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Well done to the BBC for introducing ‘Lockdown Learning’ for schools during weekday afternoons – even though this is likely to mean fewer matinee films for older viewers! The good news is that it looks as though Talking Pictures has been able to refresh its programme content. Saturday Morning at the Pictures starts 6 February and we can look forward to a couple of cartoons, The Lone Ranger TV series and two cliffhanger serials – plus a modest CFF feature. There are also two interesting late-night films this week, but proceed with caution as they are not to everyone’s taste!
SATURDAY MORNING AT THE PICTURES Saturday 6 February Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
ZORRO’S BLACK WHIP (1944) 9.10-9.40am. Chapter 1: The Masked Avenger. Serial queen Linda Stirling is Barbara Meredith who dons costume and mask after her brother is killed. Well, she entices me – don’t expect Zorro to put in an appearance, though!
CUP FEVER (1965) 9.40-10.55am. A children’s football team has an important cup tie and is helped by the players of Manchester United! Catch an early glimpse of Susan George and Olivia Hussey!
THE LONE RANGER (1949) 10.55-11.25am. Episode 1 of the classic TV series. Did you know that his mask is now in the Smithsonian?
FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE (1940) 11.25-11.50am. Chapter 1: The Purple Death. Flash returns to the planet Mongo to save Earth for the third time. As well as rock men, now we have Robin Hood men!
IVANHOE (1952) Saturday 6 February 2.30-4.15pm BBC 2
This remains the definitive version: Robert Taylor is suitably brave, the heroines and villains (Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders and Guy Rolfe) are splendid, the Technicolor lavish and Yakima Canutt’s second unit work is superb. Robert Taylor used to speak modestly of his trio of “iron jockstrap” films, but they boosted his career at a crucial time.
IN FABRIC (2018) Saturday 6 February 11.20pm-1.20am BBC 2 P
Accurately described by the Radio Times as a “supernatural horror comedy”, we might be tempted to add implausible to that as shopper Marianne is possessed by her latest purchase. However, actor Marianne Jean-Baptiste (so essential to the success of the TV series Without a Trace) is so damn good, it is best to just go with it.
YENTL (1983) Sunday 7 February 2.00-4.05pm BBC 2
Deemed to be a failure on release (and, to be honest, in the years since) Yentl has such a winning combination of chutzpah and sincerity, it deserves a second chance. Barbara Streisand produces, directs, co-writes and stars as a young Jewish woman who has to disguise herself as a boy in order to study. At the time, I don’t think anyone else could have got even close to pulling this off, and Ms. Streisand is someone who clearly warrants the term ‘icon’.
STARTING OVER (1979) Sunday 7 February 10.00pm-12.05am Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Burt Reynolds is a divorced man who falls for a teacher (Jill Clayburgh) who is reluctant to commit, whilst still having feelings for his ex-wife (Candice Bergen). The result is a likeable comedy drama that is well played by all. And catch an early glimpse of Kevin Bacon!
CHAIN OF EVENTS (1958) Monday 8 February 6.35-8.00Pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Monday is very quiet this week, so we’ll take a look at this modest B-movie, in which events spiral out of control after a bank clerk refuses to pay his bus fare. Irish actor Dermot Walsh (Richard the Lionheart in the Danziger Productions TV series) is the lead actor; producer Peter Rogers and director Gerald Thomas were soon working on the Carry On films.
BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY (1987) Monday 8 February 11.00pm-12.25am BBC 4
The BBC is giving us a welcome repeat showing of a fascinating documentary on Hedy Lamarr. Her public persona, after Louis B. Mayer signed her to a contract and made her a star, was generally well known. Less familiar was her life offscreen, in particular a talent for invention in the field of electronics that included vital work on radar for the war effort.
FUNNY FACE (1957) Tuesday 9 February 1.40-3.45pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
The sublime pairing of Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn is the epitome of chic; he is a fashion photographer and she is a model. There is a top Gershwin score and Stanley Donen’s direction is spot on.
BLACK SUNDAY (1976) Tuesday 9 February 9.00-11.50pm Talking Pictures (Channel 81)
Another brilliant thriller from John Frankenheimer (The Train) – this time, terrorists are plotting to blow up the Super Bowl and Israeli commando Robert Shaw is out to stop them. It may be a tad too long, but it is still riveting entertainment.
THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN (1960) Wednesday 10 February 12.45-3.00pm Film four
This clever heist drama has proved to be popular over the years and still makes for rewarding viewing. Jack Hawkins is the former army officer who ‘persuades’ other ex-army personnel to undertake the perfect crime. And catch an early glimpse of Oliver Reed as a ballet dancer!
O.S.S. (1946) Wednesday 10 February 4.55-7.05pm Film Four
A good vehicle for Alan Ladd that helped to cement his stardom; he plays a wartime agent given the task of destroying an important railway in occupied France. It isn’t televised that often and the fact that we don’t see any familiar faces in the supporting cast seems to lend it the required authenticity.
YESTERDAY’S ENEMY (1959) Thursday 11 February 5.10-7.05pm Channel 41
In the late 1950s, Hammer sought to expand its portfolio beyond the confines of horror and adapted a TV play about a wartime incident in Burma in 1942. It would not have been made earlier in the decade (the word “bastard” had to be removed from the American print) and took the genre in a less heroic, more interesting, direction. Stanley Baker and Gordon Jackson were nominated for Baftas and Guy Rolfe is good in this one, too!
THE LOST CITY OF Z (2016) Thursday 11 February 9.00-11.10pm BBC 4
This one came into the ‘almost considered’ category four seasons ago. Charlie Hunnam is the explorer Percy Fawcett who was obsessed with finding a lost Amazonian civilisation in the early 1900s. Both the quest and the film provide frustrations, but at least it is interesting and literate!
CITY SLICKERS (1991) Friday 12 February 6.35-9.00pm Film Four
Let’s have some fun with a good comedy western. Three friends and urbanites (one of whom is Billy Crystal) decide that the best antidote to a mid-life crisis is to go on a cattle drive. The trail boss is Jack Palance, who looks as though he has just stepped out of a Remington sketch circa 1884. It is all very entertaining, although not quite as entertaining as Palance’s Oscar-acceptance speech and push-ups!
LADY MACBETH (2016) Friday 12 February 11.20pm-12.45am BBC 2
A young Victorian woman is trapped in an abusive marriage and decides that she will do anything to escape it. I have always been very proud of the fact that we lavished praise on Florence Pugh’s performance and said that her career would prove to be an impressive one, even though the audience reaction marked down the film (2017-18 season, 65.5%). The next feather in her cap will be Marvel’s Black Widow.
RANDOM WORDS AND RANDOM MEMORIES
HI-YO SILVER AND AWAY!
Confession time – whenever I hear the “William Tell Overture” my thoughts turn to The Lone Ranger and not the composer Gioacchino Rossini! Created by George W. Trendle and Francis Striker during the Great Depression, the legendary character was first introduced to the public via a Detroit radio station in January 1933 – and it remained popular with listeners for more than 20 years. In an era that was teeming with western heroes, it was a natural for the silver screen and Republic Studios made a successful bid for the rights. In 1938, they released a 15-chapter serial called The Lone Ranger (most serials had only 12 chapters). Wearing a mask that might have been designed to combat Covid-19, Lee Powell was the hero and Chief Thundercloud was Tonto. Its instant success warranted a second serial, The Lone Ranger Rides Again, in 1939, but, whilst Tonto looked familiar, Robert Livingston was behind the mask – comfortably, one presumes, as he had just played Zorro. (And it was now that Tonto’s horse underwent a change of name from White Fella to Scout.)
The character’s most familiar incarnation is, of course, in the long-running TV series that made its debut on a Thursday evening in 1949 (in the US) and ran for eight seasons and over 200 episodes. The jobbing actor picked for the role was Clayton Moore (strangely enough, he had just made The Ghost of Zorro) and he was the Lone Ranger for the rest of his life (although John Hart took over the role, 1952-54, during a salary dispute). Indeed, I understand that his is the only star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame that also includes the name of his character. Jay Silverheels, the son of a Mohawk chief and a fine lacrosse player, played Tonto for its entire run. Essentially aimed at a juvenile audience – one of Trendle’s strictures was that “the Lone Ranger never makes love on radio, television, in movies or in cartoons” – over 50% of its audience was actually adults and it reached no. 7 in the Nielsen ratings during the 1951-52 season. Such was its popularity that episodes were edited together to make 75m films (there were over a dozen of them) and, towards the end of its run, when episodes were being filmed in colour, two cinema features were made by major studios – The Lone Ranger (1956) and The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958).
Aside from an animated series in the 1960s, it wasn’t until 1981, and with backing from Lew Grade’s ITC, that Ranger John Reid put on his mask again in The Legend of the Lone Ranger. Directed by William A. Fraker (Monte Walsh), the film itself wasn’t too bad (nor was Michael Horse as Tonto); unfortunately, Klinton Spilsbury couldn’t act, his lines were dubbed and the film was deemed to be a flop. More interesting were the real-life events of the time. The copyright owners were unhappy that Clayton Moore was still opening the occasional supermarket and keeping the nation’s children on the straight and narrow, whilst dressed in the iconic costume, and so issued a court order instructing him to desist. Not to be undone, Mr Moore continued as ‘the actor who had played . . .’ with the help of a pair of wraparound sunglasses. So, you see, truth and justice will find a way and the lawyers eventually withdrew their complaint.
There was to be one final cinema outing (to date) when ‘the team that brought you Pirates of the Caribbean’ re-imagined The Lone Ranger in 2013. Dutifully, I went to the Regent – oh, dear. A huge budget with the director (Gore Verbinski) throwing everything at it except for the eureka pot and a focus on Johnny Depp doing his star turn as Tonto. And with a running time that fell not too far short of the two film DVD for the 1956 and 1958 features! Sorry, but this “kemo sabe” would rather saddle up with Jay Silverheels. If, however, you would like to see the 2013 version it is on BBC 2 at 9.00pm on Saturday evening.
Footnote – The Green Hornet was the son of Dan Reid, John Reid’s nephew, which makes him the grand-nephew of The Lone Ranger!
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