Saturday, October 20, 2018

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Fox and Hounds" (1985)


CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Fox and Hounds" (CBS-TV/Sony 1985) Original Air Date: March 24, 1985.  Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox, Mary Ellen Trainor as Connie Olsen, Ron O'Neal as the Smuggler, Barbara Babcock as Helen, Jonathan Banks as Inspector Dick Hawkins, Philip Brown as Jim, Theodore Wilson as Ernie, Zetta Whitlow as Robin. Teleplay by Ruel Fischmann; Story by Robert Malcolm Young.  Directed by Charles Braverman.

Series overview and introduction to the CRAZY LIKE A FOX episode guide at this link.


P.I. Harry Fox arrives at his office, finding a dog waiting for him with Harry's business card stuck in his collar.  The canine's tag identifies him as "Max", a student at the obedience school run by recent Fox client Connie Olsen.  Failing in his attempts to reach Ms. Olsen, Harry decides to leave Max with Harrison's family overnight while he continues to search for her.  While walking Max, Harrison finds himself the target of two armed men seeking to steal the detection dog and politely declines to provide further boarding.


The search for Connie takes the senior Fox to her residence the next day, and Harry's curiosity is further piqued when he discovers that Max has been re-trained to sniff out household cleansers.  Unfortunately his investigation is put on hold at that point, as Ms. Olsen has been located after an anonymous tip from Harrison's pursuers: she's a homicide victim, and Harry is arrested as the prime suspect.


Yep, Harry is booked for murder at the end of Act II, but this being the bright, light world of CRAZY LIKE A FOX, he's out on bail mere minutes into Act III.  And not just back on the case, but securing a small sample of cocaine from a pal in Vice Squad to bait the bad guys.  Hey, inveterate viewers know Mr. Fox is one persuasive guy.


As directed by long-time documentarian Charles Braverman, Fox and Hounds doesn't skimp on the humor, but commendably brings it from less typical places: Harry's bad driving takes an episode off, and Harrison gets chased by the bad guys more often than his father.  But fear not--Harrison is still continually put-upon.   The lawyer finds himself hiding behind dumpsters, crossing flimsy bridges, having his legal advice disregarded and finding Max even less cooperative than Harry.  Suffice to say Rubenstein's reliable slow burn gets a real workout.


Not that this episode is any less Warden-centric than usual.  Acquiring someone else's limo for the second straight outing, Harry ups the ante considerably by also borrowing the aforementioned street drug, a second sniffing canine, and finally a helicopter before the case is cracked.


If you wanted to see Jonathan Banks in drag, Fox and Hounds is your installment.  A quarter century before BREAKING BAD and almost as curmudgeonly as he would become in his most famous role, Banks spends almost all of his screen time undercover in dress and wig after vouching for Harry as a old pro.  No, it isn't punishment, just another day on the job for Inspector Dick Hawkins.  Hawkins' trust in Harry makes him a target of barbs from an even more acerbic Babcock (as homicide Lieutenant Helen)--as does his choice to wear lace.


Director Braverman would return for Fox in 3/4 Time, and then moved on to the more overt humor of SLEDGE HAMMER!, becoming one of that cult classic's most frequent directors.  With a 18.5 rating, Fox and Hounds scored a solid 14th out of 72 programs in the Nielsen Ratings but still came in second on March 24, 1985 to ABC's rather unremarkable Sunday Night Movie: CALIFORNIA GIRLS with Robby Benson and video vixen Tawny Kitaen (20.3, 9th).  While slightly below the show's 1984-85 average in that regard, Fox and Hounds was on firm ground creatively, with Braverman, Young and Fischmann capably handling the comedy/mystery balancing act.  (*** out of four)



CRAZY LIKE A FOX occasionally airs on getTV.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Film Review: HONOLULU LU (1941)






"Why the Hell isn't this on DVD/Blu yet?"--Number 101









HONOLULU LU (1941 Columbia) Starring Lupe Velez, Leo Carrillo, Bruce Bennett, Forrest Tucker, Marjorie Gateson, Don Beddoe, George McKay, Nina Campana, Adele Mara, Lloyd Bridges.  Written by Paul Yawitz, Eliot Gibbons and Ned Dandy.  Directed by Charles Barton.


As Consuelo, Velez arrives in the titular town with uncle Carrillo--a confidence man with a penchant for hot checks and wealthy widows.  Tiring of his schemes, Velez ditches her uncle and, with Campana's help, gets a job at the Blue Chip Cabaret with a simple name change to "Lu". The headstrong Latina also inadvertently costs three Navy men (Tucker, Bennett and McKay) their dates for the evening.


The surly sailors attend Lu's show with intent to heckle but are won over by her risqué act of songs, dancing and comedy impressions.  Lu is soon being wooed by Bennett, and her popularity is on the rise.  In fact, Lu is a heavy favorite in the upcoming Miss Honolulu contest, with the new burlesque Queen's likely victory causing great consternation for bluenose Gateson.  Facing exposure for a previous Atlantic City swindle and seeking to win Gateson's favor, Carillo enters his niece in the contest to defeat "Lu".  Without Velez's knowledge, of course, and Carillo is equally in the dark about his niece's alter ego.  So much that, in his attempt to throw the upcoming contest Consuelo's way, Carillo throws shade at Lu by claiming the burlesque beauty is a spy!


HONOLULU LU captures the inimitable Lupe Velez at the height of box office power. Velez was halfway through her highly successful run as RKO's MEXICAN SPITFIRE and headlining comedies for Universal (SIX LESSONS FROM MADAME LA ZONGA, with SPITFIRE co-conspirator Leon Errol) and Columbia in away from her home studio.  HONOLULU LU is the latter and (much) better vehicle for the unique, memorable Mexican-American starlet.


With the dapper Carillo replacing Errol as the scheming Uncle and sticking to a singular characterization, Lupe gets the dual role in HONOLULU LU.  As Consuela's stage persona, the former vedette showcases her varied talents: singing, dancing, and--as she previously demonstrated onscreen in HIGH FLYERS--impressions.  Velez' Gloria Swanson is uncannily accurate, and her Katherine Hepburn equally spot-on.  A distant third is her Dietrich, which is certainly no threat to Madeline Kahn's IMO.  To be fair, Kahn's pastiche was much more affectionate: Velez was Dietrich's contemporary and one-time romantic rival (for Gary Cooper).


Eerily released on the same day that Germany declared war on the U.S. (and just four days after Pearl Harbor was attacked), HONOLULU LU proved prescient by rounding out Lupe's quartet of imitations with you-know-who.  I will say I can't think of a better Fuehrer within Velez' gender, and the predominantly military audience eats it up.


Screenwriters Yawitz and Gibbons were much more at home writing westerns, and it shows, with a distinct lack of truly funny lines.  Fortunately Barton's comedic skill keeps you from noticing too much.  Velez sings two songs, That's the Kind of Work I Do and the title track. The screenwriters (assisted by Ned Dandy) do manage to come up with slightly bawdy lyrics for the starlet in the former.  The titular tune is overused a bit (three times) but with Lupe strutting her stuff, it's all good.


Herman Brix was barely a year into his name change as Bruce Bennett, and the former Olympic medalist (shot put) and screen Tarzan is acceptable (if bland).  Forrest Tucker is five films into his Columbia pictures contract as the more vocal of Bennett's wingmen, and look for his future leading lady Adele Mara, making her second screen appearance at age 18.  She's uncredited (two lines), as are future big names Larry Parks (as a sailor) and Lloyd Bridges (a desk clerk).

There's Adele! (L)
Nina Campana IS credited, for once--the delightful character actress was too often unbilled in her forty-four film Hollywood career.  She's stuck with the most clichéd dialogue, but still stands out in scenes with Velez and Carrillo.  Her best remembered film would be her next one-TORTILLA FLAT (1942) with Spencer Tracy.

Carrillo and Campana

Ultimately, though, HONOLULU LU is mostly a chance to get full throttle, uninterrupted Lupe Velez at her best for 72 minutes.  True, she is elevating unremarkable material again, but like her long-time co-star Leon Errol, she was quite good at it.  One of the unsung greats of the twentieth century's first half, Velez deserves to be remembered for her immense charm and considerable talents--not for the tasteless urban legends surrounding her untimely passing.

So....why isn't this on DVD?

The MEXICAN SPITFIRE series is out on DVD, courtesy of Warner Archive, but Columbia owns the rights to this one.  C'mon guys, you've issued far less notable "B" movies than this one.


Why it should be on DVD:

An all-too-rare solo showcase for its tragic star, who would be dead three years to the month after HONOLULU LU was released at age 36.  We can all wonder what might have been.  It's easy to imagine Velez eventually conquering a television medium that brought Lucille Ball and Joan Davis (among other comediennes) to new career heights just a decade later.  

HONOLULU LU aired on TCM in August during the channel's 24 hour Lupe Velez marathon, so it seems likely it will turn up there again at some point for your DVR space.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Television Review: CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Fox in Wonderland" (1985)


CRAZY LIKE A FOX: "Fox in Wonderland" (CBS-TV/Sony 1985) Starring Jack Warden as Harry Fox, John Rubenstein as Harrison Fox, Penny Peyser as Gail Fox, Robby Kiger as Josh Fox, Floyd Levine as Cecil, Robert Hanley as Lt. Walker.  Guest Stars: Tracy Scoggins as Joy, Tom Hallick as Renner, Paul Mantee as Bailey, Joe Maross as Herb Spencer, Stephanie Blackmore as Vivian St. John, John Mahon as Lt. Doyle, Don Maxwell as Chauffeur, and Paul Krasny as the Director.  Written by John Baskin, Frank Cardea, George Schenck and Roger Shulman.  Directed by Paul Krasny.


Introduction to the 1984-86 CBS series CRAZY LIKE A FOX is at this link.



After five long years, Harry Fox's old pal and fellow P.I. Herb Spencer has just wrapped up a case for client Bob Renner of Pacific Security: the recovery of $2 million from an armored truck robbery for a finder's fee of ten percent.  Unfortunately, Spencer's partner Bailey thinks a higher cut is warranted, and revealing the location of the loot (at the "Hollywood Y" in a fuse box) to his untrustworthy business associate costs Spencer his life.


Concerned when Herb is late to his birthday party, Harry Fox calls the hotel and learns of Spencer's murder.  Lt. Walker is certain the crime scene is a "simple hotel robbery" but the Senior Fox isn't, surreptitiously taking Spencer's diary as he exits.  The final entries send Harry to L.A., determined to wrap up Spencer's final case--with Bailey supporting him outwardly while undermining the investigation.


"He'd have done the same for me!"

Fox in Wonderland is on very solid ground comedically, loosing Harry's bad driving and improvisational investigation on the City of Angels.  Conveniently, son Harrison has a seminar there, and wouldn't you know it--Harry is soon booked for the same flight!  The junior Fox isn't subjected to quite as many impositions as usual: those are limited to lengthy waits for his father and elbow grease for the necessary shovel.  Harrison is even the quick thinker at the end when a distraction is needed.


"Can I help it if he jumps to conclusions?"

As always, it's Jack Warden carrying the bulk of the laugh load and succeeding admirably.  Effortlessly scaring Herb's rarely rattled secretary when she's in the passenger's seat, and procuring a limo for himself and his son during a taxi strike (thankfully avoiding the complications that Jerry and George would years later) and chomping his cigar throughout, Warden is a delight.  He carries the teleplay past its wobblier elements, and director Krasny stages the finest setpiece (Harry loses control of his brakeless car in the Hollywood hills after Bailey's sabotage) with just the right amount of tension.  With Harry Fox at the wheel, you're not that much more worried than usual!

(Predictably, Joy would handle the driving in subsequent scenes!

So the comedy is consistently strong, but the case itself is on shakier ground.  The final revelation seems far-fetched, existing solely to give us a humorous climactic chase that takes us through an aerobics class and eventually, a movie set (with director Krasny casting himself as the same).  The ensuing humor is much more forced that the laughs preceding the final act, largely because this denouement makes little sense.


For five years, Renner was hoping to recoup $1.8 million of the losses if Herb succeeded, then apparently cut a deal with Bailey once he had eliminated his old partner from the picture, which would reduce his recovery to an even million.  Okay, Bailey's eventual murder (by Renner, we eventually learn) seems very plausible under those circumstances.  But Renner pulling a gun on Harry after the money is recovered, and revealing the entire scheme?


Why??

Renner used Fox to lead him to the money, knowing that Harry is trying to wrap things up for his old friend.  So presumably, the finder's fee would be Harry's for his work, and Renner would get the same $1.8 million he would have received under the old agreement.  Why expose yourself as a murderer in front of three people with little chance of escape for just $200K more?   Granted, Harry might then start poking around in Bailey's murder, but it still seems like a high risk/low reward proposition for Renner.  Your mileage may vary, but to these eyes it's too weak of a motivation.


The career of longtime guest star Joe Maross dated back to the early 1950's, and was nearing its end when he was offed in the opening minute of Fox in Wonderland; predictably, his swan song was a MURDER, SHE WROTE less than a year later.  Stephanie Blackmore (DALLAS) plays a successful movie star with a breathtaking home, but the brightest light in the guest cast is Tracy Scoggins as Spencer's loyal girl Friday.  The Galveston native was only a few months away from prime time stardom on the DYNASTY spinoff THE COLBYS (and later, the parent series itself), with BABYLON 5 and LOIS AND CLARK in her future as well.  She also provides a number of misunderstandings for poor Harrison to bear the brunt of once Mrs. Fox jumps to some (understandable) conclusions.


And yes, you are getting a lot of Tracy Scoggins screencaps.  You're welcome.



The less than satisfying conclusion isn't fatal--as noted before, CRAZY LIKE A FOX was always much more of a comedy (the category in which Jack Warden received both of his Emmy nominations) than a mystery, so the cases were often of secondary importance.  Still, the best installments managed a more perfect balance than this between the two elements.  Fox in Wonderland nevertheless bludgeoned the competition on March 17, 1985 (THE BURNING BED and BRUBAKER), scoring a 20.5 Nielsen rating and finishing in 8th place for the week.  (**1/2 out of four)

getTV occasionally airs CRAZY LIKE A FOX.  Check the listings here!

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Leon Errol Series: OH, PROFESSOR BEHAVE! (1946)



OH, PROFESSOR BEHAVE! (1946 RKO Short)  Starring Leon Errol as Leon, Dorothy Granger as Mrs. Dorothy Errol, Charles Coleman as the Butler, Amelita Ward as Professor James, Joe Devlin as the Fake Professor.  Also starring Myrna Dell, Betty Gillette, Phil Warren, and "Daisy" as Boots.  Written and Directed by Hal Yates.

The introduction to our
Leon Errol Salute series is at this link.



Leon Errol is in hot water yet again.  The Mrs. has caught wind of his activities during her vacation, and she arrives home early to find him happily dancing with Dell--not the only young blonde at what is obviously a lively party.  Not buying Leon's claim that he's entertaining clients before a big sell ("Looks to me like you're on the buying list!"), Dorothy tells him to explain it to her lawyer before her haughty exit.


Meanwhile Leon agrees to provide accommodations in Dorothy's temporarily vacant room for Professor James as a favor to a friend.  Ol' Rubberlegs hasn't met the instructor, and is initially delighted once he learns that the bespectacled James is actually young, beautiful and female--until the Mrs. returns, that is.  With Leon's angry, threatening brother-in-law Warren at her side, she has agreed to give the Mr. just one more chance.  But after the scene witnessed by Dorothy earlier, how's the hubby to explain the presence of a comely brunette in her bedroom?


The mouse is playing while the cat's away once again in Oh, Professor Behave!   Lone gives every indication that he's making plenty of whoopie during his wife's soon-to-be truncated vacation.  Curiously, though, Leon urges the piano player to "speed it up" while he's slow dancing with nubile Dell--you'd think he'd want to do just the opposite, no?  No matter--Dorothy brings the festivities to a halt.  But the freneticism is just beginning.


Hal Yates was on a real roll at this stage of the venerable series, with entries like Beware of Redheads and Double Honeymoon brimming with sight gags stemming from ingenious set-ups.  Unfortunately, there's much that is hard to swallow here--distractingly so.  Professor Ward looks way too young to be more than a graduate student and complete stranger Devlin climbs up a vine-covered ladder to the second story on Leon's command, no questions asked!


If one is willing to accept such loopy contrivances, Oh! Professor Behave certainly offers one of the least labored joke barrages of the series in its second reel.  The stand-in professor turns out to be a total crook, deftly pickpocketing a much higher fee than the $50 Leon hastily offers for masquerade and aiming for all the silverware in the house amidst the chaos.  Meanwhile, the real Professor suffers unthinkable indignities--Leon's come-on, Daisy making off with her nightgown, and being bound and gagged by the butler and eventually wrapped up in linen by Leon.  At least, that is, until the last one: the Fake Professor unknowingly kidnaps her!


Making his only appearance in an Errol short is "Daisy", best known for playing the dog of the same name in 28 BLONDIE feature films for Columbia from 1938 to 1950.  Yes, you read that right---Daisy was really a male whose real name was Spooks.  Further confusing things, butler Coleman calls him "Boots" here.  Daisy was adopted for a mere $3 (some sources said fifty cents!) and ended up earning well into six figures by trainer Rennie Renfro.


This does appear to be the original Daisy I, though I could be mistaken: there were at least two successors as of the 1957 BLONDIE TV series.  Daisy I would have been around eight years old when Oh, Professor Behave! was filmed.   Boots plays hide and seek early on (hiding his face adorably) and later produces the real professor's nightie at an inopportune time for master Leon.  Daisy's high fee was usually worth it, and it is refreshing to see RKO shelling it out for what was often a modestly budgeted series by the late forties.


RKO starlet Myrna Dell started her Hollywood career at RKO, appearing in seven Errol shorts between 1945 and 1948.  Dell was usually the "other woman" making whoopie with Leon behind the wife's back, and while Oh, Professor Behave! is no exception to that rule, she doesn't appear past the opening scene.


Myrna Dell (THE BUSHWHACKERS) wasn't overshadowed often, but it happens here with stunning Amelita Ward in the titular role.  The future bride of BOWERY BOY Leo Gorcey is the brunt of much of the slapstick, enduring it all with almost impossibly good humor.  Ward retired from acting after her 1949 marriage (which lasted only seven years) but did return to the Leon Errol universe one more time in 1948's Secretary Trouble.


But forget the lovely ladies (if you can): the real show-stealer here is beefy character actor Joe Devlin, who understandably had multiple credits as "Mug" and Mussolini during the decade.  Hell, forget the show, the Fake (and decidedly un-scholastic) Professor tries to make off with the entire Errol household in addition to far more than his share of dinner.  He also has some delightfully unscholarly dialogue for the guise foisted on him--it's a shame this was Devlin's appearance in the long-running series.


As for the Great Man himself, he's as reliable as the word gets.  Whether he's stammering, leering, dancing or slamming doors, his timing is perfect.  His chief co-conspirator is perennial butler Coleman as they take turns in this game of hide the Professor.


Oh! Professor Behave is mirthsome but ultimately middling for a Yates-Errol short, if you prefer your two-reelers to have just a tad of verisimilitude. Still, the craziness is undeniably fascinating--Leon never realizes he's been ripped off, the police are never called, the only transgression punished is---Leon's.  The Errol World in a nutshell: giving a thief carte blanche in your house is preferable to facing the wrath of the wife.  But why, Leon?  You've had vases broken over your bald head dozens of times!  The sight gags alone make Oh! Professor Behave worth a second look.  While we're at it, Amelita Ward is worthy of a third, "Daisy" is a welcome surprise and it's nice to see Coleman get more time in the spotlight than usual.  (**1/2 out of four)


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Television Review: LOVE THAT BOB: "Bob Retrenches" (1958)



LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW: "Bob Retrenches" (1958 Laurel-McCadden Productions/NBC) Original Air Date: April 8, 1958.  Starring Bob Cummings as Bob Collins, Rosemary deCamp as Margaret MacDonald, Ann B. Davis as Schultzy, Dwayne Hickman as Chuck MacDonald, Charles Lane as S. J. Jollison, Rose Marie as Bertha, Pattie Chapman as Gertrude, Dorothy Johnson as The Model.  Written by Paul Henning, Shirl Gordon and Dick Wesson.  Directed by Bob Cummings.


Series overview for LOVE THAT BOB a.k.a. THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW at this link:


It's initially a cause for celebration when Bob Collins Photography posts its most successful year to date, beating the past year's gross income by $7426.80.  ($64,467.76 in today's dollars, btw.)  Bob generously gives Schultzy extra money to treat her friends to the day's coffee break, tells nephew Chuck to treat himself to a new wardrobe using a charge card, and prepares to pay his 1957 income tax in one lump.


Bob's trip to pay the taxman ends the party, as the net income is a different story and turns out to be insufficient to satisfy the amount levied by the I.R.S.  Every single expense now warrants Bob's closest scrutiny, from "flowers for gardener" (which turns out to be Bob's attempt to woo Ava Gardner) all the way down to that diamond needle for Chuck's record player.


In an effort to make up for lost income, coffee is no longer free and Chuck is sent out to collect on past due accounts.  But why stop there....?  Schultzy adds an idea of her own as Bob sets out to persuade I.R.S. Agent Jollison that those so-called "dates" are actually business expenditures: just research and development (of new models) which should be deductible, right?

I don't think he's buyin' it, Bob...
LOVE THAT BOB mines more conventional turf than usual in this outing (hasn't every long-running sitcom lead been questioned by the Internal Revenue Service at some point?) with the financial problems created by prosperity taking center stage over our leading man's nocturnal pursuits.  It quickly turns Bob the swingin' single into a veritable square with accounting on the brain.  Not that combining business and pleasure is completely discounted: 1955 Miss Oregon Dorothy Johnson makes her series' debut, credited as "The Model" Bob is interviewing.  While her fate is undetermined at the fade-out, she was obviously hired since Johnson became a semi-regular during the following season as model Harriet Wyle.

Dorothy Johnson at right with our loverboy
Johnson wasn't the only semi-regular-to-be making her bow in Bob Retrenches. This was also the first episode for Rose Marie, who would join the cast during the 1958-59 season as Schultzy's close confidant Martha Randolph.  As is the case with Johnson, same character/different name: she's called "Bertha" in the credits.  Whatever the moniker, Schultzy's buddy joins her in thinking that Bob is the cat's meow.  Just like the photographer's subjects and apparently most of the females in the building judging from the turnout for Schultzy's afternoon coffee break festivities (the best sight gag, expertly timed).


Charles Lane and Rose Marie
Ubiquitous (368 IMDb credits!) TV sourpuss Charles Lane is put to good use as--what else?--I.R.S. agent Jollison, whose humorously terse conversation with Bob is a comic highlight.  Lane and Marie add considerable oomph to a script that was slightly below par for the 1957-58 season.  There's a number of smiles throughout but few belly laughs, and the concept of charging admission to watch The Master in action had been handled better in the superior Bob Gives S.R.O. Performance only a month earlier.


WHO WAS BLOCKING?

With money on the brain for everyone, Bob faced no resistance to his efforts to romance his prospective new model.  Hell, even Schultzy was encouraging him here, since The Show proved to be profitable!


DID BOB SCORE?

Our playboy lays one on Ms. Johnson during her audition, so he seemed on his way.  However, Jollison's ill-timed office call landed Bob in the clink for fraud at the fadeout, so in the end I'd have to say no.  (At least, he probably didn't want to score there.)  Though he did give Schultzy a noticeably longer kiss than usual earlier, when things appeared successful......



Not a bad episode by any means, just unexceptional.  A significant number of smiles, though; this one only suffers in comparison to howlers like Bob Gives S.R.O. Performance and Bob Goes Bird Watching that had aired recently.  The gags may not be gut-busters but they go down easy enough.  Cummings the director has another inspired moment near the end with his presentation of the high-demand "performance and coffee", but there's fewer of those from him and the writers than we've become accustomed to in Bob Retrenches.   (**1/2 out of four)