Confessions of a TV Addict #9: The Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen Pt. 2

Last week, I did an overview of producer Irwin Allen’s first two sci-fi shows, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and LOST IN SPACE. Today, Allen’s final shows in the quartet, THE TIME TUNNEL and LAND OF THE GIANTS! 

Where Allen’s LOST IN SPACE was juvenile fantasy, his next series THE TIME TUNNEL (ABC, 1966-67) took a more serious tone. Scientists Dr. Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert ) and Dr. Tony Newman (James Darren), working on the top-secret government Project Tic-Toc, become “lost in the swirling maze of past and future ages… (and) tumble helplessly toward a new fantastic adventure, somewhere along the infinite corridors of time” (at least according to the opening narration!). Project director Lt. Gen. Kirk (Whit Bissell ), ‘electrobiologist’ Dr. Ann McGregor (Lee Meriwether), and electronic genius Dr. Raymond Swain (John Zaremba) track the pair through those “infinite corridors” and try to assist in navigating them home safely.

The handsome Colbert was the more level-headed of the two, but teen idol James Darren, with his cool green turtleneck sweater, was the one that set young audience’s hearts a-flutter. Darren, who played Moondoggie in the GIDGET films and scored a few hit records in the early 60’s (“Goodbye, Cruel World”, “Her Royal Majesty”), was the hot-head who got them trapped in time in the first place, impulsively trying to prove to a visiting senator (guest star Gary Merrill) the project was successful in the series’ first episode. While Colbert never quite made star status (though he later had a long run on the soap THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS), Darren went on to a long career, appearing in Jess Franco’s erotic nightmare VENUS IN FURS, as Jim Corrigan opposite William Shatner’s TJ HOOKER, the hologram lounge singer Vic Fontaine on STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE, and as a director in episodic TV.

Doug and Tony’s travels through time took them to famous dates in history like the sinking of the Titanic (with guest Michael Rennie as the ship’s captain), Pearl Harbor, the War of 1812 (Carroll O’Connor plays a dual role), Custer’s Last Stand, the French Revolution, the battle of the Alamo (DALLAS patriarch Jim Davis as Jim Bowie), an encounter with Billy the Kid (Robert Walker Jr), and plenty of stock footage from the 20th Century-Fox vaults. They also moved forward in time on a mission to Mars, the year 8433, and smack dab in then middle of the great alien invasion of 1978! THE TIME TUNNEL was a hit, and scheduled for a second season, until a regime change at ABC caused it to be cancelled in favor of THE LEGEND OF CUSTER – a series that barely made it through half a season!

Allen bounced back with LAND OF THE GIANTS (ABC, 1968-70), a fantasy adventure that found the sub-orbital spacecraft Spindrift caught in a space warp and transported to a planet where everything is twelve times the size of Earth! The stranded crew featured Gary Conway (of I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN fame) as Captain Steve Burton, with Don Matheson, Deanna Lund, Heather Young, and Don Marshall, the first black male actor to costar in a sci-fi series. Also on board were Stefan Arngrim as young Barry (with his faithful canine companion Chipper), and “Special Guest Star” Kurt Kasznar as on the lam bank robber Alexander Fitzhugh. Kasznar’s character was modeled somewhat on Jonathan Harris’s Dr. Smith of LOST IN SPACE, right down to the relationship between Fitzhugh and Barry.

This was Allen’s most expensive series, but there was still lots of stock footage between all those giant-sized props. The Liliputian members of the Spindrift encountered perils around every corner, as well as a slew of Familiar Faces: Jack Albertson, Richard Anderson , Michael Ansara, John Carradine , Broderick Crawford , Bruce Dern , Sam Elliott, Paul Fix, Ronny Howard , John Marley, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, and William Schallert . Robert Colbert and Lee Meriwether from THE TIME TUNNEL showed up in different episodes (and as different characters), as did Jonathan Harris. Kevin Hagen appeared from time to time as Inspector Kobick of the Special Investigations Department, hunting down our pint-sized heroes.

After LAND OF THE GIANTS was cancelled, Irwin Allen returned to the big screen and became The Master of Disaster Movies , but for six years he ruled the airwaves with his sci-fi/fantasy shows. Since then, LOST IN SPACE has been rebooted as a feature film and a Netflix series, but neither captures the charm of Allen’s goofy original. All his 60’s sci-fi series are sterling examples of what can be accomplished with a small TV budget, solid acting, and a whole lot of chutzpah!

More CONFESSIONS OF A TV ADDICT:

It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane.. No, It’s CAPTAIN NICE  – A Fan’s Appreciation of Adam West  – The Marvel Super Heroes Have Arrived!  – How TURN-ON Got Turned-Off  – Aaron Ruben, Man Behind the Laughter  – Justin Wilson “Guar-On-Tees” You’ll Have a Happy Mardi Gras!  – TJ HOOKER and His Amazing Hair Helmet!  – The Amazing Sci-Fi Worlds of Irwin Allen Pt. 1

 

From the VHS Vault: The Three Stooges in HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL (Columbia 1959)

My DirecTV receiver decided to fry itself the other day. A new one won’t be shipped for another five days – no TCM, no DVR’d movies, no Red Sox, no nothin’! What’s a film blogger to do? Since my DVD player isn’t working either, I thought I’d reach into my collection of VHS tapes and see what I could come up with for viewing. Hmm, let’s see… wait a sec, what’s this? An unopened copy of HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL, the Three Stooges  comeback starring feature! Good Lord, I haven’t seen this movie in years! The Stooges it is!

A little background first: after making shorts for Columbia since 1934, the studio dumped the trio when their contract ended in 1957. Television had killed the short subject market, and the boys were thrown out on their collective keisters. Ironically, it was television that revived their career when the Stooges shorts were released to TV a year later, and a whole new generation fell in love with their physical slapstick brand of humor. Moe Howard and Larry Fine recruited burlesque comic Joe DeRita (who had his own series of Columbia shorts in the 40’s) to replace Joe Besser. DeRita was a better fit than Besser anyway, and his resemblance to Curly Howard (always the most popular Stooge) led to him being dubbed Curly Joe. The reconfigured Stooges toured successfully, and Columbia came crawling back to star them in a feature film titled HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL.

HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL isn’t vintage Stooges, but it’s not half bad, either. The Stooges are bumbling janitors at the “National Space Foundation” who are accidentally locked in a rocket ship and blast-off for Venus, encountering a giant fire-breathing tarantula, a talking unicorn, and a robot super-computer who shrinks them to mouse-size and makes android clones of them. They return to Earth as heroes, are given a ticker-tape parade and a gala celebration, a distinguished affair that devolves into a slap-happy donnybrook. The whole thing gives them an excuse to trot some of their old schtick like the “plumbing” gag, the “chased through multiple doors” gag, and the “couch-spring-stuck-in-the-rear-end” gag. They even get to exercise their tonsils, breaking into song about halfway through, a ditty called… what else, “Have Rocket, Will Travel”!

The Stooges are a bit more kinder and gentler here, older but definitely not wiser. The familiar eye pokes, hair-pulling, and face slapping are still around, as are the familiar sound effects, and Moe still hurls insults at his partners (at one point calling Curly Joe “ya baby hippopotamus”). Robert Colbert (later of TV’s THE TIME TUNNEL) and Anna-Lisa provide the romance, while veteran character actor Jerome Cowan takes his lumps as the Stooges’ foil, head of the space foundation. HAVE ROCKET, WILL TRAVEL was aimed directly at their new juvenile audience and is ultra low-budget, with cheezy special effects and cardboard sets, but fans of the boys will enjoy revisiting their antics. I know I sure did!