Saturday, January 13, 2007

My First Artist

The Baby Boomers among you will surely share a common memory of sitting in front of an old black-and-white television set and watching in thrall as a goateed man in a plaid shirt -- who signed his name boldly and with great authority -- brought random lines together into coherent images on LEARN TO DRAW, the first-ever art instructional program on TV.

Before most of us knew the names of Van Gogh, Manet, Rembrandt, or Da Vinci, we knew the name of Jon Gnagy.

Checking the IMDb, I was astonished to learn that today, January 13, would have been the 100th birthday of "America's Original Television Art Teacher." Surely I'm too young to have had a teacher celebrating a centenary! Yet these are the facts... What I find almost more incredible is the revelation, according to his biography, that on the day television was first transmitted to the public at large from the antennae atop the Empire State Building -- May 13, 1946 -- Jon Gnagy was the very first performer on the very first show ever broadcast.

Happily for those of us who have long craved to see one of his lessons again, the artist's daughter, Polly Gnagy Seymour, has launched a website to perpetuate the memory of her father, who died in 1981. There you can find ten different video clips, glorious samples of his painting, three complete lessons from Gnagy's printed art instruction, and even a link to a company that continues to sell the original Jon Gnagy art kits! Maybe you had one! (Donna did.) Today of all days, if you remember the thrill of seeing his hand poised over those blank sheets of paper, ready to create something out of nothing, you should visit Polly's site and sign her guest book with your remembrances.

Why not follow the link and... learn to draw!

Friday, January 12, 2007


Anita Strindberg as the dissolute Julia Durer.
Una lucertola con la pelle di donna
1971, Shriek Show, DD-5.1/2.0/MA/SUB/+, 103m 19s, $19.95, DVD-0

One of the earliest Italian gialli produced in the wake of Dario Argento's hugely successful THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, Lucio Fulci's LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN was a far steeper plunge into surrealism and strangeness and, as such, proved just as influential as -- if not moreso than -- Argento's Antonioniesque shocker.

Florinda Bolkan stars as Carol Hammond, the bourgeois daughter of respected lawyer-politician Edmund Brighton (Leo Genn), introduced as a careworn figure pushing through people crowded into the passageway of a train, who turn naked as her dream segues into an erotic, wind-tossed encounter with Julia Durer (Anita Strindberg). Once Carol regains consciousness, we realize that Julia is her nextdoor neighbor in a London apartment complex, socially snubbed by most residents for her psychedelic orgies -- a woman to whom Carol has never actually spoken, as she confesses to her psychiatrist (George Rigaud). One night, a particularly loud party inspires Carol to dream of murdering Julia. The morning after, Julia is found dead in exactly the manner dreamed, with Carol's fur coat and letter opener left at the scene of the crime. In Carol's dream, she realized after stabbing Julia that there were two witnesses to her deed, two white-eyed hippies gazing at her from a mezzanine within the apartment. This aspect of the dream also proves real when Carol's stepdaughter Joan (Ely Galleani, billed as Edy Gall) makes the acquaintence of these hippies, whose behavior subsequently turns calculatedly predatory. No description of the film's plot can really do it justice, as it was made to be experienced -- almost in the Jimi Hendrix sense of that phrase. Though conceived and executed by a director who reportedly hated hippies and despised the drug culture, LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN is a decidedly psychedelic entertainment, graced by one of Ennio Morricone's most volatile yet sensual giallo scores.

Co-scripted by Fulci and frequent collaborator Roberto Gianviti, with additional credit extended to José Luís Martínez Mollà and André Tranché to mollify Spanish and French co-production quotas, LIZARD is overly contrived on an explicatory level but dazzles as a cinematic construction. In this way, it deceptively appears to be as indebted to Brian De Palma as to Argento or Hitchcock, though it braves into areas of sensuality and technique (split screen, split diopter shots, etc) two full years before SISTERS and almost a decade before DRESSED TO KILL, the De Palma film LIZARD most sleekly resembles. If the film's resolution seems needlessly obscure and distended, one reaches it through a procession of marvelously disorienting suspense sequences in which one can see the pictorial influences of Francis Bacon and Salvador Dalí, among others. In the extended sequence in which Bolkan is pursued through the now derelict Alexandra Palace by Mike Kennedy, the vast emptiness of the place suggests not only the spectral landscapes of some Dalí paintings but also sequences in Hitchcock in which characters are dwarfed by the passive countenances of national landmarks, as in the British Museum sequence of BLACKMAIL. The frequently impressive cinematography was the work of Luigi Kuveiller (DEEP RED, A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY, FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN), assisted by Mario Bava's former operator Ubaldo Terzano.

Carol (Florinda Bolkan) could kill that noisy neighbor of hers... but does she?

When Shriek Show first released LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN in February 2005, it provoked a storm of controversy within Internet discussion groups. While preparing this earlier release, Shriek Show's disc producers were aware that the English language print they had acquired -- titled SCHIZOID (95m 33s) and originally released by American International -- was far from complete, even after two separate English source elements had been cobbled together. They sought to smooth over its shortcomings by adding a second disc featuring a cropped, softish, standard framed transfer of the Italian version (97m 48s PAL, 101m 58s real time), subtitled in English, which contained additional material exclusive to the Italian version.

In the wake of its release, Italy's Federal Video issued a Region 2 disc of the film that included the far handsomer, anamorphic presentation of a unique edition -- essentially the Italian cut, with some footage exclusive to the AIP version seemingly ported back into the continuity via the Shriek Show presentation. It ran 98m 8s in PAL, or 102m 19s in real time. This version's reliance on the SCHIZOID edition was most obvious during the scene of Julia's murder, which AIP had treated to a distorting ripple-like optical to obscure the nudity of Bolkan and Strindberg and details of the film's pivotal stabbing; the Federal DVD presented the scene in a combination of rippled and unrippled footage, evidently because the aptly-named SCHIZOID included individual shots not found in the Italian cut. The R2 disc also offered a "deleted scene" not edited back into the picture. Despite this oversight and the fact that the Federal DVD offered nothing in the way of English subtitles, Media Blasters/Shriek Show was raked over the coals in Cyberspace because a superior-looking element had been found to exist, which the company was berated for not importing and subtitling.

Shriek Show is hoping to make good for their earlier release by issuing a new and improved single-disc remaster of Fulci's classic psycho-thriller that, they hope, will provide the best of all possible Lucertoli for the film's admirers. Having been given a first look at the new disc, I can attest that this new version is -- like the Federal presentation -- a unique cut of the film that was likely never shown in any theater anywhere in the world. It runs a full minute longer than Federal's earlier composite and is certainly the most complete version of the film likely to surface on DVD. I've heard that Studio Canal are the current custodians of the film's original negative, but while a negative would ensure the best possible picture quality, it would carry no guarantee of being more complete. Only the scenes included in the SCHIZOID cut were actually dubbed into English, under the direction of AIP line producer Salvatore Billetteri. Also, mind you, it is unlikely that Studio Canal would allow any negative out of their hands, so anyone licensing the film from them would be required to accept the transfer they were given. The only way to arrive at a complete version of this film would appear to be by cobbling together the English and Italian versions, as Shriek Show has done here with the help of a new Italian print element.

Mike Kennedy and Penny Brown as the tripping witnesses to murder.

So how does Shriek Show's second go at LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN differ from, or improve upon, their first? The following is a breakdown of some points of comparison between the new version and its predecessors, which has been assembled with the help of Shriek Show's Richard York:

2:08-2:30 The scene of Carol walking through the masses of naked people in the train's passageway has been lengthened by 22 seconds.

4:00-4:30 During the first lesbian encounter between Carol and Julia, there is an additional shot exposing Florinda Bolkan's backside as Anita Strindberg pulls the fur coat off her shoulders. This shot appeared in neither version of the film included in Shriek Show's previous release, though an abbreviated version of the shot appeared in SCHIZOID. It should be mentioned that Federal's R2 version was lacking some moments of Bolkan writhing and moaning in her bed before she wakes up, which were included in SCHIZOID.

9:08-9:18 and 9:48-10:16 During these time codes, some shots not seen in SCHIZOID -- most of which involved nudity of some sort -- were reinserted into the quick-cut montage.

10:38-11:04 The scene of Strindberg removing her top, walking toward a man and kissing him was not in Federal's R2 version but was included on their DVD as a "deleted scene." The scene was already present in SCHIZOID.

17:09-17:30 The Francis Bacon-inspired nightmare sequence in SCHIZOID omitted the shot in which a blue-faced Ely Galleani was shown to be cradling a tumult of gooey intestines spilling from her midsection, as well as much of Carlo Rambaldi's gigantic swan-thing. This material was reinserted.

17:32-19:26 As mentioned earlier, in SCHIZOID, the murder of Julia by Carol was treated to a rippling optical effect, presumably to obscure nudity and violence -- and possibly to heighten the ambiguity of whether or not it's a dream. On the Federal R2 disc, this scene cuts back and forth between rippled and non-rippled material in an effort to reincorporate footage found only in the SCHIZOID cut. The Italian master provided to Shriek Show contained the entire scene unrippled, which is what they have opted to include in their new release -- providing a wholly unobstructed view of the proceedings.

26:10-26:21 The scene of Jean Sorel, Ely Galleani and Silvia Monti walking and talking, expressing concern for Florinda Bolkan's character was not previously included in SCHIZOID or the Italian version included on Shriek Show's original release. The dialogue scene exists only in Italian and thus had to be inserted into the otherwise English-language film in Italian with English subtitles.

26:22-30:06 Immediately following the above scene is the paranoid dinner sequence during which Carol receives the phone call from her neighbor, then frantically looks for her notes. This scene was in Shriek Show's earlier standard-framed Italian version, but not in SCHIZOID.

30:24-31:19 A tense-looking Florinda is smoking cigarettes on a sofa while Silvia sits at a table. Ely brings Silvia a drink and some brief dialogue is exchanged. This nearly minute-long scene was likewise not on any previous version and had to be subtitled. This scene leads up to Florinda barging in on the crime scene.

32:17-32:24 Inserted back into the scene of Carol's visit to the crime scene were 7 seconds of her being conforted by her husband (Sorel) and a disquieting close-up of Julia's dead body.

53:53-54:06 This scene of Sorel and Monti's extramarital lovemaking was extended by 13 seconds of additional kissing and rolling around.

58:26-59:12 Finally, the infamous scene of Carol's accidental discovery of the clinic's room of conscious, vivisected dogs -- not included in SCHIZOID -- has been reinserted.

Inspector Corvin (Stanley Baker) brings cold comfort to Carol as she mourns a relative.

Shriek Show's forthcoming release thus improves upon earlier attempts in meaningful ways and warrants recognition as a significant upgrade -- indeed, it's the most integral version we're likely to see. Nevertheless, the disc has some modest faults that must also be noted.

When compared to the Federal DVD, there is no question that the Italian disc is cleaner, sharper-looking, with more realistically modulated color. (Mind you, it's also incomplete and in Italian only, with some faux compositing -- like the on/off rippling -- that favor AIP's preferences over those of Fulci. Though LIZARD is of Italian origin, it was set and shot in London and acted almost entirely in English, with some principals like Baker and Genn doing the actual dubbing, so the English track takes precedence above any other.) For some reason, Shriek Show opted to brighten the feature's overall color, as I suppose was in keeping with their predominant source, the SCHIZOID element; I felt it necessary to turn the color settings of my monitor down a notch or two, to a more realistic, less distracting register, after which the film-like quality of the anamorphic image was very pleasing. That the new master made use of more than one source element is not particularly evident, showing that great pains were taken to achieve a consistent look throughout. I noticed brief instances of glare and grain, possibly inherent in the source elements rather than the transfer, but no cause for common complaints like overdone edge enhancement. Certain scenes are mildly marred by fine bluish scratches, which I didn't find objectionable, as it's better to have such reminders of 35mm film stock than too much digital cleanup. In comparing footage shared by this new transfer and Shriek Show's earlier SCHIZOID transfer, I found the new transfer more vivid. The audio options are English 5.1 and 2.0 mono, and Italian 2.0 mono (viewable with English subtitles). My sampling of the 5.1 option found that it didn't do much but send the mono signal equally from all five channels, which I found spatially disorienting and quickly did without. Perhaps I gave up too early, as I'm told the track does include some directional effects, particularly during the film's celebrated bat attack sequence.

With the exception of the several Fulci trailers carried over from the previous release (including the one featuring a ponderous epigraph by author "M. Hawthorne"), the new disc's extras have all been imported from the R2 disc and given English subtitles. These consist of a generous 31m discussion of Fulci and this particular film by Prof. Paolo Albiero, co-author of the book IL TERRORISTA DEI GENERI: TUTTO IL CINEMA DE LUCIO FULCI (something I need to acquire). Albiero's talk, at once intellectual yet entertaining and approachable, I found quite engrossing; it deals with LIZARD on conceptual and generic levels, places the film intelligently in context with Fulci's other work (Albiero feels that Fulci's horror films were "his ruin," in the overall story of his career, though he discusses them with obvious appreciation), and Albiero speaks with warmth and confidence. The talk is followed by Albiero's concise history of the film's censorship problems abroad (5m 51s). The feature's original Italian title sequence is also included.

Having compiled such a nearly definitive package, it's all the more regrettable that Shriek Show chose not to go all the way by carrying over from their original release Kit Gavin & Mike Baronas' "Shedding the Skin" (33m 44s) -- a terrifically thorough and entertaining featurette including interviews with the surviving cast and effects men, as well as visits to original shooting locations. The absence of this most valuable labor of love from the new release makes it essential that fans of the film either hold onto, or belatedly acquire, the original Shriek Show two-disc set.

Bear in mind that this article is a preview; Shriek Show's LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN will not street until March 17. Minor quibbles aside, it's an impressive disc with absorbing extras -- and likely to stand out as one of the most important genre film restorations of the year. Where this title is concerned, we're never going to get completeness and perfection, but this presentation comes remarkably close to achieving just that.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


John Phillip Law as hypnotist Dr. Peter Price, offering three fellow train passengers glimpses into their fates in 1 TRE VOLTI DEL TERRORE.

"The Three Faces of Terror"
2004, Pulp Video/Xploited Cinema, DD-5.1/2.0/MA/16:9/LB/SUB/+, 84m 35s, $21.95, DVD-0

The spirit of Mario Bava may live on in today's Italian horror cinema but -- judging by this anthology from special makeup effects artist-turned-director Sergio Stivaletti -- in name only. The title and format of this digitally-shot feature are plainly indebted to Bava's 1963 I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA ("The Three Faces of Fear"), also known as BLACK SABBATH; it toplines John Phillip Law, the star of Bava's DANGER: DIABOLIK, who is featured in the wraparound story and plays different characters in all three principal stories; and there is also an amusing cameo by Lamberto Bava, who appears in the second story as the director of "DEMONI 7." Stivaletti's heart may be in the right place, but he could have paid greater tribute to Bava by aspiring to the standards of craftsmanship he established, rather than with tongue-in-cheek name-and-trivia-dropping and a troika of lame stories.

Scripted by Stivaletti and Antonio Tentori, I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE is most obviously indebted to the 1965 Amicus production DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, and also the 1985 low-rent anthology NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR, which also featured Law. Three strangers (Riccardo Serventi, Ambre Even, Emiliano Reggente) travelling in an otherwise unoccupied traincar are joined by Dr. Peter Price (Law), who introduces himself as a hypnotist. He carries with him a silver ball that is the agent of his hypnosis, popping open in the palms of the passengers to reveal spinning mirrors that offer frightening glimpses of their futures, which turn out to be reminders of their immediate pasts. In "L'Anello della Luna" ("The Ring of the Moon"), Law plays a wealthy relics collector who pays a small fortune to two men to loot an ancient tomb, but one (Serventi) decides to keep the dead man's ring, which cuts into his finger and infects him with lycanthropy. (Popular keyboardist/composer Claudio Simonetti makes a cameo in this segment, as a victim of the werewolf.) In "Un Viso Perfetto (Dr. Lifting)," an actress (Even) escorts her best friend (Elizabetta Rocchetti) to a plastic surgeon (Law, actually named Dr. Fisher -- whose office and waiting rooms are stocked with film reference books and video guides!) and is taken aback when her friend expresses a wish to look more like her. In "Il Guardiano del Lago" ("Guardian of the Lake"), Law plays a half-masked boatman who warns three lakeside visitors to abandon their campsite because the surrounding waters harbor danger.
The stories are not only flimsy, but made to seem weaker than they are by the film's ill-considered structure, which cuts them off before they are properly finished -- giving the impression of weak endings all around; the proper story endings are withheld till a procession near the end of the movie, after certain facts about the wraparound story (already glaringly apparent to anyone halfway familiar with the horror genre) have been made sledgehammer clear.

Riccardo Serventi wishes he hadn't stolen "L'Anello della Luna."

Though inspirationally rooted in the 1960s, everything else about this picture -- Stivaletti's gooey Change-O-Head transformation effects, the prog rock-oriented soundtrack, the blue-and-black-colored atmospherics, the stumblingly phonetic supporting performances, the dated-looking CGI effects, an unnecessary sex scene (to call it "gratuitous" would indicate that it actually delivered some cheap thrills) -- all this seems a hapless hommage to 1980s Italian horror, the kind that always went straight to videocassette, courtesy of labels like Media Home Entertainment and Lightning Video back in the day.

If the film is worth seeing for any reason at all, it's to enjoy the sweet and somewhat sentimental scenery-chewing of John Phillip Law, who gets to play a range of characters in a range of dramatic modes. As Dr. Peter Price, he seems to be reprising the "old man" disguise he wore as Diabolik while reclaiming the emerald pendants from the crematorium; elsewhere, he can be found effectively underplaying in "L'Anello della Luna" and chortling his way wildly over the top in classic Grade Z mad scientist tradition in the final moments of "Un Viso Perfetto" (which recalls his work in Sergio Bergonzelli's insane BLOOD SACRIFICE. Even more to the picture's credit is a well-done stop-motion animation sequence (supervised by Fabrizio Lazzeretti and Gaetano Polizzi) involving a sea monster that briefly harkens back to the Harryhausen and Danforth fantasies of the early 1960s, a spirit which should have infected this enterprise a bit more.

As previously noted, I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE was shot on digital video and it looks here about the same as many 1980s Italian efforts shot in 16mm or Super 16mm; the lighting is a trifle glaring at times, the color is adequate, and the picture quality is a bit soft with occasional haloing. It's viewable in Italian with optional English subtitles or in English, which plays more awkwardly but at least preserves the vocal performances given onset by Law and his co-stars. The Italian track is playable in Dolby Digital 5.1 (an impressive mix) and 2.0 surround, while the English track is presented only in Dolby Stereo. The English subtitles are an oddity, punctuated with several instances of transcribed Italian muttered (ad libbed?) onscreen. The copy under review also evinced quite a few audio glitches on the English track.

Elizabetta Rocchetti gets what she asked for in"Un Viso Perfetta."

No fewer than three different editions of the film are available on import DVD, including a single-disc no-frills edition, a single-disc edition loaded with extras, and a three-disc edition containing a second disc of even more bonus materials and a CD of the musical score; all three are available from Xploited Cinema. The disc under review here is the single disc with extras, which already seems like much ado about fairly little. The bonus materials include deleted scenes, an unsubtitled 13m behind-the-scenes featurette, two trailers (the English one is a charmer, including original footage of Law in character), various photo galleries, an audio commentary by Stivaletti and Tentori (in Italian, without subtitles), and more.

I thought Stivaletti's earlier WAX MASK showed promise, but it was a real movie; I 3 VOLTI DEL TERRORE seems less an actual feature than a Digicam lark made on weekends by fans who happen to be professionals. I wish I liked this concoction better, but I can only recommend it -- with reservations -- to Italian horror buffs interested in checking in with John Phillip Law's career. And if an Italian horror booster like myself can find so little joy in it, I can't commend it to the attention of anyone whose genre interests may be more tempered.

Monday, January 08, 2007


A disarming promo shot of THE RIFLEMAN's Johnny Crawford
and Chuck Connors.

With THE RIFLEMAN starting anew on Encore Westerns this evening (at 7:00 pm eastern), I know I'm not the only collector who's wondering which episodes I still need. With this idea in mind --instilled in me by fellow McCain rancher Larry Blamire -- I decided to sit down with the six extant MPI Home Video box sets (now officially out-of-print, though still available), find the correct season and episode numbers for each program therein, and use that information to determine which shows were still missing.

The listings below present of the volume number for each MPI box set, followed by the episode titles in that set, each show followed by its correct season and episode number in parentheses. (The episode numbers are sequential; in other words, Season 2 begins with Episode 41, not Episode 1.) These are followed by a final, season-by-season accounting of the 48 episodes not issued on DVD by MPI. I have also color-coded the seasons, to make their episodes easier to identify at a glance: Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Season 4 and Season 5.

The good news: If you bought the MPI sets, you won't have to start recording for awhile.

Sharpshooter (S1 E1)
Home Ranch (S1 E2)
End of a Young Gun (S1 E3)
The Marshall (S1 E4)
Duel of Honor (S1 E7)
The Angry Gun (S1 E13)
The Sheridan Story (S1 E16)
The Money Gun (S1 E33)
The Mind Reader (S1 E40)

Bloodlines (S2 E42)
Day of the Hunter (S2 E55)

The Vaqueros (S4 E111)
Knight Errant (S4 E117)
The Long Goodbye (S4 E119)
High Country (S4 E122)
Man From Salinas (S4 E130)
Two Ounces of Tin (S4 E131)

Waste: Part I (S5 E143)
Waste: Part II (S5 E144)

The Deadly Image (S4 E132)

The Boarding House (S1 E22)
The Brother-in-Law (S1 E5)

The Bullet (S5 E163)
Dead Cold Cash (S3 E85)
The Hero (S2 E59)
The Indian (S1 E21)
Lariat (S2 E67)
Mail Order Groom (S2 E56)
The Martinet (S3 E83)
Miss Bertie (S3 E90)
The Most Amazing Man (S5 E151)
New Orleans Menace (S1 E10)
One Went To Denver (S1 E25)

The Prodigal (S2 E71)
The Safe Guard (S1 E8)
The Schoolmaster (S3 E86)
Three-Legged Terror (S1 E30)
The Wyoming Story 1 (S3 E96)
The Wyoming Story 2 (S3 E97)

The Young Englishman (S1 E12)

The Patsy (S2 E41)
The Blowout (S2 E43)
Obituary (S2 E44)
Tension (S2 E45)
Eddie's Daughter (S2 E46)
Panic (S2 E47)
Ordeal (S2 E48)
The Spiked Rifle (S2 E49)
The Letter of the Law (S2 E50)
Legacy (S2 E51)
The Babysitter (S2 E52)
The Coward (S2 E53)
The Surveyors (S2 E54)
A Case of Identity (S2 E57)
The Visitor (S2 E58)
The Spoiler (S2 E61)
Heller (S2 E62)
Meeting at Midnight (S2 E74)
Nora (S2 E75)
The Hangman (S2 E76)

Trail of Hate (S3 E77)
Eight Hours to Die (S1 E6)
The Sister (S1 E9)
The Apprentice Sheriff (S1 E11)
The Gaucho (S1 E14)
The Pet (S1 E15)
The Retired Gun (S1 E17)
The Photographer (S1 E18)
Shivaree (S1 E19)
The Dead-Eye Kid (S1 E20)
The Deadly Wait (S1 E26)
The Wrong Man (S1 E27)
The Challenge (S1 E28)
The Woman (S1 E32)
The Angry Man (S1 E31)
A Matter of Faith (S1 E34)
Blood Brothers (S1 E35)
Stranger at Night (S1 E36)
The Raid (S1 E37)
Outlaw's Inheritance (S1 E38)

The Trade (S1 E24)
Boomerang (S1 E39)
The Hawk (S1 E29)

The Horsetraders (S2 E60)
Jailbird (S2 E73)
The Grasshopper (S2 E63)
The Fourflushers (s2 E72)
The Deserter (S2 E65)
Smoke Screen (S2 E68)
Shotgun Man (S2 E69)
Old Man Running (S5 E166)
Old Tony (S5 168 - final episode)
Quiet Night, Deadly Night (S5 E146)
Suspicion (S5 E157)
Which Way’d They Go? (S5 E167)
Gun Shy (S5 E153)
I Take This Woman (S 5 E148)
Incident at Line Shack 6 (S5 E156)
Lou Mallory (S5 E145)
Mark’s Rifle (S5 E150)

The Vision (S2 E66)
Woman From Hog Ridge (S3 E78)
Sins of the Father (S2 E70)
The Illustrator (S3 E88)
Baranca (S3 E82)
The Actress (S3 E94)
A Time For Singing (S2 E64)
Seven (S3 E79)
The Long Trek (S3 E93)
Flowers By the Door (S3 E92)
Face of Yesterday (S3 E95)
Miss Millie (S3 E84)
The Pitchman (S3 E80)
The Promoter (S3 E87)
Silent Knife (S3 E89)
Six Years and a Day (S3 E91)
Strange Town (S3 E81)

The Second Witness (S1 E23)
And Devil Makes Five (S5 E161)
Anvil Chorus (S5 E154)

SEASON 1 - Complete.

SEASON 2 - Complete.

Still Needed:

SEASON 3 - Closer Than A Brother (98), Lost Treasure of Canyon Town (99), Dark Day at North Fork (100), The Prisoner (101), The Assault (102), Short Rope for a Tall Man (103), The Clarence Bibs Story (104), The Score Is Even (105), The Mescalero Curse (106), Stopover (107), Lonesome Bride (108), Death Trap (109), The Queue (110).

SEASON 4 - First Wages (112), Sheer Terror (113), The Stand-In (114), The Journey Back (115), The Decision (116), Honest Abe (118), The Shattered Idol (120), Long Gun from Tucson (121), A Friend in Need (123), Skull (124), The Princess (125), Gunfire (126), The Quiet Fear (127), Sporting Chance (128), A Young Man's Fancy (129), The Debt (133), Tin Horn (134), None So Blind (135), The Jealous Man (136), Guilty Conscience (137), Day of Reckoning (138), The Day a Town Slept (139), Millie's Brother (140), Outlaw's Shoes (141), The Executioner (142).

SEASON 5 - Death Never Rides Alone (147), The Assailants (149), Squeeze Play (152), Conflict (155), The Sidewinder (158), The Sixteenth Cousin (159), Hostages to Fortune (160), End of the Hunt (162), Requiem at Mission Springs (164), The Guest (165).

Sunday, January 07, 2007

What's Old West is New Again

This past weekend, Encore Westerns hosted 24-hour marathons of the popular 1950s teleseries THE RIFLEMAN (Saturday) and BAT MASTERSON (Sunday). Happily, these round-the-clock broadcasts were preamble to the announcement that both shows are joining the channel's regular broadcast schedule this week.

Effective Monday, January 8, BAT MASTERSON will be airing in hour-long, two-episode blocks from 5:00-6:00 pm weekdays, with THE RIFLEMAN airing in hour-long, two-episode blocks from 7:00-8:00 pm weekdays (eastern time). I understand there will also be Saturday showtimes; for these, consult Encore Westerns schedule here. Both programs will be shown complete and uninterrupted, and (importantly for perfectionists like us) in their original broadcast order.

Encore Westerns' acquisition of THE RIFLEMAN is welcome news, as it signals the show's rescue from the Hallmark Channel, its home for the past several years, where episodes were hacked to pieces to accommodate commercials and often interrupted at dramatically inopportune moments. Arguably the greatest of all television Westerns, THE RIFLEMAN is also the warmest and frequently the most profound. At heart, it's about the father-and-son relationship of widowed rancher and expert marksman Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors in the role he was born to play) and his son Mark (Johnny Crawford, who's an able young horseman as well as one of the most gifted child actors ever), but the show also tackled difficult subjects like prejudice and mob violence and equally rigorous situations, including more than one episode in which Lucas was required to survive strandings in the desert without food or water. A number of outstanding first season episodes were helmed by Sam Peckinpah, who shocked audiences from the get-go by allowing the show's hero Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors) to be felled by a bullet at the end of the first episode he directed -- none of the show's characters, including Paul Fix as stoic Marshall Micah Torrance, was bullet-proof. THE RIFLEMAN was also the site of the earliest collaborations between Peckinpah and Warren Oates, who guests in several episodes. GUN CRAZY auteur Joseph H. Lewis also directed many episodes.

The right to a second chance was another of the show's recurring themes, and the quality of its writing is exemplified by a moment in the episode "The Sheridan Story," in which Lucas takes on the help of a wretched homeless man (Royal Dano) whose state literally repulses the McCains. When the boy asks his father if he hired the vagrant because he was so far gone, Lucas replies, "No, son... because we were so far gone" -- in other words, so far gone that their instincts were to turn away from a fellow human being in need. The show's writing is sometimes startlingly resonant in its simplicity and humanity, and the second act of this episode features dialogue that is positively Shakespearean in its crafting. Other episodes can be just as surprising and pleasing in the degree of their tongue-in-cheek playfulness. Akim Tamiroff, Sammy Davis Jr., John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., and Dennis Hopper are among the show's most memorable guest stars.

THE RIFLEMAN (which ran for five seasons) is one of the classic television series worth owning in its entirety. Six 20-episode box sets have been released on DVD by MPI Home Video; the intact episodes look fine, but unfortunately, this collection got off on the wrong foot by initially collecting the "best of" compilations MPI originally issued as single discs -- so the MPI box sets do not represent entire seasons, nor are the episodes presented in original broadcast order; the final episode was included in VOL. 5, and some first season shows continue to turn up as late as VOL. 6. This is a problem because the program did observe a certain continuity, sometimes referencing earlier episodes in the dialogue, and the sequencing of the discs can become distracting as Johnny Crawford grows or shrinks an inch or two in height between episodes. Furthermore, the half-dozen MPI sets in release are a substantial 48 episodes shy of the complete run, and MPI's press rep has sadly informed me that the company's rights to THE RIFLEMAN expired with the coming of the New Year. Therefore, there won't be any additional MPI sets, and even if you've been collecting them in the hopes of acquiring them all, your only hope now of securing the complete series -- and in its original broadcast order -- is to record the Encore Westerns broadcasts.

BAT MASTERSON (which ran for three seasons, beginning in 1958) is one of those programs I've heard about all my life, but didn't actually see until yesterday. To the best of my knowledge, it's been off the air for many years and not commonly found in syndication. Gene Barry stars as real historical figure William Barclay "Bat" Masterson, a dapper gunfighter so nicknamed because of his self-defensive abilities with a gold-capped walking stick. The first episode, "Double Showdown," I didn't find very interesting until a premature finale led to an out-of-character appearance by Barry, who explained that history recalls this particular adventure of Masterson ending two different ways... at which point, the episode gives us the other version, as well. Subsequent episodes not only held my interest; they held me in thrall until 5:00 in the morning. I left the balance of the marathon's offerings in the capable hands of my DVD burner's hard drive.

I don't recall ever reading about Barry's portrayal being any kind of precursor to the screen version of James Bond, but I find the comparison (and debt) glaringly obvious. Barry's Bat is debonair and worldly, a professional gambler, a connoisseur of fine wines and fine living, a ladies man (he not only gets around, but seems to have previously known every woman of visible experience to appear in each episode... and gets around to knowing some of the innocent ones too), and armed with a ready quip at the most daunting moments. Strapped to a tree with rawhide bonds and left behind as bear bait, Masterson tells his farewell-bidding adversary, "I'd shake hands, but I'm all tied up." (One of the episodes is even called "License To Cheat.") Make no mistake: Sean Connery wasn't the first hero to punctuate his prowess with smug remarks like "Shocking" -- Gene Barry was doing it years earlier, in high style, and the memory of this show probably helped to inspire the later cult series THE WILD WILD WEST.

As with THE RIFLEMAN, the guest stars alone provide good reason for watching. The episodes of BAT MASTERSON I watched last night featured Allison Hayes, Yvette Vickers, Gloria Talbott, Marie Windsor, and Louise Fletcher (they all got kissed) -- as well as Elisha Cook Jr., William Conrad, Ross Martin, Walter Barnes (who appears uncredited in "Bear Bait"), Joe Turkel, Barry Atwater, and Hank "Fred Ziffel" Patterson.

Tune in or set your timers: the adventures of these Western heroes are habits you'll find well worth acquiring.