Thursday, January 11, 2018

Science Fiction Double Feature

Started off a bright, sunny day with breakfast and the 1929 musical Sally. Sally (Marilyn Miller) is a waitress in New York who dreams of becoming a dancer. Her dreams come closer to becoming a reality when, after getting a job dancing in a cafe, she catches the eye of a theatrical agent (T. Roy Barnes). He needs someone to pose as a Russian dancer at a big garden party at a mansion in Long Island. Turns out the party is for Blair (Alexander Gray), the guy she's been flirting with for months, who's been forced into an engagement with a socialite (Nora Lane). Another friend from the cafe, former European duke Connie (Joe E. Brown), is also at the party. They're both finally found to be frauds and return to the cafe. Stardom finally beckons for Sally in the form of the Ziegfeld Follies...but she still wants her man, too.

If you can get past the early talkie stiffness and Brown being miscast as a duke, this is such a cute movie. Two numbers in particular are the grandparents of many modern dance sequences in musicals. Miller and Brown's "Look for the Silver Lining" comic dance duet is adorable. They just look like they're having so much fun!

Sally was originally filmed in two-strip Technicolor, but the color prints were lost. In the early 90's, someone found bits of the "Wild Rose" dance routine with Miller and the male chorus at the garden party in color and spliced them in. The sudden jump to color actually accentuates the fantasy, giving the number an almost Wizard of Oz-like feel. It's also the movie's best chorus number, with a beaming Miller showing off high kicks and tossing flowers to the boys.

If you're a fan of early talkie musicals, or want to see where many modern movie musical conventions came from, this is worth digging around for at the Warner Archives.

Did the windows and dusted most of the living room while Sally was on. After the movie ended, I switched to a CD of authentic 20's music as I finished the dusting. I also cleared out the Ever After High dolls. Yeah, they're pretty and all, but I'm not really that interested in them anymore. From now on, I'm going to try to stick to collecting toys for franchises that I know I'll not only be into for a while, but may return to later, like Star Wars and American Girl. I'm going to keep the books, which I genuinely enjoy, but the dolls are just taking up room. Moved the Star Wars 12 and 10 inch dolls to where they'd been, then moved the novels to the upper of the shelves I bought last fall.

After I finished the dusting, I figured I'd finally get to putting up the last of the general winter decorations. Most of them went out with the Christmas stuff. The only things left to put out were cardboard hangings of snowmen taking part in winter activities, a "let it snow" banner, and three big stuffed snowmen I've gotten as presents over the years. They're too big to fit with all the holiday decorations, but they brighten the room now.

Headed out to run a few errands around one. My first stop was The Pop Shop for my New Year's breakfast. I usually eat breakfast or brunch out on New Year's Day, but not only did I not have the time this year, but it was too cold last week for me to run anywhere but work. I was surprised at how mobbed they were for 1:30...until I saw the costumed dalmatian in a fire fighter's outfit standing near the door. The Pop Shop was visited by two characters from the cartoon Paw Patrol today, Chase the police dog and Marshall the fire dog. There was even a "parade" at one point, with Chase and Marshall marching around the main dining area with a couple of toddlers. It was too precious.

I laughed and enjoyed watching the kids with the characters while having "Strawberry Bettys" for lunch. This is what The Pop Shop calls their massive pancakes. They had to replace the advertised fresh strawberries with strawberry "goop" used for ice cream topping. Tasted just fine to me. In fact, it was really yummy. I hadn't had a big breakfast and ate about three-fourths of them.

I'm glad I opted for the longer ride from Collingswood to Westmont. The weather was absolutely gorgeous today. The sun was out, the wind was gone, and it had jumped into the mid-50's. I actually had a rather nice ride past several residential areas, eventually ending up near the park and across from the Westmont CVS.

My next stop was the Haddon Township Library. I hadn't gotten here since before Christmas! Maybe it was just as well. It was quiet as could be. The nice day must have encouraged most people to head outside. I mainly organized and shelved DVDs. Ended up taking out 12 Years a Slave, the unusual recent movie Colossal (featuring Anne Hathaway as a woman who learns that a giant monster may be a creation of her imagination), and the 70's hits Three Days of the Condor and Love Story.

Made a quick stop at WaWa on the way home. I mainly wanted skim milk, but I also ended up getting a Banana Foster Smoothie. WaWa makes the best banana smoothies. They use real bananas, and that makes them extra-creamy.

Spent the next few hours writing. Hux and Phasma try to attack, but they're no match for Poe and Finn's quick reflexes, Han and the sword BB gave him, or Maz in a bad mood. They force the duo to take them to Toyland Town hidden under fluffy rugs to make them look like trolls.

Broke for dinner at 6:30. Ran the 1980 version of Flash Gordon while eating leftover beef sausages with green beans, roasted cauliflower, and half a grapefruit for dinner. New York Jets quarterback Flash (Sam J. Jones) and travel agent Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) find themselves trapped on the planet Mongo when Zarcov (Topol), a scientist who believes aliens are trying to move the Earth closer to the moon, takes them into the stars in his own ship. Mongo's dictator Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) takes a shine to Dale and wants to marry her. His daughter Aura (Ornella Muti) is equally interested in Flash, but she's already the lover of Prince Barin of Arboria (Timothy Dalton). With the help of Barin, Aura, and the boisterous Prince Voltan (Brian Blessed) of the Hawkmen, Flash invades Ming's city to take back his friends and save the Earth from immediate destruction.

I believe this is the kind of thing most people think of when they mention "space opera." This is camp of the highest, purest order and one of the most fun science fiction films I've ever seen. How can you hate a movie with a score by Queen? If you love truly goofy science fiction that doesn't take itself seriously for a minute, this one is worth checking out.

Ended the night with a more serious sci-fi film, Forbidden Planet. We move from Mongo to Altair IV, home of another mad scientist and beguiling beauty. In this case, the scientist is Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and Altaria (Anne Francis) is the beautiful, innocent daughter. The crew of the ship C-57D, including Captain Adams (Leslie Nielson), have come to discover the fate of another expedition that had arrived there 20 years later. They enjoy their stay at first, teaching Altaria how to kiss and learning more about the fantastic race of beings called the Krell and their super machine that can enhance brain power from Morbius. But the longer they remain, the more it becomes clear that an invisible monster is stalking the group...and that not even Dr. Morbius himself can truly stop it.

This sci-fi take on Shakespeare's The Tempest was a first in many respects - the first serious sci-fi movie to take place fully on another planet, to feature a robot with a real personality (Robby the Robot), and to feature characters driving their own spaceship in what we now call hyperspace, among other distinctions. I'm not normally a big fan of older science fiction films from before the 1970's, but this one is really interesting. (It probably helps that The Tempest is my favorite Shakespearean play.) I especially like the mystery around the monster...and the nifty animation when we finally do see it.

If you want to see where many sci-fi cliches came from, or check out a piece of sci-fi history, this is one trip into the Id worth taking.

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