Throwback Thursday: WOR-TV Channel 9’s “Million Dollar Movie” intro!

This will probably be a pretty obscure Throwback Thursday post, but the segment below should be recognized by people who grew up in the New York metropolitan area in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  It’s none other than the intro for WOR-TV Channel 9’s “Million Dollar Movie.”  (That music you hear is a particularly brassy rendition of Max Steiner’s “Tara’s Theme” from 1939’s “Gone With the Wind.”)

If you were in the New York area at that time, it ought to bring back memories of the old days of broadcast television.  (It’s actually surprising how much nostalgia people online report at seeing this 44-second clip.  And it’s amazing what you can find on the Internet.)  A few commenters note sardonically that the clip makes Manhattan look like a nighttime paradise — while The Big Apple in the 1970’s was not always an easy place to be.  (The city if far cleaner and safer today.)

Some of the comments I read were befuddling.  There is one blogger who wrote that he remembers this intro from as far back as the 1950’s.  (Had they really used it for more than two decades?)  And a populous minority of commenters remember being unsettled by the clip.  (They describe it as ominous, and the music as creepy, which mystifies the rest of us who remember “Million Dollar Movie.”)

This intro had an indelible effect on me.  While it recalls monster movies like “King Kong” (1939) and “Godzilla” (1954) for a lot of others, it will always remind me of my father watching war films and cowboy movies on his days off — along with the occasional Charles Bronson flick.   “The Great Escape” (1963), “A Bridge Too Far” (1977) and “Shane” (1953) all spring to mind.

When I was in the first or second grade, I habitually enhanced my Dad’s enjoyment of the “Million Dollar Movie” by peppering him endlessly with questions about whatever was playing — even if I had only wandered into the room for a few minutes.  “Why did they call it ‘a bridge too far?'” “Why did they fight World War II?” “The British and French were good guys in the war, right?” “Why did the cowboy drop his gun on purpose?”  “Why did the guy fake his death?”  (Bear in mind, folks, this was broadcast television — long before the days of Netflix and DVD’s.)

If any kid did that to me when I was watching my favorite movies, I’d go nuts — even if I had a pause button.  My father was a saint.

 

Cover of Myron Kosloff’s “Running Wild,” by artist Eric Stanton, 1963

The artwork for mid-twentieth century pulp novels was sometimes “so bad, it’s good.”

Here’s a head-scratcher — the woman on the table is waving her bra around, yet is … also still wearing a bra.  Did she have on two?  Did an editor or art director feel the need to bowlderize the illustration by inking in a (non-matching) bra to cover her breasts?

“Myron Kosloff” was a somewhat puzzling nom-de-plume for author Paul Little.  This was evidently part of the “First Niter” series.

 

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Nolanferatu’s tip for a trippy vintage horror double feature!

Well there’s one thing I can cross off my bucket list.  (There’s a lot on there, and some of it’s weird.)  I finally saw F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu: ein Symphonie des Grauens” (1922).

And am I damn glad I did!  I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  I love plenty of classic movies; “The 39 Steps” (1939) and “To Have and Have Not” (1944) are among my all-time favorites.  But I’m accustomed to modern horror — my tastes generally extend only as far back as “The Birds” (1963) and “Night of the Living Dead” (1968).

I waited until I was in just the right mood.  (This is the first silent film I’ve ever seen from start to finish — the only exception being Mel Brooks’ 1976 parody, “Silent Movie.”)  Then I began it shortly before midnight.

The movie just worked for me. It was sublimely creepy.

I think it helped that the grainy, flickering, black-and-white period footage made this expressionist movie utterly atmospheric for a modern viewer.  These, combined with the shots of Max Schreck superbly made up as “Count Orlok,” were damned unsettling.  Schreck also appeared to be a great physical actor, with his gaunt stance and stilted, inhuman movements.  (Was he unusually tall too?)

The vintage footage also enhanced my enjoyment of the movie in a way that Murnau probably couldn’t have expected.  I know this is strange, but … nearly a century later, the thought that occurred to me several times during this movie was this: “Everyone involved in this production is long dead by now.”  Yes, I know that is a morbid thought — I’ve never done that before!  I think it was just the film itself that did that to me — it’s about undeath and immortality, after all.

It also helped that I’d read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (1897), of which this film is an unauthorized adaptation.  The resulting lawsuit by Stoker’s estate is interesting reading: supposedly all copies of the movie were ordered by the courts to be destroyed, bankrupting Prana, the production company.  But a permanent cult following developed for the few surviving prints.

Anyway, I followed this up with the palate-cleansing “Night on Bald Mountain,” the final segment of Disney’s “Fantasia” (1944).  That combination, too, totally worked for me — I followed up the black-and-white nightmare-fuel of the seminal vampire film with some vivid, incongruously hellish Disney nightmare-fuel.

“Nosferatu” is in the public domain.  You can view the entire film on Youtube at the link below.

 

 

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Throwback Thursday: Weird 1970’s “Planet of the Apes” merchandise

I lived in a time when “Star Wars”movies didn’t exist.  Seriously, young people.  The first “Star Wars” arrived in theaters in 1977, and I arrived in this world just a few years earlier.  Furthermore, enjoying that first “Star Wars” movie was sort of a one-shot deal when I was a tot; unless your parents took you to the theater for additional viewings.  (VHS tapes were a few years down the line.)  And the sequels subsequently arrived two or three years apart.

What I am leading up to here is that there was an entirely different sci-fi movie universe already firmly entrenched in popular culture long before this world first glimpsed “a galaxy far, far away.”  That universe was the one we saw in the “Planet of the Apes” films.  There were five of them between 1968 and 1973.  (Pierre Boulle’s original novel was published in 1963.)  By the time I was a little boy, they were a fairly regular staple on broadcast television (y’know – signals sent to those huge, bulky boxes with movable antennae).

If you have any expertise in film history, or if you’re just an online flick nerd like me, then you know that George Lucas redefined the term “movie merchandising” with “Star Wars” toys, shortly after Steven Spielberg redefined the term “blockbuster” with 1975’s “Jaws.”  Nevertheless, neither man invented those things.  And the “Planet of the Apes” movie franchise is maybe the best proof of that.

The 1970’s were a weird time.  (I was born then, for example.)  If you google “1970’s Planet of the Apes merchandise,” you’ll see that the products it spawned were occasionally just weird.  There were jigsaw puzzles that were sold in … cans, for example.  I guess that’s understandable.  There were a sheer plethora of cheaply made plastic or rubber piggy banks.  (Do kids even have piggy banks these days?)  There were action figures, but they were eight inches tall, and the playsets were made of … cardboard and vinyl, instead of plastic.  And of course there were the predictable lunchboxes and ultra-cheap Halloween kiddie costumes.

All of this is a little strange, too, if you agree with me that “Planet of the Apes” was kinda not for young kids.  Think about it.  If you look past the high camp, the 70’s cheese, and your own nostalgia, it was dark stuff.  It was a story whose premise was sentient man’s extinction.  The first movie, early on, showed human beings getting the museum-display taxidermy treatment, after glimpses of genocide and slavery.  The second movie, in 1970, has its story helpfully resolved by a nuclear bomb that freakin’ kills everybody.   Today’s remakes (which I happen to like, by the way) didn’t go that far.  Anyway, if you’re curious about movie toys being inappropriately being marketed to young children, go ahead and read up on the toys licensed for 1979’s really violent, really Freudian “Alien.”  (Wow.)  Cracked.com has a terrific article about it.

But anyway … this meandering blog post is actually about one product in particular, so I’ll go ahead and promptly name it here, in the sixth paragraph — the plastic “Dr. Zaius” piggy bank.  It’s there, below, in the first photo.  It was maybe a foot and a half tall, if memory serves, and it was somewhat crudely fashioned out of very thick plastic.  I can find little information about it on the internet — beyond the fact that it is still purchased by collectors on sites like eBay and Etsy.  It appears to be one of four such toys produced — the others were made for the characters of Cornelius, Zira, and General Ursus.  (That’s Latin for “bear,” isn’t it?  I only know because I once saw a cheap paperback horror novel about a monster bear with that title.)  It also was manufactured in either the late 60’s or early 70’s.

Mine was unpainted — as were those in the other sparing images of this product I can find via Google image search.  (The second image shows, however, that painted versions were apparently sold at one point.)

Mine was also kind of defective in a big way — it had a slot at the top where coins were deposited, but there was no opening at the bottom to withdraw them when needed.  So a forward-thinking child could save his money, only to be confounded by the evil Dr. Zaius when his savings were needed. (It worked like banks during the Great Depression, in other words.)

I rectified this when I was … a very frustrated eight-year-old, I think, on a summer morning when I really wanted change from that bank.  I took a large kitchen knife to that thick plastic on the bottom and just sort of murdered a jagged, elliptical hole into it to get my quarters.  I don’t remember how I got a hold of such a huge knife, as I had pretty attentive parents.  Neither do I remember why I needed the money so badly.  Was it the ice cream man?  A yard sale?  “Sgt. Rock” comic books?  Cocaine again?  (This was about 1980, after all.)

Anyway, I also remember other strange “Planet of the Apes” merchandise being around when I was a very little boy.  That horse you see was a toy my older brother had.  (And when he was absent, I raided his stuff in much the same manner that the Viet Cong raided American patrols — employing stealth to avoid retaliation by a larger, stronger force.)   The horse was made by Mego to accompany the 8-inch tall movie action figures (which were really more like “dolls” than the Star Wars figures that would hit the scene later).  The handheld device and wire you see represents cutting-edge toy technology for the 70’s.  You flicked a switch to activate the horse.  It didn’t exactly gallop; instead it sort of shuffled and buzzed forward on its stiff legs like a particularly unfortunate animal with both arthritis and epilepsy.

My sister told me that I had a “Planet of the Apes” playhouse that I refused to leave when I was very young.  I absolutely can’t remember that.  Is it the product in the fourth photo?  I hope not, because that is one cheap-ass product, not worth $14.99 in today’s dollars.  It also is just basically a plain cardboard box with an undecorated interior, which would mean that, as a child, I had the same mentality as a housecat.

Finally, pictured below is a novelization of one of the movie’s sequels, “Escape From the Planet of the Apes” (1971).  I think I saw this among the disheveled paperback library that always occupied the back seat and back floor of my Dad’s car.  I saw Boulle’s source novel in that back seat once, with a weird minimalist art cover.  My Dad explained that it was “very different from the movie.”  Or I might have seen it on the floor of the closet I shared with my brother.  (That closet functioned according to trickle-down economics — the really cool stuff occasionally fell from his top shelf to the floor where I could grab it.)

I might still have that Dr. Zaius bank in the shed or in storage.  I should grab it and determine its value.  (Christ, I’m paying a lot of money for that storage unit.)  It would be nuts if that hole I cut made it less valuable as a collector’s item.

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