Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tales Of Frankenstein




Since it was first published in 1818, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus  has been a template for `science gone wrong’ horror genre.


Whether it is seeking to create a new human life from spare parts, or  develop a new source of nuclear energy, or perhaps a radical cure for some disease . . . the deep seated fear over man delving into areas where he should not has become a staple of modern science fiction and horror.


Given that Halloween is upon us, I’ve a brief tour of freely available (public domain) radio, TV, and movie versions of the Frankenstein legend that you can download and enjoy this weekend.


First stop, a 1938 radio production of the Frankenstein story in 13 parts (each about 13 minutes).   Faithful to the 1818 Mary Shelly book, you can find this collection on several free sites including:


We’ve a pair of TV adaptations of the story from the 1950s.   First, the infamous Tales of Tomorrow  Frankenstein episode, broadcast live in the early 1950s.


Over the years, the retelling of the story has embellished it a bit, but it is an example of how things didn't always go as planned during a live broadcast.


The legend is that Lon Chaney Jr., under the influence of alcohol, thought that they were doing a dress rehearsal, and not a live broadcast.  During his `rampage scene' in the first half of the show, instead of busting up props, he picked them up and then set them down carefully.


For whatever reason, Chaney does pick up, and set back down, a number of props - particularly in the first half of the show.


Tales of Tomorrow #16: Frankenstein (1952)


Six years later, up and coming Hammer Studios and Universal teamed to produce a pilot for a TV show to be called `Tales of Frankenstein’, which utilized stock footage from old Universal horror movies of the 1940s to reduce production costs.


While certainly a cut above the Tales of Tomorrow version, the pilot was never sold. 


Tales Of Frankenstein (The Face In The Tombstone Mirror) - Pilot


As an example of the cost cutting measures employed, the disembodied head that narrates the opening to this episode was lifted from an old Inner Sanctum movie, and so the lip movements don’t sync with the narration.


Some websites list a second `pilot’ for this series as `Jack the Ripper’, but that appears – instead – to be an episode from The Veil.


And lastly, a couple of suitably `cheesy’ Frankenstein movie sequels can be found on The Internet Archive.


Frankenstein's Daughter - 1958

Lady Frankenstein - 1971


Be warned: Neither of these two movies is likely to win any artistic awards, but then, there’s a reason they’ve fallen into the public domain.




Sunday, October 23, 2011

Have Yourself A Macabre Halloween






The early 1960s saw the demise of the golden age of radio, killed by the unstoppable juggernaut of television.  With few exceptions, radio was morphing into a medium mostly of music and talk.


Daytime soaps Our Gal Sunday, This is Nora Drake, Backstage Wife, and Road of Life all ended their runs in 1959.  Gunsmoke ended its stellar primetime radio run in 1961, and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar was put to bed after 811 episodes in September of 1962. 


There were a few hangers on, particularly during the morning and afternoon time slots.  Shows like Arthur Godfrey Time, Garry Moore, and the Bing Crosby – Rosemary Clooney show continued into the mid-1960s, but even their fates were becoming obvious.


Although radio drama was on the decline stateside, because many of its listeners were in far-off places and unable to gather in front of a television set, the AFRS (Armed Forces Radio Service) continued to provide a wide variety of audio entertainment for the troops well into the 1960s.


Created in 1942, shortly after the onset of WWII, AFRS provided radio broadcasts and V-Discs (78 & 33 rpm records) to troops around the world. Often the shows beamed to the troops were the same shows heard stateside, but sometimes they were created specifically for AFRS.


One such home-brewed show was Macabre – which ran for only 8 episodes during 1961-1962, and was produced by FEN (the FAR EAST NETWORK) of AFRS. Despite this short run, it is well remembered for its excellent production values and spooky subject matter.


The Internet Archive has all eight episodes available for listening or download.  Being only 50 years old, the audio quality is better than you’ll find on many of the older recordings.


The episodes, all appropriate for the week leading up to Halloween, are:

Macabre 611113 - [1] Final Resting Place

Macabre 611120 - [2] Weekend

Macabre 611127 - [3] The Man in the Mirror

Macabre 611204 - [4] The House in the Garden

Macabre 611211 - [5] The Midnight Horseman

Macabre 611218 - [6] The Avenger

Macabre 620101 - [7] The Crystalline Man

Macabre 620108 - [8] The Edge of Evil

The link to download them is Macabre

I’ll have more Halloween Horror from the golden age of radio, TV, and movies later in the week.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The First James Bond




In 1953 Ian Fleming published the first of 12 James Bond novels, Casino Royale, and launched what is arguably the most successful entertainment franchise of the 20th century. More than 100 million copies of his novels have been sold, and the series has spawned more than 2 dozen films.


Casino Royale sold very well in the UK, but a year later in 1954, Commander James Bond was still relatively unknown in the United States.


The earliest attempt at a filmed version of James Bond came in October of 1954, when an American anthology  TV series called  CLIMAX! produced a live broadcast of Casino Royale.


Fleming was reportedly paid $1,000 for the rights to the story, and Barry Nelson played an `Americanized’  Jimmy Bond of `combined intelligence’.


Bond aficionados will immediately notice a few `discrepancies’ in this production, including the changing of American CIA Agent Felix Leiter  into a British agent named  Clarence Leiter.


Linda Christian becomes the first `Bond girl’, in a character that was an amalgam of the Royale characters Vesper Lynd and Rene Mathis.


Peter Lorre is appropriately menacing as the first Bond Villain, playing Le Chiffre, whom `Jimmy Bond’ must bust playing Baccarat.


Admittedly stage bound, and lacking the sort of sexual conquests, fast cars, jazzy music, and gadgets that Bond movies are famous for, this still makes for an interesting hour of early TV.


A copy of this early TV production has just showed up on the Internet Archive, and you can either watch it online, or download it for your collection.




Climax!: Casino Royale


Interestingly, the only time the words `Casino Royale’ are uttered during this production is during the intro by series host William Lundigan. 


For more live productions from the golden age of TV, you may wish to check out:

Seeking A Satisfying Climax!


Although CBS briefly toyed with the idea of a James Bond TV series in the the late 1950s, it would be another 8 years before Bond would return to the screen (Dr. No). 

Casino Royale has been remade twice since this Climax version, with the 1967 James Bond spoof called starring David Niven, and most recently in 2006 with Daniel Craig playing a darker, earthier Bond sans many of the gadgets that had defined earlier screen portrayals.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ramar Of The Jungle







Juvenile adventure television series were a staple of 1950s television, with shows like Sergeant Preston, Sky King, and Tom Corbett taking their audiences from the Yukon territory, to the cockpit of a soaring Cessna T-50 `Bamboo Bomber’, to the far reaches of the asteroid belt.


For 30 minutes (minus commercials) these shows would transport kids of all ages to exotic locales, where adventure awaited and despite any adversity, the good guys always won.


One of the best remembered shows of my childhood was a syndicated adventure series staring Jon Hall, called Ramar of the Jungle.


For this all-American youth of the 1950s a scientist-doctor who lived and worked in the jungle, carried a rifle, and always saved the day . . . well, that was a hard combination to beat.


The series consisted of 4 13-episode blocks. With the 1st, 3rd, and 4th blocks taking place in `Africa’ and the 2nd series in `India’.

In reality, they were really shot on the back lot in Hollywood, with cheap sets, dubious looking `natives’, and stock jungle footage liberally spliced into each episode. The same jungle scenes had a habit of showing up repeatedly week after week, but then, it wasn’t supposed to be a documentary.


Each of the 4 season’s had a 3-part story arc, that allowed the producers to repackage these episodes into four separate feature films.  Another seven `TV movies’ were stitched together for syndication as well, long after the series ended.


The show starred Jon Hall – an actor who first appeared in movies in 1935, but didn’t really gain attention until the 1937 movie The Hurricane, with Dorothy Lamour.


He worked steadily throughout the 1940s playing the lead in lightweight escapist adventures like Arabian Nights (1942), White Savage (1943), Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944), Cobra Woman (1944), and Prince of Thieves (1949).

Hall was married for 20 years to the beautiful and talented songstress Frances Langford, who played opposite Don Ameche in The Bickersons.  They divorced in 1955, but remained friends until Hall’s death in 1979.


While able to find work in B movies, Hall – like many of the B-list stars of the time – moved to television in the 1950s.  He played Dr. Tom 'Ramar' Reynolds in 52 episodes of Ramar of the Jungle between 1952 and 1954.


Hall’s career languished post-Ramar, with few roles offered, and ended with the ultra-low budget horror film The Beach Girls and the Monster in 1965.


It is a testament to just how long Ramar ran in syndication that I remember it vividly playing on Saturday afternoon television as much as a decade after filming ended.


Hall’s co-star was Ray Montgomery, a contract player with Warner Bros. in the 1940s who appeared in mostly minor roles.  Handsome, and a capable enough actor, there wasn’t anything that set him apart from the crowd.


Unlike Hall, however, Montgomery managed to stay active in show business throughout the 1960s and into the 70’s and 80’s, playing guest roles in shows like 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, The Virginian, and  Lassie.


The third member of the cast was Nick Stewart, who played a native guide named Willy-WIlly.


Despite third billing, Stewart actually had a longer (and better) resume than either of his two co-stars. He’d started out as a dancer at the Cotton Club, moved to Broadway in the 1930s, and appeared in the movies (bit roles) as early as 1932.


Most famously, he’d played Lightnin' (as Nick O'Demus) on the the TV version of the Amos & Andy Show.

Stewart and his wife Edna Stewart founded the Los Angeles' Ebony Showcase Theatre, which worked to give black actors roles beyond the traditional maid and porter stereotypes.

We’ve 5 episodes of Ramar for you to sample from the Internet Archive.   

Ramar of the Jungle - Evil Trek
Ramar of the Jungle - Season 1, Episode 1

Ramar of the Jungle - White Savages
Ramar of the Jungle - Season 1, Episode 2

Ramar of the Jungle - Drums of Africa
Ramar of the Jungle | Season 1, Episode 3

Ramar of the Jungle - The Doomed Safari
Ramar of the Jungle | Season 1, Episode 4


Ramar of the Jungle - Tribal Feud
Ramar of the Jungle | Season 1, Episode 5


Jon Hall died at his own hands in 1979 while in the final stages of terminal cancer. Upon retirement from show business, Ray Montgomery successfully transitioned into California Real Estate.

Nick Stewart passed away in 2000, but along the way his Ebony Showcase Theatre helped launch many careers,including those of such noted performers as Nichelle Nichols, John Amos, and Isabel Sanford.


Not a bad legacy. Not bad at all.