Friday, January 23, 2015

Adventures in Netflix


Well, it did not take long for my resolution to be more productive here on the blog in 2015 to blow away into the fierce four blogosphere winds; my inactivity is due to many factors: pure dagnasty laziness, my mother’s crossword puzzle obsession, and a battle currently raging with the alleged competency that is customer service at AT&T U-Verse.  (I will talk about this another time when there aren’t quite as many swear words.)  But if I had to lay the blame for my sloth at the feet of someone, Netflix would be the clear winner.

Here’s the straight dope (from a straight dope): you may recall in 2014 that I revealed my diabolical scheme to purchase a Blu-ray/DVD player for the TV in the living room so that I could watch some of my expanding Blu-ray collection—not to mention offerings from the once-healthy-now-depleted dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives—in the comfort of Count Comfy von Chair.  The player that I procured with some Amazon gift card largesse (thanks to sister Debbie and company) is also equipped with WiFi, and when the player was delivered by the skilled and proficient USPS (I say that with a heavy dose of sarcasm, by the way) no one was more surprised than I when it proved to be a breeze to set up.  This might be due to the fact that I glanced at the instructions beforehand…but I will neither confirm nor deny this.  (Also, too: the player did not come with a USSB cord…fortunately I had prepared for such emergencies.)

So I have the player…I hook it up…and naturally, I want to test out my new toy, so I decided to sign up for a free month at Netflix.  I’ve been a Netflix customer a couple of times in the past, and I never had any controversial issues other than the fact that I rarely got around to watching some of the rental DVDs, and thusly had difficulty justifying the expense.  With the streaming, there’s no problem: I watch the movies I want, and there’s no envelopes to return or any of that hassle.  I can see why Netflix, Hulu Plus and the other services available on the WiFi portion of the player are an attractive option to folks who are declaring their independence from cable (and good for them, I say).  Los Parentes Yesteryear cannot exercise that option because they enjoy sportsball too much…and if my Dad were to suddenly be separated from his cable news I can’t promise you things wouldn’t get ugly.

So in addition to some Radio Spirits assignments and some ClassicFlix stuff (here’s a review of 1928’s A Lady of Chance that’s just gone up recently) the rest of my time has been spent watching movies on Netflix.  What do I have to report?  Let’s find out.

Fantasia (1940)/Fantasia 2000 (1999) – Previously, I was oh-for-three in attempting to watch what many people consider Walt Disney’s greatest animation achievement: the 1940 classic Fantasia.  I bought the VHS in 1991 and tried to watch it on two separate occasions, falling fast asleep within the first half-hour every time.  The videocassette eventually got sold and I later purchased the 2000 DVD release…only to start snoring a third time, again around the thirty-minute mark.  (That bit o’DVD Sominex later got sold as well.)

I thought it might have just been me; maybe I was just lethargic due to lack of rest.  But, no—while I was successful on the fourth try (though I did nod off a couple of times) to see all of Fantasia, that movie is a sure fire cure for insomnia.  I know it’s heralded for its innovations in animation; I know it made great strides in stereophonic sound; I know it’s an acid trip for some.  But honest to my grandma, I think this film may be one of the most overrated I’ve ever watched.  Maybe it’s the classical music that puts me to sleep, but I’m pretty sure it’s the repetitive nature of the segments in the movie that does the trick.  With the possible exception of the Dance of the Hours ballet (the one with the hippos, gators, etc.), every sequence in Fantasia follows the same pattern: a period of tranquility…then upheaval…then tranquility again.  You could argue that this is due to the nature of music chosen, and I probably wouldn’t offer up too much of a rebuttal except for a yawn.

This is not to say there aren’t entertaining moments in Fantasia: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice with Mickey Mouse (the cartoon that laid the groundwork for the feature) is always fun, and I like the Night on Bald Mountain sequence (though I’ll admit I giggle when I hear the music, knowing it was the theme for radio’s Escape).  But the movie as a whole is way too long for my attention span…and you’re going to think me positively mahd but I actually preferred Fantasia 2000 (1999; which I also watched) more.  (I loved the shorter running time and variety of the segments in that—my favorite is probably the Al Hirschfeld-inspired Rhapsody in Blue number.)

Canon City (1948) – This classic semi-documentary film noir had been on my “must-see” list for a long time: Canon City tells the tale of a daring prison break at the Colorado State Penitentiary in 1947, masterminded in the movie by TDOY fave Jeff Corey (one of his best onscreen turns).  Scott Brady plays the lifer who’s reluctantly dragooned into going along with a dream cast of cons that includes Whit Bissell, Stanley Clements, DeForest Kelley, Henry Brandon and Charles Russell.  Actual Colorado State Pen warden Roy Best plays himself (and was smart to keep his day job), and silver screen Dick Tracy Ralph Byrd plays a screw who’s taken hostage.  If you didn’t know this one was written and directed by Crane Wilbur you’d swear it was an Anthony Mann noir…no doubt due to the superb cinematography that’s the work of the incomparable John Alton.  You can hear Great Gildersleeve announcer John Wald as a radio commentator (the ubiquitous Reed Hadley is the narrator), and City also features appearances by John Doucette, Howard Negley and Mabel Paige as the elderly hostage who waits patiently for Corey to be distracted so that she can introduce him to the business end of a hammer.  Definitely in the running as one of the best “new” classic movies I’ve seen so far this year.

Down Three Dark Streets (1954) – Federal man Zack Stewart (Kenneth Tobey) is working three separate cases: he’s on the trail of a bandit named Joe Walpo (Joe Bassett, who guns down gas station attendant William Schallert in the first few minutes of the movie); investigating a hood (Gene Reynolds) who’s taking the fall for the participants in a stolen car racket; and looking into the matter of a woman (Ruth Roman) who’s being blackmailed by a thug for an insurance settlement of $10,000.  Stewart gets a phone tip from a woman named Brenda Ralles (Suzanne Alexander) about one of the cases…and is gunned down by an assailant when he and supervisor John “Rip” Ripley (Broderick Crawford) pay Brenda a visit.

In order to solve Stewart’s murder, Ripley will have to close each of the cases in this better-than-you’d-think procedural that also features good performances from Martha Hyer, Marisa Pavan, Casey Adams (I swear that guy’s been everywhere lately), Claude Akins and Harlan Warde.  (OTR veteran William Johnstone plays Brod’s boss, and Myra Marsh is also on hand.)  I decided to watch Dark Streets after recently seeing director Arnold Laven’s Without Warning! (1952—hopefully the review will be up on the CF site soon); the killer’s identity is pretty obvious but I liked the movie as a whole (film noir fans should definitely check it out).  (Incidentally, Laven has a bit part as a reporter in the aforementioned Canon City.)

Cop Hater (1958) – I was hoping for a hat trick with this one; I’ll dispense with the details since it was previously reviewed by TDOY cub reporter Philip Schweier on the blog.  I wanted to see it because of its 87th Precinct origins but to be honest I thought Cop Hater was a boring talkfest that only really comes to life in the final few minutes of the film (and even I thought that plot resolution strained credibility).  It was fun to see Jerry Orbach as a teenage hood named “Momzer” (those of you familiar with Yiddish will get the joke) and Vincent Gardenia has a nice role as a gimpy (and sweaty) informer.  Still, I definitely thought the short-lived TV show was better.

Carry On Cleo (1964)/Carry On Cowboy (1966) – Because there are a few movies from Britain’s “Carry On” franchise that I haven’t seen, I’ve been DVR’ing as many as I can when The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ runs them on Saturday mornings.  These two haven’t come up in the Tee Cee Em rotation yet so I gave them a look-see: Carry On Cowboy is one of the weakest I’ve seen, and I think that’s because the jokes that are often featured in these films—some so old they’re collecting pensions—are funnier because they’ve been filtered through a British accent.  Cowboy is supposed to be a Western spoof, and since most of the characters use exaggerated “Western” drawls the threadbare verbal gags just fall flat.  Here’s a quick synopsis: Johnny Finger (Sid James), a.k.a. The Rumpo Kid (which may have been the only thing I laughed at, since it reminded me of “Ramblin’ Syd Rumpo” from the BBC radio comedy Round the Horne), terrorizes the citizens of Stodge City until sanitation engineer Marshal P. Knutt (Jim Dale) comes in to “clean up the town” (yes, he’s mistaken for a lawman).  Cowboy showcases the usual members of the troupe: Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey (funny as a fey Indian), Joan Sims, Angela Douglas, Peter Butterworth and Bernard Bresslaw (it was the first Carry On film for the latter two).

Carry On Cleo is considered by many devotees to be the funniest of the series…but I’m not sure I can agree with that, even though Cleo has its moments.  Sid James plays Marc Antony (“Blimus!”), Kenneth Williams is Julius Caesar, and Amanda Barrie makes a lovely Cleopatra—but the focus is on Hengist Pod (Kenneth Connor) and Horsa (Jim Dale), two Britons captured and taken to Rome to be sold into slavery.  (I did guffaw heartily at some early scenes where Romans Caesar and Marc Antony go on about England’s beastly weather.)  Joan Sims and Charles Hawtrey are also in this one, as are future Doctor Who Jon Pertwee and The Rag Trade’s Sheila Hancock (who exits the movie far too soon) as Hengist’s wife Senna.  (No, the jokes don’t get any better.)

The Panic in Needle Park (1971) – My Facebook compadre Kingo Gondo and I were having a conversation about the DVD inavailability of this second directorial effort from Jerry Schatzberg (TCM had recently run his 1973 film Scarecrow) and even though I recorded it off Fox’s movie channel (back in their pre-commercial interruption days) I’d been remiss in giving it my undivided attention.  Al Pacino (who’s also in Scarecrow) has this one to thank for landing him the plum role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972); in The Panic in Needle Park he plays a drug dealer who falls for a young girl (Kitty Winn) and proceeds to transform her into a heroin addict (and by that token, a prostitute).  It’s controversial, to be sure—though it’s a bit tame today in light of movies that have followed; I found myself fascinated by the film (you can’t help but like the couple even though they walk on the seamy side) and enjoyed seeing future stars Raul Julia (as Winn’s ex-boyfriend) and Paul Sorvino, not to mention The Rockford Files’ Joe Santos and Hill Street Blues’ Kiel Martin.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) – And speaking of seamy couples…this heralded drive-in classic was one I also hadn’t seen (though I remember seeing television ads for it when it was first released): Peter Fonda (he’s the crazy one) and Adam Roarke are a pair of NASCAR hopefuls who rob a grocery store (the manager is an uncredited Roddy McDowall) of $150,000 in order to finance their auto racing ambitions.  They’re unable to shake loose hitchhiker Susan George (the dirty one), and must elude unorthodox cop Vic Morrow—who’s following in hot pursuit with all weaponry and vehicles at his disposal.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry features mucho muscle cars and many vehicles running into things and each other; this sort of thing isn’t really my movie preference but its reputation was such I felt obligated to check it out.  Its rep is puzzling; with the exception of Roarke (and even he can be a pill at times), there’s not many sympathetic personages among the main characters…and the chemistry between Fonda’s Larry and George’s Mary is such that I kept hoping he’d run over her with that damn car.  (Any movie with Vic Morrow in it is generally going to feature him as a dirtbag, no question.)  Some folks will find the ending of this one tragic…but I sighed a sigh of relief, knowing it was all over.  (Directed by John Hough, who also did The Legend of Hell House—which might explain why McDowall is in this one.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

From the DVR: The End (1978)


Wendell “Sonny” Lawson (Burt Reynolds) has just received from his physician (Norman Fell) the news that no one ever wants to hear: he’s suffering from a toxic blood disease, and while he probably stands a chance of walking among us for another six months, a more conservative estimate puts it at three.  Sonny doesn’t want to die—mostly because it promises to be painful, and he has an intolerance for discomfort—and after confessing his sins and chatting with a boyish-looking priest in “Father Dave” (Robby Benson), Lawson decides to commit suicide.

Telling his family and friends is the difficult part.  His girlfriend (Sally Field), his best friend (David Steinberg), his ex-wife (Joanne Woodward) and his parents (Myrna Loy, Pat O’Brien) all seem wrapped up in their own affairs to listen to his plans to take “the big sleep.”  His daughter Julie (Kristy McNichol) proves to be the hardest to tell; he ends up lying to her by explaining that he’ll be away for an extended absence…but he will return.

Sonny swallows some of his mother’s sleeping pills…and awakens to find himself in a mental institution due to his suicide attempt.  It’s here that he becomes fast friends with Marlon Borunki (Dom DeLuise), a schizophrenic and convicted murderer who’s only too happy to help his new pal Sonny off himself.  The problem is…Sonny is starting to have second thoughts.

A film critic—and I want to say it was Roger Ebert, but I can’t find collaboration to back this up—once wrote about a fictional “Burt Reynolds Facial Hair Rule”; namely, Burton Leon Reynolds, Jr.’s only notable feature film efforts were those in which he was clean shaven: Deliverance (1972), The Longest Yard (1974)…and that was pretty much it.  Now, in movie criticism—“notable” is in the eye of the beholder: I’ve always liked Burt’s Semi-Tough (1977), and Starting Over (1979) has its admirers and detractors.  I think the critic was facetiously suggesting a concept that later became a famous comedy routine by Robert Wuhl (“Burt Reynolds makes so many bad movies, when someone else makes a bad movie Burt gets a royalty!”) that a lot of the actor’s movies blew chunks…and that he sported his mustachioed persona in a good percentage of them (Hooper, Cannonball Runs I and II, Stroker Ace, etc.).

Again, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.  I like to joke that the one thing my mother and Alfred Hitchcock had in common (the Hitch part is sworn to by his daughter Patricia) is that they both loved Smokey and the Bandit (1977). (Mom actually prefers the 1980 sequel, to be completely honest—and this is because she is insane.)  For years I argued that The End (1978—directed by Reynolds and written by comedy veteran Jerry Belson) was the exception to the “Facial Hair Rule” because it was an attempt on Reynolds’ part to do something a bit different…and yet this isn’t completely accurate, because there is a car chase in the film, and the movie’s stunt coordinator was longtime Burt buddy (and Bandit director) Hal Needham.

Because we were gifted by the U-Verse people with a free preview of some of their HD movie channels (Sony HD, MGM HD, etc.) I decided to revisit The End despite the fact that MGM HD sticks a commercial break (they call it an “intermission”—I call it frustrating) around the 50-55 minute mark of their feature presentations.  Sad to report, while I don’t think it’s a terrible movie (its parts are greater than the whole) it didn’t amuse me as much as it once did.

What do I like about The End?  It has a falling-down funny performance from DeLuise as Burt’s schizo pal, a guy who’s so eager to please he refuses to take “no” for an answer.  (It would be the first—and in my opinion, the best—of Reynolds and DeLuise’s many collaborations.)  Classic movie mavens might get a chuckle out of seeing old pros Pat O’Brien and Myrna Loy as Burt's parents; my only regret is that they don’t have more to do in the movie, and at the risk of being disinherited the two of them strongly reminded me of Los Parentes Yesteryear.  Reynolds also cast a number of TDOY faves in small, amusing parts (Fell, Steinberg, Strother Martin)—Carl Reiner plays a death therapist who meets an unfortunate fate and Stacia fave James Best has a funny cameo as a patient who interferes with Burt’s attempt to use a pay phone.

I also think Burt’s soliloquy at the film’s climax is hysterical (“Oh, God—let me live, and I promise to obey every one of the Ten Commandments…I shalt not kill…I shalt not commit adultery…I shalt not…I…I…I’ll learn the Ten Commandments!”).  The problem with The End is really Burt the Director; it was only his second turn behind the camera (after 1976’s Gator) and I think someone possessing a more experienced comedic touch would have made some of the scenes punchier (the pacing of the movie is wildly uneven).  In revisiting The End, I was also reminded of the fact that before getting Oscars for Norma Rae (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984), Sally Field was in a lot of Burt’s movies simply because she was Burt’s girlfriend.  I don’t mean this as a slam (I liked her, I really liked her in Norma Rae); I just think her scenes with Reynolds in The End don’t work and are boring to watch.  (I also find the interaction between Burt and ex-wife Joanne is forced—though you can certainly argue it’s meant to be.)

At the time Burt Reynolds took on what became The End, he had a tremendous amount of clout to do whatever he wanted in the movie bidness…and that’s one of the reasons why despite its unevenness the film is a guilty pleasure of mine; it takes a lot of courage to do something out of your wheelhouse, and he was richly rewarded when The End tanked at the box office.  (C’est la guerre.)  He returned to playing it safe (Hooper was a certified smash, as was Starting Over), but for a moment there Burt tap danced up to the precipice and caught a quick glance at the floor below.  Oh, and we can retire the “Facial Hair Rule” because even though I’m not a fan of  Boogie Nights (1997), many consider it to be a great film and a fine showcase for Reynolds (personally, I enjoyed his turn as a soiled evangelist in 1996’s blackly comedic Citizen Ruth).

Monday, January 5, 2015

Doris Day(s) #33: “The Chocolate Bar War” (10/20/69, prod. no #0405)





The first time I watched today’s installment of Doris Day(s), “The Chocolate Bar War,” I couldn’t help but be reminded of a sixth season episode of Everybody Loves Raymond—“Cookies” (01/18/02).  In that episode, Ray (Ray Romano) is pitted against a domineering mother (Amy Aquino) as the two of them attempt to outsell boxes of cookies on behalf of their daughters, who are members of some Girl Scout-like faction.  The Raymond episode was quite funny, and Aquino’s performance as “Peggy” was so well-received that she turned up in several additional installments after that.  If you’re familiar with “Cookies,” you might get a chuckle out of “Chocolate Bar War.”  If not…well, it’s the first Doris Day(s) of 2015—so…there’s that.



“War” begins in Doris’ office at Today’s World (the NOW magazine); Doris’ pal Myrna Gibbons (Rose Marie) has had a hectic morning of hanging around Doris’ desk gossiping and is ready for that all-important lunch break.

MYRNA: You ready for lunch?
DORIS (glancing at her watch): It’s only quarter to twelve…
MYRNA: Well, I like to leave early for two reasons: one, to beat the crowd…and two, because I hate to work…

Oh, Myrna—you’re incorrigible.  Doris tells Myrn that perhaps she should start without her because her boss Michael “Nick” Nicholson (McLean Stevenson) is in a meeting with an unidentified individual and she doesn’t know when he’ll be finished.  The phone rings, and on the line is a woman Doris addresses as “Rochelle”—Rochelle needs to speak with Nick, to which Doris replies no can do.  (Doris also makes a series of faces as she chats with Rochelle—which is highly unprofessional, if you ask me.)

MYRNA: Is that his latest?
DORIS (with a breathy voice): “Hello…is Nicky there?  I must speak with him…” (Resuming her normal voice as Myrna giggles) Why does—they’re all so sexy and so breathless…and they all lost an earring in his car…
MYRNA: Oh, that’s the oldest trick in the book…don’t you know that, Doris?

Doris once thought she lost a little gold heart in the back of some drifter’s automobile in the episode “Leroy B. Semple Simpson”…but that’s far as she’s gotten on those matters.

DORIS: Is it?
MYRNA: Oh, sure—you always lose one earring so that he has to see you again to return it…
DORIS: Oh, really?  You know all about that?
MYRNA: Oh, yes…yes, of course…I had a date with a really groovy guy once…

Far out.

MYRNA: …mmm…and I just managed to lose an earring in the car…
DORIS: Oh, yeah—did it work?
MYRNA: No…he turned out to be a hippie and now he’s wearing it

Ah, hippie jokes—they never get old.  Myrna’s gotta mosey, and as she scatters the door to Nicholson’s office opens, introducing us to one of this week’s guest stars…


He’s stage and screen veteran Max Showalter—though some of you may also know him as Casey Adams.  As Adams, he appeared in such films as What Price Glory (1952), Niagara (1953), Vicki (1953), The Naked and the Dead (1958) and Summer and Smoke (1961).  (He also appears in two of Doris Day’s films, It Happened to Jane [1959] and Move Over, Darling [1963].)  If Providence had been on his side, he might have had a lengthy sitcom career as Leave it to Beaver’s Ward Cleaver—he plays the role of the Cleaver patriarch in the pilot episode, “It’s a Small World.”  In the 1960s, Max went back to “Showalter” (he’s uncredited, but you might recognize him as one of the salesmen on the train in The Music Man) and appeared in the likes of How to Murder Your Wife (1965), Lord Love a Duck (1966), The Anderson Tapes (1971) and his cinematic swan song, Sixteen Candles (1984).  World-o-Crap’s own Scott C. inadvertently reminded me about a week ago that Max was also a regular on The Stockard Channing Show, a short-lived and terrible 1980 sitcom that I watched for the simple reason I did not know any better (well, that and I like Stockard Channing).

Max plays Greg Fletcher in this episode, which amused me only because I went to school with a Greg Fletcher in those halcyon parochial days of St. Francis of Assisi.  Greg doesn’t have much to say in his opening scenes other than he’s highly complementary of Doris’ ability to make a good cup o’Joe.  “I wish my wife had your touch with a percolator,” he beams.  (Oh, stop it—it only sounds dirty.)  When Fletcher departs, Nick asks to see Doris in his office.

NICK: Doris…I don’t want you to get the wrong impression…but I’d like to ask you a personal favor…
DORIS (as she pours herself a cup of coffee): Yes, sir?
NICK: Well…you see, Mr. Fletcher invited me to a dinner party he’s having tomorrow…and naturally I’m going to be taking someone… (Doris nods) Well, I was wondering if you’d like to go?
DORIS (stunned): Oh!
NICK: Well—is that “oh, yes” or “oh, no”?

In Doris’ case, it’s an “oh, yes”—though I have to say, I don’t think dating the boss is a particularly ethical career move.  Still, if you’ve pretended to be married to him on a previous occasion I suppose it can’t hurt.

NICK: You see, Fletcher’s advertising agency can mean a lot of business for our magazine—and I want, you know, everything to go just right at the party…Fletcher himself is a cool guy…but Mrs. Fletcher is square suburban
DORIS (laughing): I know what you mean…
NICK: Yeah, well—that’s why I want to take you!  You’ll get along just great with her…you see, Doris—most of the girls that I know are a little on the swinging side…and…uh…I don’t think Mrs. Fletcher would approve…you know what I mean?

“Hello, Nick—welcome to our home…oh, is this your new ho?

NICK: But she’s going to take to you right off…I mean, you’re the wholesome type…well, you live on a farm…you have kids…you have a grandpa…

It’s not really knee-slappingly funny—but I’m always amused by the fact that Nick refers to Laird Buckley Webb (Denver Pyle) as Doris’ grandfather when he’s really her dad.  It’s describing her as “wholesome” that really made me chuckle, though—“You’re just good for me, Dor—like three glasses of milk every day!”

NICK: I’ll bet you even bake pies and stick ‘em out on the window ledge to cool…and the little kids come along and stick their fingers in to taste, right?

That’s right—you have had dinner in the Webb household, haven’t you?  “Mr. Nicholson,” Doris explains, “I don’t live in a gingerbread house with candy windowpanes and a plum pudding roof—I really don’t.”

NICK: Well, Doris…now, Doris…I didn’t mean…I…I just meant that…
DORIS: That I’m wholesome
NICK: Yes!
DORIS: And that I don’t lose earrings…?
NICK: Huh?
DORIS: Rochelle called…and said she lost an earring last night…and did you find it?
NICK: Oh…uh…now that’s exactly what I’m talking about…you are not like Rochelle…
DORIS: Oh, no…I’m wholesome
NICK: Look, if that word bothers you—I don’t really mean ‘wholesome’…
DORIS: Square suburban
NICK: No…I really don’t mean that, either…
DORIS: Square wholesome?

Doris decides to let Nick off the hook by telling him that she’s only kidding and that she won’t let him down as far as Mrs. Fletcher is concerned.  Relieved, Nick notices that it’s nearly time for a nosh and so he asks Doris to make reservations for two at Gerard’s.  (Quel classy!)  Then he instructs Doris to “call Rochelle and tell her to meet me there for lunch.”  “Well, I…have to give back the earring—don’t I?” he explains as her face falls in disappointment.  (You might want to hire a coffee taster in the future, Nick—I’m just sayin’.)

The scene shifts to the kitchen in the House of Webb, where the Widder Martin has a conversation with her grandfather father Buck.  Like me, Buck isn’t entirely on board with this whole “dating the boss” scheme.

BUCK: …I figured that’d happen sooner or later…but I didn’t think it would be sooner
DORIS: It’s strictly business, dear—don’t get any ideas…
BUCK: I don’t have any ideas—it appears he has, though…
DORIS: Are you kidding?  He has more girlfriends than we have chickens

Now I can’t get that Perdue joke out of my head.  Doris explains to her father that Nicholson chose her to be his escort because “I’m the typical American housewife,” as she hands him several items she pulled out of the freezer.  “And you are,” responds Buck.  “Everything defrosted.”  This makes Doris cackle long and hard—well, long enough for her two idiot sons, Billy (Philip Brown) and Toby (Tod Starke), to come sauntering into the kitchen from the back door.

DORIS: How’s the chocolate bar business?  (She gives them both a kiss)
BUCK: You’re on your way to winning first prize—how many did you sell?
BILLY: One…
DORIS/BUCK: One?
TOBY: And I bought it…
BILLY: And I had to lend him the money…


Young William explains to his mother that while he set up his chocolate bar stand at Genson’s Market like she suggested, he and Tobias were run off by a formidable harridan and her son.  Despite the boys having staked out a claim at Genson’s first, the virago explained to the two cheese-eaters that Genson’s was their spot last year and so they should move along with all deliberate speed (or else she’ll break their kneecaps, one hopes).

DORIS: Oh, well—that’s ridiculous!  You have just as much right to be there as her boy has…
BILLY: I couldn’t argue with her—I’m just a kid!
TOBY: And I’m even smaller!

Sometimes those “respect your elders” lectures come back to bite you in the ass, Dodo.  Mother Martin asks her sons who this woman was, but the only identification they can provide was that she drove up in a station wagon “and just took over.”  This aggression will not stand, man—Doris will accompany her brood to Genson’s tomorrow morning…and in her wholesome fashion remarks: “Oh, boy—am I waiting to meet this charmer!”


A quick cut finds Doris carrying a card table to the spot that will later be immortalized in the annals of Scout history as “Genson’s Siege.”  Informed by Billy that the mean old shrew is not there, Doris gloats “Good—we beat her to it!”  Doris suggests that Billy sell the chocolate while she makes change…and of course, li’l Toby wants to get in on the act as well.  “Just turn on that old personality and give ‘em the big smiles, come on!”

The poster boys for The Society to Prevent Herp and Derp.
Doris cackles: “You guys are gonna be the Ralph Williams of the candy world”—a pop culture reference so obscure even I couldn’t figure it out.  Still, they must be doing something right because the first woman (Jane Aull) that emerges from Genson’s is approached by Billy with a box of candy bars, and she agrees to buy one.  She hands him a buck, and he marches over to Doris to get the lady her fifty cents in change.  Ah, capitalism at its finest!


Truth be told, I was more interested in this gentleman who is approached by young Toby—because he was instantly recognizable as TDOY fave Howard Culver.  You’ve seen Howie everywhere—in fact, one of his most durable TV roles was playing a man named “Howie”; he was the desk clerk (Howie Uzzell) at the Dodge House on the seminal boob tube oater Gunsmoke for practically its entire run.  Culver was one of the first actors to play Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke on radio…and might have become famous in the role were it not for the fact that he was also playing Steve Adams—the secret identity of the Indian known as Straight Arrow—on the popular Mutual radio adventure that ran from 1948 to 1951.  Culver’s contract stipulated that he couldn’t do any other western while performing on Straight Arrow…and so he missed out on the opportunity to be “the first man they look for, and the last they want to meet.”  Culver’s other radio gigs included The Adventures of Ellery Queen (he was the last radio thesp to play Ellery) and Defense Attorney, and as one of Jack Webb’s Dragnet stock players he turns up in quite a few installments of the 1967-70 TV version.

TOBY: Good morning, sir!
HOWARD: Yes, son?

"I'm sorry, son...I give to the Herp/Derp people at the office..."
HOWARD: Yes?
TOBY: Oh…would you like to buy a bar of scout candy?  It’s only fifty cents…
HOWARD: Well…okay…

I’m beginning to think that if Doris were to let Toby sell all the candy they’d be out of there in no time—because it would be the largest number of “pity purchases” in sales history.  (By the way, I can make out an upside down “Lindt” in that picture with Toby above—Jeebus, my mother would have all those boxes of candy bars in the car faster than you can say “Willy Wonka.”)  Well, it looks as if the Family Martin have got a sweet racket going (sorry about that)—but there are storm clouds looming on the horizon in the form of a station wagon that’s just pulled up in the parking lot.


Oh, my.  That’s Mr. Fletcher, of course—and unless he’s got a thing for mistresses of advanced age, we can assume the woman with him carrying the folding chair is Mrs. Fletcher (she doesn’t get a first name in the episode).  As such, we can see the eventual catastrophe coming a mile away.  The actress playing Mrs. F is character fave Amzie Strickland, who was also an OTR veteran—playing the girlfriend of Brad Runyon (J. Scott Smart), the corpulent sleuth known as The Fat Man, as well as appearing on such shows as The Adventures of the Falcon, Barrie Craig, Private Investigator, Gangbusters, Inner Sanctum and The Shadow.  Because Amzie’s birthday is January 10, I did a write-up on her over at the Radio Spirits blog in 2014 that you’re welcome to check out provided you come right back and finish this (don’t think I haven’t been keeping track of those faithful TDOY readers who have been sneaking out before the start of Act Two).

Mr. Fletcher asks his wife if she needs any help in setting up the operation (i.e. crushing any competition under her heel) and she tells him no…but she will need him to return by 4pm so that she’ll have adequate disco nap time to prepare for their party that evening.  “My, it looks like a good crowd,” she beams.  “We should do even better than yesterday!”  While Billy sells candy to a amply proportioned female grocery customer (having only a sawbuck, she takes her change in candy bars because fat people are funny, haha), Mrs. Fletcher and her son Jonathan (Tim Weldon) arrive to find Doris and her snot-nosed brats muscling in on their territory when Toby approaches her with an offer to buy some “scout candy.”  Awkward!

MRS. FLETCHER: I’m sure you’re not aware of it…but you set up in our location…
DORIS (looking around): Oh, really?
MRS. FLETCHER: We sell here every year
DORIS: Oh, you do!
MRS. FLETCHER: Yes…so if you would just move to some other place
DORIS: Well…maybe I don’t understand the ground rules…but…um…do you have a reservation for this spot?
MRS. FLETCHER: No…but…
DORIS: Oh, you don’t…oh, well—do you own the supermarket?
MRS. FLETCHER: No…but…
DORIS: You don’t?  Well, then—why is this your spot?
MRS. FLETCHER: Well…now, look…I didn’t come here to argue…
DORIS (sweetly): Oh, and neither did I…oh, I mean—I’m just here to help out, just as you are…you know, the scouts…and I’m sure there are enough customers for all the children—don’t you?
MRS. FLETCHER: So that’s the way it’s going to be, huh…?

“You got a real nice card table here, girlie girl…be a shame if anything were to happen to it…”  The “mean lady” of yesterday has met her match in wholesome Doris, and she marches back to her card table as Doris calls out “Good luck!” and flashes her one of these:


Peace out, baby.  I know, this competition all sounds kind of silly in light of a good cause—but there is a prize involved for selling the most candy bars, and as Richard Conte says so memorably in The Big Combo: “First is first and second is nobody.”

“Mom, maybe if we tried in front of the drugstore,” whines Jonathan.  “We are going to stay right here,” prompts his mother.  Now go sell!”

Because Billy’s Confectionery was able to snag the prime bit o’real estate in Cotina, Fletcher’s Sweets is having difficulty securing a toehold in the competitive candy bar market—this is why Billy is able to sell two Scout Candy bars to a couple entering the supermarket before Jonathan can even come up with a coherent sales pitch.  (Doris unsubtly rubs the sale in Mrs. F’s face.)  What’s more, as Billy is returning to Doris’ card table with the gitas, he’s able to tag-team Toby to grab the next customer—something to which Mrs. Fletcher cries “Foul!”

MRS. FLETCHER: Madam!  He cannot sell chocolates!  He is not a scout!
DORIS: Oh, really?
MRS. FLETCHER: Yes, really
DORIS: Oh…well, I mean…it’s for such a good cause…does it matter?
MRS. FLETCHER: He has to be a scout to sell…those are the rules

“Under Section Thirty-Seven B, Paragraph Six, Line 2!”  So Doris calls Toby aside and tells him to ixnay with the andycay.

DORIS: Honey, I’m afraid this is gonna have to be your last sale…
TOBY: How come?
DORIS: Well…according to the rules… (Smiling at Mrs. Fletcher) Uh, you’re not allowed to sell anything because you’re a civilian…but you can stay with me and help me make change…


“If only you could count.”  Doris snidely asks Mrs. Fletcher if Toby’s assistance in making change is against the rules, and the old crone heads back to her son’s table.  Another problem soon arises when a man leaving Genson’s is approached by both Billy and Jonathan at the same time…and he can only buy a candy bar from one of them.  So he looks over at the smiling Doris…


…and then at Mrs. Fletcher…


“Okay, pal—I’ll do business with you,” the man tells Billy after getting a gander at his hawt mom.  “I’ll catch you next time,” he tells Jonathan.  (“Go on back to your great-Gran, sonny.”)  Look—people don’t go to McDonald’s because the food’s better…they go because of the trappings (clown, play area, etc.).  With that, we ring down the curtain on Act One.


“The Chocolate Bar War,” Part the Second.  Doris and the kids pull up in front of a house that, you will observe, is radically different from that of the one they resided in Season Numero Uno.  And yet—the inside of the house remains unchanged.  Continuity?  Pfft—continuity is for fops and poppinjays!

BILLY: Grandpa, Grandpa—we sold out!  We sold everything!
BUCK: Well, good for you!  Congratulations, buddy boy!
TOBY: Bet you Billy is gonna win first prize!
BUCK: I’ll bet he is, too!

Buck then asks Doris if that woman from yesterday showed up, and Doris replies in the affirmative: “With all guns blazing…”

DORIS: But we fought her fair and square and we won, didn’t we?
BILLY: She got so mad after a while she left
DORIS: Oh, I tell you—she was something else…really…it was like a personal vendetta with that woman—you know what else she did?  She wouldn’t let Toby do any selling
BUCK: How come?
TOBY: Because I’m a civilian

From Doris’ telling, Buck pictures her as “a mean, tempered old…like an old sow who’s lost her favorite mud hole.”  Always with the farm similes, eh, Buckaroo?  “Well, I just hope I never meet up again with that woman,” Doris returns.


You know, it’s been a long time (over four years, as a matter of fact) since we had an irony alert here on the blog.  You’ve also been previewed to what it’s about—but in case you just joined us, Mrs. Fletcher is in the next scene residing horizontally on a couch with a cold compress on her forehead…and bitching about our wholesome heroine.

MRS. FLETCHER: …if I never see that awful woman again it will be too soon!
FLETCHER: Calm down, honey—you know your blood pressure…
MRS. FLETCHER: The way she sat there with that (Mockingly) sweet smile, pretending to be nice
FLETCHER: Well, maybe you should have tried smiling back…
MRS. FLETCHER: Don’t tell me what I should have done!  You have no idea how pushy that woman was…oh, she is the kind of person who comes in…

Mr. Fletcher cuts her off, apparently no stranger to his wife’s outbursts, and reminds her that she needs to chill in time for the party—“You want to be at your best, don’t you?”

“I am always at my best,” she tells him coldly.  We then cut to a tray of drinks, signaling that the party is in full sway.  Fletcher greets Nick and Doris at the door and invites them in for a libation.  “Mill Valley gets a little dry this time of day,” he jokes.  Doris orders a sherry and it’s tall bourbon and water for her boss.

DORIS: Your house is so lovely, Mr. Fletcher…
FLETCHER: Oh, thank you—my wife did all the decorating herself…
DORIS: She did?  Oh, what wonderful taste!  I’m really anxious to meet her…
FLETCHER: Oh, I’m sure she’ll love meeting you!  She’ll be down soon—she’s upstairs, trying to fight off a slight headache…

She should come downstairs, where she can fight off an even larger headache.  Fletcher leaves Nick and Doris to mingle, and as Nick is boasting about picking the right escort to the party, Doris catches sight of her candy nemesis greeting another party guest:


DORIS: I don’t believe it…no!
NICK: Something wrong?
DORIS: The woman who just came in…in the brown dress…who is she?
NICK: Oh, that’s Mrs. Fletcher…I’ll introduce you…

As Doris spits out her drink—and by the way, she should have paid more attention to Danny Thomas’ technique when she worked with him on I’ll See You in My Dreams (1951)—Nick is approached by a man (Don Ross) who identifies himself as “Charley Isaacs.”  This is a bit of an in-joke; Isaacs was the one-time partner of Jack Elinson, who co-wrote this episode (Elinson was also co-producing Dodo’s show with Norman Paul)—the two men (Charley and Jack) wrote for Jimmy Durante’s radio and TV shows, among many other projects.  Isaacs was married to TDOY character fave Doris Singleton from 1942 until his death in 2002.  The only reason the “Isaacs” character is here is so when Nick turns around to introduce him to Doris he finds the stool she was sitting on vacant and rotating from side to side as if she left in a hurry.


Which she did—Doris has to get out of that house before she meets face-to-face with the vindictive Mrs. Fletcher.  She tries to conceal herself in several groupings of guests—the funniest being a woman (Lynn Wood) who’s holding forth on the state of motion pictures: “I don’t mind an occasional adult movie—but you’d think that somehow there’d be a place for the family picture.”  She asks Doris as she joins the group “Don’t you agree?”

“Uh…yes…I think that family pictures belong right on the mantle,” Dor stammers.  Finally, Doris does what any rational woman trapped inside a sitcom would do—she ducks into a closet.

NICK: Doris?
DORIS: Mr. Nicholson?
NICK: Yes…
DORIS: Is anybody with you?
NICK: No!
DORIS: Oh, thank heavens…
NICK: Doris…I’d like to ask you something…
DORIS: Yes, sir?
NICK: What are you doing in the closet?!!

Doris tells her boss that it’s a long story (we’ll certainly vouch for that) but that she’s got to get out of the house (perhaps she mistook the closet for an emergency exit?); Nick tells her through the door that she is embarrassing him as a perplexed Fletcher comes up behind him.  The two men continue to discuss the Doris situation through the closet…and then Mrs. Fletcher decides to check out why her husband and guest are talking to a closet door.


MRS. FLETCHER: It’s her!  It’s that woman!  The one from the supermarket!
DORIS (as she emerges from the closet): Mrs. Fletcher, I’m terribly sorry…I had no idea you were Mrs. Fletcher
MRS. FLETCHER: I’ll thank you to leave immediately!
FLETCHER: Now, just a minute, dear…
MRS. FLETCHER: I won’t have her in my house!
DORIS: Mr. Nicholson…I’d better leave…
NICK: Doris… (To the Fletchers) I don’t know what this is all about…but I think we’d better go…
FLETCHER: Now, hold it please—both of you…dear, Mrs. Martin and Mr. Nicholson are our guests
MRS. FLETCHER: But she probably kept Jonathan from winning first prize!
FLETCHER: Maybe he’s won too many first prizes…

It sounds like the Fletcher union has a darker side to which we were not previously privy (though there were certainly ominous signs of discourse, to be certain).  Doris certainly doesn’t help matters any when she reveals that Mrs. F chased Billy away from the supermarket the day before, and an enraged Fletcher drags his wife into the closet “for a little talk.”  (Disturbing implications, to be certain—particularly since Nicholson grins and “toasts” his glass at Mrs. Fletcher’s predicament as the door slams shut.)

Well, the coda on this episode seems fairly simple: don’t be a bitch unless you’re absolutely certain the person you’re being unpleasant to isn’t the snotty wife of a potential client.  Okay, I’m just kidding—Doris and Nick arrive back at Rancho Webb, and both are admiring the revelation that l’affaire chocolate has inspired Fletcher to grow a pair.  “Did you see Mrs. Fletcher right after she came out of that closet?” Nick asks Doris.

“Yeah—I tell you, he must have had a whip and a chair in there with him,” Doris replies.  “She went in like a lion and came out like a pussycat.”  (Women—they’re such felines!)  Doris goes on to bloviate about how Mrs. F has “a lot to learn about raising children.”  “You know, I always tell my children—that you have to lose graciously…you know, somebody has to lose…you can’t win all the time,” she explains.

Let’s put this into practice, shall we?  Enter young Billy.

BILLY: Robbie Sizemore called…boy, was he crowing…he won the contest…
DORIS: Robbie Siz…Robbie Sizemore won the contest?!!  I thought you were a shoo-in…
BILLY: He sold a 120 more than I did…
DORIS: A 120 more chocolate bars than you?  How could he do that?  It’s impossible
BILLY: He has two older sisters that are real good looking…and they were giving away kisses with each candy bar…they sold outside the Marine base

I’m telling you—it’s all about selling the sizzle and not the steak.  This information enrages Doris, who goes on a tear about it being unethical and unfair and she’ll have someone’s merit badge for this…until Nick reminds her of that high-minded “somebody has to lose” bullsh*t she was going on about earlier.  Doris calms down, but tells Billy “we’ll get ‘em next year—I know an Air Force base that’s bigger than the Marines!”  And on that sassy note…

Apologies for not having this up sooner today (and I also regret not getting a Serial Saturdays done this weekend); it’s been one of those days around Rancho Yesteryear, but I think I’ve been able to steer the ship of state back to normal.  Next time on Doris Day(s): an episode entitled “The Health King” that I honestly don’t remember a thing about…and that doesn’t bode well at all.  Join us next time, won’t you?