Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Arrival of Croce's Comet



When people die, you can generally count on hearing one of two things said.

Either the recently deceased died before his time — or he lived a long, full life.

You never hear that someone died at the right time, that he didn't live so much as a minute more or a minute less than he should have.

Jim Croce was one of those rare individuals about whom both things could have been said.

He was young when he died — only 30 — and he only made five studio albums in his too–brief career. His breakthrough album was his third, "You Don't Mess Around With Jim," which hit the music stores in April of 1972.

As young as he was, though, he really did live a full – if not long — life. And the success "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" brought him was well deserved if short lived.

Well, the success wasn't short lived. The album contained three songs that got significant airplay, including one that went to No. 1 on the charts after Croce's death in a 1973 airplane crash.

In hindsight, he was like a comet. He had made two previous albums that never made much of a splash so, for most folks, his career was limited to two years — 1972 and 1973.

"You Don't Mess Around With Jim" was the first exposure most people probably had to Jim Croce. It didn't contain his biggest hit. That would probably be "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown," which was at the top of the charts a few months before Croce's death. After his death, "Time in a Bottle" was revived from "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" and became Croce's final No. 1 hit.

It also made "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" a No. 1 album — nearly two years after it first hit the music stores.

Listen to "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" today, and you can get an idea of what could have been.

I guess everyone has a favorite from that album. The title track got a lot of airplay, and it is that kind of song — at least, it was the kind of song that was right at home on the radio at a time when Don McLean's "American Pie" was topping the charts.

My favorite has always been "Rapid Roy (The Stock Car Boy)."

It's a lot like the title track, but that wasn't the only kind of song Croce could do. As many people belatedly discovered after his death, he could do love songs, too. "Photographs and Memories" was on this album, and it is one of the best love songs you will ever hear — a song about lost love.

"Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels)" is a similar love song — also about loss.

I don't think Croce wrote many songs about how one feels when in the grip of puppy love. His songs were more about the end of a relationship.

Perhaps, if he had been given more time, he would have explored other phases of love affairs in his music. But Croce's Comet disappeared too soon.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Blazing a Trail in the Sky



"Now, I don't propose to sit on a flagpole or swallow goldfish. I'm not a stuntman; I'm a flier."

Charles Lindbergh (Jimmy Stewart)

It was 60 years ago today that the story of Charles Lindbergh — "The Spirit of St. Louis" — premiered on the big screen.

I have often wondered why it premiered on April 20, 1957 — when, if the makers of the movie had waited 30 days, it could have debuted on the 30th anniversary of the historic flight it commemorated. That's right. Lindbergh's famous New York–to–Paris flight began on May 20, 1927.

I still don't know why it didn't premiere on May 20. It couldn't have hurt its earnings. It was a box office flop as it was.

But I do know a few other things about the movie. For example, I know that Jimmy Stewart was just about no one's choice to play Lindbergh.

As much as I admire Stewart's work in movies like "It's a Wonderful Life," "Harvey" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," I have always had a soft spot in my heart for "The Spirit of St. Louis." Maybe that is because it tried to tell a great story from history — and I have always loved history.

But, as far as I am concerned, Stewart was the wrong choice because he was nearly twice as old as the man he portrayed. Now, I don't feel that an actor or actress has to be precisely the same age as the person being portrayed, but Stewart was 47 trying to portray a 25–year–old. Maybe the movie can get away with that with modern viewers who have no memory of Lindbergh, but most of the people who saw that movie in 1957 must have had a memory of Lindbergh.

Producer Jack Warner favored a younger and less well known actor in the role. Warner called the finished product "the most disastrous failure we ever had."

And Lindbergh, I have been told, was not satisfied with Stewart's portrayal. I guess I can't argue with him there. When Stewart shrieked out the window of his airplane, he sounded like Lindbergh channeling his inner George Bailey. Some critics complained that Stewart's Lindbergh did not give viewers enough of a glimpse into his personal life, his motivations, that Lindbergh in Stewart's hands was a mechanical and routine character.

Perhaps those who complained that Stewart did not act so much as provide a character type that he did well were justified — to a degree.

But Lindbergh's flight was a rousing success, and it was a story that deserved to be told. It is sure to be lost on most living Americans that Lindbergh's feat required enormous courage, which makes it a valuable resource for anyone who wants to learn about the history of aviation. The movie, directed by the great Billy Wilder, was based on Lindbergh's own autobiography, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

I have always assumed that meant the film was mostly accurate in its facts, but I do know of at least one tidbit in the movie that was incorrect. In the movie, Lindbergh is shown as being in bed the night before his flight, tossing and turning, unable to sleep. Later, during his 33–hour flight to Paris, he observed how tired he was and lamented not having taken advantage of a warm, soft bed the night before.

In reality, the 25–year–old Lindbergh was out partying most of the night. Well, you can get away with that kind of thing when you're 25.

(Those who may be inclined to criticize the reality and praise the fantasy ought to remember that several pilots had already died in their pursuit of the Orteig Prize, a $25,000 prize — that's more than one–third of a million dollars in modern currency — that was offered to the first to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. Lindbergh — and any other pilot who accepted the challenge — could be forgiven for taking the chance to live it up the night before departure.

(But the movie gave no hint of that.)

And the movie appears to have developed a following in recent years that it didn't have in the 1950s — it was judged a flop, primarily, it seems because the project went well over budget.

Stewart was nominated for Oscars five times in his career, and he even won it once for his work in "The Philadelphia Story," but "The Spirit of St. Louis" received only one Oscar nomination — for Best Visual Effects.

You would think its odds were pretty good. There was only one other nominee for that Oscar — but it lost.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Truly Terrifying Tale



"I got somethin' planned for your wife and kid that they ain't nevah gonna forget. They ain't nevah gonna forget it, and neither will you, Counselor! Nevah!"

Max Cady (Robert Mitchum)

I actually saw the 1991 remake of "Cape Fear" before I saw the original, which made its debut on this day in 1962.

And I will admit that I was impressed (as well as a bit frightened) by the long menacing scene between Juliette Lewis and Robert De Niro. They were both very good in that movie, and that scene they did together was quite effective.

But all things considered I thought the version that premiered 55 years ago today was better. I reached that conclusion long before I learned that Alfred Hitchcock was originally supposed to be the director — and actually did the original storyboard for the movie — but quit the project over a squabble. Had I known at the time of Hitchcock's connection to the original project, I probably would have wanted to see that version first.

Even though he didn't end up directing the movie, Hitchcock's fingerprints were all over the finished work. Of that I am certain. The camera angles, the unusual lighting, the eerie Bernard Herrmann music that was so prominent in Hitchcock movies ("Psycho," "North by Northwest," "Vertigo"). All Hitchcockian touches.

The story was the kind of scenario that most prosecutors must fear in their waking moments — and possibly even after they fall asleep at night.

Gregory Peck played a lawyer in a small town who had to deal with the fact that a man he helped put in prison eight years earlier (Robert Mitchum) had been released. He had been convicted of attacking a woman, and now he was back in town, terrorizing Peck, his wife (Polly Bergen) and their young daughter (Lori Martin).

As good as De Niro was, Mitchum was the personification of menacing. In fact, in comparison, De Niro's performance was almost comical. Mitchum was truly terrifying. And the thing was he didn't really have to do anything — just stand there and stare.

If looks could kill.

The remake of "Cape Fear" had its good points, but it was chaotic in its story telling. As I say, the original was better. It was more focused, it was scarier, and its villain was more heinous.

I know people who won't watch the original because they don't watch black–and–white movies. They equate quality with flash and dash, with explosions and bright lights, all the bells and whistles of modern filmmaking.

And perhaps such people will never appreciate what black–and–white movies usually accomplished without all those bells and whistles.

They told good stories.

With Peck and Mitchum, "Cape Fear" clearly had a great cast, but it also featured some real talent in the supporting roles — Martin Balsam as the police chief and Telly Savalas as a private detective.

And, of course, Martin as Peck's daughter.

In the remake, there was a budding romance between Lewis and De Niro, but Martin never had an attraction to Mitchum. He terrified her.

And viewers could see themselves being protective of someone as young and innocent as Martin.

Of course, she wasn't the only one who needed protecting.

By the way, Peck, Mitchum and Bergen all appeared in the 1991 remake — but in different roles.

As hard as it is to believe in hindsight, "Cape Fear" was hardly a success at the box office, presumably because of its content — and it received no Academy Award nominations, presumably because the Academy usually prefers to reward feel–good movies, and "Cape Fear" was hardly a feel–good movie.

But don't let that keep you from seeing it.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Just Like Family



The ritual of the bachelor party — from both the male and female perspectives — was explored in the aptly named episode "Bachelor Party" on How I Met Your Mother on this night in 2012.

Anyone who has ever participated in one of these rituals has probably been told something to the effect of this: Only a chosen few have been asked to join in — if you are one of those people, you are either a member of the family or close enough to be one.

There were two bachelor parties on the night in question, and Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) tried to influence both.

The guys — well, mostly Barney, who believed, all evidence to the contrary, that he was the best man — had planned a somewhat untraditional bachelor party for the groom — Marshall (Jason Segel).

It's important to note that Marshall had been saying repeatedly that he did not want to have a stripper. He preferred what Ted (Josh Radnor) had in mind — attending a big boxing match and consuming a large steak.

But Barney manipulated things so there was a stripper at the hotel suite in Atlantic City that had been rented for the occasion. Well, he thought they were going to Atlantic City. They were actually going to a resort and casino in Connecticut, some 200 miles to the northeast.

All of which made what happened when they got there implausible — to say the least.

The stripper was there and proceeded to provide the entertainment she had been hired by Barney to provide — until she broke her ankle. Then she had to be taken to the hospital, causing the guys to miss the fight (the car radio ranted about what an historic fight it had been).

Marshall was furious with Barney and kept telling him that he was not the best man. Marshall wasn't even sure he wanted Barney to be at the wedding — especially after Barney accidentally set the hotel room on fire with one of his custom–made Cuban cigars.

Meanwhile, Lily (Alyson Hannigan) was the guest of honor at a bridal shower. Robin (Cobie Smulders) wanted to give Lily a memorable gift and originally planned to give her a see–through nightie, but Barney talked her into something else — a vibrator. He explained to Robin that all of Lily's friends would be there, and there would be a lot of drinking.

"You need to get her something daring," Barney said so that's what Robin did. It was a decision she would regret.

When Robin arrived at the party, she discovered that the guests were not all Lily's peers after all. Lily's mother was there. So was her maternal grandmother, and two of Lily's juvenile cousins. An older cousin was there, too. She was about to become a nun. Robin decided she didn't want Lily to open her gift and tried to prevent it several times, finally resorting to switching cards with another gift — which turned out to be from Lily's grandmother.

She was as surprised as anyone when, after Lily opened the gift, everyone found there was a vibrator in it. But then Lily's mother observed that the gift resembled one that had been given on an episode of "Sex and the City."

It was an entirely different party after that.

Everyone gathered at the bar where they habitually gathered, and the girls learned that Barney had ruined the bachelor party. Marshall was about to tell Barney he wasn't invited to the wedding when Lily intervened. When she had been living in San Francisco the previous year after her breakup with Marshall, Barney had flown out to see her, gave her a plane ticket to New York and told her she and Marshall belonged together. Thus, he had been largely responsible for their eventual reunion.

Until that moment, only Lily and Barney had known about that.

Touched by Barney's concern and ashamed of his own conclusion that Barney was selfish, Marshall named Barney a co–best man with Ted.

Just like a member of the family.

The Trilogy Tradition



Traditions begin in odd ways. Especially in sitcoms. Take the episode of How I Met Your Mother that first aired on this night in 2012, "Trilogy Time," as an example.

In the case of Ted (Josh Radnor) and Marshall (Jason Segel), they began a tradition of watching the original "Star Wars" trilogy when they were roommates in college. Stressed out over an economics exam that was looming, they opted to watch the trilogy rather than study. They also agreed that, no matter what, they would get together and watch the trilogy every three years — and then speculate on where they expect to be and what they expect to be doing three years down the road.

Using decidedly flimsy logic, Ted and Marshall reasoned that they would ace the exam and, therefore, had no reason to study. They were wrong.

But back to their speculation.

Each time Ted imagined himself being a successful architect in three years with a woman who bore a striking resemblance to Robin (Cobie Smulders) — a clue that the mother of the show's title and Robin would be revealed to be connected in some way.

Marshall imagined himself to be a successful lawyer (with a mustache) in three years and married to Lily (Alyson Hannigan) with an ever–increasing number of children. By the end of the episode they had three children with a fourth on the way and a fifth already conceived because, as Marshall put it, "I'm just that good."

Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) kept imagining himself having one–night stands, which, given Barney's history in the series, hardly qualified as speculation — but by the end of the episode Barney surprised everyone, possibly even himself, when he told Ted and Marshall that he didn't want to be having one–night stands in three years. He wanted to be settled in with one girl.

For the most part the speculations were thoroughly unrealistic, little more than fantasies, really. And sometimes the fantasies took dark turns. Marshall's expectations of being a successful lawyer never seemed to pan out, and at one point he fantasized that Lily had taken up with a guy with a mustache and a trucker hat — and was carrying his child, who, it was revealed in a sonogram, was wearing a trucker hat in the womb.

Sure, the guys indulged in some wild flights of fancy — but they were always grounded in life as it really was.

The unmistakable signal that one is maturing.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

A Sentimental Journey



People watch movies at different times and for different reasons.

And when I was a boy, it seemed that there was always something to be seen at the movies that would fit whatever mood you were in — whether you wanted to learn something or feel inspired or hear some catchy tunes ... or be amorous.

It seems less that way now to me. People don't seem to care as much about those things today as they do about splashy special effects, but human nature always seems to crave the same things — moreso for some at certain stages of life, I suppose — and the progression of the generations does not change that.

(As a writer, I like a good story, regardless of the setting.)

Sometimes you want to see a movie that will make you feel good, and in the months and years following World War II, America seems to have wanted to feel good again when it went to the movie theaters.

If that is what people were looking for when "It Happened in Brooklyn" premiered 70 years ago yesterday, they weren't disappointed.

Frank Sinatra played a returning veteran who had built up Brooklyn in his mind to heights it could never possibly reach. No place could, and Brooklyn failed to live up to the buildup. It was a disappointment for him.

Well, everyone has problems.

Sinatra's buddy, played by Peter Lawford, followed him to the States from England in hopes of overcoming an extreme case of shyness. Lawford, as it turned out, was heir to a dukedom back in merry old England, but the journey to America seemed to be just the thing to bring him out of his shell.

If not, then love interest Kathryn Grayson could be.

That might be enough to make the plot thicken since Grayson was originally Sinatra's love interest — but, you see, the movie was really about how all these characters tried to launch careers in something other than the humdrum routine work they were doing.

Sinatra moved in with an old friend, played by Jimmy Durante (for whom the movie production was halted for a week and a half so he could finish work on another movie), and went to work as a shipping clerk, but he wanted to be — guess what? — a singer, and that dream was shown to come true. There's a surprise, huh?

In fact, nearly every dream in the movie did come true. Grayson, who was a schoolteacher, dreamed of being an opera star. That was a dream that was not shown coming true — but, with her relationship with a duke–to–be, the audience could presume that her dream came true as well.

It wasn't exactly a classic, and you can probably guess everything that is going to happen before it happens, but "It Happened in Brooklyn" is still fun to watch.

Oscar–winning pianist and composer André Previn played the piano solos in the movie.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

A Trip to the Edge of Forever



Business Insider proclaimed Star Trek "arguably the greatest science–fiction television series of all time" in an article last September that ranked the top 13 episodes of the original series.

"The City on the Edge of Forever," which premiered on this night in 1967, ranked No. 2 on that list.

Now, I am not a Star Trek fan — although I have several friends who are, and most of them would probably tell you that "The City on the Edge of Forever" was the best episode Star Trek ever aired.

It is one of the few Star Trek episodes I have seen from start to finish. Whether you rank it first or second, it was a remarkable episode — and certainly not the kind of thing one expects from a sci–fi series — although, perhaps, given the time travel angle of the episode, it is the kind of thing one would expect.

Either way, Star Trek did a beautiful job with that theme — and its co–theme of alternate reality.

Viewers probably didn't know what they were in for when the episode began. It started routinely enough, I suppose. Chief Medical Officer McCoy (DeForest Kelley) was treating a crew member (George Takei) who had been injured as the Enterprise passed through time distortions surrounding an unexplored planet when he accidentally injected himself with an overdose of a drug he had been using to revive the crew member. An overdose in a human could be lethal; in this case it caused delusions. McCoy fled to the ship's transporter room and beamed himself to the planet. Capt. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and others followed him to the planet, where they found a glowing stone that was responsible for the time distortions.

A voice from the stone told the crew that it was the Guardian of Forever, a portal to any place and time. About that time McCoy dove into the portal — and the search party was suddenly cut off from the Enterprise. The Guardian informed the crew that McCoy's action had altered the past. The Enterprise and the Federation did not exist.

Kirk and Spock tried to follow McCoy into the past and attempt to repair the damage to the timeline, the extent of which they did not know. They found themselves in Depression–era New York City and encountered a woman (Joan Collins) who ran a mission there. Having arrived there shortly before McCoy, they worked for Collins while they waited for him — and Kirk began to fall in love with her.

Meanwhile, McCoy arrived and was taken in by Collins. Spock, who had been doing the best he could to build the computer aid to access the information in his tricorder, which he had been using to record the Guardian's data when McCoy made his escape, had discovered that Collins was supposed to have died in a traffic accident, but McCoy had prevented the accident, causing the rip in the fabric of time. Permitted to live, Collins began a pacifist movement that postponed the United States' entry into World War II. As a result, the Nazis were the first to acquire nuclear weapons and went on to win the war.

I guess you would call that unanticipated consequences.

To repair the timeline, it was necessary for Collins to die in an accident. How that comes to pass is something everyone should see for themselves.

I will, however, offer one observation.

When Keeler died — in an automobile accident, as had, ironically, been preordained — a now back to normal McCoy attempted to save her but was stopped by Kirk. He turned on Kirk and in exasperation said, "You deliberately stopped me! I could have saved her. Do you know what you just did?"

The grief–stricken Kirk could find no comfort in the knowledge that history had been restored.

"He knows, doctor," Spock said. "He knows."

It was a brilliantly written episode.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

An Elvis Movie You Can Skip



There was a certain sameness to Elvis Presley's movies. A prime example is "Double Trouble," which premiered on this day in 1967.

Now, you know when you watch an Elvis movie that you aren't going to be watching something that was nominated for an Oscar for anything — even the music, which was the reason for it all.

But the movies and the music didn't always fall as short of the mark as they did with "Double Trouble."

There was a symbiotic relationship between Elvis' records and movies. Elvis movies existed primarily to promote Elvis' latest records — and, since just about anything with Elvis' name on it was guaranteed to make money, there doesn't seem to have been much thought given to many of the albums he made or the films that were made to promote them.

One could say many things about Elvis Presley, but one thing you could say about him that would encounter virtually no dissent would be the assertion that Elvis did not record concept or theme albums.

The main concern seems to have been to grind it out as quickly as possible and move on to the next one. In many years, Elvis made two, three, even four movies.

Plot? What plot? Plots were flimsy at best. Sometimes they were (ostensibly) dramatic stories, and sometimes they were (again, ostensibly) comedies. "Double Trouble" was a comedy. Ostensibly.

He had an attractive co–star (Annette Day). His co–stars were always attractive, though. The story was set in Europe, but Elvis' movies were set all over the world. They say it's good to be King.

There were better Elvis movies. Most of them, in fact.

Elvis made more than 30 movies, three of them in 1967, which was probably his weakest year on the big screen.

"Double Trouble" was arguably the weakest of the three. The soundtrack album the movie spawned was clearly the weakest of the three that hit music stores that year.

Nevertheless, the movie was the No. 58 moneymaker at the box office, and Presley's album reached No. 47 on the Billboard charts despite the absence of any true hits.

As I say, anything with Elvis' name on it made money.

But ...

If you see "Double Trouble" listed in your TV listings, do yourself a favor.

Don't watch it.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

You Really Can't Go Home Again -- Or Can You?



One of the recurring themes of the Frasier sitcom was the sibling relationship between Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce).

Frequently the emphasis was on sibling rivalry, which has been a staple of sitcoms for decades, but Frasier showed that behind a sibling rivalry is a unique relationship between the siblings, and Frasier told the Crane brothers' story best when it incorporated younger versions of Niles and Frasier into the story. It provided a context, an insight into both of their personalities.

And that is precisely what was done in the episode that first aired on this night in 2002 — "Deathtrap."

When the episode began, the viewers saw a young Niles and a young Frasier sneaking into a science classroom at their prep school to take a skull that they intended to use in a backyard production of "Hamlet." But young Niles dropped it, and it sustained a fracture.

Fast forward about 40 years or so.

As they were drinking coffee in the cafe one day, Niles told Frasier that the house in which they grew up was listed for sale. The neighborhood was being revitalized, and that sparked an idea. Frasier and Niles thought of buying the house and turning it into a B&B. They decided to look it over with their father Martin (John Mahoney) in tow.

It was a nice stroll down Memory Lane, but it turned out the house wasn't as big as they remembered — probably because they were small when they lived there. I have visited places as an adult that I remember being much bigger when I was a child. It's a matter of perspective.

The house wouldn't be adequate to be a B&B, but as they were leaving Frasier recalled that they had left a metal box — a "time capsule," he called it — beneath some loose floorboards in the living room. He wondered if the owner would let them retrieve their box. The owner of the property said that wasn't possible; concluding that they were not interested in buying the house after all, the owner escorted the Cranes out of the house and locked it up.

But Frasier and Niles returned under cover of darkness. Frasier just knew that box was beneath the floor — even though the owner of the house insisted there were no loose boards in the floor. And Frasier proceeded to pry some boards loose. Then he reached into the darkness beneath the floor to search for the box.

Frasier didn't find the box — but, speaking of skulls, he found one beneath the floor, and Niles and Frasier began wildly speculating about whose skull it could be.

Inspired, no doubt, by their presence in the house where they had co–authored the Crane Boys Mysteries, a series of unpublished crime fiction stories.

Anyway, they concluded that the skull belonged to the landlord's wife, who had disappeared mysteriously, and Frasier began salivating at the idea of getting those Crane Boys Mysteries published to capitalize on the notoriety of their discovery.

Their assumption at the time had been that the landlord and his wife had split up. In light of what the Cranes had just discovered, the new assumption was that he had split her up.

Death was a big topic on Frasier 15 years ago tonight.

Roz (Peri Gilpin) was wrestling with talking to her daughter Alice about their hamster, who had met an untimely end. Martin had a little conversation with her about death and heaven when Roz was gone. Before that conversation, Alice thought the hamster was lost.

Alice seemed to take it in stride, and she left with her mother and a new hamster Roz had purchased. That was when, wordlessly, Martin and his dog Eddie showed everyone the bond between man and dog.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ...

The Cranes had torn up the floor of their old home and found their box. The owner was brought to the house by the police, who apparently had been summoned by Frasier or Niles, and was indignant about what they had done. But Frasier and Niles simply shrugged it off and told him that the police had some questions for him.

Then they decided to open the memory box.

They found a copy of their program from their backyard production of "Hamlet," and they put two and two together.

"You know, Niles," Frasier remarked, "we may owe Mr. Lasskopf an apology."

Seems like an understatement, doesn't it?

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Living Up to Expectations



Roz (Peri Gilpin): All right, there's a guy on second, one guy's out, I drive one to the gap. The throw to the cutoff man is late, our guy's safe at home, and I try to stretch it to a double. I make a beautiful hook slide right under the tag. How can I be out?

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): I'm still trying to understand why you drove to the Gap in the middle of the game.

There are certainly exceptions, but, for most of us, our first heroes are our parents. They are capable of doing so many things that are routine in the adult world — like changing a light bulb or making a sandwich — but are nothing short of miraculous to a child.

It is a healthy part of growing up when a child discovers that his/her parents are not perfect after all; nevertheless, it can be a painful experience. Whether it is more painful for the parent or the child depends, I suppose, upon the individuals.

When the episode of Frasier that first aired 20 years ago tonight — "The Unnatural" — began, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) was anticipating a visit from his son Frederick (Trevor Einhorn), who was living with his mother in Boston.

Frasier seldom saw his son and always wanted their time together to be perfect so when Frederick told Frasier he wanted to take a tour of Microsoft while he was in Seattle, Frasier tried to make it happen, but he couldn't. He turned to Roz (Peri Gilpin), who had once dated a Microsoft employee, and tried to get her to call the fellow to play on her status as an insider.

But Roz and the Microsoft employee had broken up. It hadn't been a clean break, either, and she was very reluctant to call him, but Frasier used emotional blackmail, reminding Roz of a story she had told him about when she was a girl and wanted her mother to take her to see late '60s/early '70s pop music star Bobby Sherman at a mall opening, but her mother couldn't do it. Her schedule was simply too demanding.

"So what did that little girl do that night?" Frasier asked. "She cried herself to sleep on her Bobby Sherman pillow."

Roz gave in — only to learn that her ex–beau no longer worked at Microsoft. He left after he and Roz split up. So Roz couldn't capitalize on her insider status, but she told Frasier that if Frederick wanted to tour a seminary, "I've got an in there now."

That didn't disappoint Frederick, though. While Roz and Frasier had been talking in the control booth, Frederick had been having a conversation with Bulldog, the host of KACL's sports program and coach of the station's softball team.

Bulldog was a reprehensible character, but on this occasion, he honestly tried to do Frasier a favor. He knew Frasier wasn't an athletic sort, but he didn't want to destroy Frasier's son's image of his father so when Frederick pressed him on letting his father fill in for Roz, who had been injured and couldn't play in the next game, Bulldog insisted that Frasier was a good player and that they would certainly win if he could play, but he was busy that day. Frederick conceded that they were supposed to go to Microsoft that day, and Bulldog thought he was off the hook.

When Frasier returned, though, Frederick told him that he no longer wanted to go to Microsoft. Instead, he wanted to see Frasier play softball. This created a tremendous dilemma for Frasier. He didn't know how to play softball, had never shown any interest in it when he was a child. Now he had to learn how to play the game in a short period of time.

But if there was one thing that Frasier had always been able to do, it was learn a new subject thoroughly and quickly. So he set about learning how to play softball in a crash course at the batting cages with his father helping him out.

It is hard to imagine a more inept pupil than Frasier. While it was never made clear in the episode how long they spent at the batting cages, the only hopeful sign Martin had seen was that Frasier was improving with his followthrough and was no longer hitting himself in the kidney. As for hitting a ball, well ...

Eventually they had to acknowledge that Frasier simply wasn't the softball type. In time, Frasier would have to acknowledge that to Frederick. He wasn't looking forward to admitting to his son that he wasn't perfect.

Frederick, meanwhile, had been creating a different set of problems with his Uncle Niles (David Hyde Pierce).

Regular Frasier watchers knew of Niles' infatuation with Daphne (Jane Leeves). In this episode, they learned that Frederick also had a crush on Daphne. He said he was Daphne's boyfriend and repeatedly drove Niles mad with his discreetly intimate behavior with her. Frasier and Martin (John Mahoney) didn't see it, but Niles certainly could.

And, by his own admission, he was envious of his nephew. Since he had been in Seattle, Frederick had spent a lot of time around Daphne, but at one point he crossed the line. He went into Daphne's bathroom while she was taking a shower.

Daphne chased him out of her room, prompting the following exchange between Frederick and his father:
Frasier: What have I told you about running in the house?

Frederick: You told me to never run in the house.

Frasier: And what have I told you about splitting infinitives?
Frederick got the last laugh. After learning that his father wasn't good at softball and his grandfather couldn't do math in his head, Frederick was moping in the living room. Daphne asked if she could do anything to make him feel better.

"Maybe a hug?" he suggested, and Daphne was very obliging.

Frederick smirked triumphantly at Niles.

The closing credits always had some sort of relevance to something from the preceding program, and during the closing credits of "The Unnatural," Frasier brought the real Bobby Sherman to the sound booth for Roz.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Power to the Little People



"All right, my little friends, comes now the new age, the age of — the age of Peter Craig. Let us begin to build the statue again. Let us commence to begin."

Peter Craig (Joe Maross)

Whether one believes in God or not, I suppose we have all wondered at some time in our lives, however fleetingly, what we might have done differently if we had been the Creator. Such musing is rooted in a desire for power. Ultimate power.

Perhaps we don't go quite that far in our musing. Perhaps we fantasize about being the one giving the orders instead of the one taking the orders. While it may be more muted in that scenario, it's still about power, though, isn't it?

Peter Craig (Joe Maross) didn't like being bossed around and not–so–secretly wished to be the boss. In the episode of Twilight Zone that premiered on this night in 1962, "The Little People," he was the No. 2 man in a two–astronaut crew in a spaceship exploring the heavens. As the No. 2 guy, clearly, he took his orders from the No. 1 guy, played by Claude Akins.

And he didn't like it.

When the episode began, the astronauts were stranded on some planet that viewers were told was millions of miles from Earth. They were in what appeared to be a canyon with no vegetation in sight. But the planet had oxygen, and it was quite warm with two suns blazing during the day.

The ship needed some repairs, and Akins set about the task. Craig, meanwhile, went on hikes that kept him away all day.

Akins became suspicious when he never saw Craig drinking from his canteen.

When pressed about it, Craig confessed. He had found a source of water, a little stream; as Akins pursued the matter, he learned that Craig had discovered a race of tiny people. They had built a tiny city on the banks of that "stream," which was a river to them.

Craig said he had been communicating with the little people. He didn't know their language, and they didn't know his, but they had managed to communicate through a form of language that appeared to be primarily mathematical.

The little people had been quite accommodating — mostly out of fear. Whenever angered Craig stomped on something in the little people's world, causing considerable carnage while devoting no more effort to it than one would give to stepping on an ant hill.

The little people were terrified, and they did everything they could to appease this "giant." They built a huge (in their estimation) statue of Craig overnight. He was becoming a god — their god through whose benevolence their destinies were determined.

And he didn't want to leave this planet where he was revered as a god — even though Akins had repaired the spaceship and was preparing to leave.

Craig told Akins to go — but, as far as he was concerned, Craig had no intention of leaving. Probably an ordinary–sized man on Earth, Craig was so big he could blot out the sun for the little people. He could cast them into eternal darkness with only his shadow.

The power was entirely his.

Until two space travelers arrived. They were as big compared to Craig as Craig had been to the little people. One reached down to pick up a ranting Craig and crushed him to death. Then the travelers left.

The little people, liberated by Craig's death, immediately tore down the statue they had built to Craig.

The ending always makes me think of something Florence Eldridge said to Fredric March in "Inherit the Wind" when he told her that a victory in that court case would be "a monument to God that would last a thousand years."
"Every man has to build his own monument. You can't do it for them. If you do, it becomes your monument. Not theirs. And they'll topple it the minute they find a flaw in it."

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Soundtrack of the '60s



I have several Bob Dylan albums on CD today, but when I was a teenager the first vinyl Dylan recording I ever owned was his first greatest hits collection, which hit the music stores 50 years ago today.

It had been in stores for many years by the time I added it to my collection, but I knew I would like it before I ever played it. I was familiar with every song on it.

Lots of folks must have felt the same way. Dylan has released more than three dozen albums in his remarkable career. The greatest hits collection that arrived in music stores on this day in 1967 is his top–selling album.

Perhaps it set a standard in my impressionable mind for all greatest hits albums to come — a standard that no other greatest hits album could hope to match, although I will admit that one or two have come close.

Even today I will look at that CD and think to myself that it is the perfect collection of Dylan's early music. (Two other volumes of his greatest hits have been released, but even three volumes — and one was a double album — weren't comprehensive accounts of Dylan's career.)

I mentioned that once to my friend Brady, who is probably Dylan's greatest admirer among my friends, and he seemed kind of amused by that. Maybe he could think of a song or two that he felt should have been included — he didn't say — but I can't. I still think it is a perfect collection of Dylan's best from the '60s — and I say that knowing that "John Wesley Harding" and "Nasvhille Skyline" had not yet been released.

Apparently, I am not the only person who feels that way about this album. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic.com wrote that "[a]t just 10 songs, it's a little brief" — if you're familiar with recordings from the '60s, you know that was probably unavoidable since most songs tended to be two, three, at most four minutes long most of the time. Yes, it is a little brief by modern standards — just under 40 minutes.

"[B]ut that's actually not a bad thing," Erlewine wrote, "since this provides a nice sampler for the curious and casual listener."

Indeed it does. If I was going to introduce someone to Dylan, the "Greatest Hits" album would be the first album I would recommend. I would tell my friend that he/she should listen to individual Dylan albums, not just a greatest hits package, but the greatest hits album would be a good starting point.

Chances are that, like me, that person already would be familiar with every song on the album. It wasn't just a document of the early years of Dylan's career — although it certainly was that. It was a time capsule, a collection of the most socially relevant songs of probably the most socially explosive time in our history (which was still unfolding when the album first arrived in music stores). Songs like "Blowin' in the Wind," "The Times They Are A–Changin'," "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Just Like a Woman" punctuate the album. They form the soundtrack of their time.

The soundtrack of the '60s.

Oh, sure, you could throw in some other songs by other artists to get a true soundtrack for the '60s — but you can find a lot of it on this one album. The selections are like next–generation versions of "This Land Is Your Land."

My favorites from the album are probably "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

That reminds me of a story.

From time to time in my life, I have taught journalism to students in four–year and two–year colleges. A few years ago, I was in the classroom a few minutes before the start of a class, and some of my students were there as well. One of them asked me what my favorite rap song was. I kid you not.

I told him that the closest thing to rap in my collection was Dylan singing "Subterranean Homesick Blues."

A girl in the class piped up. "That's the original rap song!"

I was impressed that she knew the song, considering that it was recorded about 30 years before she was born.

"You get an A!" I told her. Then I looked at the other students. "See how easy it is?" I asked.

In fact, that girl did receive an A in that class. But it wasn't because of what she said that day. She was a good student and deserved the grade she got.

But what she said sure didn't hurt.

Up, Up and Away



On this night in 1967 the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in a great space race. Their international competition to see who could get to the moon first was constantly in the news, and both countries were inclined to jealously guard their information about everything anyway, not just space exploration, although that was high on the list.

Well, that is what I have heard. My memories of the space race are not as clear as they would be if I had been older so I was unaware of any cloak–and–dagger stuff that might have been going on. It really wouldn't surprise me, though, given the atmosphere of fear and suspicion in those Cold War days. Even at my tender age, I was aware of that much. The race was with the Russians, and it had implications that went far beyond space and the moon. The Russians couldn't be permitted to know any of our secrets, even if those secrets meant nothing to national security in the long run.

I guess I always assumed that the Russian people were subjected to the same kind of propaganda that the Americans were. Considering the nature of the Soviet government, it was probably likely.

So it wasn't hard for audiences to accept the national security angle to the episode of Gilligan's Island that first aired 50 years ago tonight, "It's a Bird, It's a Plane." They were conditioned to it.

When the episode began, an experimental jet pack had fallen overboard from a naval ship and drifted to the island, where Gilligan (Bob Denver) discovered it in the lagoon.

Gilligan recognized the resemblance to a pack worn by fictional space traveler Buck Rogers. The Professor (Russell Johnson) recognized the potential the pack had to be their long–sought rescue.

The mere fact that the jet pack was missing was enough for the frantic folks back on the mainland to launch a massive search of the area. This had happened before during the series' three–year run. Amazingly no one ever came across Gilligan's little island during one of those searches when — presumably — no stone (metaphorically speaking) would be left unturned.

Initially the idea on the island was that someone would strap on the jet pack and fly to Hawaii, but the Professor wanted to evaluate the matter first. While he was doing that, both the Howells (Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer) and the girls (Dawn Wells, Tina Louise) tried to trick Gilligan into strapping on the jet pack and taking off.

The efforts were thwarted, though. The Professor had come up with a plan that wasn't as dangerous as having one of the castaways fly over the ocean to Hawaii. They would construct a dummy to precise height and weight specifications, strap on the jet pack and aim it at the right trajectory to fly to Hawaii with a note attached to it alerting the authorities to their location.

But Gilligan accidentally wound up riding the dummy through the jungle and burning up most of the fuel. There was enough left for maybe a 15–minute flight.

And then the castaways were given a reason to use it for that purpose.

The search ships would be in their area the next day — according to the radio (which, remarkably, always started reporting on precisely whatever the castaways wanted to hear about the minute they switched on the radio). It was decided that someone would take that 15–minute flight to draw the ships' attention.

What remained was to choose who would take the flight. They needed to undergo a test to see who was least likely to become dizzy and light–headed.

So all four men climbed into a cylindrical contraption that could be made to spin when someone rode a stationary bicycle to generate power. When they emerged, Gilligan was the only one who wasn't dizzy or light–headed so he was chosen to fly when the search party was in the area.

The Skipper (Alan Hale Jr.) had an explanation for that. Gilligan, he said, was "dizzy and light–headed all the time — he's just used to it."

So Gilligan piloted the jet pack — with the radio hanging around his neck so he could hear news reports. And he did hear one — the sighting of a UFO from one of the search ships. Not realizing that the report was actually the sighting of Gilligan, he ducked into a cloud — and created an unexpected shower. The Navy called off the search.

Once again, Gilligan had thwarted a rescue.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Andy and Barney's Excellent Adventure



Andy (Andy Griffith): Now, Barn, outside of that meetin' we got with the commissioner, we're really off duty, you know.

Barney (Don Knotts): Off duty? When is a lawman really off duty?

If you didn't grow up in a small town, what I am about to write may not make much sense to you.

But I grew up in a small town in central Arkansas, about a 30–minute drive from Little Rock. It wasn't as small as the Mayberry of the Andy Griffith Show, but it was much smaller than it is today. We knew that we could get most of the things we needed in my hometown, but for some things we had to drive to the big city.

That was the mindset of Barney (Don Knotts) in the episode that premiered on this night in 1962, "Andy and Barney in the Big City." Andy (Andy Griffith) and Barney went to the state capitol to ask for funds for new equipment.

They weren't exactly encouraged by what the commissioner had to tell them. He said the chances of getting their request approved were slim, given that not much happened in Mayberry.

Barney, who told Andy earlier that he believed the city was where he really belonged, decided that they needed to make a felony arrest that would bring them some attention, and he made the following observation that rings so true from my own childhood experiences: "People come here to the city to shop for things they can't get back home."

But what he had to say next definitely was not a part of my childhood.

"We do the same thing. No felonies in Mayberry? We pick one up here."

Barney had his eye on a fellow who was paying particular attention to a guest at the hotel who was carrying a considerable stash of jewels. He didn't realize the fellow was the hotel detective, and he was providing protection for the guest.

A real criminal came into the hotel, and Barney struck up a friendship with him. Barney got the idea that the criminal was actually the owner of the local newspaper and sensed an opportunity to grab the kind of headlines the Mayberry sheriff's office needed to get that new equipment.

The friendship quickly became a partnership.

As usual, Barney — in his blustery sort of way — got it all wrong and nearly allowed the thief to get away with the jewels, but Andy, in his usual way, bailed Barney out.

But there was one thing Andy couldn't change — the fact that Barney, thinking the hotel detective was the thief, had locked the detective in a closet.

One of the delightful scenes in this episode was one of Knotts' own creations. I refer to the scene in the French restaurant when Barney pointed to items on the menu to keep the waiter from thinking Barney was a rube. Andy thought that was too much of a gamble and said he would tell the waiter what he wanted.

"Don't do that," Barney said. "He'll think you're a plain hick."

"There's worse things than being a plain hick," Andy replied, "like being a hongry one."

Andy wound up with a steak, baked potato and green beans. Barney ended up with a plate of snails and brains.

Many years later, Knotts re–created the scene in an episode of Three's Company.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Where Nobody Knows Your Name



"Either I am crazy or somebody's going to an awful lot of trouble to blot me out."

David (Richard Long)

I enjoy Twilight Zone episodes for many reasons, much the way I like the works of Stephen King.

I enjoy good entertainment, and one of the ways I like to be entertained is to see or read something that sends a little chill down my spine. Folks from my parents' generation called it the heebie jeebies, which is still probably the best way to describe it.

It's probably what made the "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" movies so popular — although I have always preferred thrillers that had more going for them than merely shower slasher attacks that shamelessly borrowed the famous shower scene from "Psycho."

Twilight Zone specialized in heebie jeebies. It didn't always achieve heebie jeebie status — neither does King, for that matter — but it came close on many occasions if it didn't hit the bull's eye.

The episode that first aired on this night in 1962, "Person or Persons Unknown," was one of the episodes that hit the bull's eye.

Richard Long, a familiar TV actor from those days (in addition to his many appearances on other programs, he appeared in another Twilight Zone episode two years later), played a character who woke up one morning after a night of heavy partying to discover that no one — not his wife, his mother, his friends, his colleagues at work — knew who he was.

The opening narration observed that he had "just lost his most valuable possession" — his identity. There was no evidence of his existence anywhere.

For sure that will send a chill down your spine.

And as that fact dawned on him, things began to get worse. He was taken into custody and eventually taken to an asylum.

I suppose it is the kind of thing that most people think will never happen to them, and I'll grant you that it seems pretty far–fetched. But it's been my experience that most people never think really terrible things will happen to them, that they only happen to other people — until something terrible does happen to them or someone they know.

And make no mistake about it — losing your identity is a terrible thing.

Most people in 1962 were probably like Long's character, giving little thought to their identities, simply assuming that when they woke up in the morning everything would be just as it had been when they went to sleep the night before. They might have further assumed that a person like Long was suffering from amnesia, but the only problem with that was that he knew who he was. It was the other people who didn't know who he was.

A person's identity has become a much bigger topic of conversation than it was 55 years ago. Identity theft is a thriving business in the criminal world, and people are becoming increasingly proactive about protecting their identities.

Identity theft may have been a legal issue in 1962 as well, but without things like the personal computer and the internet, it is hard to imagine how it could have been pulled off. Of course, that is 21st–century thinking being applied to the mid–20th century.

Anyway, Dave Gurney devoutly believed that he could find evidence of his true identity. He believed someone was trying to blot out his existence, and he believed that he could find the one detail that would support his claim. He thought he had found the proof of his identity — a photo of him with his wife from a roll of film he had taken in to be developed. He went to pick up the picture, and the photo he got did, indeed, show him with his wife, the one who now claimed she did not know him.

But when he showed the photo to the psychiatrist who had been treating him and the police who were looking for him, it only showed him. His wife was no longer in the picture.

He slumped to the ground in despair, and in the next second he was seen back in his bedroom. It appeared that the whole thing had been a dream. This time his wife recognized him — but he didn't recognize her.

The nightmare continued. It just took a different turn.

Incidentally, Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling apparently liked this theme so much that he revisited it in an hour–long format the following year.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Special Night



"I just wanted you to know that sometimes I get concerned about being a career woman. I get to thinking my job is too important to me, and I tell myself that the people I work with are just the people I work with and not my family. And last night, I thought, 'What is a family, anyway?' They're just people who make you feel less alone and really loved. And that's what you've done for me. Thank you for being my family."

Mary Tyler Moore

I think I will always regret the fact that Mary Tyler Moore did not live a few more months.

I had nothing to do with her death, of course. I have no more power over life and death than any other human being, and I completely understand that we all will die someday so I do not lament the fact that she is dead. She was 80 years old, after all.

But I do wish she could have lived until today — the 40th anniversary of the final episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, which is still one of the best television programs of all time. It just doesn't seem right that she missed this milestone.

The episode was called, appropriately, "The Last Show." That isn't quite as flippant as it sounds. Yes, it was the last episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show — but it was about the last news broadcast at fictional TV station WJM with the familiar crew of Mary, Murray (Gavin MacLeod), Ted (Ted Knight), Sue Ann (Betty White) and Mr. Grant (Ed Asner).

Well, one person would remain at WJM.

The story line was that there was a new station manager (Vincent Gardenia) who wanted to make some dramatic changes. He came to speak to Lou (Ed Asner) to get some input on where to make cuts in the newsroom, and Lou suggested that he should watch the evening news and judge for himself.

Ted (Ted Knight) was certain that this would be the end for him so he began doing everything he could to ingratiate himself to the new boss.

And, apparently, it worked, because the station manager decided to let everyone go — except Ted. For long–time viewers of the show, I guess that was really the only way it could have gone. It made it seem more final — if such a thing is possible.

I guess the last half of the episode was mostly a sentimental journey for the cast and the show's fans. Mary was depressed by the turn of events, and Mr. Grant, in an attempt to raise her spirits, arranged for her old friends Rhoda (Valerie Harper) and Phyllis (Cloris Leachman) to return to Minneapolis for a visit.

Back in the newsroom the inevitable time for goodbyes arrived following the final newscast. That led to a group hug and an oft–imitated exit with the cast marching out of the newsroom singing "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" and Mary peeking back in the newsroom one last time.

The story itself wasn't especially memorable — even though it did reunite Mary with two of the series' early regulars who left the show before Sue Ann and Georgette (Georgia Engel) joined it; thus the final episode was the only time all of the primary characters in the series — the ones I have already mentioned along with news writer Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod) — appeared in the same episode together.

And when all eight came out and took a curtain call after the episode ended, that was a first as well.

Actually, I don't believe the show's cast ever did a curtain call before — so that was a one–time–only event.

And I am quite sure they never appeared on the same stage at the same time either before or after the night the episode was taped.

It was a special night all the way around.

Don't Overlook This Gem



"I wonder if it would not be, well, just a trifle starry–eyed of me to contemplate a partnership where I could count on no sense of moral obligation whatsoever."

Sidney (Michael Caine)

There were a lot of movies in the theaters in 1982. Some were good, some were not, but nearly all of them, it seems, spent more time in the spotlight than "Deathtrap," which premiered on this day 35 years ago.

And that really is a shame because "Deathtrap" may have been the most creative movie out there — and I say that knowing that 1982 brought us "Poltergeist," "E.T.," and "Tootsie," among others.

It was an overlooked gem at the time, and it is still overlooked today.

"Deathtrap" also took a backseat to "Porky's," a putrid sex comedy that was nevertheless the fifth–highest grossing movie of the year. "Porky's" premiered the same day as "Deathtrap."

I must confess that I didn't see "Deathtrap" when it was in theaters, and that is something I have often regretted. I saw it much later on cable.

As I have mentioned here before, I am a fan of the work of Alfred Hitchcock. I got that from my parents, who were fans of Agatha Christie's books as well. If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you almost certainly have noticed that I have written about both Hitchcock's movies and Christie's books here — and I expect to do so again.

My parents loved mysteries, and they appreciated stories that had all kinds of twists and turns, requiring the viewer or the reader to mentally shift gears from time to time. "Deathtrap" had plenty of twists and turns, certainly enough to satisfy fans of Hitchcock and Christie, with a gut–punch ending that, I must confess, I kind of anticipated — but only because of a movie I once watched with my parents (I'll get back to that).

Nearly the entire movie took place in the remote country estate belonging to Michael Caine's character, a once–successful playwright who was enduring a streak of flops, and his wife, played by Dyan Cannon, who suffered from a heart condition. They were doing well financially — a wall in the house that was decorated with weapons from Caine's numerous successful plays testified to that — but Caine's ego longed for another hit.

Caine had received a manuscript by a student (Christopher Reeve) from one of his writing workshops. The student wanted Caine's input. In private, Caine believed the manuscript was flawless, and he decided that he wanted to produce it as his own. He invited the student to come to his home, where they would discuss the play — and Caine would murder the student.

Cannon argued against the plan, but Caine rebuffed every argument — and after the student arrived, Caine did attack him, convincing Cannon to help him remove the body.

She also said nothing when they received an unexpected visitor, a psychic who was staying with some neighbors. The psychic walked around the house, observing that she sensed pain and death in the very places where those things had been happening to Reeve's character and warning Caine that he would be attacked by a man wearing boots.

After the psychic left, Caine and Cannon prepared for bed, and Cannon appeared to be coming to grips with what Caine had done — when Reeve stormed in with a log in his hand and appeared to bludgeon Caine to death. Then he turned his attention to Cannon and chased her around the house — until her weak heart gave out and she collapsed.

Caine appeared in the scene, unharmed although he had a few words of criticism for Reeve's performance with the stage prop log. The murders of Caine and Reeve had been staged to produce this very result as the audience learned when Reeve and Caine shared a kiss.

(I have read that, when "Deathtrap" was showing in theaters and Caine and Reeve were about to kiss, a woman stood up in one theater and exclaimed, "No, Superman, don't do it!" I don't know if that is true or not, but it is a great story, isn't it?)

Reeve moved in with Caine after Cannon's funeral, and they began working on manuscripts at an antique partners' desk. Caine continued to suffer from writer's block, but Reeve pounded out page after page — and mysteriously left his manuscript locked in a drawer whenever he was away.

Caine finally managed to get his hands on Reeve's manuscript and was shocked to learn that Reeve was using the circumstances of Cannon's death for a play titled "Deathtrap" (which, ostensibly, had been the title of the manuscript Reeve originally sent to Caine). Caine confronted Reeve, who insisted the story had great potential and he would continue writing it. He offered to share credit with Caine, who was coming to believe that Reeve was a sociopath, and he agreed to cooperate while secretly planning a resolution to the problem.

The psychic paid another visit a few days later asking for candles in preparation for an anticipated thunderstorm. When she met Reeve, she told Caine that Reeve was the man in boots she had warned him about.

The last part of the movie is best experienced, but suffice to say that just as you think one of the characters is about to go to his reward, the ground shifts beneath your feet, and suddenly the other character has the upper hand.

Their struggle left both men dead — and the psychic was the beneficiary, apparently becoming the successful writer of "Deathtrap," the latest hit on Broadway.

As I say, I anticipated the finish. It reminded me of "The Ladykillers," a movie that was in theaters about 25 years earlier. I watched it with Mom and Dad — ironically, only about a year or two before "Deathtrap" was in theaters.

In "The Ladykillers" a gang of thieves used an old woman as the centerpiece of a robbery plan. In the end, they all killed each other, and the little old lady, who discovered the plan after the robbery had already been carried out, was the only one who benefited from it.

If you see this movie on your TV schedule — or the DVD in the discount bin — don't let the opportunity get away from you.

Swearing a Broath



Barney (Neil Patrick Harris): You broke the broath.

Ted (Josh Radnor): How dare you? A broath is the most sacred bond between — OK, yeah, I did.

An oath is a solemn thing, whether you are promising to discharge your duties in office or tell the truth in court. Under lesser circumstances, I suppose, oaths are known by different names. On "How I Met Your Mother," they were dubbed "broaths" in the episode "The Broath" that first aired on this night in 2012.

As the episode began Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) swore Ted (Josh Radnor) to secrecy about a girl Barney had been dating. Barney, of course, was the one who came up with the term broath — a combination of "bro" and "oath." He talked Ted into putting on a brobe for the occasion.

Barney wanted the girl, named Quinn (Becki Newton), to meet his friends, but he was afraid they would judge her too harshly when they learned she was a stripper and that she had swindled Barney of a lot of money. Ted knew all this, and Barney wanted him to keep quiet, but he told the gang anyway.

In a get–acquainted dinner, Quinn mistreated Barney, and Robin (Cobie Smulders) and Ted began competing to sublet Quinn's apartment after she moved in with Barney. Lily (Alyson Hannigan) found evidence that Barney had plane tickets to Hawaii and reservations at a four–star hotel there. The gang was convinced that Quinn was after Barney's money and decided to stage an intervention — or, in How I Met Your Mother lingo, a "Quinntervention."

Quinn broke up with Barney in an awkward confrontation in front of the gang, who were overcome by guilt (even though Robin and Ted were still lusting for Quinn's apartment) and went to Barney's apartment to see if there was some way they could make it up to him.

Barney then swore them all to a broath that they would never interfere in his life again. To seal the deal Barney coerced the girls into sharing a kiss. Barney and Marshall (Jason Segel) kissed, too, although Barney never instructed them to do so. All he said was, "And now the gentlemen ..."

Anyway, then Quinn appeared, and it turned out everything — the theatrics at the get–acquainted dinner, provoking the competition between Ted and Robin for Quinn's apartment, the awkward fight at the "Quinntervention" — had been an elaborate plan by Barney and Quinn to prevent the gang from judging her.

It proved they were right for each other, and Barney's friends gave their heartfelt congratulations.

I thought it was an enjoyable kind of episode — the kind that always makes me think of a scene from Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" in which he and Diane Keaton were standing in a line to get movie tickets, and a patron behind them — a professor at Columbia — was talking about Marshall McLuhan. Allen walked over to a display in the lobby and pulled the real Marshall McLuhan out from behind it. McLuhan proceeded to dress down the patron, after which Allen looked at the camera and said, "Boy, if life were only like this."

Movin' on Up



In the episode of How I Met Your Mother that premiered on this night in 2007, "Moving Day," Ted (Josh Radnor) and Robin (Cobie Smulders) were planning to move in together, which meant that Ted's old room in the apartment belonging to Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) would be vacant.

Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) wanted to rent the room because it was just above the bar whereas his apartment was a 23–minute drive away. Too many of his pickups had gone awry in that 23–minute drive. Girls had fallen asleep on him, made up with their boyfriends and been arrested for indecent exposure. With a room in Lily and Marshall's apartment, Barney's odds of scoring would be greatly improved.

But Lily and Marshall weren't keen on that idea, especially since it meant Barney would leave the girl for Lily and Marshall to wake up and kick out the next morning. So they nixed the idea. Besides, it turned out that they liked the idea of having the apartment to themselves.

Then Barney did an about–face and was opposed to the idea of Ted moving out. But Ted insisted that he was going to move in with Robin, anyway.

So Barney absconded with the moving van that was filled with Ted's stuff — except for a sword and a box of pot lids.

At first Lily and Marshall were happy about having the apartment to themselves. With Ted gone, they could do things they had thought about but never dared do while there was another person around. For instance, Lily wanted to sit around the apartment naked.

But they soon realized that it gets cold when you're sitting around in the altogether.

Marshall liked the idea of having sex wherever — and as loudly as — he wanted. But they soon agreed that just because they could be loud did not mean they had to be loud.

Meanwhile at Robin's place ...

Ted was trying to settle in, but it was difficult without his things. And, as he spoke about what he had hoped to be doing, some conflicts between Ted and Robin and what they wanted to do with the apartment began to emerge. Then he got a phone call from Barney who gave him Mission: Impossiblelike instructions for getting his things back, starting with putting on a suit that Barney had left on the door to Robin's apartment and meeting him at the bar.

Barney wanted one last night on the town with Ted — a "bro–ing away" party, in Barney's words — and Ted seemed to enjoy it for awhile, but he got worried that Robin would be upset that he spent the evening with Barney instead of with her.

Robin, however, was occupied with other things — like having one last cigarette and canceling her gun magazine subscription before Ted moved in.

And Lily and Marshall had concluded that they really did like having Ted around — and his useful possessions, like towels and the microwave.

Those possessions were still in the moving van that Barney had snatched — only now they were organized into a kind of a modified living space, suitable for bringing his "dates" — which is something he was in the process of doing when the van started to move. Ted had figured everything out.

Back at Robin's apartment, Ted told her the whole story about how he had found his possessions — and then they decided they weren't ready to move in together after all. But they did give the modified living space a whirl.

After that Ted went back to Lily and Marshall's place, where they greeted him with open arms — literally.

"God, this feels so right," Marshall said.

"Never leave us again," Lily told Ted.

Ted tried to protest that Robin was downstairs and there were lots of boxes to move. But Lily just said, "Sssshhh."