The Stranger (1946) poster detail

GFS Home Movies: The Stranger (1946)

The storytelling device of the Nazi hunter in search of German war criminals scattered to the four winds after World War II has been around so long, it’s hard to imagine a time when it was really fresh. And so it must have seemed especially visceral for audiences to watch Orson Welles’ 1946 film noir classic The Stranger, released just 17 days after the first anniversary of V-E Day.

The central plot of The Stranger concerns Mr. Wilson (the ever-brilliant Edward G. Robinson) of the United Nations War Crimes Commission and his hunt for the infamous Nazi war criminal Franz Kindler. Wilson releases a German prisoner and confederate of Kindler, Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne), in the hopes that he will lead him to Kindler. Before long the story shifts to the bucolic New England town of Harper, Connecticut; a place that seems infinitely more appealing to hide than Venezuela. Not that I’d know anything about that.

The Stranger (1946) posterAfter a near-fatal encounter with Meinike, Wilson happens upon prep school teach Charles Rankin (Welles), who is set to marry the daughter of a Supreme Court justice. Once Wilson’s suspicions about Rankin are aroused, he ever so slowly begins the draw a net around him. That’s about as much as I want to touch on the plot.

While The Stranger is one of Welles’ more successful box office outings, I have to say I wasn’t overly impressed by it. We’re asked to make a few too many leaps in regards to the character of Mary Longstreet Rankin (Loretta Young), Rankin’s increasingly distraught new bride.

I also had trouble swallowing just how easily Mr. Wilson was able to ingratiate himself to just about everyone in Harper within a few days of his arrival. Essentially, Anthony Veiller’s screenplay was just a bit too lazy and convenient for my liking.

That said, there are enough high points in the movie to make it worth seeing. Welles — whose charisma pulses from the screen decades after the fact — has always been one of my favorite actors and he doesn’t let me down here. The choice of Edward G. Robinson as his nemesis was a brilliant one; his breezily sardonic style the perfect counterpoint to Welles’ almost primal masculinity. I also got a kick out of Billy House’s turn as Mr. Potter, the town’s jovial town clerk/drug store owner/busybody.

Behind the camera, there are some flashes of brilliance in Russell Metty’s cinematography, and I enjoyed Bronisław Kaper’s scoring.

There are two scenes in The Stranger that are worthy of further examination. The first takes place during a dinner at Judge Longstreet’s house. When the topic of Germany’s post-war reform is raised, Welles delivers a scathing, thoroughly convincing excoriation of the entire German nation, stating in so many words that nothing short of full extermination — of a kind not unlike the one they practiced in World War II — would silence their warlike nature once and for all.

The second takes place later in the movie, when Wilson confronts Mary with the truth about her new husband. To convince her about the extent of Kindler’s crimes, he shows her film footage of newly liberated concentration camps. I was both surprised and impressed that Welles included actual footage — although he spared us some of the more brutal scenes — of camps in the movie. I wonder how much of Loretta Young’s reaction was real, given that the footage was still so new and raw.

Despite being a bit uneven in places and little ragged in the plot department, The Stranger packs enough punch and boasts enough star power to make it worth seeing.

Live Fast, Die Young movie poster

10 Great Juvenile Delinquent/Teen Exploitation Movie Posters

Live Fast, Die Young movie poster

You shrieked in terror at my gallery of vintage ’80s horror movie posters… you gasped at my science fiction movie posters of the ’50s… now tremble at this gallery of movie posters featuring juvenile delinquent/teen exploitation films of the ’40s through the ’70s!

#1. Teen Age Thunder (1957)

Teen Age Thunder (1957) movie poster

#2. Switchblade Sisters (1975)

Switchblade Sisters (aka The Jezebels) (1975)

#3. Juvenile Jungle (1958)

Juvenile Jungle (1958)

#4. Live Fast, Die Young (1958)

Live Fast, Die Young (1958)

#5. Youth Runs Wild (1944)

Youth Runs Wild (1944)

#6. The Cool and the Crazy (1958)

The Cool and the Crazy (1958)

#7. Reform School Girl (1957)

Reform School Girl (1957)

#8. Riot in Juvenile Prison (1959)

Riot in Juvenile Prison (1959)

#9. Untamed Youth (1957)

Untamed Youth (1957)

#10. Girls Under 21 (1940)

Girls Under 21 (1940)

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Fletch (Gregory Mcdonald, 1974)

Book Report: Fletch (Gregory Mcdonald, 1974)

Fletch (Gregory Mcdonald, 1974)It’s taken me a long time to finally delve into Gregory Mcdonald’s Fletch book series, although I can’t give you a good reason why. I have loved the first movie for a few decades, so you’d think I would want to consume all I can about the character right from the source. But inertia is a powerful force, and so it is that I’ve finally started my journey this week.

So, the original Fletch from 1974. If you’re reading this I’m guessing you’ve seen the movie but not read the book, and want to know how closely the former follows the latter. So let’s go ahead and get the story differences out of the way now. Needless to say, spoiler alert.

  • Book Fletch is a blonde, not dark-haired like Chevy Chase.
  • The Geena Davis movie role (Larry) is named Clara Snow in the book, and Fletch has a rather hostile relationship with her. And in the book she is sleeping with Frank the editor. Speaking of which…
  • Frank in the book goes beyond slightly bumbling into outright incompetent and an alcoholic.
  • Gummy is a white teenager in the book.
  • In perhaps the biggest divergence, the Alan Stanwyk/drug-dealing police chief storylines are both present in the novel but are totally unrelated. Stanwyk still dies at the end, but only because he was mistaken for Fletch by the chief.
  • Fletch has mutliple ex-wives in the novel, but just one in the movie.
  • In the book, Stanwyk’s parents live in Pennsylvania, as does Sally Cavanaugh. Also, Sally has a young son from another man.
  • Stanwyk in the book is carrying on an affair with a former employee of the aviation company he runs.
  • In the book, Fletch is close to a female teenage runaway who is addicted to heroin. She dies and is buried at the beach.
  • Novel Fletch is a former Marine and was awarded the Bronze Star. Although nothing in the movie contradicts this outright, I assume it’s not the case.

OK, now that that’s out of the way, let’s rap. As you might be able to glean from some of the plot differences, Mcdonald’s novel is considerably darker than the movie. Fletch carries on a quasi-romantic relationship with a teenage runaway who is addicted to smack and has turned to prostitution for drug money. She dies at his place and he buries her in a sleeping bag on the beach.

But it’s not all dark. It wasn’t a huge stretch to turn this material into an admittedly dry screwball comedy, after all. Mcdonald’s I.M. Fletcher is still quick with a comeback, and the ending reveal of how he so effortlessly manipulated his bosses, his ex-wives, and their lawyers is both cruel and hilarious.

Really what separates book Fletch from movie Fletch is substance. Mcdonald’s character has depth, interesting backstory, and an apparent — if not skewed — sense of morality. Chase’s Fletch is mostly a vehicle to deliver deadpan jokes and comebacks (“It’s all ball bearings nowadays!”). The former feels like a character from the grittier early ’70s, while the latter is clearly a product of the glittery mid-’80s.

The point here is this — I highly recommend reading Fletch if you’re into investigative fiction. Just be aware that while the story does resemble that of the movie, the experience is totally different.

I suppose it’s unfair to spend so much time comparing an original novel to a Hollywood-ized movie treatment, but it’s just not possible for me to escape that here. I do plan on reading more books in the Fletch series — there are 11 in total — so I should be able to deal with them in more of a vacuum.

ABC 1985 Fall TV Preview - You'll Love it!

Fall TV Preview Madness! (ABC, 1985)

ABC 1985 Fall TV Preview - You'll Love it!

In Fall TV Preview Madness, I present a network television schedule preview special from the distant past. We see the good, bad, and ugly for a network’s entire upcoming fall slate.

I’m counting down the days until the Fall 2012 television season gets underway the only way I know how — by bringing you network promos for TV seasons long gone. Today’s preview is for ABC’s 1985 Fall TV season. ABC only returned 11 scripted series in 1985-86, compared to 15 for CBS and 18 for NBC. They also had the most shows from the previous season not returning, with 16.

By season’s end, ABC had two just shows in the ratings Top 10 (Dynasty and Who’s the Boss?), and six in the Top 30.

Here’s the 1985 ABC Fall preview (in two parts), complete with an appropriation of Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” You’ll love it!  (* denotes new series.)


ABC 1985 Fall TV Preview - MacGyver

7pmRipley’s Believe It or Not! (1982 – 1986)
8pm*MacGyver (1985 – 1992)
9pm — The ABC Sunday Night Movie (1965 – 1998)

Although Murder, She Wrote owned the 8pm timeslot, MacGyver held his own. The Richard Dean Anderson show was moved to Mondays in 1986 and stayed there for six seasons.


8pmHardcastle and McCormick (1983 – 1986)
9pm — Monday Night Football (1970 – 2005)

After football season ended, ABC ran a movie in MNF’s timeslot.


ABC 1985 Fall TV Preview - Growing Pains

8pmWho’s the Boss? (1984 – 1992)
8:30pm*Growing Pains (1985 – 1992)
9pm — Moonlighting (1985 – 1989)
10pm*Our Family Honor (Starring Eli Wallach; ended after 13 episodes.)

I have very fond memories of ABC’s Tuesday night lineup of this era, although I don’t remember Our Family Honor at all. For at least a few years, Who’s the Boss?, Growing Pains, and Moonlighting were appointment viewing in my house. Oh and hey, notice anything off about that Growing Pains preview? Those scenes were from the pilot, which had Chrissy Seaver played by Elizabeth Ward. Tracey Gold took over for the start of the first year.


ABC 1985 Fall TV Preview - The Insiders

8pm*The Insiders (Starring Nicholas Campbell and Stoney Jackson; ended after 13 episodes.)
9pmDynasty (1981 – 1989)
10pmHotel (1983 – 1988)

Meh. I don’t remember The Insiders at all — despite its awesome use of Genesis’ “Just a Job to Do” — and I had absolutely no interest in either of the two soap operas (although I did dig Linda Evans).


ABC 1985 Fall TV Preview - Lady Blue

8pmThe Fall Guy (1981 – 1986)
9pm*Lady Blue (Starring Jamie Rose; ended after 13 episodes.)
10pm*Dynasty II: The Colbys of California (1985 – 1987) and 20/20 (1978 – present)

Man, that Lady Blue promo looked like every cop show parody I’ve ever seen. I’m surprised her sergeant didn’t tell her, “You’re out of line! I”m gonna get yer bade one day woman cop!”

I don’t remember watching The Fall Guy, but I know I had this brown pickup from the show, and it was one of my favorite toys.


ABC 1985 Fall TV Preview - Spenser: For Hire

8pmWebster (1983 – 1987)
8:30pmMr. Belvedere (1985 – 1990)
9pmDiff’rent Strokes (Ran from 1978 – 1985 on NBC; ended after 19 episodes on ABC.)
9:30pmBenson (1979 – 1986)
10pm* —  Spenser: For Hire (1985 – 1988)

I remember watching Webster, but remember very little about the show itself. I loved Mr. Belvedere, but Diff’rent Strokes needed to be put out of its misery by this time. I only got into Benson thanks to countless reruns on WPIX Channel 11 in New York. Never did get into Spenser: For Hire, although I suspect I’d appreciate it now.


ABC 1985 Fall TV Preview - Hollywood Beat

8pm*Hollywood Beat (Starring Jack Scalia and Jay Acovone; ended after 14 episodes.)
9pm*Lime Street (Starring Robert Wagner; ended after 5 episodes.)
10pmThe Love Boat (1977 – 1986)

I had never heard of those first two shows until today. The Love Boat, aka Hollywood Squares on Water, is the kind of kitschy show that could never be made today. Unless it starred a bunch of reality show burnouts.

NBC Fall TV Preview (1975)

Fall TV Preview Madness! (NBC, 1975)

NBC Fall TV Preview (1975)

In Fall TV Preview Madness, I present a network television schedule preview special from the distant past. We see the good, bad, and ugly for a network’s entire upcoming fall slate.

Today’s preview is for NBC’s 1975 Fall TV season, dubbed the Superseason. The network debuted nine new series, hoping to build on the successes of young hits like Little House on the Prairie, Chico and the Man, and Sanford and Son. Their boldest play came on Thursday, where the entire prime time lineup was filled with freshman shows. Here’s a quick promo from ’75.

Unfortunately, success proved elusive for these new programs, none of which lasted past the 1975-76 season. Thursday in particular was rough, as NBC was up against ratings powerhouses like The Waltons and The Streets of San Francisco. This marked the beginning of a very rough time for the Peacock, which didn’t really recover until the salad days of the 1980s.

This preview is hosted by Lloyd Bridges, star of the new police drama Joe Forrester (one of 1975’s casualties). Let’s check out the Superseason!

In case you don’t feel like watching the whole thing, here’s a recap of the quality entertainment you can catch on NBC in ’75 (* denotes new series):


NBC 1975 Fall TV Preview - The Invisible Man

8pm*The Invisible Man (Starring David McCallum; ended after 13 episodes.)
9pm — NBC Monday Night at the Movies (Aired on various nights from 1963-1999.)

Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans should recognize many of the shots from The Invisible Man, as they were blatantly stolen by a later series called The Gemini Man. Two of that series’ episodes were later spliced together to create the rifftastic Ben Murphy TV movie Riding with Death.


NBC 1975 Fall TV Preview - Joe Forrester

8pmMovin’ On (1974 – 1976)
9pmPolice Story (1973 – 1978)
10pm*Joe Forrester (Ended after 23 episodes.)


NBC 1975 Fall TV Preview - Doctors' Hospital

8pmLittle House on the Prairie (1974 – 1983)
9pm*Doctors’ Hospital (Starring George Peppard; ended after 13 episodes.)
10pmPetrocelli (1974 – 1976)

Check out William Daniels in that Doctors’ Hospital clip, warming up for his iconic portrayal of Dr. Mark Craig on St. Elsewhere.


NBC 1975 Fall TV Preview - Ellery Queen

8pm*The Montefuscos (Ended after 9 episodes.)
8:30pm*Fay (Starring Lee Grant; ended after 10 episodes.)
9pm*Ellery Queen (Starring Jim Hutton; ended after 22 episodes.)
10pm*Medical Story (Ended after 11 episodes.)

Shortly before Norman Lear’s groundbreaking sitcoms explored ethnic stereotypes for real comedy and impact, there was The Montefuscos, which looks like a bad Italian joke played out for a half hour. Nine episodes was nine too many I suspect. Fay was probably decent, and Lee Grant did earn an Emmy nomination for her acting, so that’s got to be worth something. Oh, and that’s Joe Silver playing the ex-husband.

Medical Story was an anthology drama, and it looks like it could’ve been OK. It’s pretty cool to see a very young Beau Bridges bucking the medical establishment.


8pmSanford and Son (1972 – 1977)
8:30pmChico and the Man (1974 – 1978)
9pmThe Rockford Files (1974 – 1980)
10pmPolice Woman (1974 – 1978)

No new shows debuted on Fridays in 1975, which might explain why it was the network’s most successful night.


8pmEmergency! (1972 – 1977)
9pm — NBC Saturday Night at the Movies (1961 – 1978)

NBC did air some new made-for-TV movies on Saturday, but otherwise they played it safe.


NBC 1975 Fall TV Preview - The Family Holvak

7pmThe Wonderful World of Disney (1961 – 1981)
8pm* — The Family Holvak (Starring Glenn Ford; ended after 10 episodes.)
9pm —  The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie (1971 – 1977)

The Family Holvak seems like a pretty transparent attempt to attract fans of The Waltons. The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie rotated between four different titles in ’75 — Columbo, McCloud, McMillan & Wife, and newcomer McCoy (starring Tony Curtis). I guess there was something about having a Mc in front of your last name that made you a good lead. McCoy lasted one year and was replaced in the Mystery Movie lineup for 1976 by Quincy, M.E. Those movies proved popular enough to spin Quincy off into its own series.

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"The Doom of the Rising Sun" (Batman 1943, Chapter 15)

Saturday Serials: “The Doom of the Rising Sun” (Batman 1943, Chapter 15)

"The Doom of the Rising Sun" (Batman 1943, Chapter 15)

This is it! This is the final thrilling chapter in the 1943 Columbia Pictures Batman serial film. At last, all of our perseverance and dedication will be paid off, for surely Batman and Robin will triumph over the evil Japanese would-be saboteur Dr. Daka and his sinister henchmen. Right?

Yes, of course. Don’t be silly. But first the Caped Crusader must escape imprisonment in his wooden coffin. Looks like it’ll be up to the Boy Wonder to save the day! But not before Batman can spew a little period racism…

I like how Batman immediately tries to un-zombify Linda Page, without first testing the device on someone less, uh, necessary.

Anyway, stay tuned to this column for another exciting vintage serial! As soon as  I figure out which one to do next…

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Saturday Serials: “The Executioner Strikes” (Batman 1943, Chapter 14)

And so we’ve arrived at the penultimate chapter of the 1943 Columbia Pictures Batman serial film. In the last chapter, the lovely Linda Page — Bruce Wayne’s fiancée — was turned into one of Dr. Daka’s mindless zombie slaves, and Batman found himself in a classic Looney Tunes trap: the wall of spikes. Boy, if I had a nickel for every time that happened to me!

Only the fortuitous arrival of Robin saves the Caped Crusader from becoming a shish kebat. But will the duo finally be able to thwart Daka once and for all? My guess is no, since there’s still one more chapter left, but I’ve been wrong before. Maybe the last part is just 15 minutes of Bruce and Dick Grayson gloating over Daka’s corpse or something.

Saturday Serials: “Eight Steps Down” (Batman 1943, Chapter 13)

"Eight Steps Down" (Batman 1943, Chapter 13)And just like that, it’s Saturday again, which can mean only one thing — it’s time for another edition of Saturday Serials, currently showing the 1943 Columbia Pictures Batman feature starring Lewis Wilson as the Caped Crusader.

Today we look at the thirteenth chapter in our saga, “Eight Steps Down.” After completely failing to rescue Linda Page in the last chapter, Batman does some legit detective work to track her down. I love the quaintness of Batman having to stop by a call box on the street to talk to the police. Ah, simpler days.

We also get a lesson in etiquette, as Daka informs Linda that you should address people from Japan as “Nipponese” and not “Jap.”

So what does that “Eight Steps Down” mean anyway? Well I’m not sure, even after watching this. But I can say that the cliffhanger is surprisingly solid; much better than the last few. We may get an exciting finish to this serial yet. Only two more chapters to go!

Saturday Serials: “Embers of Evil” (Batman 1943, Chapter 12)

Saturday Serials: “Embers of Evil” (Batman 1943, Chapter 12)

Saturday Serials: “Embers of Evil” (Batman 1943, Chapter 12)

We’re so close! After this week, there are only three chapters left in the 1943 Batman serial film! Sadly, Daka’s henchmen still haven’t figured out that blowing up a building is a less than effective way to kill Batman and Robin. That’s lucky for us I suppose, since otherwise this series would’ve ended weeks ago.

One of the shortcomings of the serial format is fairly clear to me now. There really are only so many ways to end each segment with a cliffhanger putting the hero’s life in danger. This is at least the second or third time Batman’s been trapped in a burning building or wreck in this series. It does start to feel worn out at a certain point. I don’t know, maybe it felt fresher 70 years ago.