Sunday, June 4, 2017

Miracle On 34th Street

Premiered June 4, 1947

As the date above indicates, Miracle On 34th Street was released 70 years ago today. That's right, one of the all time classic, most beloved Christmas films was released in June!  We suspect that most people reading this blog are familiar with the story, so rather than summarize it, we figured we'd discuss some interesting aspects and behind-the-scenes stories about the movie.

Why was it released out of season?  It seems Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox Studios, believed more people went to the movies during summer months.  Miracle On 34th Street was promoted with no mention of its Yuletide-themed plot.  The original movie poster seen below emphasizes the romance between Doris (Maureen O'Hara) and Fred (John Payne).  Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwen) and Susan (Natalie Wood) are relegated to the background of the poster.

Miracle On 34th Street begins on Thanksgiving Day.  Kris takes on the role of Santa in the Macy's Parade when the man hired to play Mr. Claus (Percy Helton) is too drunk to go on. Viewers of the film today might be surprised to learn that Edmund Gwenn actually did play Santa in the 1946 edition of the Macy's Parade!  Here's a photo:

This is rare case of a 1940s film being shot on location.  This means we get to see actual vintage footage of the 1946 Macy's Parade!

Character actress Thelma Ritter made her film debut in this movie.  She appears uncredited as a Macy's shopper.

While her role is brief, Ritter managed to make a nothing-role memorable and it lead to her being cast in more movies.  Ritter went on to a distinguished career, racking up six Oscar nominations, one Emmy nod and a win at the 1956 Tony Awards for New Girl In Town.

We love this film and watch it every holiday season, Edmund Gwenn is still the best movie Santa Claus seven decades after he won an Oscar for the role.

Needless to say, Miracle On 34th Street gets our highest rating.

RigbyMel and J.A. Morris' rating:

4 Candy Canes!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Golden Girls: "Mother's Day"

Premiered May 7, 1988.

It's Mother's Day and Dorothy (Bea Arthur), Rose (Betty White) and Blanche (Rue McClanahan) are waiting for calls from their children before they take Dorothy's mom, Sophia (Estelle Getty) out to brunch.

While they wait to hear from their children -- much to Sophia's dismay (she wants to get to the buffet before the good shrimp is all gone) -- the girls reminisce about Mother's Days past.

Dorothy recalls a time when she was still married to her ex-husband Stan.  They chose a Mother's Day visit to ask Stan's mother (Alice Ghostley) if she could lend them money.

Rose remembers spending a Mother's Day in a bus station with someone else's mother, a woman named Anna (Geraldine Fitzgerald).

Blanche remembers the last time she spent the holiday with her own mother, in a nursing home, and Sophia chips in with a story about a visit from her own mother, Dorothy's Grandmother Petrillo in 1950s Brooklyn.

RigbyMel says:

This episode from season three of The Golden Girls is both funny and rather sweet.

Each of the women's stories about past celebrations of Mother's Day feel like little one-act plays.  Every story plays on stereotypes a bit (the annoying mother in law, asking an elderly relative to move in or dealing with one in a nursing home, etc), but puts an interesting spin on each scenario.

Rose's story is probably the most touching, but also contains some very humorous repartee regarding the ... rustic simplicity of the residents of her hometown of St. Olaf.  Anna, the lady Rose meets at the bus station is played by Oscar nominated actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, who appeared in films like Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory and Arthur during the course of her career.

We learn that perhaps Dorothy's mother in law doesn't hate her quite as much as she thought.

In Sophia's story,  we see a young Dorothy (played by Lynnie Greene -- best known now as the producer & writer of shows like Nip/Tuck) and meet Sophia's mom, who is played by Bea Arthur -- very meta!

My favorite line in the episode belongs to Blanche -- I don't want to spoil it, but it has to do with her unabashedly owning what people think of as her defining characteristic.

If you are a fan of The Golden Girls series, this Mother's Day episode is well worth revisiting.  If you're not, you should check it out to see a classic and sassy sitcom featuring feisty older women.

RigbyMel's rating:


3 and a half Mother's Day bouquets.

J.A. Morris says:
I'd never seen this Mother's Day episode until this year, but it's a great episode of The Golden Girls.  I generally agree with my co-blogger, but I think I liked it even better.  It's very sweet, but contains just enough of the series' trademark sarcasm to keep from ever feeling treacly.

Rue McClanahan gives a particularly great performance as Blanche here.  The scene with Blanche's mom gives Mclanahan the opportunity to deliver a monologue about Blanche's attempt to get married at age 17.  It's an Emmy-worthy moment.

Betty White's is also very poignant in Rose's train station flashback sequence.

The flashbacks that focus on Dorothy and Sophia are played more for laughs, but that's okay.  They help balance out the sentimental parts, keeping "Mother's Day" from ever getting corny.

It should be noted that when she portrayed Sophia, Estelle Getty was made up to look much older than she was in real life.  Sophia's Brooklyn flashback gives us a chance to see how Getty looked when not wearing her "Sophia" makeup.

This episode streams on Amazon and it's also available on The Golden Girls: The Complete Third Season DVD set.

There aren't many Mother's Day episodes out there (this is the first we've reviewed) and this one contains the perfect combination of humor and sentimentality.  "Mother's Day" is an excellent episode of The Golden Girls and gets my highest recommendation.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 Mother's Day bouquets!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-Citement

Premiered April 1, 1980.

Three Easter/Spring-themed cartoon shorts starring some of your favorite Looney Tunes characters!

With Easter approaching, the pressure is on for hens, since Easter is peak egg producing season. Foghorn Leghorn tells his employees they need to speed up production so they have enough eggs for the holiday. Foghorn puts extra pressure on Miss Prissy, who hasn't laid a good egg in months.  She keeps laying oddly-shaped eggs.

This changes when she lays a golden egg!  She thinks it's bad news and tosses it down a hill.

Nearby, Daffy Duck and Sylvester are hungry and scrounging for food.

When they decide to steal an egg from a chicken coop, they wind up stumbling on the golden egg.

This creates a conflict between Daffy and his feline "pal," because they both have dreams of using the egg to gain riches.

Elsewhere, a chocolate factory in Mexico is producing Easter candy.  The factory's owners hire Daffy to guard the chocolate from the local mice.  The town's mayor collects all the money the people have in an attempt to buy chocolate bunnies for the kids.  Daffy takes the money, but he sends the mayor away without any candy.

When all hope seems lost, Speedy Gonzalez, fastest mouse in all Mexico appears on the scene and is determined to save Easter for the children.

But Daffy takes his duty as security guard seriously and pulls out all stops to defeat Speedy.

In the special's final short, as winter turns to spring, Daffy flies north with a flock of ducks.  But Daffy's tired of the same old routine and decides to try a different method of migration.

He tries hitch hiking and skiing, but gets nowhere.  Daffy eventually finds a horse and decides to ride it up north, but the horse is not on board with this idea.

J.A. Morris says:
Longtime readers of this blog know that we're huge fans of classic Warner Brothers cartoons and that Daffy was a big part of our childhood.  However, this Easter special is a big step down in quality from the earlier Daffy shorts.

It's worth noting that when Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-Citement premiered on NBC, the network also aired The Daffy Duck Show as part of its Saturday morning lineup.  This show mostly consisted of cartoons produced in the 1960s by the Depatie-Freleng company that also featured Speedy Gonzalez, Foghorn Leghorn and Sylvester shorts.  NBC did not have the rights to air Bugs Bunny cartoons, which is why everyone's favorite "Wascally Wabbit" doesn't appear in this special.

The positive part of this is that in Bugs' absence, we get to see Daffy interact with characters like Sylvester and (briefly) Foghorn Leghorn, something rarely seen in the classic shorts.
The show opens with Daffy talking to his animators, a nice (if obvious) call-back to the classic "Duck Amuck" cartoon.  It's a fun bit (Daffy calls the animator a "Van Gogh of vandalism!") but ultimately it just makes you notice that this Easter special is inferior.

The two Easter-themed shorts were entertaining and the Speedy toon made me smile a bit (especially Daffy's encounter with a vat of chocolate), and Mel Blanc does a nice job with all the voices.  The last short deals with duck migration and has nothing to do Easter.  It's the weakest portion of the special.  However, this special isn't a "forgotten classic" by any means.  Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-Citement rarely made me laugh, but it's generally enjoyable and fans of Daffy and the other characters will want to seek it out if they haven't seen it.

This special is available on DVD.  It can be found on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 6.

Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-Citement is mildly entertaining, especially the Speedy short, and nicely animated.  I'm giving it a marginal endorsement for Looney Toons fanatics, but it's not likely to become a part of anyone's annual Easter viewing.

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 and a half Easter Eggs.

RigbyMel says: 

As J.A. Morris, says this special was produced by the Depatie-Freleng company, which also produced things like the classic 1970s Dr. Seuss specials featuring the Lorax and the Cat in the Hat as well as the Pink Panther cartoons.   Unfortunately, their work with Looney Tunes characters is not generally characterized as being classic at all.  In fact, many cartoon historians cite the Depatie-Freleng era as the nadir of Looney Tunes production.    I think I am inclined to agree with that school of thought.

To my eye,  Daffy Duck's Easter Egg-Citement feels like a cheaply animated rehash of things that had been done better previously.  The timing seems off and the music cues are nowhere near as cleverly deployed.  It even sounds like Mel Blanc is phoning in his voice characterizations a bit.  It's not utterly awful, but it really does not stand up well when compared to the classic Looney Tunes shorts.

It's nice to see Daffy and pals cutting up Easter-style on screen, I just wish the production values and scripting were up to classic standards.

RigbyMel's rating: 

1 and a half Easter Eggs.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Mike & Molly: "St. Patrick's Day"

Premiered March 18, 2013.

It's the morning of St. Patrick's Day and Chicago PD officer Mike Biggs (Billy Gardell) and his partner Carl McMillan (Reno Wilson) are discussing how they plan to celebrate the occasion.  Carl is planning a huge St. Paddy's party, which will be the first time he's entertained at his new apartment. He's got green beer, a pinata and "enough green M&Ms to dam up a levy."

Mike disappoints Carl when he says that he and his wife Molly (Melissa McCarthy) can't make the party.  Molly is ovulating, so they plan to spend their St. Patrick's Day engaging in...other activities.

Molly's sister Victoria Flynn (Katy Mixon) is also planning to attend the St. Patrick's Day party with her friend Harry (David Anthony Higgins).  She's taking a class about the works of Shakespeare, a subject on which Harry is an expert.

They read romantic passages from Romeo And Juliet to each other, which makes Victoria realize she is attracted to Harry.  Their St. Paddy's plans get complicated when Victoria kisses Harry.  He's not sure how to react. 

Meanwhile, with help from his housemate Samuel (Nyambi Nyambi), Carl prepares for his party.  The party turns out to be a bust because much to Carl's disappointment, no women show up.

Carl and Samuel are very disappointed.  Can their St. Patrick's Day party be saved?

J.A. Morris says:

There aren't a lot of St. Patrick's Day episodes and perhaps this one demonstrates why.  There's not a lot you can do with the holiday.  I'm an Irish American myself, I understand the significance of March 17.

But a St. Patrick's Day party being "ruined" because no women show up hardly compares with bad things happening at Christmas (you know, "Christmas is cancelled!," "Mom gets fired on Christmas Eve," etc).  I'd say only about half of "St. Patrick's Day" focuses on the occasion, the rest is just a typical sitcom episode.

Harry and Vincent (Louis Mustillo) celebrate with green beer.
Having said that there are plenty of comments and jokes about green beer to make it appropriate for seasonal viewing.  However, it's not a very good episode.  I'm a big fan of Melissa McCarthy and Katy Mixon, but this was the first time I watched Mike & Molly.

Most of the jokes were flat and sometimes repeated ad nauseam.  For example, Mike mentions that Carl got so drunk the previous St. Patrick's Day that he kissed a horse.  This "joke" gets repeated about four or five times in the first scene and it wasn't that funny the first time.  For good measure, the horse-kissing gets brought up again at the end of the episode.

Fans of the actors might enjoy watching this on March 17, but that's the best thing I can say about "St. Patrick's Day."  It's not terrible, just mediocre.

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 Shamrocks.