Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Can You Hear the Laughter (1979)

Network: CBS
Original Air Date: September 11th, 1979

Can You Hear the Laughter
is based on Peter S. Greenberg’s 1977 Playboy article titled Good Night Sweet Prinze, which was adapted for television by Dalene Young (Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway) and it concentrates on the comedian’s heavy drug and depression problems. It is true that Prinze became one of the most infamous tragedies in Hollywood history, but he was also a delightful performer with a knack for showcasing stereotypes as inherently goofy, which took some of the sting out of them. Laughter concentrates on Prinze’s fall rather than his rise, and by hanging in the darker realm it does a grand disservice to Prinze, because it makes him seem utterly forgettable through the film’s blandness.

Angustain promotes the movie for People Magazine

The bright spot of Laughter is the cast, who put a lot of heart into their portrayals. Ira Angustain (The White Shadow) is a dead ringer for Prinze whom he idolized. In a 1979 interview with The St. Petersburg Times Angustain said, “When I heard they were going to do a movie about his life, I wanted the part more than anything else.” The California born Mexican American actor even joked with People Magazine in 1979, “Of course I had to learn a New York Puerto Rican accent for the part.” Angustain won the role over such Hollywood big names as Erik Estrada (!) and he does his best, but the character itself is rather one-sided. Randee Heller (SOAP) was especially good as Freddie’s kind secretary Carol, as was actor-turned-director Kevin Hooks who played Freddie's friend Nate.

However, Freddie’s mother, Maria Pruetzel was not pleased with Angustain and when referring to his imitation of Freddie’s standup, she said he was a “disaster.” She also felt the movie delved only into the darkness of Freddie’s life and she told The Calgary Herald that, “he took drugs, he was depressed. But they should have showed him going to his doctor sometimes trying to get help.” Freddie’s parents were actually omitted from the film, which made Maria feel like they were attempting to portray Freddie as “a kid brought up in the streets.” There is very little recreated footage of Chico and the Man as well, and Art Carney’s brother Fred took on the small role of Jack Albertson in the movie.

This painting by Alan Magee accompanied Greenberg's Playboy article

Angustain believed that “Freddie was a complicated man who wasn’t the happy go lucky guy he appeared to be in public,” but I think that somewhere between Greenberg’s nihilistic portrayal and Maria’s loving biography lies the real truth of Freddie’s rise and fall, and that’s the film I’d like to see (to be fair, I have not read Greenberg's article). Perhaps no other Hollywood star has risen so fast and fallen so quickly as Prinze’s and there is an important and moving story just waiting to be told, I just wish Laughter had been the film to tell it.

For further reading, here is a link to an incredible interview with Tony Orlando discussing Prinze's death with People Magazine.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Chico and the Man: The Freddie Prinze Years (1974 - 1977)

Chico (Freddie Prinze) was the fun loving Hispanic who charmed his way into the life of Ed Brown (Jack Albertson), an old bigoted curmudgeon who didn’t like the uprise of the ethnic population in his neighborhood. A drunk and a loner, Ed crankily put up with Chico, a kid he hated to admit he liked. Well, it’s not hard to like Chico, the sweet natured entrepreneur was determined to get old Ed some business into the rundown garage. The show focused on Chico and his ying/yang partnership with Ed, but there were lots of other characters filtering in and out of Ed and Chico’s life, including Louie (Scatman Crothers) and Della (Della Reese), plus all the quirky folks who made a pit stop in Ed’s garage. And, of course, hilarity ensued.

Prinze in his first scene in the pilot

I always thought Chico and the Man was created to showcase Freddie’s phenomenal standup act, but Prinze was actually up against four other actors for the part, including Isaac Ruiz who played Mando in several episodes. The final decision came to a meeting with Jack Albertson who was then starring in a stage production of the Sunshine Boys. The show’s creator, James Komack was interested in who Albertson had the most chemistry with. And a legend was born.

There was some controversy from the Mexican American community surrounding the casting of Prinze who was Puerto Rican. Prinze’s mother said in a book she wrote about her son, called The Freddie Prinze Story, that he would receive threats from angry TV viewers. Prinze responded in a 1975 interview with the Palm Beach Post with, “The feelings are the same. Spick means the same thing in New York as it does in Los Angeles. The pain is the same.” He conceded in the same interview, “I don’t think it’s the majority making the fuss. It’s a few radicals.” Eventually, the network bent and wrote in that Chico’s father was Puerto Rican. Regardless of the controversy, Chico and the Man was an instant hit, and Prinze was what they refer to in Hollywood as an overnight success.

Chico shows off his new digs

Many sitcoms of the 70s and 80s were far less sophisticated than what we see now. While people complain about the current state of the half hour comedy, those unaccustomed to the stage-like productions of yesteryear are sure to detest the format. It’s a shame too, because the simple sets and stories were a true showcase for the actors. Everything relied on presence and delivery and the comedy was derived from the actors’ ability to grab your interest. Freddie Prinze was a natural and he hit it right out of the ballpark in the pilot, which aired on September 13th, 1974 on NBC. Ed is introduced as a real cranky old bastard and it’s fun to watch Prinze warm the old coot’s heart. This of course would become the crux of the series, but it’s apparent here why the Man isn’t as keen on letting Chico go as he would like everyone to believe he is.

Chico does his own bargaining with God

The series ran fairly smoothly for three seasons while Prinze was experimenting with drugs and going deeper down the rabbit hole of depression. According to his mother, Prinze was lonely and not meant for the bright lights of Hollywood, but he would reveal to a psychologist shortly before his death about his own childhood sadness and how he began experimenting with drugs at a younger age than his mom talks about. He also confesses to an earlier suicide attempt (here’s a link to the article in People Magazine). Even now, with all I’ve learned about Prinze’s darker side, I find it hard to believe that what I saw on screen was so different from the man himself. By all accounts, Prinze was a good guy and well loved, but he obviously didn’t know how to take that love in, and all of that sadness was completely hidden on the series. Prinze actually taped his last episode just hours before his death. The episode was called Ed Talks to God and it aired on March 4th, 1977, about five weeks after Prinze’s death. This episode is especially poignant because it revolves around Ed’s birthday and many comments are made about how Ed should appreciate getting to the age he has. Prinze looks especially thin and his delivery does seem to be a bit off, but of course this is all in hindsight. Knowing he was so close to the end, makes it especially difficult to watch.

The chemistry between Albertson and Prinze was undeniable

For three magical seasons, Prinze brought the gift of laughter to just about everyone who ever watched an episode of Chico and the Man, and he shocked the country with his death. At Prinze’s funeral, Jack Albertson gave a eulogy which he ended with: “We are bound together, this family, not in a temporary chill of death, but in the everlasting warmth of his humanity and his humor. Let us not mourn his death, rather, let us celebrate his life. In the years to come, in the days and the years, this moment will have passed and we’ll see Freddie again, we will hear him, we will think of our brother and we will smile again and we will laugh again, and we will be warm again.”

The last time the gang appeared together

Six episodes of Chico and the Man are available on DVD at Amazon.

The series tried to continue without Prinze, and 12 year old Gabriel Melgar was brought in as a replacement. While I remember liking Melgar, who played Raul, the show was destined to bomb without Prinze. However, there were many poignant moments on the show, like when Ed busts up Chico's guitar in a fit of anger over his death. The following clips aptly capture the anger and sadness that not only Ed felt regarding the heavy loss of Chico, but also the frustation the fans endured as well. The fact that these scenes still resonate deeply proves the depth of the sense of loss we all shared when Freddie Prinze died.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Deadly Messages (1985)

Note: I am taking a short break from Freddie Prinze Week to co-review this movie with my favorite guys at Kindertrauama! Since I'm still knee-deep in boxes at the new digs, Unkle Lancifer was kind enough to loan me the stills for this review. Thanks Unk! And please stop by and check out their review of Deadly Messages!

Network: ABC
Original Air Date: February 21st, 1985

Deadly Messages
is an attractive looking film that is having an identity crisis. Unsure of whether it wants to venture completely into the supernatural, this thriller feels a bit uneven, but despite the disjointed tone of the story, it’s a great deal of fun and one of the best late entry made for TV horror films.

Beller behind bars? Only in my wildest Women in Prison fantasies!

Kathleen Beller is pretty Laura Daniels, a woman who holds temporary employment at a lush (and fabulously 80s) video dating service. Her live-in boyfriend, Michael (Michael Brandon) is a lawyer which explains why her apartment is so damn awesome. This, like, totally awesome girl named Cindy (Sherri Stoner) is staying with them, and man does she know how to crimp hair! Anyway, one night the couple goes out, leaving Cindy alone with Laura’s Ouija board, which leads to all kinds of mayhem. Upon returning home, Laura sees Cindy being attacked and possibly murdered, but by the time she is able to get the police, there is no trace of any problems. Granted, there’s no trace of Cindy either. Before long, Laura starts seeing Cindy’s assailant wherever she goes, but no one believes her. Can she figure out the mystery and save her own life before it’s too late?

Fah-reaky Wee-gee!

Deadly Messages riffs heavily on DePalma’s Body Double in the film’s two best scenes. The first is Cindy’s attack scene which might not have that phallic drill, but the bird’s eye view does definitely harken to my favorite DePalma film (it strongly recalls Barbeau’s death scene in Someone's Watching Me as well). The second scene is at the mall, and if you’ve seen Body Double, then you know what I’m talking about. Aside from that distinct imagery, Deadly Messages couldn’t be less like Body Double, but it does have that highly glossed sheen that many 80s thrillers had. There is no denying the decade this film was made in, even if the story feels more akin to the old school 70s TV movie.

He wears his sunglasses at night

This late entry thriller could easily be a theatrical. It’s got such a big, slick look to it, I was surprised to find out it was made for television when I first saw it eons ago on Encore. The leads are fantastic, but then again Beller and Brandon have yet to let me down. The only problem I have is getting the film from point A to B by dipping into a couple of sub-genres instead of just diving into one and going for it. However, Deadly Messages is entertaining and luxuriant; capturing a sleeker, more sophisticated version of the 80s, where crimped hair may reign supreme, but nary a scrunch sock or stone-washed jean will be found! I also adored Stoner’s performance as Cindy. She’s like PJ Soles on crack and helps open the film with a burst of energy. Deadly Messages does its best to maintain that level of kooky oomph and since it succeeds more than it fails, I give many points to this sly little flick for trying to add some vigor to the dying TVM genre.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Must See Streaming Movie of the Week: Million Dollar Rip-Off (1976)

Network: NBC
Original Air Date: September 22nd, 1976

Freddie Prinze was a television star who was hoping to go onto bigger things like theatricals. While making a TV movie is more of a lateral move, Freddie saw it as a way to step out of his Chico image and give viewers something new. In his biography The Freddie Prinze Story, his mother says Prinze thought that Million Dollar Rip-Off was not such a great movie, but that he would get some good notice for it. According to her, he did indeed receive praise for this quirky heist comedy about a male con-artist who enlists four beautiful women to help him steal... you got it... a million dollars! OK, it’s actually 2.5 million, but you get the picture.

Lukin' good!

The humor of the film is not derived so much from the characters or their interaction; rather the comedy rides on the silly plot Prinze concocts. Each member of this gang wears funny costumes and those creepy latex masks that were so popular in films made in the 70s, and the women often go in drag as men (very, very ugly men) in an attempt to foil the law. Prinze plays Muff Kovak (!), a small time crook with big dreams and a lot creativity. He enlists some rather foxy ladies to help him out (including Joanna Kerns), but after a series of mishaps, he realizes there is an insider tipping off a thug named Lubeck (James Sloyan) and now the police have also caught wind of the caper. It’s up to Kovak to not just find the squeaky rat, but to also rip off the dough. Sometimes a good man is hard to find, but Kovak is just perfect for this job!

Starring Joanna Kerns as an ugly man!

I liked Million Dollar Rip-Off a lot. It’s different for sure, and it isn’t quite sure what genre it’s going for, but the acting is uniformly great, and Prinze was right, he’s a knockout. It was such a treat to see him shed his usual jovial presence and offer up something a little darker. I thought he did a fantastic job of making the silly crime seem plausible and as the film progressed, I found myself becoming more and more immersed in the story, wondering if they would actually pull off the heist. The end is a bit of letdown, but it was probably the best way for the whole story to play out.

While the beautiful women were certainly a draw, this movie centers on Kovak and his struggles with Lieutenant Ralph Fogherty (Allen Garfield), who is the humorless “good guy” obsessed with catching Kovak red handed. The film was written by the actors William Devane and John Pleshette (the two would later star together on Knot’s Landing!) and according to a New York Times review, these actors had hoped to star in the film. I’m curious as to who would have played Kovak and who would have taken on Fogherty…

Lukin' good Part 2

Million Dollar Rip-Off is far from perfect, but it’s also not just a throwaway TV movie from a bygone era either. It’s the only film Prinze was able to make before he took his own life, and it stands as a symbol of the great potential the actor had. It leaves a bittersweet feeling because I am left wondering what we missed out on now that Prinze is no longer with us, and it’s also great to see that he got to spread his acting wings a little farther, showcasing what a true talent he was.

Everyone can now enjoy Prinze’s lone film because it is streaming on both Netflix and Hulu! Hip hip hooray!

Kovak's Angels

Monday, June 20, 2011

Freddie Prinze Week!

Freddie Prinze was a television staple for anyone who remembers the 70s. A young, vibrant comedian, Prinze stole many hearts as the lovable Chico in the hit sitcom Chico and the Man. By the time he was 19 years old, he was a bona fide superstar, but he burned too brightly and, sadly, burned out by the time he was 22 when he took his own life. Chico and the Man attempted to survive without him, but of course, no one could replace the undeniable charm and instant likability that Prinze held. I don’t remember when I came to know of Prinze’s death, but I think it happened a little after the fact, when the show was in syndication. I was still in my single digit years and I was fairly unaware of the circumstances. I think my parents just mentioned his death in passing while we were watching an episode. I recently picked up his bio, The Freddie Prinze Story which was written by his mother Maria Pruetzel. This biography skips over many of Prinze’s darker qualities and concentrates on his mother’s memory of her beautiful and fun-loving son who couldn’t take the bright lights of Hollywood. Prinze was apparently a tornado of charisma, stealing hearts well before he became a household name.

Pam Grier’s new biography, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts dedicates two short chapters to Prinze, whom she considers to be one of the great loves of her life. She tells a different, slightly darker story and she paints a fuller picture of what Freddie was like when his mother wasn’t around. He was fun and a bit controlling and in the end, Grier walked away from him because of drugs and because she wanted to focus on her career.

I remember watching the TV movie docudrama about his life, Can You Hear the Laughter and I may have actually seen the original airing. But I had not seen his only TV movie, Million Dollar Ripoff, nor had I seen much of his work on Carson or at the Dean Martin Roasts - he was always Chico to me. After reading Prinze’s bio, I felt like his life and work was worth re-discovering and I thought since his birthday would have been on June 22nd, I’d dedicate the week to him. So here we are at Freddie Prinze week, where I will look at Ripoff, Laughter and Chico and the Man. It’s astonishing to think about all the years that have passed since his untimely death in 1977, yet watching him now, he still remains a vivacious presence. I still laugh at his Hungarican jokes and I came across this rare clip taken from The Dinah Shore Show where it looks like Prinze was either the co-host or a guest-host on August 27th, 1976. You will see Cindy Williams and Geraldo Rivera along with Florence Henderson sitting on the couch as Prinze introduces comedian George Miller. The majority of the clip is of the comic, but check out Prinze who bookends it. He lights up the screen. And he will never be forgotten.

This House Keeps Getting Possessed and Other TV Movie Goodies!

As many of you know, This House Possessed is my all time favorite TV movie, and not just because Parker Stevenson is so tasty in his Sergio Valentis either! Possessed is a genuinely entertaining film that has carried me through all things good and bad and I love finding other fans of the best TVM going! Thanks to Aunt John at Kindertrauma for sending along this link to Vinnie Rattolle's blog which takes an incredible look at Possessed, offering tons of interesting tidbits and some nice pics as well! If you are so inclined to get your Possessed fix-on, you can also look at my own picture gallery and read my review (you can read my capsule review here). All the kids are doing it, so why not stop on by!

In other TV movie news, a movie theater in New York called the 92YTribeca is screening two awesome classics: Bad Ronald and Don't Go To Sleep!!! These screenings are on separate nights, so please click on the links for the deets. Oh man, I so wish I was closer to New York! If you can go, please report back, I'd love to hear about how the screenings went! And another big thank you goes to Meep over at Cinema du Meep for the head's up!

Recently, I came across a website for a man named Ryal Haakenson who chronicled his time as an extra in movies. He's got a special section just for his work in TV movies! Most of these look like they were shot and released in the 90s, so it's a nice little inside look at the dying breed of the television movie.

And finally, although it's not TV movie related I still thought this was worth mentioning - if you get Antenna TV, then be prepared to catch the incredible Three's Company spinoff Three's a Crowd, starting June 27th at 6 pm! And yes, I said incredible! I adore this show just about as much as Company, the combination of John Ritter and Robert Mandan is absolutely perfect! Crowd was a truly funny sitcom that deserved more than the one season it got. It's worth revisiting, so if you have the chance, I say go for it!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

We're Gonna Make it After All!

The movers come tomorrow and then we are on our way to a new life. Thinking about all that has happened in the last year or so, I suddenly find myself feeling at one with my favorite ladies from the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

When Mary Tyler Moore started life anew, she was not prepared for the hijinks or Mr. Grant, but she looked none the worse for wear (and she got to date Ted Bessell!):

Rhoda moved back to NYC and found love with Joe (Rawr!), and although it didn't last long, she always managed to make the most of every situation:

After Lars died, Phyllis moved to San Francisco to stay with his family. She remained a little loopy but always found her way back to the top:

And these women had some serious fashion prowess. I see many turtlenecks in my future!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Amanda By Night Jumps the Shark!

What a crazy month I've been having! I'm still in the process of moving, but for some reason, I seem to be in a flow with writing (at least for other sites!). This month at Retro Slashers we are looking at slasher-hybrids and my first article is on Jaws 2, an all time favorite of mine. I always say the original is actually my fave film, but the sequel just has so much gooey goodness, it gets extra play. Hope you enjoy my look at how Jaws is Jason with scarier teeth.

Also, I'll be doing a podcast tomorrow with the Movies about Girls crew! I should be coming on around 8 pm EST and we'll be discussing the original Heartbreak Kid!

I am arriving at my final destination at the beginning of next week and will hopefully be online shortly thereafter. I have lots to cram into the end of the month, as I have a very special theme coming up and two reviews. Until then, please feel free to vote on your favorite scary house TV movies and I'll be seeing you all soon!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Click at Your Own Risk

I had been looking forward to (and was terrified of) watching the infamous Monroe rape episode of Too Close for Comfort, and I got all I asked for and more when I caught it last week! I shared some thoughts over at Kindertrauma. Let's just say I will never be the same!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

This Creepy Old House - New Poll!

Of course, everyone hopes that when they move into new digs they will find comfort and joy. Sometimes though we find stuff like evil spirits and blood showers. I am hoping this is not the case with our new house, but just in case, I'm preparing with a new poll regarding the best creepy old house flicks. As it is with these polls, I'm sure I've missed some great titles, so please feel free to leave a comment to let me know what your favorite small screen hauntings are.

And my vote went to This House Possessed! That was a no-brainer!

Last month's poll was quite popular. You all voted on the best TV movies about/or with airplanes. I probably could have guessed that Horror at 37,000 Feet would walk away with it, but I was genuinely shocked to see the Columbo episode Swan Song pull in a very strong second. Every film got a nod except Sole Survivor... Sorry, Shatner. Not all your films are winners.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Movin' On Part 2

Seems like it was just yesterday I posted that I was moving, and here I am doing it again. After only a little over a year in Maryland, I'm picking up stakes again and heading to another city. I will miss certain things. Mostly Antenna TV, since it's not available in Pittsburgh. But everything else is coming up roses.

As per my usual style, I'm not sure when I'll be able to post because packing manages to take up all my time and suck up all my energy. I should be settled in by the middle or end of June, so let's see what happens then. I have a special theme week coming up and I truly hope I can meet the deadlines I set for myself.

For now, please check out the following links:

The full trailer for the Don't Be Afraid of the Dark remake is up! I think I like the teaser trailer better, but I'm still really looking forward to the big screen updo.

I'll be honest, I don't like the idea of making it about a little girl when the original could easily be said to be a comment on the isolation and stagnation of women who were expected to be housewives and nothing more, but then again, that's not a modern day problem. Del Toro is amazing with kids, so I'll hold off on criticism. Although he's not directing, if anyone can make this movie friggin' excellent, it's him. I'm so glad he has a hand in this! And a big thanks to Camp Blood for the heads up!

And for you Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteriesfans (and aren't we all?), here is an excellent article by David Konow over at Den of Geek. C'mon season three, please come to DVD, like, tomorrow so I can love you the way you deserve!

Finally, please check out my latest review at Retro Slashers for a TV movie called Fantasies. I actually wrote about Fantasies for my blog back in 2008, but I wanted to revisit it after the news that we are losing both All My Children and my story, One Life to Live, which I have been watching for 30 years! That's a whole other blog post which I hope to get to soon. I've actually written something but it's so dang angry, I just don't even want to proof it! I'll wait til I move to revisit my frustration!

OK everybody, let's keep Movin' On!