2019 January 18 • Friday

At one point in the movie That Darn Cat! Hayley Mills is reading Woman's Day magazine.

Which issue was that? you ask. Well, it's clear from the cover that it's the 25th Anniversary Issue, October 1962.

1962? That Darn Cat! is from 1965! What gives?

There could be any number of reasons but it's worth noting that this issue of Woman's Day has an article, most likely heavy on the praise, about Walt Disney. That Darn Cat! was a Disney movie.

While there are lots of newspapers glimpsed in That Darn Cat!, you never see my favorite headlines.

You can glimpse one of the other old friends, though: BILL AIDS OWNER ON FORECLOSURE.

That Darn Cat! was based on a book called Undercover Cat by husband-and-wife team Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon, "The Gordons".

As you can see, the cat wasn't originally Siamese. But when, presumably, the success of the movie led to a demand for another book, the cover of the first sequel shows a Siamese.

Incredibly there's a third book. Enough people must have bought the second one.


2019 January 16 • Wednesday

In That Darn Cat! Hayley Mills's character is dating a surfer named Canoe.

He drives a woodie with his board in the back and all he cares about is surfing and eating—and going to see surf movies at the drive-in.

They have an amusing conversation about the rut they're in.

The Hayley Mills character then expresses a desire to see a different kind of movie with more of a romance-centered plot and in a mildly meta sort of way she describes the movie they happen to be starring in.

Later on they actually go to the drive-in and we're treated to a Night of the Surfer movie poster and some scenes with the movie itself in the background.

"Boy Meets Curl and It's a Wipe Out!"

It would be nice to know what the surfing footage is.


2019 January 14 • Monday

The 552nd Soundtrack of the Week is the score for a movie that I always wanted to see when I was a kid but probably never did: That Darn Cat!, music by Bob Brunner.

Differences between the original soundtrack recording and the album version appear immediately with the title song. Rendered by Bobby Darin in the movie, here you have a version sung by Louis Prima and it has a totally different feel. Still a great song, though. "While the city sleeps / Every night he creeps / Just surveyin' his domain / He roams around / Like he owns the town / He's the kind / He makes that plain / He knows every trick / Doesn't miss a lick / When it comes to keepin' fat / Some city slicker / No one is quicker / Than that darn cat!"

"Hoodlum's Hideout" immediately alerts listeners to something else going on with this music. The spirit of Henry Mancini haunts every cue. The famous "Pink Panther" theme is frequently recalled and this cue, with its jazzy walking bass should help you remember Peter Gunn.

Strings create the ambience of "Patti" and you'd be forgiven for thinking this is Mancini in a blindfold test. The harmonic structure might also make you think of several jazz standards such as "Angel Eyes" or "I Thought About You".

Menace and tension are the moods prevalent in "Mom's in Distress". Walking bass and some sinuous horn lines are again out of the Mancini playbook.

"Snoopy's Theme" is for Elsa Lanchester's character, I think, who appears to be there for comic relief. It's an odd choice since the movie's a comedy already and every single person in it is providing some kind of comic business. It ends in slapstick, as evidenced by the inclusion of the accompanying sound effect at the end of the track. As nice it is as to see Elsa Lanchester and William Demarest, their entire parts could have been cut out of the movie, which is a little long at just a few minutes under two hours.

Then comes "Kitchens To Burn", an effectively dramatic piece of scoring for one of the only really serious moments in the movie, concerning the only really serious part of the plot, the bank robbers' kidnap victim, whom they intend to kill. In this scene she hopes to escape by setting the kitchen on fire. It's not clear why she does this instead of walking out the kitchen door, but that's show biz for you This scene occurs very near the end of the movie, so the record doesn't have the cues in chronological order.

The "Surf-In" cue is frankly awesome, leaving Mancini territory for a hard-nosed, turbo-charged surf rock tune with fuzzed out guitar that sounds as if it could be played by Jerry Cole. It's certainly in his style. Okay, I guess the horn parts still sound like they could be Mancini.

The record's second side continues in the surf vein with"Ten Foot Surf", which accompanies one of the surf movies playing at the local drive-in. This is a cool piece, less surfy than "Surf-In", and more of an instrumental mutation of the title track, with the "That Darn Cat" part clearly expressed on various instruments. Pretty impressive guitar sound, bright and reverby and strong.

Then there's "Four Footed Informant", as the F.B.I. refers to D.C., the title creature, whose initials stand for Darn Cat. It's the most Pink Panthery cue on the record and the similarity is strong enough that I wonder what Mr. Mancini thought of it, if he happened to hear it. It's a longish cue and near the end might remind you of another Mancini score, namely the music for Mr. Lucky.

The first half of "Still Nine Lives To Go" is a gentle and romantic piece, with just a bit of comedic and suspenseful color thrown in. Then the bass comes walking in again and we're back in the jazz land of swinging high-hats and stinging horns.

"ABC's of the F.B.I." is a surprisingly dramatic and driving piece that effectively picks up the pace and increases the emotional stakes of the movie. It's a fine line to walk, since it's a comedy and a kids' movie but still has the threat of murder at its center. Having the music add intensity while keeping the visual action on the light side is a good way to maintain balance.

"Cat Scat" starts off with the usual walking bass line but then explodes in a flourish of frantic bongo pounding and fast jazz saxophone soloing.

After which you're told to "Take This and This and This". I can't remember what that refers to and I just watched this movie last night. But it starts in the usual way before being interrupted by the sound of D.C. meowing—I think this is when the F.B.I. guy accidentally steps on D.C.—and then we're in action/danger mode for what must be the climax of the film or possibly the scene earlier on where D.C. manipulates the F.B.I. agents into attacking themselves. What a cat!

The record concludes with Bobby Troup & Trio's version of the title song, closer to the Bobby Darin version heard in the film, and similar to Nat King Cole's famous trio. It's a really cool, light, jazz-pop tune, quite pleasant and catchy. "Now our cat's been paid / Every accolade / And he's earned all his acclaim / In a blaze of glory / He ends our story / In the feline Hall of Fame / But the way life goes / In a year who knows / From the family he begat / You may made up with one of / Maybe the son of/ That darn cat!"


2019 January 11 • Friday

The most recent "graphic novel" we've read around here is Jarrett J. Krosoczka's Hey, Kiddo, an autobiographical account of the author/artist's childhood and adolescence.

He grew up in Worcester, not far from where I myself grew up. He never knew his father, though, and was raised by his mother's parents as his own mother was struggling with drug addiction and its concomitant dangers and disadvantages.

It's a moving book, as inspiring as it can be depressing, noteworthy for how effectively it conveys how important a handful of allies can be, particularly family members but also friends and teachers. The slightest encouragement can be powerful fuel for the human engine. And, of course, a casually discouraging word from an important person can be almost equally damaging.

Book of this sort aren't worth reading, in my opinion, if the artwork isn't special, but Krosoczka delivers on this too. He has his own style, fluid and open and consistent, that makes the world of his story real and invitingly open to visitors.


2019 January 09 • Wednesday

There seems to be a consensus that the human brain isn't fully developed until the age of 25 or so.

This probably explains why for me, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is first and foremost a Joel Hodgson show.

Mike Nelson did a great job when he took over, however, and I've been enjoying Jonah Ray's turn even more. He brought back some of the amiable sleepiness that was part of Joel's persona.

So MST3K has been having a really good run, on and off for thirty years now, and has sucessfully navigated numerous changes in casting and even a few in format. They've been on a few different channels and have also lived on videotape, laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray and now streaming on Netflix and YouTube and who the hell knows where else (torrent sites, obviously).

But could a Mystery Science Theater 3000 comic book be good?

The somewhat surprising answer is yes!

What was best about MST3K wasn't just that they were making fun of movies because the movies were bad and poorly made. This was occasionally the case but they did demonstrate that they could give any movie the same treatment with similar results because their primary strength was to re-write the movie on screen to make it funny to us, the audience.

So for the comic book version, they've taken some old comic books and inserted themselves into them as well as adding and rewriting text and dialogue, doing what they've always done, just in a different medium.

You can distinguish from what was originally written from what was added or altered by looking for the tiny bubble that marks balloons and captions.

It's a fun read and a nice change of pace from the show!


2019 January 07 • Monday

The 551st Soundtrack of the Week, our first in 2019, is the groovy music by pop band The Cyrkle for the X-rated feature The Minx.

It's on groovy pink vinyl!

First up is a song called "Squeeze Play" which is catchy and toe-tapping and has nice vocal harmonies. This is sort of in the Buffalo Springfield or Byrds zone, I guess, though there's an interesting quality to some of the vocal blends, something about the sonority that's unusual.

Bossa nova influences and wordless vocals define the title track, which is very much easy listening pop jazz of a sort that I often can't stand but is actually okay here.

"Murray the Why" is mostly a Beach Boys pastiche and a good song. Is Murray supposed to be Murray Wilson? That seems unlikely but it's an interesting coincidence if not.

"The Rigging" is an instrumental structurally like "Wipe Out" but with a few weird flourishes from either a mysterious instrument or a sped-up recording of a not so weird instrument".

Guitar-driven instrumental surf music is the foundation for "The Party", which is in 6/8 and will sound like a lot of tunes you've heard before, particularly songs like "Surfer Girl". There's a smooth wordless vocal chorus crooning gently behind the instruments.

After this comes "Nicole" and some sitar and more psychedelic rock touches in the guitar and vocals. It's droney and trippy and the panning of the drums gives it a stereo spaciousness that's cool to experience. At the end it builds in speed and intensity.

"Something Special", the first of a few bonus cuts on this particular LP, is a piano-driven and buoyant pop instrumental with jangly electric and a few unexpected tempo and rhythm alterations with horn parts along the lines of the horns in "All You Need Is Love".

This side of the record closes with the second bonus cut, "Terry's Theme", another bonus cut and a bossa nova tune, fairly generic but well done and enjoyable to listen to.

The second side opens with the love song "It's a Lovely Game, Louise", which is a nice but fairly standard lounge ballad.

This is followed by a peppy instrumental version of the title song with the melody played on a horn that has an irritatingly bright and showy tone.

Then there's a version of "Something Special" with lyrics, and it's an improvement over the instrumental. It's a nice song and works better has a straight rock/pop number with vocals and a story to tell.

"On the Road" is a really great instrumental piece in 5/4 with the electric guitar having a sitar-like tone.

After this comes "Walter's Riff", an instrumental in the style of Duane Eddy, with some deep tremolo on the guitar and a shuffle feel from the rhythm section and even the occasional cowboy whoop and holler.

Snare drum and timpani open "The Chase" and while you might be expecting a military march, piano and hand percussion come in and steer the cue into a groovier direction. The snare and timpani stick around but an organ comes in also, then distorted electric guitar. It's an agreeably crazy mixture!

The last two cuts are also bonus tracks. "Baxter's Dangerous Game" starts with just bongos. After a surprisingly long time, the rest of the band comes in, guitar, bass, organ, other percussion. What they play ranges from almost prog-like lines to almost "classical" dramatic underscore.

And then finally there's "Kites", with some lovely acoustic guitar and flute playing and a feel that recalls both Spanish and Japanese music. About halfway through it switches gears to a more psychedelic rock thing and then almost immediately switches again to a lyrical and melancholy musical atmosphere. It switches back and forth like that a few times, really cool piece.


2019 January 04 • Friday

Like clockwork, every time 2019 comes around again I find myself thinking about 1922.

And so my hand fell upon an issue of a magazine called Judge from September 9th of that year.

What was this? A humor magazine, apparently, and combined with something called Leslie's Weekly, which I do not have.

In September of 1922 the United States was just a few months away from the third anniversary of Prohibition. As our current prohibition on soft drugs such as marijuana has been eroding recently, it's worth noting that the arguments in favor of legalizing marijuana were being made almost a hundred years ago in response to the war on alcohol.

So true! And so obvious! And yet they would have to wait until 1933…

Later in the same issue they publish this amusing cartoon on the subject of prohibition:

One of the highlights of this issue of Judge is the column by theatre critic, George Jean Nathan, who would be amazing at CinemaSins. I guess he was doing TheatreSins.

In his review of the first of three shows he notes a groaner of an oversight which artifically stretches out the story and, more importantly, prevents bringing down "the eleven o'clock curtain an hour ahead of schedule".

The play is called The Woman Who Laughed and the male lead, who Nathan asserts "gives a creditable performance", is future movie star William Powell, who had his first role in a film that same year of 1922.

Mr. Nathan has also attended various kinds of multimedia experiment, it seems. Every generation thinks it's the first to try this kind of thing. "For the last six or seven years they have been trying to devise some means of combining the motion pictures and popular dramatic entertainment—as if the latter, generally speaking, weren't bad enough already."

That says it all, generally speaking.

In 1922 an automobile was perhaps the contemporary equivalent of a killer app. People were buying them. They were a "must have". And if you had a house and a car you also needed a house for your car. We call these garages. At the time, almost a hundred years ago, this seemed fairly silly and extravagant, particularly as garages were decked out with any number of amenities and tools to create a more suitable environment for caring for your car.

As garages became more and more like houses, somebody at Judge decided to cut out the middle man, so to speak, and just store the car in the actual house. With a few modifications, it's quite sensible.

But perhaps the most humorous thing is this bit from the advertisement on the back cover, for a book of etiquette. I don't think this is meant to be funny but this drawing of the fellow in evening dress with an olive on his fork might keep me smiling for the rest of my life.


2019 January 02 • Wednesday

The first book review of the new year will be one of the best books I read last year, one of the most satisfying, well conceived and executed, solidly, assuredly well written, the very definition of great genre fiction, the kind that makes you stop caring about the whole idea of genre and of any kind of fiction's need to do anything but be great on whatever terms are its own.

The book in question, which I would probably recommend to anybody I know personally, is Ken Grimwood's Replay.

The premise isn't too startling, a combination of Peggy Sue Got Married and Groundhog Day. Jeff Winston, at 43 years of age, unfulfilled personally and professionally, dies of a heart attack at his desk at work. And the next thing he knows he's eighteen again, in his college dorm room in 1963, 25 years in the past.

As the title of the book indicates, he then replays his life, but with all memories of the life already lived. As you might imagine, it's easy for him to make a lot of money very quickly, easy for him to do a lot of things.

But what he can't do is stop himself from dying again, in 1988, and returning again to the age of 18, this time with the memories of two adult lives behind him.

This is one of those stories that's almost as much fun to talk about as it is to read, but on the off chance that you might someday read it yourself, I won't spoil it any further.

Suffice it to say that you are in excellent hands with Grimwood here, as he steers this narrative on an impeccably shaped path of twists and turns. I was enjoying it so much by the halfway point that I started to get concerned about the ending. Would he blow it? Would it fly off the rails or off a cliff? It does not. The reader will be brought safely into harbor and disembark regretting only that the journey is over.

The first line is "Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died".