Saturday, July 24, 2010

The PT 109 Movie Is Awful

I caught most of the movie PT 109 on Turner Classics today. What a lousy movie. It doesn't lack for production value and looks really good. Photography, sets, location,'s all great. And a great cast of 60's character actors including Robert Blake, Robert Culp, James Gregory and Norman Fell. And of course, Peter Parker's dad, Cliff Robertson as JFK.

But it the most lackluster, slow moving piece of crap! The 'action' scenes of Kennedy and his boys fighting it out with the Japanese as they rescue some marooned Marines is ridiculous. No one seems to be in a hurry to either shoot back or get away.

And when a rescue plane flies over our heroes, they can barely muster a wave as the plane doesn't see them and disappears in the distance.

The scene where the 109 is split in half by a Japanese destroyer was recreated by yours-truly for a school assignment using toy boats and army men. As I recall, it went over pretty well. And was probably a lot better than this sleep inducing film.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jack Webb, The Beatles and Charles Manson

I just plowed through the entire second season of 'Dragnet' on DVD. What a weird, freaky show that was. When I was a kid, I watched it but didn't consider myself a 'fan'. But looking at them now, I am fascinated with the strange world Jack Webb created.

Part of its weirdness is born from the uninteresting fact that Webb made the show as cheaply and quickly as possible. But there are a lot of 'cheap' shows out there that are boring or unwatchable. Somehow Jack Webb, like the B-movie oddball Ed Wood, made something that was unique and wonderful in its brevity, low-budget and tone.

The sets are spartan, the plots incredibly simple and he uses the same stable of actors over and over. The color has that nice bright 1960's look (you never see shows lit like 'Dragnet', 'Star Trek' or any multitude of shows from that era). And the opening scenes of LA ('This is the city..') are funny because of the amount of smog in the air. It's like the opening of some post-apocalypse sci-fi flick.

There's one episode ('The Big Departure') where Friday and Gannon bust some teenagers who have stolen a bunch of camping gear and supplies that they plan on using to create their own 'society'. Kind of like a commune or a benign Manson Family. One of kids is even called 'Charlie' and sort of resembles a young Manson.

What's strange is that around the same time, The Beatles began working on the 'White Album' which would 'inspire' the Manson Family and their 'Helter Skelter' rampage.

I wonder if, along with hearing the 'White Album', Manson saw that 'Dragnet' episode? Afterall, with only three TV channels, a lot of people also saw 'Dragnet' every week. I know I was exposed to both The Beatles and Jack Webb. And so were all of my friends. Was Manson, or members of his 'family', inspired by the 'Dragnet' kids who wanted to depart the establishment and start their own world?

Either way, it's a great example of how the media of the 60's, while extremely limited compared to today, gave us such diverse offerings as 'Dragnet' and the 'White Album'. And as different as they are, at the same time they are alike in their 'weirdness'. 'Dragnet', a surreal two-dimensional look at law-and-order and the 'White Album', the Beatles' only LP you could call 'spooky'. A total departure from their 'mop-top' persona.

And in a subliminal way they both would, or could, inspire and speak to someone like Charles Manson and his followers, as well as a regular kid in the sixth grade. Like me.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Close Encounters of the Ringo Kind

So a Beatle turned 70 yesterday. Makes me feel kinda old. Ringo's birthday reminded me that I've been in Ringo's presence four times. In 1965 when my family saw the Beatles' get off an airplane at Portland International Airport. In 1966 at the Beatles' concert in Seattle. And twice seeing Ringo's All-Star band (early 90's probably).

But there was one 'encounter' that I also remember. I was about 10 years old and my family was taking a vacation to 'Hollywood'. We were in a tour bus driving along a main drag and the tour guide said, 'It looks like a film crew up ahead!' and as we approached I thought 'There's Ringo!'. But then the guide pointed out that it was actually Sonny Bono. Years later I realized that they were filming Good Times, the awful Sonny and Cher movie. I recognized Sonny's clothes and the location. I didn't notice Cher that day, or the director of that classic, William Freidkin, who would later go on to direct The French Connection, The Exorcist, and one of my personal favorites Sorcerer.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Lost Beatles Album

I was listening to the United Artists version of A Hard Day's Night yesterday. Nearly half of the tracks are George Martin instrumentals and like the Capitol version of Help!, fans (and the Beatles themselves) felt these LPs were inferior to the British versions which were released sans the instrumentals.

But to me, someone who grew up with this record, I really dig it. For some reason it's never been released on CD. So for us North American baby-boomer fans, it's a 'lost album', which is too bad. There's something really charming about the instrumentals, and in retrospect, I think it was a good move. It made the record more accessible to 'grown-ups'. It sure didn't affect the sales any. It was a huge hit.

There are other 'lost' US albums, but Hard Day's Night is the biggie. Vee Jay's Introducing the Beatles has never made it to CD, but it's basically the same record as Capitol's Early Beatles which was released on CD with the 'Capitol Albums Vol. 2' set (yes, there are a few tracks missing on Early, but the songs are now available on other CDs). Also never released on CD, the pretty much horrible The Beatles' Story which is only interesting from a historical perspective. I even hated it as a kid.

You can buy vinyl copies of the American A Hard Day's Night for pretty cheap at used record stores, and there was also a cassette. So go get a copy, dust off that turntable or tape player and give it a listen. It's a fun record.