Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Final Season Of THE A-TEAM


The season five cast photo for THE A-TEAM

I know what you're thinking. "The final season of THE A-TEAM??? What's the matter, Dan?? Did you run out of obscure Pre-Code movies to write about??" No...I could never run out of those. The reason for this post requires some explanation. 

It basically comes from MeTV's decision to start showing THE A-TEAM every weekday at 6 PM. THE A-TEAM was one of my favorite shows of the 1980s, almost as soon as it debuted in 1983. The program became an immediate smash, and it landed in the top ten of the Nielsen ratings for its first three seasons. 

The ratings went down a bit for season four, as the popularity of the show started to cool. It's not surprising the show leveled off a bit--the average A-TEAM episode was basically like all the others. If you were a regular viewer you could easily guess what was going to happen in each story from week to week. 

By season four, for whatever reason, I wasn't watching the show on a week-to-week basis. By the fifth season (which started in the fall of 1986), it was my senior year of high school, and I had gotten a job, so my TV viewing was curtailed. 

But what really tamped down on my A-TEAM fandom was the fact that the show had been rebooted. This was a common occurrence among American network TV programs of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. A TV show that had been on too long, or had declining ratings, or had gotten stale, would be reworked in some way. New characters would be introduced, or the recurring characters would change locations, jobs, romantic partners, etc. 

The thing is, these TV reboots never worked. A reboot only seemed to hasten the demise of the show that was being changed. When I found out that THE A-TEAM was being reworked for the 86-87 season, I said to myself, "There goes that show." 

Needless to say, the reboot didn't work. The somewhat different A-TEAM didn't even last the entire season before it was canceled by NBC. The truncated fifth season of THE A-TEAM lasted only 13 episodes. 

Due to the fact that MeTV has been running THE A-TEAM every weekday, I finally caught up with its fifth season. I have a few thoughts about the final chapters of THE A-TEAM, and what better place to share them than here? 

Before I discuss the fifth season, I might as well give a quick background on the show for those who are not familiar with it (although I doubt there are many who fit that description). THE A-TEAM concerns four unique and offbeat soldiers of fortune, who have been on the run from the United States government since they were falsely accused of a crime while serving in Vietnam in 1972. The four men now use their combat skills usually in the service of ordinary folks who are being victimized in some way. 

What made the show popular is that it was pure over-the-top escapist action-adventure. On the average episode of THE A-TEAM the crew would fire off more bullets and artillery than that stockpiled by most third world nations, and they would also destroy a fleet of various vehicles. Despite all this mayhem, no one ever got killed--most of the time, no one even got their hair mussed. The bad guys were really, really bad, and the ordinary folks the team helped were really, really good. The show was absolutely ridiculous--but it was also absolutely entertaining, and funny as well. 

The start of season Five of THE A-TEAM shook things up a bit, with the boys finally getting caught (for real this time), and being put on trial by the U.S. military. (There was also a new main title sequence, and the title theme was changed slightly.) Of course, the trial is a setup.....but the team comes under the scrutiny of a mysterious intelligence operative named General Stockwell (Robert Vaughn). Stockwell makes an agreement with the A-Team: if they perform a number of special missions for him, he will grant each member of the team a full pardon. 

This results in Stockwell becoming a recurring character on the show, and the team gets a new member as well--Frankie Santana (Eddie Velez), a special-effects expert who has worked with A-Team leader Hannibal Smith (George Peppard) on various low-budget movies. 

Now that they are working for Stockwell, the A-Team is now somewhat legitimate. But this also means that instead of being Robin Hood-like figures who stand up for the regular guy and have issues with the government, the team now works for the government....and they're not very happy about it. Throughout season five, all the members of the team complain about their agreement with Stockwell. If the characters on a TV show are not excited about what they are doing....the audience won't be either. 

The addition of two extra characters left less screen time for the original team....and the new guys didn't do much for the overall show. With his slicked back hair and cocky demeanor, Frankie Santana resembled the type of guy that the A-Team would usually run out of town. Frankie came off more like a junior-league version of team member Templeton Peck, played by Dirk Benedict. With the shifty Stockwell giving the orders, Hannibal's role was reduced. One of the season five episodes even focused on Stockwell, and it even featured Robert Vaughn's co-star from THE MAN FROM UNCLE, David McCallum, as a guest villain. (The episode was even titled "The Just Say Uncle Affair", apparently to make sure the viewers got the connection.) 

The character that seemed to suffer the most in season five was that of B.A. Baracus, as played by Mr. T. Due to ROCKY III and THE A-TEAM, Mr. T became a pop culture icon in the mid-1980s--he even had a Saturday morning kids TV cartoon based around him. Like most overnight sensations, Mr. T faded quickly, and I wonder if that might have been one reason why in the season five episodes, he has almost nothing to do. Another reason may be is that the season five stories revolved more around espionage and international intrigue instead of beating up numerous thugs. As a matter of fact the entire A-Team seemed out of place and overshadowed in the show's new format. (At times during the season the characters appeared to be at loose ends over not being constantly on the run.) 

There was one season five episode that got my attention: "The Spy Who Mugged Me". This one was kind of a James Bond spoof, with the unlikely concept of team member "Howling Mad" Murdock (Dwight Schultz) posing as a suave spy. Schultz actually pulls off an impressive Sean Connery imitation, and I must point out that the actor was one of the main reasons for THE A-TEAM's overall success. Schultz was a talented performer who could do just about anything, and his crazy antics were consistently talked about at schools all over America the day after any A-TEAM episode aired. 

I have no idea who, or what group of TV executives decided to revamp THE A-TEAM, but it didn't work. The idea of the team being caught and put on trial would have been perfect for a series-ending story, but THE A-TEAM didn't get one of those. Even the idea of the team working for the government might have had possibilities, if it was handled creatively. But it seemed that NBC had given up on the show already, and the changes were just a way to give the network an excuse to pull the plug. 

Even if THE A-TEAM had not been revamped, I doubt it would have lasted much longer than it did. The show was a product of its time, and it was about as politically incorrect as you could be on American TV during that period. THE A-TEAM wasn't the type of show that could have lasted a decade or many times can you have the guys try and figure out how to break Murdock out of the VA hospital, or how to get B.A. on a plane?? 

THE A-TEAM will always be one of my favorite TV shows of all time--but I must admit, watching an episode Monday through Friday for weeks on end probably isn't the best way to enjoy it. THE A-TEAM deserved a much better climax than the mediocre final season it was saddled with. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022



This is not a Bob Hope-Bing Crosby comedy. It's a 1931 Warner Bros. melodrama, directed by Alfred E. Green. I discovered it on the HBO Max streaming service, of all places. 

Before he even shows up in the film, Hugh Dawltry (William Powell) is described as "a bounder". The suave Dawltry lives on a plantation near a village called Khota, located somewhere in Southeast Asia. The group of upper-class Brits who reside there consider Dawltry an outcast. Hugh develops an interest in Philippa March (Doris Kenyon), the frustrated new wife of a disagreeable doctor (Louis Calhern). The doctor's 18 year old sister (Marian Marsh) also has a huge crush on the mysterious Dawltry. The slippery Hugh manages to deal with his problems in his own way. 

THE ROAD TO SINGAPORE is a rather low-key story that owes much to the smooth presence of William Powell. As Dawltry, Powell spends most of the film wearing fashionable suits and imbibing alcohol. The ladies in the British colony of Khota find him fascinating, while the men can't stand him. Dawltry apparently has plenty of money (he doesn't actually work), but other than his supposedly bad reputation, the viewer never learns all that much about him. 

Doris Kenyon (an actress I'm not familiar with) is the bored wife who yearns for Powell. She's all right in the role, but I was far more interested in the ultra-cute Marian Marsh, who brings some much-needed brightness in her attempts to get Hugh Dawltry's attention. It's fun to watch Marsh try and vamp an amused Powell. 

The rest of the characters are stuffy, arrogant Brits who don't have much to do other than spend time at the local club. Actually the lead characters don't do much more than that either--Doris Kenyon is constantly lounging about, fanning herself from the heat and looking miserable. The only natives that are shown are inconsequential servants. 

The movie is very much like a stage play, except for one notable SVENGALI-like shot. It's a camera movement that starts out with a closeup of Doris Kenyon looking out the window of her house, sweeps across a miniature outdoor set, and winds up on a close-up of William Powell looking out his window. 

The main Pre-Code elements here are a scene where Marian Marsh and Doris Kenyon are dressed only in lingerie and stockings, and the ending, which probably wouldn't have passed muster if the film was made later in the decade. The real reasons to watch THE ROAD TO SINGAPORE are William Powell and Marian Marsh. 

Thursday, September 15, 2022



CRAZE is a 1974 British horror film, with plenty of notable names involved in it. It was produced by Herman Cohen and directed by Freddie Francis, and it stars Jack Palance, along with a supporting cast featuring several impressive talents of the English stage & screen. Despite boasting such a collection of worthy individuals, there's no reason to get crazy over CRAZE. 

If you're familiar with the Herman Cohen Cinematic Universe, the story structure of CRAZE won't surprise you any. As in many other Cohen pictures (I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, BLACK ZOO, etc.), CRAZE features a mentally deranged middle-aged man committing a series of bizarre gruesome murders, while at the same time ensnaring a younger male friend into a web of lies and deceit. In between the occasional killings are far too many scenes of various Scotland Yard inspectors trying to figure out what is going on, and multiple characters yelling at each other. 

Jack Palance plays Neal Mottram, an antiques dealer in London who also happens to worship an African god named Chuku. Mottram keeps a statue of Chuku in the cellar of his shop, and he learns that by offering sacrifices to it--or to put it bluntly, by murdering women--he apparently receives financial windfalls. Neal's young friend and business partner Ronnie (Martin Potter) tries to convince Neal after a few of these windfalls that they should take the money and get away before the police get on to them. Neal, however, is convinced that Chuku must continually be offered more and more sacrifices. Eventually the truly crazed Neal serves Chuku in the most personal way possible. 

Like just about every horror film produced by Herman Cohen, the plot of CRAZE isn't all that riveting when you actually sit down and watch the whole thing. The viewer never finds out exactly why Neal worships Chuku in the first place, or whether this "god" is actually helping him in some supernatural way, or even whether Neal is possessed by Chuku. As Neal, Jack Palance gets plenty of chances to let it rip, but his sweaty, loony antics aren't very thrilling. Michael Gough (who played similar roles in a number of Herman Cohen productions) had enough mad charisma to make such a character entertaining to watch, but Palance is just strange and off-putting. I wanted the police to catch him mainly so the movie would come to an end. 

What's astounding about CRAZE is the number of distinguished performers that Herman Cohen somehow managed to convince to appear in it. Trevor Howard and Michael Jayston play Scotland Yard investigators, and there's also Dame Edith Evans, Hugh Griffith, Diana Dors, and Kathleen Byron. Hammer veterans Julie Ege, Percy Herbert, and David Warbeck also have small roles. One would think that with a cast like that, something interesting would result, but it doesn't. 

One would also think that with a director like Freddie Francis and a cinematographer like John Wilcox, there might be some visual flourishes at least...but it seems that these two men did just enough to make CRAZE a competently made film, nothing more. By the time he was shooting CRAZE, Freddie Francis had become burned out by the many low-budget horrors he had worked on, and it shows. I can't name one single scene in CRAZE that was handled in an imaginative or memorable manner. The movie has a seedy and unpleasant look and feel to it. 

Of course, Francis had to deal with the script he was given. The one for CRAZE was written by Cohen and his longtime collaborator Aben Kandel, and it plays like a "usual scenes" medley of their earlier thrillers. There's not much action in CRAZE...but there's plenty of shots of Palance walking around a number of English locations. At one point, during a very protracted sequence, Neal sets up a one-night stand with a former flame played by Diana Dors, in order to establish an alibi. The viewer immediately suspects that Dors will wind up being a future victim--but it never comes to that. 

CRAZE was made at the tail end of the Golden Age of the English Gothic horror film, and by this time Herman Cohen's typical approach to such material was wearing very thin. As a matter of fact Cohen never produced a film of this nature on his own ever again. CRAZE will get attention from English Gothic fans (such as myself) for the names attached to it, but a cast & crew such as this deserved a much better production. 

Sunday, September 11, 2022



MASK OF MURDER is a very obscure Swedish-Canadian mystery thriller, made in 1985 and starring Rod Taylor, Christopher Lee, and Valerie Perrine. The entire movie is available as an extra on the MURDER STORY Blu-ray disc included in Severin's THE EUROCRYPT OF CHRISTOPHER LEE 2 box set. 

Despite the fact that MASK OF MURDER was filmed in Sweden, its story is set in a small town in Canada. In this town a serial killer has been tracked down, and he is eventually killed by Police Supt. Bob McLaine (Rod Taylor). Almost immediately more murders start to happen, all fitting the same pattern of the deceased killer. McLaine starts to wonder if the killer has somehow been reincarnated, while also dealing with personal problems at home--his wife (Valerie Perrine) is having an affair with one of his fellow police officers. 

MASK OF MURDER tries to be a gripping psychological suspense tale, but it's dull and depressing, with glum, uninteresting characters. Director Arne Mattson doesn't give the story much flash or flair--even the murder sequences are very generic. The story takes place in the middle of winter, and due to this there's a grey, desultory atmosphere hanging over everything. Perhaps that was the director's intention, but it doesn't make a viewer all that enthusiastic to follow the talky, slow-moving plot. 

Rod Taylor gives a rather sullen performance as the put-upon Supt. McLaine. I'm sure what was going on in the story influenced Taylor's attitude, but one wonders if the actor regretted even being in this production. Christopher Lee plays Taylor's boss, Chief Supt. Jonathan Rich. It's another of Lee's many "He's not in it enough, and why did he even bother to take part in this" roles. Lee brings some much needed spirit when he is onscreen, but you get the feeling that his character is way overqualified to be a police chief in such a small boring town. 

There's an attempt here to try and inject a supernatural element, by suggesting that a dead serial killer may be able to influence others from beyond the grave, but it isn't developed enough. The ending is rather awkward, and it leaves more questions than answers. What really hurts the film is that nearly every character has been dubbed--even Rod Taylor is dubbed over a couple times. This doesn't help the already clunky dialogue. 

On the back of Severin's Blu-ray disc case of MURDER STORY, it is stated that their presentation of MASK OF MURDER is sourced from the best existing master. The movie is not in HD, it is in full frame, and it looks as if it comes from a VHS tape. The colors are pale and drab, and the visual quality just makes the film feel even more cheap and seedy. 

Christopher Lee was involved in several obscure films in his lengthy acting career, but MASK OF MURDER is particularly rare. It doesn't seem to have gotten any sort of major theatrical release, and most sources say that while it was made in 1985, it didn't get released on home video until 1988. Some might give Severin some respect for including something unknown as this in a deluxe Blu-ray box set, while others may opine that a more effective production could have taken up the slot. 

At one point in MASK OF MURDER, Christopher Lee's character complains, "Blah, blah, blah..." That's about the best way to describe the film overall. 

Saturday, September 10, 2022



Last month, as part of their annual "Summer Under The Stars" series, the Turner Classic Movies cable TV channel had a day dedicated to the films of Peter Sellers. One of the movies shown (at 4 am, which was a hint to its quality) was the last theatrical feature with new footage of Peter Sellers to be released, 1980's THE FIENDISH PLOT OF FU MANCHU. I have read for years about how absolutely terrible this film was, so I decided to check it out for myself. (I did not get up at 4 am to watch it, I viewed it on my Xfinity TCM app.)

Is THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR. FU MANCHU really that bad?? I certainly wouldn't call it so horrible as to be unwatchable. It's just not funny. Humor is very subjective--what one person finds hilarious another will react to with stone-faced indifference. I think, however, that's it safe to say that this movie is not going to cause anyone to bust a gut laughing. 

Peter Sellers plays the dual roles of Dr. Fu Manchu and his nemesis Inspector Nayland Smith. Sellers portrays both characters as befuddled old men, and the actor's various health problems at this point in his life may have had something to do with that. Sellers at times seems detached from what is going on, and he fails to display the manic energy he would inject into his classic comedy roles from the 50s and 60s. 

As happened way too often in Sellers' movie career, the making of this production was filled with all sorts of drama. According to internet sources, three different directors worked on this project: Richard Quine, John Avildsen, and Piers Haggard. All three men clashed with Sellers. Haggard got director's credit on the actual film, but he wasn't around at the end of shooting. Sellers himself directed and wrote a number of scenes. 

Whoever was responsible for how this film turned out, he--or they--didn't bring much zip or zing into it. Sarcastic crazy comedy needs some high energy to make it work, and THE FIENDISH PLOT is flat and lifeless, lumbering along at 100 minutes. Just about everything in it is far more weird than funny. 

The story (which an onscreen title says is set "Possibly around 1933") has the 168-year old Fu Manchu searching for ingredients to make his elixir of life, which accounts for his advanced age. Fu and his minions attempt to pull off a number of crimes, which gets the attention of Scotland Yard. The authorities call upon the retired Sir Nayland Smith, who hasn't been the same since being tortured by Fu's men (this supposedly accounts for his somewhat lethargic state). Nayland Smith tracks down Fu to his Himalayan lair, but the evil doctor winds up fully revived--which inspires him to dress up like Elvis and sing a ridiculous song called "Rock-a-Fu". (Trust me, the rest of the gags aren't much better.) 

Peter Sellers and Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren plays an undercover lady constable named Alice, who, in an effort to thwart Fu, disguises as England's Queen Mary (which is rather ironic since the actress would later famously play Queen Mary's granddaughter Elizabeth II). Mirren's character is also an aspiring performer, so we get to see her sing & dance to "On The Good Ship Lollipop". Alice and Fu fall in love (???), and the two even join together to duet on a music hall classic called "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me A Bow-Wow". Mirren is essentially the equivalent of Madeline Kahn in a Mel Brooks movie....except the least Brooks comedy is way more entertaining than what she's doing here. 

David Tomlinson and Sid Caesar are in this movie as well, but they don't get any chances to shine. Caesar plays an Italian-American FBI agent named Capone....I assume this was supposed to be some sort of joke, but nothing ever comes out of it. Burt Kwouk (who was Kato to Sellers' Inspector Clouseau) has a cameo, and maybe he was lucky to just be in only one scene. 

THE FIENDISH PLOT OF FU MANCHU wasn't cheap--it has impressive production values, and it certainly isn't lacking anything on the technical level. (Ironically most of the film was shot in France.) But as a comedy, it's on the level of a mediocre 1960s American TV sitcom....or a THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW skit that doesn't work and goes on way too long. 

It's sad that THE FIENDISH PLOT OF FU MANCHU was the last film Peter Sellers worked on (it was released soon after the actor's death). It's also sad--and perplexing--how a performer as talented as Sellers wound up in so many terrible films, and how his personal quirks upended so many productions he was involved in. 

Monday, September 5, 2022



This is another early Paramount film starring Carole Lombard, released in 1931. It reunites Lombard with Norman Foster and Skeets Gallagher, her co-stars from IT PAYS TO ADVERTISE--but that fact is nothing to get excited about. 

Norman Foster is Steve Merrick, a regular guy who has aspirations to be a writer. Carole Lombard is Steve's girlfriend Anne. Steve wants to marry Anne, but she believes their fun-loving lifestyle will prevent him from focusing on his writing. The couple marry, and Anne gets a job as a dancer, so Steve can stay home and write. Steve isn't happy about stuck at home, and the idea that Anne is the breadwinner. The two break up, but reunite with the news that Anne is going to have a baby. 

UP POPS THE DEVIL was based on a stage play, and it shows. It's a static, talky film, and even a comedy specialist like its director, Edward Sutherland, can't do much with it. Throughout much of the running time various eccentric characters randomly pop in and out of Steve and Anne's apartment. (I thought this element of the story was the basis of the title, but that comes from a line of dialogue.) The uninvited guests are played by Skeets Gallagher, Stuart Erwin, Lilyan Tashman, Joyce Compton, Willie Best, and others, Their collective antics are supposed to be funny, but they just get in the way of main plot. 

Norman Foster gives another whiny, annoying performance as Steve. In the actor's defense, the character isn't very appealing. At first Steve complains that he doesn't have enough time to write (mainly due to his own partying), but when he is given plenty of time to work, he whines about being stuck at home and is embarrassed about his wife being the "man" of the house. With roles like these, it's no wonder that Foster quit acting to become a movie director. 

Carole Lombard once again is stuck with a weak leading man character, and once again I have to state that one wonders what her character sees in such an underwhelming guy. The only surprise there is in Anne leaving Steve is that it didn't happen sooner. Being that this is a classic Hollywood studio film, you know that the couple will be reunited at the end, but one wishes the sensible, responsible (and very attractive) Anne find someone way better. 

It would take a while for Lombard to find her stride as an actress, and for Hollywood studios to figure out how to use her best. UP POPS THE DEVIL is not on the list as one of Lombard's career high points. 

Saturday, September 3, 2022



NO ONE MAN is a 1932 comedy-drama from Paramount starring Carole Lombard. It is not to be confused with NO MAN OF HER OWN, a much more famous 1932 Paramount-Lombard entry that co-starred Clark Gable. It is one of the many movies that Lombard appeared in during the early 1930s that did not take full advantage of her talents. 

Carole plays Penelope Newbold, the fun-loving daughter of a rich businessman. The young Penelope has already been through one marriage, and she has her sights set on playboy Bill Hanaway (Ricardo Cortez). Bill also desires Penelope, but he still enjoys having fun with maneater Sue (Juliette Compton). Penelope becomes fascinated with Karl Bemis (Paul Lukas), an older, decent, hard-working doctor, and agrees to marry him....but she literally ditches Karl at the last minute to wed Bill. Penelope realizes that picking the irresponsible Bill was a mistake, while Dr. Bemis still has feelings for her, despite what happened between them. 

NO ONE MAN is a talky tale, with plenty of soap-opera aspects to it. The big problem is that most of the main characters belong to the idle rich, and it's hard to be all that concerned over their relationship problems. Carole Lombard is stuck with a thankless role of a woman who doesn't know what she wants, and doesn't have to face any real consequences when she makes a mistake. Lombard is gorgeous as always, getting to wear dozens of outfits (although I have to say at this point in her acting career she was wearing way too much eye makeup and lipstick). All her character Penelope has, however, is beauty and money--there doesn't seem to be much to her other than that. 

Ricardo Cortez gets to do one of his many untrustworthy bad boy roles, while Paul Lukas provides the counterpoint as the honest and caring doctor. One wishes that Lukas' character had more passion to him--there needed to be a scene where Karl loudly tells all the smarmy rich folk where to go and how to get there, but the good doctor has too much manners to do that. George Barbier steals plenty of scenes as Penelope's sarcastic father. 

Paul Lukas and Carole Lombard

One very Pre-code element concerning NO ONE MAN is a subplot involving Penelope's maid, who has a baby out of wedlock. The maid, with Penelope's backing, goes to a sanitarium run by Dr. Bemis, who "takes care" of women who have such problems. The subplot is tastefully handled, but the message implied seems to be that it's okay for a rich girl like Penelope to live a free lifestyle, but women who actually work for a living should know their limits. 

What ultimately makes NO ONE MAN disappointing is a very late plot contrivance that unexpectedly comes out of left field, and also allows Penelope to have a happy ending (which she really doesn't deserve). It's the type of climax that gives Hollywood movies made during this period a bad reputation among those who are not familiar with them. 

NO ONE MAN allowed me to cross off another movie starring my favorite actress that I had not seen, but other than Carole Lombard, there's nothing else to recommend about it.