Previously Owned: Many Happy Returns

MomMarch 14, 2006

I almost forgot that today was my mother’s 71st birthday.

I say almost because I finally remembered at 11:16 p.m. And I was presented with a dilemma.

My parents, objectively speaking, are old. They live in a retirement community in Port St. Lucie, Florida. And there’s not much to keep them up late at night, other than arthritis, Turner Classic Movies, or the occasional ambulance dispatching a soon-to-be-former neighbor. Do I call at 11:16 p.m. to wish my mom a happy birthday and run the risk of waking them up – or worse yet, giving them both heart attacks? Because in my parents’ world, any phone call received after 11 p.m. means somebody is dead, dying, or arrested. (Don’t ask me how I know about that last option.)

Or do I wait until tomorrow, when my birthday wishes would be tainted by belated – a word that practically shrieks, “I am self-involved and thoughtless.” (Both of which are true, but that’s beside the point.)

Cynics might think: “Will, you’re adopted. What do you care? It’s not like she’s your real mother.”

In fact, it’s just the opposite. While many woman can get pregnant and have a baby if they chose to, my mother could not, despite repeated efforts. And while conceiving (for some) is effortless (and fun, or so I’m told), adopting is not – especially in in the analog Dark Ages of 1969.

My parents had to fill out all manner of government paperwork, sit through countless interviews and inspections by social workers, and go through extensive background checks before they became my proud new owners. They even fostered kids, and had to fend off at least one troubled father who wanted his back. The process of acquiring the Smartass Who Became Known as William McKinley Jr. took years, and generated more than a few disappointments.

And why did they go to all this trouble? So they would have someone to call them on their 71st birthday.

It’s not really that much to ask. They took me in, fed me, clothed me, put up with my teenaged obsession with Dark Shadows, paid for me to go to private school and NYU, and continue to lend me money as I approach the age of 40. And I’m not even technically related to them. That’s a pretty sweet deal. And all they ask for in return is a phone call on their respective birthdays.

So I decided to call. Thankfully they were both still awake, probably watching something on TCM.

“I just got out of work,” I lied when my mother answered the phone. “Sorry I couldn’t call earlier.”

I wished my mom a happy birthday, told her what I had been up to, and asked what she was doing to celebrate.

“Talking to you,” she said.

Today would have been my mother’s 80th birthday. She died on December 28, 2007. An earlier version of this essay was originally published on March 14, 2006. She thought it was funny, but didn’t appreciate being called “old.” 

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Shampoo = Sex in SMARTEST GIRL IN TOWN (1936)

SONY DSCI’m a Pre-Code film snob. Or at least I’ve become one in recent years.

If a sound film was released before July of 1934 (when enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code censorship guidelines began in earnest), it’s a good bet I’ll watch it. I don’t care who stars in it, who directed it, what it’s about, or which studio made it. There’s just something about the early Talkie Era that speaks to me – in a slightly tinny New York accent.

My heart always sinks a bit when I see a film on Turner Classic Movies that’s clearly of a ’30s vintage but carries a release date of 1935 or later.

“Oh, how much better it could have been!” I lament, beating my breast in mourning for the debauchery that will undoubtedly be missing.

But every now and then I get a nice surprise, and I’m reminded why the 1930s – the entire 1930s – has been my favorite film decade since I first discovered old movies. And Joseph Santley’s SMARTEST GIRL IN TOWN, an RKO comedy from 1936 with a sharply satirical script by Viola Brothers Shore, is one such cinematic surprise.

Featured on TCM as part of a month-long salute to Star of the Month Ann Sothern (and available on DVD from Warner Archive), SMARTEST GIRL IN TOWN was the sassy blonde’s third pairing with genial leading man Gene Raymond (think Dick Powell by way of Van Johnson). This time around Ann is Cookie, a broke model gold-digging for a sugar daddy to rescue her from cheap gigs in expensive clothes she can’t afford.

Cookie lives with her wise-cracking guardian angel/older sister Gwen (the always reliable Helen Broderick) who doesn’t hold out much hope that our heroine will land a big-pocketed fish.

“(You’ll) do the same thing I did: fall in love with some boob who doesn’t have a thin dime,” Gwen says. “Some big slug will come along who needs mothering, and you’ll wake up one morning and find you’ve taken on the job for life.”

GRCookie protests, but this is a romantic comedy and we all know what has to happen next. The “slug” she falls for is Dick Smith, who Cookie thinks is a dim but handsome male model with a “million dollar profile” (which was the working title of the film). In fact, Dick is actually Richard Stuyvesant Smith, a millionaire playboy with a penchant for writing checks to ladies he dismisses after breakfast. And just to remind Dick of his past “breaches of promise,” his loyal valet Lucious Philbean (Eric Blore, hilarious as usual) keeps copies of the pay-off checks framed on his bedroom wall.

To stop Cookie from falling into the wealthy Italian arms of Baron Enrico Torene (Erik Rhodes), Dick sets up a faux modeling agency with Philbean as boss. Each night brings another bogus modeling shoot, and eventually Cookie and Dick end up in a clinch. And here’s where it gets interesting.

SMARTStripped of the freedoms of Pre-Code filmmaking (where heroes and heroines could canoodle sans matrimony), Santley stages a brilliantly chaste love scene wherein Sothern simply washes Gene Raymond’s hair. What must have sounded harmless to the Hays office on the printed page becomes a hilariously hot stand-in for sex, as Dick strips down to his skivvies and Cookie vigorously massages his scalp, stopping only to admire his undershirt-clad torso. Sothern pushes it about as far as she could in 1936, clearly playing the scene as a woman who is sexually attracted to a man.

Not that I’m a perv, but that’s where SMARTEST GIRL IN TOWN won me over. There is a subtext at work here that follows the letter of the Code, but subverts the spirit of it. And, in the process, Santley (and Sothern, mostly) create a more powerful love scene than might have been achieved with the standard fade out on kiss/fade up on breakfast approach. In effect, they out-Coded the Code.

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 10.20.41 PMYou can probably guess the rest (and if you can’t, you should watch more old movies). In addition to its subtle sexiness, SMARTEST GIRL IN TOWN boasts an all-star cast of 1930s character actors, many of them familiar from other beloved RKO films of the era. And if you’re thinking this all sounds remarkably like TOP HAT (1935), you’re right. SMARTEST GIRL IN TOWN is an Astaire/Rogers film without Astaire and Rogers, with some sexy haircare standing in for Fred and Ginger’s brand of lovemaking: dance. And there’s even a bit of music, as Raymond croons “Will You,” a catchy ballad of his own composition.

With its economical 57-minute running time, SMARTEST GIRL IN TOWN might have been a forgettably slight B-grade rom com. But with Ann Sothern, Gene Raymond and RKO’s best character actors, it’s a delightfully witty surprise, and a film that truly deserves the rare title of “Post-Code Pre-Code.”

SMARTEST GIRL IN TOWN is available on manufacture-on-demand DVD from  Warner Archive in a two-film set with SHE’S GOT EVERYTHING (1937), also featuring Ann Sothern and Gene Raymond. You can read more about the film at Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings

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My TCM Film Fest Memories: AIRPLANE! (1980)

8916DK3IctRZjnSQhArexNxg4YALast night I watched AIRPORT (1970) on Turner Classic Movies and it reminded me of one of my favorite memories from the TCM Classic Film Festival.

At the fourth TCMFF in 2013, I joined a motley crew of my Old Movie Weirdo friends at the historic TCL Chinese Theater for a raucous, Saturday night screening of AIRPLANE! (1980). In front of a packed house, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recreated his role as co-pilot Roger Murdock for a video introduction of writer/directors Jim Abrahams and David Zucker and star Robert Hays, who sat down with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz for a pre-screening interview.

Mankiewicz called AIRPLANE! “the funniest movie I have ever seen,” which is high praise to offer an ’80s movie at a “classic film festival.” But the audience seemed to agree, laughing in unison at the slapstick sight gags and witty puns that have now become part of the pop culture lexicon. And if you don’t believe me, just try saying “Don’t call me Shirley” to anybody you know. It always works – even if they’ve never actually seen the film.

AIRPLANE! is both a spoof of the ridiculous 1970s disaster genre and the 1957 suspense film ZERO HOUR (which also features a screenplay by Airport author Arthur Hailey that’s often quoted word for word). Robert Hays plays Ted Striker, an ex-fighter pilot (from an unnamed, stock footage war) with a “drinking problem,” and Julie Haggerty is his flight attendant ex-girlfriend. When Striker finds himself aboard a plane in which the crew has fallen victim to food poisoning, he must fight his personal demons to get the passengers to safety (with the hilarious help of Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, and Lloyd Bridges, who picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue.)

still-of-robert-hays-in-airplane!-(1980)-large-pictureComedy is subjective, but I think pretty much anyone who loves movies would agree that AIRPLANE! is inventive, smart and timelessly funny. And, I think all of us in attendance at Grauman’s that night would agree there’s no better way to see a classic than on the big screen, in a room filled with people who love it or are excited to be experiencing it for the first time.

Happily, movie fans in the Nashville area will get a chance to do just that, when AIRPLANE! screens on Saturday, April 18 at the Belcourt Theatre as part of the second annual Wild West Comedy Festival. And ever better: co-writer/directors David Zucker and Jerry Zucker will be in attendance for a Q&A following the film.

From April 14 through April 19, the Wild West Comedy Festival will present dozens of events at Nashville-area venues, including the Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry. (The Belcourt, which began life as a silent movie theater in 1925, was also home to Opry broadcasts from 1934 through 1936). Other highlights include a screening of FOOTLOOSE (1984) “interrupted” by comic Doug Benson and performances by Jeff Garlin from HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, Nick Kroll from Comedy Central’s The Kroll Show, and Hannibal Buress (best know to Broad City fans as Ilana’s hook-up buddy/dentist Lincoln).

You can check out the Wild West Comedy Festival schedule here. And you can look forward to my coverage of the sixth annual TCM Classic Film Festival, which kicks off March 26. (Hopefully the pilot on my flight to LAX won’t eat the fish.)

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Vote for “Bride of Monster Serial” in the Rondo Awards!

BoMS-FRONTsmallLast year I was honored to be included in Bride of Monster Serial, an anthology of essays about horror films past and present.

Edited by Wallace McBride, the book covers an eclectic collection of 40 fright films, from early Talkies like THE BLACK CAT (1934) with Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff to contemporary creepers like THE LAST EXORCISM (2010).

This year, I’m even more honored to announce that Bride of Monster Serial has been nominated for a Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best Book. Founded in 2002, the Rondo – named for the unforgettable character actor who appeared in films like THE BRUTE MAN (1946) – is the only award dedicated to classic horror movies and TV shows and the contemporary media that honors them.

And here’s the best part: the phone call is coming from inside the house!

No, sorry. I mean the winners are chosen entirely by fans! 

tumblr_mgfbr3se9D1qisxcso1_400This year’s awards are dedicated to Leonard Nimoy and Academy Award-winning make-up artist Dick Smith, and recognize nominees in 35 categories, from Best Movie to Classic Film Most in Need of Restoration. If you’d like to see all the nominees you can review the ballot here, but you don’t have to vote in every category to participate.

If you’re so inclined, you can cast your ballot for just the following two awards.

11. BEST BOOK: Bride of Monster Serial
19. BEST BLOG OF 2014: The Collinsport Historical Society

All you have to do is copy and paste the entries above and e-mail them to David Colton at taraco@aol.com by midnight, April 19, 2015 (but do it right now, because you’re busy and you might forget).

The latter nominee is McBride’s Dark Shadows blog, a site to which I also contribute on a regular basis (and a winner of a 2012 Rondo).  One vote is allowed per person, and your e-mail must include your name to be counted (so if you’re hiding from the cops you may have to opt out, which I totally understand). And they promise they won’t spam you with emails about obscure DVD releases or requests for dates from guys who live im their parents’ basements.

If you’re interested in picking up a copy of Bride of Monster Serial, it’s available at Amazon and includes the work of  the following contributors:

And to get you in the mood for voting, here’s a clip of Rondo Hatton as Mario the Monster Man in THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK (1946) from Universal Pictures with Gale Sondergaard. Thanks for voting!

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“In Search Of…” Leonard Nimoy’s 1970s Reality Show

leonard-nimoyLeonard Nimoy called his 1975 autobiography I Am Not Spock. For me, at least at the time, that sentiment was accurate.

I first discovered Nimoy, who died today at age 83, as the host and narrator of In Search Of…, a weekly “documentary” series focusing on paranormal, mysterious, or unexplained events. Though the syndicated series scared the daylights out of me as an impressionable 7-year-old, it had me hooked almost immediately upon its premiere in April of 1977.

That spring was the calm before my sci-fi storm; weekly Star Trek reruns on my local independent station had not yet captured my attention, and the STAR WARS tractor beam was still a few months away from sucking me in for life. But I was always up for a good scare, and everything about In Search Of… creeped me out.

SearchCreated by Alan Lansburg, producer and writer of Biography, The World of Jacques Cousteau, and the National Geographic specialsIn Search Of… was arguably one of TV’s first reality shows, if your definition of “reality show” is a slightly exagerated take on an actual person or event, and not the Kabuki theatrics of The Real Housewives. 

Each week – it aired on Saturday nights in New York – In Search Of… would take on a sensational, often zeitgeist-capturing topic, like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, or UFOs, and attempt to explain it with a combination of talking head interviews, actor reenactments, news footage, spooky music and a heavy dose of “conjecture” (as the opening montage confessed). Nimoy lent the often hyperbolic proceedings a necessary gravitas, delivering his lines in his best Spock deadpan. Think Robert Stack in Unsolved Mysteries, but with fewer trenchcoats and more turtlenecks (and ghosts).

DVDNowadays, cable TV is littered with programs that blur the widening line between truth and bullshit, but such was not the case in the pre-SPINAL TAP dark ages of 1977. Documentary parodies existed on sketch shows like Monty Python and Saturday Night Live, but experts speaking seriously on fantastic topics were a rare thing. And they held a lot of weight, particularly if you were young, impressionable, and desperate to believe that there were other forces at play in the natural world.

And that was the thesis of In Search Of…, that unexplainable things were unexplainable simply because society wasn’t prepared to accept the explanations. The truth was out there in 1977, and it was thanks to Leonard Nimoy.

In Search Of… began as a series of three, hour-long documentaries airing between 1973 and 1975, all hosted by Rod Serling. Sadly, The Twilight Zone host died by the time Lansburg had sold the series, so Nimoy was transported into the host role. He’d go on to emcee all 144 episodes, until the success of the STAR TREK reunion films insured that Leonard Nimoy was, once again, Spock. (Appropriately, his second autobiography, published in 1995, is entitled I Am Spock.)

Happily, all 144 episodes of In Search Of… are available un-cut on DVD from VEI, both as individual season sets and a complete series box (which includes the Rod Serling specials, and 2002 re-boot hosted by The X-Files star Mitch Pileggi). And, while the show is not currently streaming legitimately, all six seasons are available on YouTube thanks to a mysterious phenomena known as “piracy.”

If you’re so inclined, I’d suggest you begin your Search with the Bermuda Triangle episode (original airdate April 17, 1977). This show made me fearful of flying for years, and I still think of it whenever I board a plane.

Thanks, Mr. Nimoy.

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50 Years of THE ODD COUPLE

odd-couple-posterThe Odd Couple has been rebooted so many times in the last half century it’s difficult to keep track without a Felix Unger-style spreadsheet.

So, as sloppy sports reporter Oscar Madison and persnickety photographer Felix Unger move in together again, this time on CBS in the person of Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon, here’s a look back at 50 years of “two divorced men sharing an apartment without driving each crazy.”

Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple first got together March 8, 1965 at Broadway’s Plymouth Theater, with Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney (Norton from The Honeymooners) as Felix. (In the play he’s a TV news writer, and his name is spelled Ungar; don’t ask me why.) The Mike Nichols-directed production took home four Tonys, including awards for Matthau, Simon and Nichols. Jack Klugman (later to play the role on TV) replaced Matthau as Oscar, followed by Pat Hingle and Mike Kellin; Eddie Bracken (star of Preston Sturges’ MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK and HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO) replaced Carney as Felix. The show closed on July 2, 1967 after 964 performances, but the story was just beginning.

1968Simon wrote an Oscar-nominated adaptation of his play for Gene Saks’ 1968 Paramount film, with Matthau back as Oscar and Jack Lemmon taking on the role of Felix (the duo had co-starred previously in Billy Wilder’s THE FORTUNE COOKIE) Original Broadway cast members John Fiedler, Carole Shelley, and Monica Evans returned as poker pal Vinnie and the flighty Pigeon sisters, Oscar’s next door neighbors and objects of affection. If you’ve seen it you know Saks’ THE ODD COUPLE is the most darkly comic iteration of the story, with a lengthy opening sequence devoted to Felix’s attempted suicide that takes place off-stage in the play. Raising the narrative stakes gives the story a heightened resonance, and Felix’s on-the-ledge desperation makes his unlikely union with Oscar a legitimate life-saver, not just a narrative contrivance. (And if you haven’t seen it, it’s streaming at Netflix.)

n6lmlm4k8cdmmlk6In 1970, producer Garry Marshall brought The Odd Couple to TV, with Klugman once again as Oscar and Tony Randall as Felix. (Shelly and Evans were also back for a handful of episodes as Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon.) After an inconsistent first season shot feature film-style with a laugh track, Marshall began filming in front of a live audience in season 2 and the show found its voice. Supporting characters were added for TV, including Oscar’s secretary Myrna Turner (Penny Marshall), Murray the cop (Al Molinaro taking over for Herb Edelman, who played the character in the film), Felix’s girlfriend Miriam (Elinor Donahue), his ex-wife Gloria (Janis Hansen), and Oscar’s ex Blanche (Brett Somers, the former Mrs. Klugman).

Though never a huge ratings hit, the series lasted for five years on ABC, and its 114 episodes played endlessly in syndicated reruns throughout the ’70s and ’80s (much to my delight as a kid). It can still be seen Friday nights at 10 p.m. (ET) on MeTV and 66 episodes are streaming at Hulu (much to my delight as a middle-aged man).

And then it gets weird.

1975In 1975, six months after sitcom’s final episode, ABC launched an animated adaptation re-titled The Oddball Couple. Felix and Oscar were reimagined as Spiffy the cat (voiced by Frank Nelson) and Fleabag the dog (Paul Winchell, the first voice of Tigger), two anthropomorphized animals living together (and most assuredly driving each crazy) in a half mansion/half slum. The series also featured the vocal talents of one-time Stooge Joe Besser and original Scooby-Doo cast members Don Messick (Fred) and Frank Welker (Scooby). DePatie-Freleng Enterprises only produced 16 episodes of The Oddball Couple, though ABC sure got their money’s worth; the show aired weekly for two years, first on Saturday mornings, then on Sundays, then back to Saturdays. (It’s not available via streaming or DVD, but you can watch the opening sequence on YouTube.)

1982In 1982, just seven years after the sitcom’s cancellation, ABC dusted off old scripts and reshot them with an African-American cast. The New Odd Couple starred Demond Wilson (Lamont from Sanford and Son) as Oscar with Ron Glass (the nattily attired Det. Harris from the just-cancelled Barney Miller) as Felix. Originally conceived during a Writers Guild of American strike, this “urban” reboot eventually generated its own storylines, but even Garry Marshall’s producing and a jazzy arrangement of Neil Hefti’s iconic theme couldn’t save it from cancellation in May of 1983. (Not available streaming or on DVD, so YouTube to the rescue.)

oddcouple-femaleTwo years later, The Odd Couple got a sex change and came back to Broadway, with Rita Moreno (and later Brenda Vaccaro) as Olive Madison and Sally Struthers as Florence Ungar. Gene Saks directed the revival, and Simon adapted his script, changing the poker game to Trivial Pursuit and the Pigeon sisters to the Costazuela brothers (played by Tony Shaloub and Lewis J. Stadlen). The show played 295 performances at the Broadhurst Theatre, one of which included me in the audience rolling my eyes in dismay. It closed on February 23, 1986, and a tour followed. (As far as I can tell the production was never recorded, but there are dozens of clips of community theater versions on YouTube.)

Nearly 20 years after the sitcom’s cancellation, Klugman and Randall reunited for THE ODD COUPLE: TOGETHER AGAIN, a 1993 CBS TV movie also featuring Penny Marshall. Felix, now back with wife Gloria, is planning his daughter Edna’s wedding while helping Oscar recover from surgery for throat cancer (as Klugman was doing in real life). Klugman would live for 20 more years, but the illness aspect of the storyline casts a bit of a pall over the otherwise lighthearted proceedings. Still, it was a treat to see Klugman and Randall working together again, and it must have been for them, too; they toured in a revival of the play later that year.  (Not streaming or on DVD, but there’s a lengthy clip on YouTube.)

oc2In 1998, Matthau and Lemmon staged their own wedding-based reunion in THE ODD COUPLE II, wherein Oscar’s son Brucey (mentioned in the 1968 film but never on the TV series) and Felix’s daughter Hannah get married. Even with a script by Simon, and the renewed popularity of Matthau and Lemmon with contemporary audiences thanks to the GRUMPY OLD MEN franchise, this sequel was a flop. (You can see why at Amazon.)

In 2002, Simon updated his original play, and a revival was produced at the Geffen Playhousein Los Angeles with John Larroquette (Night Court) as Oscar and Joe Regalbuto (Murphy Brown) as Felix. This updated Odd Couple made it back to Broadway in 2005, starring a post-Producers Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, for 249 mostly-sold-out performances. (An amateur recording is on YouTube.)

Which brings us to 2015, and the new CBS sitcom with Friends star Matthew Perry as Oscar and Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!) as Felix.

THE ODD COUPLEPerry and Lennon have big shoes to fill – two sets of them, in fact – and, if the first episode is any indication, they fail as miserably as Oscar and Felix’s respective marriages. Much of the fault has to fall on the flannel-wearing shoulders of Perry, who as executive producer and co-writer has generated the first reboot that doesn’t update the story or characters in any interesting way (other than making Oscar a sports talk radio host who broadcasts from his apartment in boxer shorts, and transforming Felix in a yoga-practicing vegan).

That may sound like this Odd Couple is a (somewhat) faithful homage to the original(s), which it is not. This is a crass, lazy retread that capitalizes on the history and name recognition of the characters, while stripping the property of just about every element that made previous versions memorable.

At its core, The Odd Couple is about a relationship. Call it a bromance if you like, but if that relationship is believable, the stories can go off in all sort of crazy directions and still work. Just read some plot descriptions from the ’70s series: Oscar and Felix get robbed; Oscar tries video dating and gets paired with Felix’s ex; Oscar and Felix appear on a game show, etc. It’s typical sitcom stuff, but each episode of the original series is elevated by nuanced performances by Klugman and Randall and the inherent truth in the often prickly partnership between the two characters.

When you have broadly drawn characters you have to find a way to ground them in reality, and make them pleasant to visit with each week. Matthau and Klugman played jerks, but they were charming jerks; Lemmon and Randall found a way to be neurotic but still lovable. On TV, larger than life supporting characters like Myrna and Murray the Cop were portrayed with idiosyncratic legitimacy, even when reality was heightened for comedic impact. None of that depth is here.

There was a sort of musicality to Matthau’s Oscar, his voice rising and falling as Felix drove him increasingly crazy. Perry delivers all his lines with a strained urgency that feels desperate and quickly descends into a sort of white noise. He wanders through the the first episode like he’s on his way to another show, and his third act epiphany is straight out of sitcom writing school (complete with the canned “awww” from the nonexistent audience).

FelixBut the bigger disappointment is Lennon, whose Felix is a one-dimensional cartoon, betraying what should be his character’s amusingly tragic origin story with dumb jokes. Part of what makes the premise of these two polar opposites living together believable is that Felix truly has “nowhere else to go.” At least initially, he desperately needs Oscar to keep his sanity, and Oscar comes to need him. No such texture exists in this reboot, and the likelihood that these two would even be friends, let alone live together, is complete contrivance.

Garry Marshall (who is a consultant on the new show) has talked in interviews about network execs fearing that Oscar and Felix might be perceived as a gay couple. In 1970 that thought might not even have occurred to many viewers, because there were no out characters on TV. That’s no longer the case in 2015, and this Odd Couple has to navigate cultural waters that no previous version has. But the writers of the reboot have chosen to address this in the most obvious of ways, with Oscar and his poker buddies cracking mean jokes about how “gay” Felix seems. Because being gay is hilarious.

Watching that scene, one thing occurred to me: what if the 2015 version of The Odd Couple had updated the premise in a way that’s never been done before, making Felix not just effeminate, but an actual gay man who comes out in middle age and reluctantly has to split from his wife because of it. That would surely change the narrative crux of the story, but it would be a far more novel update than making him a cat, a woman, or an African-American. And it would give this show a contemporary relevance it sorely lacks.

After 50 years, The Odd Couple deserves better. As Tony Randall’s Felix would tell you, when you bungle an iconic property this badly, “you make an ass out of you and me.”

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Sophia Loren to Appear at 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival

SophiaSometime in the early 1980s, my mom brought home a new perfume.

“What’s ‘So-peeya’?” my sister Missy asked, adorably mispronouncing the name inscribed on the fancy glass bottle.

“It’s Sophia,” my mother corrected. “It’s a perfume named after a beautiful movie actress. I always wanted to look like her.”

Missy looked at the bottle on the table for a few seconds, then glanced up at Mom.

“Well, if you can’t look like her, at least you can smell like her!”

In my sister’s defense, she was only 7 or so when she issued this unintentional dis, and my mom got plenty of mileage from it, repeating the story at just about every family party for the next thirty years.

I thought of that unforgettable moment from my childhood when Turner Classic Movies announced today that Sophia Loren will attend the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood next month. The two-time Oscar-winner will introduce a screening of MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE (1964) and sit down with host Robert Osborne for a interview to be broadcast on the channel next year. Sophia Loren: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival will be recorded on Saturday, March 28 at the Ricardo Montalban Theater in Hollywood, in front of what is likely to be a capacity crowd of TCMFF passholders.

96-1Born Sofia Scicolone in Rome in 1934, Loren first came to international prominence in Italian comedy films of the mid-1950s from directors like Dino Risi and Vittorio De Sica. Hollywood soon came calling, and the young actress was cast opposite some of the biggest stars of the era, including Gregory Peck, John Wayne, and Cary Grant. (Loren’s vocal rendition of “Bing! Bang! Bong!” opposite Grant in 1958’s HOUSEBOAT is a thing of perverse beauty). She won an Oscar in 1962 for her role as a fiercely protective mother in war-torn Italy in the heart-wrenching drama TWO WOMEN and was nominated three years later for MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE (both directed by De Sica). Despite slowing down to raise her children, Loren continued to be one of the most popular international stars in the ensuing decades, and she was recognized with an honorary Oscar by the Academy in 1991.

Loren continues to work sporadically today, earning accolades for Rob Marshall’s NINE (2009), appearing in an Italian TV miniseries in 2010, voicing the character of Mama Topolino in the non-English language versions of CARS 2 (2011), and starring in her son Edoardo Ponti’s short film HUMAN VOICE (2014). Last year she appeared at the Cannes Film Festival, presenting an acting master class and introducing MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE as part of the Cannes Classics series.

And, of course, she’s still beautiful at age 80.

Mom

My mom, mid-1950s

My mother would also have celebrated her 80th birthday in March, just days before Loren’s appearance at the TCM Classic Film Festival, so I’m sure she’ll be there in spirit. And if you’re planning to be there in person, I suggest you line up early. The Montalban Theater only seats 300, and Robert Osborne’s chat with this living legend is likely to be one of the hottest tickets in a weekend filled with must-see events.

Sadly, my sister won’t be able to attend, because she’ll be busy taking care of her kids. By the way, her youngest daughter, age 3, is beautiful and loves having her picture taken. Which makes perfect sense, considering her name is Sophia.

Passes are on sale now for the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival. For more information, visit their website. To read my coverage of TCMFF in past years, click here

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