A Tribute to Robert Vaughn (1932-2016)

Robert Francis Vaughn (November 22, 1932 – November 11, 2016) was an American actor noted for his stage, film and television work. His best-known TV roles include suave spy Napoleon Solo in the 1960s series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.; wealthy detective Harry Rule in the 1970s series The Protectors; and formidable General Hunt Stockwell in the 5th season of the 1980s series The A-Team. In film, he portrayed quiet, skittish gunman Lee in The Magnificent Seven, Major Paul Krueger in The Bridge at Remagen, the voice of Proteus IV, the computer villain of Demon Seed, Walter Chalmers in Bullitt, Ross Webster in Superman III, and war veteran Chester A. Gwynn in The Young Philadelphians which earned him a 1960 Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Written by David Lawler with Bronwyn Knox
“Theme from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” by Jerry Goldsmith

Recorded November 12, 2016

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© BlissVille, David Lawler copyright 2016 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Lawler and selected guests each episode. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor
bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended.

Running Time: 45:56

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“Tales of the Future”

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Written by David Lawler (and Julie)
Additional Commentary by Andrew La Ganke (and Julie)
Original Music by Alex Saltz, APS Mastering
Introduction Music:”Video Killed The Radio Star” (Trevor Horn/Geoff Downes/Bruce Woolley) by The Buggles (from the 1979 album, “The Age Of Plastic).
Audio Clips: Hot Robot At SXSW Says She Wants To Destroy Humans from The Pulse on CNBC, “Blade Runner” (a 1982 film directed by Ridley Scott), “Return Of The Jedi” (a 1983 film directed by Richard Marquand), “Damnation Alley” (a 1977 film directed by Jack Smight), “Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery” (a 1997 film directed by Jay Roach), “Nick Of Time”, “The Lateness Of The Hour”.

Recorded March 29, 2016

© BlissVille, David Lawler copyright 2016 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Lawler and selected guests each episode. Original Music © Alex Saltz copyright 2015. This podcast, “That Twilighty Show About That Zone” is not affiliated with CBS Entertainment, the CBS Television Network, or The Rod Serling Estate. Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. I do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

Running Time: 32:21 Direct Download

Vintage Cable Box: Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983

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“You wanna see something REALLY scary?”

Twilight Zone the Movie

Twilight Zone: The Movie, 1983 (Dan Aykroyd), Warner Bros.

I popped in the old Warner Brothers clamshell VHS tape of this, because I wanted to watch the movie as I remembered it when I saw it on cable television in 1984.  Of course I had to play it on my old tube TV (the only way to watch a videotape, or a Laserdisc, or a DVD), and the first thing I notice (after the FBI warning) is the Warner Brothers logo, those post-modern oval or stadium shapes forming the W and the B coming toward the screen, devouring the frame while the first chords of Creedence Clearwater Revival play.

We fade up slowly on a deserted road and then the lights of a car passing by.  Inside is hitchhiker Dan Aykroyd and driver Albert Brooks.  To pass the time, they play games of trivia, TV theme songs, and then finally settle on a discussion about Twilight Zone, where they reference key episodes.  After multiple viewings, it only occurs to me now that the movie is commenting upon the television series in a real-world capacity, in meta fashion, but in the style of Twilight Zone.

We start with “Time Out”, written and directed by John Landis, and starring the late Vic Morrow.  Landis also wrote and directed the prologue, and co-produced the film as a whole with Steven Spielberg.  It’s hard not to review this episode without thinking of Morrow’s tragic death during shooting, but I will try.  Though heavy-handed with a lecturing tone, Morrow’s performance is among the strongest I’ve ever seen.  He plays an “angry man,” to use narrator Burgess Meredith’s words, with “a chip on his shoulder the size of the national debt.”

After angrily calling out Jews and blacks as the source of his uniquely American problems, he is transported back and forth through time being given a taste of his own medicine.  Landis places him in the shoes of a Jew during wartime France, and then as a black man in the South, and then as an enemy combatant in Vietnam.  Morrow died when the rotor blades on a helicopter during an intensely energetic barrage of explosions de-laminated and the vehicle spun into ankle-deep water, killing him and two children he was carrying.

It’s fair to say the film’s production was severely altered due to the tragedy, as the narrative of Landis’ screenplay (which had originally included a scene of vindication for Morrow’s character) was changed drastically so that the only scenes remaining (the only complete scenes Morrow shot) are simply examples of catharsis with little to no structure.  Vic Morrow gives an incredible performance, and it’s sad to think of the resurgence his career would’ve enjoyed.  Landis and his producers were acquitted on charges of manslaughter in 1986, and while most people like to think his career suffered after this incident, he made several highly-successful movies after this, including Spies Like Us and Coming To America.

Steven Spielberg’s somewhat sentimental remake of “Kick the Can” improves upon the source material by capturing the spirit of youth, as viewed through the eyes of the elderly.  The great character actor Bill Quinn plays a bitter old man who watches his fellow denizens at Sunnyvale Retirement Home turn into children under the guidance of new resident Mr. Bloom (jovial Scatman Crothers).  Rather than end the proceedings in pathos and irony as the third season episode did, Spielberg (and screenwriters Richard Matheson & Melissa Mathison) decide to bring them back to senior citizenry with “fresh young minds.”  The next day, all but one of the elderly folk have transformed back, and Quinn learns a nice lesson about staying young at heart, while Mr. Bloom is off on his next merry adventure.  Jerry Goldsmith’s score for this episode (and the movie) is spectacular.

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When I was a kid, I loved this next episode: an updating of the classic “It’s a Good Life”.  Mostly because I dug the idea of a kid around my age with insane psychic god-like powers wreaking havoc upon his rented family and a hapless schoolteacher (Kathleen Quinlan), who had the “misfortune” of nearly running him over.  She takes him back to his house, where his frightened family anxiously awaits his return.  He has televisions in every room playing cartoons.  His supper consists of peanut butter, candy apples, and ice cream.  His sister (Cherie Currie!) has no mouth (but she must scream), and when he gets angry, conjures horrifying creatures to scare the Hell out of everybody for his amusement.  Where Billy Mumy’s version of the child was more monster than boy, the child in this episode is simply an incorrigible brat who needs guidance and structure in his life.  Director Joe Dante populates his episode with great character actors from the past like William Schallert, Kevin McCarthy, Patricia Barry (who had all appeared in original episodes), and Dick Miller.  This is still a fun episode to watch.

We wind it up with what is perhaps the movie’s strongest entry, a remake of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” featuring John Lithgow in an Oscar-worthy performance, directed by George Miller (The Road Warrior).  Lithgow plays a white-knuckle passenger on an airliner convinced he sees a man (ultimately a gremlin) on the wing of the plane.  There are some subtle differences between this remake and the original starring William Shatner.  For one, in the Shatner version, his wife is traveling with him, and second, he is recovering from a previous nervous breakdown.  I feel the film version is stronger because Lithgow doesn’t foreshadow any particular breakdown, and his performance is a gradual build-up not to insanity but bravery as he takes matters in his own hands and attempts to vanquish the creature (as Shatner did).  The film version is much more visceral than the original directed by Richard Donner.  It’s interesting the best episodes from the movie were directed by relative novices, compared to the input of Spielberg and Landis.  They both meet the same fate, however, as they are carted off to a loony bin while the airplane’s mechanical crew try to figure out where all the damage to the craft came from.

For a decent stinger prologue, Lithgow’s ambulance driver is none other than Dan Aykroyd from the prologue.  He puts on some Creedence and away we go!  Vic Morrow’s death overshadowed any possible success this movie might have enjoyed, and destroyed any chance of a new film franchise.  Though there were reboots in 1985 and 2002, neither they nor this film stack up to the original series.  I must admit this is how I was introduced to the series.  I was aware of the show, but it never played where I lived, at least until after this movie debuted on cable television.  The series played in constant rotation on Channel 11 WPIX New York, and that’s how I was able to watch it before I got the DVDs.

What can be said about Rod Serling’s immortal Twilight Zone that hasn’t been said already?  I loved the show so much I started my own podcast about it, in which a guest and I discuss two episodes every week.  A new season of “That Twilighty Show About That Zone” starts tomorrow!  Sorry about the plug.  I had to do it.  Today is the one-year anniversary for “Vintage Cable Box”.  Hard to believe I started this enterprise a year ago with reviews for Swamp Thing, Easy Money, and Porky’s.  If you want to check out my past reviews, go to this handy archive.  Again, sorry for the plug!

Sourced from the original 1983 Warner Bros “clamshell” VHS release.  The movie continued to receive different format releases, and is available in Beta, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu Ray formats.  The accompanying essay obviously down-plays Vic Morrow’s death (“the late Vic Morrow”) as though his passing was not connected to the production.  The film is compared to Creepshow from 1982.  Both movies are referenced as “… the state of the art in cinema horror …”

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“Halloween III: Season of the Witch”

New VCB Logo

“It’s time. It’s time. Time for the big giveaway. Halloween has come. All you lucky kids with Silver Shamrock masks, gather ’round your TV set, put on your masks and watch. All witches, all skeletons, all Jack-O-Lanterns, gather ’round and watch. Watch the magic pumpkin. Watch…”

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“Halloween III: Season of the Witch”, 1982 (Tom Atkins), MCA/Universal

On many occasions in writing this column, I’ve had to go back and watch the movies I remember seeing on cable television just to refresh my memory, and recall certain items in the narrative. Some movies are more difficult to review than others, because while I can summon the substance of the plot, or perhaps my personal feelings at the time, I can’t remember everything. Nostalgia is key to this. Movies like “All Night Long” or “Jinxed” require this level of hand-holding to get the reviews written. A movie like “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” does not.

Watching it, you immediately understand the movie is not a direct sequel to the Halloween franchise. There is no Michael Meyers in a bizarre (not to mention disturbing) repurposed William Shatner Captain Kirk mask and mechanic’s jumpsuit dispatching horny teenagers with gusto. Instead, we get a kind of brilliant satire, not necessarily a spoof (in the “Scream” vein) but an ironic piece of gore burlesque about an evil capitalist who wants to use his Stonehenge-enhanced Halloween masks to rule the world. We’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Dependable genre movie workhorse Tom Atkins (“Creepshow”, “The Fog”) plays night shift emergency room Doctor Dan. He takes in a hysterical man who is clutching a mask (better that than a teddy bear, I suppose) and shrieking, “They’re gonna kill us!” which is not what you want to hear at the end of your shift. Atkins takes a nap. Meanwhile, a man in a trench-coat appears, enters the patient’s room and crushes the guy’s skull. This is enough to make people want to quit working in the medical field. Skull Crusher leaves the hospital, gets into his car, dowses himself with gasoline and lights himself on fire. Well, that’s peculiar.

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Kids, don’t try this at home!

A short time later, the deceased patient’s hottie daughter (Stacey Nelkin from “Get Crazy”) shows up to claim the body and fill our Doctor Dan in on some strange circumstances involving small-town Halloween mask manufacturer Silver Shamrock. Stacey and Tom masquerade (heh) as buyers so they can get a guided tour of the factory and do a little snooping.

They are captured by CEO Conal Cochran and his Stepford-style androids. He does what every bad guy in a movie does. He tells them his plan. Basically by putting microchips in his masks and promoting a “big giveaway” on television, and telling the children to watch the TV screen as a flashing computer pumpkin dances on the screen, the masks will cause their heads to explode in a mass of snakes and insects and bring about the resurrection of Samhain.

To save you a trip to the Wikipedia, the definition of Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. I don’t know what this has to do with snakes and insects, but by this point I’m already swept up in the action. This is an unusual horror movie. According to my research, this movie was the first in a planned series of anthology episodes intended to cash in on the Halloween brand. While not an enormous success initially, the film was profitable, but not enough to continue with the anthology plan. It’s worth noting that the movie has a meta sensibility. While having a drink in a bar, Atkins notices a “Halloween” movie advertisement playing on the television.

This is such a fun, well-made movie with competent gore effects and a great mustache-twirling performance from Dan O’Herlihy as Cochran. Refreshingly, the ending is ambiguous with a desperate Atkins calling television stations and telling them to turn off the Silver Shamrock commercial. The image of Atkins goes to black as his echoing voice screams, “STOP IT!”. “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” is a clever suspense-thriller as well as a prescient comment on modern advertising.

Next up: “Brimstone and Treacle” starring Sting from 1983.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

 

NEW PODCAST: “God Spreads Rabies!”

God-Spreads-Rabies

 

Advocates on both sides of this massive divide we’ve created repeat the same erroneous talking point – that marriage is a right, or perhaps a privilege accorded by the Constitution of the United States, which isn’t true.  There is absolutely no mention of marriage, the definition or personal rights – in the Constitution, which is the way I think it should be, because – I’m married, but I believe my marriage should not be approved by a State or by Federal Law, it doesn’t matter to me, I don’t need that sort of acknowledgement.  Further, it gives wide-reaching power to the State, the Federal government, the Supreme Court to control what is, essentially, personal choice.  I believe in limited government.  I don’t want the government telling me who I can marry, or who I can’t marry, or – and this is important – threatening to penalize me, either financially, or with jail time for refusing to acknowledge whom other people can marry or can’t marry.  It’s simply none of my business, and it should not be any of the government’s business.  They have guns, and flamethrowers.  They can kill your family and burn your house down if you don’t agree with them when they’ve written up new laws.  I don’t like that.

Tonight, we are introducing a new segment to BlissVille.  As you may or may not know, if you’ve been paying attention, this particular run of BlissVille episodes has paid tribute to an actor among men, William Shatner.  So this next piece is my wife, Bronwyn’s, intepretation of the classic “horrors of war” speech from the Star Trek episode, “A Taste of Armageddon”.  I hope you enjoy it.

I would pray for peace, if I were religious.  I would say listen we’ve just been thrown into the fray of sexual equality, give people time.  Wisdom is it’s own reward.  Peace and understanding are what matters.  The homosexual couples who were denied marriage licenses were preaching a fantastic doctrine of new Christianity, not the old fire and brimstone kill-the-pagans Old Testament stuff, but they didn’t want Ms. Davis to be imprisoned or fined or censured, and for that I applaud them.  That’s the way to go.

NEW PODCAST: “All Outta Bubble Gum”

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“They Live” is a 1988 American satirical science fiction horror film written and directed by John Carpenter. The film stars Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster. It follows a nameless drifter (called “John Nada” in the credits), who discovers the ruling class are in fact aliens concealing their appearance and manipulating people to spend money, breed, and accept the status quo with subliminal messages in mass media.

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The first time I saw the movie was on something called the Universal Debut Network; it was a syndicated movie package that Universal Pictures sold to independent networks, I saw it in 1990, it was on Channel 11 here in New York City. The Universal Debut Network was the pre-cursor to all the syndicated series Universal would show, but at first they started with movies like “They Live”, “Prince of Darkness”, “the infamous extended TV version of the movie, “Dune”, where David Lynch took his name off the credits. Apparently Lynch said, “wait a minute, this movie makes sense now, I’m taking my name off the picture!” So after this run of pictures, shows like Hercules and Xena came on the air because they were thinking about putting together a fifth network at the time.

So how do we look on politics, censorship, liberalism, conservative ideology now as opposed to 1988? In Carpenter’s fantasy, these things are just gradual with no tipping point, no rhyme or reason, but I think certain things happened to bring us a “They Live” situation, like 9/11, obviously 9/11 destroyed our country but in a slow, gradual way, like death by a million cuts.

There’s a great line in a sci-fi movie from 1982, “Endangered Species” starring Robert Urich and JoBeth Williams, where Urich says, “If what’s going on around here is organized, you don’t wanna go up against it! The government. The right wing. The left wing. Mercenaries. The mob. It doesn’t make much difference if you get in their way!”

To me, it’s allegory, like all great science fiction. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – in the 50s, it was allegory for the Cold War and Communism. In the 1978 version, it was about the “Me” Generation and pop-psychology. In the ’93 remake, it was allegory for disaffected youth and generation X.

“In Praise Of Harve Bennett (1930-2015)”

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“If I pinch his cheek hard enough, he’ll let me direct!”

 

Two days before Leonard Nimoy’s passing (why are we being told now?), a photon tube was lowered into the torpedo bay and shot into the atmosphere of the Genesis planet. Harve Bennett had extensive science fiction television credits, producing “The Six Million Dollar Man”, “The Bionic Woman” (favorites of mine when I was a kid), and “The Mod Squad”. He came out of nowhere to produce the middle section of Star Trek films – II, III, IV, and V when Paramount executives asked him if he could take over the franchise.

As a producer, he proved he could craft a compelling a story while staying within budget. Although he was a man who brimmed with ideas and ambition, Gene Roddenberry never successfully coped with the rigors of film production, and the first Star Trek movie was not a box office success – at least not the success Paramount was hoping for (in the wake of Star Wars). A string of successful staffing decisions (that of hiring Nicholas Meyer and Leonard Nimoy to direct, contracting Industrial Light & Magic to produce visual effects, and utilizing TV production crews to shoot) led to Star Trek’s most profitable phase in the film franchise up to that point.

In Hollywood though people have short memories and if it isn’t about your past success, it’s about your most recent failure. When the William Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier did not perform up to expectations and Paramount nixed his idea for a reboot, he left the franchise (or was fired, depending upon who tells the story). In addition to producing four Star Trek movies, he came up with the idea of bringing Khan back, he achieved the damn-near-impossible writing the script for Star Trek III:The Search For Spock and bringing Spock back to life in a credible way, and he co-wrote Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Like Gene Coon and Robert Justman before him, Harve Bennett was another unsung hero of the franchise. He was the man who single-handedly saved Star Trek.