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Old July 15 2013, 07:41 PM   #623
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Re: TCM Genre movies schedule...

I borrowed Airplane! from the library so I could watch it right after Zero Hour! and compare the two. The main spine of the story of Airplane!, the majority of the "serious" dialogue, and a number of the shot compositions are directly from ZH, although there are some differences too. In ZH, Ted is on the plane to talk his wife Ellen out of leaving him and taking their son with her. The stewardess is a different character altogether (and is really pretty). It's Ted's son who goes into the cockpit and talks to the pilot, who's played by a prominent football player named "Crazylegs" Hirsch (this is what the casting of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Airplane! was parodying, though Hirsch played the Peter Graves character, the pilot). And it's Sterling Hayden's character, the equivalent of Robert Stack's, who has the "I picked the wrong day to quit smoking" line. (And Elaine's dialogue to Ted in the terminal is taken from the dialogue of a potential employer in ZH, rather than Ellen.)

What was perhaps most revealing was what parts of A! were not from ZH. Subplots like the heart patient and some of the flashbacks evidently owed more to Airport 75 and the like. ZH is structured much more linearly: it opens with the scene of Ted's aerial battle in WWII (narrated by William Conrad!), and for the first several minutes, the film seems to be trying to trick people into thinking it's a war movie. Then suddenly it jumps forward twelve years and it's a completely different story. In its defense, it does present its storyline in a more focused way than Airplane! did; there's a clearer throughline from the botched decision Ted had to make in WWII and the parallel decision he has to make now with the passenger plane (i.e. whether to risk braving the fog to fulfill the primary objective or take the more cautious route with less reward).

I tried watching The Blob, but I lost interest in it pretty quickly. This is considered a classic? Its production values were MST3K-worthy, Steve McQueen apparently hadn't learned how to act yet and was downright creepy, Aneta Courseault seemed to be sedated for much of what I saw -- or was maybe just half-asleep from having nothing to do but sit there passively. Just when the plot started to kick in with McQueen delivering the first Blob victim to the doctor, who asked him to go back and check the scene for anyone who knew the victim, suddenly McQueen and the movie got sidetracked by taunting teenagers and the world's longest, most boring drag-race sequence, and then they just stood around exchanging gossip for what felt like several minutes and I wondered what had happened to the story. At that point I just gave up and deleted it from my DVR.

I did watch the other blob-monster movie this month, X the Unknown, which Hammer Films originally intended as a Professor Quatermass sequel, but changed when Nigel Kneale refused to share the character. They replaced him with an American scientist played by an actor named Dean Jagger, whom I found bland and one-note. I disliked him even more when I read that he'd gotten the original director, who'd moved to Britain to avoid the Hollywood blacklist, fired because he didn't want to work with an alleged Communist sympathizer. What a jerk. Maybe that's why his performance was so dull, though, because apparently the replacement director was uninterested in the project. That aside, though, it's an adequate if somewhat slow British monster movie, with the kind of laughably bad science you expect or even want from a movie like this. But it's mainly notable for some of its cast. Leo McKern is the biggest draw, playing an inspector for the UK's atomic energy agency or whatever it's called; he's essentially the hero's sidekick, but he's more charming than the hero or most of the rest of the cast, even though he isn't really trying too hard. There's also a pair of comic-relief Army guards played by Anthony Newley (who I gather became kind of a big name later on) and future Monty Python's Flying Circus supporting player Ian McNaughton. And I was intrigued when I saw the name of future Doctor Who companion Frazer Hines in the credits -- but it turns out he was only 12 years old when this was made, and he was barely recognizable.

Speaking of Who connections, one of my favorite bits was where the moustachioed army major made a long-suffering remark about how scientists always want to make things too complicated, and how he preferred the easy solution of just blowing stuff up. He could almost have been the Brigadier!
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