Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Big VIDEO Wednesday - Tales of Tomorrow

Decided to change things up a little and show one of the earliest TV science fiction programs, Tales of Tomorrow, now available on Hulu.

I know it's not radio, but Tales of Tomorrow aired from 1951 to 1953, so it's contemporary with several of the radio shows I have presented here before. The first season of the series has just gone up on Hulu, and this episode in particular jumped out at me, for several reasons.

Number one, it plays the same sort of meta-games with reality and fiction and the fourth wall as Wyllis Cooper did on Lights Out (such as "The Coffin in Studio B") and Quiet, Please.

Number two, it features a young Rod Steiger in one of the roles.

Number three, it was written by a guy named Frank De Felitta. De Felitta isn't very well known, but he's had a couple of novels turned into movies, including The Entity, supposedly based on a true case. I saw De Felitta in person when I attended a screening of "The Entity" (starring Barbara Hershey) at USC. I remember it because not only did he talk about the allaeged true haunting the story was based on, but he also went on at some length about how he had sued Spielberg over "Poltergeist," which lifted some concepts and one minor scene from De Felitta's novel.

But it's interesting that a guy who would later cause controversy with a novel "based on a true story" would early in his career script a TV episode where the episode in question keeps getting interrupted by events that are "really happening" somewhere.

Number four, it's a fascinating look at early television, filmed live, flubs and all, especially this episode, which lets you see behind the sets. I love the imagery of the opening titles, with that gloved mad scientist hand throwing that huge switch on the wall, and yet I can't help but notice how even that is cheap and spare.

Number five, the show is sponsored by Kreisler. I used to work with my dad selling watches and watch bands. At that time (and maybe still), the number one watch band company was Speidel, but Dad still had some old Kreislers floating around (Kreisler seems to have morphed into Voguestrap at some time). So those Kreisler commercials hold a little extra interest for me. I especially love how the commercial at the top of the show starts out with a woman offering cigarettes, then morphs into a commercial for the box the cigarettes are in, and then segues into "Oh yeah, there's jewelry, too."

So enjoy this look at the "Golden Age" of live television in the Golden Age of science fiction, and then count your blessings that you live today.

Next week, I'm planning to start another long Superman marathon, unless someone requests something different.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Post Conestoga 13

Another Conestoga's over, and I'm not revved up the way I usually am. I'm so distracted from all the other stuff happening in my life generally that I wasn't able to participate fully in the con this year. Did a couple of fun panels on Saturday (on comic books and sci-fi movies of the 70's), and an OSFW recruiting panel today. I'm losing my voice, though, so I wasn't much use today. Still, I am excited to start writing a little again, and it was good to see people I haven't seen in a while. So even though I'm not gushing with excitement like last year, I'm glad I went.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Double Post

Didn't mean to double post. I posted right before my shower, then got distracted and posted again right after my shower.

I Know, I Know

This has become a too-familiar song recently, but there will be no "Out of the Vault" today due to Conestoga. Be here next week to reminisce about one of the most notorious books of the 80's.

You Knew This Was Coming

No Vault today due to Conestoga. But next Saturday, I'll be talking about one of the most notorious books of the late 80's. See you then.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Conestoga 2009

I'll be at Conestoga this weekend, April 24-26, talking about old comics and old movies and other old stuff. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Gunsmoke

Figured I'd have to get around to Gunsmoke eventually. It was a radio phenomenon that became a television phenomenon, the longest-running primetime show ever (at least until The Simpsons).

But if you've never been exposed to Gunsmoke, or if your only exposure (like mine) was the later seasons of the TV show, then you're in for a surprise. Gunsmoke was a relatively dark and edgy show on radio, with a surprisingly bitter main character in William Conrad's Matt Dillon.

I had a long hard time trying to pick an episode to post here, though. There's lots of good stuff in several of them, but few episodes seem to resolve well. And of course, there's no sci-fi or fantasy in any of them, except for one comic episode where a con man fools a few townspeople into thinking he's invented a "silver extender," a machine that can clone money.

I ultimately chose this episode, "Bum's Rush," just because it has so many of the elements of a classic Gunsmoke. Matt as the U.S. Marshall doing his job to the letter even as he seems to hate every moment of it, Doc rubbing his hands with glee over the prospect of violence in town because it means work for him, Matt facing off against his own neighbors as he also has to try to stop the bad guys, a conclusion that brings justice but not happiness.

Oh, and because it guest-stars John Dehner, a frequent player who also became a fixture of television. Always a guest-star, never a star, Dehner appeared in three episodes of the original Twilight Zone, as well as lesser science-fiction "classics" like Land of the Giants and "Day of the Dolphin."

So enjoy this episode of Gunsmoke from April 18, 1953.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Out of the Vault - The Punisher

People have been recommending the movie "Punisher: War Zone." I've never been a huge fan of the Punisher, but I knew I had some copies of his title, so I thought I'd look at the book and see how it held up.

Frank Castle, The Punisher, first got his own title in July 1987, written by Mike Baron (of Nexus, Badger and DC's post-Crisis reboot of Flash) and drawn by Klaus Janson (maybe best known as Frank Miller's inker on Daredevil and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns). He had started out as a Spider-Man villain, a vigilante-murderer modeled on The Executioner.

But though his murderous ways had made him a villain during the 70's, he was recast as a hero during the rise of the grim'n'gritty anti-heroes of the 80's. In the first issue, he blows away a crack house, leaving one man alive enough to tell him the name of his distributor. He then moves up the food chain, killing the distributor and his henchmen, but not before learning that the head of the syndicate is someone called "The General," in Bolivia.

In issue 2, Castle goes to Bolivia and learns that the General is a former RVN general whom Castle had known in Vietnam. The General and some of Castle's former squadmates are running a huge cocaine plantation/distribution network. They don't survive the issue.

The series was capable enough, taking more inspiration from action movies like "Lethal Weapon" and "Commando" than from Marvel's comics line. But as a fan of Baron's quirky/crazy work on Nexus and Badger, I was disappointed in the series. It featured solid action, but little of the wit or spontaneity that was Baron's usual hallmark. And since it was such a straightahead action story, the costume started to seem a little silly.

I ended up getting bored with the series and quitting after 6 issues.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Laurel and Hardy Get Funky

A tiny bit of fun to make up for Saturday's missed Vault. Laurel and Hardy dance to the GAP Band's "Party Train."

There's apparently a whole mini-genre of these--Laurel and Hardy dancing to Soft Cell, the Archies, Iggy Pop... But of the ones I watched, "Party Train" was the best. I especially like the way Ollie throws his head back at about 1:06 in the clip.

I didn't like "Party Train" much when it first came out. It had a nice groove, but it seemed even more insubstantial than most pop songs. There were no lyrics, no structure, just one verse, one chorus (or maybe just a two-part chorus) repeated ad infinitum.

But when I first heard it, I was just sitting at home watching the music video. Later on, I heard the song in a club--in the proper context, if you will--and my opinion changed. Now it holds a very special place in my heart (which may be entirely due to the woman involved).

Monday, April 06, 2009

Time Crush

I have been crushed for time, so the Vault stayed locked this week. Sorry. Hero Go Home has also had to go on a short break. I hope to have it back up in a week.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Dragnet

Not much of an entry today. The program is the radio version of Dragnet, starring Jack Webb. Like Gunsmoke, the radio version feels grittier than the TV version did, but at heart, they're the same show, from the opening theme, to Webb's opening narration, to the clipped dialogue and Webb's unfunny final punch line, to the announcer telling us that the story is true and what sentence the perps received.

Included here not because I have a special love of Dragnet, although I watched a lot of it when I was a kid. But in this episode, :Big Genius," not one, but two characters have the same names as Heroes villains. Having one character with the same name is not so big a deal, but when two characters are named in the same sentence, it gives you a weird twinge of recognition.

So here's Dragnet from July 12, 1955. Enjoy. Click the widget to listen.