Sunday, November 29, 2015

Even Spies Need Mistletoe: "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Meets Christmas!

A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon continues here with a look at an episode of the popular 1960s' espionage adventure series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.!

Kicky and cool, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was TV's answer to James Bond.  Ultra-stylish, action-packed, mostly fun rather than slavishly realistic, U.N.C.L.E. featured two of TV's all-time favorite leading men pairings.  The suave actor Robert Vaughn who turned heads as super spy Napoleon Solo and his cohort Illya Kuryakin played by the slightly exotic David McCallum were the duo to beat.  In a time when many charismatic actors graced the TV screen, none were more compelling than these two.

First hitting the air in the Fall of 1964, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was an entertaining reflection of the times when international tensions were dominated by America's Cold War with the Soviet Union, and the series' one Christmas episode -- "The Jingle Bells Affair" from Season Three and airing on December 23, 1966 -- was all about the dichotomy of Capitalism vs. Communism.  Certainly nobody today could rationally disagree that Christmas here in the U.S. -- and elsewhere -- is now an all-out take-no-prisoners assault on consumers' pocketbooks, but back then when corporations didn't dominate all you might still convincingly offer the premise that the freedom to buy was the essence of democracy.  And so hangs the tale of "The Jingle Bells Affair."

In a simple logline, "The Jingle Bells Affair" tells the tale of the Kruschev-esque leader of an unnamed European nation who, somewhat like Scrooge, learns the true meaning of Christmas.  Rather than be a Grinch and spoil the fun of the plot, I'll merely point out some of the highlights worth watching for in the episode.

First off, prepare to enter an adorable time machine courtesy of a sampling of footage from New York City's Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.  Actual parade footage including from 1965 when the Underdog balloon made its debut is irresistible, as are scenes from outside and inside the real Macy's store.  Macy's gets a super plug in "The Jingle Bells Affair" with actor Kent Smith playing Mr. Macy who tours Chairman Goz (Akim Tamiroff) around the store.  As Napoleon Solo himself explains, the parade "marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season."  Indeed!

We also get some terrific views of vintage stoves and TV sets during the store tour!

Actors!  In addition to Vaughn, McCallum and Leo G. Carroll as Mr. Waverly (who appears briefly at the beginning and the end of the episode), we get to see some extremely well-vetted character actors doing their stuff.

As Koz, Akim Tamiroff is gruff yet appealing.  The Russia-born actor had a vigorous stage career in Europe which eventually brought him to the U.S. where he moved into the movies and then into TV roles.  Actor Kent Smith played Mr. Macy; he had a long career and is a familiar face in classic movies and TV series.

Character actor Leonid Kinsky plays the bumbling would-be assassin in the episode.  With a background much like Tamiroff -- European beginnings, then to the U.S. -- he had a long career including memorable roles in movies such as Casablanca.

Like Tamiroff and Kinsky, actor Leon Belasco who plays Chairman Koz' treacherous security chief Radish also was born in Europe and emigrated to America where he found success as an orchestra leader and popular character actor in movies and TV.

Veteran English character actor J. Pat O'Malley shows up as a Santa school instructor. Though he definitely made his mark in movies and on Broadway, he's probably best known for his unbelievable list of TV roles from the early 1950s until the early 1980s.  You will have seen him in everything!

Actress Elen Willard played the winsome yet completely capable Salvation Army worker.  She ceased her acting career in movies and TV after "The Jingle Bells Affair" but adds an intelligent and genuine charm to her role.  The Salvation Army also got a huge plug in this episode; possibly it would have done them more good during the holiday season if the hour had aired earlier than two days before Christmas!

"The Jingle Bells Affair" was written by William Fay, a successful short story author who had solid TV credits including several Dr. Kildare episodes and many Alfred Hitchcock Presents on his resume.  Director John Brahm, European-born and with a career trajectory like many the other participants named above, had a solid list of feature credits -- including one genuine classic The Lodger in 1944 -- and a long resume in TV directing segments of many of the most popular series from the early 1950s until the late 1960s.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. "The Jingle Bells Affair" airs tonight (Sunday overnight) at 2am on your local MeTV affiliate!  Be sure to visit the Classic TV Blog Association and the MeTV website for more information on all the wonderful holiday episode blogs coming your way!

In the meantime, here are a few more shots from the episode to keep your holiday spirit simmering!

Happy Viewing!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

That Turkey!: "That Girl" Celebrates Thanksgiving on A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon!

Happy Thanksgiving and who better to share it with than the adorable and energetic Ann Marie on a holiday episode of That Girl! As part of the above celebration we're taking a look at the episode "Thanksgiving Comes But Once a Year, Thankfully" which originally aired on November 23, 1967.  Directed by James Sheldon and written by Peggy Cooper, it's a perfect example of the everlasting charm of the series. It was forty eight years ago and never again will life -- for anyone -- probably be quite as neat and sitcom-solvable as the problems faced by Ann Marie here, but it's a joy to watch her tackle them.

The basic premise is the problem of Ann (the indescribably vivacious Marlo Thomas) and her journalist boyfriend Donald Hollinger (the not exactly "cute" boyfriend but played so intelligently by Ted Bessell that it never mattered at all) to figure out how to meld their respective parents on Thanksgiving Day.  Each set of parents wants to have their own child home with them.  This is classic sitcom territory here. Of course Ann's dad isn't overly crazy about Don merely on general principles and Donald's mom feels similarly about Ann.

Ann proposes a solution -- she'll fix dinner for both sets of parents at her apartment.  After much persuasion it's set up!

The dynamics of the four adults are pure sitcom -- Ann has a hilarious and cranky father (Lew Parker) and a sweet understanding mother (Rosemary DeCamp) who live in upstate New York.. Don has a cynical hoity-toity mother (Mabel Albertson) and a jolly father (George Cisar) who live in St. Louis.  Lew Marie expects a goose with oyster stuffing, too.  And what else? Donald's mother sends extra silverware to the inadequate Ann.

And did we mention Ann can't fit everything into her oven so she'll have to cook the goose in her apartment and use her neighbors' kitchen for the turkey?  

 We've got a really funny pot joke thrown in for good measure, too. The postman comes in with an envelope filled with something weird.  It's from Ann's mother.  They open it.  A dried herb of some sort.  Don:  "It's Marjoram."  Postman:  "You're under arrest!"  The postman doesn't know that Ann's mom has sent her spices to prepare the meal and confuses the word marjoram with marijuana.  A clever play on words and very well-played by all.

Ann nervously let her parents in as she begins her double venue cooking, rushing back and forth between apartments to check on the bird and get the pie in.

Ann's parents remark to themselves on the fancy glasses and candles -- monogrammed no less -- that Donald's parents have also sent along. What, do they think she's going to steal them?

So Mr. and Mrs. Hollinger arrive!

So far so good!

Until Mr. Marie and Mr. Hollinger start comparing their experiences in World War II.  Lou flew, Bert was in the infantry.  Classic rivalry!  Sky vs. Mud! 

Lew Marie needs a drink!

Uh oh! Stuffing snafu!  Ann finds out she put the oyster stuffing in the turkey and the sage stuffing in the goose!  

Solution!  Ann empties the goose stuffing into a paper bag and she'll put it in the turkey and vice versa!  

Oh no!  Ann can't find the key to the other apartment!  She can't get inside!

The dads spring into action!  Soldiers to the rescue!

Ann's father decides to go out onto the fire escape and enter through the window!

Don's dad takes the brute force approach -- he's going to break the door down!

Operation Turkey Rescue doesn't go quite as planned.  Ann's father ends up with a sprained back and is rescued by the fire department.

Don's dad just ruins the door and bruises his arm in the process.

All right, so the turkey burned and there's no dessert, but they shared the goose! Looks like Don's father and Ann's mother got along fine, and even Don's mother and Lew Marie seems to have made up and forgotten their crankiness.

Everybody's getting ready to leave, rather quickly too.  They want to get home or back to the hotel.  Or do they?

Ann has another idea.  She figures everything out.  Why don't they ALL go out to dinner together now and make it a great Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving saved, thanks to That Girl!

Lest you think I've given everything away, "Thanksgiving Comes But Once a Year, Thankfully" must be seen.  It's full of terrific performances and some great farcical moments as Ann copes with her oven bi-location and a gaggle of touchy dinner guests. Life was indeed much simpler and much funnier back then, at least on That Girl thanks to Marlo Thomas and her delightful presence.

"Thanksgiving Comes But Once a Year, Thankfully" airs on MeTV tonight at 9:30pm. Find out more about the entire holiday schedule by clicking here.  You will also want to enjoy the whole line-up of the A Very Merry MeTV Blogathon and you can see the entire line-up by clicking here.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!