The blog has been fallow for a few days, so I regret the lack of activity…but as we were welcoming in July I received a notice in the mail that Oglethorpe County requested my presence as a Superior Court “traverse juror” the week of August 7. Yes, it’s the time-honored practice of drawing jury duty; I’ve been quite fortunate in that in the times I’ve been tabbed in the past I never had to physically be in the courtroom—I was called twice when I resided in Chatham County, and both times my juror number was so high that it wasn’t necessary for me to report. The only time I’ve actually been on a jury was a grand one; I was selected for the grand jury during that same Chatham stay and while it wasn’t an unpleasant experience—by the way, don’t let anyone ever tell you that grand juries won’t indict a ham sandwich if the D.A. commands “Make it so”…because they will—I had to report after working my night audit job at the ol’ Best Western Central (this would have been in the early 90s) and sometimes I wasn’t as sharp, tack-wise, as I should have been.
I don’t look to dodge jury duty as rule, but in the case of my Oglethorpe summoning I won’t lie to you—I did try to get an exemption, only because being on a jury would have been a major inconvenience. I learned from the county clerk’s website that if I could procure a physician’s certificate indicating I was my father’s primary caregiver (which, to be honest, I am…though I share those duties with my Mom) I could be excused. But getting this certificate turned out to be more of a hassle than showing up for the jury appointment. The first of Dad’s physicians I went to, they wanted me to pony up a $15 fee—I was reluctant to do this, but I did…only to get the runaround when I tried to complete the transaction by getting the certificate. (I wound up telling them nicely to forget it, insisting on the return of my fifteen clams.) The second doctor didn’t charge me (I suspect this might be because I’m a patient there, too) but they told me I would have to get the documentation from Dad’s primary physician…despite there being no such specificity on the juror’s affidavit. Here’s the problem: my father’s primary physician (and mine…and Mom’s) retired in December of last year, and his office hasn’t lined up a replacement yet. It didn’t make no never mind, to be frank—when I asked the primary doc’s office for a certificate, they said they couldn’t because the physician’s assistant or whoever wouldn’t do it because they hadn’t been seeing Dad that long (he’s been a patient there for ten years, but whatever). Having struck out a third time I decided to say ta heck wid it…but if you’re curious as to why I have never anything nice to say about this country’s healthcare system this will go a long way toward explaining it.
I lucked out with jury duty—I only had to be there the initial day, and not only was I not picked from any of the “panels,” they informed the rest of the jurors Wednesday evening via the website that we were excused for the rest of the week. (There was much rejoicing at Rancho Yesteryear at this news—I think we may have even cracked open one of the Heinekens Mom keeps on hand to make brats to celebrate.) Relieved of my civic obligation, I took solace in the news that DISH was offering another “freeview” of Epix this weekend and while the pickings from their “Vault” were a little slim (not their fault—I think I’ve grabbed everything worth grabbing) I found two movies of interest that touch on previous features reviewed here on the blog.
In my review of the excellent Sprocket Vault release of Go, Johnny Go! (1959) back in December of 2016, I referenced the rather limited thespic skills of Jimmy Clanton, the pop singer who plays “Johnny Melody” in the movie:
Jimmy would appear in one more film, Teenage Millionaire (1961) …and though I probably shouldn’t say this since I haven’t seen Millionaire, it’s a good thing Jimmy kept his day job. (If given the opportunity, I’d watch Millionaire; with a cast consisting of Rocky Graziano, ZaSu Pitts, and Maurice Gosfield—and musical numbers from Jackie Wilson, Chubby Checker, and Dion—it would be worth a flutter.)
I’ve been wrong before, brother—but never like this. The movie’s title should have been a harbinger that I wasn’t going to like it because the tribulations of the one percent rarely garner any sympathy where yours truly is concerned. That’s the (wafer-thin) plot of Millionaire: Clanton plays young Robert “Bobby” Chalmers, whose filthy rich parents perished in a plane crash…leaving him well-off and in the care of his Aunt Theodora (ZaSu Pitts) and bodyguard Rocky (Rocky Graziano). Bobby’s life is a miserable one despite his millions (kid really has it rough); Aunt Theo is one of those overprotective “don’t-touch-that-you’ll-get-cancer!” guardians, but because Richie Rich has an affinity for pop music, she agrees to let him work at a family-owned radio station programming records for the jocks.
At the station, Bobby makes the acquaintance of Barbara “Bambi” Price (Diane Jergens)—which only causes Rocky more aggravation because young Chalmers’ hormones start going into overdrive. Somewhere along the line—assuming you’re still awake by this time—Bobby cuts a record under another name (“Bob Schultz”) and when he sneaks it onto the station’s playlist everybody wants to know who this fantabulous new vocalist with the modern kids’ sound is. (The record is called Green Light, an abysmal tune that you get to hear over and over and over again until it becomes a hellish earwig from which there is no escape. The least they could had Clanton do is sing Just a Dream.)
I cannot fathom how a movie with Pitts (who, to her credit, does get in a “Dear me!”), Graziano, and Maurice “Doberman” Gosfield (yes, he’s billed that way in the credits) can be so awful but Teenage Millionaire accomplishes this feat and then some. It’s ploddingly directed by Lawrence (F.) Doheny (his sole feature film…and with damn good reason), a TV veteran (The Big Story, Tales of Wells Fargo) who approached his assignment as if…well, as if it were an episode of a TV series. The dialogue is the textbook definition of banality (by Doheny and H.B. Cross, a.k.a. Harry Spalding); no one tried to add a little humor to this thing—a corny joke or two could have helped. Clanton is even worse in this movie than he was in Go, Johnny Go! (I didn’t think it was possible) and Graziano—the ex-boxer whom Nat Hiken turned into a first-rate second banana via The Martha Raye Show—comes off as the most comically adroit performer in the bunch, which is never a good thing. (Honestly, the highlight of this sad film comes at the end, with Zase engaged in a war of hand gestures with Sid Gould [playing an A&R executive] and Doberman looking lovingly at a banana split in a rather disturbing fashion.)
Even the music in Millionaire is lackluster (the Wikipedia entry for Clanton notes that legendary N’awlins musician “Dr. John” purportedly worked on this film), with the uninspired presentation of Clanton playing records for Graziano…that segue into dull performances from the top teen talents of the day. Chubby Checker sings most of the hits (Let’s Twist Again, Dance the Mess Around) with maybe the exception of Bill Black’s Combo (they perform their Top 20 hit Smokie, Part 2), but the musical numbers are done in something advertised as “Musicolor”—the bulk of the film is presented in black-and-white save for the opening/closing credits, with the song sequences shot through tinted filters (red and green). Jackie Wilson—”Mr. Excitement”—comes off more as “Mr. Subdued,” with Dion (DiMucci) and Marv Johnson (he performs Oh, Mary—which was released but didn’t chart) in touch with their inner meh, too. (Dion does sing Kissin’ Game, a minor hit that I used to own on an 8-track collection of Dion hits—so that was a nice nostalgia wallow.) Millionaire also “introduces” Vicki Spencer (later in Twist Around the Clock), whose rendition of I Wait was released as a single (but no takers) and Larrs Jackson—billed here as Jack Larson (not The Adventures of Superman actor)—performing a tune co-written by country music’s Bobby Bare, Back to School Blues. (I always remember Jackson as the would be-comic in the “Big Max Calvada” episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show. “Kid breaks me up.”)
Well, with the vegetables out of the way—on to the meat ‘n’ potatoes. It turns out that I wasn’t going crazy (damn you Charles Boyer): Vice Raid (1959), the Mamie Van Doren-Edward L. Cahn collaboration I referenced in my June review of Guns, Girls and Gangsters (1959), was among the Epix Vault on Demand selections—I either didn’t look very hard or senility is contagious (thanks to the ‘rents). Vice Raid is most assuredly not great art, but I had fun with it; in an unidentified metropolis (the AFI entry for the film says it’s NYC, but I dispute that despite the Big Apple skyline shown in the opening credits), vice squad detectives Whitey Brandon (Richard Coogan) and Ben Dunton (Joseph Sullivan) are in the process of running a hood named Muggsy (Shep Sanders) in as he escorts (emphasis on escort) a young woman off a bus. Muggsy is going to turn her over to the “syndicate” (a euphemism for the mob), where she will be pressed into service to work as—I nearly fell off the bed laughing at this—a “public relations girl” (a euphemism for hooker). Muggsy promises to spill the beans on the organization in exchange for leniency but never gets the opportunity to warm up for The Stoolie Opera because Dunton guns him down after telling him to make a break for it.
You see, Dunton is on the take from The Syndicate; Brandon could be sitting equally as pretty but he’s too honest a cop. (You can tell this is fiction, right?) Syndicate boss Vince Malone (Brad Dexter), infuriated that Whitey is always up his nose, has an idea: he’ll use “model” Carol Hudson (Mamie) to seduce Brandon into a frame-up…and Malone’s scheme goes off without a hitch. Suspended from the force (thanks to Carol’s story that Whitey tried to shake her down for a C-note…with Dunton also falsely testifying his partner is C-R-O-O-K-E-D), Brandon swears vengeance on Malone by starting a competitive “public relations girls” racket all his own.
I really enjoyed Mamie’s performance in Vice Raid (she seemed much more at ease than in Gangsters) and my only regret is that her Gangsters co-star Gerald Mohr couldn’t have appeared alongside her because Raid is clearly the better film. Scenarist Charles Ellis (according to the [always reliable] IMDb, his only screenplay credit) wisely chooses to forego any romance between Van Doren and leading man Richard Coogan (known for briefly playing TV’s “Captain Video”) because Coogan has all the sex appeal of a rutabaga. Instead, Mamie is attracted to boss man Brad Dexter, who, though I know him from noirs like The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and 99 River Street (1953), I always associate with The Magnificent Seven (1960; he’s the gunfighter convinced that the peasants the Seven are working for are sitting on a treasure somewhere). The subplot of Raid involves Carol’s kid sister Louise (Carol Nugent), who comes to town to visit her sis and immediately falls prey to loathsome Malone henchman Phil Evans…memorably played by Barry Atwater (he’s a real wanker in this one).
The 71-minute running time of Vice Raid makes it quite painless to sit through—Teenage Millionaire runs 84 minutes…but it seems longer. (In fact, I’m completely unconvinced I’m not still watching it.) There are familiar faces in Raid that make it a treat—Frank Gerstle, Nestor Paiva, Jeanne Bates (as the receptionist at the “modeling” agency), George Eldredge—but what really made me titter was seeing George Cisar (Mayberry R.F.D.’s “Cyrus Tankersley”) as one of the mob bosses. And the narrator of this fine bit of cinematic fromage? None other than MISTER John Dehner himself!