May 30, 2020

This week in TV Guide: May 29, 1971

This week features a couple of programs that show just how tender the nation's passions are right now.

The first is an ABC News Special on Sunday afternoon, "The Calley Case—A Nation's Agony," discussing the significance of the court-martial of Lieutenant William Calley for his role in the My Lai Massacre in 1968. It's hard to describe now just how charged this case was; the murder of hundreds of unarmed civilians in South Vietnam, and the subsequent court-martial, created a polarization that was Vietnam in a microcosm. The details of the crime, including the gang-rape of women, were horrifying enough, but the crime also served to illustrate the difficulties of the war, from the guerrilla tactics employed by the Viet Cong (tactics that the U.S. Army was ill-equipped to fight) to the dangers of becoming involved in a war where it was often difficult to tell the two sides apart, and where North Vietnamese terrorists often operated under the cover of rural civilians.

For many Americans, Calley was seen as a scapegoat, the only officer convicted in relation to the massacre. Calley's commander, Captain Ernest Medina, claimed that the men in the company committed the massacre of their own volition, and that in fact he was not aware that anything was going on until it was already well underway. (Medina was acquitted, being defended by a team led by F. Lee Bailey.)* The fact that Calley alone was convicted created a firestorm, so much so that two days after his conviction, President Nixon ordered him released from prison to house arrest. After years of appeals that alternated between overturning and reinstating his conviction, Calley was released after serving three-and-a-half years.

*Bailey often told clients that he'd charge them a whopping fee, then help them find a job to pay it off; after leaving the Army, Medina worked at an Enstrom Helicopter Corporation plant owned byF. Lee Bailey. 

The guests on ABC's program include Senator and future attorney general William Saxbe (R-OH), Representative and Jesuit priest Robert Drinan (D-MA), and John Kerry, leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and future presidential candidate. Had the 24-hour news network existed in 1971, we'd probably still be debating it.

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This week's cover story is about the second program stirring things up: All in the Family, CBS's new hit comedy, and it's probably safe to say there's never been anything on American TV quite like it. The headline of Rowland Barber's story declares that "Bellowing, half-baked, fire-breathing bigotry" has made the show a hit, "and may make Archie Bunker a permanent part of the English language." I suppose that's true, although the younger generations have abandoned cultural history to the extent that anything older than last week may have fallen out of the consciousness. And, after all, they're the ones who are going to make the rules. Just ask them.

You might have forgotten the disclaimer that was read (by "a disembodied voice") prior to the inaugural episode: "The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices and concerns. By making them a source of laughter we hope to show—in a mature fashion—just how absurd they are." Oddly enough, many of those groundbreaking taboos that the show shattered are probably just as taboo today. You couldn't call someone a "Polack" today, I don't think—or "hebe," "coon," or "spick," all part of Archie's contemptuous vocabulary. And while the show meant to ridicule Archie's ways, the popularity soared, at least in part, because of an audience identification with what Archie said.

As Barber runs through the comments by people praising or condemning the show, it's interesting how closely they parallel each other. A lot of people, says Barber, like it because it depicts "life as it is really lived," while those who don't like it complain that it's "too much like life." The most commonly used words in complaint of the show are, in order, "disgusting," "vulgar," "revolting," and "trashy." People who loved the show enjoy the Archies and Mikes of the world being "exposed and put under a comic spotlight"; people who hate it are horrified to find that their grandchildren  laughing and celebrating Archie's insults. Letters have been running about 2-to-1 in favor of the show, but both sides remain vocal. Then, as now, we're a nation divided.

There's no denying that All in the Family changed television, and to a certain extent American life. Barber relates the story of a man who feels as if he's probably become more racially tolerant as a result of seeing how foolish intolerance looks coming from Archie. And the character does have a soft side, as we see after he admits having cried watching Love Story. The show's appeal always mystified me, but then, what do I know?

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.Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

For many readers, Cleveland Amory's last column of the season is one of the season's highlights. Not because they won't have to read him again until fall, although there are those who feel that way, I'm sure. No, it's because this is the week when Cleve takes a look back at the past year's worth of columns; when, as he puts it, "we have to decide if we went too far overboard" with the praise or scorn heaped on the season's programs. He definitely didn't go overboard on shows like All in the Family ("it's terrific"), Mary Tyler Moore ("she's wonderful"), and The Odd Couple (also wonderful; "all this and no laugh track, too.") He calls it a good year for comedy, but laments that "there were far too few new bright spots" on the dramatic scene; only The Senator (part of The Bold Ones) and Masterpiece Theatre scored. As for shows like The Tim Conway Show, The Don Knotts Show and Dan August, he concedes that he went "too far underboard" on those.

During the year, he was harsh on the "ruralities": The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Mayberry R.F.D. and Hee Haw. Their cancellation is no cause for celebration, though, "for the simple reason that, judging by past track records, chances are their replacements will be worse." It comes with the shrewd caveat, though, that "if they were individually thought to have run out of gas, fine. But if they were canceled as the result of a general policy—because of some nonsense about appealing to the 'young rich' or 'the quality viewer'—we hardly think that's good news." "We don't think every show should be for everybody—in fact we don't think any show should be for everybody," he adds. "We do think, though, that every show should be at least some people's very favorite show."

He notes the growing disappearance of the variety show, what with Lawrence Welk, Johnny Cash, Andy Williams, Ed Sullivan, and Red Skelton among the casualties. He's been mostly harsh about these shows, and he wasn't terribly fond of two that survived: Carol Burnett and Glen Campbell. Of those remaining, he likes Dean Martin ("who still has style if not class") and Flip Wilson ("who has both style and class"). Once again, however, he takes no satisfaction in the dwindling number of variety shows on the air, especially ABC's decision to cancel Lawrence Welk, Johnny Cash and Pearl Bailey. He calls the decision "incredible," adding that the three shows were "of their kind, the best. And what will these fans be offered instead of their favorites next season?"

In the end, the television season is much like the baseball season, with eternal hope and promise just around the corner. "Wait until next year," we say every time, no matter how disappointing the past season might have been. That's where Cleve is as well; when the new season starts, "we'll be there watching." A warning to the networks, though: "we have a long memory."

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Saturday night brings us a sporting first. For the past few years, fans of the Indianapolis 500 have had three choices: plunk down a few dollars to watch the live closed-circuit telecast of the race in a local movie theater, listen to the live broadcast on the radio (a subtle pleasure, something I did for years), or wait until the following Saturday to watch edited highlights on Wide World of Sports. But this year, for the first time, ABC presents same-day prime time coverage of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, starting at 6:30 p.m. MT. Jim McKay, Chris Schenkel, Jackie Stewart, Keith Jackson and Chris Economaki (a veritable plethora of big-name voices) are on hand for all the action; the end of the race is still being edited as the two-hour broadcast goes on the air. ABC has paid $750,000 for the rights to the race, according to Richard K. Doan, with hopes to go live next year. We’ll have to wait until 1986, however, for ABC’s first live broadcast of the 500.

As for the race itself, it's an all-star lineup of who's who in Indycar racing, with Peter Revson (heir to the Revlon fortune) on the pole, and past and future winners including Mark Donohue, Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock and A.J. Foyt; future announcer David Hobbs, and stock car champions Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough. But in the end, the race is dominated by defending champion Al Unser, who leads 103 of the 200 laps en route to his second consecutive win; he'll wind up with a record-tying four victories. Some say the racing at Indy is better than ever, though the star power (of both drivers and announcers) and popularity of the sport have both dwindled over the years. But you'll have to admit this about the 1971 race: at least it was held in May.

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It may be a great week for sports, but, as Judith Crist points out, it’s a lousy week for movies. Take Blast-Off (Sunday, 7:00 p.m., ABC), a 1967 British movie originally titled Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon, then released here as Those Fantastic Flying Fools in order to take advantage of Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. That’s a lot of explaining required for a movie that, in Crist’s words, is a "poverty-program relative" of Magnificent Men and is "strictly from foolish." Then, there’s The Violent Ones (Thursday, 7:00 p.m., CBS), a movie on "an allegedly adult level" that Crist views as "even cheaper looking and more simple-minded today" than it was when originally released in 1967. Only Fernando Lamas seems to take it seriously; he probably has to, "since he directed it." Wild Women (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., ABC), a story about bad women in the Wild West, would test "the credibility of anyone over the age of 6," and, in fact, serves as "a sort of IQ test."

There is something good about the week, in case you’re wondering: Nine Hours to Rama (Friday, 6:30 p.m., CBS), a riveting story about the assassination of Gandhi, starring Horst Buchholz as the conflicted assassin, with Jose Ferrer as a police superintendent and J.S. Casshyap’s "remarkable" portrayal of Gandhi. All in all, it’s no wonder that Crist sees the week’s supply as being found "at the bottom of the trash barrel in a deserted drive-in."

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Yes, it's May, the end of the television season, but if you can believe it, we're already talking about shows likely to be cancelled next season. Such is the case, at least, with ABC’s Nanny and the Professor, which the network plans to move from its current Friday time period to Mondays at 7:00 p.m. By an odd quirk ABC has chosen to turn the half hour from 7:30-8:00 p.m. (that is, the half hour preceding Monday Night Football) back to the affiliates, many of whom are planning to preempt Nanny in favor of a 6:30-8:00 p.m. local movie spot. "Without a competitive line-up of stations," Richard K. Doan writes, "Nanny is as good as washed up." (Of course, it didn’t help that, for affiliates choosing to stick with Nanny, the competition was Gunsmoke and Laugh-In.) And indeed, the end of December brings the end of Nanny as well.

Meanwhile, NBC has some ratings problems of its own. Since the end of The Huntley-Brinkley Report last year, its new NBC Nightly News, with John Chancellor, David Brinkley and Frank McGee as alternating anchors, has fallen to a "slow second" behind the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. What to do? McGee, who had been sidelined by illness, is back, but he’s also scheduled to take over for Hugh Downs as host on Today. Additionally, Brinkley’s contract expires at the end of next year, and he’s hinted he may want out afterwards. In the end, the network settles on Chancellor as sole anchor, with Brinkley providing commentary (although the network pairs the two as co-anchors from 1976-79 in an effort to improve ratings). The arrangement lasts until Tom Brokaw takes over in 1982.

Although Cronkite had taken the ratings lead from The Huntley-Brinkley Report during the 1967-68 season, the slide accelerated following Chet Huntley's retirement in 1970. I've never made a secret here of my admiration for both Huntley and Brinkley, but NBC is now discovering the truth of what Cronkite's producer, Sandy Socolow said in Lyle Johnston's biography of Huntley, Good Night, Chet: "All of us—effete easterners—had always assumed it was Brinkley who was drawing the audience with his wit and charm. He was a breath of fresh air, and we'd wait to see what smarty thing he was saying tonight. But low and behold, when Chet left, the audience left—and they came to CBS."

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Saturday gets off to an early start with the NBC Children's Theatre presentation of "For the Love of Fred" (9:00 a.m.), a charming little story about Fred the caterpillar and his friends, portrayed by the Ritts Puppets, and featuring the music of Miles Davis; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; and the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble. It ends with the first of a two-part Name of the Game with Sammy Davis Jr. as a Vegas soul singer (10:30 p.m., KRTV). If you recall, Name of the Game is a 90-minute series, which means this story is important enough to take up three hours. It claims to be "studded with cameo appearances," and at that length, it had better be. (KRT)V actually airs these episodes a day after they originally run, so the rest of the NBC network will see the conclusion this Friday with Ike and Tina Turner and Dionne Warwick joining Sammy.

I'm interested in Sunday's "special edition" of The Ed Sullivan Show hosted by Jack Jones (6:00 p.m., CBS). The final new episode of the Sullivan show had been on March 28; April 4 saw Ed Sullivan Presents Movin' with Nancy on Stage, which is nothing more than Nancy Sinatra's Vegas act, taped at Caesar's Palace. The show then continues in repeats until this week, and although Ed is shown in the listings as the host, I suspect it might not be anything more than a taped appearance up front, with the rest of the show devoted to Jack and his guests, Stiller and Meara, Loretta Lynn, the New Seekers, Your Father's Mustache and the Electric Peach Fuzz. Next week is another repeat, and after that—the CBS Sunday Night Movies. It's the end of an era. For Firing Line (7:00 p.m., PBS), it's the beginning of an era: the debut of William F. Buckley Jr.'s show on Public Broadcasting. For the past five years it's been in syndication, but the move to PBS presents the chance for live shows as well as shows taped closer to the air date. Says Buckley, it's "the advantage of contemporaneity."

Remember George Plimpton, the sports iteration of the "new journalism"? The man who when from behind the typewriter to behind the center with the Detroit Lions in Paper Lion is back on Monday  with Plimpton! The Man on the Flying Trapeze (7:00 p.m., KULR), documenting his preparation to join the Flying Apollos acrobat group with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus. And since it's Monday, that means Johnny Carson is off, so his guest host is Burt Reynolds, with Doug McClure, Bobby Goldsboro and Don Meredith (10:30 p.m., NBC).

Not much to write home about on Tuesday; those pesky variety shows that Cleveland Amory's writing about, Hee Haw (6:30 p.m., CBS) and The Don Knotts Show (7:00 p.m., NBC) plus Wild Woman, the awful movie that Judith Crist panned, means that the best of the bunch may be Suspense Playhouse (8:00 p.m., KRTV), with an episode entitled "Call to Danger," starring Peter Graves as "a chess-playing trouble-shooter" whose assignment involves retrieving stolen currency plates. If this sounds a lot to you like an episode of Mission: Impossible, there's a good reason why—it was a pilot, originally intended as a vehicle for Graves in the event that M:I was cancelled. (Just wait a couple of years.) At 9:00 p.m., KRTV preempts Mannix for the annual Harlem Globetrotters special, with Curly Neal and the gang (and special guest Nipsey Russell!) taking on the hapless New Jersey Reds.

On Wednesday, KSL's prime time movie is The Outsider (8:00 p.m.), the pilot for Darren McGavin's moody detective series, one that probably deserved more than its single-season (1968-69) run. Another series that has only a one-year lifespan is NBC's Four in One (8:00 p.m.), a wheel series with a twist: each of the four segments of the series (McCloud, Night Gallery, San Francisco International Airport, and The Psychiatrist) aired all six of its episodes consecutively, rather than the four series rotating each week. As you can tell from the lineup, two of the series were more successful than the other two.

Thursday, a couple of child stars made good: Bill (don't call me Billy!) Mumy hires Johnny Lancer as a hit man to get the men he thinks killed his father (6:00 p.m., CBS), and Tony Dow plays a cop on Adam-12 (6:30 p.m., NBC). Elsewhere, someone tries to frame Ironside (7:00 p.m,. NBC), but I don't think they'll get away with it; Flip Wilson has a superior lineup (9:00 p.m., NBC), with Bing Crosby, the Supremes and David Steinberg; and Burt Bacharach hosts an hour of his own music (9:00 p.m., KSL) as performed by Dionne Warwick, Joe Grey, Sacha Distel, and Bacharach himself.

Bobby Sherman is ABC's new hope for the young generation; he has a new series coming up this fall (Getting Together, a spin-off from The Partridge Family; it dies after 14 episodes), and on Friday the network teases the audience with a Bobby special (9:00 p.m.) featuring the 5th Dimension, along with the "zany" humor of Rip Taylor. Now, that's OK if you're into it, but here's something you'll really like: The Terror, (11:30 p.m., KCPX), the movie that Roger Corman directed on the set of The Raven, starring Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson. It's one of the most colorful experiences in the very colorful life of Corman; you can read about it at the always-reliable Wikipedia, including the story of how even Francis Ford Coppola had a share of the directing duties.

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Finally, our starlet this week is 22-year-old aspiring actress Alison Rose, and if she doesn't make it big-time, it won't be for lack of trying—or belief. "I'm one of the supreme egomaniacs," she tells Leslie Raddatz. "No way can my life be a fiasco. I won't allow it." She's been working steadily in The Doctors, The Secret Storm and Divorce Court (and has been "consistently disappointed" in her work, and of her biggest role to date, in the TV-movie Marriage: Year One, she told the screenwriter (via a poem) that "a masochist must indulge her pain." Despite that, she says, "There has never been any argument or controversy over the fact that I'm good." She modeled for the top fashion magazines in New York and studied acting for two years before heading for Hollywood last year, and so far her biggest disappointment has been missing out on the Candice Bergen role in Carnal Knowledge. She continues to look for that one big role that changes everything, and, says Raddatz, "don't bet that it won't come along. Or that she won't be good in it."

Well, the right role did come along, but not the way you think. She was a receptionist at The New Yorker in 1987 when she was "taken up" by the writers there, and eventually became one of them herself. In her memoir, Better Than Sane: Tales from a Dangling Girl, which has become something of a minor bible for single women, she writes of those days living in New York around the time she talked with Leslie Raddatz, "sleeping in Central Park, subsisting on Valium, Eskatrol, and Sara Lee orange cake," and hanging out with her colorful friends, including "Francine," who danced with Elvis, married Paul Burke's son, and has a page about her at the senior residence where she lives. (I'm not making this stuff up. The things you can find out thanks to Google.)

You wouldn't know any of this from looking at her IMDb page, which merely lists four credits for her, the last of which being the 1997 movie As Good as It Gets, in which she played "Psychiatric Patient." In fact, there are several Alison Roses out there, but the fact that she writes about her psychiatrist dad in California, combined with Raddatz's mention that "her father is a prominent San Francisco psychiatrist" leads me to believe that they're one and the same (although it looks as if she may have lied about her age). In fact, there's nothing new about her after 2004 or so, which is a shame; who knows what else there might be. Of course, I'm trusting that one of you out there has some new tidbit, like her being your aunt or something like that. But that's what's so interesting about all this, isn't it?  TV  

May 29, 2020

Around the dial

That's a picture of Pope Paul VI up there, watching the Apollo 11 moon landing. Heaven and earth encompassed within one photo. I have nothing to match that today, but I'll do the best I can.

I'm back at Eventually Supertrain, talking about Bourbon Street Beat with my buddy Dan. Stick around for the rest; it's really good.

At Classic TV & Film Café, Rick tells us seven things to know about Connie Stevens, better known around here as Cricket from the detective series Hawaiian Eye, the piece of the Warner Bros. detective puzzle I still need.

It's the Wednesday comics at The Twilight Zone Vortex, and Jordan has a story I would have found irresistible: "Nightmare for an Astronaut." July, 1966 was when I was of comic book age, too—wonder why I didn't have it.

One of the signatures of the early Today Show was the window to Main Street, or at least 49th Street in New York City, where people could look in and see the wonder of television—and be seen, as well, if they were lucky. Read the rest of the story from Jodie at Garroway at Large.

At Cult TV Blog, John introduces us to Jonathan Creek, the British crime drama from the 1990s and 2000s, It's an easy series to like, says John, as long as you don't worry about the massive plot holes. I can buy that.

Hal's F Troop Friday at The Horn Section snuck in after closing time last week, so I bring it to you today; it's "Me Heap Big Injun" from 1965, in which our heroes face the latest threat to O'Rourke Enterprises.

Television's New Frontier: the 1960s arrives in 1961, and the inaugural season of Danger Man, Patrick McGoohan's prologue to The Prisoner. It's a good look at how the series develops, parting from the stereotypical secret agent formula. You'll find it interesting.

Hopefully, you'll find tomorrow's TV Guide interesting as well. TV  

May 27, 2020

Eddie the Noun

This week we feature the first contribution to It's About TV! from Steve Harris, but readers of the old In Other Words blog will recognize the name from his many hilarious "This Just In" pieces, as good as anything you'll read in The Onion. In addition to being one of the nicest (and funniest) people I know, Steve is also one of the most gifted writers I've ever read. Hopefully, he won't be a stranger here.

by Steve Harris

Ken Osmond, who played “Eddie Haskell” on Leave It to Beaver, passed away last week at the age of 76. That sad news took me back to an early ‘60s ritual in our home. Every Saturday night I’d watch TV with my grandparents and older brother. I was little so they always chose the shows. Always the same: Lawrence Welk, Gunsmoke, and Leave It To Beaver. The first two didn’t grab me (until Janet Lennon caught my pre-pubescent eye, making things a bit more intriguing.) But the Cleavers—Ward, June, Wally and the Beave—were a hit with everybody.

Except for the same comment my grandma would make after every episode. “Those boys are so nice,” she’d say to my brother and me. “Look how nice they treat each other. Why can’t you boys be more nice like them?”

Nice was apparently a big priority for Grandma. Cleaver-nice was the bar she was setting. Not sure why. My brother and I, despite occasional scuffles, got along fine. What exactly were the Cleaver brothers doing that we needed to do?

The show had one redeeming quality—one character, really—that helped me keep this in perspective. His name was Eddie Haskell, Wally’s friend. Even at my young age I could see through Eddie. He was slick and conniving, hypocritical and selfish. Courteous to Wally’s parents to their face, snide behind their backs. In a funny way, of course. But I knew I was nicer than Eddie Haskell. That made me feel better. So there, Grandma.

Eddie Haskell may have been one of the great, early TV characters. Iconic, even. Even today (to people of a certain age) say “Eddie Haskell” to someone and you both recognize instantly the personality traits you’re talking about. His very name became short-hand. A noun, even. “You just did an Eddie Haskell.” (That happened a bit later with Don Knotts’ Barney Fife on Andy Griffith. That’s a “Barney,” you could say. Jerry Seinfeld once described Barney Fife this way. “You knew him by his sniff.” Exactly).  I hope Ken Osmond was proud of the character he created—he should have been. A fine piece of work.

He can be even more proud of the fact that when he passed his son, Eric, said that “…he was an incredibly kind and wonderful father.” So, Eddie Haskell was nice after all. Good to know and may he rest in peace. TV  

May 25, 2020

What's on TV? Thursday, June 2, 1966

The listings this week are a real mess, and I mean this in a good way. One of the great things about TV Guides of this era is the local element, and I'm not just talking about the programs listed, but the fact that these program sections are assembled and printed locally. Particular quirks that might be present in one edition aren't there in another, and this issue is proof that there's no standardization guide, or at least not one present this week. Take, for example, The McCoys, the daytime title of the long-running prime-time sitcom The Real McCoys. If you skip down just a few lines, you see that this is how it's listed at KOOK—Real McCoys. That's also how it reads at KXLF. However, if you go down a few lines, at KXLY (which shows it at a different time), it's just McCoys.

Same goes for The Baron; we've talked about TV Guide's longstanding policy that omits articles at the beginning of show titles, yet at 10:00 p.m. on KREM, there it is: The Baron. But at 10:30 p.m. on KOOK, it's Baron. KOOKy, indeed. On KXGN, the half-hour game show Password is on at 3:00 p.m., but at 3:15 p.m. it's Guiding Light. I checked other days of the week just to make sure this wasn't a one-day typo, but no: it's that way every day of the week. Where does the other half of Password go? And, of course, some shows are in color on one station but in black-and-white on another, depending on whether or not they're shown live on the network feed. And so on. Some people might consider these to be sloppy flaws, but I think it's all kind of charming, if perhaps a bit frustrating. But that's what you get with this week's Montana Edition.

May 23, 2020

This week in TV Guide: May 28, 1966

Back in the 1960s, it used to be something of a joke to conflate Mr. Spock, the unflappable Vulcan of Star Trek, with Dr. Spock, the world-famous pediatrician. You don't hear that many jokes about Dr. Spock anymore, and I suspect if you mentioned his name today, a lot of people would think you were talking about the television character, and had simply given him a degree he didn't have. Some of that is because having children in this society isn't as ubiquitous a part of everyday life as it used to be; hence, Dr. Spock's baby-rearing books aren't part of the popular conversation. Some of his ideas have been discredited, and his reputation became intertwined with his involvement in liberal politics in the 1960s and '70s. Nevertheless, The Pocket Book of Baby and Child Care was the largest-selling paperback book of all time, and when Dr. Benjamin Spock sits down (via TV Guide) to talk to you about your children and television, you're probably going to listen.

The doctor doesn't watch television himself except for the daytime drama The Doctors, which he watches while eating lunch in the snack bar at the ice rink where he skates twice a week. ("When other people in the snack bar asked me why I was glued to the set, I told them I was getting pointers. But nowadays the doctors in the show have become totally absorbed in their own personal problems (none of them seems to be married to the right person), and the hospital is merely a backdrop.") Most of what he knows about television comes from what mothers tell him, and what he hears from schoolteachers and principals. And his conclusion: "[T]elevision in its present state is intellectually stimulating to children as well as endlessly delightful to most adults." Now, that's good news if, like me, you happen to be an aficionado of television. But—and you knew this had to be coming—there are some caveats.

Violence, for example. Spock cites The Three Stooges as a show encouraging youngsters to whap each other over the heads for no good reason, because that's what the Stooges do. His conclusion is that while violence doesn't "turn a good child into a delinquent one, it is certainly capable of lowering his standards." He also points to the violence and injustice going on in the United States (Vietnam, civil rights, crime) and criticizes TV for, until recently, failing to cover the these issues and their consequences.

Television also fails to fulfill its promise as teacher. By providing information about the world we live in, about other cultures and peoples, and about our histories, TV can open us up to the rest of the world, and educate us to the needs of those in other countries. "America and Europe must provide, for years, the agricultural and industrial equipment and the capital funds. Television would be by far the best medium for making America aware of the primitive living conditions and desperate needs of the peoples of the underdeveloped world." In doing so, he says, it could make us "proud of what we did and what we are doing to help."

None of this is new to you if you've been reading TV Guide's series of articles over the years dealing with the promise and wasted potential of television. Almost all of these articles point out how Americans can learn more, become better citizens, live up to the leadership role that is expected of us. (I looked at several of them in The Electronic Mirror.) It's impossible, though, to read Spock's comments outside of the context of his controversial political activism. By this time, his opposition to the Vietnam War had led to criticism that his methods encouraged the coddling of children, leading to permissiveness and a desire for instant gratification. (One critic said that children were being “Spocked when they should have been spanked.”)

In the conclusion to his article, Spock says that television's primary ethical goals should be teaching children to "abhor violence, to respect other people's feelings, to settle disputes peacefully." Noble goals indeed, but one must also remember that in the method lies the madness.

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During the 60s, the Ed Sullivan Show and The Hollywood Palace were the premiere variety shows on television. Whenever they appear in TV Guide together, we'll match them up and see who has the best lineup..

Ed Sullivan: Ed's scheduled guests are Edward Villella and Patricia McBride of the New York City Ballet; singers Bobby Vinton and Jane Morgan; comedy teams Wayne and Shuster, and Calvin and Wilder; the Thomas Group, an instrumental group featuring Danny Thomas's son Tony; the Indian Dance Festival of Santa Fe, NM; and baton twirler Diane Shelton.

Hollywood Palace: In the first of a series of reruns, host Liberace presents comedian Bob Newhart, singers John Davidson and Marni Nixon; the comedy team of Avery Schreiber and Jack Burns; magician Channing Pollock; and trapeze artist Betty Pasco.

Interesting; this week has almost a person-for-person matchup. The Palace has a comedy team; Sullivan has two. Sullivan has a dance troupe and a baton twirler; the Palace has a magician and a trapeze artist. I really like Bob Newhart, but I really hate John Davidson (it's too bad Marni Nixon, who dubbed Audrey Hepburn's voice in My Fair Lady, couldn't have dubbed Davidson's as well). Villella and McBride are tremendously talented, the kind of performance that Sullivan specialized in, but it's not enough to raise the show above mediocrity. The only possible answer this week: Push.

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Throughout the 60s and early 70s, TV Guide's weekly reviews were written by the witty and acerbic Cleveland Amory. Whenever we get the chance, we'll look at Cleve's latest take on the series of the era. 

Unlike What's My Line?, which Cleveland Amory eviscerated back a couple of years ago, Our Critic speaks fondly of To Tell the Truth, CBS's panel show that airs five times a week in the daytime, and once a week at night. I don't happen to agree with him on this one, because What's My Line? is in my Top 10 list, and I think it works better than To Tell the Truth. TV Guide, however, did not hire me as their critic (probably a good thing, since I was only six at the time and hadn't been taught how to write cursive yet, let alone type), and besides, I have no animus toward TTTT.

Amory doesn't presume to explain the rules of the game, since it's been on for ten years and the only people who don't know how it works by now don't want to know. But for you younger folk out there who may not be familiar, the premise is a simple one: three people come on the show, each claiming to be a particular person. Only one of the three is actually telling the truth, and it's the job of the celebrity panel to determine which person that is. The most thrilling moments on the show (if a show like this can be said to have thrilling moments) come when the impostors stump the panel, and nobody correctly guesses who's telling the truth. Indeed, nobody can say that the show's title is false advertising.

Bud Collyer, who's hosted the program from the start (excepting the pilot, which was emceed by Mike Wallace), heads up a cast of regulars that includes Kitty Carlisle, Tom Poston, Peggy Cass and Orson Bean, and they all work quite well together, both for the show's benefit, and for the viewers at home. And frequently there's an interactivity present, such as the show in which the panel tries to come up with the real national champion woman duck-caller, who gets to demonstrate her skill at the end. One can gather from his remarks that Cleve would have preferred WML? follow suit, but the story is that John Daly was always against it. I'm just fine with that; it was part of the decorum with which Daly infused his show—and that's the truth.

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There's a Gemini flight scheduled for this week; Gemini IX, scheduled for launch on Tuesday, but actually delayed to Friday due to some technical issues during the extremely narrow launch window. The original crew for Gemini IX, command pilot Elliot See and pilot Charles Bassett, were killed in a plane crash on February 28, 1966, resulting in the elevation of the backup crew, Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan.* The launch delay means we'll have to wait to experience CBS's plans to rely on daily highlights rather than providing extensive live coverage; nevertheless, as TV Guide reminds us, the networks will be providing coverage throughout the week, making regular programs subject to change.

*Because Stafford and Cernan were promoted to prime crew, Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldren were moved from Gemini X backup crew to Gemini IX, which put him on the prime crew of Gemini XII. This, in turn, played a large part in Aldren being selected for the crew of: Apollo 11.

The pre-Monday-holiday era that we're in means that Monday, May 30 is Memorial Day, and KREM in Spokane acknowledges it on Saturday evening with a half-hour preview of Monday's Indianapolis 500 (7:30 p.m.). The film includes highlights of previous races, as well as a look at this year's time trials. If you want to see the race, though, you've got two choices: go to your favorite movie theater that's showing a live closed-circuit broadcast of the race, or wait until the following Saturday when the highlights are on Wide World of Sports. As for this week's Wide World (3:00 p.m., ABC), the main event is taped coverage of last Sunday's Grand Prix of Monaco, the world's most prestigious Formula 1 race.

I think it's fair to say that NBC owns the day on Sunday, starting with part one of a two-part NBC White Paper (4:30 p.m.) on "The Age of Kennedy," a look at the life and times of the late president of the United States. Chet Huntley narrates the documentary, while Henry Fonda reads from Kennedy's writings. This is one of the rare White Paper episodes that survives to this day; you can see the entire two hours here:

At 8:00 p.m., NBC comes back with the acclaimed Frank Sinatra special "A Man and His Music," which originally aired last November. It's an hour of nothing but songs, including "I've Got You Under My Skin," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "My Kind of Town," "It Was a Very Good Year," "Lady Is a Tramp," and more.

Most of us have Monday off, which explains the 15th Annual National Golf Day (2:00 p.m., NBC). I've never heard of this before, but it's an 18-hole "Round of the Champions" between Gary Player, 1965 U.S. Open champion, and Dave Marr, 1965 PGA champion, live from Firestone Country Club in Akron. The winner gets $10,000, but more important than that, sets the "target score" for amateur golfers from around the country, who have two weeks to submit their best handicap score in order to beat the target. Those that do receive a PGA certificate. Just for the fun of it, I Googled "National Golf Day" to see if it's still around. It is, but it's a little different now: it's a day for leading organizations and industry leaders to educate (i.e. lobby) Congressional members on golf's impact.* (There doesn't appear to be any kind of "target score" round, but if there was, it would presumably be held at Congressional Country Club.) A baseball bonus comes at 4:00 p.m. on NBC; a holiday matinee between the Dodgers and Braves from Atlanta.

*Oddly enough, a version of "National Golf Day similar to what we read here is held in South Africa. Among the professional golfers against whom the amateurs compete: Gary Player.

On Tuesday, in addition to the planned Gemini coverage, CBS presents a Vietnam special at 10:30 p.m. "Anthony Eden on Vietnam" is an interview with the former British prime minister, who talks with Charles Collingwood about the progress of the war and the prospects for peace. Along with the Vietnam report Sunday afternoon on ABC Scope and a daily 15-minute Vietnam Update on Salt Lake City's KUTV, it's more evidence of the increasing attention being paid to the war.

Wednesday's highlight is The Danny Kaye Show (8:00 p.m., CBS), which features an all-star guest cast of Buddy Ebsen, Clint Eastwood, Fess Parker, and Charo (?) in "The Ballad of Pinky Dan," a Wild West spoof that has Sheriff Dan (Kaye) facing down the notorious Rotten Brothers (Buddy, Clint and Fess). Charo presumably fits in as, I don't know, maybe a saloon singer? At 9:00 p.m., an episode of NBC's Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre has an equally talented cast; Robert Ryan, Leslie Nielsen, Diana Hyland, Robert Duvall, Richard Beymer, Leif Ericson and Pippa Scott in the story of an assistant D.A. (Nielsen) putting together a citizen's committee to patrol the neighborhood against crime.

There is no one standout program on Thursday, but I'm drawn to Dean Martin's lineup (8:00 p.m., NBC), with Sid Caesar and George Gobel, opera star Marguerite Piazza, Abby Lane, the Lettermen, and acrobats David and Goliath. We'll be taking a closer look on Monday, so you can see for yourselves what you think.

Friday features a rerun of Sir John Gielgud's acclaimed Ages of Man (8:00 p.m., CBS), based on his successful one-man Broadway show, in which the legendary actor reads from Shakespeare. As I recall, this was originally shown in the Sunday afternoon cultural ghetto time, so I suppose Friday in prime time might be a promotion. Or then again, maybe not. Later on, Kate Smith has a special from the Palladium in London (9:00 p.m., NBC), with Millicent Martin, Tom Jones, and Morecambe and Wise.

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Finally, we probably should spend a minute or so on Sally Field, this week's cover story. The star of the recently-cancelled Gidget is not yet 20, and one could make the case that the two-time Oscar winner is one of the most distinguished of the many starlets to grace the pages of TV Guide. Leslie Raddatz's profile is liberally sprinkled with WORDS in ALL CAPS, presumably mimicking Field's perky style of SPEAKING. (Although that's only a GUESS.) She comes across as talented, down-to-earth, unaffected. Now that Gidget has been cancelled, she's looking forward to "theater-in-the-ROUND this summer, and in the FALL, she will probably do MOVIES." She's got a couple more TV series in her future, The Flying Nun and The Girl with Something Extra, but it is in fact in movies that she reaches her greatest heights. I don't know that you would have predicted that from this article; in fact, I'm sure of it. But I can also assure you that it isn't anything personal. After all, we like her; we really, really like her. TV  

May 22, 2020

Around the dial

And they say men don't like to go shopping. I remember when department stores had a room like this for console sets. Of course, I also remember department stores.

Speaking of shopping, big news: The Electronic Mirror is now available for the Kindle! At a price of only $2.99, you've got absolutely no excuse for not buying it. And since my job has become a victim of the virus-related economic downturn, your unemployed scribe could use a few royalties. All three of my books are now available as ebooks; you can get all the details here.

Boy, does this speak to me: Comfort TV's "get off my lawn" list of five annoying sitcom kids. The only difference between David and me is that I don't restrict my shouting to sitcoms with kids; it covers, oh, perhaps 95% of the shows on TV today. I might be underestimating, though.

At Garroway at Large, Jodie continues her bits & pieces features with a look at five-year-old Dave's first car: a wooden build-it-yourself with his grandfather. It was a sporty drive, too: zero to six with two Eskimo Pies.

The latest issue in The Twilight Zone Vortex's look at The Twilight Zone Magazine takes us to January/February, 1983. What's in store? An interview with Roald Dahl, a look at the past year in fantasy films, the story behind "Carol For Another Christmas," and more.

My sympathies to John at Cult TV Blog, who's had a stressful past few weeks; know what you mean, brother. What better way to relax than with one of his favorite Avenger episodes, "Death's Door." I have to get this series back in the queue.

An unravished bride is a terrible thing to waste; in this week's Hitchcock Project at bare•bones e-zine, Jack looks at the Morton Fine and David Friedkin episode "Thou Still Unravished Bride," with performances from the young actors Sally Kellerman and David Carradine.

Yet another classic TV veteran passes on with the death of Fred Willard this week, and at A Shroud of Thoughts Terence looks at the long and vital career of this "very nice man."

Plus, of course, some of my fellow TV bloggers participated in the National Classic Movie Day blogathon last Saturday, so be sure to check them out as well. TV  

May 18, 2020

What's on TV? Thursday, May 20, 1971

One of the advantages to video tape over live television is that it allows for more information in the TV Guide listings than you might otherwise have. Take, for example, This Is Your Life (10:30 p.m., WABC). Because the show's taped, there's no need to keep secret that Shirley Jones is tonight's honoree. It does kind of lose the excitement of the old show, though, when you didn't know who was going to be the surprise guest. That's progress, I guess. This week's listings are from the Philadelphia—New York area; one thing to look for: the note that the departing Jim Nabors Hour will be replaced by reruns of Lancer. I wonder if that includes the episode with Rick Dalton?

May 16, 2020

6 from the '60s: National Classic Movie Day

The 1960s may have been the grooviest decade, but my selections for Classic Film & TV Café's "6 from the '60s," in honor of National Classic Movie Day, are decidedly not groovy movies, although a couple of them are very cool and one of them is simply weird. This may say more about me than I'd like to admit, so we'll dispense with any attempt at psychoanalysis and go straight to the picks.

Since I primarily write about television, it's worth noting that of these six films, I've only seen one of them in a theater, and that was after I'd already seen it twice on TV. I do own all six, though, and I don't buy movies lightly; I have to be pretty sure I'm going to watch them more than once before I make the investment. In fact, I think the 1960s were a terrific decade for movies, and I probably could have come up with a dozen different combinations of two dozen different films. However, this list is the first one I wrote down, as soon as Rick announced it, and I've found it's usually best to stick with first instincts. I don't pretend that I'm listing them in any kind of order other than the chronological order in which they came out; any one of the six could be my favorite depending on my mood, the time of day, the weather outside, and a hundred other factors. But enough—let's get to the list!

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Director: John Frankenheimer
Stars: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh

I was introduced to The Manchurian Candidate on NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies back in 1974. It was an impressionable time for me; I was in high school, beginning to cultivate my interest in politics as a career, and I was making my way through the canon of political thrillers: Seven Days in May, The Best Man, and Fail-Safe. Now, it was never my intent to attain the White House through Communist infiltration, any more than it was through a military coup or high-level blackmail (or at least the first two), but this was drama played out at the highest level, and I was hooked.

The Manchurian Candidate is often considered, at least partly, a satire, but that’s not the way I saw it then, nor is it how I see it today. It’s true that there are elements that could be thought of that way (especially in Richard Condon’s novel of the same name), but the story itself is far too dark (underscored by David Amram’s score and the stark black-and-white cinematography) and the performances too intense for that, especially Angela Lansbury, who’s about as far away from Jessica Fletcher as she would be if she was playing Linda Lovelace; she’s so icy, your blood will run colder than hers. Sinatra is wonderful, proving himself again to be one of the few singers who can transition to an acting role with no trace of singing in it. Laurence Harvey, as the brainwashed assassin, and Janet Leigh, whose meeting with Sinatra may not be as coincidental as it seems, round out an extraordinary cast.

John Frankenheimer’s direction is visually stunning, most memorably in an early scene involving Khigh Dhiegh as a ChiCom operative displaying brainwashed American soldiers to a group of fellow communist officials, a scene that transitions seamlessly between scientific presentation and garden party, but there’s also a man who gets shot through a milk carton, a costume party involving the queen of diamonds, and a chase scene through Madison Square Garden during a presidential nominating convention. As the story unfolds, Frankenheimer ramps up the tension, culminating in a shocking conclusion delivering a massive payoff. I don’t think the country was ready for a movie like The Manchurian Candidate in 1962, a cynical psycho-thriller contained in a Cold War wrapper, but the mark of its greatness is that even today, when we’ve become accustomed to corruption, manipulation, and conspiracy, The Manchurian Candidate retains the power to shock and disturb.

This Sporting Life (1963)

Director: Lindsay Anderson
Stars: Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, or at least indulge me while I repeat myself. Back in my college days, whenever I was doing research in the library I'd spend the last half hour or so in the periodicals section, looking at old issues of TV Guide. My favorite issues, besides those for Christmas and New Year's, were the ones that contained the close-ups for the annual Academy Awards telecasts. I'd look at the lists of best picture nominees, and the pictures of the nominated actors and actresses (this was before the days of TCM or AMC, when classic movies on TV weren't as common), and I'd make lists of the movies that I was unfamiliar with and looked interesting, and then watch for them to pop up in TV Guide. I saw a lot of movies that way, including several that almost made this listTom Jones, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runnerbut none of them made the impression on me of This Sporting Life.

I didn't know what to expect, maybe something set in the lush English countryside: I hadn't yet heard of the Angry Young Man school or the Kitchen Sink Drama. It didn't take long to find out, thoughI was blindsided from the start, with Roberto Gerhard's tense, atonal score and Lindsay Anderson's use of quick-cut flashbacks setting the stage for a gritty, grimy story (based on the novel by David Storey, who also wrote the screenplay) set in working-class England of the early 1960s and rendered appropriately in black-and-white. Richard Harris plays Frank Machin, a coal miner who finds focus for his brutish lifestyle as a professional rugby player. As he wins acclaim for his performance on the pitch, he tries to become more than "just a great ape on a football field" through a romance with his landlady, the widowed Mrs. Hammond (Roberts). Be forewarned, though: this isn't the classic American "feel good" sports movie, but a dark, often ugly look at people trapped in prisons, whether from class, circumstances, or through their own making. 

This Sporting Life was Lindsay Anderson's feature film directorial debut; it made many 10-best lists for the year, and both Harris and Roberts (who was at the time married to Rex Harrison) were nominated for Oscars for their powerful performances. This Sporting Life changed the way I looked at movies and the kinds of stories they could tell. It is a masterpiece of desolation.

Point Blank (1967)

Director: John Boorman
Stars: Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn

There seems to be an anecdote behind each one of these movies, and this is no exception.  A writer at another site was relating his initial view of the scene in which Lee Marvin is seen striding purposely down a long corridor. The view switches back and forth between Marvin's character and an attractive blonde getting out of bed, going about her business, getting her hair done, and so forth. Marvin's expression never changes, nor does his determination. The viewer looked at the cast and imagined he'd be seeing a touching reunion between Marvin and Angie Dickinson (he originally assumed Dickinson was that woman; it was actually Sharon Acker); about a minute into the clip, he found out he was wrong. Boy, was he wrong. The explosiveness of that scene, following a buildup of tension, is Point Blank in a nutshell.  

Marvin, in what I consider his greatest role, plays Walker, a criminal mastermind and a very dangerous man. During a heist, Walker is shot and left for dead by his best friend, Reese (John Vernon), who takes all the loot and absconds with Walker's wife (Acker). But, surprise! Walker isn't dead, just angryvery angry and looking to do whatever it takes to get his money back. But therein lies the rub; Walker doesn't want power or wealth or a position in "The Organization," he only wants what's coming to him, his share of the heist. They never do understand that, to their ultimate misfortune; throughout, Walker leaves a trail of death and violence in his wake, although he's actually responsible for very little of it. He doesn't outright kill anyone, they just keep dying after their encounters with him. Well, there is a heavy who tries to get tough with Walker and gets the crap beaten out of him instead, but for the most part it's a case of the bad guys eliminating themselves.  

Marvin, who got the clout to do a movie like this through having won an Oscar for Cat Ballou, should have won a second for this, but he had to remain content with making a cult classic that's grown in critical esteem through the years. He was fortunate to work with John Boorman, who shared his vision for the movie, and to whom Marvin deferred his contractual control over script and cast. Thanks to the combination of actor and director, Point Blank transcends the boundaries of pulp crime drama to become one of the great movies of the decade.

The Producers (1967)

Director: Mel Brooks
Stars: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder

Many years ago, I was working for a thoroughly disreputable company, serving on a committee intended to raise employee morale. It was a foolish choice on their part, asking a confirmed cynic like me to do something like this; it just showed what a poor judge of talent they were, as I eventually found out. At any rate, one of the ideas was to hold occasional movie days, and I suggested The Producers. Once they found out the plot, the committee voted it down, fearing that a movie that played Hitler for laughs might offend someone. As I said, they didn't deserve me.

There has to be a comedy on this list, right? Well, The Producers ranks as one of the best pieces of outrageous humor ever, benefiting not only from Mel Brooks's sense of the absurd, but also from Brooks's absence in the cast. He wasn't needed, not with a cast that includes Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder already there. Underneath that unscrupulous, larcenous veneer of Mostel's larger-than-life Max Bialystock lies a true sense of humanity; he wants to be rich, sure, but he never really looks to hurt anyone. He's teamed up with Wilder's timid accountant Leo Bloom, who unwittingly suggests a scheme to bilk investors by overselling shares in an production so intentionally bad that it'll close after one night. Leo's not a crook at heart, but under Max's spell, he finds himself alive (and unafraid) for the first time in his life.  Throw in Kenneth Mars as the insane playwright of "Springtime for Hitler," and Dick Shawn as a hippie Hitler, and you have everything you need for a truly demented movie. In a good way, of course; Brooks won an Oscar for his brilliant screenplay, and Wilder was nominated for Supporting Actor for the hysterical Leo.

If The Manchurian Candidate was "unthinkable" back in 1962, The Producers might be just as unthinkable today. We're so quick to offend, and I don't know that the Broadway version could even have been made had not the movie already existed. The joke was never that Hitler was funny, or that making fun of him was offensive. No, the audience that made "Springtime for Hitler" a hit (unfortunately, for Max and Leo) understood that comedy levels the playing field, that satirizing Hitler makes him human enough for us to understand that he could happen again someday, if we're not careful. 

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Stars: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Douglas Rein (voice only)

I've never been to one of those parties where someone hypnotizes people as a kind of parlor trick, and before anyone knows it they're braying like donkeys, barking like dogs, or clucking like chickens, after which everyone chuckles at their embarrassment. It's obvious I don't know the right kind of people, or else these things would happen to me all the time. But the closest I've ever come to being hypnotized was while watching 2001 for the first time, when I was sucked into the Star Gate along with Dave Bowman—and I wasn't under the influence of any substance at the time, other than my television set.

I've 2001 many times since, including twice in the theater, and it's never quite hit me the same way it did that first time. There are other aspects that, upon repeated viewing, have made a deep impression on me, from the guarded nature of Dr. Floyd (William Sylvester) to the taciturn performances of Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood as the ill-fated astronauts, the impassive voice of HAL (Douglas Rein), and most of all the overwhelming loneliness of space. The music leaves me spellbound, the vastness of the universe, especially in the theater, is awesome, and I even love the parodies of it; every time I see the end of Laserblast, a truly execrable movie, on MST3K, it makes me want to see 2001 again. It's an epic, every bit as much as Ben-Hur or Lawrence of Arabia

But for all that, and even though I appreciate that Star Gate scene more every time, I've never been as memorized—hypnotized, if you will—than that initial viewing on TV back in 1977.  I don't think I ever want to understand this movie, in the way that one might understand Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon.  In the end, 2001 is not just an odyssey, it's a mystery, one of those ethereal substances that never quite settle into a solid object.  When you understand too much about anything, you lose some of the mystery, and it was the mystery that first captured my attention all those years ago - and continues to do so today.

Bullitt (1968)

Director: Peter Yates
Stars: Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bisset, Don Gordon

The car chase. That's the first thing you think about, isn't it, when you think of Bullitt. That, and the King of Cool. Steve McQueen. It's impossible to envision anyone else in the role of Lt. Frank Bullitt; McQueen is so cool, as Zaphod Beeblebrox would say, you could keep a side of beef next to him for a week; so cool, even his improbable last name makes sense. So cool, you don't even notice Jacqueline Bisset. Much. 

Bullitt has a strong supporting cast: Robert Vaughn is as smarmy as he's ever been as an insufferably smug, politically ambitious senator (is there any other kind?); Don Gordon is very good in a rare good-guy role as Bullitt's partner; and Simon Oakland appropriately exasperated as Bullitt's boss.  But it always comes back to McQueen, and that scene—the greatest car chase in the history of movies, and that includes The French Connection and every Fast & Furious movie ever made. No matter how many times you see it, and I've seen it a few times, it takes your breath away. That's due mostly to Peter Yates's use of driver's POV shots, and film editing that rightly won an Oscar. In the end, though, it comes back to McQueen. A lesser actor would have been overwhelmed by it, diminishing the character's stature, but not him. And you believe McQueen's behind the wheel, as, indeed, he often is. It wouldn't be nearly as effective if Bullitt was played by, for example, Wally Cox. (Nor would it have been quite the same if it had taken place in Lincoln, Nebraska. There's a lot to be said for on-location shooting in San Francisco.) 

Steve McQueen proved he could act with his Oscar nomination for The Sand Pebbles, but for my money this is quintessential McQueen and quintessential action. It's one of those movies that, whenever I run across it while I'm surfing, I watch it to the end, even though I own it. It's defined by the car chase in the same way that Ben-Hur is defined by the chariot race, but make no mistake: this movie belongs to the King of Cool. We just live in his shadow.

This is part of the "6 from the '60s" Blogathon in celebration of National Classic Movie Day (May 16th). Click here for a list of participating blogsand then watch a classic movie! TV