Category Archives: TV

First do no harm: Star Trek’s Prime Directive

Star Trek‘s Prime Directive is a nice moral statement but a pain in the butt when it came to actually writing episodes.

The Prime Directive, as every Trekkie knows, is the rule that the Federation and its starships don’t interfere with cultures that have not achieved spaceflight. No intervening in them politically or changing their natural course of development. No giving them signs that life exists beyond their world, such as showing advanced tech or evidence of alien life. This is so fundamental, if it’s choice between saving your ship, your crew and yourself and breaking the Prime Directive, a starship captain should choose death before dishonor.

I’ve read this was partly a pushback against the Vietnam War. During the Eisenhower presidency the U.S. had supported the French colonial regime to stop the Vietnamese independence movement — communist oriented, therefore the bad guys — from winning. Eventually the country divided into two parts, North and South Vietnam, with elections to follow; as it was obvious the revolutionaries would win, the U.S. and its allies refused to let elections happen. Instead, we provided military support for South Vietnam, then eventually committed our own troops. It was a major scar and influence on U.S. society at the time, and increasing numbers of people went anti-war (you can read Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam for an excellent history of the nation and the war).

Vietnam wasn’t a unique screw-up. We overthrew lots of democratic governments in the 20th century — El Salvador, Guatemala, Iran, Chile — because we didn’t like who the people voted for. While we saw ourselves as the champion of freedom against tyranny, all too often we went in the other direction. And as David Rieff says in A Bed for the Night, any attempt at a humanitarian military intervention is a contradiction in terms: military force isn’t humanitarian in nature. As in a lot of things, I think the part of the Hippocratic Oath that says “first, do no harm” might be good advice for us.

In practice, though, the rule was a mess. If we go by the Prime Directive, Kirk had no right to challenge the Landru-computer’s control of its world in Return of the Archons, or to take down Vaal in The Apple. Indeed, the latter story seems like a textbook example — Vaal’s control of his people is totalitarian, but it does apparently keep them at peace, happy and immortal. Will destroying Vaal improve things? Will shutting down the war computers in A Taste of Armageddon actually end the nightmare war, or will they go fully nuclear? As a kid, these episodes worked fine; as an adult I wonder if Kirk has not, in fact, done harm.

Of course not intervening is the opposite of how we expect heroes to work. When good guys stumble into a tyrannical society, fictional convention says they’re supposed to liberate the people, not turn a blind eye. That can, of course, make for dramatic tension, but it could obviously turn a lot of people off: what if the Enterprise crew doesn’t intervene at all to affect the repressive caste system of The Cloud Minders?

There have been multiple expansions and explanations of the details of the directive to handle all the contradictions and try to rationalize it. Ultimately it’s an interesting idea but very awkward, perhaps unworkable, in practice.

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Small-town Hitchcock, Evil Superman and some TV viewed

Rewatching SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) in the course of an Alfred Hitchcock rewatch makes me appreciate how much it has in common with HIichcock’s earlier films — not just the camera work but the quirky supporting characters, the family dynamics (reminiscent of some of the parts of Young and Innocent, for instance) and a female lead becoming restless in her current station (as Hitchcock Romance says, similar to Joan Fontaine in Rebecca or Suspicion).That said, this film still feels unlike anything else of Hitch’s work. Joseph Cotton is Charlie, the “Merry Widow Killer,” who escapes a police dragnet and holes up in a small town with his relatives, including his namesake “Young Charlie” (Teresa Wright). It’s a warm, vibrant town where everyone knows everyone and where Henry Travers (as Wright’s dad) and coworker Hume Cronyn can happily dicker over which mystery’s method would work best in real life; it makes for a sharp contrast with Charlie’s view of the world as a cesspool where dog eats dog. Can Charlie hide there? Will detective MacDonald Carey open Young Charlie’s eyes to the threat? This one remains a personal favorite. “This world is a hell — why does it matter what happens in it?”

BRIGHTBURN (2019) is an obvious Superman riff in which a young couple rescue a baby from a downed space capsule; when his powers manifest as a tween he immediately begins using them in bad ways, from killing people who diss him to stalking the pretty classmate he’s crushing on. Dark Superman is an idea that has been done a lot — Super-Menace in the 1960s (depicted by Curt Swan here), Stalinist and Nazi alt.Supermen in recent years and the Superman-inspired Irredeemable — and all of them better than this; as Rolling Stone‘s review puts it, it’s like a sub-par version of The Omen where everyone who gets in the kid’s way dies horribly. The implication here is that Brightburn is some form alien advance guard (voices in his head keep telling him to “take the planet”) though that makes him less interesting than if he were just corrupted by power.  “My real parents were — superior.”

The third season of YOUNGER (s2 review here) has Liza and Josh coping with familiar relationship issues (he wants kids; she’s done with that) and the added sexual experience age gives her (“Everything I want to try, you already did with your husband.”); at work Liza and Kelsey have to deal with a tech bro millionaire moving in and trying to remake the publishing house. Once again things fall apart at the season ender when Josh catches Liza kissing her boss just when he was about to propose (he conveniently forgets giving her permission to stray at least once in an earlier episode); more interesting is Liza finally confessing the truth to Kelsey. Still fun. “You put your workout bench in my bedroom?”

The BBC’s 1981 miniseries of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS is more faithful to the John Wyndham novel than the film version, with the exception of making the triffids a much larger menace earlier on. The faithfulness has both good and bad sides, the good being that the triffids are just as alien as in the book and without the convenient weakness that ensures their destruction in the movie. On the down side, this carries over Wyndham’s sexism (“Most women want babies — husbands are just a means to an end.”) and bogs down in talk as we get away from the imminent triffid threat and into the mundane job of rebuilding civilization; focusing primarily on the triffids turns out to have been a wise move on the film-makers’ parts. And like Wyndham the prospect that blind people from before the catastrophe might have some useful advice doesn’t occur to anyone, nor does anyone even consider that the blindness might be temporary, which would complicate the moral calculus. All that said, this did have some excellent moments.

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Aliens in multiple films (and some TV)

Opening in 1979, SUPER 8 (2011) is JJ Abrams’ tribute to Stephen Spielberg. A handful of tweens have set out to make a thriller movie in their small town, but after they witness a mysterious train wreck, they discover their town is caught in the middle of a clash between a runaway alien and the military trying to capture him. This does a good job providing a predominantly kids’ eye view and making the seemingly monstrous alien more sympathetic, and the performances are consistently good, including Elle Fanning as one of the actors and Kyle Chandler as one of the parents. On the downside there are several bits that don’t make sense, such as why the alien cocoons humans when it’s not apparently planning to eat them and the way some of the adults turn into nice guys too abruptly. Still it works. “‘You will die, your parents will die’ — this is not good information!”

The director’s cut of DARK CITY (1998) makes me even more appeciative what a great movie this is, both visually and in the story. Rufus Sewell wakes up amnesiac to find himself apparently a murderer, but why does he feel like he isn’t? Is he really trying to get back at wife Jennifer Connelly? Why does detective William Hurt feel there’s something strange about the whole business? All of this taking place in a city of perpetual night, haunted by the dark-clad Strangers headed by Mr. Book (Ian Richardson) and Mr. Hand (Richard O’Brien — the commentary track says the younger members of the cast went into orbit at being in the same film as Rocky Horror‘s Riff Raff), while sinister doctor Kiefer Sutherland skulks around in the background. This version dispenses with the opening narration with director Alex Proyas says he added after realizing how lost the test audience was (“I knew there was a problem with reaching the mass market.”), among other changes; the commentary and Making Of features discuss themes, acting, visuals and as someone who loves the film, I found it all fascinating.“What kind of killer do you think stops to save a dying goldfish?”

For some reason I’ve never been able to share most people’s enthusiasm for THE IRON GIANT (1999) and it’s heartwarming animated story of Boy Meets Robot in a 1950s small town populated by beatnik Harry Connick Jr., waitress Jennifer Aniston and G-Man Christopher McDonald. Brad Bird’s takeoff on monster movies here just feels off in a way that The Incredibles didn’t. Part of it is that the FBI agent is an over-the-top caricacture who doesn’t fit with the more realistic tone of the other characters, but I don’t think that’s all of it. Still, definitely qualifies for the Kids and ETs chapter of Alien Visitors and due to the agent, the Men in Black chapter as well. “I am not a gun.”

THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (2019) is a Belgian TV series that sets the story in the present day — actually it doesn’t because this has zero to do with Wells’ novel. The aliens aren’t Martians (admittedly a hard sell today), their superweapon is an EMP that shuts down our tech and most of the first two episodes are concerned with either character study or standard society-is-collapsing scenarios (and less interesting ones than, say Day of the Triffids).

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Hard times and San Francisco cops: Movies and TV

Following sex, lies and videotape I wanted to watch Steven Soderbergh’s sophomore feature, Kafka, but it’s not available (and apparently never has been) on U.S.-compatible DVD. So I jumped to film #3, 1993’s KING OF THE HILL, a really amazing kids’ eye view of the Depression. Jesse Bradford is the protagonist, living with his impoverished family in a hotel (it’s really remarkable how much of this resonated with the 21st century), coping with snobbish classmates and bullying cops and making friends such as bootlegger’s assistant Adrien Brody pretty classmate Katherine Heigl and former rich dude Spaulding Grey. Then his brother goes off to another branch of the family, his mom goes to a sanitarium and dad Jeroen Krabbe becomes a traveling salesman; how will Bradford cope when he’s the only one there and the hotel can’t wait to evict him for non-payment of rent. Good but grim — I kept thinking the eucatastrophic ending would turn it to be a set-up, but no (I’m okay with happy ending, just surprised). With Lauryn Hill as an elevator operator, Amber Benson as an epileptic and Elizabeth McGovern as a sex worker. “That was when guys like me used dollar bills to light our cigars.”

I was a big fan of MCMILLAN AND WIFE as a kid, when it was part of the rotating NBC Mystery Movie anthology show (best known now for giving us Columbo); the 1971-72 season is definitely flawed, but it’s still entertaining and Susan St. James as one of the leads reminds me why I had such a crush on her back in the day.

Rock Hudson plays Stuart McMillan, San Francisco defense attorney turned police commissioner; St. James is his wife Sally, socialite daughter of an eminent criminologist. Mysteries crop up — Mac’s old girlfriend is framed for murder, a phantom jewel thief loots a safe in the middle of a party, Sally unpacks a corpse when they’re moving into their new house — and Mac, with Sally’s occasional input, solves it.

Husband and wife detective teams are an old mystery tradition, and while Hudson’s stiff as an actor, St. James is charming enough to make up for it, plus we have supporting actors John Schuck (Enright, Mac’s right hand man) and Nancy Walker (Mildred, the housekeeper). The mystery content is uneven and the creators can’t seem to accept it’s a mystery show — the commissioner of police doesn’t have to chase down suspects every episode. Still, this was fun enough I’m glad I bought the DVD set.

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I celebrate the recalibrate

So as I said a week ago, I’m trying to run my schedule much more tightly to ensure I get everything done. My first week went well. If I didn’t allocate my time as precisely as I’d hoped, I still got more done on the Questionable Minds final draft and the footnotes for Undead Sexist Cliches than I have the past few weeks. To break it down:

•I completed my usual quota of Leaf articles. There was a problem because one of the finished ones got wiped from the database but the editors took care of it so I’ll get paid for it. I greatly appreciate that.

•I got about halfway through Chapter Nine of Undead Sexist Cliches and I finished proofing the footnotes to Chapter One.

•I got several chapters done on Questionable Minds. Annoyingly, Word kept doing random, arbitrary things to my document (shifting the justification for the whole thing when I only wanted to center one line, for instance) so I put the whole thing back into Scrivener. Then I’ll export it to Word when it’s done and see if that works better.

•I watched several more movies for Alien Visitors and got a good start on the ETs and Children chapter. It’s a tough one as the range is much wider than the focus of the ET pregnancy chapter, which concentrates on the rape aspect. Kid/ET movies range from the sweetness of E.T. to the nightmarish Invaders From Mars to the goofy teenagers of Pajama Party. Still, I’ll get it worked out.

That’s pretty good given I had to devote Tuesday afternoon to multiple errands: library books back, doggy meds picked up, eye doctor appointment, checks to deposit. That way I can give myself a thorough cleansing once for all the trips.

I’ve also taken over as organizer of the local Shut Up and Write Durham! meetup which is currently virtual. Our first organizer had to move away; the second ran out of steam; now my fellow writer Allegra Gullino and I will try to run it together. I’m not sure I set up next Monday’s meeting right, as it’s not visible on the site (I have to go to the link for the specific meeting) but we’ll get it figured out.

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Sherlock Holmes’ sister and other women of destiny

Stranger Things’ Millie Bobbie Brown is ENOLA HOLMES (2020), the teenage sister we never knew Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft had. When mom Helena Bonham Carter disappears and Enola’s brothers seem disinterested in investigating, Enola sets out, counting on the training she’s received from Mom — everything from deduction to combat — to get her past any obstacles. She succeeds, of course, and in the process saves a young nobleman who’s been targeted for death. Based on a series of kids’ books by Nancy Springer, this is fun, and Brown is delightful but Cavill is too bland and too laid-back as Sherlock (not to mention he doesn’t smoke!). Mycroft is simply the requisite stuffy relative determined to make Enola conform to gender standards and eventually marry well (I’ve spent more than a few minutes thinking how I’d rewrite the brothers so they’d be more canonical without stealing the spotlight). So a mixed bag for me, but I’m in a minority. “Look for what’s there, not for what you want to be there.”

WHAT’S UP DOC? (1972) is one of those favorite films I’ve rewatched countless times, enjoying Barbra Streisand getting Ryan O’Neal to buy her a radio, Madolyn Kahn counting to five, Kenneth Mars cheating, Sorrell Booke using his charm and Jonathan Hillerman recommending O’Neal not hang out in the hotel lobby. This time I bought the DVD rather than rewatch my old off-air version, so I got to enjoy Peter Bogdanovich’s discussion of the film on the commentary track: Warner Brothers had offered him the chance to do a drama with Streisand but he’d pushed for a screwball comedy instead, though keeping the idea of Streisand as a brainy polymath. After he and two writers developed the initial script, they turned it over to Get Smart co-creator Buck Henry, who considerably complicated the script (instead of three identical travel bags they had four) but for the better. Always a pleasure. “This man is in unauthorized possession of secret government … underwear.”

THE STRANGER WITHIN (1974) is an excellent SF horror film with a Richard Matheson script that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Twilight Zone (except too much talk of sex, I guess). Barbara Eden is thrilled to discover she’s pregnant, but she and husband George Grizzard are less thrilled when it turns out that no, his vasectomy of three years ago did not fail. Eden insists she hasn’t been with another man, and everyone wants to believe her but … And why is she over-salting all her food, drinking literally gallons of coffee and reading everything she can get her hands on? Could it be that the baby is Not What It Seems?

Yep, it’s another alien pregnancy film, with artificial insemination, like Village of the Damned, taking place through an alien ray beam. While the script gets a little repetitious (Eden keeps going to the hospital for an abortion, the fetus keeps stopping her), Eden’s bizarre behavior creates a sense of something truly alien inside her. However once again the rape aspects get hand-waved. David Doyle (playing a hypnotherapist) declares at one point that there’s no reason to assume the aliens aren’t doing something good, as if Eden being impregnated without her consent and then mind-controlled isn’t the teensiest bit objectionable (you’d think her husband, at least, would have made that point). Overall, though, a good film. “I know what you’re thinking — but there is no other man.”

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Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker has lived before!

Fair warning, this post on the 2020 season of Doctor Who contains massive spoilers for the main story arc of Jodie Whittaker’s second season. It has a great twist midway through but culminates in a reveal that fails to satisfy.The series opens with the two-part story Skyfall, in which Prime Minister Stephen Frye and spymaster O (Sacha Dawan) ask the Doctor and her companions to stop an alien threat involving a tech entrepreneur and his search engine. With UNIT and Torchwood gone, they’ve got nobody else; the British government has also stopped believing alien invasions are even real, which makes no sense (even in the new series, we’ve had several). Fighting the uninspired threat (we’re way past the point where Big Tech violating our privacy is a shcoking reveal), the Doctor discovers O is the latest regeneration of the Master, a smirking, mocking psycho reminiscent of John Simms’s Master from a few seasons back. The Master reveals everything the Doctor knows about Gallifrey is wrong (never a good sign for me) and that their world is built on the lie of … the Timeless Child! What does that mean? Stay tuned.

Orphan 55 has the TARDIS gang relax on the eponymous paradise planet, which like all SF resorts turns out to be more dangerous than it appears. The real secret here worked for me even though it’s corny as hell, and this was an enjoyable, fast-moving run-from-the-monsters story, though the character arcs for the guest cast were lacking. Next came Nikolai Tesla’s Night of Terror in which the cast become embroiled in a struggle between Tesla and alien invaders, with Edison kibbitzing, This one was competent, but very heavy on the Tesla-idolatry.

Then comes the twist. In Fugitive of the Judoon, the alien rhino-men show up in Gloucester hunting for someone. Local tour-guide Ruth (Jo Martin) has a husband who looks a little suspicious but it turns out she’s the target for some reason. The Doctor figures it out when they travel to Ruth’s family home and in her parents’ grave find … a Tardis. Not just a Tardis, but the Tardis. The Doctor’s target. Yet neither Ruth nor the Doctor remembers an incarnation as the other, so how is that possible? We end the episode without an answer. Oh, it also includes the return of John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, warning the Doctor that the Lone Cyberman is coming. Under no circumstances should he get what he wants!

Then comes another competent one, Praxeus; heavy on the environmental preaching but I like the supporting cast. Can You Hear Me? was very good, with some good backstory on Yaz and an entity from the same race as the First Doctor’s Celestial Toymaker. The Haunting of Villa Diodati has the Tardis team crash the night in Italy Mary Shelley came up with Frankenstein, only to discover the night is not proceeding as it’s supposed to. Then the Lone Cyberman shows up, seeking the cyberium, a liquid metal supercomputer hidden in one of the bodies there. It embodies all the strategic knowledge of the Cybermen; in his time they’re defeated but now, things will turn around. I enjoyed this one but the Lone Cyberman’s visuals — he’s only partially converted — make him less intimidating despite his ruthlessness. And the Doctor’s Vulcan mind-meld powers here annoy me, though previous incarnations have shown equally implausible powers.

As the Doctor gives up the cyberium, she then has to travel to the future to stop The Ascension of the Cybermen, though the cyberium doesn’t really make much difference — it’s not as if the Lone Cybermen becomes a better strategist than previous iterations of his kind. Interspersed with this is a strange story about an Irish police officer who discovers he’s unkillable, then has his superiors wipe his memory (““Thank you for your service — a shame you won’t remember it.”). The Master shows up again, striking a deal with the Cybermen, even while mocking them (“You’re driven by hate and loathing for everything that you are — talk about your internal conflicts!”). His pitch: take the floating battleship stuffed with Cybermen to now-dead Gallifrey where they can rebuild themselves with immortal Time Lord bodies and conquer the universe. Quite aside from technical issues (the Cybermen accomplish the changeover impossibly fast) this doesn’t work anywhere near as well as it might, partly because the Master apparently has no agenda other than trolling the Doctor (Roger Delgado’s Master would be embarrassed).

And then there’s the reveal. It turns out that long before the era of the Time Lords, a Gallifreyan woman adopted an alien child, then discovered he regenerated every time he died. Studying him, she discovered how this worked and incorporated it into Gallifreyan DNA, though limiting the potentially infinite regenerations to twelve. The “timeless child” (why the episode is called Timeless Children I know not) then goes into service for Gallifrey’s intelligence division; upon retirement he gets a mindwipe to conceal some of the secrets he’s learned. And years later, he becomes William Hartnell, steals a Type 40 Tardis and a legend is born. Yep. The Doctor herself is the source of Gallifreyan immortality. And she has god knows how many incarnations she no longer remembers.

This is certainly a shocker in terms of the Doctor’s personal history, but in terms of a Dark Gallifrey Secret it’s not actually as Dark as the buildup indicated. It’s also confusing — is Ruth an incarnation post-Hartnell or did he have the Tardis all along and his memories are fake? For a lot of people, the reveal the Doctor has undisclosed incarnations wasn’t the problem but the reveal she is not just a Time Lord but the most special, most remarkable of all Time Lords. I have some sympathy for that view; I didn’t hate it that much but I didn’t care for it much either. The hook with Ruth intrigued me; the reveal fell flat.

But of course, I’ll be back whenever the pandemic lets us have more.

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A queen, time travel and absurdity: movies and TV

So after reading The Wives of Henry VIII I rewatched 1969’s ANNE OF THE THOUSAND DAYS (I saw it back when I was a kid) with Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn and Richard Burton as Henry. Anne’s stubborn refusal to become a disposable mistress like her sister Mary eventually impresses Henry enough to make her queen, even at the cost of breaking England from the Catholic Church; what follows of course is heartbreak when Anne fails to deliver the promised son, then accusations of adultery that send her to the headsman (to sweeten the bitter ending the film has Anne improbably realize her daughter Elizabeth will be the greatest monarch England has ever known). Overlong, and I don’t see the point of blaming Anne for Henry’s worst excesses (the most brutal part of his crackdown on the church is meant to suppress opposition to Elizabeth becoming heir) but the lead performances make up for a lot. With John Colicos as the conniving Thomas Cromwell (Colicos’ face was made to play opportunistic weasels) and Antony Quayle as Cardinal Wolsey. “I will marry Anne if it breaks the Earth in two and flings the pieces into the void!”I gave up on AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. a couple of years ago, but their final season this year sounded interesting enough I decided to catch it. The early episodes have them bouncing through time battling against the Chronacoms, an alien android race plotting to destroy SHIELD before it even exists. This leads to a 1930s ganster-movie type episode, a 1950s hardboiled yarn and adventures in the 1970s and 1980s, all fun if occasionally the details gnawed at me (stories where nobody in the past smokes — FDR doesn’t even have his cigarette holder — are as ridiculous as those old SF stories where everyone in 3,000 or whenever is still puffing on tobacco). It got a little less interesting as the time jumping stopped, but ultimately I’m glad I came back in time to see them go. “It doesn’t matter — whatever the percentages, these people always beat the odds.”

MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS hit me and pretty much everyone I knew like a mind-bomb when it started showing up on PBS in the early 1970s. I’ve no idea if a millennial audience would have the same reaction, but rewatching the first season on Netflix I was blown away as much as ever by the batshit absurdity of everything. Alexander the Great is exposed as an Attila the Hun impersonator, blancmanges from space conspire to win Wimbledon, a bicycle repairman saves Superman and a dead parrot pines for the fiords. The shots of British streets and buildings sometimes fill me with an odd nostalgia too, but the hysterical laughter remains a bigger draw. “Quite frankly, I’m against people who give vent to their loquacity by extraneous bombastic circumlocation.”

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Farewell, Dame Diana

So as you’ve probably heard, Dame Diana Rigg passed away last week. Which got me reflecting how much I insanely, madly crushed on Emma Peel in The Avengers as a kid.

Emma Peel was awesome. Intelligent (one episode established she had a higher IQ than Steed). Fearless. Able to take down the toughest foe with her bare hands. And gorgeous — even before I met TYG, I liked dark-haired beautiful women. I’m quite sure my crush was based mostly on her looks, but I don’t think it would have been so intense — certainly not as long-lasting — if she’d been a bimbo or simply Steed’s girlfriend. She was also an excellent actor, playing a chillingly ruthless Regan to Laurence Olivier’s Lear in a 1983 TV-movie. She’s delightful (and yes, beautiful) as a female reporter and early 20th century reporter in The Assassination Bureau and Vincent Price’s deadly daughter in Theatre of Blood. She was funny in an early 1970s sitcom, Diana — British professional working in the U.S. — though the series didn’t last.

She was also a big influence on X-Men, via an episode A Touch of Brimstone slugged in the UK’s TV Times as “Steed joins the Hellfire Club and Emma becomes a queen of sin.” I was too sick to stay up and watch when it originally aired but even at eight years old I knew “queen of sin” sounded awfully er, interesting. And yes, it was.Still is (I did see it eventually). And this episode had a huge influence on the Hellfire Club arc in the Chris Claremont/John Byrne era of X-Men, particularly how Byrne drew Jean Grey during her brief time as the Club’s Black Queen:Jason Wyngarde whom you see in that scene was modeled on Peter Wyngarde, the Hellfire Club’s leader in the Avengers episode.

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A shining star and early noir: this week’s viewing

Unlike so many CW series, STARGIRL wrapped up its first season without leaving us on a cliffhanger (though the finish planted a lot of seeds for S2, whenever that comes to pass). It’s based on DC’s Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. comic by Geoff Johns, who created Stargirl as a tribute to his sister, who died in the Lockerbee terrorist plane bombing. Overall, I like the TV show better than I did the comics.

Brec Bessinger plays Courtney Whitmore, less than thrilled that mom Barbara (Amy Smart) and new step-dad Pat Dugan (Luke Wilson) have dragged her to Barb’s hometown of Blue Valley to settle down. Things get more interesting when she learns the reason: Pat is secretly the former Stripesy, sidekick to the superhero Starman, who died along with the Justice Society in a battle with the Injustice Society of America. The ISA is hiding in Blue Valley, plotting something big, and Pat’s out to put a stop to it. When Courtney discovers Starman’s cosmic staff (which appears to be sentient) she takes action against the ISA herself, as Stargirl. Despite Pat’s objections, she also recruits a new Justice Society, turning her friends into the new Wildcat, Dr. Midnite and Hourman. But they’re fifteen-year-olds and they’re up against some of the deadliest villains on Earth …

I was pessimistic after the first episode that this would be way too heavy into teenage angst and outcast-ness, but it isn’t. Bessinger is an appealing protagonist, the action is good, and there are several details I liked such as how well her mother takes learning about this. There are also some things I didn’t like: If you’re going to use the Gambler as a villain, it doesn’t make much sense to turn him into a generic super-hacker (I’d figured they’d give him luck powers like the comic-book villain’s granddaughter, Hazard, but no). And while I like Icicle’s big plan, I honestly don’t see why the rest of the Society would be with him on this. Overall, though, thumbs up. “The staff didn’t choose you because you’re Starman’s daughter, it chose you because it believed in you.”

I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1942) is an early noir film in which promoter Victor Mature turns hash-slinger Carole Landis into a celebrity, only to lose her to Hollywood — but could that have been enough reason for him to kill her? Detective Laird Creegar, who had a stalkery obsession with the victim, thinks so, but Landis’ sister Betty Grable (her first non-musical role, though she did sing in one deleted scene) refuses to believe Mature’s a bad guy. Stylish and absorbing, with solid performances by the leads, plus Elisha Cook Jr. as a hotel clerk and Alan Mowbray as an actor. “Did you ever read The Sex Life of Butterflies by Faber?”

Seeing that prompted me to check out STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940) which the book Film Noir identifies as the first noir film. A reporter’s  testimony puts Elisha Cook Jr. on death row, but when the reporter’s neighbor turns up dead the newshound discovers how easy it is for circumstantial evidence to jail an innocent man. And nobody believes he saw Peter Lorre sneaking around the boarding house, or that Lorre might also have committed the murder Cook was blamed for. Strongly influenced by German expressionist films (the stylized dream sequence has amazing visuals) this also has a lot in common with Hitchcock’s Innocent Man Accused stories.  “They’re not listening to me — your honor, please make them listen!”#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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