Thursday, November 28, 2019

Book Review: Mister Roger's Neighborhood - A Visual History

For over thirty years, Fred Rogers fostered the imaginations of little tykes across America through his PBS children's program Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He helped teach these youngsters lessons about growing, loving, and being happy just for being the unique individuals that they are. He also took them on some fascinating tours of factories to see how things are made and led them into the wonderful world of fantasy through the daily stops in the town of Make-Believe. 

Clarkson Potter Publishers latest release, Mister Rogers Neighborhood - A Visual History, gives us Mr. Rogers fans a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at this series. The 334-page book is just what its name implies...a visual history. It is brimming with photographs, handwritten notes from Fred, script excerpts, and set design sketches from the show. The book is a very easy read with a well-structured design and includes wonderful interviews with the cast members, producer, director, and other crew. Tim Lybarger, who runs the website The Mister Rogers Neighborhood Archive, helped write the book along with authors Melissa Wagner and Jenna McGuiggan. And Tom Hanks, who stars as Fred Rogers in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, writes a lovely forward.
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood - A Visual History ( $23.99 ) is a must-have for any TV fan or anyone who grew up watching this beloved show. There is so much to find out about the characters on the show ( did you know that Daniel Striped-Tiger was Fred's alter-ego? ), all of the different episodes, and what an impact Fred had, not just on his television audience but the people he worked with as well. After reading this book, you'll want to binge-watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood for a few days because this series truly was special. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Ouuuuuucccccchhhh!! This wrestler is giving his opponent one heck of a headlock. If you like wrestling scenes, then this is a memorable do remember where it is from, don't you? 

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Arabian Adventure ( 1979 )

If you are looking for a fun 1970s adventure film set in Arabia, then here is a title to keep in mind: Arabian Adventure. Director Kevin Connor and producer John Dark, who made such corny classics as The Land That Time Forgot ( 1974 ), At the Earth's Core ( 1976 ), and Warlords of Atlantis ( 1978 ) turned from the Edgar Rice Burrough's themed adventure films to try his hand at an Arabian fantasy....and the result was pretty good. 

Variety dubbed Arabian Adventure "Star Wars with flying carpets" when it was released in November 21, 1979. It doesn't have any humanoids or loyal wookies like Chewbacca, but the film does bear a slight resemblance to George Lucas' space epic in its black and white portrayal of evil and goodness. 

Christopher Lee stars as Alquazar, an evil caliph who rules the Arabian kingdom of Jadur. Like most wicked rulers, he desires to be the most powerful man in all the world. In order to do this, he needs to obtain the Rose of Elil which can only be retrieved by someone who is pure and honest. When the handsome Prince Hasan ( Oliver Tobias ) comes to Jadur to woo Alquazar's stepdaughter Princess Zuleira ( Emma Samms ), Alquazar seizes his opportunity and sends the prince on the journey to capture the rose in his place. He agrees to give him the princess's hand in marriage if his expedition is successful but, in order to guarantee that the rose will be returned to him, Alquazar sends his backstabbing henchman, the bubbling Khasim ( Milo O'Shea ) on the journey with Prince Hasan. Also tagging along is Majeed ( Puneet Sira ), a beggar orphan boy, and his pet monkey. Once they reach Elili, they must battle with a genie, a valley of fire-breathing "dragons", and a swamp filled with groping hands before they can capture the rose. 
The script, written by Brian Hayles ( Warlords of Atlantis ), is a motley blend of Eastern fantasy tales. "These Eastern tales abound with lovely excursions into pure fantasy," John Dark exclaimed in a 1979 interview for Starlog magazine. "It was a very beautiful period and a very beautiful territory. We hope to recreate, in our story, the exciting architecture and costumes, as well as some exciting special effects, like an army of flying carpets. It's an amalgam of a lot of stories, a lot of lore, magic mirrors, wicked spells, benign and evil jinnees and one or two very special ideas of our own."

Kevin Connor assembled a fantastic cast for Arabian Adventure. Christopher Lee is delightful as the evil caliph. As Lee himself described his character, "Very small children can go to see it and they'll have a lot of fun - they won't feel threatened by my evil nature because they'll know I'm going to be done in by the film's end."
Oliver Tobias, a Swiss stage actor, is the handsome prince, rather sullen but a good fighter; and Emma Samms, the lovely English actress, was making her film debut as the princess. But it is Puneet Sira who steals the show as the orphan Majeed. Like Sabu's character in Alexander Korda's The Thief of Bagdad ( 1940 ), it is Majeed who often comes to the aid of the prince and proves himself to be the real hero in the end. 

Arabian Adventure also features some great cameo appearances: Peter Cushing as the imprisoned old ruler of Jadur; Mickey Rooney as a befuddled machinist; and Capucine as a beautiful genie who resides in a gemstone. 

Most of Kevin Connor's films tend to feature a number of warring creatures and a hero who has to spend a lot of time trying to make his escape from these creatures. Arabian Adventure differs in that it has very few creatures, even though the script gave many opportunities to include them. Instead, Prince Hasan and Majeed must contend with Alquazar's sword-wielding Arab henchmen, robotic dragons that guard the volcano where the rose is kept, and an ungrateful genie ( also taken from The Thief of Bagdad ). 

The film is clearly aimed at a younger audience, and while it is entertaining, it could have had more elements that would appeal to adults. The adventure to retrieve the Rose of Elil also could have been more exciting. But all in all, it is a fun Saturday afternoon flick that will probably send a child's imagination wild with fantasies of flying carpets, evil caliphs, genies, and endangered princesses. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Black Shield of Falworth ( 1954 )

In 1954, Universal-Pictures brought to the screen Howard Pyle's classic story of adventure "Men of Iron" and hailed that it would capture "all the pageantry and excitement of knighthood's epic age". The newly titled The Black Shield of Falworth did not accomplish that task as well as Warner Brothers' The Adventures of Robin Hood ( 1938 ) or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Ivanhoe ( 1952 ) but it certainly is entertaining.

Young Myles Falworth ( Tony Curtis ) and his sister Meg ( Barbara Rush ) are sent to the castle of the Earl of Mackworth ( Herbert Marshall ), a dear friend of Myles' deceased father whom he never met. Here, Myles learns to become a squire and, later a knight, all the while attempting to learn about his family's crest - the Black Shield of Falworth - and to discover who his father was. 

While at the castle, he falls in love with the Earl's daughter, Lady Anne ( Janet Leigh ) and also becomes embroiled in a conspiracy plot led by the treacherous Earl of Alban ( David Farrar ) to overthrow King Henry IV ( Ian Keith ).

The Black Shield of Falworth is rich in plot, rich in Technicolor, it boasts a fabulous cast and features two great fight sequences, making it an entertaining - if not all that memorable - swashbuckler. 
Universal-Pictures knew they had a star in the making when they signed Bernard Schwartz to a contract in 1948. They taught him riding and fencing and changed his name to Anthony Curtis and then introduced him to audiences in a few budget westerns before awarding him his first feature film The Prince Who Was a Thief ( 1951 ) opposite Piper Laurie. Here was a different kind of swashbuckling hero - an overly-anxious and often hot-headed young man with a very pleasant personality, jet-black hair and a winsome smile.

This Middle Eastern-themed adventure film was followed by the similarly-themed swashbuckler Son of Ali Baba in 1952 and then The Black Shield of Falworth, which was Universal's first picture to be made in Cinemascope. 
Tony Curtis, who was 29-years-old at the time, is great in the part of Myles but the role really should have been given to a younger actor to play. The character of Myles is a mere teenager in the original novel and even in the film is often referred to as "the young lad" or "boy" which doesn't quite sound right since Tony was obviously a man at that time. 

Janet Leigh is lovely as Lady Anne; Torin Thatcher is a glove-fit for the part of Sir James, Myles trainer for knighthood; and Herbert Marshall, who always gives a good performance, is well-suited as the Earl. Unfortunately, David Farrar's talents are wasted, and Barbara Rush is given a merely decorative part. 

Also in the cast is the wonderful Dan O'Herlihy as Prince Hal, a young Patrick O'Neal, Rhys Williams, and Doris Lloyd. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Sword in the Stone ( 1963 )

Back in the days shortly after the death of Unther Pendragon, King of England, there appeared in London a magic sword protruding upright from the center of an anvil. It bears an inscription proclaiming that whosoever shall remove the sword from the stone would be crowned the new king of England. 

Young Arthur (aka Wart) is an orphan who was raised in Sir Ector's castle. Sir Ector's son, Sir Kay, desires to venture to London to joust in the countrywide competition shortly before Christmas Day. Arthur aspires to be this knight's squire, but while on a hunting trip in the woods with Sir Kay, he falls into the hut of the wizard, Merlin. This kindly old man can see the future as well as the past and, knowing the young lad is fated to draw the sword from the stone, decides to take Arthur under his wing and "give him an education" prior to his crowning as the illustrious King Arthur. With the help of Archimedes the Owl, Merlin teaches Arthur to believe in himself and to use wits over brawn.

The Sword in the Stone is a delightful animated feature from Walt Disney Studios. It features an 
amnesiac "whiz-bang whizard of whimsy", an engaging young hero and, in place of the usual villain, there is Madam Mim, a rival to Merlin.
The story is based on the Arthurian novels of T.H White's known as "The Once and Future King" series. Walt Disney enjoyed the first book - "The Sword in the Stone" - and purchased the film rights to it the same year it was published: 1938. Unfortunately, the project was not picked up until 1949 when some preliminary storyboards were created. Then there was another long hiatus before story artist Bill Peet re-worked it into this film. 

While this version of The Sword in the Stone is entertaining, it would have benefited greatly from having a stronger villain, some character in the vein of Maleficent ....preferably Morgan le Fay or Vivien, the enchantress who proved to be Merlin's downfall. Madam Mim is an unworthy opponent to both Merlin and Arthur while Sir Ector and his son Sir Kay are more comical than villainous. 
Like 101 Dalmations released two years earlier, The Sword in the Stone implemented Disney's time-saving process of xeroxing the animation cels instead of retracing each cel. Because the Xerox copy machines were only capable of black lines, all of the lines around the figures were inked in black. Some critics feel this technique made the films look inferior to Disney's animated pictures of previous years but, personally, I liked the look. 

Richard and Robert Sherman penned some linguistically clever - albeit forgetful - tunes to The Sword in the Stone, including the delightful "Higitus Figitus", sung by Merlin. 
The Sword in the Stone was released in theaters on Christmas Day in 1963 and proved to be a box-office smash, reaping in nearly $20 million dollars in profit. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Keys of the Kingdom ( 1944 )

Film studios always preferred a good novel adaptation over an original story idea. This was primarily because the producers knew they had an established audience who were waiting in anticipation for the release of the film. When a best-selling book became a box-office hit at the movie theatres, then the studios were anxious to secure the film rights to that author's next novel. Such was the case with A.J. Cronin, a Scottish physician and novelist. His 1937 best-selling novel about medical ethics "The Citadel" was adapted into an MGM film the following year starring Robert Donat and Rosalind Russell. It was a great success at the box-office and reaped four Oscar nominations at the Academy Awards. 

This success excited producers who knew that the name of A.J. Cronin would then draw in audiences to other film adaptations of his work. So they quickly went about snatching up the rights to his previous works and adapting them to film. His 1935 novel "The Stars Look Down" was brought to the screen by Carol Reed in 1939; "Hatter's Castle", Cronin's first novel, was made into a 1940 film starring Robert Newton and Deborah Kerr; "Vigil in the Night", a 1939 Good Housekeeping serial novella, was turned into a Carole Lombard weepie; and, in 1944 "The Keys of the Kingdom" was made into a rich drama by Twentieth-Century Fox studios. 

Cronin spent several years writing "The Keys of the Kingdom", an epic story about the trials and tribulations of a Catholic priest in China. He weaved elements of his own background ( Scottish upbringing, medical school, poor family, Catholic conversion ) into the novel which spans six decades in the life of one Father Francis Chisholm. The film, in spite of being 136-minutes long, condenses many aspects of the book and focuses instead on Father Francis' years in China and his work there as a missionary. 
Father Francis is a young Scotsman fresh out of seminary school who is sent by his local bishop to establish a missionary in the Chekhow province of China. The area was destroyed by flooding and all of the true Christians retreated to the mountain regions. Those who remained were "rice Christians", locals who were being paid in rice to attend church. Father Francis refuses to pay the citizens to visit the mission and so his congregation quickly dwindles to none.....until a young pilgrim named Joseph comes to help Father Francis rebuild his church. Over the years it grows into a thriving missionary and remains strong even in the midst of a battle between republican and imperial troops. 
The film rights to The Keys of the Kingdom were originally purchased by David O. Selznick but after a year of toying with the project, he sold it to Twentieth-Century Fox studios. Alfred Hitchcock had wanted to direct the production but chose instead to do Lifeboat that year. Nunnally Johnson and Joseph L. Mankiewicz ( who also produced the film ) took charge of re-working Cronin's novel into a compelling screenplay. It was an "A" production from the start and top-notch talent was used throughout the picture with John M. Stahl ( Leave Her to Heaven ) taking the reins as the director. 

Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, Anne Revere, Edmund Gwenn, Roddy McDowall, Peggy Ann Garner, Cedric Hardwicke, James Gleason, Sara Allgood, Arthur Shields, Philip Ahn, Ethel Griffies, and Edith Barrett were all given supporting roles in the production and a young Gregory Peck was cast in the lead as Father Francis. 

Peck had made only one film prior to being cast in this production and that was the lead role in Jacques Tourneur's war romance Days of Glory. He had distinguished himself so well in that part that multiple studios wanted him to sign long-term contracts with them. Instead, he chose to freelance and picked a non-exclusive contract with Fox studios enabling him to accept this part ( Spencer Tracy, Franchot Tone, and Gene Kelly were other actors considered for the role ). 
Peck gives an excellent performance as the zealous missionary and he was, deservedly, nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award. Starring opposite him was Rose Stradner as Mother Maria-Veronica, a nun who works side by side with Father Francis at the mission. Ingrid Bergman was initially considered for this role but Joseph L. Mankiewicz wanted the part to go to his wife, Rose, instead. She was a beautiful and talented Austrian actress but Bergman probably could have given more depth to the role of the aristocratic nun. 

Benson Fong gives a marvelous performance as Joseph, Father Francis' dear companion. His scenes also add a bit of humor to the film, which it sorely needed. The Green Years, another film based on an A.J. Cronin novel, also spanned many years but was rich with characters that the audience could attach to throughout the drama. Unlike that picture, The Keys of the Kingdom focuses primarily on the character of Father Francis and it never feels as though the audience gets a chance to know the other characters as well as Francis himself does. Mother Maria-Veronica is initially cold towards Father Francis when she first arrives and, even though she later explains the reason behind her behavior, it would have been better to witness her character's past unfold visually rather than verbally. One of the few characters who is given depth is Mr. Chia, portrayed admirably by Leonard Strong. His character develops from a superior nobleman to that of a true friend to Francis. 
The Keys of the Kingdom was received favorably by film critics but just managed to recoup its cost at the box-office. However, the film had the prestige of being nominated for four Academy Awards ( Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Actor, Best Original Music Score ). 

Friday, November 8, 2019

From the Archives: The New Perry Mason

Monte Markham starred as Perry Mason in The New Perry Mason ( 1973-1974 ), a short-lived CBS television revival of Raymond Burr's popular legal drama series. Sharon Acker also starred as Della Street and Harry Guardino played Mason's formidable opponent Hamilton Burger. 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :