THE CANNED FILM FESTIVAL STARRING LARAINE NEWMAN (1986) – Halloween Month continues at Balladeer’s Blog with this look at a neglected Movie Host show, since Movie Hosts/ Horror Hosts are as associated with Halloween as are monsters and cosplay.
In this post I won’t be covering the entire history of movie hosting and the “So Bad They’re Good” film subculture. For that, there are my many other blog posts covering movie hosting from Vampira and her contemporaries, through Moona Lisa, then Son of Svengoolie, Elvira, and programs like Saturday Night Dead, The Texas 27 Film Vault and MST3K.
THE SHOW: The Canned Film Festival Starring Laraine Newman. From June 21st to September 13th of 1986 this 90 minute syndicated program sponsored largely by Dr Pepper aired on Saturday nights in various time slots around the United States. Elvira’s show Movie Macabre had run from 1981 to 1986 and was winding down. The Texas 27 Film Vault, which had debuted on February 9th, 1985 was still on the air and would run for roughly two and a half years in Texas and Oklahoma.
Along came The Canned Film Festival, which, with a nationally known name like Laraine Newman attached to it, may well have been the reason that one of the attempted syndication deals for T27FV fell through. Be that as it may, Laraine Newman’s show would – like The Texas 27 Film Vault – show more than just lame horror and sci-fi films and would cover the whole spectrum of bad and/ or campy cinema of the past.
THE HOSTESS: Laraine Newman may be best known for Saturday Night Live and for her character actress work, but she had been a member of The Groundlings improvisational comedy troupe … As had Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira. Newman was also known as an aficionado of horror and fringe cinema. Continue reading
DUSTY’S TRAIL (1973-1974) – Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip … But not THAT one. Dusty’s Trail was an uninspired, unfunny attempt by Sherwood Schwartz to recapture the success of his famed sitcom Gilligan’s Island.
Demonstrating “Minimum Effort Puppy” levels of laziness, Schwartz shamelessly copied every single aspect of Gilligan’s Island and its memorable – if moronic – characters over to the Old West. With Dusty’s Trail, Schwartz managed to cadge everything but the laughs from his 1960s hit.
Gilligan’s Island featured seven castaways trapped on a desert island because of the mind-numbing stupidity of their charter ship’s First Mate – Gilligan. Dusty’s Trail featured seven members of a wagon train hopelessly lost on their way to California because of the mind-numbing stupidity of their expedition’s Scout – Dusty.
On both shows the imbecile whose repeated blunders doomed his party’s efforts to save themselves over and over again was played by Bob Denver. In real life the other stranded people would have killed Gilligan or Dusty very early on, but these were just sitcoms, so both mentally impaired losers were permitted to live. Continue reading
BLACK SASH (2003) – This program was basically a vehicle for Baguazhang-style martial artist Russell Wong and only produced 8 episodes, 2 of which were never aired. Wong starred as Tom Chang, an undercover narcotics agent who was framed and spent 5 years in a Hong Kong prison.
Black Sash was widely bashed in its day but here in 2021 it seems a little bit like an unappreciated program with unfulfilled potential. Part of the problem with the show was its neither fish nor foul nature. Despite the above premise it was NOT an action drama about Chang kicking butts and busting heads to clear his name and return to the force.
Instead it dealt with the main character moving to San Francisco and running a martial arts school while trying to reestablish a relationship with his 12 year old daughter and his remarried ex-wife. He also became a mentor and surrogate parent to his students. At least one fight scene against genuinely dangerous assailants featured in each episode, too, often having to do with Chang’s sideline as a bounty hunter.
But talk about hard to categorize! Think of Black Sash as Cobra Kai crossed with Dawson’s Creek. Or maybe an Asian-led variation of The Master, the old Lee Van Cleef series, with less action but with likable characters and more interesting dialogue. Or how about Michael Nouri’s show Downtown with troubled teens replacing the parolees who helped him fight crime? Continue reading
EL MARIACHI (2014) – This Mexican television series directed by Salvador Cartas was loosely based on the 1992 Robert Rodriguez movie of the same name and its sequels, Desperado (1995) and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003). It’s no secret that Rodriguez himself is not fond of this series. According to some sources Sony allegedly made a tentative notification of their plans to the writer/ director and then ran with it without further input from him.
Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog know how much I love and praise the original El Mariachi movies. The title character, who starts out the trilogy as a struggling mariachi guitar player who winds up having to go all Die Hard on Mexican drug cartels, was played by Carlos Gallardo in 1992 and then Antonio Banderas in 1995 and 2003.
The series of movies certainly seemed to partially inspire the later Sicario films, but I much prefer Rodriguez’s flicks. The El Mariachi television program is, unfortunately, inferior to both franchises. That’s a shame because lead actor Ivan Arana certainly looks the part and Martha Higareda as the hero’s love interest Celeste is just the right mix of sultriness and butt-kicking badness. For some reason photos of Higareda don’t come close to capturing her full allure, but seen in motion she’s even more impressive.
Like in the Robert Rodriguez films, the up and coming mariachi player is mistaken for a Mexican criminal who is carrying a similar guitar case. From there he gets caught up in a battle with Mexico’s ever more powerful drug cartels.
KUNG FAUX (2003) – Created and crafted by Mic Neumann, this half-hour comedy series was basically a hip hop version of old movies and television shows that overdubbed non-comedies with comedic dialogue, music and sound effects. In Kung Faux‘s case it featured re-edited and highly stylized martial arts films from the 1970s overdubbed with contemporary music and a hip hop comedic sensibility.
Though Kung Faux brands this treatment as “dubtitling” as a nod to dubbed and subtitled dialogue, the approach debuted on vintage television shows like Fractured Flickers (1963), in which celebrities would dub improvised comedic dialogue over old silent movies.
The theatrical release What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), Woody Allen’s overdubbing of a Japanese spy movie to make it a battle over an egg salad recipe, is still the best known of these ventures. Not even serials were exempt from such treatment, with my favorite example being Firesign Theater’s production Hot Shorts (1984) featuring items like Sperm Bank Bandits in which the comedy team inserted comical dialogue over old serials like Canadian Mounties vs Atomic Invaders. Continue reading
MOONBASE 3 (1973) – This BBC attempt at realistic, “no aliens or monsters” science fiction is a mixed bag, but I think it deserves a much bigger audience. Among the elements in the show’s favor is the fact that only 6 fifty-minute episodes were made, so it makes viewers a little more willing to forgive the program’s faults.
Moonbase 3 is a sci-fi drama about the multinational European crew of the title lunar outpost. Other Moonbases are run by the United States, the Soviet Union, China and, oddly for the time, Brazil. The scientists, astronauts and administrative staff of the European Moonbase are fly-budgeted Davids up against superpower Goliaths.
Created by Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks of Doctor Who fame, Moonbase 3 is sort of like Doomwatch crossed with The Sandbaggers. However, Moonbase 3 keeps its science even closer to reality than Doomwatch did, so it can be a bit dry. Well, okay, VERY dry, but that’s a nice antidote to non-stop explosions, ray-guns blasting and other Space Opera cliches.
As for the show’s similarities to The Sandbaggers, there is bureaucratic in-fighting aplenty, unexpected deaths and an emphasis on dialogue over action. And, like both of those other programs, Moonbase 3‘s characters have to deal with perpetually tight budgets limiting the success of their missions. Continue reading
This time around in Balladeer’s Blog’s recurring feature Forgotten Television we’ll take a brief look at some dumb attempts at launching sitcoms.
Stars: Barney Martin, Hamilton Camp, Sherry Lynn
Premise: Five actors dressed up as dogs hung out and joked about their human owners. The dogs’ owners, that is. Believe it or not the talented Peter Bonerz directed this unsold sitcom pilot and Brandon Tartikoff was executive producer. How either of them had the nerve to show their faces in public again is beyond me. (ORIGINALLY TITLED A DOG’S LIFE)
WHERE’S MOMMA? (1974)
Stars: Richard Mulligan, Michele Carey
Premise: Mulligan starred as a widowed real estate agent who was so ill-prepared to raise his twin children that his wife, played by Michele Carey, returned from the afterlife to help him out. Only Mulligan’s character could see the wife’s ghost, leading to the usual “comedy” set pieces. Continue reading
LIGHT SPEED ESPER (1967-1968) – This overlooked Japanese television show was titled Kousoku Esupâ in its nation of origin. If you enjoy live action programs like Ultraman or other shows from the tokusatsu subgenre of entertainment then Light Speed Esper will certainly appeal to you.
Hikaru Azuma (Kiyotaka Mitsugi) is a boy out enjoying a trip in a balloon with his parents. Tragedy strikes when their balloon collides with a spaceship piloted by aliens from the Andromeda Galaxy. As happens. You know how it is.
Hikaru’s parents are killed in this intergalactic accident, filling the extraterrestrials – called Alien Espers or Esper Seijin – with immense feelings of guilt. They possess and animate the dead bodies of Hikaru’s mother and father to make amends. Very morbid amends, I grant you, but amends nonetheless.
The plot thickens as the Alien Espers (lower left) share their knowledge about an impending invasion of Earth by the Giron Seijin (Feuding Aliens). Continue reading
Balladeer’s Blog’s recurring feature Forgotten Television goes way back this time around with a look at the state of the new broadcasting technology in 1940. Great Britain and the Soviet Union had been making as many, if not more, milestone achievements in tv programming through 1939. However, World War Two brought an end to BBC television broadcasting at 12:35PM on September 1st of that year. The Mickey Mouse cartoon Mickey’s Gala Premier was the last item broadcast via television in the U.K. until 1946, when the BBC resumed programming with that very same cartoon.
The United States, of course, did not enter the war until December of 1941, and with Great Britain and the Soviet Union preoccupied with the raging conflict, America took center stage in the future of television broadcasting.
*** 1940 ***
JANUARY – The FCC holds hearings on potentially licensing television broadcasting. It will not finalize its actions until April 30th of 1941, but in the meantime stations around the country continue pioneering tv programming.
FEBRUARY 21st – A simulcast of NBC News With Lowell Thomas debuts, televising Thomas’ daily radio news program on Station W2XBS in New York. The tv side of the simulcast would only last until July 30th.
FEBRUARY 25th – Station W2XBS-TV broadcasts the very first televised ice hockey game. The New York Rangers host the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden.
FEBRUARY 28th – Historic Madison Square Garden marks another milestone: the very first basketball game ever televised. The Fordham University Rams host the University of Pittsburgh Panthers.
MARCH 10th – The Rockefeller Center studio of NBC presents the very first television broadcast of the New York Metropolitan Opera. Excerpts from 5 operas are presented. Continue reading
AGON: ATOMIC DRAGON, also called Phantom Monster Agon and Giant Phantom Monster Agon, is an overlooked miniseries from Japanese television. It was produced in 1964 but due to legal action over the monster’s similarity to Godzilla its creator’s old Toho contract was invoked to prevent the miniseries from being televised until 1968. This black & white miniseries ran just four half-hour episodes and aired on four consecutive nights, from January 2nd – 5th, 1968.
THE STORY: On a night when a typhoon is lashing Japan, a truck transporting uranium is blown off a cliffside road and into the sea. The uranium is devoured by a VERY Godzilla-looking monster called Agon after the supposed Jurassic Period dinosaur it resembles.
When an irritating reporter named Goro Sumoto aka “the Suppon” arrives to report on the police and the Atomic Energy Authorities scouring the beach for the lost uranium, Agon rises up from the sea in the exact same “bubbling waters first” technique favored by Godzilla. Goro photographs Agon, who vogues for a while, then submerges again. The reporter also meets Monta, the obligatory wise-ass little kid character so common to kaiju stories.
The atomic scientist Dr Ukyo, his female assistant Satsuki and Police Detective Yamato consult with Goro, and the good doctor theorizes that Agon has been in suspended animation since the Jurassic Period and that atomic bombs mutated him, making him hungry for the uranium which fell into the sea, waking him. Continue reading