Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Television Review: HONDO: "Hondo and the Judas" (1967)

"Your lives are meaningless compared to HONDO!"  

HONDO: "Hondo and the Judas" (1967 ABC-TV/Batjac/MGM) Episode 9: Original Air Date November 3, 1967.  Starring Ralph Taeger as Hondo Lane, Noah Beery Jr. as Buffalo Baker, Gary Clarke as Captain Richards.  Guest Stars: Forrest Tucker as Colonel William Quantrill, Ricky Nelson as Jesse James, John Agar as Frank James, John Carradine as Dr. Leonard Zeber, Roger Perry as Johnny Reno, Richard Bakalyan as Cole Younger, Roy Jenson as Bob Ford, Fritz Ford as Charlie Ford, Kip Whitman as Jim Younger, Ken Mayer as Marshal Bragg, Charles Maxwell as Leek Harker, Pete Dunn as Bottles.  Teleplay by Frank Chase; Story by Andrew J. Fenady.  Directed by Lee H. Katzin.

Series Overview for HONDO: TV's Unlikeliest Cult Hit at this link

Mail call at Fort Lowell.  Hondo Lane receives a terse letter that simply reads: "New Canaan.  Life or Death.  Now."  Signed with the letter Q.  The scout mysteriously and abruptly rides out alone, leaving Sam with Buffalo Baker as he begins a multi-day journey east.  Along the way, Lane is recognized from afar by the Harker brothers.  Unaware that Emberato has been pardoned, the aspiring bounty hunters trail the scout when he departs.

"A man can live with one wing, but not with gangrene."

Once Hondo arrives in New Canaan, he finds an almost deserted ghost town.  Inside the saloon: Lane's former Confederate commander, Colonel William Clark Quantrill.  Thought to have died four years earlier, Quantrill is alive but not particularly well--he's missing his left arm and prone to ill-tempered outbursts.  Lane also discovers that the Colonel sent the same cryptic note to all of his former Raiders: the James brothers, the Youngers, Bob and Charlie Ford, and late arrival Johnny Reno. 

Once all are present for the surprise--to Hondo, at least--reunion, Lane learns the all-important situation he's been summoned for is Quantrill's planned robbery of an Army payroll wagon.  But that isn't the ex-commander's only project: he also has vengeance on his mind against the "Judas" among them who cost him an arm and left him for dead in a ditch.  Wanting no part of either idea, Lane leaves a note and begins the long trek back--with three would-be assassins hot on his trial and the Colonel not far behind.

We discover in Hondo and the Judas that the protagonist's search for his wife's killer took him all the way to the Kansas-Missouri conflict.  There, the man General Sheridan hailed as "the best scout and infiltrator on either side" gained that reputation in the South's most notorious guerilla unit.  That is, two years before he was "late of 7th of Texas".  While not necessarily contradicting what we were told before, this revelation still seems improbable for a number of reasons.

Fenady provided the story but assigned this teleplay to Frank Chase (Hondo and the Savage), whose heavy-handed approach marred that interesting FORT APACHE variation.  In his sophomore installment, BONANZA veteran Chase is uncharacteristically sloppy, blundering badly before the opening credits.  Lane leaves Sam at Fort Lowell, explaining that "this is something before you--before Destarte, even."  Uh, not according to Hondo's long-cited reason for joining the South in the first place, which was avenging her death!  Katzin certainly should have cut this, particularly since it is contradicted later in the same episode by Quantrill.

Going against the show's entrenched universe is a no-no for any episode, but it's of utmost importance to have Lane's impetuses clear here.  We're about to learn that Hondo fought under a notorious bushwhacker who led massacres targeting and killing numerous civilians--not unlike the one that killed Lane's wife, unborn child, and "sick old men".  Positing Hondo Lane as a loyal follower of a sociopathic opportunist doesn't do much for one's affinity.  That military reputation espoused by General Sheridan also takes a hit with the disclosure that Hondo was captured in Lawrence on the eve of Quantrill's most flagrant raid.

Consistent inconsistency with both the series' established backstory and this episode's reigns throughout Hondo and the Judas.  In one particularly blatant example, Robert Ford objects vociferously to riding with a madman, meaning Quantrill; less than thirty seconds later he charges Hondo with being "the only one who wants to get out of this deal"(!) and is angered sufficiently to fight about it.

Exercising artistic license on the highly chronicled figures in Hondo and the Judas is a given; the decisions on when and what are as questionable as all the rest.  As you'd expect from a Fenady production, research is evident: William Quantrill was once a schoolteacher, and in a key moment, Chase neatly makes the point that many of his guerrillas were boys (and teenagers were killed by his reckless actions).   But the Colonel's claim that to be "a Southerner" who fought for the South as a matter of "duty and love"?

"I used to be like you, I could forgive my enemies...…"

Quantrill was born in Ohio and spent subsequent pre-War years in Illinois, Utah, Kansas...Hell, practically everywhere but a Southern state.  A northerner who fought for the South, in reality.  Just like Hondo--a commonality, if presented, would create understandable circumstances for Lane ending up a Raider.  Not the only missed opportunity along these lines--the real Cole Younger was also motivated to become an underground fighter by the death of his father at Union hands, for example.

The presence of so many infamous rogues seems more liability than asset, since the misdeeds of the James-Younger gang and Quantrill's Raiders are much more widely known than those of (say) the Apache Kid.  That said, with Hondo and the Judas being such an outlier for the show in premise and quality, it's the presence of those figures and the cast (a cultist's dream) providing most of the entertainment value.

"Say it clearer than that, Ford!"

Bob Ford is Hondo's lone antagonist among his fellow Raiders, and also the only one showing overt allegiance to the Gray.  Since Hondo is now working for the hated Blue Bellies, the younger Ford accuses the scout of being the Judas--frequently.  Johnny Reno is Hondo's closest friend of the Raiders, with Cole Younger also consistently supportive.  Frank James noticeably ensures Hondo gets a fair fight once things come to a head with Ford.

"People think he died a hero in the War, let it stay that way."

Quantrill isn't glorified here.  The Colonel we meet tricks Hondo Lane into meeting him under false pretenses.  He saves Hondo's life (for a second time), but mainly because he needs to use Lane's current honest job status for a covert robbery.  A self-serving opportunist to the end, Quantrill uses these loyal ex-soldiers, uncaring about anyone's life save Zeber's--and his own.  Manipulative?  When Lane makes it known that he'd like to pass on "the plan", Colonel Quantrill shames him, asserting that he led the Lawrence raid solely to save Hondo's neck!  Hondo's response is a priceless (and wordless) combination of disgust and disbelief:

What would have happened if Quantrill had lived?  Hondo and the Judas posits that he would have applied his "hit and run" tactics to robberies--just the James-Younger gang on a larger scale.  Nothing noble there.  Nevertheless, the script (through Doc Zeber mainly) implies more than once that Quantrill was a once a noble man but was corrupted by the horrors of war and betrayal.  Eh--highly debatable, and frankly leaves a bad taste.

After nearly a decade of affability between THE MUSIC MAN and F TROOP, Tucker reminds you of just how frightening a villain he could be.  Roger Perry is equally impressive as the tortured loner Reno, but Ricky Nelson is merely adequate at best in his stunt-casting as Jesse James.  The most intriguing character is the fictional Zeber, essayed by old pro Carradine.  A broken-down yet hard to read physician, he appears at various times to be the Judas or the real brains behind the mad mastermind.  In the end, the Doctor seems inspired by Hondo's forgiveness towards his former adversaries.

In reality, Bob Ford was exactly eighteen months old when the Lawrence massacre took place, his brother Charles was all of six years of age, and John Reno was never anywhere near the South or Quantrill.  Suffice to say it took far more than the typical number of liberties to get all these malefactors together and the advisability of doing so turned out to be rather dubious.  When all is said and done, Hondo and the Judas is a misfire.


Television prints and the version streaming on the late Warner Archive Instant missed two key conversations between Ford, Zeber and Hondo.  The missing minutes are restored to the complete series DVD version from Warner Archive.


The coward Robert Ford (whose future assassination of Jesse is subtly referenced in the tag) is Hondo's main antagonist here, angry at him for joining the Union Army and eventually getting his ass kicked after throwing a punch at a disabled Hondo.  It's the titular one's only fracas of the episode, but it's a really good one as Ford fights dirty, then finds the ante upped considerably by his temporarily one-winged adversary.  One of the finest fistfights of the entire series and easily the best minute of this episode.


Chase apparently wasn't much on writing for canines.  Sam was absent from both of his teleplays after the teaser.


Fort Lowell's cantina barely gets a scratch from Buffalo's losing effort in an arm wrestling match, but the deserted watering hole in New Canaan gets quite a workout after Ford edges too close in his commentary.

In Bruce Eder's excellent bio of The Horn Section's patron saint for All Movie Guide, he singles out Tuck's "very effective" performance here in "one of the better episodes" of the series.  Well, I agree with half of Eder's assessment.  One of very few missteps for what was usually a solid-to-excellent series, Hondo and the Judas is a questionable idea poorly executed.  (*1/2 out of four)

HONDO airs every Sunday morning at 10:15 A.M. Central Time on getTV.

HONDO: THE COMPLETE SERIES is also available on DVD from Warner Archive.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Kermit Schafer Series: "100 SUPER DUPER BLOOPERS" (1977)

1977 marked the Silver Anniversary for producer Kermit Schafer and his bloopers, and as always, the Blooper Man was all over the place to celebrate.  A quarter century after the first Blooper LP on Jubilee (which ended up selling over two million copies, pretty impressive numbers in the early Fifties), Schafer released dueling multi-volume sets on MCA and K-Tel to mark the milestone year.

We all saw that commercial on TV for the K-Tel release (and also noticed that "Kermet's" name was misspelled in it) which was a natural progression for the well known Canadian company after they distributed the PARDON MY BLOOPER film in 1974.  Many of us of a certain age were intrigued to learn about all this shockingly filthy unbleeped and uncensored material that just couldn't be repeated on TV.  And, since this 2-LP set would be in the K-Tel section of the record store, those who were my age could have an easier time buying it than we'd have trying to slip out with the latest Richard Pryor or George Carlin record we weren't supposed to be listening to.  (Thank goodness there was no PMRC yet in 1977....)

While this was eight years before the voluntary labeling of records, there was another reason that Kermit Schafer's latest was a less troublesome purchase for us aspiring class clowns: F-bombs were verboten.  Likely by K-Tel/Commonwealth, since the six volume MCA series was awash with them.  (More on that set later.) 

Only about one in five of those uncensored K-Tel bloopers actually contained profanity, though there were enough to satisfy us.  With Schafer's somewhat infamous reputation for stretching the truth---Uncle Don and Sonny Tufts? being among the more (in)famous examples---a better question to ask is, how many were re-creations, or outright creations?  If you'd like to follow along with me, here's the complete 2 LP set on YouTube:

Let's start the trip down memory lane with Record One, Side One (0:00 to 15:54 on the link above):

Fakes: 12, 15, 16, 17, 23, 24, 25.

The Real Deal: 2 through 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 18 through 22.  


2) Fortunately, there's video versions of some of these NEWLYWED GAME classics, like this one:

3) This baseball game took place on April 26, 1976 and was the lone American League game on that Monday slate.  You'd think Don Money's leadoff game winning homer would deserve mention, but I still think this one is genuine.  (In print, Schafer unnecessarily embellished it with a second "S-bomb".)

4) Cedric Adams (1903-1961) was the Lowell Thomas of the upper Midwest, breaking up frequently and popping up on multiple blooper records.

6) Had to have taken place on or shortly after November 30, 1958, which was Sir Churchill's 84th birthday. 

10) Poor Joseph Kasa-Vubu (1910-1969).  Not only did he get his name misspelled on the record, but the first President of the Republic of the Congo (elected 1960) ended up losing the Presidency to that strongman Mobutu in a 1965 coup.

11) Is actually this famous sequence from THE NEWLYWED GAME.  Bob Eubanks himself called Cathy his favorite contestant of all time.  She is easy on the eyes; for proof, here's the video version:

12) and 16) Same announcer on both, and we'll hear more from him later.  Just four bloopers apart?  Schafer usually wasn't THAT careless with the sequencing.

13) Has to be from 1964; the initiative that the announcer is struggling with was California Proposition 14.  Didn't really need that overly cute splice at the end ("if you're for the initiative, you're against....the initiative") Kermit!

14) That is Schenkel, and must have taken place before Agustin Senin joined Paolino Uzcudun as a notable Basque boxer.  Incidentally, Schenkel had his facts wrong: Joe Louis knocked Uzcudun out in the fourth round, not the 12th, on December 13, 1935.  I think if he'd been born a few decades later, he would have played a Bond villain's henchman when his boxing days ended:

Paolino Uzcudun

15) The worst Wolfman Jack impersonator in history.  But maybe not the worst celebrity sub on this record.  Read on.

17) "Groucho" is just as bad as the impersonator on 15.

18) This one happened on the first day of that unauthorized NBC technician's union strike: Monday, April 27, 1959, playing havoc with Frank Bourgholtzer's valiant attempt to report Eisenhower's veto of the REA Bill that same day.  EPILOGUE: Ike's veto was overridden two days later, and the video technicians accepted a settlement to end the nineteen day strike on May 16.

Frank Bourgholtzer (1919-2010)

20) Does the spelling consistently suck or what?  Couldn't even get John Scali's name right!

21) Bing and Al singing Philco's praises is from 1947.  A longer version:

24) Heard the "chick list" on other records, and other announcers, and even other astronauts

25) Not Bob Eubanks this time, so it must be a re-creation.  Probably did happen, I'd bet.

Record One: Side Two (15:55 through 34:20)

Fakes: 1, 5, 6, 8, 9, 13, 15, 18

The Real Deal: 2-4, 10-12, 19, 22-25


1) Who was that mysterious Pirate pitcher?  One of the most shameful fakes--ever know any announcer not to just call the pitcher by his last name during the broadcast?

3) While F-bombs were a no-no, K-Tel allowed this one unintentional C-bomb from the golden age of radio.  Bob Burns' name is misspelled on the label.  This one had to have taken place between October 1942 and December 1946, the duration of Lever Brothers' sponsorship of his show.

6) One of my faves as a kid, but sadly inauthentic IMO, since the same sound effects popped up on several prior Schafer "re-creations".

Well, not ALL of it, Kermit.....

8) Almost as bad a Welk impersonator as those on Side One.  Schafer rehired him for the Citizen's Bloopers album for K-Tel the same year, I think.

10) Long Journey doesn't sound that interesting, so little wonder I couldn't find much information on it, except that it did indeed air on weekday mornings from 11-11:15 AM on ABC in 1951-52, and Pauline Frederick had a news show on ABC then also.

11)  I think this particular blooper occurred during the North American Championships in Squaw Valley that started February 19, 1959.  Buddy Werner competed then, but a broken leg kept him out of the Winter Olympics there the following year.  However, local legend "Kit" Carson White overcame his awkwardness, returning a year later to report on the 1960 Winter Olympics, the highlight of his career.  Soon after that, he formed the U.S. Ski Writer's Association with a respected national journalist he met there.... Lowell Thomas!  Small world.

"Kit" Carson White (1914-2001)

13) Heard this one elsewhere, too.  Never really bought it.

15) Carl Smith, 84, a lifetime resident of this city......what city?

16) Too hard to find recordings of STRIKE IT RICH (1947-1957) to tell if this is a re-recording or not.  But outside of the recording sounding a little too clean, it could be legit.

19) Speaking of Lowell Thomas, he kept popping up on Schafer records and his breakups were indeed legendary.  This November 1967 classic (I'm able to date it by the initial newspaper reports of it and the release of Ms. Guyer's book) was so well known that it was mentioned in Thomas' 1981 obituary and was still being included on blooper albums into the Dick Clark era.

22) The narrator was kind to Douglas, and in turn, Douglas was kind to Kermit in the liner notes.

23) Mrs. Sirka Aarelid was the woman who had the toothbrush removed from her stomach in Stockholm's Caroline Hospital. UPI reported this item on November 8, 1967.

25) It took a lot of digging to find this one, but Lt. Theodore Swartz hit that buzzard in Dunnellon, Florida on .... August 5, 1963!  Swartz was on active duty from 1954-1977.

Record Two: Side Three (34:20 through 48:17)

Fakes: 5, 11, 15, 17, 19, 22, 24

Authentic: 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20, 21, 23, 25


2) Milton Cross, referenced here as the Dean of Announcers, broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera from the first broadcast on Christmas Day, 1931 until his death on January 3, 1975--missing only four live shows in 43 years!

3) Representative and future President Gerald Ford made this proposal in January 1967.

4) What was up with that "racketship" description by another announcer during the intro?  That sounds like Bill Stern doing the Sardo Bath Oil commercial though.

5) I'd love for this one to have really happened, but her delivery is as artificial as it gets.

7) Deservedly one of radio's most discussed incidents and happened to an unsuspecting Walter O'Keefe on the October 15, 1948 DOUBLE OR NOTHING.  Here's the full show below.  Young waitress (and former Navy nurse) Anna Miles is the first contestant, and get a load of how flustered she has O'Keefe immediately and continuing for the rest of the show:

9) A childhood fave of mine. Oh, yes!

Well, not quite a three for one shit seal, but close...

10) Judging from those news stories that he was repeatedly unable to present, these technical difficulties wreaked havoc on Frank Blair's TODAY show on Tuesday, August 29, 1967--a day much better known as The Day the Running Stopped on THE FUGITIVE.

11) Funny as Hell, but I'm skeptical of its authenticity due to the clean sound and slightly phony sounding verbiage leading up to the uh, climax.

13) How I wish I could find more information on Mrs. Louise Jacobs from Detroit, MI and her prolific tool making husband.  Unfortunately, this clip lacks the fame of Anna's proposed screwing party on number 7 above.

A much earlier LP back cover

17) Not even Howell Heflin sounded like this alleged Senator.

19) The same announcer from side one's football game (12) and Grand Prix (16) is now announcing hockey.  Busy guy!  But he gets even busier--see side four.

22) Hoo!  That'll be the day!  The worst actor on this entire record, though he has some competition (see 24 below).

23) Interior Secretary Stewart Udall (1920-2010) made these comments on February 23, 1965 to the Sales Executive Club in NYC.

24) "Bob Johnson" from Total Information News sounds just as unconvincing as the name of his newscast.

Record Two: Side Four (48:18 through 1:01:17)

Fake: 5, 7, 8, 13, 17, 19, 21

The Real Deal: 1, 3, 6, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25


2) Miss Welch did indeed receive the Star of the Sixties award from the Interstate Theatre Circuit and Cinerama and Pacific theatres did give her the International Star of the Year award, and received both in 1967.  But is this blooper for real?  Doesn't quite sound as fake as the similar "boy, what a pair" Jane Russell comment on earlier LP's.

6) Pfizer Udder Tone was trademarked on October 11, 1962.

7) At the very least, a re-recording, as I heard this one with a male announcer making the exact same blooper on earlier records.

11) Shay Torrent (1919-2004) was the organist at Anaheim Stadium from 1965-1986.

12) May 7, 1952 was the date that the Klompen Dancers appeared on ARTHUR GODFREY AND HIS FRIENDS on CBS.

17) Our announcer friend from football, the Grand Prix, and Bobby Orr's NHL game returns for a fourth time, and screws up a PBA match.  Regardless of the sport, he's unbelievably phony each time.  Bad hire, Mr. Schafer.

18) Yes, that's Frank Gallup.

20) Evel's infamous Snake River Canyon attempt took place on September 8, 1974.  Representative John Murphy of New York was the key "two bit politician" attempting to block television coverage of the jump.

23) Yes, that's Gene (MATCH GAME) Rayburn, who was one of the rotating hosts of MONITOR on NBC radio from 1961-1973.  That $100,000 All Star Bowling Tournament took place in Philadelphia from January 13-24, 1965.   Winners: Dick Weber and Anne Slattery.

25) The perfect closer, and also the perfect example of K-Tel's F-bomb ban.  The full-length Martin and Lewis commercial outtake for THE CADDY (1953) is even raunchier than the admittedly still damn funny shortened version that appears on this album:

As was the case with the PARDON MY BLOOPER (1974) feature film, singer Danny Street closes things out with "You Blew It".


I counted 51 that I could verify as authentic or make a reasonable assumption, 29 that are either suspected fakes or outright phony, and 20 that I either can't tell or am on the fence regarding a determination.

It's easy to see why Kermit Schafer gets derided by many: the "re-creations" are really blatant, to the point that they overshadow the still-impressive amount of authentic material.  Nevertheless, this much appears true to me: while he is guilty of some embellishment, Kermit Schafer gets a bit of a bum rap from his detractors--at least, based on the contents of 100 SUPER DUPER BLOOPERS.  You'd think that 9 out of 10 bloopers are fake from what few comments are found online about him, but it appears that the man was respectably 60 to 65 percent authentic this time around.

So what if ten year old ears couldn't discern the forgeries and we had to go elsewhere for truly harsh language?  Schafer still delivered the goods often enough to have us seeking out more of his blooper collections, which turned out to be plentiful.  He gave us 32 albums and 15 books before his own fart--er, fatal, uh heart attack in 1979.  Next time, I'll cover a raunchier MCA set from the Silver Anniversary year, ALL TIME GREAT BLOOPERS VOLUMES 5 & 6.

If anyone out there can fill in the blanks for me on the last twenty Super Duper bloopers, or can correct me or make additions to my notes, feel free to help me out in the comments below--I'll take all the help I can get as I trek through Schaferland.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Leon Errol Series: GOOD MORNING, EVE! (1934)

GOOD MORNING, EVE! (1934 Vitaphone Short) Starring Leon Errol as Adam, June MacCloy as Eve, Vernon Dent as Nero, Maxine Doyle as Queen Guinevere, Fred Toones as Porter, Wild Bill Elliott as Lancelot, Mildred Dixon as Chorine, Harry Seymour as Harold.  Written by Cyrus Woods, Eddie Moran and A. Dorian Otvos.  Directed by Roy Mack.

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

On a bright day in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve enjoy the sunshine.  While Adam lounges in his fig leaves and spats, Eve prepares their decidedly vegetarian lunch. 

Leon Errol, the first man on earth!  
Adam bemoans the lack of variety in their diet, and he and Eve can't resist adding an apple despite a talking serpent's warning.


Perhaps they should have been more appreciative of the tip-off: after their meal the couple goes on a surreal journey through the next two centuries, passing through Emperor Nero's talent contest and King Arthur's court before ending up on a 1934 beach via airplane(!)--where singing Harold is about to marry his fifth wife and Leon ogles the bathing-suited beauties in front of his first.  (Hey, she'd have to be--right?)

A rare chance to see our boy Leon in color, GOOD MORNING, EVE! is a gloriously silly last gasp for racy content before the Breen PCA began seriously enforcing the Hays Code (released in September 1934).  The second three-strip Technicolor short (LA CUCARACHA beat it to theatres by three weeks), GOOD MORNING EVE! looks amazing and makes little sense. 

A hillbilly band dressed in togas, accompanying Nero's fiddling?  Sir Lancelot winning a swordfight with another of King Arthur's finest--needing Leon's help to do it?  Yes and yes, accompanied in all eras by lovely ladies wearing the shortest shorts allowed, most prominently when we finally reach 1934--of course.

As for our boy Rubberlegs, there's nary a drop of alcohol to imbibe, and no really memorable lines.  On the plus side, he gets several decent physical gags, and plenty of lovely ladies half his age to ogle.  Naturally, Eve turns out to be just as unforgiving of that wandering eye as future RKO wives would be.

Although he could always make the most out of mediocre material, one wishes Leon had better jokes to carry to the finish line here.  Still, GOOD MORNING, EVE! has plenty of trashy pleasures, and lots of familiar faces to spot.   Three Stooges mainstay Vernon Dent makes an appropriately bizarre Nero, future Western mainstay "Wild" Bill Elliott is that uncredited Sir Lancelot, and Gwinevere is played by the future Mrs. William Witney, Maxine Doyle.

An Eve thirty years younger than our Adam (but still unable to keep Leon's full attention), June MacCloy isn't the only scantily clad lovely here.   Yes, the first woman on earth has plenty of competition as the centuries pass.  Busby Berkeley regulars Donna Mae Roberts, Mildred Dixon, Loretta Andrews and Martha Merrill are all recognizable--Dixon on the beach, the others in Nero's Rome.  While the numbers aren't as geometrically complex as Berkeley's (how could they be?) they're fun, and never lacking for eye candy to draw your attention.

The novely of seeing Leon Errol in color is far more memorable than the script, but if GOOD MORNING, EVE! isn't exactly exceptional stuff, it never wears out its welcome in nineteen garish and sometimes titillating minutes.  Worth seeing for historical value, a decent number of laughs for its runtime, and the fun of spotting all those familiar faces--yes, there's a few I didn't mention above, so check it out for yourself.  Oh, and there's a twist ending that I won't spoil here, but could only have happened in a pre-Code.    (**1/2 out of four)

GOOD MORNING, EVE! occasionally airs on Turner Classic Movies, and is available on DVD in the Vitaphone Cavalcade of Musical Comedy Shorts collection, though the price is steep--it's a six disc set.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Film Review: FINGER MAN (1955)

"Why the Hell isn't this on DVD (or Blu) yet?" -- Number 100 

FINGER MAN (1955 Allied Artists) Starring Frank Lovejoy, Forrest Tucker, Peggie Castle, Timothy Carey, Evelynne Eaton, John Cliff, Hugh Sanders, Glen Gordon, John Close, William Leicester, Joi Lansing, Lisa Montell, Henry Kulky, Dorothy Green.  Written by Warren Douglas.  Directed by Harold D. Schuster.

Three-time loser Frank Lovejoy is facing prison for life after he leaves incriminating evidence behind while robbing a liquor truck.  In lieu of becoming a four-time loser, U.S. Treasury agents needing a titular informant offer Lovejoy amnesty if he agrees to help them bring down the empire of mafioso Forrest Tucker.  It's a no-win situation to the petty criminal: life behind bars or a grisly end at the hands of Tucker's goons once the Don finds out.  Nevertheless, Lovejoy eventually decides a slim chance at a new life is better than none, a desire that intensifies after he visits sister Eaton, formerly one of Tucker's "working girls" and now a discarded, suicidal addict.

Impetuous Lovejoy manages to infiltrate Tucker's inner circle despite friction with his even more hotheaded former cellmate Carey, who is now Tuck's most trusted henchman.  While ingratiating himself to the kingpin, Lovejoy also finds time to bond with hard-shelled ex-moll Castle, who yearns for a fresh start of her own after a more graceful exit from Tuck's employ than Eaton enjoyed.  At first intrigued by Lovejoy's independent attitude, Tuck slowly becomes suspicious, with his misgivings eventually landing both Castle and Lovejoy on the mobster's hit list.

It's quite a domain that Tucker has amassed at the outset of FINGER MAN: operations in nine states spread out coast (California) to coast (New Jersey) emcompassing drug trafficking, liquor sales, nightclubs and quality prostitution.  Did I say quality?  Castle, Eaton and Green are the rejects, gents!

Castle's the "lucky" one who exited the profession gracefully, but that's a relative term.  Tuck's retirement plan is more likely to come with addiction, disfigurement, or literal termination.  Active employment isn't all that, either--being groped by creepy Carey is daily job hazard. To be fair, the customers in Tucker's nightclub seem to be having a great time, but we see plenty of reasons for the Feds to shut him down.

In the middle of a busy 1955 (six features and his first TV series, CRUNCH AND DES), Tucker made his only two noirs for Allied Artists, with this being the better known of the two thanks to a more recognizable cult cast and occasional airings on Encore Mystery some years back.  The 6' 5" actor is suitably low-key, letting his lines and stature give him all the menace he needs.  The no-frills approach only slightly contrasts Lovejoy's barely controlled rage, and the always quirky Carey has a field day filling in the blanks.  Snarling, twitching and letting his hands roam over all the ladies, right hand man Carey is noticeably relegated to an adjacent table when boss Tuck is in female company.

The screenplay for FINGER MAN includes few surprises, but all three actors are convincing, even when the dialogue isn't.   Paul Dunlap's score is a solid plus (particularly during Castle's nighttime walk), as is the consistenly unsentimental approach taken by screenwriter Douglas, who reteamed with Schuster for DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE.

On the minus side, FINGER MAN fizzles in the final reel, with Castle and Carey removed from the action and a wiring scheme that the smart Mafioso really should not have fallen for.  There's the occasional unintentional laugh, such as Lovejoy getting Sanders' backhanded critique of his intelligence, but on the whole this is a commendably hard-edged B for its era.

Both Joi Lansing and Lisa Montell go uncredited--neither would have happened just a year later.  Lansing barely has two lines in the nightclub, but the latter has a key scene as Tuck's latest fresh face off the bus (to replace Green).   Sadly, Lansing (LOVE THAT BOB), Eaton and Castle (LAWMAN) all left us way too young: Lansing died of breast cancer at 43, and Castle fell victim to alcoholism at 45.

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

Not a well-known film, came along rather late in the noir cycle, and leading man Frank Lovejoy (COLE YOUNGER, GUNFIGHTER) has become undeservedly obscure in the years since his untimely death (he was only 50 when he succumbed to heart failure in 1962).

Why it should be on DVD:

Hey, it made to VHS (on Lionsgate in 1990) and made the cable rounds on Encore in the late 1990's.

Forrest Tucker's two Allied Artists noirs (he was the lead in NIGHT FREIGHT, opposite Barbara Britton) would make a nice double feature; that film never even made it to VHS.  And as you know, the official position of the Horn Section is: if Tuck's in it, it needs to be available.

Timothy Carey was one of a kind, and this is the performance that reportedly brought him to the attention of Stanley Kubrick, who then cast him in THE KILLING and PATHS OF GLORY.  If he isn't quite as unhinged as in, say, BAYOU, he's still quite the attention grabber here.  For Carey and Castle alone there's enough value for cultists to make a DVD and/or Blu release worthwhile.