Showing posts with the label 60's

The Detective (1968)

First of all, The Detective is not in any way, shape or form, a Christmas movie. It's not set at Christmas, and it isn't about Christmas, and I'm not claiming anything to the contrary.

So. Why am I talking about it?

While this isn't a Christmas movie, it is indirectly connected to one of the most significant Christmas movies ever made. The Detective is based on a book by the same name, and that book has a sequel called Nothing Lasts Forever which would be adapted into a movie two decades after this one. Unlike The Detective, the name "Nothing Lasts Forever" didn't survive the adaptation: they changed it to Die Hard.

In other words, The Detective is John McClane's origin story. Well, sort of. The main character in The Detective was named Joe Leland, and several details about his relationship with his wife were notably different. But other details, like him being a New York police detective who breaks rules, are consistent.

In some ways, I found the di…

Cash on Demand (1961)

It's a few days before Christmas and bank manager Harry Fordyce (played by Peter Cushing) is making his employees' lives hell. It's not difficult to see the connections between Scrooge and Harry - hell, it's impossible to miss them as he quibbles over every trivial discrepancy and outright ignores their planned holiday party.

Instead of a ghost, he gets visited by a robber masquerading as an insurance investigator. The thief reveals his true identity to Harry and also tells the manager why he should cooperate: his conspirators have abducted Harry's wife and son and are threatening to torture them. If Harry wants them released safely, he'll have to ensure the robbery goes off without a hitch.

The movie is set almost entirely inside the bank, as Harry is forced to help the criminal outmaneuver his own security protocols. But in the process, Harry also realizes the same lessons Scrooge did a century earlier: that people matter more than money.

It turns out the th…

Book Review: On Her Majesty's Secret Service

On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Ian Fleming, 1963

So when we were researching Christmas espionage for the podcast, I realized I never wrote a review of this novel. And that was an oversight that could not stand.

I need to start by saying that I enjoy the Bond books. They are dated. They are sometimes awful. But I love the style, and I love how much more complex they are than the films.

For one thing, the series, taken as a whole, is the story of a man who has a thankless, terrible job that forces him to be a heartless weapon. The books very seldom glamorize the life of a spy.

In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond is tired of it all. He's ready to chuck the whole career in the bin, and he grasps at his whirlwind romance with Tracy as one bright thing, a light at the end of the tunnel. When we meet her, she's traumatized and suicidal after being abandoned by a husband and the death of a child. Bond is drawn to her need for rescue, but we never see whether the relation…

Pocketful of Miracles (1961)

We didn’t know much about this movie when we turned it on, but I was met with two delightful surprises right in the opening credits. First, Peter Falk is in it. Cool, I thought, I love Peter Falk! Second, the movie is based on a previous screenplay, which was in turn based on a short story by Damon Runyon. Immediately I knew what to expect.

Damon Runyon, for the uninitiated, wrote short stories in the 20s and 30s about New York City under Prohibition. These stories are generally about gangsters and other people on the illegal side of society, often somewhat sentimental with a rough edge, and highly stylized. Adaptations generally turn up the sentiment slightly and enjoy leaning into the style. The most well-known adaptation is probably the musical Guys and Dolls.

Most of the characters from this movie could be dropped right into that show with no problem.

The lead is Dave the Dude, a speakeasy owner and gang leader who’s on the rise, possibly due to his habit of buying “lucky” apples…

Get Smart: Our Man in Toyland (1965)

Get Smart was an espionage parody about counterintelligence agents battling an organization of international spies and criminals. Mel Brooks is credited as a co-creator, so it probably shouldn't be surprising to hear this show completely holds up. It's bizarre and quirky, and even more than fifty years later, the antics of Don Adams (who'd later voice Inspector Gadget) remain hilarious.

"Our Man in Toyland" was only the fourth episode aired. It should be noted that its inclusion here is somewhat questionable. Logically, the episode must take place during the holiday season, but the show is intentionally illogical to the point, I'm not sure the justification was anything more than a joke.
The premise of the episode is that KAOS, the aforementioned SPECTRE stand-in, is using a department store as a front to sneak state secrets out of the country. CONTROL (a.k.a.: the good guys) send in a handful of agents to determine how they're accomplishing this.
The ma…

The Avengers: Too Many Christmas Trees (1965)

Not to be confused with Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers was a British spy series from the 60s which cycled through a number of iterations and styles. We've looked at a later episode, "Take-Over," that sort of fit our loose definition for Christmas in July (absurdly loose: Take-Over was set in February, and the holiday elements only appeared briefly).

"Too Many Christmas Trees," on the other hand, was far more entrenched in holiday fare. It was also a more iconic example of the series, featuring Emma Peel, by far the best known of John Steed's partners.

In this one, they're pitted against a team of psychics attempting to steal national secrets from Steed's mind by eroding his sanity through a series of yuletide nightmares.

This should already be obvious, but I loved the hell out of this episode.

All of this is set at an English mansion where Peel was invited for a Christmas party. She invites John after the idea to bring him just pops int…

Gilligan's Island: Birds Gotta Fly, Fish Gotta Talk (1964)

Sometimes the best way to tell where you stand with someone is the quality of the gift they give. Is is thoughtful? Is it well-chosen? For the holiday, this pile of garbage got you a clip show.

The episode opens with the castaways listening to a little Christmas music on the radio. Gilligan makes a wish that they would be rescued for the holiday. Just then, an announcement breaks into a broadcast. A rescue ship is heading for the island to save them! (Why this is on the general radio is sort of unclear, although there's some hand-waving about it being a holiday-timed human interest story.)

They bustle about to create a signal fire, and, as they are expecting to be rescued any minute, begin reminiscing about their first day on the island.

Cue the flashbacks. To be fair, my internet research indicates that some of this was footage from the pilot and some was reshot because the cast changed after the initial pilot was filmed. Apparently the pilot was never aired during the original …

Dennis the Menace Christmas Episodes (1959 - 1961)

I know I saw a few episodes of this as a child, but I really can't remember any specifics. My assumption when we turned this on was that it was going to be painful - things from this era usually are, and I've burned by quite a few family-friendly comedies in the past.

However, this one left me pleasantly surprised for the most part: two of the three episodes were pretty good.

The Christmas Story (1959)

This episode from the series' first season revolves around Dennis's attempts to see his Christmas gifts early. Almost immediately, we're told that Dennis manages to find and examine his gifts early every year, which removes any sense of mystery. This year, his father's decided things will be different: rather than hiding Dennis's presents in their house, he brings them next door to Mr. Wilson's, who's more than happy to help thwart Dennis.

But all this backfires when Dennis concocts a plan to locate his presents. Since his parents won't give him a…

The Andy Griffith Show: The Christmas Story (1960)

Assuming Wikipedia isn't lying to me, this is the only Christmas episode of The Andy Griffith Show, a 1960's sitcom about a sheriff in a small American town.

I honestly don't know whether this is the first time I've seen an episode of this show - I can't recall ever having watched it, but it feels oddly familiar. That could easily be due to decades of parody and homage, however.

This one starts with Andy and his deputy, Barney (Don Knotts), opening Christmas cards and getting ready for Andy's aunt's Christmas party. Barney points out he won't be able to attend, since one of them will need to stay behind and watch the prisoners. Andy, however, reasons the sheriff's station is really like a school, so the prisoners should get out for Christmas. He sets them free, and they run off.

Surprisingly, the episode is not about the consequences of releasing all the prisoners.

Before Andy and Barney can go, Ben Weaver (who I gather is a recurring character) co…

The Avengers: Take-Over (1969)

That's the British Avengers - a pair of super-spies - not their American counterparts. These Avengers predate Lee and Kirby's team by a couple of years.

I'm not 100% certain of this, but I think this is the first full episode of the classic series I've ever seen. It won't be the last - there's an actual Christmas episode from 1965 that's on our list. I have, however, seen the 90's movie, which I kind of love despite the fact it's an awful movie.

Apparently, the one we just watched isn't the best to start with. Both tonally and structurally, it's a long way from the norm. The episode opens with Steed and Tara going separate ways. Tara, filling in for the more iconic Emma Peel, is barely present at all: other than this scene and a few at the end, this is a solo adventure for John Steed, who's going to visit some old friends to celebrate Christmas in February.

Quick aside: I think we've already made it pretty clear that we're playi…

The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood (1965)

Wow! Late in the season, a tip came through about a crazy-looking little-known TV special, so we tracked it down. And it was unexpectedly delightful!

This musical-comedy-fantasy is the type of thing that wasn't uncommon on television in the 60's, although it's all but unknown today. It stars Liza Minnelli and Cyril Ritchard. (If you don't know the latter, he won a Tony in 1955 for playing Captain Hook on Broadway. If you don't know the former, I don't know how to help you.)

From the start this is a bit of a subversion: the wolf is the narrator of this piece, here to explain 'what really happened.' He's living in a cage in the zoo, but he's sick of being ostracized from society because of the Red Riding Hood story.

Ritchard as the Wolf is exquisite. His dialogue is snappy, his mannerisms right on that line between charming and creepy. His costume includes big sleek sideburns, large pointed ears, and a furry suit jacket. He introduces the premise…

Green Acres: An Old-fashioned Christmas (1966)

If I were more charitable, I'd say this aged poorly, but I don't think that's the case. Instead, I suspect this was always boring.

The series is about a successful New York attorney who moves away from the city to try and live a simpler existence as a farmer. He drags his wife along with him - she's a wealthy Hungarian immigrant who wanted to stay in New York. The show mainly uses her as comic relief, portraying her as a dimwitted fool, but at least she had the common sense to want to stay put. I've lived in New York, and it's far better than the dump they ended up in.

This episode is about the husband, Oliver, wanting an old-fashioned Christmas. That's the title, premise, theme, and most of the plot synopsis.

It opens with the couple shopping for a Christmas tree in New York a few years earlier. This is done mainly to establish that Oliver wants an old-fashioned Christmas, complete with a real, old-fashioned Christmas tree, unlike the flocked and/or paint…

The Apartment (1960)

What an unexpectedly bizarre and brilliant movie.

We found this on some list of holiday movies or another and added it to our Netflix queue. By the time it reached us, we couldn't remember whether we'd added it because it was supposed to be good or bad - just that it showed up and was 55 years old. It actually feels a little older thanks to a decision to shoot in black and white, something of an anachronism at the time. We popped it in the DVD player, having no idea what we were about to see.

And, for more than half of the movie, we still didn't know. It was interesting from the start, though its tone was so unusual and its subject matter so precarious, we weren't sure whether to expect the best or the worst. Tonally, it walked a line between comedy and drama - I honestly wasn't sure whether it was heading towards a happy ending or a tragedy.

The premise, put simply, is that C.C. Baxter, a single office worker, loans out his apartment to his married superiors, who…

101 Dalmatians (Animated - 1961; Live Action - 1996)

When you think of classic Christmas movies, Disney's animated 101 Dalmatians doesn't jump to mind, which is actually a little odd. Setting aside the first couple of scenes, the entire movie takes place immediately before Christmas, the majority of the film is about the titular dogs wading through a blizzard, and the finale occurs on Christmas day. Oh, and it's about getting a family back together.

It is, in fact, a Christmas movie through and through.
It just doesn't act or feel like one. Most of that discrepancy can be tied to fact the movie isn't interested in Christmas. Until that last sequence, the holiday is only name-checked once, and then in an ambiguous manner. Likewise, we don't see any decorations during the dogs' quest.
The 1996 live-action remake is a little more complicated. It's difficult to say for certain, but the timing of the movie seems to be slightly offset. The scene before the dogs are kidnapped has "The Christmas Song" …

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol's claim to fame is that it was the first animated Christmas special created for television. Its success paved the way for Rudolph, Frosty, the Peanuts' special, and all the rest. From a historical perspective, this is extremely important. But from a practical standpoint, it's pretty dull.

This thing starts with a brief frame story, which serves no purpose other than establishing why Mr. Magoo is Scrooge. It's a fairly simple set-up revolving around a Broadway production of "A Christmas Carol" starring Mr. Magoo. Why is Mr. Magoo starring in a play? No clue. But there are a few quick gags involving his sight. He crashes his car, goes into the wrong building, goes into a woman's dressing room instead of his own, then causes the play's director to be horribly injured just as the play starts.

All of this takes about three and a half minutes. The next forty-seven minutes are just "A Christmas Carol." Ostensibly, it…

The Lion in Winter (1968)

The Lion in Winter is a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family coming together for the holidays. There are a series of mishaps, comic interactions, and details laid out about the character's histories and relationships. The parents are separated but still have feelings for each other, the children have long since chosen sides, and someone's ex-boyfriend shows up and humiliates everyone. Without a doubt, it's firmly entrenched in the sub-genre of dysfunctional family Christmas dramedies.

The first element that makes it infinitely more watchable than almost every one of its competitors is that it's set in 1183, and the family in question are the British royalty. The more important factors are that it's brilliantly written and features a cast of legendary actors. Katherine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, Anthony Hopkins, Timothy Dalton... it doesn't get much more impressive than that.

The script is adapted from a play of the same name which only predates the movie b…

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t (1966)

Wow. We were warned about this one, but it still managed to reach pretty significant levels of awfulness. But the awfulness pales in comparison to how mind-numbingly boring this is.

Here’s the plot: a cranky Snidely Whiplash type named Prune has bought up all the land at the North Pole, and now he’s charging Santa rent. If the jolly old elf can’t come up with the funds by Christmas Eve, he’s going to repossess the land and all the toys. For help, Santa goes to a lawyer who apparently wrote him a thank you note as a kid. Ooookay.

Early on they establish that Prune hates Santa because he hates children, especially happy children. He sings about this. Throughout actors repeat the name Prune ad nauseum as if saying the word, by itself, is a hilarious joke. The lawyer gets Santa a job as the first department store Santa. (Insert facepalm here.) Santa is afraid of meeting children while they’re awake, but gets over it. After singing about it. Prune cheats them out of their pay, and it look…

The Bing Crosby Show for Clairol (1962)

From Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

I laughed aloud very early on in this one, but it wasn’t at a joke. It was the announcer talking about the sponsor, Clairol: “The natural look, so appealing in a woman.” Different times.

This special, unlike the first, is in color. The DVD we had gives it a slightly fuzzy quality, but it’s definitely in color. I’m not sure anyone told the set designer, though. Most of the special takes place in a featureless gray void which is rather depressing.

There’s two credited co-stars for this special: Mary Martin and André Previn. Ms. Martin switches back and forth between charming and tedious, but Previn, a pianist and composer, is fairly amazing. Too bad he doesn’t get to do more here.

We open with a long, illogical sequence full of dancers in decent costumes doing mediocre choreography in front of that ugly gray void. Bing has a number I can’t recall, and then Mary Martin sings for far too long about nothing. Rea…

The Bing Crosby Show (1961)

From Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

This is a very very weird TV special. A lot of it is just impenetrable references and stylistic choices that made sense in the context of the day… maybe. It’s in black-and-white, and the definition on the DVD we watched was really sharp. Almost too sharp, it often emphasized the weaknesses in the writing to be seeing the actors so clearly. It opens with a rousing song about judgement day, and then proceeds to ignore the fact that it’s supposed to be set at Christmas for the next hour.

It’s mostly about Crosby wandering around England in search of distant relatives, making thin excuses for cameos by British singers and actors. He looks sort of dazed or drunk, often glancing off-camera as if for a cue card. However, I think this is generally just part of his shtick.

We start up the main sequence with a long sequence in a tea shop, with a selection of songs and lazy choreography. Some of the jokes are almost c…

Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

This is a collection of four of Bing Crosby's Christmas specials. I'm not going to go into detail about the individual content of each episode here - we'll do that in separate reviews. Instead, I wanted to talk a little about the experience of watching this as a whole.

I'd expected the experience to be tedious, which I suppose it was at times. Not what I want to discuss right now, though. It was also occasionally funny, interesting bizarre....
Not the subject, either.
What I want to talk about is a narrative that you can't help but notice watching this thing. The specials on this collection were from 1961 to 1977; that means he was nearing 60 when the first of these aired. His days as a major movie star were behind him, and his fans were aging. I'm sure a lot of the guests in his first special were famous at the time, but damned if I've heard of many.
Crosby almost always has a sort of laid-back style to his acting and singing, as if he knows it doesn'…