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As promised

OL10Here is another episode of the B-Moviecast where Vince, Mary and I discuss the Outer Limits again.  This time the episodes covered are The Invisibles and ZZZZZ.  While I personally like both of these episodes, one of them is definitely superior to the other.  To find out which, why not give episode 286 a listen here.

Failure to Launch: The Invisible Avenger

Richard Derr as Lamont Cranston, I guess.

Richard Derr as Lamont Cranston, I guess.

The Invisible Avenger was the second attempt to bring The Shadow to television. This pilot was filmed in 1958 and stars Richard Derr as Lamont Cranston and Mark Daniels as his mentor in the mystic arts Jogendra. Before I say anything else I just wanted to note that I had a really hard time with Derr as Cranston as he doesn’t look the part at all to me.

This time around our story is set in New Orleans and immediately begins with an international flavor as a jazz musician named Tony meets with a gentleman named Pablo and his daughter. Pablo is the president in exile of the South or Central American country of Santa Cruz. Tony is from Santa Cruz and is loyal to Pablo and, more importantly has contact with Lamont Cranston who is the one person that can contact the Shadow. The former president needs the Shadow’s help as agents of the Generalissimo who took over Santa Cruz are trying to kidnap Pablo for fomenting a counter revolution. Tony makes the call to New York but, is killed literally mid-sentence with Lamont. This, of course, causes Lamont to make a trip, with his mentor Jogendra in tow, to the big easy. Unfortunately for our heroes the Gemeralissimo’s agents are extremely well organized and surreptitiously intercept the two at the airport. Cranston goes straight to the club that Tony made his call from, which is pretty much the only lead he has, to get stonewalled by the staff. He does learn a little bit from a severely over-acted member of the club’s jazz band. Upon leaving, the cabby that intercepted Cranston at the airport tries to take him on a one way trip to nowhere but Cranston uses his hypnotic powers on the cabby through the rear view mirror. While not exactly the safest of plans, it works and Cranston escapes. I want to interrupt at this point to say that the visual effects for this version of the Shadow are pretty awesome. The hypnosis has suitably eerie music attached to it and, while invisible, Cranston still casts this disembodied shadow that is pretty cool looking and surprisingly well executed. At this point Cranston as the Shadow visits Pablo and his daughter and advises them to go into hiding. There is another neat scene where we see Cranston’s shadow form turn off the tv set that Pablo is watching before addressing him. The attempts against Cranston’s life continue but fail to stop him from finding Tony’s body as well as a clue he left in his trumpet at the club. At this point we flash to a news story that reports on the capture of Tony’s killers thanks to a tip from an anonymous source (Cranston) and we see the live execution of Pablo’s twin brother in Santa Cruz for treason. In his final words, the brother encourages Pablo to come out of hiding to support the impending counter revolution. Against Cranston’s wishes, Pablo does so and is promptly abducted by forces loyal to the Generalissimo. This leads to a car chase that I will generously describe as unconvincing. I would have ascribed it to the time period but, being a fan of the 1940s Green Hornet serials which have some pretty amazing car chases, I know this is not the issue. This ultimately leads to a final showdown between Cranston and the Generalissimo’s agents. There was even a surprising twist at the end that I hadn’t seen coming.

In comparison to the earlier pilot, I found the acting in this one to be a bit uneven. Jogendra and Pablo are fine but all the rest have some very wooden moments and then there’s that embarrassing stereotype of a jazz musician. I was more engaged by the story in this one due mostly to the larger scope of the events and the visual effects that are light years better than the first pilot. The Invisible Avenger is made up of what would apparently have been two half hour television episodes had the pilot made series. They are put together for this presentation which was ultimately released as a theatrical movie. A version re-titled Bourbon Street Shadows was released at one point and according to the Internet Movie Database apparently contains fifteen more minutes of footage than the version I watched. Unfortunately, it looks like copies of this longer version are not readily available as I would be interested in checking it out. I can see why the Invisible Avenger most likely didn’t make series as the acting and production are quite rough around the edges in a number of places. Regardless of this, of the two pilots I definitely prefer this one over the earlier because, although it unsuccessfully reached beyond its capabilities in a number of places, it did so attempting to really bring the Shadow to life and to tell an interesting story that was more than just your standard murder mystery at the same time.

Failure to Launch: The Shadow (1954)

Lamont and Margot at the Cobalt Club after having their evening plans ruined by Commissioner Weston.

Lamont and Margot at the Cobalt Club after having their evening plans ruined by Commissioner Weston.

In the early days of television there were two attempts to bring the very popular pulp hero The Shadow to the then new medium. The Shadow radio program was extremely popular and given Dragnet’s successful transition to tv, moving the Shadow there probably looked like a safe bet. This first pilot, sometimes subtitled The Case of the Cotton Kimono, stars Tom Helmore as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow and Paula Raymond as Margot Lane.

Our story begins with a young woman, whose name we later learn is Cissy Chadwick, hurriedly throwing on a kimono (hence the subtitle) to answer the door for who she assumes to be her boyfriend. Instead, she is gunned down by an unseen assailant. After this we meet Lamont and Margot who are just heading out to take in a show when their evening is interrupted by Commissioner Weston. We quickly learn that Lamont is a criminal psychologist on retainer from the New York City police department. The Commissioner wants Lamont’s opinion on the case. As it turns out, there is another detective named Harris working the case and his prime suspect is Cissy’s boyfriend Alex Bromm. Lamont talks to Harris first who claims to be making no progress showing a bruise on his head that he claims Bromm gave him after his second attempt to speak to the guy. Visiting Bromm next turns out to be considerably more productive as Bromm claims that Harris has visited him way more than two times. In fact, he says that Harris has been relentlessly harassing him when he knows nothing about his girlfriend’s murder. The conversation reminds Bromm that the night before the murder Cissy had visited a singing teacher whose service she was going to no longer be needing. Lamont visits the teacher who turns out to be an extremely arrogant man and he all but throws Cranston out of his home. This triggers a visit from the Shadow. This Shadow is the same as the one we hear on the radio program who uses hypnosis to make himself invisible to his victims. This was back in the good old days when hypnosis could basically do anything. The visual effect for this is a flashing light shown on the screen beside the victim. If that sounds lame that would be because it pretty much is. Just as the Shadow has terrified the teacher into making a confession on his balcony, a gun shot from an unseen sniper permanent silences the man. After this Margot makes an observation about the case that everyone else previously had missed which leads Lamont and Margot to chase down the remaining clues they need to solve Cissy’s murder.

Clocking in at half an hour, this pilot very much comes across as a radio episode translated to the small screen. Overall, the story itself is fine and the acting is good enough but, the poor visual effect is enough to take it down a notch in my book. One thing that I did find myself wondering about was the ethical dilemma of someone with a professional psychology degree, assuming Cranston had actually had one, using that knowledge of psychology to terrorize confessions out of people as the Shadow. I guess we’re just not supposed to examine this particular point that closely. To be honest, I really can’t say why this pilot didn’t make series. The visual effect could have easily been changed if that was an issue but, even with as much as I disliked them, I can’t imagine it being a deal breaker. Perhaps the reasons are something that only the Shadow knows.

Coming Soon

shadows-justice-broken-napoleans-maxwell-grant-paperback-cover-artMy friend Richard over at Monster Movie Kid has decided to make April the month of The Shadow. As readers of Fantastic Television should be well aware of by now, I’m a big pulp fiction junkie with particular interest in the pulp heroes which were actually called character magazines by the publishers back in the day. If you are unfamiliar with the Shadow, check out Richard’s April 1st posting as it gives an excellent overview of the character’s history. I have personally always viewed the Shadow as the very first super hero. Like Richard, my first exposure to the Shadow was through the old time radio show of the same name. While I gather that Richard favors the radio version of the character, the pulp magazine version is my preference. In any case, there have been a number of big and a couple of little screen adaptations of the character. Richard will be covering the theatrical stuff over at Monster Movie Kid and I offered to help out Richard by adding two article to my Failure to Launch Line covering these two attempts to bring this crimefighter to tv audiences back in the 50s. These should be arriving shortly.

To tie back into the television medium, I have always been of the impression that Person of Interest was inspired by the Shadow although the far more knowledgable Ron Fortier at Airship 27 thinks that the show is based more upon the other pulp character Secret Agent X. As a side note, you should really check out Airship 27′s website as it has an awesome array of pulp style literature written by modern authors. Regardless of which of us is right (my money would be on Ron, honestly) the pulp heroes inspired by the tremendous success of The Shadow are still having an impact on today’s television.

And another one I missed

I couldn't find any promotional images for season 2 of In the Flesh so, I chose this cool picture instead.

I couldn’t find any promotional images for season 2 of In the Flesh so, I chose this cool picture instead.

This makes me two for two now on forgetting a series in my what I’m watching updates. I’m honestly not trying to make this a regular blog feature. This time around it’s even a genre show so I can’t even fall back on the non-genre excuse. On May 10th on BBC America, In the Flesh returns. This is the second season and it’s right up there with Continuum and Orphan Black on my looking forward to it list. The series is set several years after a “zombie apocalypse” with humanity having more or less survived the event referred to as “the rising”. It turns out that there is now a treatment for the dead folks that allows them to return to normal human brain function and, as a result, regular human society. Unfortunately, given human nature, this doesn’t go all that smoothly. The one thing that most impressed me about the first season was that the final episode had a warning about it’s content. This wasn’t for the gore or violence that one would expect, however, but instead it had to do with the extremely dark nature of some of the events in the episode and, as I mentioned in my review it definitely wasn’t out of line. Given that the first season is only three episodes long it is quite easy to catch up as BBC America will most likely repeat the first season some time soon. This is another series that serious genre fans really need to check out.

Return to the Outer Limits

OuterLimitAt50As most of you know, I’m a big fan of anthology series and the original Outer Limits is one of my favorites. Vince Rotolo at the B-Moviecast and I have been very gradually going through the entire series. In the latest episode of Vince’s podcast we discuss two more episodes from the first season. These are The Bellero Shield and The Children of Spider County. The Bellero Shield is a classic episode that stars Martin Landau and Sally Kellerman who, most people will easily recognize as Doctor Elizabeth Dehner from the equally classic Star Trek episode Where No Man has Gone Before. The Children of Spider County is not quite so classic but, if you want to hear our full opinion, you can check out episode 284 here. We did two of these so a second episode should follow within a couple of weeks.

Since we are on the topic of The Outer Limits, I thought I would also mention a new book about the series called The Outer Limits at 50 by David Schow. He is the same author who did the outstanding Outer Limits Companion which is tragically out of print at the moment. My wife Diane got me a copy for Valentine’s Day and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. The book is only available through the Creature Features website. The link here will take you directly to the order page for any of those interested in acquiring a copy for themselves.

Springing into April

On Continuum, Kiera has a less than optimal day.

On Continuum, Kiera has a less than optimal day.

With April less than a week away at this point (although you would never tell from our local weather) it’s time to post my new “what I’ll be watching” article as all of the shows will be starting soon.   I’m going to break with tradition again and do the shows starting with what I am most looking forward to.   You’ll just have to skip the non-genre stuff as it shows up.

The first two series are actually a bit of a toss up for which I most want to see more. Continuum’s third season starts on SyFy on April 4th. The second season left us with one hell of a cliffhanger that really promises to change up the internal politics of the series. As it turns out, just because you were the first to go back in time doesn’t mean you can assume that you were also the last. All of this is probably why I’m most excited about the return of this show. Thanks to Netflix streaming I managed to get one of my work colleagues into the series as well. Orphan Black is the other series I’m really excited about. This show completely blindsided me last year.   The show is about a group of clones all marvelously played by the same actress Tatiana Maslany. She did such a good job differentiating the characters that, like I mention in my season one review, it took me half way through the season to realize just how hard Ms. Maslany’s acting schedule must be for this series.   Season two of Orphan Black begins April 19th on BBC America.

Game of Thrones enters its fourth season on April 6th. I know I don’t generally talk about this awesome HBO series here but, trust me, it’s worthy of all the hype that is heaped upon it by pretty much every other reviewer on the planet. I’m most looking forward to Daenerys Targaryen’s storyline as she is pretty much the only contender for the Iron Throne left that I have any respect for at all.

Speaking of April 6th, AMC brings us a new non-genre historical drama called Turn which is set during the American Revolution. The story will focus on the Culper spy ring which you can Wikipedia if you don’t know what that is. I’ve always found this time period to be particularly interesting so, I’m looking forward to see what this series has to offer.

The last two are both final seasons, ironically, and, like my first two, are tied for which I’m most looking forward to. Warehouse 13’s final season starts on SyFy on April 14th. I think I would have liked this show more had they maintained the balance of super science and magic as opposed to switching primarily to the latter. I still love the characters enough for the show to hold my interest, though. Starting one day earlier on the 13th is, what I comparatively recently learned to be, the final season of AMC’s Mad Men. This one might get a bump above Warehouse 13 for, much like Continuum, it had a cliffhanger that promised a major shift for the direction of the series and Don Draper, personally.

Well, that’s it until June. As always, if anyone else wants to provide their own list, they are more than welcome to do so.

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