View from the Cheap Seats

The Place to Be

January 15, 2018 - 12:14 am   |   by
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A little preface – I started writing my little nickel and dime pieces for the holidays not before December 25 but after. And I’ll tell you why. How many of us receive as presents gift cards – they’re easily purchased and delivered. However, many have time limits and they’re incredibly easy to lose. Come on, you’ve lost a few, haven’t you?

So, I write up these fabulous video gifts because you have gift money to spend. And please do so.

When I was in the throes of graduation from Purcell Oklahoma High School about 40 years ago, we Seniors observed a tradition that I’m sure in some form or fashion was copied throughout the country – we had to complete a form that listed our personal “likes.” You know, favorite song, favorite type food, favorite movie, etc. [Read on here...]

Looking back, I think I listed my favorite food as Chinese and probably my favorite movie was something like Nashville. I know for a fact what was listed as my favorite television program in 1977 because, after all this time, after thousands of hours in front of the telly, it remains my favorite to this day.

Green Acres. Which was aired on CBS from 1965 through 1971.

And here is news that arrives like an OU Football national championship, like a hoofprint of water in a dry desert, like, well, Christmas.

The Shout! Factory has released every episode in a box set. Every. Episode. The complete series. For mere money, you can own every Green Acres episode.

I couldn’t sleep for a week once the announcement was made. And I’m watching Green Acres episodes all in order and reveling in their timeless, insane humor. After all these years, I still laugh out loud.

Green Acres follows a Harvard graduated, New York attorney and his socialite wife as they move to a small farming community in middle America. These characters were played by Academy award nominated actor Eddie Albert and in a brilliant casting coup, Eva Gabor, known at the time for being a Kardashian type headline grabber, who plays the wife. They are Oliver and Lisa Douglas.

Our couple relocates to a place called Hooterville, which is close to Crabwell Corners and, my favorite town name of all time, Stankwell Falls. The denizens of Hooterville all appear to be simple, home spun farmers. But they’re not. They’re whacked.

I do the brilliant supporting characters of Green Acres a total disservice by attempting to describe their everlasting impact upon both the program and American culture. Every week viewers met a government employee who finds it impossible to complete a sentence, a cornpone con man who has at his fingertips a bizarre inventory on the back of his Grapes of Wrath truck and then, oh and then we have a childless couple who have raised a pig as their son – a pig who watches television, who plays the piano, who falls in love with a basset hound and who, well, gets drafted. These are, in order, Mr. Kimball and Mr. Haney, Fred and Doris Ziffel and, oh yes, Arnold. Arnold Ziffel.

Green Acres was a hit. And I think mainstream America liked it because the show reflected, to the average viewer, an easy lifestyle and a simpler time. I’ll say this however – Green Acres was the biggest practical joke put over on the squares in television history. It’s no surprise that Green Acres was the brainchild of the same person, Paul Henning, who, with The Beverly Hillbillies created the second greatest sitcom satire to be a popular hit at a base level while adding a tad of lunacy unseen on the boob tube until its unheralded, but popular, first airing in the 1960s.

Television writer Noel Murray calls Green Acres “post modern television tomfoolery.”

“While Green Acres first season offered a gentle wackiness, the show eventually evolved into outright lunacy,” Murray said. “Witness the opening of the episode I Didn’t Raise My Pig to Be a Soldier, early in the second season. While Oliver works on his busted tractor, Lisa comes out of the house to ask him for a favor, however, both are distracted by the show’s credits, which are popping up in front of their eyes.”

Now wait a minute.

Murray continues...

“We then discover in this episode that the Ziffels are planning to take a second honeymoon and ask Oliver and Lisa to look after their pig, Arnold. That’s nuts enough, but when our favorite oinker is dropped off at the Douglas’ the couple are provided a complete list of Arnold’s likes and dislikes, along with his favorite bathtub and TV set. (Fred Ziffel explains the personal TV as being one that allows Arnold to ‘change channels easier.)”

Film Comment is perhaps American’s headiest movie periodical – both independent and studio pictures pray for coverage and Armond White, one of the magazine’s harshest critics, wrote perhaps what was the first ever article regarding a mere television series within its covers titled How Green Were My Acres.

“Like a fountain of Duck Soup (the Marx Brothers, enough said) Green Acres creates an absurdist world which questions society’s stability and comprehensibility,” White wrote. “The wonder of this series is that craziness always makes sense.

”Wait, this is about some middle brow sitcom? The kind your grandparents watched?

Hardly.

Green Acres’ title song was one of the very few sung by its characters and the program’s composer, Vic Mizzy, wrote music that was its own brand of stand up comedy. Mizzy’s contribution to Green Acres is substantial. Cues are played with kazoos and sliding trombones. Mizzy was ever present in the 60s – The Addams Family theme is written by the composer as is every Don Knotts film ever made, from The Ghost and Mr. Chicken to The Love God.

You’re not going to believe this next part. In the series, the Douglases have a goofball farm hand named Eb Dawson, played by a then television neophyte named Tom Lester, who actually is the last surviving member of the cast. I worked diligently to interview Mr. Lester for this story as we share a common bond. Tom Lester was, before stardom, a high school science teacher and of all the high schools in all the world he taught within the hallowed halls of, my previously mentioned, alma mater. He taught before I was even in school, so I have no memory of him, although those older than me remember Mr. Lester fondly. What are the chances?

One more thing. Green Acres is quite popular in the Hollywood community. Singer and actor Dwight Yoakam was recently quoted as saying Green Acres is out of its mind.”

Go to shoutfactory.com this minute – we gotta support their landmark achievement. Please tell them I sent you.

After the success of NBC’s live television version of The Sound of Music, networks interested in high ratings, like all of them, have tripped over themselves to bring this art form back to life. Peter Pan, The Wiz, and Hairspray have all been broadcast.

These musicals have marvelous precedents and Video Artists International have released two that are mind boggling examples of American culture.

First is a Blu-ray version of a Mary Martin/John Raitt (father of Bonnie) production of Annie Get Your Gun, Irving Berlin’s glorious Annie Oakley musical filled with hit songs such as There’s No Business Like Show Business, Anything You Can Do, and They Say It’s Wonderful.

This production was presented live in 1957 and it is an undeniable treasure.

No less than the New York Herald Tribune was enamored with the broadcast, writing “From beginning to end, the TV screen abounded in charm and warmth and, best of all, Irving Berlin’s beguiling melodies.”

Sorry, gotta share a little trivia – Rodgers and Hammerstein originally purchased the rights to Annie Oakley’s story for their follow up to Oklahoma! but were never able to get their arms around it. Eventually, they met with Berlin who was mostly retired. Once Berlin was in place, Rodgers said the show needed spirited American music and that “Irving Berlin is American music. Rodgers and Hammerstein produced the show.

Sit down for this next one.

Gilbert and Sullivan comic operettas have entertained audiences since the 1800s with their charming wit and merry melodies. And, actually, several have been produced especially for television.

In 1960, for what was known as the Bell Telephone Hour, The Mikado was broadcast featuring, as the Lord High Executioner one of America’s greatest comedians, one who had been a lifelong fan of G&S.

Groucho. Marx.

There has been an audio recording of this broadcast for some time, however, thanks to Video Artists International, we have every second preserved on DVD.

We need to celebrate these precious treasure hunters – Go to viamusic.com and purchase these very inexpensive televised musical classics.

My assignment here is to find the gems, the dandies, the movies which would never be recommended on Netflix or whatever. And goodness, is there a plethora around for these winter months.

Here’s one of the funniest movies ever made. I kid you not. Right up there with Woody Allen, the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields.

A New Leaf is finally available through Olive Films (olivefilms.com).

It’s very difficult to summarize comedies, visual gags don’t translate well on the page, however if you’ve never seen A New Leaf order it now.

Released in 1971, A New Leaf stars Walter Matthau and Elaine May, and written and directed by Miss May. Walter is a playboy millionaire whose fortune has disappeared. To maintain his status, he must marry a someone with money enough for him to maintain his lifestyle. Enter Elaine, one the klutziest characters in movie history as a potential benefactor.

While the set up may sound routine, the execution is anything but and I had to prepare myself before watching because I laughed so hard it made my stomach hurt.

I have been thinking of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Barry Lyndon a lot lately – there’s a new picture called Phantom Thread which reminds me of the 1975 classic. While dissimilar in plot specifics both have such meticulous production design and create a sense of time and place that are seamless. Starring Ryan O’Neal, Barry Lyndon is a true work of art and is the newest title from the Criterion Collection. Go to Criterion.com.

Warner Archive is on overdrive these days – one visit to warnerarchive.com brings a catalog of many lost or forgotten movies it’s hard to keep count. And now the distributor has added Blu-rays to its classic collections.

This month, WA offers of Blu-ray of the wonderful MGM musical Brigadoon starring Gene Kelly and Van Johnson. Folks, they don’t make these like they used to, unless you have a chance to see the new theatrical feature The Greatest Showman.

I’ve never understood why Brigadoon is somewhat of an afterthought in the canon of Lerner and Lowe, the team that created My Fair Lady and Camelot.

Brigadoon includes such standards as Almost Like Being in Love – a monster hit for Sinatra and From This Day On. The story involves two American tourists who stumble upon Brigadoon, a mysterious Scottish village that appears for only one day every 100 years.

This is a musical classic which should be owned by all fans of the genre. Visit Warner Archive.

Speaking of musicals, here’s a curiosity from Twilight Time. In the mid 60s producer Arthur Jacobs purchased the rights to Hugh Lofting’s series of books featuring Doctor Doolittle and decided that the world needed a musical adaptation. The stories regarding the production of Doctor Doolittle are legendary and are published all over. It was not a hit.

But I like it. Not just because we had to buy reserved seats at the largest theater in Oklahoma City or because we had the soundtrack album, but because it tries so hard to be good. Rex Harrison and every animal in the world star in the luscious film from 1967 and Twilight Time has restored the picture to its magnificent splendor. There are only 3,000 copies created just like all the other Twilight Time films so visit Twilight Time or screenarchives.com.

There’s real rarity among this month’s offerings released by Kino Lorber. It’s called Nightkill and while in no way would the film ever be nominated for an Oscar, it’s a nice near noir starring Jaclyn Smith as the femme fatale and no less than Robert Mitchum in what might have been his last tough guy role. Kinolorber.com has a bunch of these lost darlings that are well worth checking out.

Come see me, I’ll be at the flix!

- Bud Elder

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