MOD Roundup: DOC SAVAGE MAN OF BRONZE, FUTUREWORLD, S.O.B. VICTOR VICTORIA, SKIN DEEP and a passel of HANNA-BARBERA.
The best thing about dojng an MOD column is the sheer diversity of stuff I run into. What sounded at first like it would just be a chance to peer down memory lane once in a while turned out,in fact to offer me important opportunities to catch up on cinema and TV that had achieved cult status without ever passing my way. Almost to a one I have enjoyed these dips into the unknown, especially the genre stuff. This installement features cult films, animation, and a pair of Blake Edwards comedies. The future of MOD seems assured but I have to admit I do miss the spcial features that would ordinarly have accompanied some of these had they been offered as standard releases. In particular it seems a shame not to have the chance to here from the good folks at Hanna-barbera more about the history of their company and the huge influence they had on a whole generation of kids.
Doc Savage Man of Bronze was actually one of the first MODs Warner made available. It's been out for a while and I desperately wanted a copy. Why? This definitely falls into the so-bad-it's-good category but it also falls into the historically significant category. This 1975 flop boasts a number of well known character actors, and was the last film from legendary fantasist George Pal who both co-wrote and produced the film.
The character of Doc Savage was a co-creation of a pulp publishing house and a writer named Lester Dent who led a life not unlike that of the fictional super smart super athletic scientist adventurer. Starting in the thirties as the focus of a popular magazine series the character enjoyed popularity in a variety of mediums, most notably a long series of books from Bantam Books publishing which reprinted the magazine stories in paperback form emblazoned with unforgettable covers by the now legendary illustrator James Bama. Avidly collected, Doc Savage now had an established iconography and more readers than ever before. It was only a matter of time until Hollywood came calling.
While the film had a perfectly cast Ron Ely of TV's Tarzan fame in the lead role it seemed doomed at every other turn. Writer's strikes, sudden budget problems and a decision to recreate the character in high-camp Batman fashion resulted in something barely fit for TV at the time much less the big screen. It's sad to think of Pal going out that way. But the truth is that Doc Savage Man of Bronze does bring a smile to any but the most hardened heart. It's also a treasure trove of trivia for any movie fan.
Futureworld (1976) is famous mainly for being a sequel to the far, far, better film Westworld (1973) which was also the directing debut of writer Michael Crichton who went on to write and or direct such marvelous stuff as The Great Train Robbery (1979), Coma (1978), and Jurassic Park (1993). Director Richard T. Heffrom brings some solid style visually, especially when using his camera to explore themes and ideas, but the film has no dramatic tension at all suffering from a predictable even sappy plot that shoe horns in a romance between journalistic rivals and showcases an odd friendship between a handyman at the Delos resort and his robotic helper. Future World does bring back Yul Brynner as the gunslinger in a surreal and quite beautiful nightmare sequence but even this may draw laughs as a sense of unintentional camp pervades. The basic plot has the Delos resort relaunching operations and inviting the press to witness the grand opening. If only the special effects had been as special as they were in Jurassic Park or even other contemporary sci-fi. The solid cast that includes Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner is hamstrung here and an ending that features
My last memory of Blake Edwards is him pretending to crash his wheelchair at the 76th annual Academy Awards. How could anyone not smile at a man so in love with making others smile? And how could any man not smile at Operation Petticoat(1959), Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961) (the tawdry racism of Mickey Rooney not withstanding), Experiment in Terror (1962) and Days of Wine and Roses (1962) all of which came before his legendary Pink Panther films. And midst that historic run he also made The Great Race (1965), The Party (1968), and 10 (1979). In short the man was a national treasure.
Of all of Blake Edwards somewhat lesser seen stuff this may well be the best. S.O.B. (1981) was widely publicized as the movie that dared to reveal Mary Poppins hooters to the world and while Edwards real-life wife Julie Andrews did indeed do the half-monty that is far from the best thing going on here. This searing satire of Hollywood has a fantastic cast ripping through some of the funniest stuff Edwards ever wrote and they have a blast doing it. S.O.B. is offered here as an MOD but really needs to be remastered and offered as a Criterion or something. Pack that sucker with extras and get it out there I say.
Richard Mulligan who fans will remember from the groundbreaking TV sitcom Soap (1977-1981) plays Felix Farmer, a washed up director whose hugely expensive last film has flopped. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt he gets an idea worthy of inclusion in the bad movie idea hall of fame. He'll buy back the flop and turn it into a big budget star ridden porno. Now if only he can convince his actress wife to abandon her squeeky clean image he'll be all set. Great character actors abound and significantly this is the last film of the great William Holden.
I'm not as big a fan of Victor Victoria (1982) as some. I appreciate the heart of the film but at it's heart it seems like a slightly vanilla version of La Cage Au Faux (1978) which bears endless back-to-back repeat viewing. Both films are remakes of the German film Viktor und Viktoria (1931) which was itself remade a few short years later as First a Girl (1937) as a vehicle for upcoming star Jessie Mathews. Still as screwball comedy goes Edwards piece does have an undeniable elegance and a series of great performances. Julie Andrews and James Garner are predictably perfect in the lead roles. Garner has never been used enough for my taste, and this film gives him a great leading role with some marvelous comedic opportunities that he uses to the hilt. But in some way the real stars of Victor Victoria are Robert Preston as the faithful friend and Alex Karras as Garners henchman. Lesley Ann Warren was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Garners squeeky moll
Undoubtedly one of the best parts of covering MOD is the re-emergence of the old cartoon series I grew up watching in the seventies. Chief among those joys recently has been revisiting Inch High Private Eye which comes here in all it's 13 episode glory on two discs. Airing in 1973 the series showcased the adventures of a ultra tiny private detective who, aided by his niece Lori, a barrel-chested friend, Gator and his faithful St. Bernard, Braveheart, never failed to catch the crook or solve the mystery as they tooled around in their Hushmobile working for the Finkerton Detective Agency.
Inch High himself was voiced by the great Don Messick. Messick is best known as the voice of Scooby-Doo but his list of character credits would leave your jaw on the floor. Astro from The Jetsons, Ricochet Rabbit, Papa Smurf, Dr Benton Quest from the original Johnny Quest (1964-1965), Droopy, Boo-Boo and Ranger Smith. Director Charles A. Nichols is a legendary figure in animation with over 100 credits to his name including (as animator) Pinocchio (1940). As a director he was integral part of the Hanna-Barbera output in the 60's and 70's. Besides his contributions to stuff like The Jetsons (1962-1963) and The Flintstones (1962-1965) and the feature film adaptation of Charlottes Web (1973) he had a hand in almost all the cartoons I grew up watching including Speed Buggy (1973), Superfriends (1973), Hong Kong Phooey (1974), Jabberjaw (1976) and The Great Grape Ape Sow (1977). Nichols is exactly the kind of guy you should go and look up if you have fond memories of this period
Close behind Inch-High for grin inducing nostalgia is the patently un-PC Shazaan. Airing from 1967-1969 the program followed the two-teenage siblings, Chuck and Nancy as they attempt to get back home after they accidentally summon a genie and find themselves transported to the land of the Arabian Nights. Aided by the giant genie Shazzan and their magical flying camel Kaboobie the pair generally The show was created by Alex Toth and plays like a lighter humorous version of Space Ghost (1966) or The Herculoids (1967). Shazaan was voiced by the prolific character actor Barney Phillips whose best known role was as Sgt. Ed Jacobs on TV's Dragnet (1951-1959). But he also had memorable roles in The Sand Pebbles (1966), I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957) as well as a host of TV appearances in a variety of 50's sixties and seventies sitcoms and detective shows. Genre fans will remember him as the martian in The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) episode, "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up". Shazzan is clearly modeled after the genie in Thief of Bagdad (1940) but he and the other ethnic characters on the show come across as authentic as Apu from The Simpsons (1989-current). Actually I take that back. Apu is much more authentic than any of these evil sorcerers etc.
Lastly it is really good to see the revamped Johnny Quest hit home entertainment. The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest (1996) was better than it had any right to be upping the ante on the animation and storytelling while managing to also update the charms of one of the greatest animated series ever. This is Volume Two of Season One and contains 13 episodes. No extras. In this incarnation of the show Hadji had paranormal powers that far exceeded the occasional simple conjuring tricks of the original. Another neat updating is the creation of Questworld, a virtual target for many in the shows rogues gallery and a solid narrative device that took on the qualities that exotic tech always had on the show. Why has there not been a Johnny Quest movie yet? Waaaaaay overdue.