Archive | January, 2013

Dragnet meets Sunset Boulevard

27 Jan

Until this month I’d never watched an original black-and-white episode of “Dragnet,” the police drama series that ran from 1951-1959 and starred Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday. Webb also produced and directed the series, having adapted it for television from a radio series he’d originated after being inspired by his role as a crime lab technician in the 1949 movie, HE WALKED BY NIGHT, covered here on March 13, 2012. I’ve seen 12 episodes of “Dragnet” so far, thanks to a box set I picked up at a used video store last year.

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History on Film: Lincoln vs. Django

16 Jan

DJANGO UNCHAINED and LINCOLN complement each other in many ways. Both deal with historical events from time periods that are very close to each other—DJANGO is set in 1858, LINCOLN in 1865. Both deal with the subject of slavery. Several of the important characters in DJANGO are slaves and the film shows what life was like for them on the ground. LINCOLN talks about slavery but never shows us a single slave. DJANGO offers a fanciful approach to history, with entirely fictional characters and events; LINCOLN recounts events that actually happened and uses actual historical figures as its main characters. DJANGO is like the eccentric substitute social studies teacher who comes in and throws out the textbook to offer students a revisionist history and wild stories about what “really” happened, while LINCOLN is the Establishment Historian who comes in with impeccable credentials and lays out a detailed view of the subject based on rigorous study of original documents and the actual written words of the participants. In terms of precedents of historical filmmaking, I would argue that Steven Spielberg, director of LINCOLN, follows in the tradition of someone like Darryl Zanuck, who made carefully wrought historical dramas a centerpiece of the 20th Century Fox film lineup for nearly 40 years (YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, WILSON, THE LONGEST DAY, PATTON), while Quentin Tarantino, director of DJANGO, adopts the more freewheeling approach to history taken in the past by Sam Fuller (I SHOT JESSE JAMES, RUN OF THE ARROW) and Larry Cohen (THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER), in addition to Sergio Leone and the other Italian filmmakers who offered a highly stylized view of western (and western movie) history in their films. Tarantino highly exaggerates to make his points, while Spielberg sticks to the historical record and dots all the i’s, crosses all the t’s and gets all the facial hair and suitcoats right. (As opposed to Django’s green vaquero-style “Little Joe” jacket, taken from “Bonanza.”)

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Asian Stars in TV Westerns, Part 1: Lisa Lu in “Bonanza”

8 Jan

About a year ago, I picked up a DVD called “Top TV Westerns” that included a 1961 episode of “Laramie,” entitled “Dragon at the Door,” that happened to be about a troupe of traveling Japanese entertainers out west, with the lead character played by Japanese actress Nobu McCarthy. I was intrigued by the episode’s respectful treatment of its Japanese characters, avoidance of stereotype, and the honest depiction of culture clash in the interaction between the two American stage drivers, the series’ regular protagonists, and the five Japanese characters. I wondered how many other TV western episodes featured Asian guest stars like this and I did some research and found quite a few, including an episode of “Wagon Train” with Sessue Hayakawa as a traveling samurai (“The Sakae Ito Story”); an episode of “Rawhide,” in which Miyoshi Umeki played a geisha out west (“Incident of the Geisha”); and an episode of “Cheyenne,” in which the title character, working for a railroad, finds himself with a Chinese “bride,” played by Lisa Lu, whom he has to care for until he can reunite her with her father and send them back to San Francisco (“Pocketful of Stars”). After those, the one I most wanted to see was “Day of the Dragon,” an episode of “Bonanza,” guest-starring Lisa Lu and also featuring such august Asian-American performers as Philip Ahn and Richard Loo, along with series regular Victor Sen Yung, who played the Cartwrights’ cook, Hop Sing. I found this episode in a Bonanza box set of the series’ third season.

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