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Great Moments in Classic TV 2019

25 Jan

In 2019, I saw 425 TV episodes, 325 of them American and 100 Japanese. I will focus here on highlights from classic American TV that I discovered this past year.

The single series I watched the most episodes from was “Perry Mason,” for a total of 70. I’ve been going slowly, but methodically, through the nine-season box set I purchased in 2017 and I watched from “The Case of the Renegade Refugee” (Season 5 / #13, Dec. 9, 1961) to “The Case of the Simple Simon” (Season 7 / #24, April 2, 1964).

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Asians in TV Westerns: “The Virginian: Hour of the Tiger”

17 Dec

I recently stumbled across an episode about Chinese laborers in “The Virginian,” a long-running NBC western series that ran in a 90-minute time slot from 1962 to 1971 and is now running every weekday evening on the Starz Encore Western Channel. This particular episode was called “The Hour of the Tiger” (Season 3 / #16, airdate  December 30, 1964) and it turned out to be a suitable entry for my ongoing series on “Asians in TV Westerns.” Its chaste relationship between the title hero and a cultured Asian woman echoes those in other westerns I’ve written about here, including Laramie: “Dragon at the Door,” and two with Lisa Lu: Cheyenne: “A Pocketful of Stars” and Bonanza: “Day of the Dragon.” In all of these, the hero and the Asian character (Japanese in “Laramie” and Chinese in “Cheyenne and “Bonanza”) discuss their cultural differences at length, with the American suggesting that she doesn’t have to follow tradition, but can follow her heart and take advantage of the freedom possible in America. The Virginian episode shares a plot element with two of the others, in that the woman is promised to another man. In each case, respect is shown by the hero toward the other culture. He’s never condescending or critical, but simply offers the option of another way. (These episodes were made at a time when cold war tensions prompted frequent expressions of American values in popular culture to contrast the lack of basic rights in the Soviet Union and Communist China. Conversely, these episodes can also be seen as a way of inserting messages into network entertainment about racial prejudice and the civil rights battles of the time when TV executives were still timid about treating the topic directly. )

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Perry Mason in Japan: “The Case of the Blushing Pearls” (1959)

24 Oct

Well, okay, he doesn’t go to Japan exactly, but rather to Little Tokyo in Los Angeles in an episode of “Perry Mason” called “The Case of the Blushing Pearls,” which had its premiere on Saturday night, October 24, 1959, 58 years ago today. It was Raymond Burr’s first on-screen encounter with Japanese characters since he’d shot scenes with Japanese-American actors three years earlier to be inserted into a re-edited version of the Japanese monster film GOJIRA (1954), to be called GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956) for its U.S. release, as seen here:

This was, of course, the film that turned a lot of young Baby Boomers into lifelong Japanophiles. Fortunately, the outcome of Burr’s encounter in Little Tokyo was a lot more pleasant for him than that with Godzilla.

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Robert Mitchum Centennial

6 Aug

Robert Mitchum was born on August 6th, 1917, 100 years ago today. (My father was born less than two months later.) I was born on August 6th also, on Mitchum’s 36th birthday. Mitchum died on July 1, 1997, a little over a month shy of his 80th birthday. He happens to be my favorite movie star. I wrote about him here three times already, covering his debut film, BORDER PATROL (1943); his 1949 film, HOLIDAY AFFAIR; and in a piece about Sam Fuller’s THE BIG RED ONE, his appearance in THE LONGEST DAY (1962), where he played the general leading the attack on Omaha Beach, site of the bloodiest fighting on D-Day.

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James Bond in Japan: 50th Anniversary of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

13 Jun

50 years ago today, on June 13, 1967, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), the fifth of the James Bond films starring Sean Connery, was released in the U.S. It’s one of my favorite films and I’ve seen it over 30 times, probably more than any other film in my lifetime, and that includes WEST SIDE STORY (1961), THE WILD BUNCH (1969), KING KONG (1933), CASABLANCA (1943) and the second Bond film, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), all of which I’ve seen close to or more than 30 times. Back then I had to wait to see YOLT until it came to a neighborhood theater in the Bronx in September of that year, but it would be the first Bond film I’d see during its initial release (I’d seen the others in reissues) and I was psyched for it from the beginning of its ad campaign. I remember visiting Times Square sometime that spring and seeing the massive billboard for the film adorning the full block of Broadway from 45th to 46th Streets atop the marquees of the Astor and Victoria theaters. The billboard had three distinct images from the film, all featuring Bond in unlikely poses, but promising action, sex and spectacle. Here’s a shot of that billboard:

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Happy 90th Birthday, Lisa Lu

19 Jan

Actress Lisa Lu turns 90 today, January 19, 2017, and, according to IMDB, remains active. I’ve written about her here on four occasions and have seen everything in my collection in which she appears. The last unseen item was the 1962 feature film, RIDER ON A DEAD HORSE, a low-budget western about four characters battling each other over a buried gold stash, in which she plays one of the four. I purchased it from Warner Archive and watched it yesterday before starting this piece. I’ll discuss it further down.

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Mifune: The Last Samurai – New Documentary on Japan’s Greatest Actor

2 Dec

“Mifune: The Last Samurai” is a documentary on Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune that recently played at the IFC Center in New York. To fans of Japanese film, Mifune needs no introduction. He is easily the best Japanese film actor of all time and, to many of us, arguably the greatest film actor in history. He is best known, of course, for his starring roles in films by Akira Kurosawa (THE SEVEN SAMURAI, YOJIMBO), arguably the greatest Japanese director of all time, but he also made numerous films for other noted Japanese directors, including Hiroshi Inagaki (The SAMURAI trilogy), Masaki Kobayashi (SAMURAI REBELLION), Kihachi Okamoto (SAMURAI ASSASSIN), and Kinji Fukasaku (THE SHOGUN’S SAMURAI), among others. He also made films in Hollywood and Europe, including GRAND PRIX, HELL IN THE PACIFIC, RED SUN and MIDWAY. I’ve written about one of his films here, JAPAN’S LONGEST DAY. He’s got 182 acting credits on IMDB—both film and television–and they extend from 1947 to 1995, two years before he died.

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