Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hey, I got fans!

Marty McKee, whose blog you will see among the links to your right, has graciously awarded The Horn Section with the prestigious Dardo award for, as stated, "excellence in blogging and offered in recognition of cultural, ethical, literary and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing."

I am humbled and honored, and sincerely thank Mr. McKee for this recognition, and in the spirit of this award, I'd like to name some other bloggers who are on my must-read list. I should note that most are more industrious than yours truly, in some cases blogging multiple times per day!

Aaron Neathery's The Third Banana

I am fascinated by films from all eras, and Mr. Neathery focuses on often-overlooked comedians from the 1930's and 1940's and sometimes even reaches back to the silent era. One of my favorites that he's highlighted is the great Leon Errol. At some point I'm hoping to complete a book-length biography on Mr. Errol, whose classic RKO shorts are sadly seldom aired these days.

Ivan Shreve's Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

Great stuff here daily. Mr. Shreve watches TCM even more often than I do, and I've probably learned about more DVD releases for television favorites here than anywhere else.

Jaime J. Weinman's Something Old, Something New

As a big WKRP fan myself, a highlight of Weinman's site is an ongoing series of episode reviews of this sometimes overlooked 1978-1982 CBS classic complete with video links.

Big Media Vandalism

Multiple contributors here. Odienator's Black History Mumf special from February 2008 is especially recommended reading, with fantastic reviews of Coming to America, Blazing Saddles, Bustin' Loose and a tribute to Horn Section favorite Diana Sands included.

Past Interference

Finally, I don't blog about it here, but I am a big Miami Dolphins fan, and have written articles for other sites. Currently, you'll find me posting at Phins Central, linked at right. At Past Interference Jeff and Rob offer very entertaining and well researched opinions on the 42 year history of my favorite sports team, including a very interesting four parter on the decision that the team faced at the turn of the 1980's: David Woodley, or Guy Benjamin?

Happy reading, and congrats to all!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


"Why the Hell isn't this on DVD yet? -- Number 30

NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY (1976 ABC-TV) Starring Deborah Raffin, Lynne Moody, Chuck Connors, Tina Louise, Della Reese, Robert Reed, Ralph Bellamy, Fionnula Flanagan and Lana Wood. Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey.

Deborah Raffin and Lynne Moody are beautiful coeds taking a road trip through the south during summer break to go looking for the "real U.S.A." a la EASY RIDER...uh oh. They have a run-in with sheriff Chuck Connors and quickly find themselves convicted of the (completely bogus) charges of trespassing and prostitution.  Sentenced to a work farm for 30 days, our leading ladies are subjected to hard labor, physical and sexual abuse by the guards, and shabby, segregated living quarters. Worse, with each attempt to contact the outside world, Raffin and Moody only find out just how well connected Connors and corrupt warden Robert Reed are.

From an era in which films made for television were broadcast "events" at best and cheap knockoffs of the fads passing through drive-ins at worst, NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY very much reflects the time and fits into the latter category. We have a consistently downbeat tone with our two heroines punished again and again for one "little mistake" (a la LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT). We also have a road trip through the South gone horribly awry (a la MACON COUNTY LINE) and a conspiracy that absolutely everyone seems to be in on (a la RACE WITH THE DEVIL). Finally, we have as much exploitation as prime time television will allow for an intentionally lurid telefilm emulating the "women in prison" subgenre that Pam Grier cut her teeth in pre-COFFY.

Actually on this Vidmark VHS release we have a lot more exploitation than prime time allowed, as additional footage that wasn't aired on the original ABC broadcast pads out my copy. A stand-in bares breasts briefly during a rape scene, similar inserts are added to a "hosedown" scene to break up the obligatory free for all fight, and additional full scenes involving lesbian favors for a lighter workload and whipping both contain extended full frontal nudity. This certainly wasn't shot with a home video release in mind in 1976, and I doubt NIGHTMARE was ever planned for a U.S. theatrical release as the only TV-movies to accomplish that were the most critically acclaimed (DUEL, MY SWEET CHARLIE, BRIAN'S SONG). IMO the film would be much better and tighter without the additions; the nudity seems out of place and distracts from Moxey's establishment of the girls' Hellish situation.

Only two months after premiering NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY, ABC spread the ROOTS miniseries over a full week of its schedule to overwhelming acclaim. Interestingly, usual TV good guys Connors and Reed played unsympathetic characters in both productions, with Connors playing a vile, racist rapist in each. Reed's villainy was not that obvious at the beginning in ROOTS, but his warden here is a scumbag from the get-go: a corrupt pedophile, rapist and murderer whose deeds are well-hidden because his connections extend to the governor's office. Reed was also reluctantly reprising his most famous role in THE BRADY BUNCH HOUR during a very busy 1976-77 season, and he must have really relished the opportunity to play such a despicable character. His performance is arguably the film's most memorable and effective.

Elsewhere, Raffin (NOBLE HOUSE) and Moody (whose next TV gig was also ROOTS, as Irene Harvey) are both attractive and appealing. Tina Louise is unconvincing as the most sadistic of the "trustees", and Fionnula Flanagan is a guard with an unrequited attraction to Raffin. Della Reese also gets to play against type as the inmate who takes Moody under her wing.

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

Even some of the most acclaimed 1970's telefilms are still missing from DVD: MY SWEET CHARLIE, THAT CERTAIN SUMMER, TRIBES and THE EXECUTION OF PRIVATE SLOVICK among them. It's safe to say that NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY is probably low on the priority list.

As was the case with RACE WITH THE DEVIL, it's hard to believe the conspiracy is so wide-reaching, or that a phone would be so easily accessible in a key scene.

Why it should be on DVD:

The 1970's and early 1980's definitely represented the Golden Age of the made-for-TV movie, and both the classics and the more fascinating lowbrow entertainments are more than worthy of DVD release. DVD releases of telefilms like this one would be especially welcome now since these films have just about completely disappeared from cable in the last decade.

Let's face it: you want to see Robert Reed, Tina Louise, Ralph Bellamy and Chuck Connors all playing sleazeballs, don't you? Not to mention a film that more or less ripped off every low-budget drive-in smash hit from the early to mid-1970's.

Film has a cult following and appears to be one of the more well-remembered telefilms of the era, explicit version or not. A DVD release with both versions would be ideal.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Television Review: QUINCY, M.E.: "Bitter Pill" (1982)

QUINCY, M.E.: THE HILARIOUS YEARS -- Number 2: "Bitter Pill" Season 7 (1982)

Starring Jack Klugman, Robert Ito, John S. Ragin, Garry Walberg and Joseph Roman; special guest stars Simon Oakland, William Smithers, Robert Hooks, Peggy McCay, Ralph Taeger, Thomas Byrd, Michael LeClair, Cecily Adams. Directed by George Fenady.

From the soapbox filled seventh season of QUINCY, M.E., "Bitter Pill" is probably the most famous confrontation between Dr. Quincy and the local drug trade, mainly due to the incredible scene at the end of Act III that results in The Big Q spending a night in jail. It isn't cocaine, treated marijuana or heroin that has Quincy's dander up this time, though: it's "lookalike" drugs.

We open on a school campus, where burned out basketball player Perry is slumped and seated by a tree. He's in no shape for practice until his peppier buddy Ross has just the thing he needs: a "black beauty". Actually, it isn't the real thing, just a lookalike drug that "works like a couple of strong cups of coffee". Perry puts up a Dewey Cox-like fight but eventually agrees to "try one". Ross shakes SIX out of the vial, stating that "one won't even knock the sleep out of your eyes!".

I know, the show just started but...wait a minute! I thought one of these was just the thing, but now Perry needs SIX? Ross now wants his buddy to take the equivalent of 12 strong cups of coffee. Not only that, but Ross says they're "guaranteed to have you slam dunking" which I doubt even 30 cups of coffee would accomplish.  Pissing over the backboard, maybe.

Anyway, Perry is unable to sit or stand still at the ensuing practice. After about two minutes of active defense he suddenly grabs his head during a fast break and collapses into convulsions on the court. He's D.O.A. in the emergency room so he ends up on a slab being examined by The Big Q and Sam. An aneurysm is one possibility, but Quincy orders up a tox screen to be sure.

The Big Q next gets a visit from his paramedic friend Mike, who helped Quincy fight for better trauma centers in an earlier episode. Unfortunately, it turns out that Perry was Mike's cousin. Perry had a preexisting condition weakening his blood vessels, and some of the lookalike black beauties were found in Perry's locker at school. Only two were found, so my bad---he only took four, or "eight strong cups of coffee" on further review. Ominously, Mike informs us that if Perry was killed by those drugs, "it was because someone pushed him into it, and pushed him hard!"

"You're telling me that these counterfeit drugs are legal???""How many living powder kegs have to be ignited by these before we do something about it??????????" Quince leaves the lab for Outrage! Number One to visit his police contact LeBatt, who gives us that QUINCY M.E. catchphrase, "my hands are tied!". He continues: "You do something about the law, and I'll work like a banshee to enforce it!" I have a feeling we'll be hearing some screaming all right, but not from LeBatt.

You won't like him when he's angry.

Hardly mourning his friend, Ross is skipping practice at a swim party. After absolving himself of all blame due to Perry's preexisting condition, Ross borrows a few Beauties, not knowing that these are the real thing and not lookalikes. Though his temporary dealer recommends only taking one, Ross proves that he practices what he preaches as a tight insert shot shows him getting six pills for himself. He has his seizure in the pool, convulsing for several minutes according to Sam.

See guys?  I TOLD you you wouldn't!

Amphetamines are found in all three of Ross' tox screens, and at 17 1/2 minutes in, Quincy leaves his day job for the rest of the episode to be present at the police questioning of our party pals. This leads to a positively astonishing scene for QUINCY vets. The Big Q is relatively calm, merely an observer. Meanwhile an emotional Monahan tears into the suspects, and Detective Brill, normally Teller to Monahan's Penn, even adds a few sentences! Even though it's now officially Real Drugs 1, Amphetamines 1 in the death race, The Big Q feels the Lookalikes should be credited with both deaths. Obviously not a man you'd want umpiring.

It might be a sweeet ride.....
....but it still belongs to a VERY bad man.

Quincy goes to the Zagner Pep Shop next. The sign tells us he sells 100% legal stimulants and takes phone AND mail orders. Zagner, played by QUINCY go-to guest baddie Simon Oakland, is overheard selling 50 "Redbirds" to a woman for $22.50. He swears by their safety, and even takes the pills himself, so Oakland (67 at the time and looking every bit of it) might well qualify as the world's oldest drug dealer AND user. He sells T-shirts as well, has the American flag all over his store, and has one sweet ride that we see out front. Just to hammer the point home that he's still a bad man, the license plate reads "SPEED 99". Quince winces with disgust at the fact that the man is becoming quite successful over the dead bodies of teens (or possibly because Zagner's car is so much nicer than the Big Q's brown station wagon).

Once The Big Q identifies himself as a Doctor who doesn't think the lookalikes are "as safe as mother's milk" Zagner isn't so friendly. But it is indeed banshee time! "The people you buy from make sure you can't tell the difference without a magnifying glass or a reference book! The smokescreen of confusion is what (voice cracks) killed him!!!!" Outrage! Number Two

Zagner defends himself by stating he's giving the consumer an alternative to the high priced drugs, and he's "making more money than I've made my entire life!" "I was a loser my whole life before starting this business!" Well, that's a lot of losing, so I am struggling with my sympathies a bit. But Zagner's arrogance keeps us on Quince's side for now: he adds that his car costs twice what The Big Q makes in a year, and that his success was a "looong time" coming. Since he probably qualified for social security before he started the Pep Shop, there's no reason to doubt him on that one.

Selling bennies, yellow jackets, red birds, Metamucil, Geritol......
As the police were no help as usual, Quincy turns to a State Senator (played by usual baddie William Smithers of PAPILLON and DALLAS) playing tennis with his daughter. After we are treated to a booty shot from the short-skirted coed, Quince goes into Outrage! form, calling Zagner a snake oil peddler. Senator Smithers isn't swayed, noting that his daughter even uses the lookalikes to get through midterms. The Big Q presses, calling them a "malignancy" and "training wheels for the real thing"! But the Senator brushes him off like Monahan during a murder investigation.

Visits to the FDA and to supplier Manacor Pharmaceuticals result in no further momentum towards a law, so the Big Q decides to stop short of going higher up the food chain and instead mobilizes the neighborhood. At a nighttime meeting, Big Q assembles a dozen members of the community including the parents of the dead.

The next day we see all of them picketing Zagner's Pep Shop--apparently everyone is able to take a day off work at Quincy's request. The local news team also shows up, despite the fact that we only have 12 picketers. Quincy's on camera debate with Zagner results in another Outrage! in which Zagner suggests The Big Q come down off his soapbox. No way, Zagner! You can contribute to a few deaths, but no way you're taking my comedy away! Quince points out that the law is only on Zagner's side because of (shouted) apathy and ignorance.

Actually I have to give more than a few points to Zagner in this ensuing debate. When questioned about the purchase of the drugs by youngsters, Zagner states that "as of today", no one under 21 is allowed in his shop. Quincy is not mollified. "Today it's 21, yesterday it's 18, two weeks ago anyone with cash could come in! Next they'll turn to the pushers, and who knows what they'll call the stuff?"

On the other hand, we LOVE this guy when he's angry!
Well, no such prior limitations were spelled out, so we're left to assume Quincy is accurate.  Even more of a concern is Quincy's poor presentation of his case in front of the cameras.  Zagner states that Quincy's ideas "all sound good until you really listen!"  Well, I hate to say it, but Zagner's right in this debate. Quincy's trying to get the shop closed, which he just said would result in everyone turning to the pushers, right? And according to The Big Q, the pushers would be even worse! So Zagner's point is being made for him---by Quincy!  Maybe you should have skipped that last re-writing of the script just before filming?

The initial returns on the protest are not good. In fact, it only resulted in more publicity, and more customers for Zagner. At the ensuing meeting, with attendance down to 3, The Big Q learns of another overdose, with a girl taking "Ludes" instead of the lookalikes. The official scorecard now shows the Real Drugs taking a 2-1 lead over The Lookalikes, but it's obvious that Quincy is scoring it a 3-0 Lookalikes rout. "Excuse me", he says, and the dramatic swirl of music tells us we're in for a treat--Outrage! Number...oh, hell, I lost count.

The Big Q walks directly from the Jordan's house to Zagner's with the music accompanied by tight shots of Quincy's feet panning to medium, then closeup, then medium again on Klugman's tight-jawed expression. Sorta reminded me of Claude Akins in the SHERIFF LOBO opening, minus sunshades. After a full 20 seconds of brisk walking, Quincy reaches Zagner's, which for the first time is devoid of customers. Maybe the protests are working! But just in case they aren't---

Quincy starts trashing the place with his bare hands! He wipes out an entire counter of pills, sending the vials flying everywhere. Next he turns his attention to the wall shelves, clearing out the second, third and bottom shelves while curiously sparing the top shelf. He yanks down a shirt, leaving the dozen shirts behind it still hanging, then obliterates two more counter tops in rapid succession. The Big Q then fakes right, goes left and demolishes two more counters, leaving only the one in front of Zagner remaining! But the anticipated physical showdown isn't meant to be....instead Quincy makes another sharp left turn towards the front door, pulls down the "Fly High Legally" sign and exits without changing his expression.

The entire trashing takes 22 seconds, and Zagner, initially stunned, starts to chuckle. He's about 22 seconds behind the rest of us on that one, and phones the police. Next thing we see is Quincy being bailed out of jail by Dr. Asten. I was wondering where the Hell Asten was this episode, and also wondering if he'd have something to say to The Big Q about the several consecutive days of work he's now missed. Nope, not a word about that, just a chastising of Quincy for taking the law into his own hands.

Quincy, it's been a week.  Corpses are stacked to the ceiling!  Please come back to work, I'm begging!

A second meeting of the protesters isn't nearly as well attended as the first, as only 3 of the original 12 remain and even they are sarcastic regarding Quincy's outrage. But the Big Q urges them not to quit and points out that a dozen states have passed legislation aimed at the lookalikes, hopefully not taking legitimate generics off the shelves as feared during an earlier meeting. Quincy's next step is a special legislative hearing (there will be many of these in the final 12 minutes of episodes from The Hilarious Years). "We'll be turning murderers into millionaires!" the cop from earlier moans. The Big Q doesn't take over the questioning this time. Given the bad publicity from his Pep Shop vandalism, I guess we should be thankful he even testifies. Disappointingly, Quince gives a lower decibel testimony, but forcefully makes his point that "without a law, we're dead. As dead as Perry Jordan and Ross Yates!"

Despite the earlier increase in business, sticking with the protests does some good. First, a prospective customer changes his mind in front of the store.  We see Oakland angrily mouthing "Son of a...." through the glass in reaction, which met the prime time standards of 1982.  Later we learn from the Senator that Zagner is closing up shop. Whether his mail order business is also folding is unclear, and unfortunately the Senator offers this closing as proof that a new law isn't necessary. The Big Q warns him that "the cancer is still there" but Smithers is unmoved.

Fighting for truth...justice...and the American Way!!!

But we can see just how right Quincy is (as always) in the final scene. We revisit the Senator's daughter in her dorm room. Just so we'll remember who she is, Smithers' portrait is on her desk and very prominently placed in the frame. She's cramming for a test at 3 A.M. and too wired to sleep from the lookalike pep pills. No wonder, since we get a tight insert of the completely empty vial on her desk. The lovely co-ed is urged to go easy on these, since they are "the Real McCoy", but she still shakes out three instead of one. Only half as much as Ross, but there's still the potential for the Lookalikes to tie things up at 2-2, or, depending on who gets credit, the Real Drugs to take a 3-1 lead in OD's. Actually, I think this one would be a shared score and the Real Drugs should maintain a lead at 2.5 to 1.5. Hey, maybe Zagner's right after all and the lookalikes are safer!

A 67 year old drug dealer taking uppers and driving a souped up hot rod. Another legislative hearing. Some obviously hurried script re-writing. Klugman in high decibel form committing a senseless act of vandalism. In other words, forget HILL STREET BLUES, this is what they were really talking about back in the day when they said "NBC: Our Pride is Showing!" (**** out of four)