The 1946 parade was used in the film and unbeknownst to the throngs of New Yorkers who witnessed it, Edmund Gwenn, played Santa Claus in the parade that year. Rather than just film the scenes needed for the picture , Mr. Gwenn chose to stick it out in the cold and create Christmas memories for the thousands gathered at the parade.
Monday, November 30, 2015
Prior to the release of the classic Miracle on 34th Street, the now famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was not well known outside of New York City. Started as a way to kickoff the Christmas shopping season, the parade became the international phenomenon it is now solely due to the Hollywood film.
Sunday, November 29, 2015
"There'd been a recent wave of gorgeous fashion models found naked and unconscious in laundromats on the West Side. Unfortunately, I was assigned to investigate holdups of neighborhood credit unions. I was across town doing my laundry when I got the call on the double killing."
Saturday, November 28, 2015
Friday, November 27, 2015
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Nobody was ever held at gunpoint in a Jam Handy Organization, but many people might have had to watch Jam Handy's output at gunpoint. Jam Handy was an Olympic water polo athlete who decided to make the world a better place by producing instructional films for businesses and schools. Apparently popular among mid-century authority figures, It was often difficult to determine what the point of some of these films were.
Jam Handy himself.
One oddity was American Thrift. The short film featured a narrator describing random ways to save money and the majesty of American industry in what he calls a tribute to the "Woman American". What were they trying to sell here?
Plaster Lincoln Busts?
Canning and food preparation equipment?
Would you believe it was an advertisement to sell Chevrolet cars? Apparently Chevrolet believed that troublesome women were standing in the way of them selling their cars to men. So they commissioned Jam Handy to make a video to convince these stubborn broads to not raise a fuss when their menfolk bring home a brand new Chevy.
"Don't worry your little head about how you'll pay for that car, toots. You can wear that house dress for another couple years."
Aside from their bizarrely chauvinistic films, The Jam Handy Organization deserves all the scorn we can give them for unleashing the only being more evil than L. Ron Hubbard and Xenu put together- Coilly. Allegedly created to sell Americans on springs, Coilly is easily the most evil being to ever walk this earth.
Worship almighty springs- or I'll kill you!
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Like many dreamers, Coleman Francis and Anthony Cardoza headed to Hollywood to see if they could make a go of it in pictures. Coleman headed to California in the 1940's where he began booking various small roles in lesser productions. Mr. Francis saw that his acting career was going nowhere and decided that perhaps he could make his own films. Then he met Anthony Cardoza...
Coleman Francis, the poor man's Mr. Howell
Anthony Cardoza fought in the Korean War and became a welder after returning to the States. When his doctor advised him to stop welding or else he'd lose his eyesight, he decided to head out to California where he met up with Ed Wood and served as a producer on Night of the Ghouls. Wood's constant money issues grated on Mr. Cardoza, so he sought a partner who could work within a budget. He ran into Mr. Francis who was certain he could write, direct and star in his own projects with minimal budgets. They soon began working together on Coleman's famed "Trilogy of Error".
Anthony Cardoza, finally realizing he's in a Coleman Francis picture
Their first film together was The Beast of Yucca Flats. Starring the massive Tor Johnson, this movie was infamous for not being filmed with sound. A narrator fills the audience in on the so-called action, often with non-sequiturs like "Flag on the moon. How did it get there?" Meanwhile, the brutish Tor Johnson staggers around menacing people. It was a hellish slog, but the project's failure didn't faze this movie producing team, who would partner for two more films.
Time for audience go to bed!
Their next collaboration would actually feature the novelty of sound! Filmed without a narrator and utilizing technology in which the dialogue of the characters is synchronized to the action on screen, The Skydivers is nonetheless just as much a slog as Beast. Thoroughly reprehensible characters fill the screen as a jealous harlot tries to get revenge on a sleazy skydiving school proprietor and his helmet haired wife. Bizarrely, Coleman himself guns down the murderess, helmet hair drinks copious amounts of coffee and a curvy giantess dances around with slim hipped gentlemen who she swings around like rag dolls. Sound weird? That's Coleman Francis for you!
Okay, so am I imagining this or-?
The last film in the trilogy is Red Zone Cuba or Night Train to Mundo Fine. This film follows even more reprehensible characters as they attempt to overthrow Castro, commit senseless murders and wreak havoc across the hills above Valencia. This time, both Coleman and Anthony get starring roles as the sleazy "heroes". They do book a known celebrity this time- John Carradine, who slums it for a paycheck. He also croaks the theme song. Seriously.
"Now what was I supposed to tell you? Ah yes, write my check out to 'cash'."
Their trilogy complete, the production team disbanded. Mr. Francis reportedly became an alcoholic living on the streets, passing away of a heart attack in the 1970's, though Mr. Cardoza continues to insist that his old friend might have been murdered. Mr. Cardoza has retired.
Monday, November 23, 2015
One of the strangest independent movie studios to ever exist was Film Ventures International. Founded by Edward L. Montoro, originally to produce "adult" films, the studio soon branched in ways that seem familiar now, but were revolutionary at the time.
Mr. Montoro would use many less legitimate ways to produce content for his company- one method was to find little known films that were in the public domain, re-edit them with bizarre credit sequences and new titles, then release them as though they were new projects. This might annoy moviegoers, but with his production costs basically zero, he could turn these projects into profitable ventures.
Having outgrown its backwater beginnings in Georgia, Mr. Montoro and Film Ventures pulled up stakes and set out for the big leagues- Hollywood, California. The company flew under the radar before, but it sought to claim its spot in the big leagues. It was at this point that the studio began producing copycat films. Now a mainstay of cable's SyFy network, it was a relatively new thing back when Film Ventures started doing it. It was also riskier, because the big studios weren't likely to accept his derivative films. In fact, his first such film Beyond the Door, brought a lawsuit from Warner Brothers, who felt that the film was too close to their Exorcist. Warner Brothers lost that fight and FVI continued on, its next copycat film borrowing from Jaws- Grizzly.
Grizzly was basically Jaws on land. Made for $750,000, the film grossed $39 Million at the box office, a colossal profit. FVI was seemingly unstoppable now- until it decided to make a version of Jaws with a shark.
This time, Universal Studios wasn't about to let this one go. The studio sued and won. The film was pulled from theaters after a pricy promotional push. With Film Ventures on the ropes, Edward Montoro shocked Hollywood by embezzling what was left of the studio's cash and taking off for parts unknown. Nobody has seen Mr. Montoro since the mid-1980's and his current whereabouts are unknown.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Walt Disney couldn't find a suitable voice for Mickey Mouse so he provided the voice for his best friend in every one of Mickey's early films.
As he branched out into feature films, live action and theme parks, Mr. Disney had less and less time to record Mickey's lines. Not wanting to go through the process of auditioning new Mickey voices again, Walt decided to look inside the company and found the perfect new voice- Jimmy McDonald. Mr. McDonald was the head of the sound effects department at the Disney Studios and was already occasionally providing random Mickey squeaks as needed.
As Mr. McDonald headed into his retirement, he took it upon himself to find his replacement. He found it in the sound effects department in the person of a young assistant- Wayne Allwine. Mr. Allwine would go on to become a high profile voice, even taking his work home with him; he married Russi Taylor in a romance befitting a Disney film; she was also the voice of Minnie Mouse. (Russi is pictured with Wayne below.)
Sadly, Mr. Allwine passed away in 2009. This time, the company would find its Mickey outside the company. Bret Iwan worked for Hallmark, designing greeting cards. He was working on a line of talking Mickey Mouse greeting cards and decided to record his own voice on the demo card that was going to be provided to Disney's licensing team. The Disney licensing team thought that Hallmark had used real Wayne Allwine recordings for the card and were impressed to discover that it was Bret's voice on the prototype. They remembered this when Mr. Allwine passed away and the magic of Mickey continued with the casting of Mr. Iwan.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
In 1930, Hollywood studios were desperate to clean up their reputations. The desire to attract audiences had led to films that had become increasingly risqué. Actresses like Mae West were pushing the boundaries of propriety, while the Fatty Arbuckle scandal had changed the public's view of celebrities for the worse. Hollywood turned to a Presbyterian elder named Will Hays to create and enact a code of conduct for films.
Unlike today's ratings system that just puts ratings on films, the Hays Code actually laid out what could and could not be depicted on screen. If a film wasn't approved by Mr. Hays, it could not be released. If the film didn't meet with his approval, he would explicitly tell the filmmakers what had to be changed to get the movie certified. For this service, Mr. Hays was amazingly paid $100,000 a year. That was in 1930's dollars, which meant he was making a staggering sum of over $1,000,000 in today's dollars. Mr. Hayes became the highest paid and most despised man in Hollywood. Directors would chafe at his requirements and try to come up with ways to work around his strict code. Mr. Hays would rule Hollywood like a tyrant for almost thirty years; in fact, he was almost entirely responsible for Mae West's early retirement. His kingdom was on shaky ground by the time he passed away. Times were changing, and with television threatening theaters, the studios needed to produce entertainment on the big screen that couldn't be seen at home on television. The changing landscape led to the collapse of the Hays Code and the adoption of the current ratings system.
Monday, November 16, 2015
In 1980, David L. Wolper producer of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Roots and other films had become infatuated with the prophecies of Nostradamus. He decided that a film documenting the predictions of Nostradamus would be interesting to others, so he put the film The Man Who Saw Tomorrow into production.
Somehow, he was able to rope Orson Welles into making the film. Despite being a visionary director, Mr. Welles had fallen on hard times, taking any work that came his way. It's uncertain if Mr. Welles had only taken the job for the money or if he believed in the project at first, but by the time the film had premiered, he had grown disillusioned with it. Apparently he took exception with the translations and interpretations of Nostradamus' work. After a heavy run on HBO and a modest videocassette release, the project was shelved.
In the early 1990's, the first Iraq War had re-stoked interest in the film. Viewers remembered that the film had interpreted a passage as suggesting that a Middle East dictator would rise up to fight against the west. Video rental stores saw a spike in tape rentals, so the film's distributor Warner Brothers did a limited run of the videocassettes to meet demand. NBC was eager to cash in on the film's newfound success, but there were several predictions that had been made that were wrong or misinterpreted. Rather than just edit those scenes out, the network chose to hire Charlton Heston to host their broadcast of the film. Mr. Heston's narration was pulled nearly verbatim from the film and the re-enactments were lifted from it as well. The re-airing had middling success and neither it nor the original have been released on newer formats.
Sunday, November 15, 2015
Saturday, November 14, 2015
Friday, November 13, 2015
In 1976, famed movie producer Dino De Laurentiis purchased the rights to King Kong and planned to update the age old film in a big budget special effects bonanza. Imagine his anger when heard about A*P*E.
Schlockmeister Jack H. Harris, an experienced b-movie producer, decided to jump on the big ape bandwagon, throw in a bit of Jaws and release a pretender to the throne filmed in low budget South Korea. Dino would legally challenge the production, but failed to stop it. Besides, couldn't he read the poster? A*P*E was NOT to be confused with King Kong. It's right there, clear as day.
A*P*E would be the first project featuring young Joanna De Varona, who would rise to greater stardom under her married name of Joanna Kerns. Playing the twisted, modern day, cut rate Anne Darrow-type character, Ms. Kerns hit the right marks- screaming and thrashing on cue.
Sadly, this isn't the most ridiculous scene in the film- really.
The fake special effects couldn't cover up the fact that the "vicious" A*P*E of this film was just a guy in an ape suit. It would take a special kind of incompetence for a 1976 film to make the effects in a 1933 film look cutting edge and state of the art. Mr. Harris was definitely up to the challenge. His attempt to introduce a shark that could take on the titular ape looks as fake as anything else in the film. The filmmakers obviously bought a dead shark from a South Korean fish market and had their guy in an ape suit pretend to wrestle it.
The scene that makes SeaWorld look humane and caring by comparison.
Sadly, the film would dive to greater, unbelievable depths. We've seen fake giant hands, shameless promotion, a man in a suit wrestling a dead shark, could things get worse? Yes they can. In an amazingly bizarre FU to the audience, the ape actually flips off the camera.
I got one finger up for you Siskel and Ebert!
After seeing that last picture, what more could really be said?
Thursday, November 12, 2015
A Christmas Story has become a holiday classic over the years, mostly because of its perfect casting. Who else could play the Old Man other than Darren McGavin?
Well at one point, a different actor was considered- Jack Nicholson and he was definitely interested in making the film. The studio, however, was only making it due to contractural obligations. Therefore they provided a minimal budget for the film. Since it wasn't enough to pay Jack Nicholson's going rate, Darren McGavin won the role and a place in cinematic history.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Monday, November 9, 2015
Sunday, November 8, 2015
Saturday, November 7, 2015
Friday, November 6, 2015
L. Ron Hubbard was a sleazy burnout who jumped from one scheme to another, exaggerating his credentials and achievements. He happened upon the pulp science fiction industry, which was in constant need of material. He proved adept at imagining strange worlds that appealed to book buyers. Due to the large number of books constantly being churned out, there wasn't much money in writing the books, but it gave Mr. Hubbard a decent income.
One book written by Mr. Hubbard was Battlefield Earth, a pulpy story about a race of aliens who enslave humans on earth and the eventual rebellion that ensues. The book was nothing to brag about; it was written quickly and fed into the pulp Sci-Fi machine to be read, then discarded. These types of books were so disposable they were printed on the cheapest paper the publishers could find. Mr. Hubbard, however, thought he could do much more than just churn out these cheapie books; he desired to start up his own religion.
Thus began the new age-y Scientology religion. L. Ron took his crazy book ideas and spun them into a religion that would make him more money than merely writing forgettable books. Fashioning himself into a guru, he soon found great success with this new religion. Taking some elements from his books, he created his religious system in which believers paid increasing amounts of money to get further "enlightenment". His religion took Hollywood by storm, signing up celebrities like John Travolta. With Hubbard's books now being pushed as the writings of an enlightened messiah instead of the cheesy pulp fiction they actually were, Battlefield Earth became of greater importance to Scientology's adherents. Mr. Travolta became obsessed with turning the book into a big budget film.
When Travolta first started trying to get the film made, he eyed the part of the young hero from the book. By the time the film was greenlit, however, he was much too old for the role so he settled on the part of the lead villain. Scientology embraced the project, certain that it would be successful and lead to new recruits. Instead, they ended up with a massive box office failure. At first, things seemed fine. Franchise Films, an independent studio aligned with Warner Brothers, had promised a gigantic budget for the film. Toy contracts were signed and the film went into production. Things weren't as they seemed, however.
Other than the "crap-lousy" script, the production was hindered by a low budget. Franchise Films turned out to be a massive scam. The studio would rope investors with promises of a $100 Million budget, then spend half of that total and pocket the rest. This resulted in laughable special effects and a cheap looking film. Even the toy line was rumored to be fake. The toy company just repainted existing stock from an unrelated toy line, replaced the heads and voila! An ugly, ridiculous looking range of unwanted toys.
Despite all this, Scientology went all out to make the film huge. They even bought up blocks of tickets to create artificial "sell-outs." In the end, both critics and audiences hated the film. The film put Franchise Films into a death spiral and bankrupted the toy company. Scientology quickly distanced itself from the film and plans for a trilogy were scrapped. No one escaped this battle with their dignity intact.
Thursday, November 5, 2015
Many studios wanted to film inside Disneyland but other than official Disney productions, nobody was allowed to film inside Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom. That changed in 1962 when Universal Studios was permitted to film inside the park, approved by Walt Disney himself. Starring Tony Curtis and Suzanne Pleshette, the film featured 20 minutes of vintage Disneyland in vivid color.
While the movie takes many liberties (Tony Curtis is shown looking down Main Street from the monorail platform, a total impossibility) it is a glorious look at Disneyland in the time of Walt Disney and remains a marvelous treat for any Disneyland fan. Movie aficionados will find a lighthearted early sixties comedy featuring one of Suzanne Pleshette's first roles. It is believed that this film put Ms. Pleshette on Walt Disney's radar, leading him to cast her in various Disney films throughout the 1960's.
Considering that Universal Studios had stolen Walt Disney's original character Oswald out from under him in 1928, it is amazing to see that Mr. Disney apparently held no grudge against the studio. The film remains a colorful time capsule of Disneyland Park's early years.