Saturday, December 16, 2006

Merry Christmas!

A Merry Christmas to everyone visiting my blog!

As a special present from me to you, here is a complete cartoon that will be available throughout the holiday season - the Little Audrey short Santa's Surprise, complete with original Paramount titles!

Monday, December 11, 2006

DVD Review: The Caesars (Network - UK Region 2)

An everyday story of sex, madness, and regicide.

Augustus Caesar, Emperor of the Roman Empire, has ruled for over 40 years, bringing peace after years of civil war, but the price the empire paid for this was the absolute rule of one man – a dictator. Although brutal, he was nevertheless a popular leader. And now he is dying, and he has to nominate a replacement. He decides that Tiberius should replace him, with the loyal-but-foolish Germanicus the next in line.

Tiberius initially rejects the offer, as he feels he is nowhere near as brutal as Augustus and doesn’t wish to become an absolute ruler. Eventually, he reluctantly agrees, and takes command with the aid of the scheming Sejanus. But throughout his reign, he faces the turmoil that affected his family, including murder, in which many people label him as a tyrant. He does on occasion have to be ruthless, but the end result would normally follow a sense of guilt.

His great-nephew, Caligula, succeeds Tiberius, but early on he does show signs of his unpleasant side. Then a serious illness drives him further into insanity. Believing that he is a God and an immortal, he becomes an irrational murderer and rapist. As he becomes more and more deranged, no-one it seems can appease him in any way without fear of being executed.

Surviving throughout all this turmoil is Claudius, who was born with a stutter and club foot. Because of his disability, many dismiss him as a fool, but he uses this to his advantage. He is ignored by Tiberius and humiliated by Caligula, but it is Claudius himself who would get the last laugh.

This series was produced by Granada Television, and was broadcast on ITV in 1968 to critical acclaim. It has been compared in recent times to I Claudius and even the BBC/HBO’s Rome, but this is still an immensely enjoyable drama in its own right. The sets, although studio bound, are very impressive. A fine repertoire of actors grace the small screen, but there are three actors who really stands out: Andre Morrell (Quatermass & The Pit) gives a dependable performance as the weary Tiberius, Ralph Bates (Dear John) is frightfully chilling as the cold-blooded Caligula, and Freddie Jones (The Ghosts of Motley Hall) fully merited his Golden Nymph award (Monte Carlo Television Festival, 1969) as the rather-intelligent Claudius.

The series was shot originally on video, but it now exists as 16mm telerecordings made for the international market (the original Granada front and endcaps have been replaced by a Granada International equivalent), and Network has been supplied with a mix of old and recent transfers. The quality of the material does show that making telerecordings was not one of Granada’s main strengths. Generally, they zoomed in too close to the video monitor, which results in a cropped picture and a grainy look. There is also burnt-in video damage evident on the recordings. The first episode is the worst affected, as shown on the screenshot below. Because of the over-zooming, you can only just make out the title (Augustus).

It would have been nice to see the series get some digital clean-up, but this would be expensive and would make the DVD release commercially unviable. Of course, Network is renowned for releasing long-forgotten TV shows that most other DVD companies wouldn’t even touch with a barge pole, so we really must commend Network for having the guts to release this.

There is one extra that Network has somehow forgot to mention on its cover – a five-minute photo gallery, showing some behind-the-scenes images and those taken on the set. I was really amazed to see what the sets actually looked like in colour, it is just a shame that they never filmed it this way. If only they waited one more year until ITV colour transmissions became a reality. Because of the rarity of this series, it is unrealistic to expect commentaries or interviews, so the photo gallery is an unexpected bonus. Pity about the lack of subtitles, though.

Despite the quality of the film material, this is an excellent watch, and huge thanks to Network for allowing this series to get a deserved DVD release. However, the RRP of £19:99 is maybe on a high side for people who aren’t too familiar with this series and/or are rather unsure of 1960’s drama, so my advice is to wait until the sales. But whenever you buy this now or later, is it well worth what you paid for it. Recommended.

NOTE: DD Home Entertainment has released their own version of The Caesars (only available through their mail-order service, while Network's version is a general release) with the same RRP. However, given DDHE's track record, it is likely that these episodes will have their adcaps removed (Network has left these alone), and there is no mention of any subtitles or other extras on their catalogue and website.

Images (C) Granada
Text (C) Lee Glover. Not to be copied without permission.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Apologies again!

I like to apologise again for another lack of posts. Unfortunately, I have lost my job in Bath, and I have temporarily moved to my home town (Plymouth) until I can find another one.

In the meantime, I will attempt to make some new posts, including more rare cartoon titles and DVD reviews.

Talking about DVDs, I did plan to post a review of At Last The 1948 Show and Do Not Adjust Your Set a few months back, but due to recent problems and the passing of time, I have decided to abandon it. But look out for a DVD review of an award-winning 1968 ITV drama that looks at the lives of an imperial Roman family.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Rare B&W Terrytoon Titles - Part 2

As promised, here are more rare original opening and closing titles from two B&W Terrytoons.

Below are the opening and closing titles from the cartoon Football (released October 18th 1935), made towards the end of the Frank Moser era.

Opening titles:

Closing title:

And finally, here are the title cards from When Knights Were Bold (released March 21st 1941).

Opening titles:

Closing title:

Coming soon: rare original Screen Gems titles.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Rare B&W Terrytoons Titles - Part 1

If you're a big fan of Terrytoons, chances are you have seen most of the Paul Terry-era colour cartoons with 1950's television titles, but you would have seen a fair number of Terrytoons with their original opening and closing titles intact.

But it is very rare to come across a B&W Terrytoon with its original titles. If you're fortunate enough to watch at least a few of them, you're more likely to see this 1950's opening title:

Or, you might have seen a Terrytoon with Castle Films titles, or even one with a Barker Bill title, but trying to find one with its original opening and closing titles is like trying to find an iron in a male student's house!

I do have a huge number of B&W Terrytoons in my collection (mainly thanks to Jerry Beck's DVDs), but I only have five cartoons with their original titles intact. But as they're such good finds, I feel they are worthy of display. So, I am proud to present the title cards of four cartoons, two cartoons in each post. I would have included all four, but for some strange reason, Blogger wouldn't allow me to upload more than nine images, so I'm splitting this post into two.

The first set of title cards is from the earliest complete cartoon in my collection, Salt Water Taffy (released November 30th 1930).

Opening titles:

Closing title:

I do have another cartoon with the same style title cards, The Lorelei (released November 29th 1931). But as the only difference is the cartoon's title, I decided it's not necessary to make any screenshots from this cartoon.

Below are the opening and closing titles from Farmer Al Falfa's Ape Girl (released August 7th 1932).

Opening titles:

Closing title:
I will be posting rare title cards from Football (1935) and When Knights Were Bold (1941) in the next few days!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

An Apology

To anyone who has recently visited my blog only to find that I haven't posted for well over a month, I'm sorry. During that time, I've moved to a different city, and I just set up a new internet connection a few days ago. But the good news is that I've settled in my new place very well, and I've finally got some time to start posting again!
But the time-off has given me a chance to think about changing aspects of my blog. Not only have I decided to give it a new look, but I decided to change the name too (IMHO "Classic Toons & UK TV" was too bland a title). But I bet you guys are wondering why I came up with the strange new title "Mice Laugh Softly Charlotte"? To answer your question, it is taken from an hilarious sketch from the pre-Monty Python shetch show "At Last The 1948 Show". "Mice Laugh Softly Charlotte" is a badly-staged thriller with some Ed Wood-style acting and naff, cliche-ridden dialogue. Below are some images taken from this near-forgotten gem.
Watch out for a review of the "1948" DVD very soon, along with its sister show "Do Not Adjust Your Set".

Friday, August 04, 2006

DVD Review: Dempsey & Makepeace - Series 1 (Network - UK Region 2)

I remember watching the first episode of Dempsey & Makepeace when it was first broadcast on the ITV network in January 1985. I was only 7 years old, but I was immediately hooked onto this series, and I subsequently watched the entire three series and had both the tie-in annuals. Now, over 21 years later since the “pilot” was shown, Network has released the entire first series on DVD earlier this year. I was a bit worried that this might not be as good as I remembered it. Having been re-acquainted with this series, yes it is a bit silly and far-fetched, and yes it has dated quite badly (Makepeace’s hairstyle is a big factor), but these only adds to the charm, and it has a lot of good humour throughout. In fact, I find the series to be even more enjoyable than what I thought earlier. Jim Dempsey (Michael Brandon) is a NYPD cop who gets caught up in a corruption scandal within the police force. As a result, he is sent to England until things cool down. Working in a police division, he is partnered with graduate (and daughter of an English lord) Harriet “Harry” Makepeace (played by South-African Glynis Barber). Makepeace’s conscientious, strictly-by-the-book methods clashes with Dempsey’s brash, chauvinistic, gun-happy approach, but together they seem to click.
Their boss is the irascible Gordon Spikings (Ray Smith), who takes an almost-instant dislike of Dempsey. He needn’t have to shout his head off (or even speak) to show how angry he can get, as was demonstrated in the third part of the opening film. In this scene, Dempsey (along with Makepeace) is released from a military prison, only to be met by Spikings who, having learned that he shot five policemen, gives him an absolutely mad stare before giving the mis-matched pair a completely-calm explanation of the apparent operation that they were trying to foil.
This was made with the American market in mind, as it was a co-production between London Weekend Television (LWT) and US company Tribune (the latter company was not credited in the UK). But it is also true to say that LWT made this as a logical replacement of a similar (but more memorable) action show, The Professionals (Glynis Barber has suggested that some episodes were derived from rejected Professionals –and even The Sweeney – scripts). For what I heard, the show wasn’t a success in the US, but it was a ratings smash for the UK’s ITV network, and it ensured that a further two series were made.
There was an obvious chemistry between Brandon and Barber, so much so, that they eventually got married together soon after the last series! Brandon enjoyed working on this series, and was so fond of England, that he has now obtained dual-citizenship, and has appeared in numerous UK shows, most recently in a regular role in the abysmal ITV comedy Dead Man Weds. However, he still appears on US television, including providing the US narration of Thomas the Tank Engine.
But it has to be said, the late Ray Smith is a very underrated actor. His portrayal of Spikings is a joy to watch, portraying his grumpy demeanour without going over the top and without too much effort. Both Brandon and Barber have nothing but huge praise for his acting ability.

The picture quality is very grainy and washed-out, but considering this was shot on 16mm film it is understandable. However, it is disappointing that there was no digital clean-up, but I suppose that luxury can only be afforded on Network’s more-popular titles. Surprisingly (for a Network release), none of these programmes have the opening LWT idents and endcaps (it could be that these are new transfers from the original prints, and that the old transfers have the LWT idents added on, but that’s only my theory). There is some good news though: the adcaps are present and correct.
Bonuses include a new interview with the duo (now happily married together and living in the UK), in which they gave an insight of its production (including an account of their time being almost-crushed inside a car-crushing machine in the second episode). Further info can be found on the two commentaries featured. Brandon certainly has a lot to say in the first commentary, but both had run out of the steam by the second, with some pauses throughout. Nevertheless, a fine effort by Network on the extras front.
Overall, this is a fine DVD set that will satisfy nearly every D&M fan, and is an essential purchase. Here’s hoping that the second set is just as good, if not better (available now, but I’m going to wait until it hits the sales – I’m such a tight-wad!).
Images (C) Granada and Network
Text (C) Lee Glover. Not to be copied without permission.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Terrytoons - Pretzels

Every month, I'll be posting a complete rare cartoon. Not the well-known shorts you see on television and DVDs, but some of the rarest theatrical cartoons around. Like my previous video, this one will only be available for two weeks.
This month's cartoon is the second Terrytoon that was made (in 1930): Pretzels. Largely animated by Frank Moser, this was one of the "boy meets girl, boy loses girl to villian, boy battles against villian, boy wins, boy gets girl back again" cartoons that were so typical of the early Terrytoons.
Here, I am proud to present a complete print. However, this is a French edition with German subtiles (it was shown on the German channel Arte). This print featured two scenes that were absent on the 1950's US television prints: the opening scene with Phil Scheib and his orchestra in silhouette; and another where the two mice, in the beer garden, orders for "two hot milks".

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Mighty Mouse Playhouse

Here is the first of (hopefully) several video clips that will feature on my blog.
This one contains the rare opening titles and break bumpers from the 1950's Terrytoons series Mighty Mouse Playhouse - in colour! These were taken from a couple of British 1980's Mighty Mouse tapes released by Channel 5 (not to be confused with the UK TV channel). It's a shame these tapes don't contain the closing titles (which I have in B&W, but are not included in this clip).

PLEASE NOTE: Clips featured on this blog will be online for a limited time only. They will be available for two weeks before I permanently delete them (if it happens before the two weeks are up, it's likely that Dailymotion has deleted them themselves).

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Ugly PD cartoon video covers in the UK

Many of you guys would have seen quite a lot of American Public Domain cartoon covers, and like me, you view most of them are pretty darn ugly. But over here in the UK, we do seem to get our share of ugly PD covers too. In this post, I will show you a selection of what I consider downlight ugly covers. I apologise in advance if some of you become temporarily blind after seeing these.
The first two are covers from a trio of 4-hour cartoon compilation videos released by Braveworld (later released by Polygram/Universial) in the early 90's. Some of you Brits may remember seeing some of the other "artist"'s covers on NTV's and Virgin Vision's own PD videos:

Ugly cartoon artwork has started to creep in on our DVD covers too. Here are two that are released by a German company called Planet Media Entertainment (under the name Planet Song):

Going back to VHS, perhaps the most famous PD cartoon video company here in Blighty was "Screen Originals". Each title had two different covers, one released by both Movie Makers and Diamond Films, and one by an unknown company (probably Screen Originals themseves). The latter had quite tasteful covers, but the MM/DF editions had some fairly awful artwork. Here is one example:
And if you think that one was quite bad, wait till you see the next one. In my view, this is the most scariest cartoon video cover ever (in the UK, at least)! No wonder I never see this title fly off the shelves:

Screen Originals also had the ugliest-looking UK PD video logo ever (no prizes for guessing who that character is supposed to be):