Category Archives: Television

TV Guide: Some Bought It For The Pictures

My hiatus continues as guest contributor Michael Noble returns with a tribute to TV Guide and how it had more than one use.

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Why?! Why won’t I see those documentaries?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to do was head to the grocery store with my mother, especially in the middle of the week. Wednesdays and Thursdays were prime days for those treks. Because that was the time of the week the new TV Guide hit the newsstands.

You see … I collected them. With one in my anxious little hands, I scoured from cover to cover for pictures and listings of upcoming horror, monster, and science fiction programs. And, if I was lucky, those listings would be accompanied by a picture or photo of the upcoming program.

The most prized were those of the giant monsters (known as “kaiju”): Godzilla, Rodan, Gamera, King Ghidorah and the like. The thrill of finding new images was electric and it didn’t happen very often. But when it did, I used to carefully cut out the pictures and laminate them and take them to school to share with friends.

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This little exercise was huge among the lot of us. You see, not only did I provide a service to some of the kids who didn’t get TV Guide – those few whose parents didn’t believe in purchasing a program listing just to have it tossed out with the following week’s trash, poor souls – but we used to gawk and swoon and comment over the latest, glorious black and white quarter-page shot of Godzilla looming over a soon-to-be-destroyed Tokyo.

And let me tell you, it was a massive competition among us acquiring those pictures and showing them off. Week in and week out, the first kid to display his TV Guide treasures was pretty much the cock of the walk at school going into the weekend. You jutted out your chest and strutted the playground with an exaggerated confidence on a Friday knowing you were the only one with a Baragon or Ebirah tucked away in your pocket.

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The masked Mr. Sardonicus.

Of course, the Universal monsters and other horror nightmares were prized acquisitions as well. In fact I think TV Guide was the first place I saw an image of the hideous Mr. Sardonicus and his ghoulish mask offering that bedtime’s nightmares. (Note: My first glimpse of Mr. Sardonicus sans mask was in Famous Monsters Of Filmland years later. And I could see why that particular image wasn’t showcased in the Guide. Middle of the night horror visions, indeed!)

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Yikes!

You can well imagine as the years went by the group of us collected fine examples of creatures and horrors galore, each one carefully guarded and displayed during recess and weekend sleep overs. I still have my assortment safe in a box somewhere with my glow in the dark Aurora model parts, Odd Rod bubble gum cards and other treasures.

The 1970s were good times with some pretty fond memories …

Thanks, Michael! You can read more by Michael Noble at Hotchka.com.

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Great Album Retro Review: The Partridge Family Album By The Partridge Family (And A Few Other Musicians)

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Yes, I know what you’re probably thinking. You’re thinking I’ve lost my mind, right? How could I possibly think the ’70s sit-com musical family’s first album is great?

Well, it’s not great the way the previous great albums (The Who’s Quadrophenia, Genesis’ Abacab, Suzanne Vega’s self-titled debut, and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water) that I’ve reviewed were great. But, as an example of pure, pleasurable, playful ’70s pop it’s hard to deny this album’s appeal.

I suppose there’s a good deal of nostalgia for my youthful innocence of that time period, from which this album and sit-com arose, that influences my opinion, but when you compare this first album, The Partridge Family Album, to later releases, there’s just something special about it. The Partridge Family, or rather members of the group of studio musicians collectively known as The Wrecking Crew and the pop vocal group The Love Connection, were firing on all cylinders on this album.

It was discovered that David Cassidy, who played the oldest Partridge son, could sing, so he provides lead vocals for most of the songs. And Shirley Jones, who played the mother of the talented brood, was also a fine singer and she provides some backing vocals. The rest of the cast were required to lip-sync… for the show, not the album.

I think the album is great. The sit-com? Well… No.

The Tracks:

Brand New Me – The lush, string-filled opening song starts off with a nice warm guitar riff. There are horns and soaring backing vocals and Cassidy demonstrates he has quite the range to his voice.

Point Me In The Direction Of Albuquerque – The lushness of their sound continues as Cassidy sings of a young, female hitchhiker trying get home. The song builds and descends again and again in its just under four minutes. Nice piano throughout and the “cha! cha! cha!” vocal bursts at the end are a nice touch.

Bandela – Cow bell! Lots and lots of cow bell! The Wrecking Crew cook on this one, my favorite track.

I Really Want To Know You – This one is a bit sappy, but the vocals are very sweet and sincere and completely David Cassidy-less. It’s kinda fun trying to determine which of the male voices is supposed to belong to Danny Partridge.

Only A Moment Ago – Where did all the happy people go? Did the Partridges just become the Omega Family? Or is David lamenting a lost love and how the world changed after losing her. I prefer to think it’s a post apocalyptic tale. But then I’m a bit fatalistic.

I Can Hear Your Heartbeat – Time for a rocker! A song of new found love and heartbeats and being a man of your word. Nice guitar riffs and excellent building to a quick cut to end the song.

I’m On The Road – Another song without David’s vocals. (Again which one is Danny?) It’s a fun travel the countryside song. They needed a travel song. The family got around in an old school bus, after all.

To Be Lovers – Mostly without David’s vocals, he does sing a little lead in the middle bit, this song is a little creepy. Creepy if you consider the story on the TV show had this song being co-written by Danny, who was – what? – ten at the time. A song about lovers who aren’t in love? Jeez! The kid’s been around.

Someone Wants To Love You – Well, it was the 1970s and the hippies’ message of love and peace had been co-opted by TV executives, so, of course, there had to be a song hinting at free love, right?

I Think I Love You – This was their big hit. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It’s a pretty rockin’ tune about a fellow who woke up from a good dream realizing he might just be in love.

Singing My Song – Another song touching on Hollywood’s notion of hippie culture and their love of singing. It’s a nice quick rollicking singalong end to a good collection of ’70s pop. The “bah-dah-dee-dum” chorus is irresistible.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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Horror Incorporated Didn’t Need A Host

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“Lurking among the corpses are the body-snatchers, plotting their next venture into the graveyard…”

Those were the first words that welcomed Twin Cities viewers to the weekly night of terror offered by the local TV station KSTP, back when I was a kid in the 1970s. The show was called Horror Incorporated.

There were many such creature feature offerings on local television stations all over America in those days. Our horror movie showcase was a little different than most. Ours had no host.

No Vampira. No Ghoulardi. No Mister Lobo. No Sir Graves Ghastly. No Doctor Creep. No Sharon Needles. No Grimsley.

No host.

But my research does show that Horror Incorporated did indeed, however briefly, have a couple of hosts. First was Dr. Paul Bearer (get it?) in the early 1970s. There also appears to have been a second host in the mid-70s, who went by the name Graves. Neither host lasted very long. For the majority of its run from the fall of 1969 until sometime in the later 1970s (I’m not certain when it ended) there was no host.

And having no host was good, because…

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Not a great Dracula.

In the 2000s, the show was revived with hosts. There were two attempts at a revival, in fact. I don’t know which came first, but one was hosted by Count Dracula, who stood in front of a green screen and did a not so great Bela Lugosi impression. He would make puns and tell a few facts related to the featured horror movie. He would then tell viewers to “OBEY!” and come back next week. Lame, but the actor did his best with what he had to work with.

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Not the Addams Family.

The other attempt had a small cast of young actors doing sort of a take off on the Addams Family. In fact, the main character, Uncle Ghoulie (center in above photo. No, not the wolf!), was a cross between Gomez Addams (as played by the great John Astin on the ’60s TV show) and Svengoolie, a current and longtime horror show host. They did skits and tried their best to insert humor into the proceedings. They had varying degrees of success.

Neither incarnation lasted long.

I might have a bit of nostalgic bias here, but I prefer no host. That’s the way I saw the Friday night creature feature when I was a kid. There was no silliness, except what might have been in the movie. The way that version was presented was to absolutely creep you out. You were supposed to be scared. It set the tone for a scary movie. And if they had a good one to show, one with Lugosi or Karloff, perhaps, the viewer would be in the proper mood for a scare and not a giggle.

The show featured a simple open and close which often times were far more frightening than the featured film. They consisted of a sparse set: Black with only a coffin in a spotlight. And, of course, there was fog. The lighting would change from harsh white to yellow, blue, purple, green, red. There were sounds of creaking doors, shrieks, groans, and cries of anguish. And then the lid of the coffin would begin to open and two pale, claw-like, almost skeletal, hands would come into sight. The occupant was rising from his coffin to head into the night in search of blood… I’m guessing.

And there was the voice-over provided by Jim Wise, who was also working for KSTP radio. He sounded excellent as he welcomed viewers to that week’s “excursion through Horror Incorporated…” Chills! Good old-fashioned, blood-curdling chills, folks!

When the feature was complete, the scene returned to the coffin. This time its occupant was returning from a night of terrorizing innocents. And the voice-over told us…

“Next week, I will be back again with another venture into the chamber of horror. Come along for another experience through the unknown, into Horror Incorporated.”

Now just try to get some sleep, kids!

You can watch the opening and closing at this link. See if you don’t agree that it is very effective. Also, visit The Horror Incorporated Project. It’s a fun site that really helped me in my research.

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

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Elementary, My Dear Jeremy Brett!

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Basil Rathbone. Benedict Cumberbatch. Christopher Plummer. Nicol Williamson. Robert Downey Jr. Dozens of actors have played the role of literature’s greatest detective – Sherlock Holmes. Or, as he would call the profession of which he was its sole practitioner, consulting detective. Whatever he’s called, Holmes has been a favorite literary character since his first story, A Study in Scarlet, was published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. He was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who, although the stories made him famous and wealthy, thought these mysteries were not part of his important work.

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“By Jove, I’d better kill off Holmes, so I can concentrate on more important work, such as promoting the paranormal.”

So, he was a snob about his own creation. So what? Holmes fans couldn’t care less.

In 1984, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes debuted on American television as part of the PBS series Mystery! Part of what is great about this PBS program is that the host takes the time to give a little history about the mysteries they show. In 1984, the host was Vincent Price and he was perfect. Watch his introduction of one of Holmes’ greatest mysteries here to see what I mean.

It was the British television company Granada TV (now ITV Granada) that produced The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as well as three other Holmes series: The Return of… (1986), The Case-Book of… (1991), The Memoirs of… (1994); and two TV movies: The Sign of Four (1987) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1988). In all, 41 of Conan Doyle’sĀ  Holmes mysteries were produced.

The actor who took on and, in my opinion, mastered the role of the legendary sleuth for Granada TV was Jeremy Brett. Admittedly, I haven’t seen every portrayal of the detective, but when I read the original stories it’s Brett that I picture. Much of this has do to his talent and skill as an actor, but much is also due to the production’s intent to accurately depict the settings, language, attire, and culture of England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And each episode carefully follows the source material as closely as possible.

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Jeremy Brett

Jeremy Brett portrays all the qualities of Holmes brilliantly. The intellect, the bravado, the confidence, the annoyance of those whose intellect he finds wanting. He’s both rude and sensitive, civil and rough. He gets bored when the criminal element goes quiet or lacks imagination. More than once he laments that the days of the great cases are over, only to have a great case present itself.

The actor also gives Holmes a graceful quickness to his physical actions. He’ll drop to the floor or ground to search for clues without any care to his appearance or propriety. In that first series, Brett is incredibly spry. In the episode of The Red-Headed League, he hops on and leaps over the back of the couch in the sitting room at 221B Baker Street to prevent his friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson, from leaving the room. It’s astonishing.

Sadly, as each new series or movie premiered, the actor’s health could be seen to deteriorate. Brett’s skin became paler, he had put on weight, and his breathing became more and more labored. There was wheezing in his otherwise magnificent voice. No longer would he drop to the ground or leap over a couch. As the series progressed he would be seen sitting most of the time. Gradually, the gracefully quick physical actions were limited to hand movements and the flourishing of his ever-present walking stick.

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Of those later episodes, his co-star Edward Hardwicke said that, though the great actor’s health was poor, he was always prepared and never complained. When the cameras weren’t rolling, he would rest and appear quite tired, but when action was called he came to life. He was Sherlock Holmes once again. However, Brett’s health became so bad that in the final series, there were a few episodes that needed to be adapted so that Dr. Watson handled the lion’s share of the investigating, with Holmes appearing briefly throughout the show to advise and then, at the end, to provide the solution.

Another wonderful aspect of these shows was in its handling of the character of Dr. John Watson. Watson was Conan Doyle’s way of explaining to his readers the incredible abilities of Holmes. Watson was an every man. He was us. But he wasn’t dimwitted as he was portrayed in the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce adaptions. Bruce’s Watson was much too clueless and bumbling for my liking. Those productions used his character for comic relief. Given Holmes’ reluctance to suffer fools, I find it difficult to accept he would associate, let alone be friends with, such a man.

In Conan Doyle’s stories, Watson was also the record-keeper of the mysteries that his good friend solved. He wrote and published the accounts for a fascinated public. (Pretty meta, wouldn’t you say?) Although Holmes did not approve of the lurid, romanticism of the doctor’s stories, he did highly value his steady and loyal friendship. This dynamic was well-preserved in the Granada TV series.

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“I say, Holmes, could you maybe not stand so close to me?”

Watson was played by two actors: David Burke and the aforementioned Hardwicke, son of actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who is best know for his portrayal of Pharaoh Sehti in the ridiculous but awesome The Ten Commandments (1956). Burke handled Watson in the 13 episodes of the first series, Hardwicke took over after that.

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“Some detective you are, Holmes! You haven’t even noticed I’m a different actor.”

Of the two I prefer Hardwicke. David Burke is a fine actor and his portrayal of the doctor is very good, if a little too much on the wide-eyed naivete side for my tastes. Edward Hardwicke’s Watson has a more experienced wisdom. Although Watson may not possess his friend’s talents for observation and deduction, Hardwicke gives the doctor an intelligent confidence that fits better with Jeremy Brett’s Holmes. Both Watsons were also allowed to have a greater appreciation for the social graces and they could properly take Holmes to task whenever his rudeness surfaced.

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David Burke (left) and Edward Hardwicke. These images hint at the differing portrayals of Dr. Watson.

There have been plenty of actors who played the great consulting detective, but Jeremy Brett is the best. There are several episodes available on YouTube. You really ought to check ’em out!

Packing Peanuts!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books.

 

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That’s Not How That Works

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There is a very real effect out there known as the CSI Effect. It’s what happens to lay people when it comes to their expectations of forensic science due to what they’ve seen on any of the numerous CSI TV series. For the purposes of artistic and dramatic license Hollywood has been exaggerating what forensic science can do for decades. And I just saw another example.

In 1948, 20th Century Fox released Call Northside 777, a film noir classic based on a true story. It stars James Stewart as the cynical newspaper reporter J.P. McNeal, who has been assigned to do a story on an ad offering $5000 (that’s more than $50,000 in today’s money) to anyone who can provide evidence that will free an innocent man from prison.

OK, stop right here and know that there are big spoilers ahead.

The innocent man is Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) and it’s his mother (Kasia Orzazewski) who has worked as a janitor for eleven years to raise the money. Wiecek was convicted and sentenced to 99 years for killing a cop in 1932, the height of the Prohibition Era. He was essentially convicted by the testimony of one eyewitness.

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James Stewart and Lee J. Cobb

McNeal thinks the story is a waste of time, but his editor (Lee J. Cobb) presses him to dig deeper. The initial story “Mac” wrote was getting good response, so the digging continued. Without me going through everything, the cynical reporter comes to believe Wiecek to be innocent. Despite the evidence uncovered by Mac being compelling, the newspaper’s lawyer speaks the hard truth that it isn’t the kind of evidence that will convince the coroner’s inquest to overturn the verdict.

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“Sorry, boys. But the evidence isn’t good enough.”

McNeal needs to get the witness to recant her testimony or find new evidence. Or drop the story.

The witness refuses, even though it’s learned that she didn’t recognize Wiecek as the killer at first. It seemed the police worked with her a little bit, because it’s also learned that she and the accused had been together with the police the day before she finally picked him out of a line up. However, the court transcripts showed testimony that she hadn’t seen the accused the day before she identified him.

If Mac could only prove the accused and the witness had seen each other the day before, that would discredit her testimony and taint her identification of the accused. He just needed to find the evidence.

With time running out before the newspaper’s lawyer was to apologize to the coroner’s inquest and drop the case, MacNeal found an old photograph showing Wiecek and the witness together being escorted into police headquarters. The indications were that the photo was taken the day before the line up, but could Mac prove the timing?

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“Enlarge that newsie!”

Up to this point, the film was pretty good. Not the best film noir I’ve seen, but I was enjoying it. And then it happened. This pedant has been bugged by this dramatic device for years. Lots of old cop shows have done it, I can remember a specific episode of Columbo that did it, and Blade Runner (1982) does its variation of blowing up a photograph to get details that just aren’t there. It’s just not possible.

With Blade Runner, I’m a little more forgiving, because it’s set in the future (2019!) and there’s technology far advanced to what we have now. (Next year is going to be interesting. Replicants, flying cars, cool computer devices that can turn corners in photographs.) But, in 1943, when this picture is set? No way!

Here’s what happens. Mac has part of that photograph enlarged first to 100x, then to 140x, and finally “as big as possible.” The part he’s interested in shows a newsie way off in the background, across the street, holding a stack of newspapers. What the intrepid reporter is attempting to do is zero in on where the date would be on the newspaper the boy is holding.

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100x

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140x

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Oh, please!

And there it is! The date! Proving the photograph was taken the day before the eyewitness identified Wiecek in that line up. Proving that the witness was mistaken or lying about not seeing the accused since the crime until that line up. Proving that she may have been influenced by the police to identify Wiecek in that line up.

Wiecek was set free.

(Uh, it’s a good thing no one suggested the newsboy could have been holding a stack of newspapers from the day before the photograph was taken. Cough! Cough!)

So, for me, the movie ended with an, “Oh, that’s impossible!”

By the way, I said the film was based on a true story. It is, but, according to Wikipedia:

“In actuality, innocence was determined not as claimed in the film but when it was found out that the prosecution had suppressed the fact that the main witness had initially declared that she could not identify the two men involved in the police shooting.”

Not quite as sexy, I guess.

Packing Peanuts!

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Our Star Blazers!

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It was 1979 when I met my good friend Greg. We were both in the ninth grade, Greg had just transferred in that year. As I recall, we had a slightly rocky start. We were in phy-ed class (which I hated with a passion), learning how to run and kick pass a soccer ball. I was paired up with Greg and I wasn’t very good. I could tell Greg was a little frustrated, but he did his best to help me get better.

I guess it wasn’t that rocky.

We got to talking about our interests, as kids do. We learned we both really liked Star Wars, but in 1979 what kid didn’t? Well, there was my friend John, but he’s a story for another day. Maybe.

There was one interest Greg and I shared that once it was mentioned a fast friendship was formed. Sure, we both liked Star Wars, but when one of us (I forget which) brought up Star Blazers, we each thought to ourselves, “Henceforth, this man shall be my brother!”

The series first appeared on American television in 1979, having been adapted for an American audience from the Japanese series Space Battleship Yamato (1974). I remember seeing ads for the series, which must have made me curious enough to check it out.

This animated series was unlike any Saturday morning cartoon show I had ever seen before. It had a couple things in common with the original Jonny Quest series (my all-time favorite) in that it wasn’t made specifically for kids and characters could and did die. (I seem to have a weird appreciation for cartoon characters dying and yet I’ve never worked for Disney. Hmm.)

Star Blazers also had a look like no other Saturday morning cartoon show. It was my first exposure to anime and probably was for most American viewers, as well. The series was unique in that it had a continuing storyline filled with cliffhangers that flowed through the entire season. Jonny Quest didn’t even do that!

The Synopsis

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Earth ain’t lookin’ so good.

It was the year 2199, Earth had been under attack by the evil Gamilons, an alien species from beyond our solar system, since the mid 21st century. The Gamilons had been bombarding the Earth with radioactive bombs for a century and a half to destroy all life on the planet. In that time, humans had been forced to live underground. Immense cities had been constructed, but eventually the radiation was making its way underground threatening to destroy the remaining life once and for all.

It’s never explained why the Gamilons had decided to attack Earth. I guess just being evil is reason enough.

The radiation was reaching a critical point. In one year’s time, all life on Earth would be snuffed out. Earth’s meager space defense force was being decimated. When it was defeated in a great battle near Pluto, things were looking awfully bleak.

During the Battle of Pluto a strange spacecraft, not from Earth, not from Gamilon, passed through and crashed on Mars. Its sole passenger, a young and beautiful woman died shortly after the crash. She carried with her a device that held a message. A message, sent by Queen Starsha, from a far distant (148,000 light years distant) planet called Iscandar. Her message was to let the people of Earth know that Iscandar has Cosmo DNA, which could restore our planet to its proper state. But, the humans would have to travel the great expanse to Iscandar to get it.

To help the earthlings make the journey, Queen Starsha included plans for a Wave Motion engine that would make it possible to travel at warp speeds. With no other choice, the people of Earth decided to trust this alien savior and built a spacecraft with this new technology. They salvaged and refit the sunken World War II Battleship Yamato with the alien technology, which made for a very cool and unusual spaceship.

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They renamed it the Argo.

The Argo would have to travel alone through hostile space, battling Gamilons at every turn along the way. They had starfighters, space torpedoes, and deck guns for defense, but they also had the Wave Motion gun. Based on the same technology as their space warping engine, the Wave Motion gun was capable of great destruction.

The series ran 26 episodes that first season, each episode ending with the narrator pleading to Star Force, that’s what the brave space soldiers were called (too bad it wasn’t Space Force, eh?), to hurry and he let the audience know how many days the Earth had left to live. Would the Argo survive the journey and make it back in time?

Each week I would tune in, excited to see what would happen next. My dad even took to making sure I was up in time on a Saturday morning, so I wouldn’t miss out. And I think he was enjoying the show, too.

The Characters

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Star Force is led by the very capable, yet often stern, Captain Avatar. He is an experienced military man who commands the Argo and knows how to get the most out of his crew. He never shies away from making hard decisions, because he never forgets how desperate the situation is for Earth. He is also suffering from radiation sickness, which he keeps secret from his crew. Will he even survive the journey?

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Derek Wildstar is a hotshot pilot with a fiery temper. His older brother sacrificed his own life and the lives of his smaller crew in the Battle of Pluto, so that Captain Avatar and his larger crew could get back to Earth. (The needs of the many…) Young Wildstar, for the early part of the series, holds Captain Avatar responsible for his brother’s death.

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Mark Venture is a navigator who was stationed with Wildstar on Mars. He is a steadier presence and, at times, a rival of the hotshot pilot for the affections of…

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Nova is a nurse member of the bridge crew and the lone woman on the Argo. I’m not sure how many crew members there are on the ship, but I’m sure she never wanted for male suitors. However, she falls for Derek. It must be his hair.

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Dr. Sane and IQ9 throwing back some “spring water.”

Dr. Sane and IQ9 are mainly there for comic relief. Dr. Sane is the Argo’s chief medical officer and (I learned this from another blog while doing some research), in the Japanese version, a drunkard. However, in the American version, Dr. Sane is constantly drinking “spring water,” instead of sake as in the Japanese version. So, to American audiences, he’s just well hydrated. IQ9 is Dr Sane’s robotic assistant, who saves the day more than once through the series and he develops a crush on Nova. A robot with a crush on a human? That’s funny… to a kid.

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Deslok is the tyrannical leader of the Gamilons. He really doesn’t like earthlings and Star Force, in particular, but he does have respect for his sworn enemy. Deslok has a Caligula-like evilness to him. He speaks in a sweet and gentle tone, which adds to his menacing nature. He’s a great villain.

The Problems

There aren’t many problems with this series. There’s some awkwardness to the dialog, but I assume that’s mainly due to dubbing English from the original Japanese. There’s a mention of the distance of the moon Mars from the Earth that is wildly off, Venture says the distance is “thousands of light years.” And there a hilarious visual of a hot-headed Wildstar stomping away in anger after an argument with Venture.

The biggest problem is Nova being the only woman on the crew. Not only does that seem unlikely, given it’s 2199, but there’s also a certain sexist behavior toward her at times. In the first episode, she is asked to leave the room when IQ9 has information to give the men. And, later in the season, I recall a scene in which IQ9 rudely lifts Nova’s mini skirt. As if!

There are two other seasons that follow this one and both also utilize the year long beat the clock gimmick, but I think, that though those series aren’t bad, that’s going to the well two times too many.

Overall, the first Star Blazers series is exciting and fun and far more sophisticated than any other Saturday morning cartoon series of the day. I dare you to try to listen to its theme song and not feel inspired. And to not have it as an earworm for the rest of your day. Good luck.

You can watch the series on YouTube. Here’s a link to the first episode. You’ll love it! Update 8/24/18: Unfortunately several of the episodes on YouTube are not viewable in the US. Sorry, America.

Packing Peanuts!

Writer’s note: I am re-watching the series, so you may notice some corrections.

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My Three Favorite Episodes Of The Original Jonny Quest

jonny-quest

It has long been my favorite Saturday morning kids’ cartoon show, except it didn’t start life on Saturday mornings. Jonny Quest actually started life as a prime time animated series for a general audience. I didn’t see it when it originally aired. I was a little too young then. In fact, I wasn’t even born until the series was halfway through its original run, so I first saw it when it made its way to Saturday mornings.

This is going to a bit on the morbid side, but the main difference between the original series (which is the only version I’ll talk about, because I hated all of the other incarnations of the show) and other kids’ cartoon shows was that people died in Jonny Quest’s world. That just isn’t allowed in cartoons for kids. In fact, I recall an episode of Thundarr the Barbarian in which the “barbarian” and his team were battling several knights in shining armor. One of the enemies was punched hard enough to fall apart revealing it to be a robot. Realizing they weren’t living beings, Thundarr let his team know it was OK to stop pulling their punches. Man! I thought barbarians were always set to kill.

So, in Jonny Quest, if a jet plane blew up, we wouldn’t see the pilot parachuting to safety. If there was a gun fight, people got shot and died. There was even one episode in which Race Bannon used the plow of a bulldozer to ricochet his shot around a corner to kill a bad guy. And we know Race got him, because the fellow fell into sight having been the recipient of an incredible shot. That Race Bannon. What couldn’t he do?

Jonny Quest was also the first prime time animated series in which the characters were rendered to look like actual people. Not stylized the way the characters in its predecessor The Flintstones were depicted. The Quest characters were simplified, sure, but they had hands with five digits instead of the typical cartoon four. And they looked like people. The overall design was terrifically done by illustrator Doug Wildey. Wildey gave the series a comic book illustration style, using lots of black and varying line weight. Most animated series use a thin unvarying line, which isn’t as interesting to this viewer.

It was produced by the giants of television animation Hanna-Barbera, who had pioneered a style of animation that limited the amount of drawing that needed to be done, making a weekly animated series economically possible. And Hanna-Barbera had several series, some in prime time, others on Saturday mornings. Even with that process there would still be time crunches and at times the animation suffered.

What never suffered in the original series was the score. It was excellent. Hoyt Curtin was the composer and his musical score is among the best ever for any adventure series. It enhanced the action and set the tone so perfectly for each scene. And the opening theme is perfect.

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Watch your mouth, Race!

The series was not without its flaws. It was produced in the 1960s and wasn’t terribly sensitive in its portrayals of people who weren’t of the Western world or white. When depicting more primitive societies or Asians or Egyptians, etc. the languages spoken would just be gibberish. When issuing the series on DVD at least one line of dialogue was removed from the episode titled Pursuit of the Po-Ho. Bannon had painted himself purple in order to impersonate a god of the primitive Po-Ho people. He was attempting to instill the natives with fear. In doing so, Race called them “heathen monkeys.” That line was removed.

As an adventure series, Jonny Quest really captured my interest. The design and music were great. I loved the characters, although their dog Bandit would get rather tiring at times. All that barking. Which, incidentally, was provided by Don Messick, who was also the voice of Dr. Benton Quest for most of the series.

So, here are my Top Three Favorite Episodes:

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3) The Robot Spy (Originally aired November 6, 1964) This episode wasn’t a favorite when I was a kid, but as I got older I grew to appreciate it. It features Dr. Quest’s arch-nemesis the mysterious Dr. Zin. Zin really has it in for Quest and he wants to steal the secret of a powerful ray gun Quest is developing, so he sends in an unusual spy. It’s a robot designed so simply, it’s essentially just a large black metallic ball, that it is treated as a curiosity, which Quest brings into the secret military compound. It turns out the black ball has an eye and legs and tentacles that, when they strike the guards, can render them unconscious.

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Dr. Zin was a recurring villain. This episode was his second of three appearances and I’m certain that, had there been a second season, there would have been more Zin. My research tells me that later versions of the series featured Dr. Zin very prominently, but I don’t care about those shows. Those were made for kids.

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2) The Curse Of Anubis (Originally aired October 2, 1964) Jonny and his crew have been invited to Egypt by archeologist Ahmed Kareem, an old friend of Dr. Quest’s. Unknown to Quest, Kareem had become a radical Arab nationalist and he plans to frame Quest for the theft of ancient Egyptian treasures, which Kareem had in fact stolen. The radical believes this deception will unite the Arab nations against the Western world. However, in stealing a sculpture of the god Anubis, Kareem unknowingly causes a mummy to return from the beyond to punish those who had violated an ancient tomb.

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What I really like about this episode is the ever encroaching threat of the mummy. However, no one is aware that the mummy has been reanimated and is on their trail. In the end, when things seem most desperate for our heroes, the mummy arrives to exact justice.

This one uses Curtin’s score particularly well when building the tension of the stalking undead avenger.

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1) The Invisible Monster (Originally aired January 28, 1965) This is a popular favorite and it’s easy to understand why. Dr. Quest gets an urgent call from a scientist friend whose experiment had gone terribly wrong. Somehow he had created an invisible creature that feeds of electrical energy.

The Quest team head to the remote tropical island where Dr. Quest’s colleague had been running his experiment. But they are too late. The scientist’s lab has been destroyed and he has disappeared and is feared dead. Something has left footprints and a path of destruction in its wake. Part of that destruction is a local village of island natives.

There is so much that is cool about this episode. The invisible menace, the sounds it makes, and, when Jonny gets an idea how to make the creature visible, it looks great. A giant hump of a creature with one eye and a gaping mouth. Such a good episode.

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That first season had plenty to like: Admirable heroes, interesting villains and monsters, great futuristic gadgets, exotic locations, and plenty of adventure. All with fantastic music, great sound effects, terrific design, and people who would actually die.

If you would like to hear me and a couple friends go on about how great this series is, you can download my friend’s podcast The Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules episode #29.

Packing Peanuts!

Update 5/25/18: It occurred to me I ought to link to the source of much of the information I relatedĀ  here. It’s from a fan produced YouTube documentary about the original series. It’s in three parts and filled with lots of interesting insights. Click here to see part one.

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Images used under fair use.

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