Monday, December 31, 2018

The Cult-TV Faces of: Books











Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Pop Art: The Fall Guy Dynomite Magazine

Halloween Costume of the Week: The Fall Guy (Ben Cooper)

The Fall Guy Magic Transfers

Model Kit of the Week: The Fall Guy (Airfix)

Lunch Box of the Week: The Fall Guy

Pop Art: The Fall Guy Annual

Board Game of the Week: The Fall Guy (Milton Bradley)

Theme Song of the Week: The Fall Guy (1982)

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Have a Very Merry (and Patrick Swayze) Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Advert Artwork: The Fall Guy (TV Guide Edition)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Coloring Book of the Week: Santa Claus (Whitman)

Costume of the Week: Santa Claus (Ben Cooper)

Board Game of the Week: Santa's Special Delivery Game (Milton Bradley)

Lunch Box of the Week: T'was the Night Before Christmas

Monday, December 17, 2018

The View from My Screen #14

Which TV series? Which episode?

Sears Wish Book for the 1979 Holiday Season

Last year a this time, I tried explaining to my son, Joel, the idea of ordering items from a catalog.

I explained that it’s like ordering something from, only your choices are more limited, you can’t buy the items online, and you have to wait longer to receive your toy.

He didn’t see the appeal.

But when I was growing up, it was tremendously exciting to order from a catalog, or I should say from one catalog in particular. 

Every year, Sears sent out a mammoth Christmas catalog or “Wish Book,” a hugely fat inventory of everything it sold, from appliances and clothes to toys galore.  

One of the Wish Books that I’m remembering today -- from the year 1979 -- was illustrated with the tag-line “Where America Shops For Value.”

Forget value, I just wanted space toys.

The 1979 Sears Wishbook Catalog had ‘em too. 

From Page 613 thru 620 in that catalog, there was everything a 1970s space-kid could possibly desire: toys from Mego’s Micronauts, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Star Wars, and Star Trek too.  There were models, play-sets, toy action figures…the works.

And the great thing about Sears was that it not only offered toys you could find elsewhere, it also offered exclusive toys, like the Star Wars knock-off playset called “The Star Fortress” (seen on page 617).  I’ve covered this toy before on the blog, but the giant fold-out space base has a position of honor in my home office to this day. 

Another Sears exclusive from the same era (although it may have been first sold in 1978…) was the Star Wars “The Cantina Adventure Set” (not to be confused with the Creature Cantina).  The legend in the catalog read “If you stop at this cantina, watch out for strangers.”

This diorama of the exterior of the Mos Eisely drinking hole came with four new Kenner action figures that were unavailable elsewhere: Greedo, Hammerhead, Walrus Man, and Blue Snaggletooth.  The Blue Snaggletooth has become a highly-prized collectible.

Without me knowing, my Mom ordered me the Cantina Adventure Set, and I loved it. 

I kept it intact until about two years ago when the diorama base finally ripped. But it’s the item I remember most from the catalog.  

After I received the toy in the mail, I would play adventures with Sheriff Snaggletooth and Deputy Hammerhead.  They’d drive the land speeder around Mos Eisely, catching the gangsters Greedo and Walrus Man.

Back in the 1970s I loved coming home from school and finding in the mail either the next week’s issue of TV Guide (so I could see if Star Trek or Space:1999 was playing…), but it was a day of absolute delight and toy nirvana when the Wish Book arrived.

I still remember the feel and scent of the Wish Book catalog's pages. I remember poring over those toy pages too, imagining adventures with Buck Rogers, the Micronauts, the Cantina, and that Space Fortress...

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Advert Artwork: Yellow Submarine Edition

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Dr. Seuss GAF Viewmaster

Colorforms of the Week: Dr. Seuss

Jigsaw Puzzles of the Week: Dr. Seuss

Lunch Box of the Week: The World of Dr. Seuss

Board Games of the Week: Dr. Seuss

Theme Song of the Week: Dr. Seuss's Cat in the Hat

Monday, December 10, 2018

The View from My Screen #13

Guess the series and episode.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Comic Book of the Week: Jem and the Holograms (IDW)

Coloring Book of the Week: Jem (Golden)

Halloween Costume of the Week: Jem (Ben Cooper)

Board Game of the Week: Jem - Concert Clash (Milton Bradley)

GAF Viewmaster: Jem

Lunch Box of the Week: Jem

Theme Song of the Week: Jem and the Holograms (1985)

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The Films of 1969: The Valley of Gwangi

The Valley of Gwangi (1969) is a fantasy adventure from a bygone epoch of filmmaking, perhaps even one that might, today, be described as prehistoric.

This colorful film mixes Western tropes with “lost worlds of fantasy” tropes, and is punctuated by visual effects from maestro Ray Harryhausen (1920 – 2013). These special effects were considered not merely extraordinary in their day, but state-of-the-art, as well. The film -- a project Harryhausen inherited from his mentor, Willis O’Brien -- is shot via a process termed, grandly, “Dynamation.” 

What that means, basically, is that the film’s dinosaurs (and elephants, at one point) are rendered via stop-motion animation.

Like many of you, at least presumably, I grew up with the wondrous cinematic works of Ray Harryhausen, including The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Mysterious Island (1961), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), and Clash of the Titans (1981), to name just a handful. 

And when I was young, The Valley of Gwangi was on TV all the time.  Or at least it seemed that way.

I screened the film again for this review, in 2017, and came away with the uncomfortable feeling that in comparison to those other titles, The Valley of Gwangi is a bit lacking.  The story is very derivative and familiar; essentially a retelling of King Kong (1933). 

And the human protagonists are not particularly appealing or likeable characters.  On the contrary, they seemed designed to be cynical and flawed.  This may have been an attempt to make the film play as more adult and realistic, but the result is that there is no central character -- no Sinbad, Captain Nemo, Jason or Perseus for example -- to serve as a focal point of audience identification.

The visual effects, of course, are remarkable for their day and time, and wholly products of their 1969 context.  One can (and should) admire the artistry that went into the creation of the film’s major set-pieces. And yet today, we don’t believe that dinosaurs moved the way they do here.  Today, we see the flaws in the animation; namely that foregrounds are sharp and distinct and the backgrounds appear washed out and less distinct.

These facts established, at least one visual effects shot here is an undisputed masterpiece, and highly influential in terms of its execution.

It’s always difficult to review the films of one’s youth, and assess that time may be starting to pass them by.  Yet The Valley of Gwangi, despite its cult-status, seems a bit plodding and lacking thrills in 2017.

My father used to say it is not good to dig up the past.”

At the turn of the century, in Mexico, a gypsy, Miguel, dies while bringing back a rare treasure from the Forbidden Valley: an eohippus, or miniature horse.  An older gypsy woman (Freda Jackson) warns her son, Carlos (Gustavo Rojo) that the animal must be returned to the valley, lest a curse befall all of them.

Elsewhere, a smooth-talking cowboy, Tuck Kirby (James Franciscus) visits an old flame, T.J. Breckinridge (Gila Golan) who is now starring in a cheap, poorly attended rodeo show in Mexico. They were once lovers, but Tuck has returned not to rekindle old flames, but to negotiate a fair price for T.J.’s show horse.

When Carlos gives T.J. the eohippus, she realizes that she now possesses an attraction that will make her rich.  Meanwhile, however, a paleontologist named Bromley (Laurence Naismith) wants to learn where the eohippus came from. He hires horse rustlers to steal the miniature horse and release it, so it will lead him to its home, to the Forbidden Valley.

A party consisting of Bromley, Carlos, and eventually Tuck and T.J. follows the horse to the secret valley. There, they encounter a pterosaur, a Styracosaurus, and a hungry Allosaurus.  When the Allosaur follows them out of the valley, they resolve to bring “Gwangi” back to civilization, making it an attraction at the wild west show.

That decision, however, has unforeseen and disastrous consequences.

“Until he is returned, a great evil will fall upon us.”

It is not difficult to see how The Valley of Gwangi mimics very closely the basic outline of King Kong (1933).  A group of adventurers (related to show-business) visit a secluded or remote area where prehistoric monsters dwell.  Once there, they discover that one beast dominates the others (either Kong or Gwangi), and tussle with the beast.  After some adventurers, the great beast is subdued (either by gas grenades or lasso), and returned to civilization.

Back at civilization, the caged beast is seen as a moneymaker at first. On opening day, however, it breaks from restraints and goes on a killing spree.  In King Kong, Kong is heralded as the “eighth wonder of the world.” Here, Gwangi is described similarly, as “the living wonder of the prehistoric world.”

The differences between tales are intriguing, however, to consider. Kong is an attraction in New York City, on Broadway, basically. Gwangi is an attraction on the edge or outskirts of show-business, at an under-attended wild-west show.  The result in both cases, however, is the death and destruction of that which was brought back from nature, from the wild. Something unique, in both situations, as a result of human selfishness or avarice.

As I noted in my introduction, it is fair to state that the lead protagonists in most Harryhausen films, and in King Kong as well, are colorful and dynamic. In the case of most Harryhausen films, the central characters are figures of myth, or great literature. We identify and side with them because of the larger-than-life heroism of characters like Sinbad, or Perseus, or Jason.  In Kong, we identify with the love story between Jack and Ann Darrow.  And though Denham is exploitive, we also view him as a hero, as a man on the edge of a great new frontier.

The Valley of Gwangi goes out of its way not to sentimentalize or mythologize the film’s heroes. On one hand, that’s a fascinating idea.  On the other hand, it robs the film of a central point of identification.  Tuck has returned to Mexico not to write a moral wrong (his treatment of T.J.) but to negotiate a transaction with her.  T.J. realize she loves Tuck and wants to live with him on a ranch, when he suggests it…until she realizes she could make a ton of money exploiting the eohippus. 

And Professor Bromley, a man of science, hires people to steal the miniature horse, so it will lead him to the Forbidden Valley. 

In some way, they are all quite cynical, all quite flawed.

Again, one might claim that this is merely a realistic rather than glamorous portrayal of mankind, and I won’t argue the point. However, by the same token, there’s nobody likeable or honorable in the picture, either, which makes it, to some degree, less compelling as a visceral experience. We’re less invested in the characters’ survival, because we don’t care deeply for them, or about them. Even Gwangi is less identifiable and relatable a figure than was Kong. Kong had flashes of emotions and feelings that we all recognize.  Gwangi doesn’t elicit the same feelings.

The Valley of Gwangi’s special effects earn respect and admiration, even though today we recognize them as not being quite photo-real. At least two sequences are still quite extraordinary: the battle with the Styracosaurus, and the scene in which Gwangi is lassoed and brought to the ground by the cowboys. Both scenes still rivet the attention.

The scene that became a major influence on dinosaur cinema, however, goes by almost unnoticed. It’s so real and so right that it feels almost like an after-thought (though it isn’t).  I refer to the scene in which a fleeing Ornithomimus runs across frame, only to be caught and killed in the jaws of Gwangi. This moment is repeated, almost as a film quote, in a Jurassic Park (1993) scene featuring a T-Rex and a Gallimimus.

Unlike Lope’s father in The Valley of Gwangi, I don’t believe it is “not good to dig up the past.”  There is still value in The Valley of Gwangi, for certain, and yet I don’t now consider it a classic in the same league as many other Harryhausen films.

Guest Post: Late Night with the Devil (2024)

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