THE LEGEND OF HILLBILLY JOHN (1973) adapts Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John stories to tell how Appalachian folk singer John (Hedges Caper) sets out to confront evil after his grandfather (Denver Pyle) dies challenging the devil. This leads into encounters with a gold-hungry undertaker and a demonic bird in adaptations of Wellman’s “Ugly Bird” and “Desrick on Yandro.” A very mixed bag, too good to dismiss but falling short both on budget (which really hurts the Yandro story) and plot (it runs out about 20 minutes short of the film); the songs are way too Mellow Hits of the Seventies, but Hoyt Axton’s “The Devil” fits perfectly. With Susan Strasberg as a witch-woman and Severn Darden as a supernatural helper. “When you meet the ugly bird, if you live, you’ll know the truth of your silver.”
SINGING IN THE RAIN (1952) is a classic musical starring Gene Kelly as a silent screen star struggling to save his latest film and his career when “talking pictures” threaten to turn him into a relic. The solution: Turn it into a musical! The problem: His idiotic co-star (a superb Jean Hagen) has a voice that just won’t work. With Debbie Reynolds as a romantic lead, Donald O’Connor as Kelly’s wiseacre sidekick and Cyd Charisse as a Bad Girl (this was a huge career boost for all of them), this is a delightful film. The special features on my DVD explain the scriptwriters built the show around producer Arthur Freed’s songs (which makes it amazing how well it hangs together) and there’s also 90 minutes of clips from the movies where the songs originated. A true classic. “I make more money than Calvin Coolidge——combined!”
LES MIS IN CONCERT was a 10th-anniversary special I taped off PBS, recreating the Broadway adaptation of Victor Hugo to tell how Jean valJean struggles to build a life for himself despite the relentless pursuit of the merciless police inspector Javert. It’s interesting to compare this with the Fredric March Les Miserables and see what they keep or drop from the novel (the musical skips over valJean’s rise from vagabond to business success) but both work. “Will you join in our crusade/Who will be strong and stand with me?/Beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?/Then join in the fight that will give you the right to be free!”
DOCTOR WHO: The Aztecs is one of the early William Hartnell stories, mostly showing why straight historical adventures went out of fashion. This tale of the TARDIS arriving in the Aztec Empire, Barbara posing as a goddess and the treacherous (is there any other kind?) high priest trying to expose her comes straight out of any number of Lost Race stories. That being said, competently executed, but Daleks are way more fun.
From the Second Doctor era——THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN has the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arriving on an alien world just as an archeological expedition discovers the eponymous crypt. Unfortunately, some of the explorers have the bright idea that the Cybermen are someone you can form an alliance with … Despite the weaknesses (the Cybermats just don’t work as a threat), the setting is really eerie and Troughton reminds me a lot of an older David Tennant. Lives up to its rep as one of the best (and one of the few surviving serials from this era). “Thank you——I was fairly sure you were mad, but I’m glad to have you confirm it.”