Year: 1954 Series Number: 0 (Non-canonical) Director: William H. Brown Jr. James Bond: Barry Nelson
A few months back, I revealed some movie franchises I’ve mostly overlooked; among them, the James Bond franchise, of which I’d seen only two films — and only one of them a canonical entry. I resolved at the time to start remedying this lack, starting in 2013, by going through all the entries in the series in chronological order — even the few I’ve seen before, even the non-canonical entries — so as to have a proper perspective on the growth and development of the series. The reviews will come sporadically throughout the year (and possibly into next year), but they start today with a decidedly odd entry in the series.
Due to some of the little quirks of the property rights, the very first portrayal of James Bond is actually a non-canonical entry. 1954′s Casino Royale was a live performance on the anthology series Climax!; such a thing could easily have been lost, but fortunately it was preserved, and MGM — knowing full well that their fans could be obsessive — included it as a bonus feature on the DVD for the similarly non-canonical 1967 parody version of Casino Royale. Watching this film is an interesting experience, as even somebody whose knowledge of James Bond mostly comes from pop-culture references will recognize this as being very different from the standards of the series. Continue reading →
The overlap between Christmas Cinema and the Morbid Curiosity Files is fairly small. Sure, Hallmark and Lifetime produce hundreds of “Christmas” movies every year that are nothing but saccharine romantic comedies and pedestrian musicals featuring people who never should have been allowed to sing, but there aren’t very many Christmas films that look as though they’ll have that special cheesy kind of badness to them that makes me curious enough to check them out. But when I saw there was a spin-off of Christmas Vacation, one of my favorite Christmas films, but not starring Chevy Chase and instead focusing on Cousin Eddie, I knew it was one I had to check out.
The movie was released in 2003; I initially thought it was direct-to-video, but some research reveals it actually debuted on television first, carried by NBC. It’s directed by Nick Marck, whose previous and subsequent credits consist almost entirely of episodes of television shows. The writer on the film is Matty Simmons; he actually does have a prior association with the Vacation franchise, in that he’s been a producer or executive producer on all of the films. He was not, however, a writer on any of them. His previous writing credits include the Baby Huey Easter special, Two Reelers and Delta House. You might recognize those last two as projects you’ve never heard of; both are failed TV series. Delta House is notable in that it was an attempt to spin Animal House into an ongoing television series (with John Belushi as Bluto replaced by his cousin “Blotto”). So Simmons does have prior experience making spin-offs of hit National Lampoon movies that lack the qualities that made the originals hits. Continue reading →
1313 Mockingbird Lane was a proposed series for NBC, featuring an updated take on The Munsters, making it arguably a touch darker and shifting it to a dramatic comedy instead of the pure farce of the original series. As production costs rose, NBC gradually lost faith and decided to cut their losses; on October 26th, in an attempt to recoup the costs already sunk, they aired the pilot — directed by Bryan Singer — as a one-hour TV special, dropping the house number to make it simply Mockingbird Lane.
Watching failed TV pilots is always interesting. They’re often treated as made-for-TV movies, but they were meant to continue, and it’s usually clear where the series was meant to go from there. Even more importantly, it’s easy to see why they thought it could make it as a series — and why they thought it couldn’t. In the case of Mockingbird Lane, the merits of the series are clear, but it’s just as clear why it didn’t make it. With the budget they had to have had pouring into this, it needed to be great, and sadly it’s just “Okay”. Continue reading →
The Three Stooges are an American institution, an inimitable comedy act that several decades later are still remembered fondly and still watched by generations whose parents weren’t alive when their comedy shorts were originally released. Like a lot of people, I’ve been a fan since I was a child, both of the classic “Moe, Larry, and Curly” trio and the “Moe, Larry, and Shemp” trio. (I can watch and even enjoy Curly Joe DeRita and Joe Besser, but there’s a definite drop-off, since those two are just imitating Curly, while Shemp was his own man.) So when I found out that there was a pilot made for a Three Stooges television series (and not the animated series put out by Hanna-Barbera years later, let alone the abominable Robonic Stooges), I was curious why I hadn’t heard of it earlier, and why it never took off. America loved the Stooges, so it was hard to believe that they couldn’t get a TV pilot picked up. Continue reading →
I never really watch a made-for-TV movie with high expectations, though I’ve seen a few that are actually pretty good. While I hope that every theatrical movie I watch is great — minus those few that are obvious candidates for the Morbid Curiosity Files — when it comes to their small-screen counterparts, I mostly hope for something that’s just OK. Every so often I get surprised by one that’s better than expected, but especially with older ones, it doesn’t happen very often.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to check them out, though. Sometimes an older TV movie can be fun to watch just to see who turns up. In the case of Charles Braverman’s 1986 TV movie, The Brotherhood of Justice, the reason to watch is the chance to see a young Keanu Reeves play off a young Kiefer Sutherland. Continue reading →
There is something to be said for knowing exactly what you’re in for. Even when it’s a low-budget made-for-TV movie. Even when you know there’s no hope of it truly being a good film. But when you have a movie from 1984, and it stars Mr. T, and it’s titled The Toughest Man in the World, you know right away what you’re getting.
Not that I’m disparaging the acting skills of Mr. T. Far from it. I may disparage the writing of the film, but not Mr. T’s acting. It’s apparent from the very title what kind of character Mr. T will be playing, and it’s a type he plays very well, and very often. Mr. T plays Bruise Brubaker, and Bruise is, of course, a rough and tough bouncer by night and a gruff but warm-hearted inner city youth counselor by day. It’s essentially type-casting, spawned with no small amount of inspiration from his 1983 cartoon series, but just as that has fans, so too does this have some cheesy appeal. Continue reading →
Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, and while it wouldn’t be his last Christmas story, it’s far and away the most enduring of them, and today even surpasses his non-holiday works in popularity and recognition. It seemed like a logical choice for a “Version vs. Version” article, with the main question being which of its dozens of adaptations to compare it to. While I’ll be touching on some general trends, I decided to focus on the 1949 TV adaptation, for a few reasons. First, at 25 minutes, it was easy to fit into my schedule (I don’t like to “phone it in”, but today was kind of busy.) Secondly, parts of it are narrated from the text of the book, and much of the dialogue is lifted from it, making it easy to see where corners are cut and elements are glossed over. And third, that narration is done by Vincent Price, and I think we’ve all figured out by now I enjoy watching Vincent Price. (It’s a shame, really, that he couldn’t have had a major role in the work, but at that time he was too young for Scrooge, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is traditionally silent.)
I will assume most of you are familiar with the basic story, and so I’ll jump right into the review of the special and the comparison. Continue reading →
Human Feelings is a made-for-TV movie — actually, it was intended as a pilot for a TV series that never got picked up — which aired in 1978. You’d think by now I’d learn to take that as a big warning sign, that made-for-TV movies — especially older ones, which usually had proportionately lower budgets compared to today — have a tendency to not turn out as good as their high concept. But I figured I had an hour and a half to kill, so this might be worth a shot.
In my defense, it stars Billy Crystal, and Billy Crystal is usually good for a few laughs. Usually. Continue reading →
As I noted a short while earlier, there have been a great many adaptations of the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This one was a made-for-TV movie, which would normally dissuade me from checking it out, but I decided to give it a chance anyway due to the actor cast in the title role, Michael Caine, who is usually worth watching. And indeed Caine turned in a very solid performance in the movie… unfortunately it seems he was also slumming it a bit, as the movie itself rather let him down in some ways.
It’s not the fault of his co-stars. All of them likewise gave worthy performances in their roles. Cheryl Ladd, probably best known from the original Charlie’s Angels, plays Sara Crawford, Jekyll’s sister-in-law and love interest. In this variation of the story, Jekyll is a widower, having lost his wife to pneumonia. Sara, the other daughter of Jekyll’s father-in-law and scientific rival Dr. Lanyon (Joss Ackland), is a married woman but her husband is off in Singapore, and she feels no love for him; she has always loved Jekyll. Lanyon blames Jekyll for the death of his daughter, and suspects adultery between Sara and Henry (he’s wrong, initially.)
One of the hazards, as it were, of using Hulu as one’s main source of movies is that every so often, a made-for-TV movie slips into the queue without one being aware that’s what it is at first. Sometimes this turns out OK, but it’s seldom great, and more often, well… I chose the word “hazard” for a reason. In the case of 1976′s The Million Dollar Rip-Off, I find myself wishing that IMDb had the data for the original production costs. Then at least I could make a snappy remark about it being a “$50,000 rip-off” or whatever amount as appropriate. But that joke, alas, remains out of reach… much like any other form of enjoyment with this film.