Friday, March 03, 2006

Camera Obscura - Knotts, McGavin, Weaver and A Quiz

It's a big week for movie fans as the mutual admiration society known as the Oscars arrive on Sunday and yeah, I'll include some predictions. I also found a small movie quiz to test if you are a bona-fide movie fanatic or just a casual observer, which I'll include today. And some of my observations too on the careers of some entertainment greats who shuffled off the mortal coil this week.

The death and remembrance of actor Don Knotts received much press/blogging this week, a comedian whose quaking nervousness became a trademark and whose lines often became part of the national lexicon - I think too, we here in the South have fond memories of Knotts as Barney Fife, and we all know what it means to "Nip it in the bud! Nip it, nip it, nip it!" And I think many of us know the quality of character that is indicated if you need to carry the bullet in your pocket rather than carry a loaded weapon. Knotts made a name for himself on the "Tonight Show" with Steve Allen in 1956 doing "Man on the Street" segments that were hilarious, but when he landed the role of Fife on the Andy Griffith Show, America loved him - he won the Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award five times between 1961-1967. I lost count of how often he appeared in Pigeon Forge over the years, making people laugh and laugh.

I also have great fondness for his movies too - notably as Luther Heggs in the 1966 movie "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken." It has a terrific supporting cast, but it's really Don's movie through and through, twitching in fear in an alleged ghost house or just attempting to make a speech ("Atta boy, Luther!!") Another movie I always liked, purely for it's bizarre premise is "The Love God?", wherein the goofy man is cast as a Hugh Hefner-like publisher of what they used to call "nudie magazines." Yeah, he's a sex symbol. Well, it was 1969 and it is a comedy. The old advertising tag line for the movie was "So many women. Not enough man."

By the time he hit the TV show "Three's Company" as Mr. Furley, that toupee he wore just frightened me more than made me laugh. One other movie I'll mention is "The Private Eyes" with Tim Conway, as it was shot in the Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina - look carefully and you can see many of the hidden doorways to secret passages that really exist in the mansion - kinda handy next time you take a tour of Biltmore. His most recent work was a voiceover in the animated 2005 feature "Chicken Little". But it's Barney Fife that's the cultural icon and a role he made vivid and real for generations of TV fans.

Actor Darren McGavin also died this week, and my twisted little horror-movie loving heart remembers him best for the single television season of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." He was a rumpled, wrinkle-clothed smartass reporter in a straw hat with a knack for encountering crimes committed by vampires, devil-worshipping politicians, zombies, sword-wielding motorcyclists, and all manner of supernatural beings which local politicians always wanted to be kept out of the news. Sort of typical of audience attitudes in the 1970s when the show aired.

More recently, his performance as the father of the Parker family in "A Christmas Story" is perfect example of acting without overwhelming the movie. His swearing at the furnace in the home is a mish-mash of rage and syllables - his son describes it this way in the movie: "He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oil or clay." And his joy at winning a table lamp shaped liked a woman's leg wearing fishnet hose is hilarious.

Another actor famous for work on television, Dennis Weaver, also went the way of all flesh this week, but I'd like to focus on two movies and one TV appearance that are stuck in my memory.

The first is a TV movie, the first solo feature as director for Steven Spielberg, the 1971 TV movie "Duel". It's a gripping, relentless battle between Weaver, driving a 1970 red Plymouth Valiant, and a never-seen driver of a nasty, smoke-belching, diesel-stained truck that seems to want him dead. It's a common fear on the road - encountering some unknown driver whose mindless rage could flatten you like a pancake. The movie is a seamless suspense thriller, and Weaver's performance makes it all very real, very believable as he tries to puzzle out just what has this madman on his bumper, and we watch Weaver's mental state crumble.

Spielberg selected Weaver because he was a fan of Weaver's small but memorable role in a nearly-forgotten classic film noir thriller by Orson Welles, "Touch Of Evil." If you've never seen the movie, search for it - it ranks as one of Welles' best. (And look for the restored version made available in 1998) Rumor has it his character as night manager of a sleazy motel served as inspiration to Hitchcock for the creation of Norman Bates.

And one more favorite from Dennis Weaver - as the voice of Buck McCoy, the washed-up one-time famous movie cowboy in an episode of "The Simpsons" called "Lastest Gun In The West." Bart thought he was great. And Buck said one of his old movies was called "The Wild Lunch" and he lassoed a bag of potato chips to prove it.

Now on to the Sunday awards show - I'm not going to hash thru the typical newspaper movie critic crap of what will win or what should win and what It All Means.

I will say I have much sentiment attached to the movie of the early days in the life of Johnny Cash and June Carter in "I Walk The Line." Yes, it's more Hollywood than History, but I truly enjoyed how Joaquin Phoenix captured the style of Cash, aiming that guitar like a rifle and leaning into that microphone like he was telling secrets or having an argument. Reese Witherspoon as June - well, let's just say June was never, ever that pretty. Another excellent quality to the movie was the music score of classic early rock hits and T. Bone Burnett's original score.

And finally, as promised, a movie quiz - just click on the link, and it will take you to the page where you can see a photo from a movie and your job is to ID the movie. Some are pretty easy. Some are a little tough. Many are from pretty popular movies, and it's a fine way to waste a bit of time at work or home. If you get really, really stuck for answers, just ask for help here at yer Cup of Joe and I'll try and give you some hints. The movie quiz is here.


  1. Thanks for the nice Don Knotts tribute. The Love God? is, IMHO, his best work, though I do have a great fondness for The Incredible Mr. Limpet.

    I'll be watching Walk The Line tonight. Looking forward to it...

  2. I always liked "Mr Limpet" too - a few years back there was some talk around Hollyweird about a remake with Jim Carrey in the title role, but it never happened or maybe someone mentioned Will Smith's name and it got turned into the mediocre "Shark Tale".

    Always good to see ya, Tits.

  3. Are you angry and ill as your masthead suggests? I have been for about six years, actually.

  4. Actually that line is from the last episode of one of my favorite old science fiction shows, The Outer Limits - and is about this alien, played by actor David McCallum (remember "Man From U.N.C.L.E."?) who comes to Earth.

    Anyway, towards the end of the episode the alien says of the human race: "Your ignorance makes me ill and angry."

  5. Thanks for that wonderful walk down memory lane. I always thought 'Duel' was one of the most frightening movies I'd ever seen! Truckers still make mer nervous, since watching itt..

  6. I have not seen that episode although I'm a huge fan of "The Outer Limits." Growing up we had three channels (I sound like my mother here, walked 12 miles in the ice) but we only got Memphis wrestling and "The Twilight Zone."
    I like that quote quite a bit.

  7. I love "Duel" I always feel so helpless watching it.