Friday on the Couch with Will

stanwyckOne of the great things about being freelance, unmarried, and childless is, I can pretty much do whatever I want, whenever I want.

For example, if I choose to stay home on a Friday and watch movies all day long in my jammies, I can do it – without apology or explanation. And that’s exactly what I did yesterday; I binge-watched Turner Classic Movies from the moment I awoke to the minute I collapsed in a bleary eyed heap, with only a quick break to shower with the volume cranked up to a level that, no doubt, incensed my neighbors. (Ask me if I care.)

Between 9:45 a.m. on Friday morning and 2:45 a.m. on Saturday I watched 12 films, ate two diner deliveries (both featuring French fries), consumed seven cans of Diet Dr. Pepper, ate a batch of Slice + Bake chocolate chip cookies, and otherwise pushed the limits of health, waistline, and eye strain to a level that might earn wrist-slaps from at least two of my healthcare providers (if you know them, don’t rat me out, particularly because I haven’t filled my new prescription for eyeglasses yet). It was a lifestyle befitting Hollywood’s decadent Pre-Code Era, the four-year period of unfettered creative freedom the major studios enjoyed during the early days of sound filmmaking, until Taliban-esque censorship guidelines ruined everyone’s fun (at least for the next three decades).

As regular viewers of the channel know, on Friday TCM kicked off a month-long Pre-Code festival, with 67 films spread out over weekly 24-hour marathons, beginning each Friday at 6 a.m and continuing through the primetime hours, with hosts Robert Osborne and Alec Baldwin (who, according to Osborne, participated in the programming of the series).

NormaWatching movies from Hollywood’s most notorious era may not be for everyone, particularly if you’re a reformed drinker, smoker, or hooker. (I’m only one of those; I’ll let you guess which.) But for me, it’s a no-brainer; I’ll pretty much watch anything released between 1930 and 1934, even if it’s not a great movie, because I find this era in American filmmaking unendingly fascinating. “Pre-Code” has become shorthand for sexy, and there was plenty of that on display on TCM yesterday, but what I love about the period goes way beyond the salacious. There’s a refreshing, almost disconcerting candor to these films that was largely lost after enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code began in July of 1934. The best titles in this series demonstrate that, and still resonate with audiences today.

Lots of my “friends” on social media expressed jealousy yesterday regarding my ability to cast responsibility to the wind and plunk myself down on the couch for 17 hours, non-stop. And to you haters I say, we all make our own decisions in life. Someday, when you’re happily retired and living off your pension/401(k), you can enjoy old movies all day with your grandkids, while I’m living alone in a refrigerator box under the 59th Street Bridge – my own private Hooverville.

I kid. Or maybe I don’t. Regardless, here’s the best news of all: you don’t have to be home every Friday to watch these movies, nor do you have to run out and buy a gigantic, new 5,000-hour DVR to record them all.

Thanks to Watch TCM, the streaming app the network launched last November, cable subscribers can watch every one of the 16 movies that aired Friday on-demand, on your computer, tablet, or smartphone. And the films that aired in primetime include Osborne and Baldwin’s wrap-arounds. (I know some people can’t stand Baldwin, but he and Osborne have excellent co-host chemistry on-camera.)

If you love Pre-Code movies, this is a chance to love your favorites over and over and over again (sorry, I got carried away there). If you’ve never seen a film from this era, TCM is offering the equivalent of a Pre-Code 101 course on-line and, if you already pay for the channel, it’s entirely free. It’s a perfectly way to immerse yourself in the era, and track the subtle evolutions in production methods, studio “house style,” and acting technique over the first four years of the Sound Era. (Unfortunately, Time Warner Cable does not yet support the app, but all other cable and satellite providers do, and it’s extremely user-friendly.

And if the word “app” sounds to you like Ginger Roger’s Pig Latin in GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933, fear not! You can always simply watch the films on your computer on TCM’s website. (The Watch TCM app is not available on your TV or via a streaming player like Roku, due to rights issues.)

Films appear on the website/app approximately three hours after they air on TV, and they’re available for 7 days to watch whenever and wherever you want. So if you’re a responsible adult (unlike me) you can still indulge in all the louche Pre-Code shenanigans this month at your leisure (preferably, draped over a divan wearing something sparkly).

Here are notes on three of my favorites that aired yesterday – films you can watch anytime until September 12: 

poster-baby-face_02

BABY FACE (1933 – Alfred E. Green, Warner Bros.)

With their gritty style and socially conscious sensibility, Warner Bros. was the preeminent producer of what we now call Pre-Code. And this one has come to be known as the CITIZEN KANE of the art form. Barbara Stanwyck plays Lilly Powers, a self-described “tramp” who, as the trailer brags, “made IT pay.” For 76 sexy, sinful minutes, Lily uses her unassuming, girl-next-door good looks to seduce a parade of patsies on her way to the top, culminating in a climatic montage of all the men she bedded, just in case you lost count. Costume designer Orry-Kelly tracks her ascent in a menagerie of gowns that get fancier and fancier as she moves up the ladder.

Even though the Code wasn’t actively being enforced at the time of the film’s release in December of 1933, edits were required by the New York State Censorship Board. Thankfully, the original, unedited version remains, and that’s the version that circulates today.  Look for a young John Wayne as one of Lily’s early conquests, and the great Theresa Harris as Chico, Lily’s sidekick. The equality of their relationship was way ahead of its time.

female

FEMALE (1933 – Michael Curtiz & William A. Wellman, First National Pictures)

To me, a woman in love is a pathetic spectacle,” says Alison Drake (Ruth Chatterton), CEO of the Drake Motor Car Company. Allison prefers her romantic dalliances to be businesslike affairs, after hours, with underlings. Everything changes when she meets handsome Jim Thorne (George Brent) at a carnival and he rebuffs her advances. Things get even more complicated when Allison’s new engineer shows up the next morning – and it’s Jim. She continues her pursuit but her new hire wants no part of it. “I was engaged as an engineer, not a gigolo,” he scolds. “I’m a man. I prefer to do my own hunting.” Will Allison give up her wanton ways for true love?

Although I enjoyed FEMALE, it’s unfortunately the worst kind of false feminism. Allison is portrayed as an unapologetically powerful female executive who turns into a gushy girl when she meets the right guy. “I’ve been expecting this for some time,” her first lieutenant Pettigrew (Ferdinand Gottschalk) says when she goes gaga for Jim. “You’re just a woman.” Come on. I know this is 1933, but don’t attract an audience with a suggestive premise and then deliver a sermon about “traditional values.” “Marriage and love and children – the things that women were born for,” Jim preaches to Allison. This character would never go for such a regressive male chauvinist, even in 1933.

wild_boys

WILD BOYS OF THE ROAD (1933 – William A. Wellman, First National Pictures)

Eddie (Frankie Darro) and Tommy (Edwin Phillips) are two small-town high school kids who take to the rails when the Depression strikes their parents. On the train they meet Sally (Dorothy Coonan, the future Mrs. Wellman) who dresses like a boy and talks like a tough guy. The kids get off in Chicago to stay with Sally’s Aunt Carrie, who just happens to be a hooker, but the kids don’t care, because she just baked a cake. Yum!

When the brothel is raided by the cops, the kids head out once again, this time for Columbus, Ohio. There, tragedy strikes, Tommy is nearly killed by a train and another member of their growing community of wild boys (and girls) is raped. Finally, in New York, the kids end up unwitting accomplices in a crime. Will justice give them a second chance or turn them into criminals?

You can check out the schedule for the remaining films in the Pre-Code series at the following links: September 12 (17 films), September 19 (16 films + one documentary), and September 26 (17 films). I highly recommend you visit two essential websites for Pre-Code fans: Danny Reid’s Pre-Code.com and Cliff Aliperti’s Immortal Ephemera. Both feature reviews and essays on many of the films and performers featured in the series.You can also read my review of SAFE IN HELL (1931) here. And my thoughts on NIGHT NURSE (1931) are here. Notes on the films above appeared previously on this site, because I’m too busy watching movies to write a bunch of new shit. 

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Netflix Classic Film Comings + Goings – September, 2014

Netflix“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end,” said Seneca the Younger, or my freshman year guidance counselor, or the guy that sang “Closing Time” in the late ’90s.

Whoever it was, it’s certainly true – and nowhere more so than on Netflix Instant. At the end of each month we mourn the lost titles and celebrate the new arrivals, like The Circle of Life. This digital sloughing off is also an important reminder for denizens of the brave new Streaming World: if you don’t own it, it can go away. People like me need to keep that in mind when we pontificate about the impending death of physical media, or mock people who still get DVDs in the mail (where rights windows never expire, and classic films are far more prevalent).

If you love to binge on contemporary episodic television, the Netflix news has been filled with high profile acquisitions recently, like nine years worth of CBS’s Criminal Minds, the entire run of Showtime’s Californication, the first seasons of NBC’s The Blacklist (coming September 7) and El Rey Network’s From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series, and recent seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead (September 29), the CW’s Arrow (September 14), ABC’s Once Upon a Time, CBS’ How I Met Your Mother (September 26), Fox’s New Girl (September 16) and Bones (September 16), NBC’s Parenthood, About a Boy (September 14), and Parks and Recreation (September 26), ABC’s Revenge and a bunch of reality shows I’m leaving out. And this is in addition to buzz-generating Netflix originals like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Hemlock Grove, and The Killing (resuscitated from AMC).

TV series licenses are expensive, as Netflix’s record $2 million-per-episode acquisition of The Blacklist demonstrates. But, as binge-watching becomes the Next Big Thing, TV series will continue to draw both programming dollars and new subscribers. An individual film won’t win a new Netflix customer, but a TV series might.

And Netflix remains a reliable resource for classic TV shows, as well, though Hulu made the bigger news earlier this year, furthering a multi-year deal with CBS to stream more than 5,300 episodes from the CBS/Paramount library, including iconic series like the original Star Trek, Twin Peaks, and The Brady Bunch. Hulu rarely has complete series runs, though, and the maddeningly repetitive commercials can still drive some classic TV fans back to their DVD shelves. (Netflix Instant does not have ads.)

AptBut for classic film fans, the news has been less encouraging. Today, Netflix Instant lost essentials like THE MUMMY (1932), THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955), and THE APARTMENT (1960). In all, 29 pre-1990 titles left the service on September 1, with plans to add only 21 in the coming weeks - the vast majority from the 1980s, and none older than 1950. And while movies on Netflix tend to be more of a licensing hot potato than TV shows, with shorter rights windows that can reflect cable’s desire for short-term exclusivity (e.g. the ROCKY and STAR TREK films), the trend line is going in the wrong direction for classic films on Netflix.

It’s worth pointing out that the service already has far more old movies than you would ever get a chance to watch (unless you’re an unemployed insomniac), from FANTOMAS (1913) to BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980). A quick review of the ten sub-genre categories in Classic Movies brings up more than 650 suggestions, with an overwhelming majority of Dramas (187 titles) and a paltry showing for War Movies (only 17, including a few I’ve never heard of). But are they films you actually want to see? And if Netflix keeps registering aggregate loses in classic film titles each month, at what point will Old Movie Weirdos cut bait and fish in more specialized streams, like Warner Archive Instant?

UPDATE 9/2/14 6 p.m. (ET) I posted a comment on Facebook that I thought would be worthwhile sharing here:

I’m glad specialty streaming sites like Warner Archive Instant, Fandor, Mubi, and others exist, but those services preach to the film buff choir. The continuing tendency in modern media has been to relegate “old movies” into some sort of specialty niche category, instead of fostering an appreciation for all eras of filmmaking among mass audiences. With more than 36 million customers in the US alone (and 50 million worldwide), Netflix has (had?) a unique opportunity to expand access to, and awareness of, pre-1990 American film. It looks like that is not really happening. 
And that’s another reason why TCM is so important. It gives 85 million US homes an opportunity to stumble upon an old movie. It lowers the barrier to entry. I don’t want classic movies to be some sort of exclusive club that only the informed know how to find. I want them to be readily available to the masses, so that the subtextual message to uninformed viewers is that these films are worthwhile.

Here are the Netflix Classic Film Comings and Goings for September:

177August 31 GOINGs:

1930s -1
The Mummy (1932)

1940s – 0
None

1950s – 2
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
The Delinquents (1957)

1960s – 4
The Apartment (1960)
El Dorado (1966)
Doctor Doolittle (1967)
That Cold Day in the Park (1969)

1970s -10
Black Mama, White Mama (1972)
The Long Goodbye (1973)
Charley Varrick (1973)
Thieves Like Us (1974)
Bucktown (1975)
The Eiger Sanction (1975)
At the Earth’s Core (1976)
Midnight Express (1978)
Convoy (1978) – Sept 5
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

1980s – 12
Popeye (1980)
Stir Crazy (1980)
Cujo (1983)
Streamers (1983)
Fool for Love (1985)
O.C. and Stiggs (1985)
Just One of the Guys (1985)
Silverado (1985)
About Last Night… (1986)
Gothic (1986)
Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986)
Dirty Dancing (1987)

roman-holiday-posterSeptember 1 COMINGs:

1930s/1940s
None

1950s – 2 
High Noon (1952) – Coming 9/12
Roman Holiday (1953) – 9/5

1960s – 3
Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) – 9/12
True Grit (1969) – 9/5

1970s – 3 
Count Yorga, Vampire (1970)
Audrey Rose (1977)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

1980s – 13 
Ordinary People (1980)
The Blue Lagoon (1980)
The Elephant Man (1980)
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
Mr. Mom (1983)
Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)
Crocodile Dundee (1986)
The Believers (1987)
Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)
Spaceballs (1987)
Monkey Shines (1988)
The Presidio (1988)
Big Top Pee-Wee (1988) – 9/5

Sources: What’s On Netflix Now, The Huffington Post, Tech Times

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Update: Big Changes at Turner Broadcasting – Will They Affect TCM?

osborneUPDATE 8/29/14 9 a.m. (ET) 

The departures are beginning at Turner, with the announcement that TNT, TBS and TCM programming chief Michael Wright would be leaving the company after a decade.

Original Post – 8/27/14

According to Nielsen, the average U.S. household receives 189 TV channels, but regularly watches only 17 of them. If you’re an Old Movie Weirdo, however, that number may be closer to one: Turner Classic Movies.

TCM is the only U.S. TV channel airing classic films 24 hours per day, uncut, commercial-free, and in their original, theatrical aspect ratio. As such, viewers (like this one) tend to support the 20-year-old network with near-religious zealotry. And TCM returns the favor, connecting with audience members through an annual film festival, cruise, sightseeing bus tours, monthly magazine, specialty home video releases, original documentaries, and brilliantly curated programming, which has extended from a single, linear channel to multiple streaming and on-demand options.

For millions of loyal viewers, the people who work at TCM are like members of an extended family of film lovers. Sadly, that family is about to get smaller.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 12.57.09 AMOn Tuesday, TCM parent Turner Broadcasting offered a buyout to approximately six percent of U.S. employees, the first in the company’s 44-year history. While the “Voluntary Separation Program” for employees 55 and older with more than ten years of service was only offered to approximately 600 members of the company’s 9,000-member U.S. workforce, it’s just the first step in a company-wide cost-cutting initiative that is expected to yield extensive layoffs.

First announced by CEO John Martin on June 2, the “Turner 2020” initiative seeks to reduce spending and maximize growth and profitability, leading up to the 50th anniversary of the company a little more than five years from now. Layoffs throughout Turner’s more than 700 departments were only suggested in Martin’s initial communication, but they were confirmed in his follow-up memo on August 19:

“Division leaders now are reviewing the working groups’ reports on their respective areas of oversight. Over the coming weeks, they will work with me to finalize the organizational changes we will implement. Our plan is to begin communicating in the next two months both general and specific changes we will make to structures, models and roles,” Martin wrote.

In case you didn’t get his point, the next sentence sealed the fate of an as-yet-undetermined number of Turner employees:

“We’ll start 2015 a more streamlined, nimble and efficient company…”

When your boss starts talking about streamlining, it’s time to start packing your things.

So, how many Turner staffers will be cut? Speculation varied wildly on Tuesday, but Rodney Ho of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution estimates that the final tally could be as much as 15 to 20 percent of the company, with an aggregate loss of as many as 2,000 employees.

“(T)his is causing some significant angst and concern among employees,” he added, stating the obvious.

twIronically, “Turner 2020″ was planned long before Fox’s recent, much-publicized attempt to acquire Turner parent Time Warner, which made itself a takeover target (intentionally or otherwise) with the recent spinoffs of Time Inc. and Time Warner Cable. But Rupert Murdoch’s $85 per share offer, roundly rejected by Time Warner’s board, only puts more pressure on the company to increase shareholder value. The stock closed Tuesday at $76.98, up nearly $7 since Murdoch’s offer was first revealed on July 16. (21st Century Fox formally withdrew the proposal on August 6.)

Industry-wide, audience fragmentation is rampant, production and licensing costs are up, and expected mergers among cable and satellite providers – Time Warner Cable/Comcast and AT&T/DirecTV – are expected to reduce leverage in network carriage fee negotiations. While TNT is one of the most expensive channels for basic cable subscribers – and still one of the most profitable – it lacks a signature show with the channel-making buzz of Mad MenBreaking Bad, or The Walking Dead (all coincidentally on AMC, a channel that kicked classic films to the curb and dramatically increased its audience and profitability). Ratings are down at TNT, TBS, and CNN, and Turner is facing the expiration of its NBA deal in 2016, with the price expected to double from the $930 million annual license fee currently being split between Disney’s ESPN and Turner. If the new contact matches the previous in duration (8 years), the NBA could slam dunk their cable partners for $15-16 billion.

So how will all of this affect TCM? Hopefully, not substantially, considering the channel has a relatively small full-time staff and is known to be a lean and efficiently run organization. Ironically, much of the mainstream reporting on Tuesday didn’t even acknowledge TCM’s existence, likely owing to the channel’s lack of advertising revenue and minor impact on the bottom line. TCM may be able to continue to fly below the radar, but with Turner’s announced, company-wide focus on “monetization,” longtime viewers (like this one) can’t help but wonder if the network’s commercial-free days may be numbered.

“We’ve never had plans to add commercials; I think it’s actually written into some of our affiliate agreements,” V.P. of Programming Charlie Tabesh said at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival. “We’re not trying to reach a broad audience. We’re not trying to maximize the demo. We’re not trying to get the 18-34, whatever it is. There’s none of that that’s considered at all.”

Hopefully those plans haven’t changed.

To read both the Martin memos, click here. Warning: there’s enough corporate speak to choke Francis the Talking Mule.

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Posted in TCM, TCM Classic Film Festival | 16 Comments

Bogart + Bacall’s Rarely Seen Final Team-up – And Where to Watch It

picTurner Classic Movies announced today that they will preempt scheduled programming on September 15 and 16 for a 24-hour marathon honoring the life and career of Lauren Bacall, who died on August 12 at age 89.

Following Robert Osborne’s delightfully candid 2005 interview with the then-81-year-old legend at 8 p.m. (ET) on September 15, TCM will air eleven of Bacall’s films, including four team-ups with real life leading man Humphrey Bogart: TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944), her Howard Hawks-directed debut, sets sail at 9 p.m.; Hawks’ narratively inscrutable (but who cares) THE BIG SLEEP (1946) follows at 11 p.m.; Delmer Daves’ pulpy noir DARK PASSAGE (1947) un-bandages on September 16 at 10 a.m., and John Huston’s Academy Award-winning KEY LARGO (1948) blows in at noon.(September 16 would have been Bacall’s 90th birthday.)

The four Bogart/Bacall noirs are arguably her best-known films, but they don’t tell the whole story of the iconic duo’s on-screen partnership. Missing from TCM’s schedule is their final team-up, a production so rare that many classic film fans haven’t even heard of it, let alone seen it.

Laughing StarsOn May 30, 1955, nearly seven years after the release of KEY LARGO, Mr. and Mrs. Bogart reunited on-screen one last time for NBC’s live television remake of The Petrified ForestBroadcast in color – still a rarity at the time – Tad Mosel’s adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood’s play for the RCA-sponsored Producer’s Showcase featured 55-year-old Bogart recreating the role of Duke Mantee, the Dillinger-esque gangster he played on Broadway two decades earlier and in the 1936 Warner Bros. film. Bacall, in a role originated by an ingénue-y Bette Davis in the film, is waitress Gabrielle “Gabby” Maple, daughter of the owner of the dusty roadside diner Mantee and his gang appropriate as a hideout. And for the lead character of ennui-afflicted Englishman Alan Squier (played by Leslie Howard on stage and screen), director Delbert Mann cast the decidedly un-British Henry Fonda.

No, I’m not kidding. Tom Joad as a British intellectual.

PFLike many live dramas from the Golden Age of Television, The Petrified Forest is stage-bound and talky, but you could say the same for Archie Mayo’s 1936 film, which makes very little effort to transcend the walls of Warner Bros. Stage 8. Still, the film is highly regarded by many classic film fans (including this one) for providing Bogie with his big break, courtesy of Howard, who insisted to Jack Warner that the actor reprise his stage role. (Bogart honored Howard posthumously for going to bat for him with the studio by naming his daughter Leslie. Howard died in 1943 at age 50; Leslie Bogart was born in 1952.)

The 1936 film edition of Duke Mantee was the world’s first glimpse of Bogart as a “complicated” gangster. The real John Dillinger was 31 when he was finally taken out by Melvin Purvis in Chicago in 1934 and Bogart, just a few years older, was virile, ruggedly handsome, and genuinely menacing in his film portrayal. Amazingly, he pulls it off again two decades later, and then some. Defying his age and the developing illness within him, Bogart gives an energetic, almost feral performance, matching the physicality and distinctive line readings that were so memorable in the film.

PBacall does not necessarily fare as well. While her youthful bravado allowed her to believably portray older women in her first few films, here the situation is reversed: she’s 30 playing a character supposedly in her late teens. Her older-than-her-years maturity seems wildly out of place; while Davis – Bacall’s idol as a youngster –was 28 when she played Gabby, she still pulled off a nervous, dewey-eyed innocence that Bacall had aged out of by 1955, or perhaps never had to begin with. (Except when she bops out of the bar with Bogie at the end of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, my favorite moment from her film career.)

Faring the worst is Fonda, whose casting necessitated changing Alan’s origins from (olde) England to New England. His folksy, uncomplicated charm runs counter to the Shakespearean fatalism of the character, and he and Bacall never seem to be doing anything but reciting lines of dialogue in each other’s general direction. And, at 50, Fonda’s too old for the part. Alan’s world-weariness has little to do with age.

Still, this is a must-watch curiosity for even the casual fan. While Bogart and Bacall don’t melt the screen like they do in their other pairings, seeing them together again so close to the end of his life is like the missing piece to a puzzle. The Petrified Forest also was the only pairing of Bogart and Fonda, two of the greatest stars of the Studio Era, and it’s Bogart’s only dramatic TV appearance (save for a very hip parody of his gangster persona Bogie did on The Jack Benny Program in 1953).

As an extra bonus, a few beloved classic TV figures show up in smaller roles in The Petrified Forest. Jack Warden is a far more menacing college football player than the harmless doofus played by singer Dick Foran in 1936, and he gets to spout some 1950s-style anti-Commie propaganda. Natalie Schafer, who would go on to three seasons (and countless reunions) as Gilligan’s Island’s Mrs. Howell, is the wealthy woman whose car is commandeered by the thugs. And 33-year-old Jack Klugman shows up as Duke’s henchman Jackie (played in the film by Joe Sawyer) delivering the film’s most famous line – “This is Duke Mantee, the world famous killer. And he’s hungry.” – in a manner so Oscar Madison-y you practically expect a honking Tony Randall to walk through the door.

duoBut the real reason to watch The Petrified Forest, which aired just once and survived only in Bacall’s personal kinescope copy – available for viewing at the Paley Center in New York and L.A. and in a fuzzy You Tube posting – is Humphrey Bogart. Watching his ferocity here, you’d never imagine he’d be dead 20 months later from cancer.

Although Bogart appeared in four more films before his untimely demise (including his 1956 swan song THE HARDER THEY FALL, which I love), I’m now romantically regarding the 1955 version of The Petrified Forest as the bookend to Bogart’s film career. He came in tough and he went out tough, and Bacall– and the audience– loved him for it.

You can watch “The Petrified Forest” on YouTube here, but I strongly suggest you view it on a small screen (I watched on my iPhone) and use headphones (the sound is audible, but low). Bogart and Bacall also make a cameo as themselves in TWO GUYS FROM MILWAUKEE (1946), which you can watch here. A tip ‘o the hat to classic film historian and New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick for that piece of knowledge.

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Posted in Classic Film, TCM | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

5 Reasons to Watch NIGHT NURSE (1931)

night-nurse-1931Tough broads, bootleggers, drug-abusing doctors, debauched rich people, and Barbara Stanwyck – William A. Wellman’s NIGHT NURSE (1931) has everything I love about Pre-Code movies.

Stanwyck is Lora Hart, a determined young nursing student in a busy metropolitan hospital in this lurid melodrama, released by Warner Bros. in 1931. Joan Blondell is Maloney, her wise-cracking, gum-snapping partner in mischief (think Lucy and Ethel, only sexier). And Clark Gable is Nick, a murderous chauffeur who will stop at nothing to get his boss’ money, including killing her children. 

High school-dropout Lora sweet talks her way into nursing school where she meets Maloney, an old pro who knows how to game the system– and fight off the amorous orderlies. Their lives are complicated by Miss Dillon (Vera Lewis), the sourpuss head nurse who lies in wait for the pretty young things to slip up. And speaking of slips, Stanwyck and Blondell strip down to their skivvies so frequently it’s hard to keep count. Not that I’m complaining, because half-naked women bucking authority is what Pre-Code film is all about.

After graduation, Lora gets her eponymous assignment: caring for the inexplicably ill children (Marcia Mae Jones and Betty Jane Graham) of wealthy Mrs. Ritchey (Charlotte Merriam). There she meets Nick (Gable), who’s keeping his boss permanently plastered in hopes of killing off her kids and making off with her dough. (Another child has already died in a hit and run accident, and it’s strongly suggested that Nick is responsible.)

Lora fights to save the children, with the help of Mortie (Ben Lyon), a bootlegger she rescued when he stumbled into the E.R. with a bullet wound. But will it be too late?

*music sting!*

5 REASONS TO WATCH: 

william_wellman1. William A. Wellman

Unlike some other directors of the early Talkie Era, “Wild Bill” Wellman didn’t let the limitations of unwieldy sound recording technology get in the way of storytelling. His camera is remarkably fluid in NIGHT NURSE, in a year when many films were static and stagy. Wellman was one of the early proponents of the boom mic, and makes ample use of it here, tracking along with dialogue scenes. If you don’t believe me, look for the boom shadow in a wide shot of Stanwyck and Blondell running through a hospital hallway.

That’s another thing I love about Pre-Code films: lack of polish. The studios were figuring out how to navigate a paradigm shift in the industry, and the obvious experimentation on-screen and off- can be exhilarating, even when it doesn’t work (and there are plenty of Pre-Codes that don’t).

Stan_lyon2. Barbara Stanwyck

Born Ruby Stevens in Brooklyn in 1907, Stanwyck represents everything I love about liberated Pre-Code women. As both the title character and hero(ine) of NIGHT NURSE, she dominates the film with street-smart moxie and an unglamorous sexuality that reached its apex two years later in Alfred E. Green’s BABY FACE (1933), the prototypical Pre-Code.

And speaking of lack of polish, I’ll watch anything with Stanwyck, but if her teeth are still crooked, it’s a must.

Gab3. Clark Gable

If you only know Gable as the charming cad in iconic films like GONE WITH THE WIND, NIGHT NURSE will be an education. Here he’s an unapologetic child murderer, throwing punches at Stanwyck and staring down the camera with a feral ferocity that is genuinely frightening. Had the 30-year-old Ohio native been a Warner Bros. contractee, would the studio have allowed him to play such a villain? He wasn’t, of course, and within a year he was well on his way to name-above-the-title stardom at MGM.

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 5.28.46 PM4. Fun with Dipsomania

Charlotte Merriam as the wealthy and dissolute Mrs. Ritchey has two great moments in NIGHT NURSE. When Lora reports to work on for the first time to care for little Nanny (Marcia Mae Jones) and Desney (Betty Jane Graham), she discovers their mom (Merriam) passed out drunk on a bearskin rug, an empty champagne glass dangling from her hand. Later, when Lora confronts her, Mrs. Ritchey shrieks one of the most memorable lines in in Pre-Code film:

“I’m a dipsomaniac, and I’m proud of it! Ya hear?” she slurs. “I’m a dipsomaniac and I like it! I like it!”

5. The End

I’m not going to spoil it, but the happy ending of NIGHT NURSE involves a character’s murder. That’s the kind of thing you didn’t see anymore when enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code began in 1934. And movies were the worse for it.

 NIGHT NURSE airs today on TCM at 10 PM (ET) as part of Summer Under the Stars. For the complete schedule and background on Stanwyck, visit TCM’s site. The film is also available on DVD as part of Forbidden Hollywood” Volume 2, available from Warner Home Video. You can read more about NIGHT NURSE at Pre-Code.com 

Mortie

 

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In Praise of Vintage: 10 Classic TV Shows + Where to Watch Them

the_man_has_style_cary_grant_style_icon_1943“I can’t stand old movies,” my Uncle Tommy once said to me. “Any time I see a guy wearing a hat, I change the channel.”

Despite his dismissal of a filmmaking era I love, and have since childhood, I kept my cool. (I learned that from Cary Grant, who, by the way, knew how to rock a hat.) Opinions are subjective reflections of personal taste, I reminded myself. That explains why some people are Yankee fans, or Republicans.

Then I asked him, calmly, what he didn’t like about “old movies.”

“They’re dated.”

“What you may think of as ‘dated’ other people consider ‘classic,’” I said.

“They’re boring, and the acting is terrible!” he added. “Katharine Hepburn is the worst. I can’t stand her.”

Funny thing: I have a picture of Katharine Hepburn from THE PHILADELPHIA STORY hanging in my apartment; I have no such picture of my Uncle Tommy, love him though I do. So I decided to change the subject to something less controversial, like Obamacare.

I was reminded of this conversation when I read critic Neil Genzlinger’s take down of “Retro TV” in yesterday’s New York Times, an article crafted with such a broad brush I don’t even know where to begin rebutting it.

Apparently, Mr. Genzlinger was channel surfing on Saturday afternoon and was dismayed to find a bunch of “old stuff” clogging his cable on channels with funny names like Inspire, Aspire, and Up! Uplifting Entertainment. (And don’t even get him started on new-fangled Internet streaming of old-fangled TV! Because, how crazy is that?) He then took pen to paper to slice up some sacred cows.

“Sluggish pacing, wooden acting, wince-inducing jokes and obvious plot twists abound,” he opined, metaphorically shaking a remote-clutching fist. “Too much of this will turn your brain to mush as surely as too much of today’s reality TV will.”

And then he added a zinger of particular interest to me (and many people I know):

“(I)f you’re watching this fare all day, every day, you need help,” he wrote.

For the record, this past weekend I watched The Odd Couple, Get Smart, Lost in Space, The Honeymooners, and a Blu-ray of Betty Boop cartoons. It’s a wonder I can even write this, what with the tightness of my straight jacket.

LucyMr. Genzlinger then provided a hit list of “old stuff’ you should avoid (in convenient chronological order): I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Gilligan’s Island, Green Acres, Welcome Back Kotter, Dallas, Boy Meets World, and Sex and the City.

Let’s ignore the fact that any list that equates I Love Lucy, the first TV sitcom shot on film, and Sex & the City, the first TV sitcom to base an episode around the taste of a man’s semen, is impossible to logically refute. Or that he thinks Boy Meets World (which left the air a mere 14 years ago) is a “wonderful show,” but you still shouldn’t watch it (because the spin-off Girl Meets World is bad). Or that he’s hardly the first TV critic to suggest that Gilligan’s Island isn’t Peabody-worthy.

Mr. Genzlinger is a respected critic who is entitled to his beliefs, as is my Uncle Tommy. But whereas my uncle’s opinion was overheard by a handful of family members at a Christmas party, a New York Times columnist wields a bit more influence.

What irks me most is Mr. Genzlinger’s reiteration of an endemic prejudice that has existed for years: that “old” is somehow a flaw. This same perspective inspired colorization a generation ago and leads contemporary distributors and networks to crop (or stretch) shows produced in olde-fashioned 4:3 aspect ratio to widescreen, or to re-do special effects, in an effort to convince younger audiences that a show is of a more recent vintage. It’s the perspective that led to a 500-channel universe in which only one network – Turner Classic Movies – routinely aired black & white programming. And it’s the perspective that led the generation after mine to grow up with less-than-ready access to anything “classic.”

Then, happily, technology interceded. In recent years, the explosion in basic cable networks, broadcast digital sub-channels, and streaming media has led to a renaissance in the availability of classic content. TCM has gotten two broadcast competitors airing classic movies 24/7: getTV and MOVIES! TV Network. The niche left open by Nick at Nite and TV Land (already eschewing classics in favor of newer stuff) was filled by digi-nets like Me-TV, Antenna TV, COZI-TV, and Retro TV. Subscription VOD platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime began loading up on binge-able retro content, and Warner Bros. launched Warner Archive Instant, a boutique streaming service for classic TV shows and movies, many restored from original source material.

Adam West and Burt Ward in Batman 60s series pic2Classic film and TV is just about the only segment of the physical media business still thriving. Expensive DVD and Blu-ray collections of Twin Peaks (out today), The Wonder Years (due in early October), and Batman with Adam West (coming November 11) are expected to do big business, and not just with the nostalgic. A new generation is embracing classic content, a fact underscored by TCM’s audience, two-thirds of which they say is between 18-54.

In that sense, the market rebuts Mr. Genzlinger more effectively than I ever could. Because, if nobody wanted to watch this stuff, it would be back “in the vault” where he believes it belongs.

I hold equal respect for classic film and TV, since my affection for both developed in the cable-less 1970s when the handful of channels I got filled their schedules with both. To be clear: while Mr. Genzlinger did not include classic film in his dismissal of “old stuff,” his complaints against non-contemporary TV are the same my uncle used to condemn movies of the same era: pacing, acting, and predictability.

It’s a fact that the pace of filmed entertainment of a generation (or more) ago differs from that of today. But I find the frenetic quality of contemporary blockbusters to be headache-inducing, so, for me, that’s a selling point. Mr. Genzlinger worries that my brain will turn “to mush” if I watch too many of these old shows. I appreciate his concern, but I have the same concern for my seven-year-old nephew, whose senses are assaulted daily by ADHD-inducing entertainments on multiple screens.

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 11.20.44 AMI liken the slower pace of (some, not all) classic TV and movies to visiting with a grandparent. Once you tune yourself to their wavelength, you may suddenly feel more relaxed. Heck (as they say on Andy Griffith), you might even set a spell and enjoy yourself.

Regarding acting, as clothing styles have altered over the years, so has performing technique. The theatricality of silent film evolved into the presentational style of early Talkies, then filtered through the Actors Studio and American New Wave, etc. TV acting evolved as well, from stage-y live TV drama to high definition naturalism. Mr. Genzlinger dismisses an entire era of TV acting as “wooden;” I prefer to think of it as a different approach to the craft. I’ll agree that supporting players in some classic show can be hit or miss, but sometimes imperfection is part of the fun.

What many fans love about classic content is the evocation of an era, and all that comes with it (including, at times, the political incorrectness that Mr. Genzlinger references from a show like Gilligan’s Island). It’s not necessarily nostalgia for stuff we saw, as he puts it, “the first time around.” It’s interest in, and affection for a time and a style that’s unlike today. Can you be nostalgic for something you don’t remember, or weren’t even alive to experience? You can, and classic film and TV fans do that every day.

Which leads me to what may be the crux of the matter: how do you define classic (a word, admittedly, that Mr. Genzlinger does not use in his artcle)? There’s no better way to start an argument among fans than by raising this question.

“There’s no cutoff date, no strict definition for classic,” on-air host Ben Mankiewicz said at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2013. “It’s not really about years removed from a movie’s release.”

welcome-back-kotter-castIn fact, “classic” is often a moving target that depends largely on the age of the person you ask. For Millennials, the 1980s may be classic (and even the ‘90s, George Burns help us.) I look at films and TV shows from the ‘80s and and laugh at how dated they are, because I remember looking just like that (and still cringe at the pictures). My uncle, who is in his 70s, likely feels the same about films as far back as the late 1940s. I don’t know Mr. Genzlinger’s age, but I could introduce him to a number of 20-somethings who watch Welcome Back Kotter on Me-TV for all the reasons he says they should avoid it.

Are all old TV shows worth seeking out? No. As Mr. Genzlinger suggests, many are contrived and predictable. Some were products of zeitgeist, spinning long runs out of teen idols and lunchbox-ready catch phrases, and will hold little interest for contemporary audiences. But I’ll bet that any I might condemn here would still have plenty of vocal fans today, and not just those who are ‘wistful,” as Mr. Genzlinger puts it, for a simpler time.

Because one person’s “dated” is another person’s “classic.”

As a rebuttal to Mr. Genzlinger, here are ten classic shows I think are worth seeking out (and where you can watch them). Note: this list is by no means definitive. There are plenty more where these came from:

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 11.38.46 AM

1. The Honeymooners (1955-56, CBS)
Jackie Gleason’s one-season spin-off of a variety sketch that first appeared on Cavalcade of Stars in 1951 still crackles with wit, pathos, and aspirational resonance. The relationship between Audrey Meadows’ “long-suffering” Alice and Gleason’s blowhard bus driver Ralph serves as an antidote to the fiction of the perfect ‘50s family, and Gleason and Art Carney are as entertaining a comedy duo as TV has ever seen. (39 episodes)
Me-TV Tues 10p.m. + 10:30 pm/Sat nights 2 a.m. + 2:30 a.m. (ET)
On Blu-ray and DVD

tumblr_static_a5fd66aeuowk0ggwk40k8c8g8

2. The Twilight Zone (1959-64, CBS)
Rod Serling’s sci-fi drama has been a rerun staple ever since its original airing, and with good reason. Unlike other anthologies of the era, the series benefits from its lack of regular characters, instead letting a steady stream of still-recognizable guest stars and brilliant teleplays take center stage. Serling himself, as on-screen narrator, holds it all together, spookily popping up in each episode, smoking an ever-present cigarette.
(156 episodes)
Me-TV Mon-Fri 11 p.m. (ET) + occasionally on SyFy
All episodes in HD on Amazon, Netflix and Hulu (w/ ads)
On Blu-ray and DVD

Smart

3. Get Smart! (1965-69, NBC + 1969-70, CBS)
Mel Brooks and Buck Henry developed comedian Don Adams’ hotel detective character from The Bill Dana Show into a hip and often-hilarious James Bond parody (with a dash of Inspector Clouseau). Adams and Barbara Feldon (as Agent 99) had hot chemistry from the get-go, and the visual gags (e.g. the “Cone of Silence”) are often top notch. (138 episodes)
Me-TV Sat nights 1 a.m. + 1:30 a.m./Mon 10 p.m. + 10:30 p.m. (ET)
On DVD

Hulu

4. Dark Shadows (1966-71, ABC)
Producer Dan Curtis mashed up every conceivable horror movie plot in five years of daily installments of this off-the-wall supernatural soap opera. With a threadbare budget and 1960s-era technology, Curtis wove an addictive continuing story that unfolded over hundreds of years and multiple parallel universes, most of it headlined by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid as the original (non-sparkling) reluctant vampire. Once you acclimate to the not-so-special-effects and occasional flubbed dialogue, you may find yourself under its spell. (1,225 episodes)
240 episodes on Hulu (w/ ads) – 80 episodes on Amazon (VOD)
On DVD

Bat

5. Batman (1966-68, ABC)
Just two years removed from its 50th anniversary, this show has even better legs than Batgirl. Adam West, Burt Ward and Yvonne Craig (added in the third season) fight a rogue’s gallery of classic film stars (many of them one-time Fox contractees) in a piece of 1960s pop art that works as parody for the grown-ups and straight-up adventure for the kids. And Holy octogenarian! Adam West still looks great. (120 episodes)
Me-TV Sat 7 p.m. + 7:30 p.m. (ET) + various times on IFC
On DVD and Blu-ray Nov 11

Odd

6. The Odd Couple (1970-75, ABC)
Tony Randall and Jack Klugman star in this adaptation of Neil Simon’s stage play and film of the same name. Skip the single-camera first season; the show really found its rhythm in season 2, when producer Garry Marshall (Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley) switched to a multiple-camera format, filmed in front of a live studio audience. (114 episodes)
Me-TV Fri 10 p.m. + 10:30 p.m. (ET)
66 episodes on Hulu (w/ ads)
On DVD

THE WALTONS

7. The Waltons (1971-1981, CBS)
Creator Earl Hamner Jr.’s autobiographical tale of life in a rural Virginia town during the Great Depression and World War II is best remembered today for it’s “Goodnight, John Boy” closing gag. In reality the show is a beautifully written, resonant family drama with naturalistic performances by Ralph Waite and Michael Learned as parents John and Olivia, Will Geer and Ellen Corby as grandparents Zeb and Esther, and Richard Thomas, Judy Norton-Taylor, Jon Walmsley, Mary Elizabeth McDonough, Eric Scott, David W. Harper, and Kami Kotler as the kids. And thanks to cable TV, you can watch seven(!) episodes each weekday. (210 episodes)
INSP Mon-Fri 3 p.m., 4 p.m., 8 p.m. (ET)
Hallmark Channel Mon-Fri 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m., 8 p.m. (ET)
72 episodes on Amazon (VOD)
On DVD

Ties

8. Family Ties (1982-89, NBC)
There are more iconic and, arguably, better comedies of the 1970s and ‘80s that I’ve excluded from this list, but I include Gary David Goldberg’s family sitcom for one reason: Michael J. Fox. His Alex P. Keaton, the Nixon-revering son of former ‘60s radicals (Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross), stands out as one of the great characters in TV comedy. Plus, the smart writing transcends the sometimes drab look of shot-on-video, multi-camera comedy. (168 episodes)
TVGN various times
All episodes on Netflix and Amazon (Season 1 is Prime, the rest are VOD)
Complete series on DVD

FRED SAVAGE, DANICA MCKELLAR

9. The Wonder Years (1988-93, ABC)
Twenty-five years later, middle schoolers (and later, high schoolers) Kevin and Winnie still pack an emotional punch. Note that the episodes streaming on Netflix contain an alternate version of the theme (sans Joe Cocker vocals) and missing/replaced songs, due to rights issues. Time-Life has indicated they will clear “more than 300 songs” for the upcoming DVD release, and include hours of newly created extras. (115 episodes)
All episodes on Netflix
On DVD in October

Cast

10. Twin Peaks (1990-91, ABC)
The extent to which David Lynch’s serio-comic murder mystery informs TV of today is almost immeasurable. But while many shows seek to capture the otherworldly mood of this short-lived series, none have ever come close. Wow, BOB. Wow. (30 episodes)
All episodes on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu (w/ commercials)
On Blu-ray (with the 1992 feature film FIRE WALK WITH ME + lost footage)

Posted in Classic TV | 35 Comments

The 1979 “Rockford Files” Episode that Inspired “The Sopranos”

the-rockford-files--A gang from Newark’s South Side is hiding Vinnie Martine’s body in a restaurant freezer. Tony’s mad because Anthony Jr. got caught pranking another mobster. And a boss who’s trying to reform gets his mansion sprayed with bullets.

Remember that episode of The Sopranos? If you do, your memory’s playing tricks on you, because all these things happened on a 1979 episode of The Rockford Files — written by Sopranos creator David Chase.

Chase signed on to James Garner’s hugely popular NBC series in 1976 and remained until its premature conclusion midway through the sixth season in 1980, writing and/or producing nearly two-dozen shows. And Rockford’s penultimate installment was actually a backdoor pilot for what would have been a Chase-produced spin-off about New Jersey mobsters – nearly two decades before The Sopranos premiered on HBO.

CouplaBroadcast on December 14, 1979, Just a Coupla Guys is the story of a pair of loveable losers trying to make names for themselves. Because they’re from the Garden State, that means one thing: they gotta get mobbed up. Eugene Conigliaro (Greg Antonacci) is the stylish but malapropism-inclined brains (sort-of) of the duo, and Mickey Long (Gene Davis) is the dumb but genial brawn.  The mostly useless pair of wiseguy wannabes operates from the back room of a deli – you might even call it a pork shop – in Newark, owned by Eugene’s hot-tempered Uncle Beppy (Simon Oakland, who played Tony Vincenzo on the Chase-penned Kolchak: the Night Stalker in 1974-75).

What does L.A.-based private eye Jim Rockford have to do with this? Not much, but since his name’s in the title, he has to show up.

Rockford flies to Newark at the request of a retired mob boss’ daughter (Lisa Bowman) only to have his rental car and luggage stolen upon arrival. This leaves the storytelling spotlight open for Eugene and Mickey, who can be seen as younger prototypes of Paulie (Tony Sircio) and Silvio (Steven Van Zandt), two of The Sopranos’ more memorable characters. But the similarities between Chase’s failed NBC pilot and his HBO series (which ran for six seasons and 86 episodes) don’t stop there.

postIn Just a Coupla Guys, Tony the mob boss (Antony Ponzini) is a doting father who also happens to be a killer. Anthony Jr. (Doug Tobey) is a good kid acting up to get his dad’s attention.  Jean (Jennifer Rhodes) is the long-suffering mob wife, trapped in a suburban mansion. And Mr. Lombard (Gilbert Green), is an aging former boss who may or may not have lost his marbles. There’s even a Catholic priest (Arch Johnson), although he’s nowhere near as attractive as Father Phil, the clergyman who caught Carmela Soprano’s eye.

The shared character types between the two stories are striking, though not surprising, considering Chase was a Jersey boy who grew up watching classic gangster films. Unfortunately, the Coupla Guys he cast are (or at least, were, to put it mildly) not particularly engaging screen presences, a fact that’s painfully obvious when they share scenes with the charismatic Garner, who died on Saturday at age 86. And, while The Sopranos managed to balance light comedy with occasionally horrific violence, Just a Coupla Guys is dopey and contrived, meandering through 50 minutes like an endless sitcom with no punchlines.  I kept waiting for the show to be rescued by a laugh track, which was not uncommon in hour-long dramedies of the era, like The Love Boat and Eight is Enough.

Ironically, Antonacci and Long had first appeared together a season earlier on Rockford, as harder-edged versions of the same characters. In The Jersey Bounce, also written by Chase, Eugene and Mickey are drug dealers who move in next door to Jim’s dad Rocky (Noah Beery Jr.), kill a guy, and frame Rockford for the crime – a fact which the P.I. conveniently forgets when he meets them again on the other side of the country in Just a Coupla Guys. 

AntonnaciSopranos DNA also runs through The Jersey Bounce, with a reference to Carmela, a bald guy named Artie, meta conversations about movie gangsters, and a character who says, “Bada-bing.” Antonacci, a native of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, is more of a stereotypical cugine in the earlier episode, and far more menacing; he both wears a wife beater and beats his wife (actually his girlfriend, who’s played by Doney Oatman, better known as Felix’s daughter Edna on ABC’s The Odd Couple). A year later, Chase and series creator Stephen J. Cannell gave Antonacci a perm and a sweater vest, and forgot that Long’s character had been introduced cutting lines of coke.  Sadly, the end result is like lukewarm ziti. Daily Variety called it “amateurish tedium” and NBC passed on the series, which is probably for the best.

To be clear: no network would never have allowed David Chase to do anything remotely resembling The Sopranos on primetime television in 1980. But Hill Street Blues was only a year away, and St. Elsewhere two, and with them (and others) came a new wave of primetime realism. If Chase had chosen to keep the lead characters in Just a Coupla Guys more anti-heroic, who knows what might have happened.

Greg+Antonacci+HBO+Caesars+Revisit+1920s+Celebrate+0AqhiyURpGFlBest of all, the story has a happy ending. An older, wiser Chase gave us the The Sopranos in 1999, kicking off what is now widely considered to be The Second Golden Age of Television. And, nearly three decades after Just a Coupla Guys, Chase cast Greg Antonacci again – in The Sopranos. The then-60-year-old actor played Phil Leotardo’s underboss Butch “The Little Guy” DeConcini, the rival mobster who cuts the deal with Tony that saves his life in the series’ final episode. Considering that (SPOILER ALERT!) Phil meets his maker in the finale, it’s likely that Butch became the boss of the Lupertazzi crime family.

It may have taken him thirty years, but Eugene Conigliaro ended up on top after all.

The Rockford Files airs weekdays at 12 p.m. (ET) and Sundays at 6 p.m. on Me-TV. The entire series is streaming in HD on Netflix, and the seasons 1-3 are available (with commercials) on Hulu.

Sopranos v2

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