Sunday, April 16, 2017

a night in joe's wheelhouse

Blair, Ethan and I spent Saturday night at Joe's (from the cinema history class). In the few years that we've been attending the class, we've turned into a chummy group, and Joe wanted to extend his hospitality to us. And share with us some of the entertainment that he loves -- a sample of what he calls his wheelhouse.

So Keith, Dave and I, along with wives (and Ethan) came over for dinner and some video entertainment.

Joe didn't just entertain. He prepared a presentation of three television episodes (and one cinematic cartoon. The episodes were each from an iconic 1960's TV show, and each was a particularly 1960s-ish episode. But I can let Joe's words explain, since he graciously emailed me his prepared remarks, and gave me permission to share them.
Welcome to our house… and my Wheelhouse! 
Now, we leave the dining room behind, and enter a world of surfing, psychedelic lights, and go-go dancing – in other words that wonderful and decidedly unique period known as the mid-1960s, also known as my Wheelhouse!  This is the type of presentation that I could never do at Keith’s because it would not fit the rules – but everyone knows that the sixties were about breaking the rules!  In the mid-sixties, TV got really weird.  A journey that brought us from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER to BATMAN and beyond!  That weirdness, and that TV, formed the basis for my Wheelhouse.  Virtually every popular fantasy show (save maybe STAR TREK) got weirder and weirder as the period advanced.  And, the weirder it got, the more I loved it!  I’m pleased to share three prime examples of iconic sixties TV series (…ending with one short  theatrical cartoon) that exhibit that weirdness with you tonight.  But, not just “ordinary weird”, mind you, but SIXTIES-SPECIFIC WEIRD… meaning that these particular artifacts of my Wheelhouse could NOT have been produced at any other time in entertainment history.  The particular series for tonight, BATMAN, LOST IN SPACE, and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.  have – to one extent or another – transcended the sixties to be reimagined in later times.  I don’t think I can count the number of ways this has applied to BATMAN – in comics, live action, and animation.  LOST IN SPACE had a successful feature film in 1998 – knocking “Titanic” off of Box Office first place in its debut week – had a pilot made for the WB Network, just as that network imploded, and, for better or worse, will be a Netflix series in 2018-2019.  THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.  also had a recent feature film, proving that you CAN take these series out of the sixties – but perhaps the very best of them still remain there.  I promised SURFING, and here it is in BATMAN’s “Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!” Aired November 16, 1967 on ABC TV.  By this time, BATMAN was airing only once a week – so this is only one part, Batgirl had been added, and the outrageous sixties weirdness ante had been upped to its most delightfully absurd, vs. the earliest episodes which, though campy, hewed closer to the 1950s and 1960s BATMAN comic books.  With some even being direct adaptations of those older comics.  Caesar Romero is clearly having great fun playing the Joker.  Gordon and O’Hara are cluelessly priceless in this! And we get to see Yvonne Craig in a bathing suit! So, sit back and take a deep breath of that great sixties atmosphere!  To the Bat Poles! 

We then viewed "Surf's Up! Joker's Under," a beach-set episode of Batman  that featured a climactic surfing battle between Batman and the Joker.

Joe then moved on to the next part of the program.
LOST IN SPACE began as a ‘50s film-inspired black-and-white struggle for survival in the hostile environment of an unknown planet – for the first family sent by the United States to colonize deep space – in 1997, no less! But, when it transitioned to color, it went all-in on the wonderful sixties weirdness we know it for today – led unapologetically by Jonathan Harris, as original saboteur and later comedic cowardly villain Doctor Zachary Smith and his Robot foil.   Running opposite BATMAN for three seasons, most likely influenced such a direction.   I promised psychedelic lights, and go-go dancing, and here it is in space-spades with “The Promised Planet”!  Aired January 24, 1968 (My 13th birthday!) on CBS.  Oh, ever have a song or piece of music stuck in your head?  Well, get ready to experience that again…  
And on came a truly bizarre episode of Lost In Space. Aliens are taking over Penny's and Will's minds, forcing them to dance whenever go-go music is played. And it's played often. This is the episode that Joe referred to as "Space-a-delic."

The third part of the presentation was  an episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. featuring a go-go dancing gorilla. I couldn't find a clip or trailer for this on Youtube (sorry), so Joe's introduction will have to suffice.
It’s hard to imagine today how HUGE THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. was in its time (1964-1968).  There were images of the stars, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, EVERYWHERE, and parodies of the name “U.N.C.L.E.” were irresistible in all media.  Inspired by the James Bond / 1960s Spy Craze, Robert Vaughn’s “Napoleon Solo” was the James Bond of the small screen.  But, U.N.C.L.E. was hardly immune to the trend of wonderful sixties weirdness – as most of you saw at Keith’s in 2015, when I showed THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. “The Mother Muffin Affair” featuring Boris Karloff.  I already delivered on my promise of go-go dancing, but here’s more – and, just for Keith, a GORILLA thrown in to boot!  It’s “The My Friend the Gorilla Affair”. Aired December 16, 1966 on NBC.  Anyone remember the prehistoric jungle girl played by Vitina Marcus in Irwin Allen’s “The Lost World” and its repurposing as an episode of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, from my presentation of 2016?  Well, you’ll find her here – as (Guess what?) a jungle girl!  …And, believe it or not, she was born in Brooklyn!   Marc will also find old friend Percy Rodrigues - unforgettable as the Commodore in the STAR TREK “Court Martial”, which also featured “The Maltese Falcon’s” Eilsha Cook, Jr.

And, finally, Joe closed with a Roland and Rattfink cartoon, "Hurts and Flowers."  
It wouldn’t be one of my presentations without a cartoon… So, finally, we have a very unique theatrical cartoon that, just like our other features tonight, could not have been made at any other time than in the sixties.   I never heard of ROLAND AND RATTFINK until this year.  But, because it was a Kino Lorber DVD release (as was “Bay of Blood” and so many other great DVDs and Blu-rays), and was originally produced by DePatie/Freleng who created The Pink Panther and was the last studio to make theatrical cartoons (into the seventies) I gave it a try and was not disappointed.  From 1969, here is the totally sixties cartoon “Hurts and Flowers”! 
I was tempted to insist that we go around the room and discuss our impressions (the way we do in class), but it was past midnight, and I didn;t want to be the one to make everyone lose even more sleep...

It was great to share the evening with the guys from the class (or, at least, some of them) and their wives. I especially enjoyed watching this silliness with Blair -- we don't watch enough video entertainment together -- and hear her laughing out loud to the bestworst of it. She noted that she had never been much for Lost in Space as a kid. She would watch it when there was nothing else on that was worth watching. And even then she'd be ashamed. I kind of understand that. As a big Star Trek fan, I kind of thought of LiS as a third rate imitation. Yes, I know that it came first -- I'm just talking about how I perceived it.

I hadn't seen any of what Joe showed us (except for clips of Batman's surfing contest), so this was a big treat. And I wouldn't have ever seen any of it if I had been left to my own devices.

It's also good to be slowly getting to know some of the guys from the class in a new way.

Joe gave us a great night.


  1. The surfing episode may be when the Batman TV show jumped the shark. Either that, or the one with the mechanical mice (and the hysterical police women jumping up on chairs at the sight of them). But then, that series was goofy and campy to begin with.

    The camp fad influenced most of the sci-fi and spy-fi shows. It peaked in 1966-67, and then most of those shows (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost In Space, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Wild Wild West) seemed to be trying to pull back and tone it down in 1967-68, when the camp fad was obviously passing. Batman, though, was so silly and campy to begin with that it didn't have anything to go back to.

    If anything, TMFU over-compensated, and the last season was played so straight that it did not even have the subtle comedy relief that is usually a part of spy-fi.