Thursday, April 28, 2011

Because You Wanted To Watch An Episode Of Holmes & Yoyo

YouTube currently has one episode of the shortlived sitcom HOLMES & YOYO available for streaming, so if you have an extra 25 minutes or so, you might want to see how crazy television could get in 1976.

A combination of GET SMART and THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, the Arne Sultan production starred John Schuck (just off MCMILLAN & WIFE) as Greg Yoyonovich, a somewhat dimwitted detective who was actually a 400-pound robot. His boss, Captain Sedford (Bruce Kirby), teams "Yoyo" with Alex Holmes (Richard B. Shull), a good cop with a talent for getting partners hurt. Only Sedford and Holmes know that Yoyo isn't a human being, which leads to allegedly wacky incidents like Yoyo taking English idioms literally or attracting wayward metal objects with his magnetic powers. Basically, it was thirteen episodes of Maxwell Smart and Hymie jokes from GET SMART.

Like GET SMART, HOLMES & YOYO tended to take its crime plots seriously, which strengthened the slapstick somewhat by basing it in reality. It certainly wasn't the worst sitcom ever made, but the adults were watching THE JEFFERSONS on CBS and the kids were watching EMERGENCY! on NBC, so no one was left to dial in HOLMES & YOYO on ABC.

Series creators Lee Hewitt and Jack Sher wrote "The Dental Dynamiter," which was the third episode aired by ABC. GET SMART's Leonard B. Stern directed. ABC canceled the show after eleven episodes, then burned off the remaining two in the summer of 1977. Dick Wolf and NBC later polished off the concept by making the robot cop a hot chick (played by WITCHBLADE's Yancy Butler), but MANN & MACHINE was also a flop in 1992.

So. Here's part one of "The Dental Dynamiter." If you're interested in the rest of the episode, the other two parts are also on YouTube. Dick Halligan wrote the theme, and Leonard Rosenman composed the episode score. Enjoy.

Monday, April 25, 2011

If You Go Down To The Woods Today...

RITUALS is one of the most frightening and intense horror pictures I’ve ever seen. Obviously influenced by DELIVERANCE, this 1977 Canadian production stands on its own as a powerful, intelligent low-budget thriller that spends time and energy to first create interesting characters before killing them off. And for the first time, at least since its original theatrical release, it can be seen in a presentation worthy of its status.

After years of delays, Code Red has finally released RITUALS on a perfectly fine Region 1 DVD certain to make many reviewers' 2011 Top Ten lists. First announced as early as 2008 for a possible 2009 release, Code Red's RITUALS was delayed in part because of the company was attempting to get star Hal Holbrook for an interview. Holbrook doesn't appear on the DVD, though producer/co-star Lawrence Dane sits for both an interview and an audio commentary, and co-star Robin Gammill is also interviewed.

Filmed in the Ontario hinterlands by director Peter Carter (HIGH-BALLIN’) on a $600,000 budget, RITUALS casts Dane, Gammill, Ken James, Gary Reineke, and American star Holbrook (who also acted in JULIA and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN around this time) as physicians on a fishing trip deep in a Canadian forest—so deep they need a plane to drop them off. The colleagues were once close friends, but different paths in life and various personal demons have caused the friendships to fragment somewhat.

What’s wonderful about Ian Sutherland’s screenplay (originally penned as BLOOD RIVER) is the care he takes to fashion interesting, fully fleshed characters. Indeed, the way in which their shallowly buried resentments come brewing to the surface once the men are put under pressure provides much of the film’s drama.

Their drinking and male bonding quickly turn to terror their second morning in the wilderness after they discover an unseen stalker has swooped into their camp while they slept and swiped their boots. Reineke, the only one who thought to bring extra shoes, volunteers to hike the fifteen miles over rough country to a dam to bring back help.

However, when Reineke still hasn’t returned the next day, the others set off to find him, only to learn they’ve been targeted by someone who toys with them using bees, bear traps, and heads on a pike to induce fear.

Like DELIVERANCE, RITUALS is more than just an exercise in violence; in fact, there’s precious little on-screen gore. Even after the unseen (except in faraway shots) creeper has begun terrorizing his victims, Sutherland and Carter continue to probe and unpeel them. While horror films often create artificial tension among its characters to create bogus conflict, the maturity and years-long friendships of RITUALS’ middle-aged protagonists—who are professionals, after all, and in Holbrook’s case at least, war veterans—result in truly powerful dramatics.

Dane also produced RITUALS and worked with Carter on Sutherland’s script. One interesting aspect is Gammill’s character’s homosexuality, which is presented in a matter-of-fact manner. Gay men were almost always treated as camp or unsympathetically in films of the 1970s, particularly action/adventures.

RITUALS is a horror film, but more than simple drive-in fodder. It’s a grueling and character-oriented suspenser that’s crying out to be better known. The director’s staging of the brutal action sequences on some very rugged-looking land stands up against any outdoor adventure of the era.

RITUALS was released domestically by Harry Novak’s Boxoffice International and has also been seen as THE CREEPER. For awhile, a company run by actor James Drury (THE VIRGINIAN) held the U.S. rights. Terry Levene's New York-based Aquarius also got hold of RITUALS at some point. Up to now, it had hardly ever been seen in good condition, at least not on home video. The American VHS release was actually a cut television print, and the best version I’ve ever seen until the Code Red disc—Germany’s PAL X-Rated DVD—is still very murky. This is partially because the lab processing the original negative messed up, leaving much of the climax in the dark (literally), but also because many Canadian features of the period just weren’t properly maintained.

Thankfully, Code Red has done a pretty decent job, presenting RITUALS from a 35mm print with a few scratches and speckles, but definitely looking better than any previous home video version. Dane is joined on the commentary by Lee Christian, who is normally quite good at these things, but seems ill-prepared for RITUALS, and Walter Olsen, one of the brothers who run Code Red. It's their company and they have the right to do what they want, but both Olsens are hopelessly inept at commentary tracks, and I wish they'd leave the heavy lifting to more qualified experts. Olsen's lack of preparation extends to his repeating an Internet joke about a Holbrook soft-rock album as fact.

Criticisms aside, RITUALS is a Canadian horror classic and well deserves the royal treatment extended it by Code Red. The DVD isn't perfect, but it's wonderful to finally see.

P.S. Big thanks to Robert Richardson, who provided much of RITUALS' background information based on his conversations with actor/producer Lawrence Dane.

Friday, April 22, 2011

And The Tommy Goes To...

The late William Woolfolk was one of pulp fiction's most versatile and prolific authors. He wrote novels, short stories, magazine articles, even scripts for the outstanding 1960s CBS drama THE DEFENDERS (series creator Reginald Rose was a friend). He was also a very busy writer of comic books, penning the adventures of Captain Marvel at Fawcett, Doll Man at Quality, Superman and Batman at DC Comics, and even Will Eisner's classic The Spirit. A lengthy though incomplete list of Woolfolk's comic book credits is here.

Not only that, but his wife Dorothy Woolfolk was a longtime writer and editor of romance comics at DC into the 1970s. So it isn't surprising that when it came time for someone to adapt DC's popular Batman and Robin duo in prose form, Woolfolk would get the assignment.

Credited to Winston Lyon, Woolfolk's BATMAN VS. 3 VILLAINS OF DOOM was published by Signet in April 1966, when the ABC television series was at its all-time peak. BATMAN, starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo, was not only a ratings smash, but also a pop-culture sensation that even landed West on the cover of LIFE magazine. Not wanting to take chances with a sure thing, Woolfolk used the TV show's camp approach, but dialed it down just a bit for easier reading.

The outlandish plot finds Gotham City's criminals gathered to award the Tommy, a trophy given every ten years to the city's best crook. The three finalists are the Joker, the Penguin, and Catwoman, who each set out to kidnap or kill Batman and Robin, figuring that will give them the edge over their opponents. Woolfolk's episodic structure has Batman and Robin battling each of the three villains separately before getting into a major skirmish with all of them at the climax. Of course, the two encounter insidious deathtraps, just like the TV show, that they have to ingeniously escape before winning the final fight.

The story wouldn't be out of place in a typical Batman comic book of the 1960s, and it runs only 128 pages here. Woolfolk knew the four-color characters quite well, but 3 VILLAINS OF DOOM shows he did his homework regarding Batman and Robin's portrayal on television. He nails the characters quite well, and it's not difficult to imagine West and Ward, as well as Cesar Romero, Julie Newmar, and Burgess Meredith, speaking Woolfolk's dialogue.

Also in 1966, Woolfolk wrote a sequel of sorts, BATMAN VS. THE FEARSOME FOURSOME, an adaptation of Lorenzo Semple Jr.'s screenplay for the BATMAN feature film that added the Riddler to the rogue's gallery. All Batfans should read 3 VILLAINS OF DOOM at least once.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Deadly Sweethearts Of Disaster

A MAN CALLED SLOANE was created by writer Cliff Gould (THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO) as a light spy adventure like the James Bond movies. The original pilot, titled T.R. SLOANE, starred Robert Logan (77 SUNSET STRIP) as Thomas Remington Sloane, an agent of UNIT battling a megalomaniac who plans to cause havoc with a massive death ray. The villain’s henchman was Torque (Ji-Tu Cumbuka), a 6’5” man with a mechanical hand who was clearly modeled after Richard Kiel’s Jaws character in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

NBC liked the idea and the Torque character, but not Logan, sending Gould and executive producer Philip Saltzman on a hunt for a new leading man. NBC exec Fred Silverman Silverman suggested Robert Conrad, one of television’s all-time most popular stars, who had hit it big in the 1950s on HAWAIIAN EYE and in the ‘60s on THE WILD WILD WEST. Conrad was ubiquitous during the 1970s, starring in several shortlived adventure series like THE D.A., ASSIGNMENT: VIENNA, and BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP, as well as a ton of TV-movies and pilots. Saltzman reportedly argued that Conrad couldn’t possibly do A MAN CALLED SLOANE, because he was already starring as an ex-boxer in the NBC series THE DUKE. “No problem,” replied Silverman, “I’ll just cancel THE DUKE.” He did, and Conrad became Thomas Remington Sloane.

A MAN CALLED SLOANE was the first television series produced by Quinn Martin Productions after Martin sold his company to Taft Broadcasting. Martin was one of television’s great producers, shepherding successful shows like THE UNTOUCHABLES, THE FUGITIVE, THE F.B.I., BARNABY JONES, and THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO. Part of Martin’s deal with Taft, however, was that he had to relinquish hands-on involvement with QM shows, and SLOANE likely suffered as a result of his absence.

Thomas Sloane worked for a government agency called UNIT, which was based out of the back room of a Los Angeles toy store. There he and Torque, now a UNIT agent and Sloane’s sidekick, took orders from The Director (Dan O’Herlihy, held over from the unaired pilot movie) and used gadgetry designed by cute lab assistant Kelly (Karen Purcill). They also received constant field information and advice from “Effie”, a talking computer with the voice of Michele Carey (Elvis’ leading lady in LIVE A LITTLE, LOVE A LITTLE).

Like Conrad’s previous series, THE WILD WILD WEST, Sloane tackled a wide range of kinky baddies, including Roddy McDowall as a terrorist with a robot army, Robert Culp as a cosmetics entrepreneur plotting to take over the world by sending out gorgeous models to murder prominent men with their “kisses of death”, Richard Lynch as a master of disguise, and Dennis Cole as a 100-year-old Nazi meddling with cloning. Nearly every episode featured at least one prominent guest star--Eric Braeden, Edie Adams, Monte Markham, Clive Revill (the villain in T.R. SLOANE), Michael Pataki--as well as several sexy women for Conrad to canoodle with. Jo Ann Harris, the striking star of the Quinn Martin series MOST WANTED, appeared in the final episode, “The Shangri-La Syndrome,” which was directed by Conrad and is probably SLOANE’s weakest hour.

It was all pretty silly, of course, but definitely watchable. Conrad’s physicality led to plenty of nifty stunts, chases and fights, and QM spared few expenses in whittling together colorful if cliched plots, sets, guest stars and location shootings. The camera loved Cumbuka, who purportedly didn’t get along with Conrad, but was certainly a striking figure blessed with the neat gimmick of a steel hand that could wield various tools and weapons like a radio transmitter, laser, saw, drill or screwdriver. Some felt Conrad, a rugged man of action, was miscast as a suave secret agent, but I think he’s just fine and has pretty good rapport with Cumbuka.

A MAN CALLED SLOANE began the 1979 fall season with decent ratings, knocking CBS’ PARIS, a Steven Bochco cop show starring James Earl Jones, off the air and spurring ABC to shift HART TO HART to another night. But when ABC shifted FANTASY ISLAND from Friday to anchor its hit Saturday lineup, which included THE LOVE BOAT, SLOANE’s number was up. NBC cancelled the series after just twelve episodes. Conrad continued to star regularly in TV-movies throughout the 1980s, although he may be as quickly remembered today for his notorious temper tantrum on the first BATTLE OF THE NETWORK STARS, which led to him getting smoked in a 100-yard dash by none other than Gabriel Kaplan!

By the way, NBC eventually dusted off that T.R. SLOANE pilot and aired it in 1981, more than a year after A MAN CALLED SLOANE’s cancellation, as DEATH RAY 2000. This young 13-year-old couldn’t have been the only viewer that night who was confused to see Robert Logan in Conrad’s old role opposite Dan O’Herlihy…and Torque as the heavy!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spock Must Die!

Twelve years beforeSTAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN did the deed in tragic style, Bantam Books killed off Mr. Spock--sorta--in James Blish's "exciting new story of interplanetary adventure," 1970's SPOCK MUST DIE!

Notable as the first adult-themed STAR TREK tie-in novel (Whitman published the hardback kids' book MISSION TO HORATIUS two years earlier), SPOCK MUST DIE! was penned by American science fiction author James Blish, who was very successful writing a series of paperback collections of short-story adaptations of TREK episodes. Since Blish's stories were based on early script drafts and not the filmed episodes (the story goes that Blish never even watched STAR TREK during the period he was writing about it), the characters and situations often bore little resemblance to the STAR TREK that fans recognized.

And so it goes with the remarkably short SPOCK MUST DIE! (118 pages!), which chugs along with little action or drama, but plenty of drawn-out philosophical discussions about admittedly classic sci-fi themes. A sequel to the first-season episode "Errand of Mercy," which introduced the Klingons to the STAR TREK universe in the form of Canadian ham John Colicos' conniving Commander Kor, SPOCK MUST DIE! centers around the most standard of TREK complications, a transporter malfunction.

Scotty's attempt to beam Spock to Organia to investigate a mysterious shield about the planet somehow creates a duplicate Spock. Both Vulcans claim to be the original, and not even Dr. McCoy's medical genius can determine a physical or psychological difference between them. Both Spocks demand his rival be destroyed, which confuses Captain Kirk, who believes this tact is a very unSpocklike suggestion.

Meanwhile, the Klingon Empire is threatening to break the Organian Peace Treaty implemented in "Errand of Mercy" and wage war against the Federation. Kirk fears they may also be responsible for the odd disappearance or possible destruction of the Organians, highly evolved beings without physical form who took the guise of human beings to placate the Enterprise crew and Kor's men in "Errand of Mercy."

STAR TREK fans will find little to recognize about the TV show. The beloved ship's doctor is constantly referred to as "Doc," rather than his familiar "Bones" nickname, and is prone to verbose speeches about the meaning of life. Kirk comes across as wishy-washy, and has little to do in the climax except stand around and wring his hands while Spock (the good one) and Scotty wire some doohickey into a whatsit and save a planet from blowing up.

Blish seems more concerned with the book's science than its characters. Whether the science is accurate, I don't know, but it's dull enough that it sounds real. But STAR TREK has never been about technology, but rather people and their ideas. And that's where SPOCK MUST DIE!, despite its pioneering status, fails as a STAR TREK story.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Carnival Of Murder

The head of the Regalbuto crime family dies, and his empire is split evenly between two other dons: Angelo DiMorra (Anthony Quinn) and the imprisoned Jimmy Bernardo (Barry Russo), whose business is being run by his consigliere Luigi Orlando (Charlies Cioffi). Frank Regalbuto (Robert Forster), the late don’s only son, goes with Don Angelo with the proviso that he take over the business when the elder man dies. Orlando isn’t satisfied with half the Regalbuto territory. To get it all, he works behind the curtain to start a mob war that will leave him the last man standing. Step one of Orlando’s plan is to hook Angelo up with Frankie’s girl, Ruby (Angel Tompkins), an inadvertent betrayal that sets off the bloodbath.

This GODFATHER knockoff is based on a novel by Marvin H. Albert, a proficient writer of crime fiction who peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. Using the name Al Conroy, he created a men’s adventure paperback series called Soldato about an ex-Mafia enforcer who goes straight and dedicates his life to wiping out the Syndicate. As Anthony Rome, he wrote about a private eye named Tony Rome, who was played in two movies by Frank Sinatra. Albert used the name Nick Quarry to pen THE DON IS DEAD, but is credited under his real name for the film’s screenplay.

Director Richard Fleischer (MR. MAJESTYK) enlisted every rough-looking character actor with a name ending in a vowel—plus Sid Haig and Vic Tayback—for his supporting cast: Joe Santos, Frank DeKova, Val Bisoglio, Frank Christi, Abe Vigoda, Vic Argo, Anthony Charnota. Barrel-chested Al Lettieri (THE GETAWAY) is particularly strong as Vince Fargo, the protective older brother of Frank’s friend Tony (Frederic Forrest), who wants to put the life behind him.

Fleischer’s no-nonsense style is perfect for the gritty shootouts and tough melodrama present in Albert’s solid crime drama, though you may need a scorecard to keep track of who is loyal to whom. Efficiently shot on the Universal backlot, THE DON IS DEAD plays like one of those pulp paperbacks you just can’t put down. It’s like a B-picture cutdown of THE GODFATHER, stripped of the operatic overtones and boiled down to the meat and potatoes of a violent thriller well done.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Random TV Title: Enos

It's true. This show exists. It seems absurd that it possibly could, but I do remember watching its one-season run on CBS during the 1980-81 season.

Yep. THE DUKES OF HAZZARD's bumbling deputy Enos Strate, played by Sonny Shroyer, got his own spinoff.

After Enos captured (or stumbled his way into accidentally capturing) a noted criminal in Hazzard County, he received a job offer from the Los Angeles Police Department to work special cases. The country bumpkin was partnered with street-smart, jive-talkin' Turk, played by Samuel E. Wright, best known as the voice of Sebastian in Disney's THE LITTLE MERMAID. Stentorian-voiced John Dehner played Enos' new boss, Lieutenant Broggi, who was, of course, in a general state of apoplexy over the many cars and much property destroyed by Enos in his leadfooted quest for justice.

Despite guest appearances by DUKES co-stars James Best, Denver Pyle, and Catherine Bach, ENOS didn't earn much of a following on Wednesday nights and was canceled after a year. Shroyer went back to Hazzard (which, like ENOS, filmed on the Warners backlot), and I don't know if any character ever again brought up Enos' brief stint in El Lay.

Here's a teaser and opening title from an ENOS. This may be from "Cops at Sea," aired March 18, 1981. I don't know who composed the unmemorable ENOS theme.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Random TV Title: The Runaways

Instead of remaking TV series that people actually remember and like, it may be interesting to bring back series with interesting concepts that didn't work originally for whatever reason. And that brings us to THE RUNAWAYS, one of the last series executive-produced by the venerable Quinn Martin.

Originally titled OPERATION: RUNAWAY with star Robert Reed (THE BRADY BUNCH) for its four-episode run in the spring of 1978, THE RUNAWAYS was recast and retitled for its return to the NBC schedule twelve months later. Alan Feinstein was the new star, playing macho psychologist Steve Arizzio, who teamed up with some attractive young people to help teens who had run away from home. It's likely Martin and his writers threw quite a bit of action and adventure into the plots.

THE RUNAWAYS sounds like an intriguing concept, though Martin's typically bombastic opening titles play hilariously now. And who's that handsome blond kid in the cast? Come with me if you want to find out...

Friday, April 01, 2011

I Have Been And Ever Shall Be Your Friend

After the critical and popular success of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN in the summer of 1982, Paramount wasted no time in greenlighting the next sequel, STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, a very good space opera that emphasizes relationships over action.


The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is still hurting after the death of Mr. Spock (first-time feature director Leonard Nimoy) at the end of ST II. Limping back to a space station orbiting Earth, Admiral James Kirk (William Shatner) and crew are even further saddened to learn that the Enterprise, considered by the Federation to be old and obsolete, will be decommissioned.

Meanwhile, Dr. McCoy (scene-stealing DeForest Kelley) has been acting strangely, attempting to buy passage aboard an illegal spaceship and speaking in Spock's voice. A visit from Spock's father Sarek (Mark Lenard, reprising his role from the television series) convinces Kirk that McCoy is the keeper of Spock's katra--his essence, soul, spirit, knowledge, whatever you want to call it--and that his old friend can be resurrected in an ancient Vulcan ceremony that hasn't been performed in centuries.

Turning renegade after the Federation refuses his request to visit the Genesis Planet where Spock's corpse lies, Kirk recruits shipmates Scott (James Doohan), Sulu (George Takei), Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) to help him steal the Enterprise, kidnap Spock's body, and take it, along with McCoy, to Vulcan. However, Klingon commander Kruge (BACK TO THE FUTURE's Christopher Lloyd) has discovered the secret of Genesis, and has kidnapped Kirk's son David (Merritt Butrick), Lieutenant Saavik (Robin Curtis, replacing STII's Kirstie Alley), and a young Vulcan lad on the planet's surface, holding them hostage in exchange for the Genesis formula.

Although ST III's story is self-contained, the film still plays like the middle chapter of a trilogy (which it is), bookending a couple of tense action sequences with scenes of great poetry and power. What Nimoy brings to the film as a director is a strong theatrical sense, directing his actors to not be afraid to go too far and cinematographer Charles Correll to paint dark shadows and dramatic lighting across the set. While this may have partially been done to mask the low budget (less than $20 million), it does give ST III more of an operatic feel than the other films in the series.

Themes of sacrifice, friendship, loyalty, and family float across the screen, as the Enterprise crew risks everything they have, including their very lives, to bring one of their own back from beyond. One scene near the end is a perfect example of STAR TREK's essential quality, a beautifully edited and scored (by James Horner) sequence involving dissolves from one familiar face to another as they await news of their fallen friend.

Pure action hasn't been neglected, however. The crisply edited scene in which the Enterprise goes against a bigger, newer, and better respected rival starship is a highlight, as is Kirk's hand-to-hand battle with Kruge as the planet cracks up around them (elaborate fight scenes, a staple of the original TV series, often featuring Captain Kirk's trademark two-legged kick to the chest, were absent from the films to this point).

Each of the supporting actors has a chance to briefly shine this time around, from Takei's "Don't call me 'Tiny'" to Nichols' repartee with a cocky young crewman. Shatner's emotional response to one character's death is among his best work. Lloyd, normally a comedic actor, brings operatic menace to his role.

Familiar faces dotting the supporting cast include John Larroquette (NIGHT COURT), James B. Sikking (HILL STREET BLUES), Robert Hooks (TROUBLE MAN), Miguel Ferrer, Dame Judith Anderson, Branscombe Richmond, Phil Morris (SEINFELD's Jackie Childs), Philip R. Allen, and Grace Lee Whitney, a semi-regular as Janice Rand on the STAR TREK series. Nimoy was not a directing neophyte prior to ST III; he had helmed episodes of NIGHT GALLERY, THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR, and Shatner's T.J. HOOKER series. Paramount must have liked what he did on ST III, because they let him direct the follow-up, STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME, which turned out to be the highest grossing TREK film until J.J. Abrams' 2009 remake.