar (1973)

At American-International, Cohen was given free rein to bring his demented vision to the screen. The Blaxpolitationer BLACK CAESAR , with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson as Harlem gangster Tommy Gibbs and a score by “Godfather of Soul” James Brown, was a smash, and Arkoff pressed for an immediate sequel. Having no story written whatsoever, Cohen and his crew virtually improvised HELL UP IN HARLEM , a slam-bang actioner that was another slam-bang hit!

It’s Alive! (1974)

Cohen’s best-known picture is undoubtedly IT’S ALIVE! , an out-and-out horror movie about a killer mutant baby that became a drive-in sensation! IT’S ALIVE! finds Larry coming into his own; a totally preposterous premise, deranged special effects, tongue firmly in cheek, and a dash of social commentary thrown in to boot! IT’S ALIVE! spawned a pair of sequels, including the completely over-the-top IT’S ALIVE III: ISLAND OF THE ALIVE, and a 2009 remake which Cohen did not direct and completely disowned.

God Told Me To (1976)

Speaking of over-the-top, 1976’s GOD TOLD ME TO is my absolute favorite Larry Cohen film, a totally twisted sci-fi saga of mass murders taking place in New York, aliens who impregnate humans, and the nature of God himself. This one finds Tony LoBianco as a cop who learns more about his past than he ever wanted to discover and Richard Lynch as… well, you just have to watch this weirdly insane little gem to find out! It’s Cohen at his bizarre best, in my opinion, and well worth seeking out for yourselves.

The Stuff (1985)

Next up was Q, Cohen’s take on classic monster movies, concerning the Aztec god-beast Quetzalcoatl, with an off-the-wall performance by Michael Moriarty as a cheap crook who discovers the beast on top of a New York skyscraper and holds the city for ransom. Candy Clark, David Carradine, and Richard “SHAFT” Rountree also take part in the madness. After SPECIAL EFFECTS, a behind-the-scenes thriller with Eric Bogosian as a demented director, Cohen came up with THE STUFF, a cult classic about some sentient goo marketed as ice cream to an unsuspecting public. Moriarty starred again, with Andrea Marcovicci and Paul Sorvino in support.

Original Gangstas (1996)

More movie madness followed: RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT, a sequel to the Stephen King novel with Moriarty and cult director Sam Fuller; DEADLY ILLUSION, an action thriller with Billy Dee Williams and Vanity; WICKED STEPMOTHER, a not quite successful film taken out of Cohen’s hands and featuring Bette Davis’ last role; THE AMBULANCE, an action comedy with Eric Roberts. Cohen’s last great movie as director was ORIGINAL GANGSTAS, returning to his Blaxploitation roots and costarring genre vets Williamson, Rountree, Pam Grier, Ron O’Neal , and Jim Brown.

Cohen kept writing, creating the zombie/slasher flick MANIAC COP and its sequels (all directed by William Lustig), the neo-noir PHONE BOOTH with Colin Farrell, the thriller CELLULAR starring Chris Evans and Jason Statham, and the “torture porn” CAPTVITY with Elisha Cuthbert. Larry Cohen never ran out of ideas, but unfortunately he did run out of time. He leaves a distinctive body of work behind, a truly original, maniacal movie maverick with a singular vision and an independent streak. He made his movies his way, and we can all be thankful for that. We salute you, sir, and we’ll miss ya.

Rest in peace Larry Cohen
(1941-2019)
Thanks for the memories

 

Familiar Faces #10: Harold Sakata, Man of Many Hats!

Most of you know burly Harold Sakata for his role as the steel-hat-flinging Oddjob in GOLDFINGER , the third movie in the James Bond franchise. But Mr. Sakata did much more than that one iconic part. In fact, you could say that Harold Sakata wore many hats during his colorful career, and not just on the Silver Screen!

He wasn’t always known as Harold “Oddjob” Sakata, his given name being Toshiyuki Sakata. Born in Holualoa, Hawaii in 1920, Harold was raised in a large family – six brothers and four sisters! Believe it of not, as a teen he was a scrawny 113 pounds, until he took up weightlifting at age 18. Harold bulked right up, and after a stint in the Army during WWII, he became a top powerlifter, so good he made the U.S Weightlifting team at the 1948 Summer Olympic Games in London, where he won the silver medal in the light-heavyweight class by pressing 410 kg, which is more than 903 lbs! Harold also competed in bodybuilding contests, and once won the Mr. Hawaii title.

He began training to become a professional wrestler, and made his ring debut as a “good guy” in 1950. But with his 20″ neck, 50″ chest, and fearsome scowl, Harold reinvented himself as the dastardly, rule-breaking villain ‘Tosh Togo’, billed as the brother of another wrestling heel, The Great Togo. Together the pernicious pair travelled the world, winning numerous tag-team championships along the way. ‘Tosh’ also captured singles gold in Los Angeles, Texas, Puerto Rico, and his native Hawaii. During a grappling tour of Great Britain, film producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli spotted him on the telly, and thought the massive wrestler would make a great henchman in their latest James Bond epic, GOLDFINGER.

In my 2017 review, I called GOLDFINGER “the ultimate James Bond movie”, and Sakata plays a large part in making it so. He had no acting experience, but his career as a wrestling villain gave him more than enough training to play the right-hand man of Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger – with no dialog, all he had to do was look menacing! It took Harold about five months to get that hat-flinging trick down pat before he finally mastered it. His “electrifying” battle with Sean Connery’s 007 is one of the series’ best, and if he had never made another movie after GOLDFINGER, his place in the James Bond Rogue’s Gallery would forever be assured.

But GOLDFINGER was just the beginning of Harold Sakata’s next career, and after roles in a trio of European movies (the German crime thriller 4 SCHLUSSER, the Spanish spy spoof BALERIC CAPER, and the French comedy SEVENTEENTH HEAVEN), he appeared in the all-star TV film THE POPPY IS ALSO A FLOWER, produced under the aegis of the United Nations, and featuring (among others) Stephen Boyd, Yul Brynner, Angie Dickinson , Rita Hayworth , Marcello Mastroianni, Gilbert Roland, Omar Sharif, and Eli Wallach in a tale about a team of international narcs out to stop the heroin pipeline in the Middle East. The movie was “based on” a story by none other than 007 creator Ian Fleming, and directed by Bond vet Terence Young.

With Rory Calhoun on an episode of “Gilligan’s Island”

Harold was next cast as crime boss Big Buddha in the sci-fi/spy flick DIMENSION 5, a low-budget effort starring Jeffrey Hunter and France Nuyen. He was no stranger to episodic TV either, appearing on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND in a spoof of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME as the henchman of big-game hunter Rory Calhoun, who’s out to hunt down a man – namely Gilligan! Around this time he also showed up on variety shows like THE JERRY LEWIS SHOW and ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN. After appearing in the all-star bomb THE PHYNX , Sakata landed a regular role on SARGE, starring Oscar winner George Kennedy as a cop-turned-priest, with Harold as Sarge’s cook at the mission who just happens to be a martial arts expert. The series lasted but one season.

In William Grefe’s “Impulse” (1974)

Yet Harold pressed on, landing a part in Florida filmmaker William Grefe’s 1974 horror movie IMPULSE, starring William Shatner as a serial killer of rich widows! He also played in another Grefe epic, 1976’s MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH, one of the first of the Spielberg rip-offs. He kept active on television too, guest starring on HAWAII 5-0, THE BLUE KNIGHT (with old pal Kennedy), QUINCY, POLICE WOMAN, and THE ROCKFORD FILES. He was also noted for starring in a series of TV commercials for Vicks Formula 44 Cough Syrup, dressed in his ‘Oddjob” get-up, as a man whose coughing fits cause destruction before he takes his dose:

Sakata parodied his TV ads on an episode of Johnny Carson’s TONIGHT SHOW, with hilarious results!:

The remainder of his film resume includes turkeys such as THE HAPPY HOOKER GOES TO WASHINGTON, DEATH DIMENSION ( an Al Adamson film featuring Jim ‘BLACK BELT JONES’ Kelly and ex-Bond George Lazenby !), GOIN’ COCONUTS (starring Donny & Marie Osmond!), and a recurring role on  the short-lived horror comedy sitcom HIGHCLIFFE MANOR. Harold Sakata died of liver cancer on July 29, 1982 in a Honolulu hospital, and though his film career wasn’t really very memorable, the man himself certainly was. He did indeed wear many hats during his colorful lifetime, from Olympic strongman to pro wrestler to iconic James Bond villain to TV pitchman, and Harold Sakata is still fondly remembered by his legions of fans – including Yours Truly!

Spot more “Familiar Faces” on Cracked Rear Viewer:

Hank Worden  – Martin Kosleck – Esther Howard – Rainbeaux Smith – Samuel S. Hinds  – Jack Norton – Gordon Jones – Angelique Pettyjohn – Ethelreda Leopold

RIP 20th Century-Fox (1935-2019)

The failing Fox Film Corporation merged with Darryl F. Zanuck’s independent 20th Century Pictures in 1935, and quickly joined the ranks of the major studios of the day (MGM, Paramount, Warners, Universal, Columbia). Over the decades, the trumpet blows sounding the logo for 20th Century-Fox  became familiar to film fans around the world. Now, the studio has been purchased outright by The Walt Disney Company, and will be just another subsidiary to the House The Mouse Built. In tribute to 20th Century-Fox, Cracked Rear Viewer presents a small but glittering gallery of stars and films from the vault of that magnificent movie making machine, 20th Century-Fox:

20th Century-Fox’s first release was the bizarre drama “Dante’s Inferno” starring Spencer Tracy
Sweet little Shirley Temple was Fox’s biggest star of the 1930’s
Warner Oland as sleuth Charlie Chan was popular with audiences and critics alike (here with Boris Karloff in “Charlie Chan at the Opera”)
Sonja Henie skated her way into filmgoer’s hearts in musicals like “One in a Million”
If one Oriental sleuth is good, two is better: Peter Lorre starred in a series of mysteries as Mr. Moto
Dshing Tyrone Power swashbuckled his way through movies like “The Mark of Zorro”
Director John Ford made many of his classics at 20th Century-Fox, such as “The Grapes of Wrath”
Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley” was the studio’s first Best Picture Oscar winner
Contract player Betty Grable was the Most Popular Pin-Up Girl of WWII
The studio was known for film noir classics like Otto Preminger’s “Laura”
Richard Widmark freaked audiences out as giggling psycho Tommy Udo in “Kiss of Death”
Arch, sarcastic Clifton Webb starred in a popular series of comedies as Mr. Belvedere
‘Fasten your seatbelts, it’s gonna be a bumpy night’: Bette Davis in the Oscar-winning “All About Eve”
Marilyn Monroe wowed ’em as Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”
Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte sizzled the screen in “Carmen Jones”
Jayne Mansfield rocked the film world in Frank Tashlin’s “The Girl Can’t Help It”
Ed Wynn, Millie Perkins, and Richard Beymer starred in the dramatic true story “The Diary of Anne Frank”
Elvis Presley got a chance to display his acting talent in director Don Siegal’s “Flaming Star”
Comedian Jackie Gleason had a rare dramatic turn opposite Paul Newman in “The Hustler”
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor began their torrid affair on the set of “Cleopatra”; the film itself nearly sunk the studio
“The hills are alive, with the sound of” Julie Andrews singing in “The Sound of Music”
Holy Camp Craze! Fox brought Burt Ward and Adam West to the big screen in 1966’s “Batman”
‘Take your filthy paws off me, you damned dirty ape”: Charlton Heston monkeyed around in the sci-fi classic “Planet of the Apes”
“Who are those guys?”: Why, they’re Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”
George C. Scott won (and refused) the Oscar for the 1970 biopic “Patton”
“Did you ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?”: Gene Hackman as tough cop Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection”
An all-star cast had their world turned upside down in Irwin Allen’s disaster flick “The Poseidon Adventure”
‘May the Force Be with You”: battle of the light sabres from 1977’s “Star Wars”