Saturday, March 31, 2012

More Brave! More Bold! “The Criss Cross Conspiracy!”

Still working my way through BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD Season Two, Part Two on DVD (Released:  March 20, 2012) – and, in addition to the wonderful episode I discussed HERE, I’ve found another one worth reviewing  NOW – rather than waiting to do my (eventual) full review of the set. 

The Criss Cross Conspiracy!” (…a title that, even after seeing the episode twice, seems to have only a tenuous connection to the story at hand) opens “Ten Years Ago”, with The Riddler raiding some sort of “Puzzle-Awards Ceremony” and taking the prize. 

Batman and young teen Robin are there to stop him – but there is another Bat to contend with. 

Batwoman – sultry brunette with classically styled hair, looking exactly as she did in fifties and Silver Age comic books!  Score another one for this show as a magnificent monument to the vast lore of DC Comics! 

 In those comics, she was “Kathy Kane” (presumably, after Batman creator Bob Kane) – but here she is bored heiress turned thrill-seeker, “Katrina Moldoff”. 
This is interesting in ways well beyond the plot!  Sheldon Moldoff was one of Bob Kane’s “ghost artists”, who never got credit for all his fine work of the period in which the character of Batwoman thrived.  So, as if to balance things out, writer Marsha Griffin and the producers appear to have REMOVED Bob Kane’s name (as it applied to the alter-ego of Batwoman), and APPLIED the surname of  Sheldon Moldoff!  …How’s that for retroactive justice! 

Katrina (somewhat recklessly) assists in the capture of The Riddler – but not before she becomes careless and allows The Prince of Puzzlers to UNMASK her before a crowd of onlookers and reporters… to her shock, horror, and utter humiliation.   Clearly, she is known as something of a public figure or celebrity.

Things get worse for Katrina, when Gotham City soon files an order against her, prohibiting her from dressing and acting as an unauthorized crime-fighter, (…we’ll presume Batman had some sort of unofficial exemption from Commissioner Gordon on this matter) and Katrina retires in bitterness.  

 We shift forward, ten years to “The Present”: 
Batman, Nightwing… and Batgirl (!) stop a bank robbery – and are observed by Katrina, resentful that Batman has allowed another to assume the role as his female counterpart. 

Twisted by her anger, she seeks the assistance of FELIX FAUST – the sorcerer from Silver Age “Justice League of America” comics, who has served his time and is quietly operating a sorcery shoppe somewhere in the nether regions of Gotham. 

 Faust is quite taken with the still-slinky Katrina, and provides her with a potion and incantation that will allow her to (…Ready for this?) SWITCH BODIES with the person of her choice.  She lures Batman to her remote mansion and does exactly that, overpowering him in the process! 
She takes Batman’s uniform and awkwardly (auto) pilots the Batmobile back to the Batcave.  Nigthwing and Batgirl become suspicious when Batman exhibits uncharacteristic (To say the least!) hissy-fits – and asks Batgirl about her shampoo (!)  

Things  take a real turn when they learn that Katrina (as Batman) plans to kill The Riddler for his decade-old deeds, and have Batman appear to be the killer.   Batman comes-to, dons Katrina’s old Batwoman suit, and goes after her.  Big bouts of Bat-gender-bending ensue – with “he as she” and “she as he”! 

Riddle me this!”, says Katrina, catching up to her unsuspecting prey – weapon in hand, “How do you stop The Riddler from ruining your Saturday Night?”  …“Kill him on Friday!”  
No more spoilers – but I must note that the episode bears a remarkable (…and likely not coincidental) resemblance to the STAR TREK Original Series final episode “Turnabout Intruder” (1969) – right down to William Shatner adopting feminine gestures and inflections, with Batman’s voice actor (Dedrich Bader) and the episode’s animators following suit. 

A surprising amount of humor springs from Felix Faust, who amorously peruses Batwoman – even after it becomes Bat-MAN in her body!  …This sets up one hell of a great final line of dialogue! 
Oh, just see it!  (No matter HOW many times you’ve seen the “Body Switching” thing in animation!)  You’ll be glad you did, especially when you pick yourself up off the floor at the episode’s fadeout! 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Here's (?) the Pitch!

To celebrate the start of the 2012 Major League Baseball season, we present this classic cover from WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES # 163 (1954). 
Say, exactly WHO’S PITCHING, anyway? 

Carl Barks?  Fethry?  Melvin X. Nickleby?  Moby Duck? 
Melvin brushes-off a crowd of autograph seekers, who wish to sell his autographed baseballs on e-Bay!

Or, maybe it’s the legendry “Phantom Nephew” Phooey!
Go Yankees! 
Is A-Rod batting against Melvin?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

DVD Review: Jimmy the Gent (1934)

Jimmy the Gent (1934)

(Released: 2010 by The Warner Archive Collection) 

Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

Summary:  Can earnest sincerity best the facade of class – even in a backstabbing, cutthroat profession?  Just ask James Cagney!  He’d know…

We open with stock shots of various disasters involving speedboats, trains, ships, airplanes, and even race horses, yielding fatal results.  Driving this home are newspaper headlines mourning the deaths of tycoons and other important figures with one linking detail – each has died without a clear and apparent heir to his fortune. 

We’ll let Cagney’s character “James Corrigan”, self-described “Genealogist” and two-bit investigator, take it from here:

Lyinaround in banks, all over the country, is a lotta money!  Millions o’ dollars! Wills and legal heirs that can’t be found!  Well, I find ‘em!  An’ for a small commission – never more than 50 % -- I put ‘em in touch!”

Understand that some of these “heirs” may or may not necessarily be rightful heirs, and you have the premise of our story. 

That, and the scrappy, street-level Corrigan’s chief rival in this shady endeavor is the outwardly sophisticated (but inwardly more scummy than Corrigan) Charles Wallingham – and that Corrigan’s former girlfriend (…and the gal he loves) Joan Martin has left Corrigan’s employ (and life) to work for the seemingly aboveboard Wallingham. 

Joan (Bette Davis) would like to leave the crass Corrigan and his shady little business behind for the more cultured Wallingham, who utters lines like:

I must confess I get quite a glow when I think of some superannuated spinster, or poor harassed little clerk, to whom we shall bring the glad tidings that they’ve suddenly come into a great fortune.”   

Once the set-up is established, the bulk of the film is divided into two main plots:  (A:) A convoluted rivalry between Corrigan and Wallingham to get different individuals named the legal heir of a dumpster woman who died with a coat lined with stocks, bonds, cash, and jewels.  (B:)  Corrigan’s attempts to win back Joan by becoming a sophisticate – hence the title “Jimmy the Gent”. 

We’ll leave you to root out the details of each plotline on your own, and suffice it to say that, like any James Cagney film, examples of lively physicality and great dialogue abound.  Here are some instances of the latter: 

Corrigan mobilizes his staff to chase down disasters and deaths; in the hope some profit can be made.

CORRIGAN:  Mike, you go down to Civil Hospital!  They just brought in an old bachelor!

MIKE:  Is he dead?”

CORRIGAN:  No, but he WILL BE!  The doctor that tipped me off is OPERATIN’ on ‘im!”

Joan shows us just how little trust she has in Corrigan.

CORRIGAN:  I’d give my RIGHT EYE…”

JOAN:  It’ll turn out to be GLASS!” 

Corrigan tries to impress Joan, and become more intellectually sophisticated, like Wallingham.  He gestures toward a new fixture in his office. 

CORRIGAN:  Get a load o’ this!  All kinds o’ EDUCATION! 

JOAN:  What is it?”

CORRIGAN:  Doc Prescott’s FIFTEEN FOOT BOOKSHELF!”  Could he possibly mean THIS? 

JOAN:  Why, you idiot!  It isn’t a FIFTEEN FOOT SHELF!  It’s a FIVE FOOT SHELF!”

CORRIGAN:  Dat’s for ORDINARY people!  I bought THREE o’ dem!”     

Additional oddities:  Being still early in the Warner Bros. cannon, and like Cagney’s earlier hit “The Public Enemy”, it begins with “Warner Bros. Pictures and the Vitaphone Corp. Present: [with the WB Shield superimposed over the Vitaphone Pennant]. 

Also, like Warner films of similar vintage, every featured character in the film is introduced by a non-still pose, with both the name of the actor and the character he or she plays prominently displayed.  In older films, I often have difficulty in determining “who-is-who” beyond the obvious star performers.  This is a nice way to remedy that – and I wish it would have been employed more often.

 Jimmy the Gent” is a release of “The Warner Archive Collection”.  Please GO HERE to read more about this relatively new enterprise from Warner Home Entertainment.  . 

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.  


It’s Warner Archives:   That means virtually nothing in the way of Extra Features. No Commentary track, no subtitles, no background or “Making Of” featurette. No “Warner Night at the Movies” that I’ve loved so much in other packages!  And, there is a needlessly limited choice of devices on which to play it, vs. standard DVD.  But, there ARE slight improvements over previous TWAC product, as you will see in the “PROS” section. 


It’s Warner Archives:   That means we get a film that would probably not garner sufficient support for a general release.  Given a choice between “Jimmy the Gent” as a Warner Archive Collection release, or no release at all, I’ll gladly take a TWAC version.  And, they HAVE made certain improvements over previous releases – noted below:

Robo-Promos:  “Robo-Promos” is my term for advertisements that play automatically before you even reach the initial menu.  There are NO “Robo-Promos” on this set, in contrast with virtually ALL of the earlier Warner Archive sets.  Good for you, Warner Archives!  

Menu: (Singular):  A nice departure from the old standard, stark dark blue Warner Archives menu.  To the left, there is an attractive photo of “The Warner Bros. Theatre” (Was there actually such a thing?), with the marquee reading: Now  Playing: Jimmy the Gent, and a large image of the DVD box cover (ALSO more nicely designed than the older “dark blue” packages) is pictured on the right of the menu. Double good for you, Warner Archives! 

The options to “Play Trailer” and “Play Movie” are offered on this single menu.

Scene Selections / Chapter Skip:  Again, TWAC has made improvements in what was a deficiency in earlier releases.  Those releases were authored to only move forward or backward in TEN-MINUTE INTERVALS – regardless of where that ten minute jump will land you logically within the story.  For “Jimmy the Gent” and certain other more recent releases, the selections fall more logically within the story, even if they aren’t pictured or listed on a “Scene Selection Menu”.  Triple good for you, Warner Archives! 

The Extra Feature (Singular): Theatrical Trailer for “Jimmy the Gent”:  (02:24)

Cue the usual on-screen hype: 

He’s the BIGGEST CHISLER since Michael Angelo! [sic]”  Over an caricature of a robed Cagney carving a dollar sign on a stone tablet. 

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves were pikers…compared to this red-headed son-of-a-gun!” 


Jimmy the Gent is on the hunt for blondes, but here’s one blonde he can’t catch up with – Bette Davis!”

Meet Jimmy’s pals – just a couple of boids in a gilded cage: Allen Jenkins and Alice White.”

JENKINS: “Honey, you deviate me!”     

WHITE:  “(Giggle!) You say the cutest things!”

[ Joe’s Note: Oddly, this scene (and these lines) are NOT in the movie!  I checked twice! A cut scene, perhaps? ]

He’s the classy, sassy gentleman the girls adoreA poifect Beau Brummel, with just a dash of caveman!”

James (“Honey Boy”) Cagney at his fastest! Freshest! Funniest!”

The Film:   Another entertaining interlude with James Cagney!  Does the man EVER let us down?! 

The Depression-Era urban setting (New York) was the Warner Bros. stock in trade and they do it typically well, even in what amounts to a lesser film for Cagney. 
The Cast: 

·         James Cagney as “James Corrigan”. 

·         Bette Davis as “Joan Martin”. 

·         Alan Dinehart as “Charles Wallingham”. 

·         Allen Jenkins as “Louie”. 

·         Alice White as “Mabel”.   

·         Arthur Hohl as “Joe Rector”.  

·         Mayo Methot as “Gladys Farmer”

·         Hobart Cavanaugh as “Wellington”.  (Phony Southern Heir) 


Okay, so “Jimmy the Gent” may not be the greatest of Cagney’s films… but that’s because the bar is set SO HIGH! 

The Public Enemy”, “TheMayor of Hell”, “Picture Snatcher”, “Angels with Dirty Faces”, “The Roaring Twenties”, “Each Dawn I Die”, “The Strawberry Blonde”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, and so much more.  It simply hasn’t a chance!

But, taken on its own, it’s good fun – and, at a remarkably short length of 1:07:29, the great Warner director Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”, “Captain Blood”, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”) must have directed it on a lunch break! 

Jimmy the Gent” was based on the story “The Heir Chaser”, by Larry Doyle and Ray Nazarro.

As a product of “The Warner Archive Collection”, and not a standard Warner Home Video release, it must be reviewed and rated by a new and different set of standards.  The now-standard deficiencies are known, but we must give TWAC some points for making a few improvements over past releases.  Those improvements are not just specific to “Jimmy the Gent”, but seem to be an across-the-board effort at upgrading the product line as a whole. Other releases of the same general time frame can boast similar improvements.

Jimmy the Gent” is recommended for fans of James Cagney, Bette Davis, urban Depression-Era settings in general, and for those fascinated with the time period and its filmmaking. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Awesome-Sauce! It’s “Emperor Joker”!

BEWARE!  There are some SPOILERS in this post. 

Got my copy of BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD Season Two, Part Two on DVD on Tuesday, March 20 – and, as with all previous volumes, I am enjoying it thoroughly! 

With the exception of the episode described in THIS POST, all of these are new to me – due to my giving up on trying to follow the series on (what used to be) Cartoon Network.

Scanning the list of titles, one episode in particular caught my eye… “Emperor Joker”!

If you don’t want any SPOILERS, please exit now!

Emperor Joker”?  Really?  WOW! 

Emperor Joker” was a weekly chapter, multi-part story that occurred in the SUPERMAN comic book titles back in the year 2000, when DC Comics were still the best! 

In it, The Joker steals the vast fifth-dimensional powers of Mister Mxyzptlk and uses them to warp reality in his own twisted image. 

Naturally, I thought:  Here’s where we get both Superman and Mxy to cross over into BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD.   No luck there, alas. 

Instead, we got something just as good – if not better!  Another – and unexpected – appearance of Bat-Mite!!!  (Awesome-Sauce!)  And, it is Bat-Mite’s powers that the Joker wields! 

Bat-Mite was a character that DC Comics fans sort of held in the same regard generally reserved for the likes of Scrappy-Doo!  I get the general idea, but I could never understand why Mister Mxyzptlk was so popular and Bat-Mite was not, as they are essentially the same character – one a prankster, the other a cosmic “fanboy”!  Ya know, I think I might have answered my own question. That seeing yourself in the mirror thing.

Nevertheless, BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD did more for turning-around B-M’s image (…um, can I CALL him “B-M” in a family Blog?) than decades of comic books could ever do.  Same, to a lesser degree, for Aquaman!  We LOVE those guys, now!

Casting Bat-Mite (…I’ve decided not to call him “B-M”, after all!) in the role of Mxy was a masterstroke – because the “transfer of powers” occurs accidentally, and with the best of intentions!

Bat-Mite, whenever he appears (…and the producers ARE very careful not to overuse him), is a riot.  Here, he reads from an ACTUAL copy of DC Comics 1985 “WHO’S WHO” series (Yes, the comic is realistically pictured! See Below!), to get the scoop on an obscure villain Batman is fighting. 

In a line of dialogue that will have amazing repercussions in the future he refers to Batman’s “reality” as a “show”!   Stay tuned a few months down the line for more on that! 

…And he releases The Joker from Arkham Asylum, just so Batman will have an A-List villain to fight!  

Bat-Mite’s “shrine” to the great Batman / Joker duels of the past includes images of  a Golden Age cover battle with playing cards, “The Laughing Fish”, “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge”, “The Joker’s Utility Belt”… and even Batman holding the dead body of Jason Todd Robin to represent “A Death in the Family”!!!  (“Guess how *I* voted!”, Bat-Mite remarks!)

In the ensuing fight, The Joker inadvertently becomes all powerful – and, as in the original comic book story, devises ways to kill Batman… over and over again without end.  He kills him (!), resurrects him, and keeps killing him again! 

He also creates a “Joker-Mite” (picture a mash of The Joker and the sinister doll of the cinema: “Chucky”) to bedevil the now-powerless Bat-Mite! 

There’s only one way to end this reality-molding madness and, as only he can, Batman figures it out. 

Along the way we get Joker henchmen that resemble Black-and-White versions of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Fatty Arbuckle… I’ll assume it’s Fatty Arbuckle, and not Oliver Hardy, because there is no “Stan Laurel” and he does not have Hardy’s trademark mustache! 

There’s also a “Silver Age” version of Harley Quinn!!!  Yes, we know there was NO Silver Age version of Harley Quinn… but that’s what Harley WOULD have looked and acted like in the Silver Age.  She is also reminiscent of Jean Harlow in THIS CLASSIC GANGSTER FILM! 

The Joker, himself, is a magnificent Dick Sprang inspired model, with a perfect voice by Jeff Bennett (Johnny Bravo) to match the visual!

This version of “Emperor Joker” is yet another triumph for BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD!  And an unusual one because it uses a contemporary DC comic book story (…and a GREAT ONE, at that) for its base – and still manages to instill it with the series’ signature Silver Age sensibilities! 

 Emperor Joker” is a MUST-SEE for all fans of any era of DC Comics lore! 

It’s probably even in Bat-Mite’s collection!