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Fountains of Wayne

John Wayne died 32 years ago, but he’s still one of the most popular actors in America: number three on the most recent (2010) Harris Poll, following Johnny Depp and Denzel Washington. He’s also the only (forcibly) retired actor in the top ten, and well as the only star to make the list every year since 1994.

And with this week’s surge of pre-Father’s Day releases, he may be the classic star best represented on Blu-ray: new to the market are “The Horse Soldiers” (John Ford, 1959) and “The Comancheros” (Michael Curtiz, with an assist from Wayne, 1961), both from Fox/MGM, and two late efforts from Paramount, “Rio Lobo” (the final film signed by Howard Hawks, 1970) and “Big Jake” (the final film signed by George Sherman, though again Wayne is said to have taken over for the aging director). Hurried considerations of all four in this week’s New York Times column, as well as some speculations on the evolution of Wayne’s image over his fifty year career.

140 comments to Fountains of Wayne

  • Barry Putterman

    Robert, I am interested in the “Million Dollar Movie” angle here. I was an addict from December 1958 through October 1962 when my family moved to Baltimore. During that time i saw severely truncated versions of THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY and ISLAND IN THE SKY and the opening music was the main theme from GONE WITH THE WIND. In fact, when my parents took me to see GONE WITH THE WIND later in the 60s and the opening music came up, it was kind of an out of body experience for me. Did they later switch to THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY? We were kind of behind the curve in Baltimore.

    In any event, that Jan Sterling story might make for a more powerful Christian allegory than anything which got to the screen in this case.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Though Airplane spoofed a series of films, its specific point of reference was Hall Bartlett’s Zero Hour (1958), late in the cycle.

  • Robert Garrick

    Barry: You are correct about the New York version of “Million Dollar Movie,” at least in the mid-to-late ’70s. The theme music was “Tara’s Theme” from GWTW. But in Los Angeles, they used the haunting whistling music from “High and the Mighty,” at least for a while (and during my formative years).

    The Million Dollar Movie aired every night of the week on Channel 9 in New York (WOR-TV) and Channel 9 in Los Angeles (KHJ-TV), both of were which owned by RKO-General at the time. This started in the 1950s and lasted well into the ’70s and maybe even later. The thing about Million Dollar Movie it that it showed the same film every night of the week, for an entire week, during prime time.

    For passionate movie fans, this was an opportunity to really study a film. I remember watching “classics” like “Damn Yankees,” “The Crawling Eye,” and “House of Wax” on MDM, over and over again.

    In Los Angeles at least the Million Dollar Movie had an unusual feature that really annoyed me even at age 12. The show would go right into a film, skipping the credits entirely. Then, after the end titles, they would show the opening credits. I guess they were afraid that people would get bored and change the channel if they had to sit through the titles, and in fact that’s pretty much how all films work today. But I love titles, and if our recent Saul Bass discussion is any clue, so do many of you.

    P.S. Barry: I lived in D.C. for twenty years, but I had a huge antenna on my Georgetown house that picked up all the Baltimore stations, and I watched (and taped) lots of movies out of the Charm City. In general, Baltimore was much better than D.C. when it came to movies on television.

  • Barry Putterman

    Not only did “Million Dollar Movie” show the same film each night for a week, they showed it TWICE each night for a week AND three times in a row on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. I’d like to be able to say that I was closely studying the films I saw during those years (ages six going on seven to ten going on eleven) but I’m afraid it was more a case of a childhood love of repeated experience than anything else. And while I think it gave me the proper foundation for long term movie love (mostly Warners and RKO with a little Universal and Columbia) and showed me a number of films which on later re-viewing justified my love (WHITE HEAT, FORT APACHE, BLACK BART(!)), there are other films from that time (which will go unnamed) that continue to hold a Proustian hold on my memory bank but no amount of analysis can justify.

    As for Baltimore TV, there WAS a start-up UHF station which came into existence in the late 60s that somewhat recreated the “we’ll show anything we can get our hands on” situation of 50s local television. As such, the 30s Warners package got another go-round and they even showed Republic westerns. So, just like with hometown baseball, I was always in the right place at the right time.

  • Blake Lucas

    Re Robert at 7:49, my memory of how MDM did the credits in Los Angeles was that, as he says, they would skip them at the beginning and just start the movie, but then, as the movie was coming to close, would quickly superimpose main credits over the final images just before the film’s end. Naturally, I too didn’t take to this and would have liked all original credits at the beginning, but as Robert notes, MDM was “ahead of the curve” in this blase treatment.

    I am out and proud as a fan of THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY which I’ve seen and enjoyed many times. Nothing in the narrative and none of the characters are subtle, but it’s all orchestrated together in a highly effective way by Wellman and builds well to the end. Is the film really being derided here for being a “Christian allegory?” The same description could be given of AU HASARD BALTHAZAR.

    Not that I’m saying THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY is a masterpiece but for me it must really have something because I never get tired of it. Wayne is wonderful, holding the center with quiet authority though it’s an ensemble piece that throws the focus around to all the other characters in turn. My favorite of these is, yes, Jan Sterling for the scene in which she takes off all her makeup on camera. Memorable–I love scenes in which women take off their makeup in a film and this may be the best one ever, well one of the best. Co-star Paul Kelly as disillusioned atomic scientist contributes a lot to this scene with her too.

    As for Wellman’s aesthetics, I personally feel he does very well staging and filming in CinemaScope most of the film inside the interior of the plane (that’s the whole interior and not just the cockpit). But for me there is a little failure of nerve in flashbacks of the characters that take the characters out of that present moment in the plane, and I wish the film had resisted that. We learn what we need to about them in the present (including Wayne, whose brief flashback is seen before the flight) and the scenes are extraneous.

    Still, it’s a wonderful film. Ridicule it if you want to but for me it’s by far the best of these kinds of movies about tension on a troubled flight. Of Wellman’s three movies with John Wayne, ISLAND IN THE SKY is also excellent (and I know has more fans here) but I think they missed badly with the third BLOOD ALLEY.

    Wellman has a checkered career, lots of ups and downs, but for me good films in all periods (and in many genres), as for example WINGS (silent), SAFE IN HELL (pre-code), WESTWARD THE WOMEN (’50s Western), all great. YELLOW SKY is an outstanding Western too.

  • Robert Garrick

    Regarding “Yellow Sky”–That is a terrific western, beautifully photographed (by Joe MacDonald), and Anne Baxter is quite fetching in it. I think it is my favorite Wellman film.

    William K. Everson was a fan of “Safe in Hell” and it was his print that I saw while I was at NYU. “The Public Enemy” became iconic and has consequently been underrated, but the film still has power. “Wild Boys of the Road” is one of the better Depression films.

    I met Wellman back in June, 1974 (I’ll always remember the date because on the same night “That’s Entertainment” had its massive premiere in Beverly Hills, a few miles away). I talked to him for about five minutes, and he couldn’t have been nicer. I kidded him about how they had to bleep him constantly on his segment for “The Men Who Made the Movies,” and he laughed about that and said that it had been a lifetime problem.

    A quick thought on “High and the Mighty.” They say that when a plane becomes lethally crippled, the mood on board does not become hysterical. It gets quiet, even calm, as people privately deal with possible death. That’s the mood that is captured in “High and the Mighty,” far better than in films like “Airport” (for example). The gold standard for such scenes in movies is probably Peter Weir’s “Fearless,” an excellent film overall.

  • Blake Lucas

    Robert, June 1974 sounds like about the right time for when they had a Wellman retro at the Royal theatre in L.A. and he made some appearances, so if that’s when you met him we may have crossed paths there. This is where I saw some of his films and saw him in person (I believe it was at a screening of THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY). Judging someone just on their personality and not the extent to which I value their films, I thought he was the most charming of a fair number of Hollywood veterans I was lucky to see in person–poised, gentlemanly, and he was not arrogant but cared a lot about his work.

  • Barry Putterman

    In truth I should recuse myself on THE PUBLIC ENEMY since it was the film which drew me in to “Million Dollar Movie” and retains a subjectively special place in my heart. Nevertheless, with that caveat in mind, I would claim that it suffers from being grouped in with and compared against SCARFACE, LITTLE CAESAR and the other films from the period which consciously play off of the Capone story and create the “Gangster as Tragic Hero” muthology. This film is frying up a very different mess o catfish.

    Again from the John Bright interview in the McGilligan book, appearently the unpublished source novel he wrote was a sprawling Dos Passos “USA” styled social panorama, and he was advised to focus in on something specific in adapting it for the screen. Which he did in concentrating on the character of “The public enemy.” The film is not about the rise and fall of a gang boss, but rather the life stories of two boys who naturally turn to criminal endeavors through the opportunities that their environment offers them, prosper from the bootlegging industry which grows out of Prohibition, and rise to the level of middle management before being killed. Their lives have no special impact on the world they inhabit and their deaths change nothing within the system they worked in.

    Of course none of that is central for detractors like Dave or Peter Bogdanovich who feel that the film fails due to Wellman’s “crude” direction rather than flaws within the material itself. But that is an entirely different argument.

    Two other notes in passing. First, from my one viewing of QUICK MILLIONS (via the invaluable William K. Everson) it seemed to me to want to combine what the Capone story films and THE PUBLIC ENEMY were doing. And second, during my New York “Million Dollar Movie” days, the credits were done away with entirely. There would simply be announcements that they were showing TOM, DICK & HARRY starring Ginger Rogers, with George Murphy, Burgess Meredith and Alan Marshal.” Which lead to my childhood practice of referring to supporting players as “the withs.”

  • Alex

    Million Dollar Movie! Now there’s a trip down memory lane.

    As I recall, it started sometime in the 1953-54 school year. Back then, it showed its week’s film not only twice each weekday evening but at least once on weekday afternoons as well (not to speak of multiple weekend showings). As I recall, its second film ever was “King Kong,” which, as a second grader I watched again and again with undiminished pleasure (shades of “The High and the Might” for Blake). But can anyone recall what the first film showm on MDM was? I’m sure it was some historical melodrama about Maximilian and Carlotta von Hapsburg’s brief and ill-fated Mexican monarchy. The only candiadte I can think of is Dieterle’s “Juarez,” but I’m not sure that’s the film as I believe that WOR was owned by RKO and started MDM with RKO films (like “King Kong” and unlike Warner Brothers’ “Juarez”).

  • Blake and Brian, thanks for the kind remarks and yes, Brian, I very much agree on the anger in THE HORSE SOLDIERS. The anger can also be seen, although in more subtle ways, in other earlier Ford films, like FORT APACHE for example. Speaking of which, I just saw Lindsay Anderson’s last film IS THAT ALL THERE IS, and in it he complains about the cinematography of FORT APACHE, and he criticises Archie Stout (Clothier did some uncredited work on it, apparently his first teaming up with Ford). It’s been a while since I saw FORT APACHE, but I don’t remember the cinematography as being bad. And I remember some great scenes, like when John Wayne is engulfed by dust after a battle. Anybody have any thoughts on the quality of the cinematography?

    Brian, you wrote “Lastly, what I find stunning is the way Ford shoots conversations between characters against a background of human activity, e.g., in the background we see through an open tent the activity of the camp or through an open door what is happening in a makeshift hospital.”. This would also be a description of most films by Raoul Walsh, and something that I found extraordinary when I did my long Walsh retrospective. Every thing and everybody is very much in this world, in the bigger, wider world, where life continues regardless of, even oblivious of, the characters we happen to follow.

    Barry, I’m intrigued to hear that de Sica was called in to re-direct Curtiz. The two men doesn’t strike me as similar in style or temperament. But what do I know?

    Wellman, uneven yes, but he’s made some great films. YELLOW SKY would be my favourite, together with the two bowls of acid from 1937, A STAR IS BORN and NOTHING SACRED. But ISLAND IN THE SKY is a fantastic film too, and incidentally photographed by Archie Stout. And THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (which I haven’t seen) was the last film Stout made.

    1960 was definitely an impressive year but Bordwell got carried away when he made the list, WILD STRAWBERRIES is from 1957.

    Somebody mentioned NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY. I saw it when I was very young and I don’t think I dared to breath at all during the film, I was too nervous. Great childhood memory!

  • Barry Putterman

    Fredrik, it actually is hard to imagine directors who are any more dissimilar than Curtiz and De Sica. However, if you have seen A BREATH OF SCANDAL it does seem to be more in the spirit of the films De Sica was making with Loren at that time (other than TWO WOMEN) and she may have been instrumental in the decision. In any event, I REALLY wish I could tell both of us where I read that. It was a book which was recounting the making of a film in the same country at the same time. I’ll accept clues, hints and guesses form anybody. But you know, even if I do locate the source, that still wouldn’t constitute proof.

    VERY good point about Walsh. Not that this takes anything away from Ford. Speaking of which, I never noticed any problem with the cinematography in FORT APACHE, but, as you say, what do I know. The cinematography in some of Anderson’s films on the other hand….

  • Tom Brueggemann

    A Breath of Scandal was filmed in Rome (it is an Italian co-production). It was released in March 1961 in Italy (its premiere), so it would have been filmed most likely in the fall of 1960.

    De Sica had only one film he directed in 1961 (The Last Judgment), which was released in the fall; Two Women, his previous film, would have been directed possibly in late 1959. However, he had eight (!) acting credits for films released in 1961, so I’m not sure he would have been particularly free to do much heavy lifting on Breath.

  • Robert Garrick

    Alex, your memory is pretty good. On September 19, 1954, the New York Times reported that “starting this week, WOR-TV will have the first showing of its Million Dollar Movie series, a package of never-before-seen-on-television films.” The first film shown was “Magic Town,” with Jane Wyman and James Stewart. Then the NYT reported: “Each picture will be shown for one week, starting on Tuesday, and will be seen nightly from 7:30 to 9 P. M. and from 10 to 11:30 P. M. There also will be a matinee on Saturday and Sunday at 4:30 P. M., a total of sixteen showings per week.”

    As noted in an earlier post, I watched the MDM in Los Angeles. I’m not sure when it started there, but films were shown once a night, all week long.

    Are we off topic? Not too much, I don’t think. In the [wonderful] introduction to his book, our host talks about how he used to wake up in the middle of the night to watch films on TV. So did I, and Los Angeles was a feast of film history from midnight to 6:00 AM, thanks to Cal Worthington and a truckload of independent stations. (Sorry, but for late night TV movie purposes L.A. was better than New York, and way better than Chicago. I lived in all three cities prior to 1980, and I was always happy to get back to L.A. which showed three times more films overnight than those other cities.) Throughout my teenage years, I would routinely wake up in the middle of the night, quietly watch a film in my room (without waking up my brother, or my parents, who would have been outraged), and then go back to sleep, before arising a few hours later to go to high school. I saw dozens of films this way. The VCR was still a few years away.

    Where did I catch up on all that missed sleep? In the classroom, as Groucho would say.

  • Brad Stevens

    There’s some information about De Sica’s contribution to A BREATH OF SCANDAL here:

  • Brian Dauth

    Like other posters, the Million Dollar Movie was my introduction to many movies I now love (though by the time I watched, it changed its programming every night). I also had the “4:30 Movie” on WABC; “The Late Show” on WCBS; the “Metromedia Movie” on WNEW, where I first saw ALL ABOUT EVE (Friday night from 12 midnight to 3:00 am) and watched the Bowery Boys on Saturday morning; and Cinema 13 on the local PBS station.

    Of course, I longed to watch these movies on a big screen, and soon was haunting New York’s revival house. I guess the world keeps spinning, since my devoutest wish is to have the opportunity to watch these movies once again on the television in my home.

  • Alex

    Robert Garrick,

    Actually I’m certain some close variant of Million Dollar Movie with that name (or just about it) was on WOR-TV by Spring 1954 –perhaps without the promise of ONLY movies never before seen on TV. My submersion in “King Kong” (and JUST-PRIOR introduction to Mexico’s Hapsburg Empire) was definitely during Fall 1953 or Spring 1954 (in Weehaukeen New Jersey before a Summer-54 move to Westchester).

    Ah, the cunning of history! And the historical myopia of the web!

  • Barry Putterman

    Brad, thanks for this link. I believe that it brings the situation into focus. Loren was hardly the first person who didn’t get along with Curtiz, and De Sica seems the logical person that she and Ponti would turn to. As such, we can assume that Curtiz was Curtiz till the end and Wayne would not have started THE COMANCHEROS assuming that he could dominate the director. However, I wonder whether Curtiz’s health was an issue from the beginning, possibly explaining Sherman’s producer credit as an insurance policy.

    Robert, since New York is “the city that never sleeps,” by definition it does not wake up in the middle of the night to see movies on television or for any other purpose. Further, since you report that the first film shown on New York’s “Million Dollar Movie” was a Wellman, and the first film which I saw on New York’s “Million Dollar Movie” was a Wellman, this conclusively proves that….?

  • RE THE MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE, those seem like truly the days. Would’ve loved to have experienced something like that. The closest thing I had as a youth was Washington DC’s ABC affiliate’s 4:00 MOVIE, which aired after GENERAL HOSPITAL (that soap being a big family favorite). A different movie every day, but they had theme weeks, the ones that impressed my young mind being Godzilla week, various horror themes, beach movies, hippie week. I can’t recall seeing any movies that I currently hold dear, but the experience was an eye-opener to movies in general, my family not being film fans. I’ll never forget the last segment of the portmanteau film TRILOGY OF TERROR though. Karen Black with that spear-wielding African doll that comes to life in her apartment and all sorts of hell breaks lose. Don’t worry, she killed it in the oven. The next day at school 2/3s of the class was buzzing about it, some kids admitting to nightmares. Good times.

    The pre-Fox WTTG station showed lots of movies. That’s where I first saw THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1,2,3. Very occasionally they’d show a classic without commercial interuption. That’s where I first watched Cukor’s GASLIGHT.

    Later in the decade my intro to world film came through the PBS stations: DIAOBOLIQUE was the first. Saw STRAY DOG, as well.

    Actually, my first world cinema experiences came through non-network station WDCA’s KUNG FU ACTION THEATRE, which played Shaw Brothers stuff. I distinctly recall having my ass kicked by MASTER KILLER.

  • Alex, Robert and Blake,

    I watched “King Kong” on MDM in the autumn of 1956 in Los Angeles (it had been re-released as late as summer 1956 in Los Angeles.) MDM alternated with RKO movies and Warner Bros. movies (the week after “King Kong” was “The Adventures of Captain Blood.”) As for cutting the beginning credits and inserting them at the end, that was the practice (at least temporarily) of KNXT channel 2 in the L.A. market on there Saturday night late show “The Fabulous 52.”

    Also, when “Citizen Kane” was telecast with cuts it prompted an angry letter from Ray Bradbury to the L.A. Times, so “Kane” was re-broadcast without cuts.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Playing TV watching regional memory game:

    Chicago, circa 1969 (when I started heavily watching)

    WBBM (CBS/2) – Nightly 10:30 pm prime slot, then at least one “late late show” after (no network talk shows at that point; CBS as a network shortly after started showing a movie slot to compete with the tonight show, mainly recent films)
    Weekend daytime movie slots as network scheduling allowed

    WLS (ABC/7) – 9 am and 3:30 pm weekday slots; the 3:30 was 90 minutes (nearly always cut – their programmer bragged about how his versions were better than the originals) – 9 am might have been 2 hours; then late later movie after Joey Bishop and later Dick Cavett.
    10:30 on Sat and Sun nights, then late late movie
    Some weekend daytime slots

    WGN (Ind/9) – heavy into movie programming – every night at 10:30, then at least one movie after; prime time movies, heavy weekend daytime slots – I think they had one weekeday slot as well

    WFLD (Ind/32) – variable movie scheduling throughout the day and evening, weekdays and weekends

    WMAQ (NBC/5) – as I recall, very little old movie programming

    WTTW (PBS/11) – did a bunch of things, including a very nice regular silent series (usually bad prints though), filled other slots at times

    I’d guess there were roughly 100 locally broadcast (apart from network primetime ones) weekly in Chicago during this period, with the majority of them not edited for time. Being in high school (and later college) and of course no such thing as a VCR did make catching things a bit of a challenge, but by junior year in high school I was regularly staying up to after midnight most nights.

    My own bedroom was on the third floor of our house, and when I got my own portable TV, I found that depending how the wind was blowing, I could get a UHF station from across Lake Michigan in Muskegon that had an obscure package. I once caught Otto Preminger’s early Danger! Love at Work (they had a minor Fox package in their stable) and just hoped that the wind wouldn’t shift during its broadcast.

  • Brian Dauth

    I remember that CITIZEN KANE, ALL ABOUT EVE, and TOUCH OF EVIL were all shown complete on the stations in New York City. Other films I am not sure about or do not remember. The “4:30 Movie” on WABC would show longer movies in parts, e.g., THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI aired over three consecutive days, with the third day consisting of part of Day Two’s broadcast and then the rest of the movie in order to fill the 90-minute slot. Saturday night on WABC was when I watched Westerns with my Dad; three were particular favorites of his: MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, THE WILD BUNCH, and ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. He said he liked Leone for the way he photographed faces; and whenever we watched a movie that was a tad dull for him, his critique would be: “It could have used a little Peckinpah.”

  • Alex

    Robert Garrick,

    Excuse that first “certain” of mine. I certainly MIGHT have my Kong-MDM matchup a year off, though it’s odd to think that I now recollect seeing “Kong” in a specifc room which might have been quite gone from my life by the time I (might indeed) have actually seen it.

    Is there any simple way for finding out when a film first showed on TV, for I think my MDM viewing was a premiere but –yikes!– perhaps a year later one than my fond memory had catalogued it?

    Perhaps the 1954-ish release of “King Kong versus Godzilla” has a role in sundry mid-1950s “King Kong” revivals.

  • Alex

    If “the first film shown on New York’s “Million Dollar Movie” was a Wellman, and the first film which ..[Barry Putterman]…saw on New York’s “Million Dollar Movie” was a Wellman… I suggest that some youndg admirer of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE write and direct a spin-off in which some villain, operating behind a WOR-TV front, brain washes the politically promising young Barry Putterman.

    As for my MDM legacy, the ideal is clear: Alain Resnais finally gets his Stateside production with a film called LAST YEAR IN WEEHAUKEN. (Or was it Westchester? –the narrator intones all too Ryely?)

  • “Is there any simple way for finding out when a film first showed on TV”

    If you’re talking about films that first screened in the 1950s, you’ll have to cross check newspaper files and TV Guides to get the first date. But if you want to find a first screening in a local market, newspaper files will do. It’s simple but time consuming.

    “King Kong Versus Godzilla” opened in 1964 in the US. “Gojira” opened in Japan in 1954, “Godzilla King of the Monsters” opened in the US in 1956. “Gojira” played at the Sakurada Theater in L.A.’s Little Tokyo in 1955.

    As movie paper collectors know, “King Kong” received an official re-release in 1956; in fact it was re-released in 1951, 1947, 1942 and 1938 as the re-release promotional material testifies.

  • Stephen Bowie

    Not that anyone could possibly care, but when I was getting into movies in the early 90s, there was one station in Raleigh that still showed obscure movies at weird hours of the night — Channel 17. (Can’t remember the call letters, and they’re different now.) By then, of course, I had VHS and cable supplying stuff (mostly TNT; I may not have had access to AMC until I went to college in 1995). But Channel 17 coughed up commercial-interrupted copies of all kinds of obscure movies I could not then see anyplace else. I remember MAKE MINE MINK and THE HONKERS, for some reason, but there were many others.

    One thing I regret is that those syndicated movie packages included a lot of the great TV movies of the 70s, and now those are all extremely hard to find, at least in watchable shape. If I’d gotten hip a few years earlier, I could have a good library of those, and lots of other cool stuff.

  • joe dante

    Gee, everyone’s so nostalgic for Million Dollar Movie! Sure, it was great to be able to watch a picture sixteen times, but the program ran only 90 minutes!
    With commercials! Virtually every movie except for some of the Lewtons and other B-pictures was cut to 75 minutes or less!
    Cutting was the bane of every movie fan’s existence back then–everything was cut, if not for censorship then for time. Movies were program filler between commercials, pure and simple. And more often than not they were crammed into one hour and 90 minute slots throughout the broadcast day, and even at night, when you would think it wouldn’t matter whether a station signed off at 1:20 am or 2:05 am! The laziest programmers would simply drop the first few reels and start wherever. I grew up with New York tv and it was no better than the rest of the country. Picture for a Sunday Afternoon, Teatime Movie, Detective Mystery, The Early Show, the Late Show, the Late Late Show, it didn’t matter.
    It’s amazing that the novelty of movies in your home was strong enough to imprint so many vivid memories of movies shown at their worst possible disadvantage.
    So it’s fun to reminisce, but we’re all better off today, moviewise, than we’ve ever been.

  • Alex

    “‘King Kong Versus Godzilla’ opened in 1964 in the US.”

    Ooops! Ten years off for MDM Kong premiere relevance!

  • “It’s amazing that the novelty of movies in your home was strong enough to imprint so many vivid memories of movies shown at their worst possible disadvantage.”

    Indeed yes. That’s why it was a revelation to see these same movies projected at revival theaters or by college film societies (even 16mm was a vast improvement on TV broadcasts.)

  • Alex

    joe dante,

    Very good points, but not of a sort too relevant to one’s memories of childhood viewing pleasures.

    I first fell in love with THE MAGNIFCENT AMBERSONS, catching (on a little motel TV in a hot Florida motel) a five minute snippet from the film that included Colonel Amberson’s death revery (“First there was the Sun…..”)

    Right now someone is imprinting on something just viewed for the first time on her i-phone.

  • Barry Putterman

    Yes, the thing of it is that both Joe and Alex are absolutely right. My basic reaction on seeing WHITE HEAT or FORT APACHE complete and the Warner Brothers cartoons in color was; “Wow! Even MORE!”

  • “Cutting was the bane of every movie fan’s existence back then–everything was cut, if not for censorship then for time.”

    Conversely, on very rare occasions, films have actually been lengthened for TV broadcast:

    “In 1986, in order to fit [Rear Window] into a two and one-half hour time slot, MCA-TV prepared a ‘long’ version of the film by reformatting the original, which ran at 24 frames per second, to run at 23 frames per second and by adding dream sequences.”

    Also, I believe at least one airing of Michael Crichton’s Looker included a crucial expository scene that’s frustratingly omitted from its theatrical and DVD releases.

  • Brian Dauth

    Joe: with respect – watching movies on television was for me the only engagement possible, so it was more than a novelty. This method reminds me of the story Alain Resnais told of how he would obtain copies of “Terry and the Pirates” out of order during WWII in France. Yes, the movies were cut/shortened/altered, but I still managed to love them somehow. I remember watching BLOW UP — cut, of course — late one Friday night on the small television in my parent’s bedroom while they hosted a party in the family room where the main television set was. The best way to see it? No. But I had already read “Focus on BLOW-UP” and the Cameron/Wood book on Antonioni, and I needed to see that movie by any means necessary.

    I had to supply the missing parts of BLOW UP that could not be shown, but which I knew to be part of the film from my reading. Watching movies the way taught me that I must bring myself to the aesthetic act so that it is complete, and not be just a passive/empty vessel. It also helped that being queer, I watched/experienced from the margins, so the interruptions and re-alignments seemed normal. In so many ways we are better off today, but for a young queerboi in the 1970’s, the disjunctions worked in his favor.

  • jbryant

    How sad that James Arness should pass away so soon after being mentioned in this thread (as star of McLaglen’s GUN THE MAN DOWN and Duke Wayne’s co-star in ISLAND IN THE SKY, among others). As mentioned above, GUN THE MAN DOWN is streaming on Netflix, as are the first 11 seasons of GUNSMOKE. RIP

    Growing up in Kentucky, I can recall a few movie programs, though nothing like Million Dollar Movie. There was an afternoon series that seemed to focus on the Universal horror stuff, and it seemed like there were always opportunities, whether morning, afternoon or late night, to catch everything from THE UNINVITED to CASABLANCA to THE HUSTLER. In the late 70s-early 80s, the local ABC affiliate (out of nearby Evansville, Indiana) showed (and re-showed) an RKO package most nights after regular programming signed off. This is how I became the man who has seen more Anne Shirley movies than any other living person. Not complaining – I love Anne Shirley and all those little programmers she made. CHATTERBOX, CHASING YESTERDAY, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, M’LISS, MOTHER CAREY’S CHICKENS, SORORITY HOUSE and the recently mentioned somewhere around here MAN FROM FRISCO. And who can forget BOY SLAVES, an awesome child labor exposé directed by the nearly forgotten and enigmatic P. J. Wolfson? Not me (saw it again recently on TCM and was impressed all over again).

    They never showed KANE though. Hard to imagine now, but that was a Holy Grail film for me for ages. I think I was in my early 20s before it finally showed up where I could see it.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    The other bane of course was that showing movies at anything other than Academy ratio (1.33×1) was unheard of. And of course many of us didn’t have color TVs when we began watching movies on TV.

  • Robert Garrick

    Joe, you are right of course. But there is more to this story.

    One of the reasons I treasured my copy of Leonard Maltin’s “TV Movies,” which first came out when Maltin was about 18 years old around 1969, was it that included running times for all the films listed within. That allowed me to judge, in advance, whether a film would be cut. Most of the films I watched were late, late, late, anyway, and in Los Angeles those films were rarely cut. They just ran until they ended, and then the next film began, on channels 2, 5, 9, 11, and sometimes 13. All night long.

    It’s also worth noting that there were films shown on TV back in the 1960s that are unavailable today in any form. Also, those films were 16mm prints, and the TV stations formed a giant national film library that is gone today. When I wanted to show “Stranger on the Third Floor” at NYU back in 1976, Jay Leyda got a print by asking William K. Everson. And Everson asked his friends at WOR, who supplied a nice 16mm copy of the film. I showed it (and said that, in my judgment, it was the closest thing to a “first” film noir).

    There was also a lot more “film” available back then, in revival houses and in museums, if you were lucky enough to live in Los Angeles, New York, London, or Paris. And there were better films showing at regular old movie theatres too. And people were better behaved in those theatres.

    These days it’s way easier to see a particular title on demand. But back then I saw a lot more movies under pristine conditions. If I could trade today for the 1960s, I’d probably do it.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘The other bane of course was that showing movies at anything other than Academy ratio (1.33×1) was unheard of.’

    Yes, that was bad thing about watching movie on TV in Japan, because all wide screen movie was cropped, not even using pan and scan until later. There was one time letter box TV showing of NARAYAMA BUSHIKO in 1960s, but it was not liked because TV screen was small.

    In Japan not necessary to watch movie on TV because there was many theater showing movie from 1930s, 40s, 50s. Many movies was re-released as often as KING KONG mentioned by X.

  • joe dante

    I guess I should have noted that an unexpected benefit of the plethora of movies on tv, however mangled in broadcast, was that those same 16mm prints would eventually find their way into the collector market through the “first sale” doctrine. And some of us picked up a lot of them! In the early 70s the FBI launched a studio-backed confiscation effort that led to them impounding collections of folks like Roddy McDowall, whose prints were given to him by Darryl Zanuck! Then when laserdisc “extras” took off, the studios realized there was nowhere to go to find missing material but to those same collectors. I remember the brouhaha about some footage from the ’55 STAR IS BORN that a collector had rescued from a studio dumpster. The studio contended with a straight face that it had obviously been stolen because “we never throw anything away.”(!)
    And sure, I was just as transformed by the accessibility of these films on tv as everyone above. And it’s true that these showings were the beginnings of film scholarship among the coming generation. I was just lamenting the fact that so many of yesteryear’s long-out-of-circulation titles received such cavalier treatment. At least they became part of the public consciousness once again–ironically more so than most of them are today, despite often being available in pristine condition.

  • Barry Putterman

    jbryant, anyone who isn’t moved by Anne Shirley in CHATTERBOX might be in need of professional help.

    Based on what you say, I’d like to offer a couple of suggestions. SORORITY HOUSE (John Farrow) is a fine film. However, if you haven’t caught up to her Columbia loan-out GIRLS’ SCHOOL (John Brahm), try to track it down. The film all but defines the term “economy of expression.”

    Then, on behalf of all I thank you for the Arness tribute. And, if all of that “Gunsmoke” is readily available, may I suggest that seasons 7, 8 & 9 are as consistently brilliant as anything else you could name from 20th century American television. And I limit it to 20th century only because I am generally unfamiliar with most of the more recent shows which many here are enthusiastic about.

  • Some recommended GUNSMOKE episodes, with James Arness in sizable roles:

    Season 10, episode 16: CHIEF JOSEPH (Mark Rydell) Powerful drama, not much visual style.
    Season 10, episode 15: ONE KILLER ON ICE (Joseph H. Lewis) Lots of style, less drama!

    Both are available for streaming on Netflix.

  • Richard Cady

    In southeastern New England where I grew up in the ’50s and early ’60s, you could watch the Golden Age output of each of the Hollywood studios on different TV channels: Fox and RKO on Channel 10, Paramount on Channel 4, M-G-M on Channel 5, etc. It was the greatest movie education I’ve ever had. Now, with our modern technology, I can catch up with a lot of what I saw back then minus the commercials, cuts and censored prints – mostly in the correct aspect ratios. It’s another kind of education and as entertaining in its way as seeing those movies 50+ years ago.

  • jbryant

    Barry, are you referring to the Academy Award nominated GIRLS’ SCHOOL (Best Original Score-1938)? I must have missed that one. I think I’d remember it, since that cutie Nan Grey is in it, too (reunited with her DRACULA’S DAUGHTER co-star Gloria Holden). I really like John Brahm’s THE LOCKET, so I’ll keep an eye out for this one (though I’m sure the similarities are few). Anne Shirley isn’t well remembered (retired from the screen in 1944 and appeared in very few “A” pictures), but I just love her. Really bummed me out when she died just a few months after I moved to L.A. in ’93. I’ve still got the obit somewhere.

    Thanks for the GUNSMOKE tips (you too, Mike). I had been wondering where to dip in. Coincidentally enough, I’ve been catching a few minutes here and there of GUNSMOKE over the last couple of weeks on Encore Westerns. I watched the show sporadically growing up, but it never quite grabbed me the way that THE RIFLEMAN and HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL did, since it lacked the former’s kid appeal and the latter’s cool-as-hell protagonist. But I think I’d really like it as an adult. Matt Dillon didn’t have a forceful personality, but he made up with a sort of straightforward, soft spoken authority that I find appealing. Though Arness was Wayne’s protege, he was by no means a clone.

  • Barry Putterman

    Yup, that’s the one jbryant. Like I always say, those Academy fellas such know their onions. It won’t necessarily be easy to find. Columbia 30s Bs don’t turn up every day even on Turner. But if you do catch up to it, be prepared for a very different Gloria Holden. Didn’t Anne Shirley marry somebody of distinction? Somehow the name Charles Lederer sticks in my mind.

    Nope, there’s no kid appeal or cool-as-hell protagonist in “Gunsmoke.” In fact, in a very complex way, there is no central presence to the series at all. Which is one of the very quietly radical things about it. But if you do start tuning in, be prepared to shed tears. The episodes play like a hundred different variations on the themes of THEY LIVE BY NIGHT.

  • Stephen, but we do care!

    I think you got hip (it’s not “went hip”, is it?) exactly at the time when you started to love movies.
    It’s always fascinating to hear about other people’s first love experiences!

  • jbryant

    Barry, actually, all 3 of Anne Shirley’s husbands were “of distinction.” Number one was John Payne, number two was writer/producer Adrian Scott (one of the Hollywood Ten), and number three was Lederer. I believe in later years, she dated Dean Martin, but I can’t remember where I heard or read that.

    Oh, and of course Lederer wrote the screenplay for THE THING, in which James Arness played the title role.

  • Robert Garrick

    The thing about Anne Shirley is that she made her signature film (“Murder My Sweet”) at age 26–she is unforgettable in it–and she never appeared in another movie, though she lived another fifty years. Can anyone here think of another career like that? She just quit, at the top of her game, and at a young age.

    (Greta Garbo was 36 when she walked away from it all, after “Two-Faced Woman.”)

    Barry was right (as usual): Shirley had her longest marriage to Charles Lederer, which ended with his death in 1976, but she was also married (for three years) to John Payne, an actor who, Dick Powell style, graduated from sappy musical roles to hardboiled noir material (“Kansas City Confidential,” “99 River Street”). And there was a third marriage, in the middle, to Adrian Scott, who had produced “Murder My Sweet.” Scott was ultimately imprisoned as one of the Hollywood Ten, as was the film’s director, Edward Dmytryck.

    Finally, Anne Shirley was the grandmother of Katharine Towne (Robert Towne’s daughter), who had a small but memorable role (as a sexually aggressive secretary) in “Mulholland Drive,” and who had another small but memorable role (as a sex addict) in “Blades of Glory.”

  • Stephen Bowie

    Thank you, Hannu. I dunno, though. I first “watched” the 1959 BEN-HUR (letterboxed, no less!) on a 13″ TV in my bedroom during high school, which makes me wonder if there aren’t acts of cluelessness unforgivable even for a teenaged movie nerd.

    As long as we’re doing Anne Shirley’s genealogy, her daughter by John Payne, Julie Payne, was (obviously) Robert Towne’s lady for a while, and told me she did much of the historical research for CHINATOWN. Prior to that, she was a teen actress for a while (but she’s not the same Julie Payne who was a busy character actress in the 80s-90s). I forget now why I tracked her down eons ago, but she was really nice.

  • jbryant

    Robert, I guess our posts crossed, but I’m glad you mentioned Katharine Towne, whom I also remember from her blink-and-you-missed-it NBC sitcom, M.Y.O.B. I thought she might break out, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen an explanation for Shirley’s retirement. It pretty much coincides with divorcing Payne and marrying Scott. Perhaps Scott didn’t want her to work, or maybe she wanted to concentrate on raising Julie, who was 3 or 4 at the time. She married Lederer right after divorcing Scott, by which time she’d been off screen for five years (unless you count the pretty much forgotten MAKE MINE LAUGHS, which was cadged together from specialty act performances and bits of previous films, including a number with Shirley and Dennis O’Day from MUSIC IN MANHATTAN — Richard Fleischer co-directed!). Anyway, I would’ve loved to see her move into more mature parts. As you suggest, MURDER, MY SWEET was a tantalizing preview of what might have been.

    Stephen: I think I’ve mentioned it here before, but I first saw THE HUSTLER, which immediately became one of my favorite films, in all its pan-and-scan glory on a 9-inch TV in the middle of the night. It’s amazing what we could tolerate back then when we knew the only alternative was not to watch at all.

  • Robert Regan

    Two things might be of interest here.

    1) Does anyone remember listening to Gunsmoke on radio? The lead was the then too large for a tv hero William Conrad.

    2) My favorite Million Dollar Movie story: A dear friend named Judy was a MDM addict, especially loving King Kong. Throughout the fifties, she attended a parochial school where the children were repeatedly filled with stories of the atrocities committed by Communists on priests and nuns. “I was a little kid, and I didn’t know what Communists were. I just pictured the scariest men possible,” said Judy. One day in the seventies, she and I were watching King Kong, and when the “natives” first appeared, she shouted out, “Communists!”

  • Blake Lucas

    It doesn’t seem quite right to forget the director of THE HORSE SOLDIERS in this thread so just a reminder that Anne Shirley was most fetching as the ingenue/heroine of STEAMBOAT ‘ROUND THE BEND (1935). Of the people in this film, one probably will always think first of Will Rogers, Stepin’ Fetchit, Francis Ford and Berton Churchill (as “the new Moses”) for carrying the hilarious comedy of it, but that’s not its only element and Anne Shirley added a lot. A great Ford in my book.

    When GUNSMOKE came to the Western Channel a few years back I watched a fair number of those hour episodes and found myself almost startled by just how consistently bleak, rueful, sad, downbeat most of these stories were–was it the show’s great popularity, or something about the time of the early 60s, that encouraged them to go so far in that direction? Still, it’s not my memory that it came out of nowhere because I watched a lot of the half hours in the 50s, a loyal viewer as I’m recalling, and it definitely had a stark side then. I remember a show where Matt and Chester are pursuing the outlaws and finally find them and, out of sight of them, have them covered. Chester asked Matt “What are we going to do, Mister Dillon?” And Matt said “We’re going to kill them Chester.” Just barely surprised Chester nodded in assent as I recall and on Matt’s signal they open fire and simply shoot and kill all the outlaws.

    James Arness was fine in that role, and I’ll add he’s very good in his lead in GUN THE MAN DOWN. I’d always wanted to see it, partly because I think it’s right to take some interest in McLaglen, whatever his limitations, but also because it was an early script of Burt Kennedy following his first for SEVEN MEN FROM NOW. So when the DVD came out, on a whim and at a good price I just bought it. The low budget film is very good, with some inventive and effective direction by McLaglen and in a very different role as a revenge-bent guy Arness was excellent.

  • Arness was good in “Gunsmoke” and in his relatively few film roles, particularly in “Gun the Man Down” noted by Blake.

    To bring the discussion back to John Wayne, the two appeared together in the aforementioned “Island in the Sky” and “Big Jim McLain”. I read somewhere that Wayne had a hand in cultivating Arness’s career,