Saturday, March 21, 2015

Happy Days S8 E2: Live and Learn

Originally aired on November 18, 1980
Written by Fred Fox Jr.

A television milestone

This episode was the one that was originally supposed to air as the first episode of the season. And, it makes more sense because the Fonz is returning from a 3 week vacation in Italy and school is about to start up. I'm guessing that the opening scene from No Tell Motel, where we learn what happened to Richie and Ralph, may have been moved from this one. This is the episode that firmly establishes The Fonz as the lead star of the show. In fact, the other leads don't do much. Joanie and Chachi reaffirm that they're still in love. Marion's mom is in town but we never see her. Howard gives out some advice. Potsie and Al sells Fonzie's beard.

Oh, Fonzie has a beard throughout the episode. It's a good beard. Full and powerful. Apparently, he didn't know the Italian for "razor" so he couldn't shave.

Better not be laughing at Fonzie's beard

This is the episode where Fonz begins teaching the Shop class at the local high school. So, he runs the auto repair garage, co-manages Arnold's and now he's a teacher. He's a rebel but he makes a good living. The first days of his class are the focus of the episode. (To the point where there's very little about gals in it. But, don't worry the Fonz still loves them and they love him.) It turns out that the Fonz isn't such a good teacher. At first. He relies too much on the way he was taught: which was being thrown in and learning on the spot. The entire class ends up in the corner when they can't replace a carburetor. Luckily, Mr. C. is there to guide the Fonz. And, the second day of the class goes well.

Mr. The Fonz

Personally, I relate to the Fonz and the students in this one. There is a tendency, when you are very knowledgeable of something and you have to teach it, to speed through things and act as if the people trying to learn just aren't getting it. But, I know the way I learn. When it comes to something like shop class, I need step-by-step. I write it down. And then, I follow my notes closely and learn it. So, the Fonz's enthusiasm is awesome but he's not teaching very well.

1) Teaching
2)In The Corner

He does expect an apple on the first day and gets disappointed. He also meets Eugene Belvin, who becomes the nerd of the show. And, he meets that other guy with the perm/ frizzy hair whose name I never remember but he keeps showing up. The new wave of characters are slowly pouring in. (No sign of Jenny Piccolo, though.)

Eugene and that guy

Happy Days is still funny throughout, although the Nerd bit gets a bit overplayed. But, it was 1980 and the world was just beginning to discover the comic possibilities of "The Nerd." Watch it all develop here! The main thrust of the episode is the teaching. The whole thing revolves around that and it's a fine re-molding of the show. The Fonz is still cool but he's teaching now and that's cooler.

Dispensing wisdom and making juice

Enjoy the light at the top of the set

Friday, March 20, 2015

Torchy Blane in Panama (1938)

There's been a bank robbery and murder during one of those awesome parades where guys dress up for their "Leopard Lodge" and act goofy in the name of whatever it is their lodge does. Gahagan is in the lodge. And he looks great in a leopard suit. McBride, Gahagan and a reporter named Canby follow the thief on a boat heading down to the Panama Canal. But, you can't leave Torchy Blane out of something like this. She parachutes into the ocean and gets picked up by the boat for Canal-related hijinks and a lot of time spend with a stuffed leopard.

Torchy Blane in Panama is #5 in the series. And there is no sign of Glenda Farrell. The story I remember hearing on TCM one morning when they aired one of the films was: Glenda's contract with WB was up. They tried to get her to stay but it didn't work. So, they brought on Lola Lane who was under contract. And, you know what? Lola's a charmer. She's superficially more attractive than Glenda. And she gets around quicker, what with the parachuting. But, she doesn't have the strange quirkiness that Glenda has. For one, she's missing the lisp. And Lola's missing those strange voices and inflections that Glenda would sometimes break into when surrounded by other reporters. Lola feels a little more calculated in her portrayal. Glenda seemed to embody the role.

Torchy #2 talks to McBride #2

Quirks gone, yes. But, Torchy #2 grows on the viewer as the film goes along. She's got all the gung-ho of Torchy #1 and it becomes charming, especially when she's snubbing McBride on the boat. And, I got to say, I really like the outfits she wears. especially the one at the climax. At one point, McBride says something like "There isn't another pair of pants like that in Panama." And he's probably right.

That's an outfit!

There isn't a whole lot of mystery in the movie. The burglar is pretty obvious and revealed fairly early on. He does, however, stuff all the money into the stuffed leopard. And that leopard almost falls off the boat several times. But, someone's always there to help save it. McBride doesn't actually do a whole heck of a lot, which is OK because Paul Kelly is too thin or something. I can't quite peg why he's wrong for the role. He needs more Load behind him to be McBride. And, they've toned down the Torchy/ Steve romance here, which is probably wise. Gahagan spends the movie dressed in leopard skins or showing Panamanian woman something written in Spanish that they laugh at a lot. I thought Gahagan was married? Well, that's Panama for you.

Action Torchy!

Torchy Blane in Panama is charming. As I said, Torchy #2 grows on you as the film goes along. By the end, I would have liked to see Lane take on another one of the series. But, it was not to be. Audiences weren't so thrilled. Torchy #1 and McBride #1 would return for three more adventures. Lola Lane would go on to do many more pictures, quite a few with her gaggle of sisters. Later in 1938, they would star in the Best Picture nominated Four Daughters. That film spawned three more films. I have not seen them so I don't know if Lola cracked wise throughout or not. Important things to remember: 1) her name is very similar to Lois Lane & 2) her birthday is the same as mine, May 21. So, I like her.

Some shots need no caption

If this bunch had returned for the next film, maybe I would have more to say. As it stands, Torchy Blane in Panama is a bit of a cul-de-sac in the series. Charming and entertaining but a cul-de-sac. Things would return to "normal" with Film #6.

 After the Ordeal

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

B.J. And the Bear S1 E4: Deadly Cargo

Originally aired on March 17, 1979
Written by Michael Sloan
Directed by Cliff Bole

The second episode in a row written by Michael Sloan. Unlike A Coffin With A View, however, Deadly Cargo has an ending. It seems written all the way to its conclusion, rather than 3/4s written and the rest thrown together. And, in one of the idiosyncratic elements that I love about this show, this episode starts with a rather serious story segueing into wacky chimp-related slapstick followed by crazy car stunts. At this moment, BJ and the Bear can do anything.

Playing cards with humans is pretty funny
I'm playing cards with a chimp

Elizabeth Chambers is nervous. She has stolen a vile of a deadly virus from the research lab where she works. Her plan is to take it to a Senate investigation on biological warfare in Washington D.C. and expose her bosses. Complication arise. She is seen leaving the laboratories. They're after her! So, she makes up a story about needing to get to a sister's wedding and fools B.J. into hauling her and her car to the nation's capital. Complications continue to arise.

Tense Vial Theft

This is quite a lovely episode for its first half. It starts with B.J. cheering up a kid in a diner. The kid broke one of his dad's expensive bottles of wine. B.J. tells him a story. (The kid catches on to the fact that it's going to be meaningful.) And, the kid ends up OK. When Elizabeth, Bear and B.J. are travelling, before B.J. knows about the virus, they do a lot of chatting. Elizabeth mostly lies and babbles. But, B.J. talks about his parents in Milwaukee. He doesn't sound close to them. He has no siblings. We learn quite a bit about B.J. here and it is welcome. (Some of this info will be contradicted in the next season. Let's enjoy what we have here and now.)

Travel is lovely

Then, the wacky starts! And, yes, it is Bear-related. B.J. and Elizabeth are in a diner. Bear takes her purse, with vial inside, and...  hides in the back of a police car, which drives away. Bear has the vial of deadly virus in the purse in the back of the police car. And, from here on, the episode (regardless of the deadliness of the virus) becomes a heck of a lot of fun.

Bear begins The Wacky

Not sure how the deadly virus thing suddenly became slapstick magic but it happened. (And, thank goodness, Cliff Bole directed. He's best known for The X-Files episode Bad Blood, which is a fantastic, funny episode of that show, written by the Mighty Vince Gilligan.) B.J. and Elizabeth chase down the cop car. And they get the purse and Bear back...  but the vial is still in the back seat! So, our heroes have to go to the lot with all the cop cars... and then B.J. accidentally steals the car...  What I'm saying is that it snowballs from the simple act of a chimp stealing a purse to a wild ride in a stolen police car through the streets of Washington D.C.

 Bear contemplates his Life as a Chimp

This has been mostly plot description because it is simply one of those fun episodes of late-1970s television. Good looking people, chimps, shenanigans, car chases, emotional interludes, a little character development...  that's entertainment. The closing scenes inter-cutting between the Committee meeting and the stolen police car speeding through shot after shot is quite exciting. (Yes, at one point, B.J. gets the police car to go up on two wheels for a very long period of time. It's awesome.) The tension in the first half comes from the slowly mounting build of the Womanhunt, of which B.J. knows nothing. Then the shift to Good Times happens.


At the same moments that the awesome is happening, those darn popular songs  keep playing on the soundtrack, in diegetic and non-diegetic fashion. One of these songs is "My Life" by Billy Joel. That was a song that used to put me in depressive heaves. It was the melody mixed with the soft rock arrangements and those keyboards...  I always wanted to jump off something during the song. Well, this episode beings with B.J. cruising to a sound-alike singing the tune. My thoughts on the song have not improved. In fact, almost every song in BJ and the Bear is one that puts me in a melancholy state for some reason. It was a product of its time, definitely. And it is the main element of the show I have to fight against to keep watching. It's an interesting struggle and there will be episodes when I won't make it. Luckily, this time around, Deadly Cargo transcends its soft rock base to make around 50 minutes of fantastic television with a chimp.

 Evil Jerk

 B.J., don't open that vial!

That sounds like the end of a review to me. Next week, we get even deeper into everything that was Pop Culture Important in 1979 (PCI79) with an episode that shares its title with an episode of The Incredible Hulk from a year earlier. There are motorcycle stunts and parachutes!

Warning: Poignancy!

3 second until freeze frame...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Blondes At Work (1938)

(Warning: This review contains spoilers.)

This is a weird one.

Marvin Spencer, owner of the Bon Ton Department store (not the one from Fibber McGee & Molly), is murdered. A big police investigation begins with Lt. McBride in charge. Reporter Torchy Blane is still out there, scooping everyone, one step ahead. (McBride and Torchy - still not married.) It all culminates in the "Trial of the Century." Or, at least, "the trial at the end of this movie."
 Torchy, lose the hat.

My description of the plot above is vague because Blondes at Work (the 4th Torchy film in about one year) isn't about the mystery. The Spencer investigation isn't terribly interesting. There are only two suspects and one of them is put on trial. The explanation for the murder is tossed off in the exact opposite way that everything was explained in Fly Away Baby. (That one had rapid fire, exciting realizations. This one has McBride casually describing what happened. Torchy nods along and occasionally interjects.) The mystery simply doesn't seem to be all that important.

 She's thinking about trading hats

This movie expands upon an element in the first half of the previous film, The Adventurous Blonde. Everyone thinks that McBride is giving his fiancee, Torchy, inside info so she can get the Big Scoops. I thought we'd resolved the issue in that movie. With the answer being: No. Torchy gets the scoops because she's a very good reporter. Apparently, someone felt that this needed to be dealt with in more detail so that's what Blondes At Work is all about. Frankly, I wasn't thrilled.
 What is Torchy's favorite food?

Once again, McBride is accused, by his boss, of giving Torchy inside info. McBride cuts Torchy's supply off. But, somehow, she remains on top of everything. Constantly scooping the police and their investigations. Extras from The Daily Star seem to be coming out hourly. How does she do it? Like the first film in the series (Smart Blonde), Torchy's investigations are followed at first. Then, McBride's sort of take over. But, in this film, there isn't much investigation going on. First, they talk to one suspect. Then, the next. It becomes all about Torchy being one step ahead.
 A room full of tough broads

And all this is fine and dandy. Torchy should be one step ahead. She's good at her job and she takes risks. But, then, the series shoots its whole premise in the foot with Gahagan's Diary. Now, Gahagan has spent three movies spouting poetry. So, why shouldn't be have a diary? But, his diary is not filled with poetry. It's filled with all the top secret info he found out during the day. And guess who sneaks into his car and reads it? Torchy. Can you see why this might be disappointing?
 That darn diary

Torchy is not getting all the hot leads through investigating. She is breaking into a police car and reading a diary filled with all her "hot leads." That's bad enough. But, Gahagan's Diary? Gahagan is the big, sweet, nice guy. Why him, Torchy? He always liked you? It's like discovering that The Count on Sesame Street  didn't go out and learn about numbers and counting on his own. He broke into Grover's townhouse and copied all of that monster's math notes, passing them off as his own. It's disappointing.
You were able to lose the first hat. How did you find this one?

The film almost gets away with it by having McBride cut off that avenue of information near the end and Torchy still has a final coup at the close of the trial. But, then it pulls out the narrative pistol and takes aim at its other foot. And it does not miss. Torchy hears that the verdict is going to be guilty and phones in the scoop. Then, she fakes a not guilty scoop so a rival paper will put out the wrong headline. (Sort of like what those reporters did to her in the previous film.) So far, so good.

But, it all ends with Torchy being arrested for Contempt of Court and put in jail. The final scene is her in jail, with McBride, waiting to go in front of the judge. McBride tells her how the mystery resolved itself. And, we see The Daily Star headline announcing the outcome...  and it's written by "Torchy Blane." McBride submitted the story under her name. The movie ends.
 Framed by Lola Lane

I don't know. This one left a sour taste in my mouth. The structure of the film reminded me of The Guermantes Way, the third volume of Proust's In Search of Lost Time. That book spends what, to me, seemed like an inordinate amount of time with the de Guermantes, an unpleasant couple. Page after page made me think "Where is this all going?" And then, right at the end, there's a moment that sums the whole thing up and it is so perfect, so awesome, that it justifies everything. Blondes At Work is sort of like that because the mystery is pretty useless and so much time is spent on the police wondering "How is Torchy doing all this?" In the final scene, I hoped that there would be a moment that would make all this worthwhile. There isn't. It simply puts Torchy in her place and makes McBride the Big Man. And, to add insult to injury, Glenda Farrell will not be around for the next film.
I'm not sure if this guy is funny or not. (I'm not counting the combover.)

Blondes At Work is, technically, really no different from the other films in the series, just the tone and the De-emphasis of the mystery portion. It's always nice to see the characters but I can't say that I was altogether happy at the end of this film. Maybe a reboot (of sorts) will haul me back into it. Bring on, Lola Lane! Torchy #2.