Saturday, April 30, 2011

Jack Benny in The Mouse that Jack Built (1959)

Obscurity factor: 6

In the 1950's, Jack Benny had a very popular television show and was a huge star from his work on radio and in film. At the time, Warner Brothers were experimenting with making animated versions of television stars - they had already done The Honey Mousers - and his sly, gentle style of comedy translates very well to the medium. In this short, we get to see Jack interact with Rochester, his butler and Mary his fiance, all as animated mice. They make plans to go out and are tricked into going to the Kit Kat Klub, a night club the household cat has set up inside his mouth.

These cartoons are fun examples of an alternate take on the popular culture of the day. The trend continued into the 60's with episodes of shows like The Flintstones featuring Samantha Stevens from Bewitched and, infamously, Ann Margrock. This short is available on the Looney Toons: Golden Collection, Volume 3 DVD.

Obscurity factor: 6 (available on DVD, somewhat forgotten)

Friday, April 29, 2011

David Niven, Helen Hayes & Jodie Foster in Candleshoe (1977)

Obscurity factor: 4

Yesterdays post on Fitzwilly reminded me of this film. David Nivin plays a character similar to Dick Van Dyke's Fitzwilliam. Lady St. Edmund (Hayes) is the owner of an English estate that consists of a beautiful house and grounds, but no money to run it. She gets by with the help of her butler Priory (Niven) and a house full of orphans. They sell the produce the estate produces. Meanwhile, crook Harry Bundage (Leo McKern) believes that a great deal of money is hidden in the estate somewhere and sets out to steal it by enlisting the help of American street urchin Casey (Foster), who poses as Lady St. Edmund's long, lost grandmother. Of course, the rough and tumble Casey has a hard time adjusting to life on a country estate and is down with Harry's plan, until she's won over by the good hearted people of Candleshoe. Will they find the fortune before the estate is lost to back taxes? Will they foil Bundage's attempts to purloin it?

Candleshoe is one of those Disney films that tried to be entertainment for both adults and children. It's moderately successful on both those fronts. There are some tough moments for Casey that smaller children will find uncomfortable to watch and it's touch and go up to the very last moment as to whether the bad guys will win. The performances are nicely crafted and it's fun to see David Niven playing so many different types, even if the circumstances are a bit ginned up.

This film is available on DVD, though it's out of print. Above is a television spot for it, uploaded to YouTube by permvw. Turn up your speakers - the sound is low. The poster above is available from

Obscurity factor: 4 (on DVD, known to Disney-o-philes and Jodie Foster fans)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dick Van Dyke & Barbara Feldon in Fitzwilly (1968)

Obscurity factor: 8

Heiress Miss Victoria Woodworth (Dame Edith Evans) lives a comfortable life in the family home and wants for nothing. This is entirely due to the larcenous efforts of her staff, headed by her butler, Fitzwilly (Dick Van Dyke), because her father left her only $200. She is kept blissfully unaware of this fact, however. This house of cards is poised to come tumbling down when Miss Vicky hires Juliet Nowell (Feldon) as her personal assistant. She inadvertently foils several plots and puts the household in debt. To make up the balance Fitzwilly devises a plot to rob Gimbles department store of it's entire Christmas Eve revenue. Will they pull it off, and will the burgeoning romance between Fitzwilly and Juliet survive?
This is one of those frenetic 60's comedies with great cast of character actors including Ms. Evans, Norman Fell and Cecil Kellaway. It's not available on DVD, and there is absolutely no video of it available online that I can find. It appears to have been scrubbed, which may mean a DVD release is imminent...

Obscurity factor: 8 (not on DVD, not available on the web)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Barbara Stanwyck & Gig Young in The Gay Sisters (1942)

Obscurity factor: 7

The title of this film is a bit of an intentional misnomer. These sisters are anything but gay - in any sense of the word. Susanna Gaylord (Nancy Coleman) is drearily trying to find happiness after a 4 hour marriage the groom refuses to annul, Evelyn Gaylord (Geraldine Fitzgerald) is bitter and spiteful and Fiona Gaylord (Stanwyck) is hard as nails and completely unforgiving. They've been orphans (albeit rich ones) since they were children, and the estate their father left them has been in probate for 20 years. It's being held up by developer Charles Barclay (George Brent) who wants to buy the family mansion, tear it down and build a complex. Fiona refuses to sell and the standoff has been a stalemate. Of course there's more to this than real estate. There's more to the relationship between Fiona and Charles than meets the eye...

This super soaper is the film that gave Gig Young his name. He plays an artist who forms the sticky point of a love triangle between Susanna and Evelyn. Warner Brothers decided after casting him in this film that he should take the characters name professionally. It's sort of odd to hear the character referred to by name so often in the film (And they do it endlessly, using both given and surname so it almost seems like a parody) knowing that since then, the name also refers to the actor.

The Gay Sisters has yet to be released on DVD, though it can be watched in its entirety on YouTube, thanks to an upload by heapsoflovenozomi. Part 1 is above. It's also occasionally screened on TCM, which is where I saw it. The poster above is available at

Obscurity factor: 7 (not on DVD, mostly unknown to the general public)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Carol Kane in Hester Street (1975)

Obscurity factor: 6

In the late 1800's, Gitl (Carol Kane) is coming to America from the old country to reunite with her husband (Steven Keats). Upon joining him in New York's lower east side she finds him a changed man, one who she is unable to relate to. As she tries to cope with a new way of life, raise their son and assimilate into a new culture she finds the tenuous bonds of her marriage stretched to their limits.

This charming film was a labor of love for director Joan Micklin Silver and it shows. It's simplicity and honest portrayal of the life of immigrants in America at the turn of the last century is beautifully researched and rendered. It's also a good lesson in staying true to your vision - distributors were less than enthusiastic about the prospects of this film, believing it would only have a market in synagogues and ethnic communities. The producer, Raphael D. Silver, discouraged by the response and against the advice of everyone decided to self-distribute. Imagine his surprise and joy when his job became an easy one of fielding offers after Carol Kane was nominated for an Oscar for her performance. Look for Doris Roberts in the cast as well.

This film is available on DVD, and can be watched instantly on Amazon and Netflix. Above is a scene from the film uploaded to YouTube by paikov. The poster above is available from

Obscurity factor: 6 (known to film buffs, Oscar nominated, available on DVD, largely unknown to the general public)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Madeline Kahn in Chameleon (1986)

Obscurity factor: 10+

One of my favorite performers is Madeline Kahn. She was the subject of the first post on this blog in The Dove. Her comic timing and delivery was second to none, and she was also a classically trained singer. Her film roles, beginning with my favorite film, What's Up Doc, were many, varied and always left an impression. She also left her mark in television, but never found success with her own situation comedy, though she tried twice, that I know of. Her first attempt was in 1983 with Oh, Madeline and her second was this series called Chameleon. In it she plays Violet, a girl who is chronically board with working. She takes and leaves jobs at the drop of a pay check. In this pilot, she's concerned about her mother, who she's afraid is being taken at a weight clinic. So, after abandoning her latest job at a vet, she attempts to get an egomaniacal consumer advocate (George Wyner) to investigate by hilariously bluffing her way into his office. The bluff doesn't work, but it's witnessed by the owner of the station (Henry Jones) who says that if she investigates the clinic herself and finds they're bilking the public he'll personally guarantee that they'll air it on the show. Will she land the job of her dreams?

Chameleon was a summer replacement series, and came and went very quickly. So few people remember it that it isn't even listed on IMDB. It's not available on DVD and to my knowledge, can only be seen on YouTube thanks to an upload by lobbiesforme. Above is part one of the pilot.

Obscurity factor: 10+ (not on DVD, largely forgotten, not listed on IMDB)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Richard Benjamin in Quark (1977)

Obscurity factor: 8

In the year 2222, Adam Quark (Benjamin) is an officer of the United Galaxies. He commands a ship with a crew of 6 and travels the Universe protecting the Federation from Gorgons, bedding princesses, fighting evil and... collecting garbage. Though he and his crew are often charged with important duties, his charter is part of the Sanitation Patrol. His crew consists of Ficus (Richard Kelton), a Vegeton - sort of an ambulatory, plant in human form, Gene/Jean (Timothy Thomerson) - a transmute with a full set of male and female chromosomes (leading him to exhibit either hyper masculine or stereotypically feminine behavior), Betty and Betty (The Barnstable twins, better known as the Doublemint Twins), a beautiful blonde and her exact clone (both of them have the hots for Adam and neither will admit to being the clone) and Andy, the android, made from spare parts and chronically chicken. They are based out of Perma One, a space station run by Otto Palindrome (Conrad Janus) and overseen by The Head (Alan Caillou), a disembodied head with an enormous skull and very long eyebrows who only appears on communication screens.
Adam Quark with The Bettys (image courtesy of Wikipeadia)
Each week (for the 8 weeks the series was on) found the crew on another strange mission, most of which were vaguely familiar. The plots were parodies of iconic sci-fi films and television episodes including 2001, Star Wars, Star Trek and Flash Gordon. The cast does a nice job of making the characters likable, though many of the situations and much of the dialog is silly. The Barnstable twins are extremely good at looking gorgeous and speaking in unison, but not much else, Tim Thomerson is very sexy in a skin tight denim jump suit and Richard Benjamin holds it all together and manages to make the silly situations fun and enjoyable. Guest stars include Joan Van Ark and Barbara Rhodes.

The series was released on DVD a few years ago. Above is part one of May the Source Be With You uploaded to YouTube by quarkscow.

Obscurity factor: 8 (available on DVD, largely forgotten mid-season replacement series)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Spotlight on Mel Blanc

Mel Blanc, the man of 1000 voices was truly a force of nature. He worked steadily for over 60 years in radio, film and television, and at one point it was estimated that over 2 million people heard his voice every single day. His early career was spent in radio, working with such luminaries as Jack Benny and eventually transitioned into voice work for animation. He is, of course, best known as the voice of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Yosemite Sam, but few people would know his face. His long career at the top of the voice acting field gave him few opportunities to show it. Below are a few clips of him in the flesh.

This is part two of an episode of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis from 1959. Mel plays Mr. Zigler, the tailor. Also look for Warren Beatty. It was uploaded to YouTube by Matthias1949.

Here's Mel, capitalizing on his little known face in a 1970's American Express television commercial, uploaded by blegume.

Of course, I couldn't leave you without an example of his voice work. Here's Mel doing what he was known best for. In Duck Amuck, uploaded by Sephraith21000, he plays both Daffy and Bugs.

There is so much about Mel Blanc on the internet. He continues to be an inspiration to young vocal talent today. If you're interested you can find out all about him on IMDB and Wikipedia, and if you haven't had enough of his work, here's the link to a little seen film he did for the Dallas Freeway System back in 1970. Jack Benny once said "There are only five real people in Hollywood. Everybody else is Mel Blanc." That just might have been true.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Joan Crawford in No More Ladies (1935)

Obscurity factor: 7

Joan Crawford went through various phases in her remarkably long career - the free spirited flapper, the, the no nonsense woman who got what she was after... This film is from her later MGM period - the young society woman phase. Joan plays Marcia, a glamorous, rich young woman who is in love with Sherry (Robert Montgomery), who's a bit of a heel. She's not happy with the situation and knows the odds are against her when she sets her mind to marry him. Her grandmother (Edna May Oliver) sees what's happening, but short of giving advice, must look on, helpless. Everyone tries to convince her to break it off, including Jim, the ex husband of a woman he had an affair with (Franchot Tone).  After they're married things seem to go well, until a fateful weekend when Sherry stands her up on the weekend they were supposed to spend together. Marcia is crestfallen, but rallies to make her point by inviting Jim and his ex wife and her new husband as well as the girl who he stepped out on her with to the country for a weekend party. As you can imagine, fur flies.

No More Ladies is a good example the myriad films about the ins and outs of society relationships in the 1930's. It's beautifully art directed with magnificent, if slightly understated art deco sets and beautiful costumes. I'm always somewhat bemused by Joan when she plays this sort of role. It's so different from the Joan we all think of today. Edna May Oliver is delightful as usual and beautifully turned out and Franchot Tone is just gorgeous. It's no wonder Joan married him. Though this isn't a masterpiece, it's still a delightful throwback to the era, and a nice evening's diversion.

This film was recently released on DVD, thanks to TCM. The trailer is above, uploaded to YouTube by skipjacktuner. The poster above is available from

Obscurity factor: 7 (Lost in the shuffle of similar films from the era, available on DVD)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Shirley MacLaine in What a Way to Go! 1964

Obscurity factor: 2

Yesterday, when I wrote about Penelope (1966), it reminded me of this film. It's a strange film for this blog because it is both obscure and notorious at the same time. It is, in my opinion, such a bad film it's almost unwatchable, however it's also got so many stellar actors in it, and the production values are so high that the colossal failure of it is truly fascinating. Shirley MacLaine plays Louisa May Foster - a woman who has a curious effect on men. She falls in love with them, marries them and they become instantly successful beyond their wildest dreams, then drop dead.

The men in Louisa's life are played by Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Bob Cummings and Dean Martin. Her wardrobe was designed by Edith Head (as was Natalie Wood's in Penelope) and according to the trailer below cost around $500,000 - in 1964! It really is one of the most outrageous films to look at, though much better without the sound, in my opinion. Look for Margaret Dumont in the role of Louisa's mother and scan the dancers in the shipboard number for Teri Garr.

This film is available on DVD. It was released in 2005 and it has quite a cult following with lots of reviews on Amazon. The trailer above is uploaded to YouTube by nerdletta. The fabulous poster above is from the Polish release and is available at

Obscurity factor: 2 (available on DVD, has a big cult following, unknown generally to anyone who didn't live through the marketing campaign)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Natalie Wood in Penelope (1966)

Obscurity factor: 8

Penelope is bored, and feels neglected by her banker husband (Ian Bannen), so she decides to rob his bank. Wouldn't you? Okay, maybe you wouldn't, but then you're not Natalie Wood. Penelope is a kooky girl - a kleptomaniac who has been pilfering things since college. She sees a therapist about it (Dick Shawn) and eventually decides to make a clean breast of it and confess. The problem is nobody believes her!

While not brilliant, this light comedy is lots of fun for a number of reasons. The cast features some great character actors - Peter Falk, Lou Jacobi, Jonathan Winters, Arlene Golonka - and the delivery is bright and quick. Penelope wears some gorgeous clothes and looks glamorous throughout - even when she forgets her shoes, which she does often. Edith Head did the wardrobe for the film and they even produced a short about the fashions narrated by Ms. Head. Look for it occasionally on TCM.

Penelope isn't available on DVD yet, but you can watch it in full on YouTube. It was uploaded by stephsayss. The poster above, with the suggestive money bags is available at

Obscurity factor 8 (not on DVD, available on YouTube, largely forgotten, occasionally aired on TCM)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

John Cryer in Hiding Out (1987)

Obscurity factor: 3

For those of you who grew up in the 80's, this film will probably be familiar. Though it was never a huge blockbuster, it did good business and got a lot of air play on TV in the 90's. It has a definite "B" quality to it, not because of any lack of production values or sub-standard acting. On the contrary, it's a very nicely done film with good performances and direction. It could be the fact that the stars are more known for playing second leads in other films. Andrew Morenski (Cryer) is a successful young stock broker, who has, through no fault of his own, become mixed up with the Mob. He's set to testify against them, but things get out of control while he's waiting and after a shootout at a diner, he finds himself on the run. While attempting to make contact with his aunt - a school nurse - he is mistaken for a high school student and he decides it's the perfect place to hide out. Of course nothing is ever as easy as it first seems and he gets himself in all sorts of sticky situations - including falling in love with a fellow student (Annabeth Gish).
The suspense is well managed, and the interpersonal scenes between the main characters are nicely nuanced, though, as is par-for-the-course for high school comedies of the time, many of the characters are pretty one dimensional. Look for saucy Joy Behar, with an extremely strange hair style in a small part as a counter waitress.

This film is available on DVD, and can be rented to be watched online at YouTube. The trailer is above, uploaded to YouTube by Lionsgate. The very cool, 80's meets 50's jazz club poster above is available from

Obscurity factor: 3 (available on DVD and to rent at YouTube, known to 80's-ophiles)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ava Gardner & Gregory Peck in On The Beach (1959)

Obscurity factor: 3

Now to be honest, this film is borderline for this blog. It was a very big film at the time of its release, and Ava Gardner's first film after her contract ended with MGM. It was also directed by Stanley Kramer, who is no slouch, so students of film have known and studied this film in depth. If you weren't around when it was released and you're not a film student, then you might not have heard of it before.
American Captain Dwight Lional Towers (Gregory Peck) and his crew pilot their submarine into Melbourne harbor after a nuclear conflict that has wiped out the rest of the world. All that's left of the world population is in Australia. The Australian citizens are getting on as best they can and the government is trying to calculate if and when the nuclear fallout will reach them.  Captain Towers, his crew and a scientist (Fred Astaire) are charged with testing a theory about the radiation abating at the north pole, but not until Dwight is introduced to Moira (Gardner) by a new Australian crew member (Anthony Perkins) Moira, an Australian native, tries to help Dwight come to terms with his family's death. As they set out on their voyage disappointments await them at the north pole, down the west coast of the United States and upon returning to Melbourne.

In the scene above, uploaded to YouTube by slaxor, Julian explains to the crew his thoughts on how the conflict started. This film is available on DVD and can be seen frequently on TCM. The poster above is available at

Obscurity factor: 3 (known to film buffs, somewhat forgotten otherwise)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Peter O'Toole & Barbara Hershey in The Stunt Man (1980)

A conundrum wrapped in an enigma. That's what The Stunt Man is like. Cameron (Steve Railsback) is on the run from the police. He's able to elude them, only to find himself caught up in the middle of a World War I film shoot. Due to a misunderstanding he causes the death of one of the film's stunt men and stumbles away unnoticed, only to encounter the shoot at a different location. The director, Eli Cross (O'Toole) notices him and is able to put two and two together, discovering that he's on the lamb, and he was the cause of the accident earlier. He offers Cameron a job as stuntman to replace the man who has just died, then proceeds to torment and toy with his new protege mercilessly.
This film is a strange mix of high minded ideals, superb acting, raunchy, base visuals and effects and strange homosexual overtones. It's obvious that Eli is very accomplished. He's able to marshal the forces of his crew, the local police and just about anyone else within hearing distance of him and he uses any and every dirty, inappropriate and unsavory trick he can devise to get the performance he wants from his actors. At the same time, they're shooting the picture at the Hotel Del in San Diego and trying to make it look like Europe. The whole effect is skewed - is Eli a brilliant director or is he a hack? Hollywood loves to see itself satirized, and this film definitely aims at that, however, the choreography of the action sequences is so far removed from how they would actually be done that it comes off as somewhat clueless. It's entirely possible that these discordant elements are fully intentional and they do support the surreal quality of the film. Peter O'Toole gives a magnificent performance as the director and was nominated for an academy award for it. Steve Railsback is also very powerful in the part of the fugitive/stuntman.

This film is available on DVD, though it seems to be out of print, so copies are a bit pricey. The trailer for it is above, uploaded to YouTube by FanOfMovies123. The poster above is featured at  The Imp Awards.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mel Blanc in Martian Through Georgia (1962)

Obscurity factor: 6

Warner Brothers cartoons of the 1960's (and those of other studio's, for that matter) tend to be more obscure for some reason. I guess they weren't given as heavy air play as the earlier ones were on Saturday mornings. This one is one that I had never seen, but find quite charming. Somewhere way out in space there is a world where the beings are very advanced - so advanced that they've eliminated all conflicts and are a divinely happy race. In that culture, however, is one martian who is bored with it all. His doctor recommends travel to alleviate his boredom, so he head out into space and happens upon earth. He decides to bestow upon the earthlings the gifts his advanced society has to give, however once he's landed he's branded as an alien monster.

The voices in this short are by the talented Mel Blanc and the short is directed by the equally talented Chuck Jones. It's available on DVD in the Looney Toons Golden Collection, volume 6. It can also be watched on YouTube thanks to an upload by Sanek1994.

Obscurity factor: 6 (available on DVD, not well known)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pamela Tiffen & Karl Malden in Come Fly with Me (1963)

Obscurity factor: 5

Fly high with the fun girls of Polar Atlantic Airways! These three girls (Pamela Tiffen, Lois Nettleton and Dolores Hart) are foot loose and fancy free on the New York, Paris, Vienna route. They each meet a special someone and each go through turbulence with them in the high flying world of being an airline stewardess. Carol (Tiffen) falls in love with a co-pilot (Hugh O'Brian), Donna (Hart) with an Austrian baron who turns out to be a smuggler and Hilda (Nettleton) with a shy, unassuming millionaire who flies coach (Malden). Will these girls be able to make their romances work when the wheels are on the ground?

This film is beautifully shot in New York and Europe and though the story is stock and soapy (sort of a high flying The Best of Everything without the suicide) the performances are charming and the characters are enjoyable. For those of you who know New York's Kennedy Airport, look for it in its architectural hey day during the opening credits.

This was the first of the films to glamorize the lives of stewardesses in the 1960's. It's somewhat known for that distinction. It's not available on DVD yet, and somewhat hard to find. You can, however, watch the whole film on YouTube. Part one is above, uploaded by heapsoflovenozomi. The poster above is available at

Obscurity factor: 5 (known for being a "first", not on DVD, otherwise obscure, available on YouTube)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bob Cummings & Julie Newmar in My Living Doll (1964)

Obscurity factor: 7

When it comes to silly 1960's sit-coms, this one is notorious, though few people have seen it. Bob Cummings plays Dr. Bob McDonald, a psychologist working with NASA who takes over custody of Rhoda (Julie Newmar) the ultra glamorous robot invented by his friend, when said friend is reassigned to Pakistan. Dr. McDonald is charged with educating Rhoda in how to blend into society. The catch is that no one, not even the higher-ups at NASA know that Rhoda exists. In the episode below Dr. Bob must keep Rhoda from spilling the beans to his boss when he unexpectedly shows up at his apartment. This is complicated by the fact that Rhoda has been malfunctioning because of a dose of the mathematical rhymes in Alice in Wonderland.

The series, which was created by the same team as My Favorite Martian, ran for 26 episodes, but failed to perform as expected and was canceled after one season. The first of two parts of episode #3 is above, uploaded to Daily Motion by wwevideo007. The series is not available on DVD, and is difficult to find online. An interesting bit of trivia - The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang notes that the slang phrase "does not compute" originated with this series.

Obscurity factor: 7 (Known to fans of classic TV, but rarely screened and difficult to find)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Katherine Hepburn in Olly Olly Oxen Free (1978)

This charming film features the great Katherine Hepburn late in her career. She plays Miss Pudd, a junk dealer in a northern California town. Alby and Chris live in the same town. Alby lost his grandfather a year earlier. Alby's grandfather was quite a man in his day. He was a barnstormer, and used to sail a hot air balloon over carnivals and county fairs while performing feats of daring do. The boys have a plan to memorialize Alby's grandfather. On his birthday, they plan to launch his old hot air balloon. In order to do that they patronize Miss Pudd's junk yard. At first she's having none of it and tells them to leave, but when she finds out what they want to do, she's enchanted.

They become a team. Miss Pudd provides the boys with what they need to make the balloon work and the boys include her in their plans. One of the more delightful elements of the movie is the independence of the children. Parents are almost never seen. The film centers on the world of the kids. Below is Kate's monologue after the balloon runs away with them and she wonders if they'll ever get home.

This film is available on DVD (I rented it from Netflix), though very little video of it exists online. The above clip, uploaded by CardboardShoreline was all I could find aside from an interview with the prop master on the film, which is wonderful as well. It was also called The Great Balloon Adventure, as the poster above advertises it. The poster is available from I think I was one of the few kids to see this on its first release. It was shown in the midwest briefly in '78, then released in New York in 1981 but pulled rather quickly.

Obscurity factor: 8 (Rarely screened, even on first release, available on DVD, hard to find online)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jack Lemmon in Avanti (1972)

In this Billy Wilder comedy we find Wendell Armbruster Jr. (Jack Lemmon) heading to the Amalfi coast to claim the remains of his father who died in an automobile accident. When he arrives he discovers that his father wasn't alone in the car - he was with his British mistress of 10 years and her daughter (Juliet Mills) is also there to claim her remains. Through a series of mishaps and bureaucratic snafus in claiming their relatives, the couple is thrown together for several days and they begin to fall in love. However, Wendell's puritanical personality is a major obstacle they must overcome if anything is to come of it.

Though not one of Wilder's great films, there's a good deal of charm to be had in Avanti! The chemistry between Lemmon and Mills is delightful and the setting is magnificent.

Avanti! is not a well known film in its own right, but its being a Wilder film gives it some notoriety. It's available on DVD and can be watched in its entirety on YouTube. Part one is above, uploaded by vaFFamBuco. The poster above is available at

Obscurity factor: 4 (known to Wilder fans, available on DVD)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry (1950)

Obscurity factor: 2

In some ways this is the ultimate composite Joan Crawford film. In it she gets to go through the full range of styles and emotions from the films of her Warner Bros. pictures - grief, hard-as-nails determination, shame, sophistication, passion... Ethel Whitehead lives a bleak existence amongst oil derricks and poverty. She and her husband and son share a home with her doting mother and heartless father. When she decides to buy her son a bike it touches off a familiar argument with her husband, who is sensitive of not being able to provide more than the basic essentials for his family. When the son is killed it effectively breaks the bond between husband and wife and Ethel leaves to make her own way. She starts out as a model at a dress company, but, using men as her stepping stones, is able to scheme her way into the heart of an organized crime syndicate - and a glamorous life. She becomes Lorna Hansen Forbes, a fabulously wealthy oil heiress and lives a beautiful life. That is, until the syndicate boss decides to use her in his play to get the western territory back from a rebellious associate.

This film has a Mildred Pierce on steroids quality to it - the death of a child, the struggle to achieve, the realization that the top isn't all its cracked up to be... It's fun to see Joan play the scenes to the hilt, as usual and to see her go from know-nothing fit model to confident society woman.

This film has a big cult following among Crawford fans. It's available on DVD. The trailer is posted above, courtesy of felixxxx999 on YouTube. The poster above is available from

Obscurity factor: 2 (well known to Crawford fans, otherwise obscure, available on DVD)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

John Ritter & Harvey Korman in Americathon (1979)

Obscurity factor: 8

With the recent threat of a government shutdown, I thought this would be the perfect film to profile. It's about what was, at the time of this film's release, 19 years in the future -1998 and the USA is in trouble. The country is broke and has borrowed 4 billion dollars from its richest citizen, Sam Birdwater - a native American who is about to call in the debt. President Roosevelt (John Ritter), who is into EST and Scientology has decided that the best way to finance the debt repayment is to hold a 30 day telethon. Preparations for it begin with hiring the host - a former film star (Korman) who now has a successful television series called Mother & Father where he plays a gay father who works as a female impersonator. Undermining the effort is the president's assistant (Fred Willard) who is working with a united Arab-Jewish state Hebarab to make a grab for the country by buying it from San Birdwater when he repossess it.

What's remarkable about this film is not the plot or acting, both of which are passable, but the amazingly prescient predictions about future life. Among them are China embracing capitalism and becoming a world power, peak oil, native American wealth, the casualization of American fashion, the ascendancy of reality television, the acceptance of alternative lifestyles in popular culture and the rise of gold being touted on television as an alternative way to secure wealth. Inevitably they get a few things wrong as well, including predicting North Dakota as the first all gay state. Look for Richard Shcaal, veteran of MTM sitcoms and Valerie Harper's former husband as the vice president and cameos by Elvis Costello, Meatloaf, Tommy LaSorta, Howard Hessaman, Jay Leno and the Del Rubio Triplets.

This film, by Neal Israel, the director of Bachelor Party was just released on DVD in January of this year. It can also be see on Veho. Above is the trailer, uploaded to YouTube by wholmes. The poster above can be found at

Obscurity factor: 8 (Never screened, just available on DVD, largely forgotten)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dudley Moore & Ralph Richardson in The Bed Sitting Room (1969)

Obscurity factor: 7

This film is where theater of the absurd and the cold war threat of nuclear holocaust meet. It concerns the remaining citizens of London, who wander the ruins of the city after the Third World War (which lasted 2 minutes and 28 seconds, including the signing of the peace treaty). The effects of radiation on the few survivors have led to strange mutations. We meet the doctor, of sorts (Michael Hordern), who is treating a lord (Ralph Richardson) who is convinced he will become a bed sitting room. He eventually does. We also meet a family, living on a tube train. They leave to wander the ruins with the rest of the meager population. The mother (Mona Washbourne) turns into a cupboard, and the father, a parrot, who is eventually eaten by the other family members because of the food shortage. There is no shortage of irreverence and humor in this portrayal of a truly bleak subject. The point being that even after nuclear holocaust people will cling to the meaningless customs and habits of society. The brilliant visual and circumstantial gags that so artfully make that point include a wandering reporter (Frank Thornton) for the BBC who positions himself inside your hollowed out television set and proceeds to give the news, and policemen (Dudley Moore and Peter Cook) who attempt to keep everyone moving to avoid being targets in an unlikely followup attack.

There is no shortage of available information on this film, which has become the darling of film bloggers everywhere (count me among the guilty!). It's such a brilliant example of the off kilter British humor that became a hallmark of shows like Monte Python. It has certainly attained cult status. It is, however, still quite obscure in mainstream circles. The settings include recognizable landmarks of London as if they had been decimated and bleak expanses of rubble and sand meant to represent the center of the city. The conventions of the city, like the tube are used to great effect both for mood and comedy. Look for Rita Tushingham and a very beautiful, young Richard Warwick as the young couple and Marty Feldman as a male nurse.

This is hard to find on DVD, though it has been released in Great Britain by the BFI on both DVD and BlueRay. Above is the trailer, which was been uploaded to YouTube by BritHumor2. You can also see the full film on YouTube in the playlist linked to here:

Obscurity factor: 7 (on DVD, has cult following, otherwise virtually unknown)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Spotlight on Julian Eltinge

Most people don't know the name Julian Eltinge, even though there's a Broadway theater named after him. He's not, after all, Helen Hays. He was, however, a huge star in his day, and he became a star by impersonating women.
His career reportedly started with a cadet show in 1900. His break came when E.E. Rice took him under his wing and bought the rights to a British play (Mr. Wix of Wickham) for him. His reviews were particularly good and led to a vaudeville career. By 1910 he had become a top tier headliner and took to the boards in legitimate Broadway shows. His popularity brought about a Hollywood career as well. 1917 found him working with producer Jesse Lasky on such titles as The Countess Charming and Clever Mrs. Carfax. His success allowed him to build a palatial home in Hollywood called Villa Capistrano for himself and his mother. His success lasted through the end of the silent era and though he tried to make his way in a changing Hollywood, he never really found footing in the sound era. There are two known sound films that feature his talents - Maid to Order (1931) and he has a small part playing himself in If I Had My Way - a Bing Crosby vehicle. He died in 1941 at the age of 59. 
You can find lots of pictures of Julian Eltinge online. He was an extremely prolific model in service to the promotion of his career, but I've only been able to find one film of his. Above is The Isle of Love, uploaded to YouTube by The Huntly Film Archives. It's a 1922 feature starring Eltinge and Rudolph Valentino (with whom Julian Eltinge was rumored to have had an affair - though frankly, who wasn't?). It was originally filmed in 1918 and was conceived as a WWI spy picture, however before they could release it the armistice occurred, so it was shelved, re-cut and released as a Valentino vehicle after his success in The Sheik.

I first became fascinated by Julian Eltinge when I stumbled across The Julian Eltinge Project. Mark Berger has assembled a delightful trove of information on Eltinge. I highly recommend you take a look at the site. It's where most of my information for the profile has come from. My second encounter with Julian Eltinge came shortly after I discovered who he was. I ran across a postcard with a picture of his home. I was charmed by the coincidence and still have the postcard.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Audrey Hepburn & Ben Gazzara in They All Laughed (1981)

This film tells the story of a pair of detectives - John Russo (Gazarra) and Charles Rutledge (John Ritter) both assigned to follow supposedly unfaithful wives (Hepburn and Dorothy Stratten). Both fall in love with their quarries. The tenor of the film is very gentle and sweet with the characters all forming warm friendships with each other despite the curious circumstances. Unlike the usuall portrayal of New York City it's depicted as a town where people meet and instantly become friends, a place where understanding and human interaction trump circumstance an influence.

This is Peter Bogdanovich's favorite of his films, and has a real charm and warmth to it. It was not a success at the time of its release, partially because it was Dorothy Stratten's last film before she was murdered by her estranged husband. It was one of the films that spelled the death knell for director driven cinema in Hollywood. It's since been reappraised and is now thought of as a forgotten gem by many critics.

There was a 25th anniversary release of the film on DVD in 2006. It can also be seen online at, a Rumanian film site.

Obscurity factor: 5 (known in film circles, unknown to the general public. Available on DVD)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dick Van Dyke, James Garner & Ethel Merman in The Art of Love (1965)

Obscurity factor: 8

Paul Sloan (Dick Van Dyke) is a painter living in Paris. He rooms with his friend Casey (James Garner), a writer. Paul has become disenchanted with painting and has decided to go home to America and his rich fiance, Laurie (Angie Dickinson). Casey sees his meal ticket flying the coop, so he gets Paul drunk and they toy with the idea of faking his suicide to increase the value of his paintings. When Paul jumps off a bridge to save a girl, Nikki (Ekle Sommer) who jumps before him Casey thinks he's gone and done it. Of course Paul is fine and rescues the girl and they end up on a barge floating downstream. Casey is distraught, but not upset enough not to capitalize on the "posthumous" success of his paintings. When Paul turns up alive in their flat, Casey convinces him play dead and continue painting so they can rake in the loot. Things get more and more complicated as Nikki comes back and Laurie flies to Paris. Nikki falls in love with Paul and Casey and Laurie start to spark. Out of jealousy Paul decides to frame Casey for his murder.

This film is, by no means a great one, but there are moments of charm to be had. Ethel Merman plays Madame Coco, the owner of a nightclub where Paul hides out. She's her delectable self. James Garner throws a wonderful tantrum in a jail house scene, Carl Reiner plays a delightfully unctuous lawyer and there are historical and literary references threaded throuhgout - Toulouse Lautrec, Madame De Farge...

This film is available in its entirety on YouTube but has not been released on DVD. Above is part one, uploaded by jkcPhog2001.

Obscurity factor: 8 (largely forgotten, not on DVD, available on YouTube)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ingrid Bergman in From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1973)

Obscurity factor: 7

This film and the book it was based on are very fond memories from my childhood. Claudia Kincaid (Sally Prager) is dissatisfied with her life. She yearns for drama and glamor. So she enlists her brother Jamie (the one who is the best at saving his money) in a scheme to run away. Sally is no ordinary, run of the mill runaway though. She has a plan. She and her brother will become guests of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there, between bouts of sleeping in Marie Antoinette's bed and bathing in the reflecting pool in the restaurant they find themselves returning to look at a beautiful statue that was just given to the museum and has a great mystery attached to it. As they become more convinced they know the secret of the statue, it becomes imperative that they track down the reclusive donor, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Bergman).

This story was very empowering to me as a child. It celebrates the ingenuity children have innately and doesn't devolve into a sugary sweet story of frantic parents and wayward, helpless waifs. Look for Richard Mulligan and Madeline Kahn in small roles early on.

Though I could only find a small snippet worth watching online, you can get this film on DVD under it's European title - The Hideaways. Don't be fooled into buying the condensed 30 minute version under the original title, go for the full 105 minute original cut. Above is a delightful scene with Claudia and Jamie exploring the galleries of the museum uploaded to YouTube by phoenixfilmandvideo.

Obscurity factor: 7 (hard to find, a fond memory for children who grew up in the 70's, available on DVD)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lisa Hartman & Robert Urich in Tabitha (1976)

Obscurity factor: 7

Bewitched was quite a phenomenon in its time. It was hugely popular and continues to be an iconic American sitcom. That's why in 1976 it must have seemed a good idea to spin it off into a new series featuring daughter Tabitha, all grown up and on her own. Unfortunately, spinoffs of highly popular shows have a heavy burden to carry. The memory of the original show, deep pink with a rosy glow of fondness is frequently too much for the new show to live up to. That's part of the problem with Tabitha. If you loved Bewitched, then you want the show to be as good, if you didn't, then you probably wouldn't watch in the first place.

Lisa Hartman is Tabitha, all grown up and working in a television station in LA. Her brother Adam has gotten her a job as an administrative assistant to Paul Thurston, an egomaniacal television host, played by a young Robert Urich so gorgeous it makes you weak in the knees. She's frequently visited by her aunt Minerva (Karen Morrow) who is always meddling in her affairs with witchcraft. Adam, who takes after his father, doesn't like that. The show has a certain charm of its own, though the character development frequently blows in what ever direction the wind of the plot takes it and the story lines are at times more implausible than they should be. But it succeeds in the most important aspect of any sitcom - the characters are fun to watch and very likable. Lisa Hartman is also a real dish with an exquisite figure and hair that rivals Farrah's.

This section is a bit nit-picky, so if you're not that interested in trivia then skip it and go right to the video. There are some odd conceits carried over from the original series, but not until they're twisted on their ears. Minerva was never in the cast of the original series and it's odd that Samantha never mentioned having a sister. Adam, who acts more like an older brother than a younger one is presented as a mortal, not a warlock. This is vaguely plausible because the series never really developed the character of Adam, he was too young. There was an episode where his powers were tested and it was determined that he did have them, but Maurice (Samantha's father) helped him along a bit. The last oddity is the timing. The original series ended in 1972 and the new series in 1976 had Tabitha about 23 or 24 years old. Erin Murphy, who played Tabitha in the original show would have been 12 in 1976.

This series has recently been released on DVD and if you're a Bewitched fan it's worth a look, as long as you don't keep your expectations too high. Lisa Hartman sings a catchy theme on most of the episodes and look for Bewitched veterans Mr. & Mrs. Kravitz, Dr. Bombay and the drunk man that Darren always saw in that bar in various episodes. Above is the first installment of the pilot episode, uploaded to YouTube by 1970sFeel.

Obscurity factor: 7 (available on DVD, largely forgotten and known mostly to hard core Bewitched fans)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Helen Hayes & Myrna Loy in Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate (1971)

Obscurity factor: 9

Four bored Pasadena matrons (Hayes, Loy, Sylvia Sidney & Mildred Natwick) decide to amuse themselves by creating a fictitious woman on the rolls of a computer dating service. Their dalliance in the world of computer dating turns up three responses, a dull accountant, a smart-alec and a stalker. Mal Weston (Vince Edwards in a particularly creepy performance with a constant internal running dialog) becomes obsessed with their avatar Rebeca Mead and won't take no for an answer after he stakes out their home and scams their phone number out of an operator. He insists on meeting her at a cocktail lounge and the ladies go along to spy on him. They see him leave with a girl he thinks is Rebeca and the next day see her photo in the paper after she has been murdered. They (led by Hayes) decide to investigate! This made-for-TV movie resulted in a series of mystery movies of the week in rotation with the likes of McMillin & Wife called The Snoop Sisters starring Hayes and Natwick.

While The Snoop Sisters have made it to DVD, this film has yet to. It is, however available in full on YouTube, thanks to an upload by CDeanWatcher.

Obscurity factor: 9 (not on DVD, available on YouTube, largely forgotten)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Dr. N!godatu by M.K. Brown

Obscurity factor: 10

We all know that the mega-hit The Simpsons started out on Tracey Ullman's first show in the 1980's, but what many people don't remember is that The Simpsons shorts rotated with another series. Dr. Janice N!godatu was a psychotherapist with a calm, pleasant manner that always seemed to find herself in surreal circumstances. Some of those circumstances were very subtle and that gave the shorts a curious, intellectual quality. They were conceived and drawn by well known cartoonist, M.K. Brown. There were six four act shorts, plus two unreleased episodes. These little gems are hard to find now. Here is the first in the series. Dr. N!godatu wears her slippers to the office by mistake. In the second segment watch the plant on the filing cabinet. Also in these clips are classic sketches from the show.

Below is "Freeway" in which Janice goes shopping with her friend Pat. Pat doesn't drive on freeways, through tunnels or on bridges.

These shorts are very hard to find and as far as I can tell, no stand alone video of them exists. The segments above are uploaded to YouTube by TraceyUllman1111. You can find out more about Dr. N!godatu on this page, which has synopses of the episodes and screen shots.

Obscurity factor: 10 (relatively unknown, hard to find)

Friday, April 1, 2011

James Coburn & Raquel Welch in The Last of Sheila (1973)

Obscurity factor: 1

One night after a party at their home, Sheila Green, wife of film producer Clinton Green is killed in a hit and run accident. A year later, the guests from the party are invited for a week on Clinton's yacht. There's the script writer (Richard Benjamin) and his wife (Joan Hackett), the agent (Dyan Cannon), the starlet (Raquel Welch) and her manager (Ian McShane) and the director (James Mason). But a gathering organized by Clinton is never just a gathering - all the guests are to play a game. They're each given cards with a secret on them and must discover each others secret without letting their own be revealed. Each night there is a trip to shore with a clue given that leads to the answer to one of the secrets. What makes the guests uneasy is that each of the secrets relates to an incident in one of the guests lives. When the game leads to murder all bets are off!

This was on TCM last night. Its obscurity is dubious in that it's notorious for being written by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim. The plot is full of extremely clever twists and turns and you must watch closely to keep up with them all, but the film is, in some ways, a bit too clever for its own good.

It's available on DVD and can be watched instantly on Amazon. The trailer for it is above, uploaded to YouTube by Nederama. The poster above is available from

Obscurity factor: 1 (somewhat notorious, available on DVD)