Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Quick Look at TV: SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE


   Science Fiction Theatre was one of the first genre anthology shows, sporting a who's who of beloved character actors noted for their work in B movies. The most recurring guest stars of the series seemed to be Marshall Thompson, Bruce Bennett, and Bill Williams. Other guest stars included the likes of Vincent Price, Victor Jory, Kenneth Tobey, Whit Bissell, Ed Kemmer, and on and on. The host was genial actor/radio announcer Truman Bradley (pictured), his authoritarian voice essential to grounding an anthology series concerned with elements of the fantastic and their relation to science. Early episodes in particular were focused on hard science fiction, so much so as to be almost atheistic in their approach. Whether it was viewer complaint or observance from someone on the crew, this condition was rectified and the remainder of the series took on a much more faithful tone. Perhaps the oddest thing about Science Fiction Theatre is that the first season was shot in full color -at a time when very few television sets had the ability to receive color broadcast! Likely to reduce production costs, the second season was filmed in black and white. Subjects ranged from communication with beings from space to fantastic murder investigations in which the weapon or clue was some piece of cutting edge technology. Bradley would open each episode by demonstrating some scientific principal or new area of research which had inspired that week's story. There's really no such thing as a 'typical' episode to point to as an example, since the series covered so much ground. Engaging, thought-provoking, dramatic, the series avoided the Bug Eyed Monster pulp aspects of popular science fiction -which ultimately may be why the show faded into relative obscurity. Infamously, one episode inspired the screenplay for the Universal International smash TARANTULA! in 1955. The complete series was issued on DVD, but there were technical issues of some sort involving the color correction for title transition scenes. Though able to be fixed, it was apparently expensive to do so and only the first episode received the full restoration. The other color episodes have stretches of black and white footage where these transitions occur. Reportedly, a bluray release is correcting that issue.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Quick Look: BEACH PARTY (1963 - color)


   By 1963, American International had established itself as one of the major studios, and no film better illustrates that position than BEACH PARTY. The film spawned an entire genre that many still think of in fond reflection of the 60's. I caught these pictures on television as I was entering teenhood, and I loved them to pieces. I still love them, and it's a series packed with so much fun that I think I'd have to be a miserable grouch not to love them! 

   In this first outing, Frankie, Annette, and the gang are being used as case studies by anthropologist Bob Cummings -who intends to prove that 20th Century teen culture has reverted to the same level as primitive jungle cultures! The film was a smash, and AIP quickly churned out a follow-up, MUSCLE BEACH PARTY. Another hit, the gang (including director William Asher) was reunited for BIKINI BEACH. AIP then experimented with variations of the themes established in this original trilogy. SKI PARTY took things to snow banks, while PAJAMA PARTY spoofed science fiction. SERGEANT DEADHEAD took the act into the service comedy, while DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE spoofed international espionage. BEACH BLANKET BINGO returned to the original scene, and proved one of the most popular entries. It was followed by HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI, the last one to star Frankie and Annette. GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, a haunted house spoof, starred Tommy Kirk and Deborah Walley. And of course, there were tons of cash-ins and knock-offs produced by other studios (THE GIRLS ON THE BEACH, IT'S A BIKINI WORLD, BEACH BALL, etc). On the small screen was Gidget, a series (based on the feature films) frequently directed by William Asher. Frankie and Annette would send up the entire 60's beach scene when they went BACK TO THE BEACH in 1986.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Quick Look: PAJAMA PARTY (1964 - color)


   My favorite of the beach movies remains PAJAMA PARTY, despite how wildly it deviates from the typical series format. This was the one that introduced Bobbie Shaw: the instant dream girl of many a young man. Though she did other parts, it's her performance as the Swede in the fur-trimmed bikini that she'll always be remembered for! "Ya, ya!" Also on hand are the series regulars and guest stars like Jesse White, Dorothy Lamour, Elsa Lanchester, and Buster Keaton -who steals the show as the "red man with yellow streak." Keep your eyes peeled for a young Teri Garr amid the background dancers. The plot for this one is pretty wild, concerning as it does a planned invasion from Mars. Tommy Kirk is an advance scout sent to prepare the way for an invading army, but he falls in love with Annette Funicello. Meanwhile, the con-man next door is out to steal Aunt Wendy's hidden fortune, and has hired a crew to help him -including the oblivious Eric Von Zipper and his gang. Has one of the funniest guest star cameos in the whole series. Don Weis takes over direction from William Asher, and would bring back several of the same characters (or versions thereof) for GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI, which effectively ended the series.



Friday, August 11, 2017

A Quick Look: BACK TO THE BEACH (1986 - color)


   In the 80's, America was riding a bit of a nostalgia wave (no pun intended). Part of that was BACK TO THE BEACH, a valentine/update to the Frankie/Annette beach movies AIP made during the 60's. A tribute to all things surf culture, the story saw our sweetheart couple coping with the adult world. Frankie has become a work-a-holic car salesman, while Annette must deal with the pair's young delinquent son. The couple finally decide to take a much-needed vacation to Hawaii. We catch up with our heroes as they make a stop at their old beach, where their daughter is carrying on with a beach bum. When Frankie and Annette have a fight, they end up staying on the beach to help their children. Very quickly, our stars fall back into their old world and help a new generation of surfers save their beach from a punk motorcycle/surf gang -which their son has joined! Although given an 80's make-over, BACK TO THE BEACH is largely in the same spirit as the original films. The emphasis here is strictly on fun, and by the time things are over you feel very good. In addition to the AIP beach movies, BACK TO THE BEACH salutes the entire 60's scene. Connie Stevens is the aging 'bad' girl now raising a son. Bob Denver, in full Gilligan costume, is the bartender who keeps trying to tell patrons about the years he spent as a castaway. ("There were girls, but you couldn't touch 'em.") Don Adams is the harbor master. The cast of Leave It To Beaver, meanwhile, judge the climactic surfing competition! It became a TV staple for a few years. Due to copyright issues, Frankie's character is never actually called by name, and is credited simply as "Annette's Husband"!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

R.I.P. Haruo Nakajima



   World pop culture was recently hit by the loss of an icon, though one which seldom had his face before the public. Haruo Nakajima was Toho's monster man, the actor who played Godzilla from 1954 to 1972, in addition to seemingly hundreds of other Japanese giants including Rodan, Baragon, King Kong, the Green Gargantua, and numerous Ultraman enemies. By all accounts a sweet, gentle man about which has never been said a bad word, Nakajima-san was without argument a major part of countless boys' lives. He infused his roles with life and a level of research many would not think required for playing giant monsters. He did play a few human parts in various Japanese films, but his being the Big Blue Dinosaur saw him on screens all over the world. His retirement in the early 70's was a major blow to the genre of Japanese monster movies, and his passing truly denotes the end of a golden era of science fiction adventure. Rest In Peace, Nakajima-san. God bless you, and thanks for so many great memories. I can't imagine my childhood without his impact. Many actors have played Godzilla, but none with the abilities of the man who really created the part. His Godzilla had character those who followed him never captured. His Godzilla created moments which stick with you. My favorite may be the scene in GODZILLA VERSUS THE SEA MONSTER in which he tears the claw from a giant lobster, and then taunts his foe with the severed limb! Most Godzilla movies starred Godzilla, but Haruo Nakajima's Godzilla movies really starred Haruo Nakajima. Goodbye Sir, and thanks again.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A new project of mine...


   Here's some preliminary work on a project I'm developing. Per usual, I'm drawing a graphic novel based on an idea I think would make a good animated movie. In this case, it's the story of Milyy, a dancing circus bear who believes she is actually a Russian peasant girl. I'm gearing this project more toward children than my past projects. Still hammering out the plot, but I'm already enjoying the work more than anything I've worked on in a long time! Milyy, all images and characters are (c) 2017 Rock Baker. 


Milyy discovers her looks have changed


Shot from THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT