Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ann Sheridan & Zachary Scott in The Unfaithful (1947)

Obscurity factor: 7

Chris Hunter (Sheridan) kills an intruder in her home late one evening while her husband (Scott) is out of town. When questioned by the police, she claims not to know him, but it's later discovered by her lawyer (Lew Ayres) that he - a sculpter - had done a bust of her and they had been having an affair. She schemes to keep the truth from her husband and beat the murder rap. Will she be able to?
On Friday I posted The Road Builder, a Patricia Neal film that had elements reminiscent of the Bette Davis vehicle, Now Voyager.  This film is a reworking of the Somerset Maugham, Bette Davis film, The Letter. It deviates from the original plot in a few key points, however and there are more misogynistic overtones to this version of the story, and that's saying quite a bit.

This film has been released on DVD through the Warner Bros. Archive Collection. The trailer is above, uploaded to YouTube by SkipJackTuner.

Obscurity factor: 7 (available on DVD, occasionally screened on TV, not high in the public consciousness)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tales of the Wizard of Oz (1961) & Return to Oz (1964)

Obscurity factor: 9

This animated series and subsequent special based on L. Frank Baum's characters was produced by Crawley Films, the animation studios that would eventually become Rankin/Bass. In the series, the characters, including Dorothy lived in Oz and went about their daily business, getting into scrapes and general hilarity. The episodes were shorts, running only 5 minutes or so.

Above is an episode entitled Get Out the Vote. Both the Tinman and Scarecrow run for office. The little red man in the hat is a munchkin.

The series led to an hour long television special called Return to Oz. The story is basically a retelling of the original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with nods to the characters previous history together. The series has yet to be released in DVD, but the special was released on 2006 and can still be found. The episode above was uploaded to YouTube by TheVenerableDrBranio and the opening credits for the special were uploaded by RoyalKidofOz.

Obscurity factor: 9 (Remembered by a small group of fans, otherwise largely forgotten)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Patricia Neal & Nicholas Clay in The Road Builder (1971)

Maura Prince (Neal) lives with her mother (Pamela Brown) in a decrepit old mansion, among the remains of their former wealth. Her mother is blind and dependent on her, but she has been cowed into submission by her mother's domineering will. Into this dynamic comes a strange young man (Clay). Billy is welcomed into the house by the mother against the wishes of Maura. Around the same time young, local women start to disappear. Though it seems that Maura's feelings are vindicated, it's too late for her - she's begun to fall in love with Billy. What will become of the two women living with this curious stranger?
This atmospheric film marks Neal's first after being nominated for The Subject Was Roses (1968). The screen play was penned by her husband, children's writer Roald Dahl. The plot has parallels to one of my favorite films, Now Voyager (1942), and is the first major film role for the beguiling Nicholas Clay, who you may remember as the as the charming Patrick Redfern in Evil Under the Sun (1982) or as Lancelot in Excalibur (1981).

Also known as The Night Digger, this film is recently available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection. The trailer is above, uploaded to YouTube by DVDFilmFun.

Obscurity factor: 9 (limited release, buried as a tax write off by the studio, on DVD)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Nancy Walker in Blansky's Beauties (1977)

Obscurity factor: 9

After her eponymous 1976 series (The Nancy Walker Show, produced by Norman Lear) tanked, Walker had just enough time to step into this mid-season replacement show (during the same season!) about the trials of putting together a Vegas show. The series was produced by Gary Marshall and featured actors who had made good on other series in his stable, including Eddie Mekka (Carmine Ragusa from Laverne and Shirley) and Scott Baio. There were lots of ties to Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, though the series was set in then present day Las Vegas - Eddie's character was Carmine's younger cousin, there were references to Laverne, Pat Morita joined the cast (he owned the drive-in in Happy Days) and Pinky Tuscadero even made an appearance.

Above is the show open with a short introduction that was aired only on the pilot. The series ran for 13 episodes and was then cancelled. Needless to say it hasn't made it to DVD.

Obscurity factor: 9 ( largely forgotten, occasionally aired on TV Land)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tim Matheson & Catherine Hicks in Tucker's Witch (1982)

Rick and Amanda Tucker (Matheson and Hicks) are detectives living and working in Los Angeles. They have a bit of an edge on the competition however; Amanda is a witch. Her powers of telekinesis, psychometry and her familiar, a cat named Dickens help her glean information and out fox the fatheads but frequently get her into hot water as well.

This series is more famous for what it wasn't, rather than what it was. It was originally shot with Kim Cattral in the lead role. After it was shot but before it aired Porky's was released and Kim's racy performance led the network to recast and reshoot the pilot episode and subsequent series with Hicks in the role.  It was a short sighted, misogynistic (Matheson was cast even though his role in Animal House had its raunchy moments) and somewhat boneheaded move, as it turned out. The series never found an audience with its new cast. If it would have with Cattral in the lead role is something we'll never know. Above is the first installment of episode one - The Good Witch of Laurel Canyon, uploaded to YouTube by ZTUBENY.

Obscurity factor: 9 (known more for circumstances surrounding it than the actual show, not on DVD)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Robert Hays & Pam Dawber in The Girl, The Gold Watch & Everything (1980)

Obscurity factor: 8

Based on a novel of the same name by John D. MacDonald, this TV movie tells the story of Kirby Winters (Hays) and the watch his wealthy uncle leaves him. It's no ordinary watch, however. With the press of a button, the person holding it is able to stop time and move freely in the limbo he's created. Once Kirby inherits the watch, he becomes target number one of his uncle's arch rivals Charla and Joseph, who scheme to find the source of the power he had. While on the run, Kirby meets Bonnie Lee (Dawber). She helps him foil the crooks and in the process they fall in love.

This film isn't available on DVD, nor is the sequel it inspired - The Girl, The Gold Watch & Dynamite (1981). It can be seen in full on YouTube, however. Installment one is above, uploaded by MorkandMindy333. If you're interested in film production methods, an account of some of the elements that went into putting it together can be found in Creative Producing from A to Z, by Myrl A. Schreibman who produced the film.

Obscurity factor: 8 (hard to find, not on DVD, available on YouTube, remembered by some)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Jean Worthley in Hodgepodge Lodge (1970)

Obscurity factor: 8

This public TV series from the 70's was instrumental in bringing the wonders of nature to children who didn't usually have the opportunity explore it. Produced by its host, Jean Worthley for Maryland public television, each week it featured a different aspect of nature, from pine cones to groundhogs. Jean was sort of like a naturalist Mr. Rogers with her quiet demeanor and kind way.

In the clip above, Miss Jean's friend Michael brings his pet groundhog in to show the other children. It's uploaded by Michael himself - MikeLuck1964. The series isn't available on DVD and there is little web video of it out there. It is remembered by many who were children in the 70's, however, like me.

Obscurity factor: 8 (not on DVD, hard to find, fondly remembered by kids of the era)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Red Buttons, Sylvia Miles & Sam Waterston in Who Killed Mary What's'er Name? (1971)

Obscurity factor: 10

This forgotten little film has some great talent in it. On his release from the hospital after going into insulin shock, Mickey (Red Buttons) goes straight to the scene of a crime no one else cares about - the murder of a hooker in lower Manhattan. As he tries to find out what happened he enlists the aid of an out of work insurance investigator (Conrad Bain), an avant gard film maker (Waterston) and his daughter, played with great aplomb by Alice Playton. He's not exactly welcome in the ghetto but the former boxing champ isn't discouraged easily. Along the way he meets Christina (Miles), another hooker, Boulting (David Doyle) a stock broker and Larry (Ron Carey) a bartender. But who is the culprit?
Though this film drags a little around the middle, it's great to see these performers early on in their careers. It's moody, dark and cornerish and shows a seedy side of the city that's virtually non-existant now.

It's not available on YouTube, it doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry. Above is the radio spot for it, along with some stills, uploaded by DIODT2008. It can be watched in its entirety on YouTube but the uploader has disabled embedding. Click the link for part 1:

Obscurity factor: 10 (virtually unknown today, not on DVD, can be watched on YouTube)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Madeline Kahn & Rita Moreno in Happy Birthday Gemini (1980)

Obscurity factor: 9

Today is (was) my birthday, so this particular film seems to fit the bill. It's a charming coming of age story about Francis Geminiani (Alan Rosenberg), the son of a gregarious, working class Italian father (Robert Viharo) living in South Philly. Francis is home for the summer from Harvard where he attends on scholarship. He's having some trouble dealing with the culture clash of Harvard vs. South Philly, so when two of his friends from school arrive for a few days unexpectedly he's not quite sure what to do about it. The neighbors are like family - Lucille (Moreno) is his father's girlfriend, and a prim motherly type, but she has a secret, Bunny Weinberger - nee Murphy (Kahn) is the single mother next door who used to be a chorus girl, her style is loud and obnoxious, but, like all the people in the film, her heart is huge. Her son Herschel (Timothy Jenkins) is awkward in oh, so many ways with his asthma, fascination with the history of public transportation and his eagerness to please. Into this mix comes Judith and Randy Hastings, two wealthy WASPs traveling the country on their summer vacation. Judith has a crush on Francis, but he can't return the favor because he thinks he has a crush on Randy.
Based on a play called Gemini by Albert Innaurato, this film has a lot of charm and good feelings to it. All the characters care a great deal about each other, even if they show it by shouting and hitting and the poignant coming of age of Francis is handled with a light touch.

The scene above is a turning point for Bunny. She's decided she's had enough and is going to end it all. It was uploaded to YouTube by rppr666. Disregard the incorrect aspect ratio. Madeline Kahn isn't fat in the film. This isn't available on DVD yet, but it was released on VHS and can still be found. It can also be watched in its entirety on YouTube, but the uploader has disabled embedding. Click this link to watch:

Obscurity factor: 9 (not well known, not on DVD, available on YouTube)

Friday, July 22, 2011

George Segal, Jacquline Bisset & Robert Morley in Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978)

Obscurity factor: 8

Natasha O'Brien (Bisset) is a world class pastry chef, one of only a handful of chefs honored with inclusion in "The World's Most Fabulous Meal" - a feature in Max Vandeveer's fine dining magazine. When the other chefs included in the feature begin dying in poetic ways associated with their famous dishes, her ex husband, Robby Ross (Segal), a fast food king, helps her find out why, and keeps her from being the next to be murdered.
This farcical film has a bright, quick pace and clever, witty dialog. It also has some rather horrific murders which ad a grim undertone to the comedy.

This film is recently available on DVD, though it's not a well produced version, from reviews I've seen. The television trailer is above, uploaded to YouTube by seanmc31076.

Obscurity factor: 8 (not well known, available on DVD, rarely screened on TV)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum & Jean Simmons in The Grass is Greener (1960)

Yesterday's film (Dream Wife, 1953) paired Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr and reminded me of this one, which also featured the pair. The Earl of Rhyall (Grant) and his wife the Countess (Kerr) are having trouble keeping up the family estate, so they begin offering tours of it for a fee. Charles Delacro (Mitchum) an American millionaire is one who takes the tour and finds more than just history in the house when he becomes smitten with the Countess. The Earl, in danger of losing his wife, invites Delacro down to the estate to stay with them, and also invites Hattie Durant (Simmons), a quirky American heiress of their acquaintance to join them in hopes of making his wife jealous. It's all very civilized, even when it comes to pistols at dawn.
This film was based on a successful play by Hugo Williams and Margaret Vyner and fared well in England but bombed in the US. It's got a certain sophisticated charm to it and farcical elements that are fun to watch.

It's available on DVD and can be occasionally seen on TV. It's also available to watch in full on YouTube. The scene above, uploaded by oakjackson is a brilliant piece of choreography and kind of sums up the circumstance.

Obscurity factor: 4 (available on DVD, in the public consciousness because of occasional TV screenings)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cary Grant & Deborah Kerr in Dream Wife (1953)

Obscurity factor: 6

TCM has programmed a series of films this month on the portrayal of people from the nations of the middle-east, and last night they featured this film. It's certainly interesting in its skewed portrayal of middle-eastern royalty, but that's not what I found fascinating about it. Unlike many films of its kind it features a very strong career woman, Pricilla Effington (Kerr) who works for the state department. She's in a relationship with ad man Clem Reade (Grant) who objects to her career taking her away from her future duties as a wife. After a big blow-up they break off their engagement and, on the rebound, Clem proposes marriage to Tarji, a beautiful young middle-eastern princess of his acquaintance who "has been trained with 5000 years of tradition" to serve her man's every whim.

Of course the expected culture clash ensues, but what's remarkable about the film is how Kerr's character fares by comparison. In other films of the era she would have "discovered" that sublimating her own desires and ambitions to her husband's wishes was the most fulfilling path she could pursue. Not so in this film. Effie's skills as a diplomat actually save the day and she triumphs at the end, not having to compromise that part of herself for a relationship. It's not a brilliant film (the reception of it convinced  Cary Grant to retire from films for two years), but it is uncharacteristic of the era and a nice foreshadowing of the woman's movement to come. Look for Walter Pidgeon as an official that works with Kerr at the State Department.

This film is available on DVD, and though obscure has been screened on TV, thanks to TCM. The trailer for it is above, uploaded to YouTube by skipjacktuner.

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

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Meredith Baxter & Doris Day in Young Love (1971)

In 1971 this series pilot was incorporated into The Doris Day Show as an episode. It had been produced by Doris' production company as a stand-alone series pilot, but failed to be picked up. It tells the story of a young married couple (Baxter and Michael Burns) coping with the unexpected news of a pregnancy.

It's interesting to see Baxter so young here. This was her second screen credit. It's available on the Doris Day season 3 DVD set as the episode of the series but also in its original form as a pilot as a DVD extra. Look for Dick Van Patten as Baxter's father.

Obscurity factor: 9 (available on DVD, largely forgotten)

Monday, July 18, 2011

George C. Scott in Hardcore (1979)

Jake Van Dorn is a conservative business man and single father living in the midwest. When his only daughter Kristen goes missing on a church trip to California and the local authorities can't find her he takes it upon himself to locate her and in the process gets sucked into the seedy world of pornography.

This film takes an unflinching look at a head-on collision between two completely incompatible factions of American society, and like fire and gasoline the results are explosive. Scott's performance in the film is raw and visceral, his frustration and anguish is palpable. This is Paul Schrader's second film as a director after having written Scorsese's Taxi Driver 3 years earlier. The two films share a gritty quality and bleak outlook.

This film is available on DVD. It's remained obscure most likely because of its subject matter which still remains taboo. The television trailer for it is above, uploaded to YouTube by robatsea2009.

Obscurity factor: 8 (largely unknown, available on DVD)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tammy Grimes in The Tammy Grimes Show (1966)

Obscurity factor: 9

While not exactly Shakespeare, this show which was pulled off the air after only 4 episodes has gained some luster with age. There's no debating that the situations were daft, but Ms. Grime's presence is charming, particularly because of her phoney persona that has been called "so ridiculously artificial that she just has to be for real," and the sight gags are deftly handled, making for some delightful giggles. Tamantha Ward (Grimes) is an heiress who likes nothing more than spending her inheritance. She has a long suffering uncle who does his best to keep her on a short leash and a twin brother (Dick Sargent, billed as Richard Sargent) who, in the episode below goes on reserve duty with the US Navy. There's a lot of irony to be had in the circumstances surrounding the show without even going into the "gays in the military" thing. Grimes and Sargent were the original choices to play Samantha and Darrin Stephens in Bewitched.

Needless to say this show hasn't made it to DVD. It was shot in color, but the only presence it has on the web now is in black and white. The episode above is uploaded to YouTube by dentelTV1.

Obscurity factor: 9 (only really remembered as one of the shortest runs in TV series history)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mel Blanc in Chimp and Zee (1968)

Obscurity factor: 9

Not to be confused with the 2001 book of the same name by Lawrence Anholt, this 1968 short dates back to the reorganization of the Warner Brothers animation studio. It's a one-off, featuring a boy, his rare blue-tailed monkey and a hunter who wants the monkey as a trophy. It's the usual cartoon fare, with suspended boulders, hollow logs and angry elephants, but has the distinction of being voiced by Mel Blanc.

It's unclear whether this one is available on DVD in one of the WB compilations, but you can watch it in its entirety on YouTube. It's above, uploaded by jgbennie.

Obscurity factor: 9 (orphaned characters, never seen again, largely forgotten, available on YouTube)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jack Weston & Peggy Cass in The Hathaways (1961)

Walter and Elinore Hathaway (Weston and Cass) are proud parents of three little ones. The fact that the little ones just happen to be chimps doesn't seem to dent their parental pride. Walter is a real estate agent and Elinore is the chimp's booking agent. Candy, Charlie and Enoch (the chips) regularly perform on television. Each episode revolved around the antics of the chimps and the situations the Hathaways put them in. This series has been called the worst ever aired on television, and there's some truth in that. It's difficult to watch. Production was no picnic either. Jack Weston was nearly bitten by one of the chimps and spent the rest of the series at a considerable distance from them. It's fun to see Peggy Cass, who, aside from the film If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, didn't find her way into film or TV near enough.

The episode above is TV or Not TV uploaded to YouTube by dentelTV. Needless to say, the series has never made it to DVD.

Obscurity factor: 8 (not on DVD, mostly forgotten, only remembered as the worst of TV)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

William Daniels & Alice Ghostly in Captain Nice (1967)

Carter Nash (Daniels), mild mannered chemist works for the police department by day and fights for justice and honor by night as Captain Nice because his mother (Ghostly) told him to. When he discovers a formula that temporarily gives him super-human strength he finds himself targeted by master criminal Omnus. To save the girl he likes (played by Ann Prentiss, Paula's sister) from the clutches of Omnus' evil henchmen he takes the formula himself and becomes invincible.

This mid-season replacement series was developed by Buck Henry, one of the masterminds behind Get Smart. It was preceded by another show with an almost identical premise - Mister Terrific - about an inept gas station attendant who takes a pill and becomes an inept superhero. The series has never been available on DVD. The episode above is the pilot and was uploaded to YouTube by dentelTV1.

Obscurity factor: 9 (known for it's wacky premise and superhero twist to cult fans, but otherwise forgotten)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Monte Markham in The Second Hundred Years (1967)

Obscurity factor: 10

Chalk this one up to the "My Mother the Car" list of bizzare sitcom circumstances - Luke Carpenter (a very sexy Markham) is entombed in an avalanche in Alaska in 1900. He's thawed out in 1967 and found to be alive, perfectly preserved as a youthful 33 year old. He's returned to his then 67 year old son (Arthur O'Connell) and 33 year old grandson (also played by Markham) to be re-assimilated into society. Luke finds the changed world difficult to understand which leads to plenty of wacky situations.

This series was developed by Harry Ackerman, who also had a hand in Bewitched, which could account for the premis which is similar to the episodes when Sam would zap up historical figures and show them life in the 20th century. Above is part one of the episode "Little Lady X" which was the third to air in the series. It was uploaded to YouTube by 2nicks.

Obscurity factor: 10 (infrequently aired, not on DVD, would be forgotten if not for YouTube)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Jerry Van Dyke & Lois Nettleton in The Accidental Family (1967)

Obscurity factor: 10

Jerry Webster (Van Dyke) is a widowed father who works as a Las Vegas comedian. He's raising his toe-headed son on a farm in the San Fernando valley as per a judge's orders. Sue Kramer (Nettleton) takes care of the farm and kids when Jerry is working. This series is a strange combination of comedy and feel-good family fare, which could account for the fact that it was replaced mid-season.

Above is the second episode in the season, uploaded to YouTube by 2nicks in which the custody judge questions his decision to give custody of the boy to Jerry when he finds him in Las Vegas on Jerry's birthday. This episode is complete with original commercials. Look for one in the third installment with Judith Lowry, Mother Dexter from Phillis.

Obscurity factor: 10 (cancelled midseason and rarely heard from again until YouTube)

Monday, July 11, 2011

William Windom & Lisa Gerritsen in My World and Welcome To It (1969)

Obscurity factor: 8

This series based on the work of James Thurber centers on the life of John Monroe (Windom), an absent minded cartoonist for a New York magazine and his wife (Joan Hotchkis) and daughter (Gerritsen). John is good at his work, but he isn't very good at life. He's perpetually distracted by the fantasies that pass through his head and we, as the viewers see his imaginings in the form of neighbors dressed like show girls, amorous school teachers and his own (Thurber's) drawings come to life.

The series ran for a season on NBC and has the distinction of being the first series regular role for Lisa Gerritsen, who would go on to become Bess on the long running Mary Tyler Moore and later on it's spin off, Phillis. Look for Lee Merriweather in the episode, of which part one is above. It was uploaded to YouTube by dentelTV1.

Obscurity factor: 8 (hard to find series, not on DVD, clips and a few episodes available on YouTube)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lauren Bacall, James Garner & Maureen Stapleton in The Fan (1981)

Sally Ross (Bacall) is embarking on a new facet of her career by starring in a Broadway musical. The stress of that endeavor is putting a strain on her relationships. It is under these circumstances that she must deal with the escalating problem of an obsessed fan. It begins with minor annoyances like multiple fan letters with a too familiar tone, but quickly develops into a real threat to her and the people who surround her. Will she live to see opening night?
This film is one of those guilty pleasures that you secretly screen, but rarely admit to liking. It's trashy, but is aces in the suspense department. Michael Biehn is great as the psycho fan and Maureen Stapleton strikes the right note as Sally's assistant. The musical numbers have some fun camp value and look for a young Dana Delaney as a record store clerk.

This film is available on DVD. Above is the big musical number from the film, uploaded to YouTube by maxwellcaulfieldfan. It's rarely, if ever screened on TV now-a-days and has fallen off the radar somewhat.

Obscurity factor: 6 (dimly remembered, available on DVD)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Spotlight on Halas & Batchelor

These pioneers of British animated film aren't that well known stateside, even though their studio made several cartoons that the American public of a certain age would be familiar with, including The Jackson Five and The Osmonds for Hanna Barbara. I first ran across the name in the credits of a previous O.F. post - The Medusa Touch, which featured some of their work on a TV screen in one of the scenes. The studio was started in 1940, the same year that John Halas, a native of Hungary married Joy Batchelor, an English girl he had hired several years earlier to work on some animation projects. Their collaboration would span five decades and leave a legacy of animated shorts and full length films that defined the art in Great Britain. Their most famous work was an animated adaptation they created of George Orwell's Animal Farm.

Above is the Animal Farm trailer, uploaded to YouTube by Vivien0Halas, the couple's daughter and curator of the Halas & Batchelor archive. Much of the company's business came from commissions for corporations and the government such as The Five, a film produced for health department of Great Britain about proper foot care and the importance of buying the right sized shoes.

Here it is, uploaded to YouTube by WellcomeFilm.

This charming short from 1965 presents the task of washing a dog as a flow chart. It was also uploaded by Vivien0Halas.

Above is the last clip I have for you. It's part one of the uber-trippy Autobahn from 1979 uploaded by NatasPad. This company was such an integral part of the British film industry and so many of its films are known in Britain. Halas and Batchelor deserve to be better known in the US. To find out more about the studio and its founders have a look at this site dedicated to preserving their legacy.

Friday, July 8, 2011

James Caan & Marsha Mason in Cinderella Liberty (1973)

Obscurity factor: 8

American Life Network strikes again! This film was on a few days ago as part of their "R to G" film series. Now aside from the fact that I think this is a particularly peculiar marketing concept - taking the teeth out of a film and trying to use that fact as a virtue - it really makes this film a bit of a confused mess, with almost half the dialog bleeped out and entire scenes removed. The intent and charm of the film still shines through though. John Baggs Jr. (Caan) is on leave from his ship because of a little medical problem. While in Seattle he meets Maggie Paul (Mason), a prostitute in a bar and is drawn into her chaotic, impoverished life with her illegitimate mixed-race son. As their relationship develops his Navy records are lost and he finds himself in limbo with no source of pay and no place to go. As he gets by on Navy relief funds, his connection to Maggie and her son deepens. Will he be able to pull himself and them out of the seedy life they find themselves in?
This film has a lot going for it. The acting and direction are first rate and the gritty story has a warmth and genuineness to it that rings true. James Caan, at the top of his game is adorable and Marsha Mason, in her first, big, featured role gives a powerful, yet subtle performance. Look for Eli Wallach as a burnt out old drill sergeant, down on his luck and Dabney Coleman as a heartless base commander.

Though not high in the public consciousness, this film is available on DVD. The scene above is the first meeting of John and Maggie. It was uploaded to YouTube by mistofoles.

Obscurity factor: 8 (not well known, available on DVD)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cary Grant & Ingrid Bergman in Indiscreet (1958)

Obscurity factor: 4

My friend Russell reminded me of this film last night. It's charming, and one of the lesser known comedies of both stars. When actress Anna Kalman (Bergman) meets economist Phillip Adams (Grant) it's love at first sight. They begin a whirlwind romance and everything is rosy until an awful truth is revealed - Phillip is a bachelor. In order to protect himself from matrimonially minded females, he has concocted a fictitious wife from whom he is estranged, but cannot be divorced. Anna cannot bear the thought of having been deceived, so she plots her revenge!
This charming film has elements of both a romance and a screw-ball comedy, though with a polished, sophisticated luster to it. The dialog is snappy and smart and the production values are lush with beautiful sets and costumes to enchant the eye.

Though it's not one of the films that first comes to mind when you think of the two stars, it is still a film that has a place in the public consciousness. It's available on DVD and can be found on YouTube in full, though the uploader has disabled embedding. Click this link to see it: The clip above features the first meeting of Anna and Phillip and was uploaded by hitchclassic.

Obscurity factor: 4 (known, but not iconic, available on DVD and YouTube)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sharon Gless & Julie Kavner in Revenge of the Stepford Wives (1980)

The highly successful 1975 film The Stepford Wives  based on the novel of the same name by Ira Levin, led to a whole series of sequals - The Stepford Husbands (1996), The Stepford Children (1987), and of course the 2004 remake, but this was the first. The town of Stepford is doing very nicely, with the residents quite content with their lives. The lack of divorces and almost total lack of turn-over of town residents has caught the attention of a television producer, Kaye Foster (Gless) who has come to find out why everyone is seemingly so happy. Of course this causes alarm among the men, who are concerned that their habit of drugging and brainwashing their wives into docile homemakers who do their bidding without question will come to light. So from the time she checks in to the town motel, Kaye is skating on thin ice. Will she be able to make it out alive, or will she become one of them...or worse? Look for Mason Adams as a husband with regrets and Don Johnson as a newly recruited cop who's wife (Kavner) undergoes the treatment.

This film was released on VHS in 1989 and used copies can still be found. It has yet to be released on DVD, and online video of it has been limited to a few scattered scenes until just lately. It's been uploaded to YouTube in full by TVTERRORLAND. It can be watched in its entirety above.

Obscurity factor: 7 (available on VHS and YouTube, largely forgotten)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Burt Reynolds & Goldie Hawn in Best Friends (1982)

Obscurity factor: 5

This is one of my favorite early 80's comedy films. Screen writers Richard Babson (Reynolds) and Paula McCullen (Hawn) live together, work together and love each other, so when they decide to get married after many years it should just be a rubber stamp for their relationship. But it's funny, how a little word can change everything. After their civil ceremony they board a train headed back east for a honeymoon trip to visit their families (Perhaps their first mistake?). Paula has commitment issues, feeling like marriage is one step toward death and she doesn't want to get caught in the trap of the traditional role of wife. Visiting the traditional suburban homes of their youth just ads fuel to the fire of her discontent, with hilariously touching results.
This bitter-sweet romance directed by Norman Jewison is a beautiful character study of modern partners with charming performances by the two stars. Burt Reynolds is deft with the comedy, lightening heartfelt scenes with his charm. The pace is leisurely and comfortable and the beautiful score by Michel LeGrand with two touching songs sung by James Ingram and Patti Austin, produced by Quincy Jones strikes just the right note. Look for great turns by Jessica Tandy, Barnard Hughes, Audra Lindly and Keenan Wynn as the in-laws, Ron Silver as their boss at the studio and Richard Libertini as the wacky officiate at their wedding.

This film is available on DVD and can be watched in full on YouTube, thanks to an upload by ClassicRocknRolla1. Part one is above. I highly recommend it.

Obscurity factor: 5 (on DVD, available on YouTube, not well know)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Burgess Meredith in Discover America (1967)

Obscurity factor: 10

Before there was the PBS "Above" series (Above Sicily, Above Long Island) of helicopter flight overviews of different locals, there was this film. As obscure as obscure can be, Discover America was produced by United Airlines to coincide with an ad campaign of the same name and narrated by Burgess Meredith. It was released by Paramount, but I have no information on where it was shown, whether it was a theatrical release or used on television. Other than the poster below, there is only one reference to it on the web, on the British Film Institute website. If anyone has seen it or knows a place to view it, let me know.

There is very little trace of this film, which is a shame. It's such a great record of the US at that time. It's not on any video sites that I can find, and is, of course, not available on DVD.

Obscurity factor: 10 (not on DVD, not available on the internet, almost totally forgotten)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Elia Kazan's America America (1963)

Obscurity factor: 7

In honor of the birthday of our nation tomorrow, I thought I'd feature a film about it. This film by Elia Kazan is about the drive to come to America by the persecuted classes of Europe at the turn of the century. It follows Stavros as he struggles to get out of Turkish controlled Armenia in the late 1800's. The incredible hardships he endures on his journey are documented in intricate detail, as is his ultimate triumph.

Elia Kazan is a complicated figure, from his oscar winning films to his naming of names to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, he's a man people feel strongly about. In the 1960's, he embarked on a series of highly biographical films based on his books with mixed results. This is one of those films. It largely succeeds. It's an extremely effective fictionalization of his uncle's experiences in getting to America, and though the action occasionally gets bogged down in detail or secondary story lines, it's much more palatable than the solipsistic The Arrangement (1969). Part of what makes this film interesting is the lack of a star. It's entirely cast with good, solid, lesser known actors, most notably Stathis Giallelis in the lead, who turn in subtle and nuanced performances.

This film is recently available on DVD. I think it's obscurity is owed to the fact that it's not a star vehicle and it's a slightly uneven presentation of a very serious subject. It's worth seeing for the sheer scope of it, however. Above is the last scene in the film depicting Stavros' arrival at Ellis Island and his assimilation into the America of the turn of the last century. It was uploaded to YouTube by EllinikiKardia.

Obscurity factor: 7 (on DVD, known to film buffs, otherwise not well known)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bicentennial by Vincent Collins (1975)

Obscurity factor: 10

I wanted to feature a patriotic cartoon today and I don't think I could have found a better one. This trippy, psychedelic example of government produced propaganda was put together by animator Vincent Collins on the 200th anniversary of our country in 1976. If you're prone to epileptic attacks then be careful watching this one!

I haven't been able to find this on DVD anywhere, but it can be seen in full on YouTube, thanks to an upload by jamesklambert.

Obscurity factor: 10 (not on DVD, virtually unseen since it debuted in '76)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ryan O'Neal, Robert Downey Jr. & Cybill Shepherd in Chances Are (1989)

Last in our Ryan O'Neal series is this 1989 comedy about death and rebirth, reincarnation and second chances. Louie Jeffries is killed in 1964, leaving a widow, Corinne (Shepherd) and daughter, Miranda (Mary-Stewart Masterson). Louie bypasses St. Peter and bolts back to earth to be reborn without having his past life memories extracted from him. Corinne never remarries and leans heavily on Louie's best friend Phillip Train (O'Neal) to help raise Miranda. When Miranda comes home from school and brings new boyfriend, Alex Finch (Downey Jr.) the latter realizes he's Louie reincarnated and immediately transfers his affections from daughter to mother, who is very perplexed until he convinces her of his true identity. A honeymoon period occurs between them, which hurts and confuses Miranda and Phillip who harbors feelings for Corinne. Will they renew their relationship and cause a rift with the ones they love?

This film was a hit when it was released, but has fallen into obscurity since. The action is frenetic, but the performances are charming and the overall effect quite tender. Robert Downey Jr. is very effective as a man who suddenly finds himself at a life-altering crossroads.

Chances Are is available on DVD and is well remembered by fans, but has quite a low profile among films of the era with infrequent television airings. The trailer for the VHS tape is above, uploaded to YouTube by OldSchoolTrailers.

Obscurity factor: 2 (still remembered by fans, somewhat forgotten by the general public, on DVD)