Celebrate Patriots’ Day with JOHNNY TREMAIN (Walt Disney 1957)

Here in Massachusetts, every third Monday in April is designated Patriots’ Day, a state holiday commemorating the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord which gave birth to the American Revolutionary War. The annual Boston Marathon is run on this day, as well as an 11:00AM Boston Red Sox game, so it’s a pretty big deal in this neck of the woods. Those of you in other parts of the country can celebrate by watching JOHNNY TREMAIN, Walt Disney’s film about a young boy living in those Colonial times that led up to the birth of “a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”.

Based on the 1943 Newbery Award-winning YA novel by Esther Forbes, the film tells the story of the Revolution through the eyes of young Johnny Tremain (Hal Stalmaster), a teen apprenticed to silversmith Mr. Lapham (crusty Will Wright ), who has a cute daughter Priscilla (Luana Patten). When the aristocratic merchant Jonathan Lyte (eloquent but arrogant Sebastian Cabot ) brings in his silver tea-pot demanding a rush job, Johnny shares a secret with Cilla: his christening cup, given to him by his late mother, bears the Lyte family crest. When Johnny diligently works on the pot during the Sabbath (how blasphemous!), his hand is burned, permanently damaging it and his apprenticeship in the process!

Unable to find work because of his injury, Johnny goes to Lyte for help, and instead is accused of stealing the christening cup and arrested! He’s put on trial, and defended by Josiah Quincy (Whit Bissell ), a leader in the secret “Sons of Liberty” society. Cilla’s testimony sets Johnny free, and he’s recruited by the Sons as a messenger, playing an important part in the Boston Tea Party, then again by delivering the famous message to the church sexton (“Two if by sea”) that triggers Paul Revere’s midnight ride, leading up to the Battle at Lexington Green and “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World”!

Along the way, Johnny meets all the important figures in the Revolution: Revere, Quincy, James Otis, Samuel Adams, Dr. Joseph Warren. The film was  directed by Robert Stevenson , his first of a number of Disney classics: OLD YELLER, MARY POPPINS, THE LOVE BUG, and many more. It’s a stirring saga that manages to both educate and entertain, and features the rousing song “The Sons of Liberty” after the Tea Party incident, with the rebels hanging 13 lanterns on the tree, representing the Original 13 Colonies:

        The cast includes Richard Beymer as Johnny’s pal Rab, Virginia Christine as Mrs. Lapham, Walter Sande as Paul Revere, Jeff York as James Otis (who gives an impassioned speech on fighting tyranny at the Sons’ secret meeting), Walter Coy, Cyril Delevanti, Gavin Gordon, Dabbs Greer , and Lumsden Hare. So today would be the perfect day to watch JOHNNY TREMAIN and celebrate liberty and freedom; as for me, I watched it last week, and since the Red Sox game has been cancelled due to our crummy New England weather, I think I’ll start my day by watching yet another movie! Happy Patriots’ Day, one and all!

BTW, this year Patriots’ Day happens to fall on another celebration – my birthday!!

Halloween TV Havoc!: GHOST STORY “Elegy for a Vampire” (1972)

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NBC-TV tried to bring a horror anthology series back to prime time during the 1972-73 season with GHOST STORY, executive produced by the one-and-only William Castle . Sebastian Cabot played Winston Essex, introducing the tales from haunted Mansfield House hotel. GHOST STORY had great writers, including Richard Matheson (who helped develop the concept), Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Henry Slesar, and Hammer vet Jimmy Sangster, some good directors (Richard Doner, John Llewelyn Moxey, Robert Day), and a plethora of Hollywood talent: Karen Black, Kim Darby, Angie Dickinson, Melvyn Douglas, Patty Duke, Jodie Foster, Helen Hayes, Tab Hunter, John Ireland, Janet Leigh, Patricia Neal, Jason Robards, Gena Rowlands, Martin Sheen, and William Windom.

Despite all this, the show got clobbered in the ratings by the CBS FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE and ABC’s comedy duo of ROOM 222 and THE ODD COUPLE. A mid-season title change to CIRCLE OF FEAR (dropping the Cabot segments in the process) didn’t help, and the series ended after 22 episodes. The following episode “Elegy for a Vampire” is about a killer on campus who drains his victims of their blood, leaving two puncture wounds on their necks! Here’s Hal (BARNEY MILLER) Linden, Mike (M*A*S*H) Farrell, Marilyn Mason, and Arthur O’Connell  in “Elegy for a Vampire”, written by Elizabeth Walter and directed by Don McDougall:

Strange New World: George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE (MGM 1960)

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George Pal (1908-1980) made movies full of wonder and imagination. The Hungarian born Pal got his start in film by creating “Puppetoons”, stop-motion animated shorts that delighted audiences in the 1930s and 40s (my personal favorites are JOHN HENRY and TUBBY THE TUBA). Some of these featured the character Jasper, a stereotyped black child always getting in some sort of trouble. Pal saw Jasper as closer in spirit to Huckleberry Finn than Stepin Fetchit, but by 1949 he  abandoned the “Puppetoons” altogether to concentrate on producing features, beginning with THE GREAT RUPERT, a Christmas fantasy starring Jimmy Durante. Pal produced a string of sci-fi hits in the early 50s (DESTINATION MOON, WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, WAR OF THE WORLDS, CONQUEST OF SPACE), and began directing his films with 1958’s “tom thumb”. Having had his biggest success with the H.G. Wells adaptation WAR OF THE WORLDS, Pal produced and directed another Wells classic, the sci-fi/fantasy masterpiece THE TIME MACHINE.

Four men have gathered at George Wells’ house in London to meet for dinner, but the host is late. His housekeeper Mrs. Watchett hasn’t seen him in five days, but soon George comes bursting in, looking extremely disheveled. The four friends are startled as George relates what happened to him since they last met on New Year’s Eve 1899…

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On that day, George tried explaining his theory of travelling through the Fourth Dimension, through time itself. He demonstrated using a model of a Time Machine, which vanishes before their very eyes! The men are skeptical, believing it to be some magician’s trick, but George is adamant about his theory. When they depart, he goes into his workshop, where sits a full-sized machine. George begins experimenting, slowly at first, and stops in 1917, where he meets friend Filby’s son, who says his dad was killed in WWI. Going forward, he lands in 1940, at the height of the Nazi blitzkrieg. He travels to 1966, and lands in the midst of a nuclear holocaust. George then hits the full throttle, and crash lands in the strange new world of year 802,701.

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George is amazed by the lush paradise, with “natural splendor beyond compare”. Soon he discovers other humans, all very blonde and very young. One of them, a stunning young girl, is drowning in a nearby river, while the rest still by idly. George jumps in and rescues her, and finds out her name is Weena, and they are called the Eloi. It seems the Eloi have no government, no laws, and no motivation to do anything but lounge around all day (the original slacker generation!!). But all is not what it seems, as George finds out the Eloi are controlled by a fearsome underground race called the Morlocks. These brutish, blue skinned mutants breed the Eloi like cattle, then when they’re matured lure them into their cavern to become dinner for the cannibalistic Morlocks. The Morlocks have also stolen George’s Time Machine, and now he’s trapped in a world he never made!

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Australian actor Rod Taylor had his first leading role as George, and became a star because of it. Taylor would go on to headline Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS, then went on to a series of action films like DARK OF THE SUN, THE HELL WITH HEROES, DARKER THAN AMBER, THE TRAIN ROBBERS (with John Wayne), and THE DEADLY TRACKERS. Taylor’s last film appearance before his death in January 2015 was as Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. Costar Yvette Mimieux was only 18 when she made THE TIME MACHINE. The pretty young star was featured in WHERE THE BOYS ARE, TOYS IN THE ATTIC, and PICASSO SUMMER. Never a big star, Mimieux is remembered for the 70s exploitation drama JACKSON COUNTY JAIL, and TV movie HIT LADY, which she wrote. Alan Young, who plays Filby and his son, is known to baby boomers as Wilbur Post, owner of TV’s talking horse MR. ED, and to a later generation as the voice of Uncle Scrooge McDuck. Sebastian Cabot, Whit Bissell, and Doris Lloyd also offer strong support.

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The special effects by Gene Warren and Wah Chang won the Oscar that year, though they’re a bit crude today. William Tuttle’s makeup on the Morlocks, based on Pal’s design, is quite a fright to behold, with their long fangs, blue skin, and glowing eyes. The wonderfully dramatic score by Russell Green is one of the best in all of sci-fi. George Pal’s  THE TIME MACHINE is a sci-fi/fantasy treat guaranteed to please even the most jaded viewer, packed with adventure, humor, and enchantment, and it’s a must-see for kids of all ages.