Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tooning In

Wandering around the internet yesterday, I caught mention of a new cable channel starting on January 1 called Antenna TV. This looks to be something along the lines of the Retro TV channel showing a variety of old shows other channels don't show anymore. Whereas Retro TV gets its stuff mostly from the Universal Studio vaults, this new channel will use all kinds of shows from the Sony archives like All In The Family, Father Knows Best, The Monkees, The Partridge Family and Gidget.  What got my attention on their schedule, though, was what they are showing on Saturday mornings, Totally Tuned In.  If that's what I think it is, that's a real find.

Totally Tuned In was a series put together by Columbia in 1999 to showcase their large library of cartoons. According to Cartoon Research, the website of animation historian Jerry Beck who worked on the show, it was syndicated in foreign countries but never shown in America. This may be the show's American debut.

The importance of all this is that most of the Columbia cartoons have been rarely seen for a long time. When I was growing up in the late 50's and 60's I saw cartoons from all the other major movie studios, the Warners mob, the Paramount stuff from the Fleischer Brothers and later Famous Studios, Universal's Walter Lantz work and even Terrytoons cartoons from Fox.  As for Columbia, they put all their live comedy shorts on television, featuring of course The Three Stooges, but none of their theatrical cartoons.  Back then I didn't even know Columbia ever released any cartoons. They did have one enduring star, Mr. Magoo, but, as I know now, the Magoo cartoons I saw back in the day were new ones made for television.

     Since then I've read some about the various Columbia series and seen some of them through VHS tapes and YouTube but this series looks to be a bonanza of little seen work. There's a list of what's on all the Tooned In episodes here and looking through it made my eyes pop. Besides the Magoo cartoons there is work from directors Ub Iwerks and Frank Tashlin, some of Columbia's other most successful series, The Fox And The Crow and a lot of work from the legendary "modern" studio of the 40's, UPA, which Columbia distributed. Now I just hope this channel makes its way to my cable system here in Northern Virginia

Saturday, October 16, 2010


In the late 1950's and early 1960's, the western genre dominated television to an extent that no other genre has since. In the 1958-1959 season there were 31 western series on the air, which is really amazing when you remember there were only three networks back then. Some of those shows like Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Cheyenne and Maverick are well remembered today. Others have fallen through the cracks of history. That brings me to one old show I've just been watching that I had never even heard of until recently, Tate.

     Tate wasn't around for long. It was a summer replacement series that ran on NBC for 13 weeks in 1960. Its creator was writer Harry Julian Fink who, among other things, wrote several excellent episodes of Have Gun, Will Travel.  Tate, the show's hero, comes off as a less courtly and crafty version of Paladin. He is a gunman who lost the use of his arm during a Civil War battle and now roams the West as a bounty hunter.     Just going by the five episodes I've seen, the show had a severe and brutal view of the Old West without even the humor or warmth of other adult Westerns like Gunsmoke and Have Gun. Tate seemed to be invariably on the trail of someone who had committed some kind of brutal crime, usually involving the killing of women and children but that plot was always secondary to other trouble he would face like the killer's family trying to break him out of jail or entire towns refusing to give the bad guy up.  In one episode Tate runs into another bounty hunter who mistakes him for a killer and is nonchalant about bringing him in alive or dead even after he gets word that Tate is innocent.

     The most powerful episode I saw, "Stopover", was even more hard-bitten. In that one Tate finds his quarry, a legendary old fast gun, in a small town and shoots him in a gunfight in the first five minutes. His problem then is, while waiting to get his reward money wired to him, a younger gunfighter keeps hanging threateningly around him. It turns out he had been trailing the old man to face him in a fight and prove he was a faster draw, but now that's he dead, he wants the man who killed him...Tate. 

And that's still not all. There is one more main character in this episode, a young "saloon girl" who charges five dollars just for conversation. She makes friends with Tate and when he asks her why she doesn't go back home, she tells him home was a shack where she was one of fifteen children and she suffered some kind of unspecified abuse.  She's much happier in her current life where people are at least nice to her. That's pretty heavy territory for a 1960 TV show and I'm amazed the saloon girl stuff got past the censors, even as ambiguous as it was.

     As on just about any show from this era there are several actors in these episodes in the early stages of their career who would go on greater success, like Robert Culp, Robert Redford, Louise Fletcher and James Coburn as well as former child star Peggy Ann Garner as the saloon girl and Royal Dano as a sheriff caught in a Rio Bravo-like standoff against the family of a man about to hang for murder.  Tate himself was played by an actor named David McLean who was a new name to me. According to IMDB, though, he did gain later fame as one of the actors who played the Marlboro Man, the rugged cigarette smoking cowboy in the famous Marlboro TV commercials. He was also one of several actors in those commercials who eventually died of lung cancer.

    In its short thirteen week life Tate doesn't seem to have developed the breadth of the more successful adult Westerns, but it was an uniquely tough-minded show closer in tone to the original radio version of Gunsmoke than any of its TV contemporaries that I've seen so far.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Clare Dolan

A Irish woman works as a high-priced prostitute in New York City in order to pay off a debt to a man who is acting as her pimp. When her mother dies the woman runs away to Newark, gets a job as a beautician and starts a romance with a taxi driver. One day her pimp finds her...

You think you know how this story would play out from that description but the film Clare Dolan is nothing like you'd expect. The characters here act out the story in a very austere and controlled way.  Except for two momentary scenes, neither of which involve the title character, there is no violence. Even when the pimp finds Clare he doesn't raise a hand to her. He simply tells her to get back to work and drives her to Manhattan.
     Little is outright explained in the movie. There are no clunky exposition monologues explaining everyone's backstories or motivations. They talk tersely to each other like people who already know watch other well would and the audience is just left to speculate. How long has Clare done this? Did she do it before she had to pay this debt? Why is she so cold and mechanical to all men, even her boyfriend? None of those questions are answered, but you do eventually see that a child is the one thing that means something to her. She carries an unsmiling expression on her face for most of the film and the only time she smiles in the entire picture is at the end when she watches a sonogram of her unborn child.
   It's an eerie, mesmerizing film played out mostly in a landscape of straight angled offices and hotel rooms often viewed through mirrors or windows. Katrin Cartlidge is powerful in the title role doing a combination of serene  blankness and vulnerability. It's sobering to realize she would die four years after this film came out. Colm Meany cuts a calm and businesslike but subtly menacing figure as the pimp and Vincent D'Onofrio is fine as the taxi driver who futilely tries to understand his lover. What's most stunning to me is that the director, Lodge Kerrigan, has only made two other films since this was done in 1998. How does someone this talented get so few chances to work in this day and age?