Sunday, April 30, 2017

Bye Bye, Boston

Nearly every actor and actress from Cheers! made an appearance on the hugely successful spinoff, Frasier. Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth) made the most appearances, but Sam (Ted Danson), Woody (Woody Harrelson) and Diane (Shelley Long) showed up, too, just not as often.

For nearly everyone else, the episode that first aired on this night in 2002, "Cheerful Goodbyes," was their single shot — and it was a real treat for anyone who ever watched Cheers! in the '80s.

I guess the only ones who weren't on Frasier at some point were Coach (Nicholas Colasanto), who died not long after Frasier joined the Cheers! cast, and Rebecca (Kirstie Alley).

The premise of the story was simple. Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) was being honored at a conference in his old Boston stomping grounds, and he brought his family with him for the occasion. Niles (David Hyde Pierce) had been recruited to give Frasier's introduction but was angry at Frasier for outing him on Frasier's radio program as a child bed wetter. Daphne (Jane Leeves) came along because she wanted to see Boston, and Martin (John Mahoney) was there, too.

Upon their arrival at the airport in Boston, Frasier happened to cross paths with verbose postman Cliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger), who was boring an airport bartender with the kind of story he frequently told on Cheers!

Cliff thought Frasier was in town to surprise him at his retirement party, which was scheduled for that evening. Cliff was at the airport to pick up his mother — who, it turned out, had boarded "the wrong plane" and gone to Bosnia, not Boston.

Nevertheless, Cliff later provided a batch of deviled eggs for the party. He said he followed his mother's recipe — substituting water for mayo.

Frasier didn't want to disappoint his old friend so he agreed to come to the party — which was being held somewhere other than Cheers because Sam was throwing a Red Sox reunion that night.

Clearly Sam wasn't there, but just about everyone else was — especially Carla (Rhea Perlman), who could hardly wait to see Cliff leave. She didn't care if he enjoyed his retirement; she just wanted him gone. The knowledge that he was leaving made her feel that "life is good" even though, by her own account, everything else in her life was falling apart.

Pity poor Daphne. Unaware of Cliff's windbag ways, she found herself being bombarded by his nuggets of wisdom.

More's the pity — she actually believed him when he told her that Winston Churchill was the inventor of the English muffin. You'd think a girl from Manchester would know better.

As the evening neared its conclusion, Cliff was having a crisis. None of his friends seemed to be sorry he was leaving — so Frasier tried to intervene, talking the gang into giving Cliff a rousing sendoff.

It was going pretty well, but Carla, of all people, overplayed her hand and, unintentionally, persuaded Cliff to stay in Boston.

And life — for Carla, at least — wasn't so good anymore.

Handling the Truth

When I was growing up, I knew one guy who was adopted.

All the other kids I knew lived with their biological parents. Some lived with their mothers — mostly because their parents were divorced (although I knew one guy whose father had died) — but they knew who their biological fathers were or had been.

I don't think my friend who was adopted ever knew who his biological parents were. That kind of information just wasn't handed out freely in those days.

His adoptive parents didn't even tell him he was adopted until he was 13. I was probably his best friend at that time, and I was the first one he told. It made me think about something I never thought about before — what it would be like to not know where you came from.

In hindsight, I was lucky. I lived with both of my parents, but that didn't strike me as anything special. It was just the norm in the tiny Southern town in which I grew up. Married couples seldom split up in those days, no matter how bad things got.

Things have changed in my hometown. For one thing, it is hardly tiny anymore. And, for another, divorce is much more commonplace than it was then — or maybe people are just more open about it now. I don't mean to suggest that that is a good thing — clearly some families are better off if the parents do not live under the same roof — but there is no stigma attached to divorce now. When I was growing up, the myth that divorced women were "hot to trot" was alive and well among the horny adolescent boys in my hometown, and it made it easy to believe that the children of divorce could not be sure who their fathers were.

Thus the basis for the episode of How I Met Your Mother that first aired 10 years ago tonight — "Showdown."

Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) was sort of between most of my friends and my friend who was adopted. He did know who his mother was. He grew up in her house with his biracial brother, but he did not know his father's identity.

Apparently he asked his mother about this so frequently that one day, apparently in an exasperated impulse, she pointed to the TV, which was showing an episode of The Price Is Right, and told him that Bob Barker was his father.

It was always an ironic twist that Barney, who was skeptical of most things, apparently believed everything his mother told him.

Then, in the episode that aired 10 years ago tonight, after years of carrying on a rather one–sided father–son relationship with the TV set, Barney was going to appear on The Price Is Right and try to meet his father.

The simultaneous story in this episode dealt with Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall's (Jason Segel) upcoming wedding and Ted's (Josh Radnor) attempts to compose an appropriate best–man toast to the happy couple. Marshall kept censoring his efforts, though, and Ted was ready to give up.

Then a subject presented itself. Lily and Marshall were trying to spend the last two weeks before their wedding apart. Lily had been staying with Robin (Cobie Smulders), where she discovered that the stress of wedding preparation had rendered her too skinny to wear her wedding dress so Robin had been forcing Lily to eat every high–calorie food they could get their hands on.

But Marshall and Lily hadn't been able to live up to it. They met at a motel for a few hours each evening, prompting Ted to observe in his toast that, even after a 10–year relationship, Marshall and Lily couldn't spend so much as a night apart.

Meanwhile, in his appearance on The Price Is Right, Barney won the Showcase and was on the verge of telling Barker the truth — as Barney knew it — but in the end he didn't. He was asked why.

"If you've lived your whole life thinking one thing," Barney replied, "it would be pretty devastating to find out that wasn't true. I just don't think Bob could have handled it."

He did, however, give many of his prizes to the happy couple as wedding gifts.

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 expected to be and what they expected 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.