I wasn’t sure the original ARTHUR (1981) would hold up (since we all know having a serious drinking problem is Not Funny) but it still works delightfully well as Dudley Moore’s drunken playboy finds himself torn between keeping his money by marrying starry-eyed Jill Eikenberry or finding True Love with blue-collar Liza Minnelli, with John Gielgud as the butler trying to nudge him toward adulthood. A charming bit of screwbalthat would double-bill well with A New Leaf (where Walter Matthau faces his own Love or Money dilemma). “Bathing is a lonely business—except for fish.”
TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN (1969) was Woody Allen’s first writing/directing/acting gig, a mockumentary a haplessly inept crook whose efforts to support his family have him trying to break out of prison with soap, calling for a vote on who gets to rob a bank and listening to bank tellers rip apart the penmanship on his warning note. I’m curious if the mockumentary style was a parody of something current at the time, or just a way to allow lots of disconnected skits and jokes (given that Allen was mostly a gag writer and stand-up comic at this point). Not completely successful, but successful enough; it would double bill nicely with Allen’s later Small Time Crooks or his other mockumentary, Zelig. “I can’t wear a beige shirt to a bank robbery!”
AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (2010) is a fun chronicle of the history of exploitation films, starting with the early nickelodeons and the white-slavery shocker Traffic in Souls, then following through pre-code movies, road show films (films about VD and the birth of a baby that the Grindhouse narrators argue were genuinely educational ), AIP, early nudies, women in prison and blacksploitation, while debating how much mainstream films use the same techniques (“Psycho’s ad campaign was pure ballyhoo.”). A lot that’s familiar to me, but still worth a look. “AIP said they made the beach party films for teenagers, but then they pulled silent comics out of retirement to appear in them—I don’t know any teenager who’d want to see that.”
PIECES OF MODESTY by Peter O’Donnell is a Modesty Blaise short story collection wherein rogues-turned-spies Modesty and Willie Garvin attempt an impossible mission in “Giggle-Wrecker” (“Do you know how obvious a Japanese man is in East Berlin?”) Willie narrates the time “I Had a Date With Lady Janet,” and an old rival enlists Modesty in a fight against “Salamander Four” (who would play a supporting role in a couple more stories). A good collection, though O’Donnell definitely works better at novel length. Now that I’ve read all the Blaise novels, I look forward to reading more of the original comic-strips.
John Jakes’ MENTION MY NAME IN ATLANTIS was a parody wherein an Atlantean procurer and wheeler-dealer finds himself caught between a power-hungry general, a nagging mistress, mysterious lights in the sky and a barbarian invasion led by Conax the Chimerical. I wonder if this wasn’t influenced a lot by A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (the protagonist is very much in the Pseudolus mold, and the same sort of comic roman names—Geriatricus, Voluptua, Aphrodisia—populate the story); as with most Jakes, not classic, but entertaining. And that wraps up my reading of Jakes’ fantasies (there’s a short story collection, Fortunes of Brak, but I don’t like Brak enough to actually buy it).
THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN reprints Marvel’s black-and-white Conan magazine from the early seventies—unfortunatley, shrinking the magazine down to standard comic-book size always makes me feel the print is squeezed and unreadable. That flaw aside, some good adaptations here, though the real appeal is John Buscema’s striking art—I don’t think anyone could do better than his handling of the vulture-killing scene in “A Witch Shall Be Born” (he also turns the demon Thaug—one of Howard’s generic toadlike horrors—into something genuinely demonic looking).
FLASH CHRONICLES VOLUME II continues to impress me with John Broome’s writing—even though these are hardly character-centric adventures, he manages to infuse Flash’s adversaries with a fair amount of personality (Mirror Master, in his second appearance here, shows a streak of ego—timing his escape for maximum publicity—that would continue throughout the Silver Age). And nobody draws super-speed as well as Carmine Infantino back in the day. This collection includes the debut of Elongated Man and Kid Flash who both went from guest-starring to eventual stardom under their own right.
The second season of HBO’s TRUE BLOOD departs further from the Charlaine Harris source novel than the first season did, I think, though that’s not entirely a bad thing (the monstrous maenad is incorporated into the plot a lot better than the book did). The story concerns telepath Sookie Stackhouse and her vampire lover Bill coping with a mysterious stranger whipping the townies into dionysian frenzies; a fanatic anti-vampire church; and the disappearance of a powerful vampire’s maker. A good job, overall—looking forward to season three.
EVENING PRIMROSE is something I’ve been curious about for a long time, an episode of ABC’s 1960s Studio 67 anthology based on a short story by John Collier with a musical score by future Broadway giant Stephen Sondheim. Anthony Perkins stars as a poet who decides to reject the world by secretly moving into a department store, only to discover there’s already a secret society of residents. And when he and one pretty girl decide to leave, they learn it’s easier to move in than to move out … “Oh, fortunate asphalt, to be shattered and torn apart!”
SHARPE’S RIFLES was the first of the BBC’s adaptations of the Bernard Cornwell books, wherein Sharpe (Sean Bean) learns that in return for saving Lord Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) from death, he can look forward to all kinds of dangerous missions … such as finding a member of the Rothschilds bringing the troop’s wages to the army across hostile French-held territory. Reworks the novel more than I realized when I first saw it, but still a pleasure (Bean is an awesome Sharpe). “The king of England owes me last month’s wages—I couldn’t rest easy in America knowing that bastard owed me a shilling.”