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Showing posts with the label 70's

The Partridge Family: Don’t Bring Your Guns to Town, Santa (1971)

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Oh man, The Partridge Family . I’ve had sort of a lingering urge to see The Partridge Family again since Shirley Jones appeared in style on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me last year. I hope you enjoyed that, because this episode was not what I would call a winner. If you’re blissfully unaware, The Partridge Family was a sitcom about a single mother with five kids who become a traveling musical act to support their family. So the episode opens with, what else, a song. And it’s not bad. I mean, none of the people on film are singing, but the song is just a corny 70’s pop version of a holiday tune. The family packs up after this gig and is headed home for Christmas. In an unlikely turn of events, their bus breaks down in a Hollywood backlot . Sorry, I meant a ghost town, complete with one picturesque local living alone with a donkey. The donkey’s only in one scene. Maybe his agent was a good negotiator. So they can’t get help, and the old guy invites the mom and young kids insid

Raggedy Ann and Andy in The Great Santa Claus Caper (1978)

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Okay, I had no memory of ever having seen this, but it was very familiar by the end, which makes me think I must have seen it at some point. In the annals of Christmas TV Specials, there’s a reason this one doesn’t make the list of classics. However, there are bits that are clever, and it’s nice and short. The special opens by introducing us to our villain, Alexander Graham Wolf, aka Big Bad. He’s got some sort of weird plan involving the North Pole and Santa, and it’s all very unclear. It’s clear enough, though, to reindeer Comet, who zips off for reinforcements to save Christmas. Since she can’t carry anything too heavy, Comet chooses two rag dolls and a rag doll dog for her helpers. Not the smartest member of the team, our Comet. They get back to the North Pole to investigate. Santa and company have all gone to bed (at like six hours to Christmas! This was the most unbelievable part of this for me), so Wolfy has free run of the workshop. He sets up a giant expanding machine-

The Six Million Dollar Man: A Bionic Christmas Carol (1976)

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Let's say you're a TV producer in the 1970's, and you're holding the rights to a science-fiction/spy thriller novel you want to adapt for television. Do you go with the original title of the work, "Cyborg," or do you name it "The Six Million Dollar Man?" That, in a nutshell, is why most TV sucked in the 1970's. This episode opens the day before Christmas. Steve Austin, the Cyborg  Six Million Dollar Man, is sent on a mission to investigate possible sabotage at a company contracted to develop gear necessary for a mission to Mars. Just so no one gets any ideas, no on goes to Mars in this episode. That probably would have been cool. The company's problems, surprisingly, aren't due to sabotage. Instead, they're caused by the owner's adherence to the absolute minimums specified by the contract. Also, he's Scrooge. His name is changed to Budge, but he's clearly Scrooge. He even lives in a mansion built to resemble ev

Book Review: Miracle and Other Christmas Stories

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Miracle and Other Christmas Stories Connie Willis, 1979 Crossposted from The Blue Fairy’s Bookshelf Awww, man! More disappointing Christmas stories. I went into this one with high hopes, because Willis’ story “Pony” was one of my favorites in Christmas on Ganymede . Unfortunately, it was one of my favorites here, too. It starts strong, with an introduction that was worth borrowing the book from the library for, just for the snark about Hans Christian *overrated hack* Andersen and the list of other recommended stories and movies, some of which weren’t on our radar yet! Sure, she thinks The/A Christmas Story is actually quality, and that's just wrong, whether you’re talking about the myth as literature or the movie as cinema (she likes both). But Willis is a Hugo winner! Surely, there are some good genre stories in here, right? Sort of. Lets run through the contents, shall we? “Miracle” Starts strong, woman receives visit from accidentally conjured hippy Spirit of Ch

Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)

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Whoa. WHOA. We just watched the epitome of stop-motion Christmas specials. I know, I know, you don’t believe me yet. Just give me a minute. You know Rudolph , and Frosty , and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year , and Frosty’s Winter Wonderland , and Santa Claus is Coming to Town , and The Year Without a Santa Claus . But did you know that every last one of these takes place in a vast shared universe, which involves still more epic figures deserving of winter myth-making? No? Then you haven’t seen this one. For me, Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July retroactively improves all the specials that came before it. The premise is straightforward on the surface. An evil wizard who used to rule the Arctic wants to destroy Santa’s hold on winter, and to do so, he decides to take down Rudolph, using his friendship with Frosty as a lever against the young reindeer. Oh, and we happen to establish the source and purpose of Rudolph’s magic, which I don’t want to spoil for you. What? You d

Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas (1977)

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From Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials The last, and possibly the most famous, of Crosby’s Christmas specials. Between the time that it was filmed and the time that it aired, he passed away. It takes some inspiration from that first 1961 special: Crosby and family are invited to England by a distant relative for the holidays, and it’s mostly an excuse to have a group of British stars pop in and out. One of them plays 3 or 4 different characters, half of them in drag. That’s… slightly odd. I’m guessing there’s a reference that we’re missing. This special is filmed on an actual set, which is a nice change, although it feels sort of like it should have a laugh track. The fact that it doesn’t actually adds an odd poignancy, because it’s unclear whether some things are intended to be funny. Crosby seems markedly older, but also more invested in his songs and scene partners. Early on you get the scene that you’re watching the special for, if you

Bing Crosby and the Sounds of Christmas (1971)

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From Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials The third Bing Crosby special we watched, and it’s a doozy. At least I guess this one had a coherent theme. This time around, Crosby is joined by his second wife and kids. I’m glad the trend of show business families performing together has gone mostly out of style. It just feels so forced. Just cast some dang kids! Also appearing are Mary Costa and Robert Goulet. Everyone’s on deck for a boring opening number, in some of the ugliest costumes yet. The lighting design and set work are pretty decent though. There’s an interesting tension here between the idea of “live” television and scripted. Obviously this is all pre-recorded and a lot of it is lip-synced, but certain cuts and set moves are purposely intended to mask the fact that you’re not watching live. Robert Goulet sings a boring, but booming, “Do You Hear…”, and then he and Crosby do an extremely odd extended song/sequence based loosely on an O’

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

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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 kno

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972, 1973, or 1974, depending on who you ask)

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Nothing says "Christmas" like absurdly low-budget horror. Silent Night, Bloody Night (not to be confused with Silent Night, Deadly Night, which I still have to get around to) is a cheaply made horror movie revolving around an abandoned mansion in Massachusetts. If I cared one bit about spoiling this thing, I wouldn't tell you that the mansion used to be an asylum, a fact which only comes out in a flashback making up the majority of the movie's last act, nor would I let it slip that the asylum's supposedly dead owner is actually less dead than everyone supposes. But if didn't reveal all that, this review would be absurdly short, so you see my dilemma. Before they reveal the mansion or town's dark history, we're treated to a Psycho-style bait-and-switch. A big city lawyer comes to town with his mistress (the movie makes a point of having him call home at one point, in case we didn't know he was married) to offer some of the locals a chance to

Halloween is Grinch Night (1977)

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Halloween is Grinch Night was made in the late 70's, presumably in an attempt by Dr. Seuss to cash in on the popularity of How the Grinch Stole Christmas . It is in no way a great work of art, but it's nowhere near as bad as the last part of the "trilogy", The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat . There's very little plot to this thing. Mostly, it's a series of Seussical rhymes and jokes (almost all of which are below the expectations we've formed for the good Doctor). The special focuses on a Who named Euchariah who gets lost on Grinch Night and runs into the Grinch. He allows the Grinch to subject him to various horrors in order to buy time until daylight. When I say horrors, I'm referring to a magic cart apparently full of specters, ghosts, and illusions; sort of a portable haunted house. The sequence is a little unpleasant, actually, not from the content but from the premise of a young child allowing a creepy man to subject him to scary things

Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971)

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I'm pretty sure Here Comes Peter Cottontail represents Rankin-Bass's first attempt to push into a holiday other than Christmas. This largely forgotten artifact features Danny Kaye as the narrator (as well as a handful of other voices) and Casey Kasem as the title character, which means you'll spend most of the special expecting Peter to ask for a Scooby snack. No, that's not quite right: you'll probably spend most of the special looking for a ledge to jump off of. But you'll also notice that the main character has Shaggy's voice. The special, which is based on some book called "The Easter Bunny That Overslept," starts in the magical land of April Valley, which I'm assuming is a reference to Baum's "Laughing Valley." Either that, or it's just stupid. Regardless, all the Easter Bunnies live in April Valley, where they color eggs using paints brought to them by Seymour S. Sassafrass, who grows the plants to... you know what

Book Review: Letters to Father Christmas

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Letters to Father Christmas J. R. R. Tolkien, 1976, 1999 Premise: This whimsical volume reproduces a series of letters that Tolkien’s children received from “Father Christmas” between 1920 and 1943. This was very interesting, as a student of early fantasy writing and as someone with interest in different ideas of Santa. It is not, however, exciting to read. These letters were clearly never intended to be published. They were purely a gift from a father to his children, and while they are often elaborate and entertaining, there is very little in the way of plot here. Plus we are only getting half the story, as Father Christmas often thanks the children for their letters or answers their questions. The time and skill involved in creating these mementos is obvious. Most letters came with an enclosed drawing, all reprinted in lovely color here. As more characters were introduced over the years, they developed their own writing styles. Happily, the text is transcribed for ease of

Paddington: Christmas (1975)

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Oh. Oh wow! I forgot all about this show, but it all came rushing back at the first notes of the opening music. This is a holiday-themed short based on the Paddington books. I love Paddington, and I especially love this Paddington. There’s a dry British wit at play here, as well as copious amounts of charm. The animation is the real star, though. Paddington himself is a three dimensional stop-motion bear, and some of the things he interacts with are three dimensional, but all the people and the backgrounds are two-dimensional cut outs. The use of color is very deliberate, and all the voices are done by the same narrator. In all, it’s very evocative of reading a picture book. The story of this particular short is just a straightforward account of Paddington’s experience with Christmas, with little jokes about his gifts and special note of all the tasty food. It’s sweet, and amusing, and well worth tracking down just for the unique style. Here, it’s only five minutes: http://ww

The Small One (1978)

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Let's get one thing straight from the start. The Small One is an animated piece directed by Don Bluth (and very much in his style) when he worked for Disney. Nestor the Long Eared Christmas Donkey is a stop-motion special by Rankin-Bass.  Both of these pieces are about the origins of the donkey who carries Mary to Bethlehem. Both of these pieces are not very good.  However, The Small One is only mediocre, so compared to the steaming pile of excrement that was Nestor, Small One comes out pretty far ahead in the donkey-story quality scale. There are aspects of this special that aren't terrible, even. The story follows a young boy forced to sell his beloved but undersized donkey, who just wants to find his friend a new home. The animation is quite well done, both the boy and the donkey are cute, and there are some sweet interactions between them. The story ends with the purchase of the donkey by Joseph. We don't follow them to Bethlehem, we never actually see Mary. Th

Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976)

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Frosty's Winter Wonderland is a sequel to 1969's  Frosty the Snowman . Unlike Frosty Returns , Frosty's Winter Wonderland is actually a sequel to the original , complete with Jack Vernon returning as Frosty. Unlike said original, this is neither worth your time or attention. With the magician from part one absent, Jack Frost steps in as the villain, motivated by jealousy over a perceived slight: the children of this one particular town seem to like Frosty more than they like winter itself, despite the fact the snowy weather gets them out of school. Naturally, Jack Frost decides to steal his rival's magic hat, transforming him back into a normal snowman. So, rather than move on to another town, he decides to go with murder. This is all occurring concurrently with Frosty confronting loneliness due to the children's absence at night. For some reason, they think its a good idea to make Frosty a wife. In a fairly troubling scene, he provides the specifications fo

A Very Merry Cricket (1973)

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Okay, do you remember the book A Cricket in Times Square? Me too. Do you remember the animated special adapted from the book, or at least that there was one? Yup. This is the holiday-themed sequel to that animated special. And it’s really quite good. We meet back up with our heroes from the first story: Harry the cat and Tucker the Mouse, who live in the tunnels near Times Square. Tucker is upset with how loud and angry everyone seems to be, even though it’s the holidays. The two mull it over for a while, then decide to get their friend Chester (the musical cricket) to return to New York to bring everyone a little Christmas Spirit. It’s Chuck Jones animation, which means that the movement is kinetic without being totally unrealistic, and the character designs are lovely. The soundtrack, however, might be the biggest star here. The montage that opens the special is meant to convey the insanity of New York City, and it does a pretty good job. There are a few songs sung or spoken-in-ti

The Tiny Tree (1975)

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Arggh. I knew I should have just fast forwarded past this without looking. I found this on a VHS of programs recorded off of the Disney Channel when I was small.  This is one of the stupidest specials I've seen in a while. Not quite scratch-my-own-eyes-out, but that's mainly because it's short. Okay. The Tiny Tree is a completely nonsensical special about a tree that lives in a meadow with a bunch of folksy animal friends who all have different caricatured regional accents. A little girl and her family move into the house by the meadow, and the tree and the animals make friends with her. You have to understand that the little girl is in a wheelchair, but doesn't seem to be able to reach the wheels for some poorly-animated reason, so this amounts to a handicapped child being repeatedly kidnapped by a bunch of half-clothed, talking animals. But it's okay, because the child loves the tree. Now, I loved trees as a child, but the way the narration keeps stress

Holiday Brit-Coms: Keeping Up Appearances: A Very Merry Hyacinth (AKA The Father Christmas Suit) (1991) & Are You Being Served?: Christmas Crackers (1975)

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I'm more of a fan of British Sitcoms than Erin is; I watched them a lot on PBS when I was in high school, and again when I worked nights when we lived in DC. However, I, uh, wouldn't start with either of these episodes. Keeping Up Appearances , in case you don't know, is a comedy of manners and class about a woman (Hyacinth Bucket) born to a lower-class family, now living a middle-class lifestyle while reaching for upper-class respectability. She, of course, constantly postures and overreaches herself, and annoys those around her to no end. I rather like how indefatigable she is, though. The Father Christmas Suit (called A Very Merry Hyacinth in US release) is a highly farcical episode, that definitely relies on the viewers knowledge of the characters prior relationships for its humor. As seemingly simple a thing as handing out presents in a church charity drive becomes a fiasco when Hyacinth decides just how it has to be perfect. It isn't a great episode, thou

Nestor: the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)

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I'm not sure whether I'll be able to coherently describe what happened in the special, but I know I can explain how it came to be. There was a meeting, quite possibly in a studio boardroom, where someone said, "Hey. You know what we need? Another Rudolph." To which someone else added, "And we need something that's religious, really puts the Christ in Christmas." And fifteen minutes later the storyboard for Nestor: the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey was born. I don't think I've ever seen this before, probably because it doesn't have the same exposure most of the other specials have. This is kind of a shame, because it's just about the most screwed-up thing I've ever seen, and I feel like more people should be familiar with it. This is narrated by Nestor's descendant, whose name escapes me and I don't care enough to look up. I should probably add that Nestor's descendant works for Santa Claus at the North Pole. This i

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid (1970)

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This isn't much of an episode if you're unfamiliar with the show, and even if you are it's just fine. I found it sweet and amusing, but not compelling in any way. The plot follows Mary first learning she has to work on Christmas, and as soon as she comes to terms with that emotionally, she gets conned by a co-worker into covering his Christmas Eve shift too. Of course, everything turns out merry and bright, if not what she had planned, so all is well. I actually like the idea of this episode a lot more than the execution. It's true to the idea of the series, following a young woman making her way in a new life in a new city. And sometimes working in the industry you want to work in means you have to work holidays. The feeling of co-workers and friends coming together because you can't be with family isn't dated at all. Some of the humor... is. However, I absolutely love everyone's 70's wardrobe. I also liked that the majority of the jokes in th