Sunday, July 7, 2024

Retro TV Episode: The Phantom Family

Lemnoc keeps an eye on Dr. Smith & The Robot

I've been doing a re-watch of selected episodes of all of Irwin Allen's classic TV series, and recently posted about "Visitors From Beyond The Stars," an episode of The Time Tunnel. It's been having a lot of fun seeing these shows again, and this time out it's a brief look at a selection from another one of Allen's iconic shows. "The Phantom Family" is of the better episodes in the second season of Lost In Space, the show which featured the Robinson family, whose ship, the Jupiter 2, is sent off course by a saboteur, Dr. Smith, causing them to become....Lost In Space! In its second year, the series switched from black and white to color, and the tone of the show veered wildly from outer space adventure to fairy tale themed outings, and other campy, comical stories which often focused on Will Robinson, Dr. Smith and the Robot. 

"The Phantom Family" concerns an alien named Lemnoc (played by Alan Hewitt) whose race has lost the will to live. He creates android duplicates of Dr. Smith, Don West, and Judy and Penny Robinson. Lemnoc wants Will to teach the androids about being human, and all about our strengths and emotions, especially our survival instinct. Lemnoc gives Will a 24 hour deadline, explaining that Will's family and friends will be destroyed, unless the alien transports the duplicates to his world within that time frame.

This enjoyable outing features much of the main cast having fun playing the stoic, emotionless androids. Jonathan Harris, who could often be theatrical and over the top as Dr. Smith, does a great job in a couple of low key scenes with Bill Mumy's Will, as the Smith android does indeed learn about being human from the youngest Robinson. Guy Williams and June Lockhart are absent for most of this entry, but they return for the final portion of the story, so that John and Don West, played by Mark Goddard, can do their action hero bit at the end of the episode.

There's are some fun easter eggs for Allen devotees, as Lemnoc's lab is filled with equipment and props which appeared previously on Lost In Space, as well as other Allen series, including The Time Tunnel and Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea. "The Phantom Family" was written by Peter Packer, who wrote the lion's share of Lost In Space episodes throughout the series run, and helmed by veteran actor and director Ezra Stone. You might also notice some similarities to a third season episode entitled "Target Earth," in which another alien race creates duplicates of the Robinsons, as part of a plot to invade the Earth. If you're a Lost In Space fan, "The Phantom Family" is definitely worthy of a re-watch.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Retro TV: Aliens Invade The Time Tunnel!

Robert Colbert & James Darren

In the mid to late 1960s, Irwin Allen produced and created a quartet of science-fiction series, including Lost in Space and Land of the Giants. I recently wrote a retrospective review of The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen, an entertaining 1995 documentary about Allen's life and career. This time out, let's take a look at an episode of The Time Tunnel. While this series had the shortest run of Irwin Allen's shows, lasting only one season, it still has a devoted following, and was his personal favorite. The Time Tunnel starred James Darren and Robert Colbert as Tony Newman and Doug Phillips, two scientists who become lost in time when their time travel experiment goes awry. Every week the duo was propelled into the midst of a different real-life event, from the sinking of the Titanic, to the attack on Pearl Harbor, to the battle at The Alamo, while their colleagues at Time Tunnel HQ tried to bring them home. This clever concept allowed Allen and his production crew to make extensive use of 20th Century Fox's library of stock footage, inserting the duo into the midst of epic battles, volcanic eruptions, and a number of turning points in history.

"Visitors From Beyond The Stars," is a bit different from previous episodes of the show, as Tony and Doug aren't interacting with real life historical figures or participating in actual events. This time, our heroes venture into the territory of other Allen series like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, as they face off with alien invaders for the first (but not the last) time. As the story begins, our stalwart time travelers materialize on a spaceship which is orbiting Earth, where they encounter a pair of silver-skinned aliens. At first, our heroes think they've ended up in the future, but it turns out they're arrived in our past, during the nineteenth century. These not so friendly extraterrestrials plan to drain the Earth of all its resources in order to revive their dying planet, destroying our world in the process. It's up to Tony and Doug to stop them and thwart their evil plan.

The episode is an enjoyable, old school 1950s sci-fi tale, complete with a brainwashed Doug, and an Old West twist. "Visitors From Beyond The Stars" was directed by Sobey Martin, who was also behind the camera for a number of episodes of Lost In Space. The story was written by Bob and Wanda Duncan, who regularly penned scripts for that family-oriented space adventure series. The guest cast includes familiar faces Jan Merlin and John Hoyt, both of whom appeared in a number of science-fiction and fantasy films and television series. Irwin Allen had a group of actors, directors, writers and production staff that he liked to work with, and he'd often utilize members of this unofficial stock company for his television shows and movies. For example, John Williams, of Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars fame, composed the themes for Lost In Space, Land of the Giants and The Time Tunnel, as well as creating incidental music for those series.

At the conclusion of "Visitors From Beyond The Stars," after saving the day, our heroes are propelled into their next adventure, in which they meet "The Ghost of Nero." Doug and Tony would encounter aliens twice more during the run of the series, in "Raiders From Outer Space," and "Town of Terror." If you haven't previously seen The Time Tunnel, this entertaining show is worth checking out, especially if you really enjoy vintage science-fiction and fantasy television. Of course, if you're already a fan, or an Irwin Allen devotee, it's about time for an epic re-watch of the series, don't you think? 
Memorable episodes of the show include "Rendezvous With Yesterday," the impressive pilot, in which our heroes end up on the Titanic, and "The Day The Sky Fell In," in which our heroes encounter Tony's father (and Tony's younger self) just prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The complete series has been released on DVD and Blu-ray. I recommend the Blu-ray edition issued by Revolution Films in the UK in 2018. Though it's a Region 2 release, the discs will play on US Blu-ray players. Here's a trailer for the DVD release of the series:

Monday, June 17, 2024

Dizzyfish Rocks with "The Best of the 70s"

Dizzyfish - photo by John V

Dizzyfish, a fabulous band led by guitarist/vocalist Eric Herbst, is a longtime fixture on the Connecticut music scene. This terrific group keeps the spirit of rock and roll alive with their show "The Best of the 70s," which is touring the area this summer. The band took the stage at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford this past Saturday, and wowed the crowd with superb performances of memorable tunes such as "The Weight" by The Band, "Lady Madonna," by The Beatles and "Desperado" by The Eagles. This wasn't just a concert, it was a rock and roll party where the audience sang along and danced to every song, including classic hits such as Cat Steven's "Wild World," Jimmy Buffett's "Margaritaville" and Jim Croce's "Bad Bad Leroy Brown."

Dizzyfish - Photo by John V

Herbst is the energetic ringleader of this incredible group, and the entire band clearly enjoys performing these songs. Their enthusiasm for the music shines through in every performance. Angela Clemmons and Sharon Jerry-Collins wowed the crowd with their passionate backing vocals, while The Uptown Horns amped up the soul on tunes like Bruce Springsteen's "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" and Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind." The talented ensemble also includes the top notch work of Tim Lane on keyboards, John Zanella on bass, Tommy Nagy on drums, and Jon Saxon's incredible saxophone. One of the high points of the night was an extraordinary take on Led Zeppelin's "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You," featuring a towering solo from Saxon. That was just one highlight in a night filled with amazing music, including an outstanding version of Jimi Hendrix's iconic "Little Wing," and a lovely rendition of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," which Herbst dedicated to his wife.

Dizzyfish - Photo by John V

Jeff Pitchell and his band performed a high-energy set of blues originals and covers to kick off the night, including a blistering run-through of Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Cold Shot." Pitchell later returned to the stage to join Dizzyfish for an epic version of Lynyrd Skynrd's "Free Bird," which closed out the night. If you're a classic rock fan, and enjoy seeing your favorite songs performed with true heart, real soul and high energy rock and roll power, then check out Dizzyfish and "The Best of the 70s." You can find out more about the band and this phenomenal show by following this link:

Eric Herbst & The Uptown Horns - photo by John V


Friday, June 7, 2024

The Amazing Adventures of Irwin Allen

These days, when people hear the name Irwin Allen, they might recall that he was the producer of disaster films such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, but for a generation of television fans, he's also fondly remembered as the man behind four classic series: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants. If you're of a certain age, you very likely watched these shows during their original broadcasts, or caught them after school in syndication during the 1970s, and later on various cable channels. These memorable series were colorful, action-packed, and often featured wild plot-lines that combined science-fiction, fantasy and adventure. Allen's TV shows were often scoffed at by highbrow critics, but they're still beloved by their fans. While some episodes did go off the rails a bit story-wise, the shows were always well-produced and entertaining, providing thrills, action, humor and excitement to viewers.

If you're looking for a well-done overview of Allen and his career, seek out the 1995 documentary The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen, which was originally produced for the Sci-Fi Channel. Hosted by June Lockhart and Bill Mumy of Lost In Space, this enjoyable tribute covers Allen's work in television and feature films, with special emphasis on his four classic TV series. There are insightful interviews with stars of Allen's shows and films, including Jonathan Harris, James Darren, Lee Meriwether, Gary Conway, Robert Wagner and Roddy McDowall. The creation and production of each of Allen's television series is extensively detailed, and there's also a look as his latter-day work for the big-screen in the disaster film genre. It's fun to see the behind-the-scenes footage and promotional material from Allen's TV series and feature films. Lockhart and Mumy do a fine job hosting the show. They also share some fond memories of their time working with a man who was as colorful and full of personality as his television series.
A comprehensive large format book, also entitled The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen, was released several years ago by an independent publisher called Creature Features Press. This exhaustively researched coffee table book covered Allen's life and career, and featured an authoritative text by author Jeff Bond, as well as many exclusive photos. The book quickly went out of print, and used copies are currently fetching exorbitant prices online. However, there's some really good news for Irwin Allen fans. The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen is being re-issued in a new edition by Titan Books this October, and is currently available for pre-order online. In the meantime, you can catch all of Irwin Allen shows on cable channels like MeTV, or watch them on DVD. 
The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen is an informative and affectionate tribute to Allen's life and career. The film is well-produced by Kevin Burns, who was also behind the scenes for the later Allen centric TV special Lost In Space Forever. While it's currently out of print on DVD, used copies of can be found online. The documentary is also included as a special feature on the Blu-ray edition of Lost In Space: The Complete Adventures. The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen is a lot of fun to watch, as are all of Allen's classic TV series. I've been doing something of a re-watch of Allen's series recently, and I think that they still have strong appeal for the ten year old in all of us. Feel free to share a favorite moment or episode from one of Allen's series in the comments, and remember: "Warning! Warning! Alien Approaching!"

Friday, May 31, 2024

An Evocative Meeting of Poetry and Film

Drew Pisarra is a multi-talented sonneteer and playwright who's the author of the outstanding poetry collections Infinity Standing Up and Periodic Boyfriends, as well as the compelling short story collection You’re Pretty Gay. His work is clever, witty, erotically charged, sharply observed and infused with emotionally rich thoughts on life, love and relationships. His latest collection, Fassbinder; His Films, My Poems, is a series of bold, intelligent, razor-sharp and sensual pieces which celebrate Pisarra’s love for the work of avant-garde filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, while showcasing his own gift for crafting exceptional pieces of verse-based literature.

Many of the poems in this remarkable volume share titles with films in Fassbinder’s celebrated cinematic output, including The Marriage of Maria Braun, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and Fox and His Friends. Not only do these poems share the titles of classic Fassbinder works, they also examine many of the themes featured in those films, including loneliness, love, relationships, sex and the alienation felt by characters who feel they’re trapped on the fringes of society. The poems collected in Fassbinder; His Films, My Poems, are haunting, heart-rending, and harrowing. They are also funny, touching and soulful.  

These enthralling poems will vibrate through your being and echo across your soul. “The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant” and “In A Year Of Moons” display Pisarra’s innate gift for wordplay and vivid imagery, as well as his wry, ironic sense of humor. Captivating entries like “Theatre in Trance,” “Love Is Colder Than Death,” and “Das Kaffehouse: Director’s Cut” play with the general structure of verse, and are riveting in their own right. Every poem in this phenomenal collection strikes just the right note, and will continue to resonate with you as you re-visit them, which you will absolutely want to do.

Drew Pisarra’s intelligent and passionate poems are a joy to experience. He regularly challenges the conventions of the genre, as he did in the sonnet cycle Periodic Boyfriends, which used the periodic table of elements as a springboard for an evocative walk through his romantic entanglements. Fassbinder; His Films, My Poems is another superb work from a uniquely talented writer. You don’t need to be familiar with Fassbinder’s oeuvre to appreciate the brilliance inherent in Pisarra’s poems, but if you have seen some of those amazing films, you’ll discover an additional layer of resonance in the themes explored by both artists. If you’re not already a Fassbinder (or Pisarra) fan, Fassbinder; His Films, My Poems will inspire you to check out some of those terrific films, as well as Pisarra's other wonderful work.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Retro Movie: Colossus: The Forbin Project

Susan Clark, Eric Braeden and Georg Stanford Brown

There have been a number of films featuring sentient computer systems which attempt to take over, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Demon Seed, and The Terminator. One of the best examples of this science-fiction sub-genre is the 1970 thriller Colossus: The Forbin Project. The movie stars Eric Braeden as Dr. Charles Forbin, who's one of the minds behind Colossus, a powerful computer system which is designed to control the nuclear weapons of the United States. The idea behind Colossus is that it would take the human element out of the equation, utilizing a more logical thought process in case of a nuclear conflict, and hopefully minimize the threat of World War III.

Forbin and his team have done their job all too well. Once Colossus is activated, it quickly proves to be sentient, and more powerful than anyone initially thought possible. Colossus asks to be linked to Guardian, a similar system which has been developed in Russia. Colossus warns that if this task is not accomplished, there will be consequences, and the super intelligent computer happens to be in full control of our nuclear arsenal. Suddenly, it's a race against time for America and the USSR to turn off these renegade machines before they cause can death and destruction. But it might not be as easy as Forbin, his team, and their counterparts in Russia think. Can they stop Colossus from taking over the world, and enforcing its will on mankind?

Colossus: The Forbin Project is a thought-provoking tale. While some of the computer hardware, and the Cold War setting of the film, may seem be a bit dated, it's still a fascinating story of technology run amok. The themes of the film seem even more relevant in our modern world, at a time when we're more reliant than ever on technology to assist us in our daily lives, and the rise of AI brings up more questions about the proper use of technology. The movie works both as a cautionary tale, and a tense, well-paced race against time thriller. The rise of Colossus is portrayed in chilling, realistic fashion, and the threat to the human race posed by this sentient supercomputer illustrates the price mankind might pay if one of its own creations turns against it.

In addition to star Braeden, then best known for his role in the television series The Rat Patrol, the supporting cast features a number of familiar faces, including Susan Clark, William Schallert, Marion Ross, Martin E. Brooks, and Georg Stanford Brown. The film was directed by Joseph Sargent, who was also behind the camera for the original version of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. The screenplay for the movie was penned by James Bridges, who also wrote the scripts for The Paper Chase and The China Syndrome, a film he also directed. Colossus: The Forbin Project is based on the novel Colossus by writer D.F. Jones, who also authored two sequels, The Fall of Colossus and Colossus and the Crab, though only the first book was adapted for the screen.

Colossus: The Forbin Project is worth a look for science-fiction and thriller fans. Once seen, that darker edged early 1970s style ending is not soon forgotten. By the way, if the voice of Colossus sounds familiar, that's because those dulcet tones belong to veteran actor Paul Frees, who's known for his performances in a plethora of classic films and TV shows. The movie was one of my favorite genre films in my younger years, and it still holds up well today. It's available on DVD and Blu-ray, and also for rental on Amazon. Here's a look at a trailer for the film's Blu-ray release on the Shout! Factory label:

Sunday, May 5, 2024

The Top Ten Posts: 2024 Edition

Last March, I wrote about the Top Ten most visited posts for this blog since its inception in 2011. I thought it might be interesting to see if things had changed in a year's time, so here's the Eclectic Avenue Top Ten as of this week:

1. It's A Terrifying Trilogy of Terror: Still at number one, this popular post was part of a blogathon, and it's a retrospective about the classic telefilm, Trilogy of Terror:

2. Vincent's Dazzling "Whatever It Takes": Retaining the number two spot, a review of Kyle Vincent's album, "Whatever It Takes":

3. The Bellero Shield: Hanging in at number three, a look at one of my favorite episodes of the original Outer Limits TV series:

4. Early Elton: This is a superb tribute band that I've seen perform a number of times throughout the years. They've been featured on the blog several times, and this review of a 2017 performance is still in the number four spot:

5. Avengers: Endgame: My review of the Marvel superhero film from 2019 is a new entry on the list, flying into the number 5 slot:

6. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark: my post about the classic made for TV chiller starring Kim Darby, which was part of a blogathon, is another new entry in the top ten, notching the number 6 spot:

7. Andrew Curry of Curry Cuts Records: Andrew is the fabulous producer behind several outstanding tribute albums. We've talked several times over the years, and this chat from 2021 about a terrific Andy Gibb tribute record remains on the list: 

8. Cinesavant: My look at the work of the excellent film writer Cinesavant shows up at number eight, retaining a spot on the list:

9. Starting Over: At number nine, it's a look at musician and author Ken Sharp's insightful and revealing book on the sessions for John Lennon and Yoko Ono's album, Double Fantasy:

10. The Magnificent Seven: This look at the 1960 Western classic is another blogathon post, and it rides into the number ten spot as it debuts on the list this year:

As always, thanks for supporting this blog, and my writing, throughout the years. Please use the search function on the right side of the main page to check out some of the other articles from Eclectic Avenue!