19 December, 2013

Through A Glass, Darkly I

I was stuck at home for the whole of November. It was down to a mild heart attack suffered while playing cricket, and yes, I held the catch I was diving backwards for when it happened. A trip to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in an ambulance, a stent inserted into a non-major artery, a few days in bed there and I'm fine now, thanks for asking. Just a couple of minor tweaks to the lifestyle as it stood (smokes, diet) and I'll probably be better off.

Anyway, that isn't the point of this series of three or maybe four posts. Heaven knows I toyed with the idea of making it all about the epiphany I'd experienced and how I was going to live each day as if it were my last with new, exciting goals I was going to set for myself now that I'd had a serious wake-up call. How important family was, etc etc. And then I thought, naaahhh, I'd much rather tell you about some TV shows I watched.

Because that was how the vast majority of my recovery time was to be spent. And I decided to use this enforced viewing time to answer one of life's big questions: how might some of the TV shows I either loved or was intrigued by as a child stand up when viewed today? I'd rather not spend the hours required to answer that question on YouTube in front of a computer. So because we have a Playstation 3 hooked up to our flat screen TV, I was able to do it all in relative comfort, albeit after a little technical tuition from one of our young lads.

So I researched. Makes a nice change for this pissy blog. And I'm confident the next three posts will answer some intriguing questions.

The Adventures of Superman was a ubiquitous part of many childhoods. So much so that it was still being repeated on Australian television right up into the mid-1970s. I thought I remembered pretty much everything about the series but was surprised to find that there was little that looked familiar when the many full episodes available on YouTube appeared at the end of my search.

Scripts for the series did not borrow terribly heavily from the comic book stories, despite featuring the main ensemble characters Lois Lane, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen. There was no Lex Luthor nor any of the DC Comic's Superman's more flamboyant villains. Instead, narratives tended to revolved around gangsters and conmen, with some quite interesting plotlines for the Man of Steel to resolve once he'd ducked into the Daily Planet's storeroom and jumped onto his take-off trampoline just below camera range.

However, Superman's origin was shown pretty much as we've come to understand it.
I recalled seeing this Series 1 Episode 1 origin episode Superman On Earth only once before in c.1968 and was as keen as mustard to catch up with it again. The sequences on Krypton follow the comic depiction of Kal-El's early life fairly closely. I also have to admit to some chuckling during the Kryptonian sequence where Superman's scientist father Jor-El is dismissed as a quack by the self-interested ruling elite for predicting Krypton's imminent destruction. Global warming anyone?

Series 6 Episode 9 Superman's Wife starred 50s pin-up Joi Lansing as an undercover detective who poses as Superman's wife in order to draw some crooks out into the open. Needless to say, Noel Neill's flame-haired Lois Lane is upset about the Man of Steel's new status.

It is all a bit jeepers-Mr-Kent but stood up a lot better than I thought it would, with some quite dark storylines and great cinematography. Some of the episodes were even quite a bit, well, spooky. To explore that further, you might want to have a look at The Haunted Lighthouse and Lady in Black. 

Just as an aside, the life story of star George Reeves was featured in the excellent biopic Hollywoodland (2006), with Ben Affleck in the title role.

Bat Masterson 
I had only the vaguest recollection of this western series as a childhood favourite of mine, screened on US network TV between 1958 and 1961, in which Gene Barry played the derby-clad, dandyish title role.

In an era where each TV western hero had to have his own iconic, highly individualized weaponry, Bat's signature gimmick involved some very deft moves with his ever-present cane. As appealing as it may have been, Bat Masterson wasn't repeated on Australian television after the very early 60s.

I watched S1 Ep5 The Fighter and I'd have to say that it wasn't a bad show at all. Bat put a stop to a rigged brutal bare-knuckle fight contest in the town where he was sheriff. And how else could he do that except by stepping into the ring himself? Marie Windsor played the feisty saloon-keeper who had her eye on Bat but he moved on at the end of the episode, as he would have done even if she could have been trusted, which she couldn't.

Beany and Cecil 
This is another US TV show from the early 60s that was  being screened on Australian TV right up until the late 70s. And there's a lot to like about it. Beany is the totally adorable cute kid sporting the propeller-topped cap and Cecil is his wonderful big, dumb good-natured sea-serpent friend and protector. Providing the villainy is Dishonest John, with his "Nyah-ah ahhh!" catch-cry making him one of the most memorable of cartoon evil-doers.

Each episode is filled with witty sight gags: my favourite is in the episode where they sail up a canal in Venice and Cecil bumps his head on the Low-Low-Bridgida. Geddit? Another cack-fest revolved around a Pacific voyage that ended at the radioactive No Bikini Atoll.

In So What and the Seven Whatnots the crew visit a gambling city, Lost Wages - where Bob New-heartburn is headlining at the Quick-Sands. Dishonest John is trying to entice punters away from So What's hot jazz combo So What and the Seven What Nots.

Wildman of Wildsville is about a beatnik living on a desert island, and he's like, crazy, man. I love beatniks, at least I love the way they are always depicted in the TV shows of the 60s: "I'm so hip, I wouldn't even eat a square meal, daddy-o."

This is a great cartoon series and I can't for the life of me figure out why Beany and Cecil wasn't repeated beyond the early 70s on Australian TV. I'd watch it now, and I think a whole lot of kids would like it too.

Burke's Law
The main character in this 1963-64 series is an extension of the character that star Gene Barry played in Bat Masterson and even earlier in a small part in Our Miss Brooks - a suave ladies man with expensive tastes.

Amos Burke is a wealthy LAPD detective lieutenant who travels to crime scenes in his chauffer-driven Rolls-Royce. There is at least one absolute babe (sometimes a bevy of them!) in each episode, including Elizabeth Montgomery, Barbara Eden, Francine York, Tina Louise and Juliet Prowse, among others.

In the episode I watched, Who Killed Cassandra Cass?, there was even a sequence involving bored housewives taking hallucinogens! However, I found Barry's particular brand of smart-aleckery trying to pass itself off as urbane wit pretty lame and somewhat annoying. And then the end credits explained why. Burke's Law was produced by Aaron Spelling, FFS! Everything with Spelling's name on it is always, inevitably, inexorably, complete shite. The guy has a perfect strike rate, so much so he even leaves Irwin Allen for dead. Burke's Law rises above this, but only slightly.

When the series returned for 1965, it was a whole 'nother TV show, a ham-fisted attempt to belatedly cash in on the spy-craze: Amos Burke: Secret Agent!

Dennis The Menace
I was expecting Dennis the Menace to wear very thin very quickly. Especially Jay North's fingernails-down-a-blackboard portrayal of Hank Ketchum's likeable comic book mischief-maker. But somehow, it all hung together very nicely and I found myself chuckling at the many ways Dennis' good intentions spelt trouble for the hapless Mr Wilson.

In S1 Ep 18 Dennis and the Duck Dennis' pet duck is playing havoc in Mr Wilson's garden. There's a very funny sequence where Mr Wilson goes for a sixer on Dennis' roller skate twice and a later scene where Dennis turns Mr Wilson's darkroom light on while he's developing some photos - to help him see better, of course. Even after all that, Denis gets to keep the duck.

That was all a bit of a hodge podge, wasn't it? Never mind, in upcoming posts in this series, we can discuss some of the brilliant, timeless TV shows that I discovered and rediscovered, and others that might make you feel a bit less nostalgic.


Andrew said...

Oh. Glad to hear you are ok now.

I only vaguely remember Dennis the Menace but I do remember I really liked it. I must watch an episode. Hopefully it will hold up better than Lost in Space.

Ann ODyne said...

I love your second para.
My sympathy to Mrs Litter for the shock she didn't need.

There is a reason why Aaron Spelling was filthy rich - he knew that most people have crap taste and low standards. I think this week has Dennis Menaces Christmas on one of the FTA channels.

Wishing you the speedy recovery you will get if you are diligent about recuperation rules.

Lad Litter said...

Thanks. I'm inclined to agree wthyou that Lost in Space is for nostalgic purposes only. It really doesn't hold up very well. I found it it can be pretty annoying. But yes, do check out Dennis the Menace - it's not bad at all.

Thanks to you too. Mrs Litter (Lass Litter? Oh hang on, she's already tagged with TLOML!) well, she was great through it all. Just hearing her voice.

Glad you share my disdain for the work of Spelling. He's passed the torch to Bruckheimer, I reckon.

Kath Lockett said...

I do remember Superman as he was on constant repeat in the 70s and 80s but was always amused by the flying scenes, showing the rigid flatness of his stomach due to lying on a table!

On a serious note, I hope that you are fully recovered now and doing all the good stuff that the medics recommend?