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Steve McQueen races through San Francisco in ‘Bullitt’

Steve McQueen in "Bullitt"Although Steve  McQueen is undoubtedly the star of 1968’s “Bullitt,” his unofficial co-star was the “Highland Green” 1968 Ford Mustang that McQueen drove throughout the Peter Yates directed cop thriller being broadcast on  Saturday, February 6th, 5pm pst on Turner Classic Movies. San Francisco has been used as a  backdrop for many motion pictures, but no film would ever make better use of the  city’s dramatic landscape, or have such a profound influence on future  productions. McQueen’s human co-stars in “Bullitt” include Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Vaughn, and Simon Oakland, and the film would go on to win an Academy  Award for Best Film Editing (Frank P. Keller).

The story places McQueen’s character, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, heading a  police unit in charge of protecting a key witness in an upcoming mafia trial.  When the witness and both of Bullitt’s co-workers are killed, Lieutenant Bullitt  starts an investigation of his own, hoping to solve the murders of his partners,  as well as determine the true identity of the slain witness. While leaving a  hotel on the San Francisco peninsula, Bullitt realizes he is being tailed by two  hit-men, driving a black 1968 Dodge Charger. Bullitt turns the tables on the  men, becomes the pursuer, and touches off one of the best car chases in motion  picture history, taking up ten minutes of screen time. McQueen, who had  distinguished himself a few years earlier riding a motorcycle in “The Great Escape,” demonstrates similar skills while flying  his Mustang through the roller-coaster like streets of San Francisco.

The success of “Bullitt” would spawn a slew of imitators, and soon, car  chases would become a familiar element in cop films, most notably “The French Connection.” Long time Northern California  residents will appreciate getting to see much of what the Bay Area looked like  over 40 years ago, including San Francisco International Airport, and Millbrae’s  Thunderbird Hotel (now the Clarion) in all of it’s 1968 glory. Also not to be  missed is an appearance by a then unknown Robert Duval as a cab  driver.


Errol Flynn still shines in ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’

Olivia de Hallivand and Errol Flynn in "The Adventures of Robin Hood"If ever there was a case one actor born to play one part, it could be Errol Flynn  in the title role of “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, the 1938 swashbuckler  classic, set to air on Turner Classic Movies, Thursday, February 4th, 9pm pst.  Flynn was already a star prior to “Robin Hood”, but his performance as the  legendary outlaw hero would become his signature work. The Warner Brothers film  co-stars Olivia  de Havilland as Maid Marion, Basil Rathbone as Flynn’s main nemesis, Sir Guy of  Gisbourne, and Claude  Rains as the evil Prince John, plus several supporting players familiar to  classic film buffs, including Alan Hale, Eugene Pallette, Ian Hunter and Patric Knowles. “Robin Hood” would win three Oscars, and was  nominated for Best Picture at the 11th Academy Awards.

“The Adventures of Robin Hood’s” plot takes place in late 12th century  England, where Prince John has taken control of the throne, in the absence of  his brother, King Richard the Lionheart, who has been captured and made a  prisoner by Leopold of Austria, while returning from the Crusades. When John  starts to oppress the Saxon commoners, Robin, a Saxon Earl, takes refuge in  Sherwood Forest, and organizes a group of “merry men”, intent on thwarting  Prince John and his followers…the film is not exactly good history, but great  cinema. Many of the familiar elements of the Robin Hood story are included,  including Robin’s initial meetings with Little John and Friar Tuck, his  incognito participation in an archery tournament, and his daring escape from the  gallows.

Despite a wonderful supporting cast, great scenery, filmed in Technicolor,  and a riveting music score conducted by Oscar winner Erich Wolfgang Korngold,  Errol Flynn still walks away with the picture…his charm, looks, charisma, and  athleticism still hold up after 72 years. If a prime Errol Flynn had done “The  Adventures of Robin Hood”, in 2000, we’d probably, by now, be up to it’s fourth  sequel. Unlike those fans of Johnny Depp’sPirates of the Caribbean” franchise, devotees of Flynn must  be content to watch “Robin Hood” over and over again, which, obviously, they’re  more than willing to do.

Trivia note: The horse ridden by Olivia de Havilland in the movie is none  other than “Trigger”, Roy Rogers’s famous wonder horse.


Donner Party tragedy recalled on PBS

Depiction of Donner PartyOf all of tragedies in American history, none haunt our collective psyche as  does the sad story of the Donner Party, and their ill-fated trek towards California  over 160 years ago. Monday, February 1, PBS  will recount the fateful journey with a rebroadcast of “American Experience: The  Donner Party”, airing at 10 pm locally. This 90 minute film, written and  directed by Ric Burns, and narrated by David McCullough, traces the saga of the  Donner Party, using photographs, paintings, maps and interviews with historians  as well as letters, diaries and memoirs of party members, whose writings will be  read by actors, including Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan and Eli Wallach.

It was in the Spring of 1846, in the town of Springfield, Illinois, when George  Donner placed a notice in the town’s Gazette, appealing for able bodied  persons to join his wagon train for the 2000 mile journey to California,  promising as much land as they wanted at no cost. Donner’s group left  Springfield in mid-April, and by late July, had reached what is now Wyoming,  where they camped alongside several other western bound wagon parties. It was  here where emigrants were told about a shortcut to their destination, named the “Hastings Cutoff”. Electing Donner as it’s captain, a group numbering 87 people  equipped with 23 wagons, broke away from the main body of overland travelers,  and set out for California, intent on using the untried route.

The decision to use the “Hastings Cutoff” would set off the chain of  misfortune that we now associate with the Donner Party. They would fall weeks  behind schedule, and were already running short of food when they reached the  Sierra Nevada in late October, where they faced the beginnings of what became  the worst winter in the region’s history. Freezing temperatures, starvation,  death and even cannibalism would forever be the group’s legacy. But amidst the  five months of despair, there were also elements of hope, courage, and  survival…46 people would live through the ordeal, and the story of the Donner  Party did nothing to discourage a westward movement, which, actually, was only  just beginning.


HBO airs Ted Williams documentary

Someone once wrote that, “in 1955, there were 77,263,127 male Americans…and  everyone of them, in their heart of hearts, would give anything to be Ted Williams”. Viewers can find out why on Saturday, January  30th (9:45am pst) when HBO re-airs “Ted Williams :The Greatest Hitter Who Ever  Lived”. This 76 minute film, which was produced by Margaret Grossi and narrated  by Leiv Schreiber, traces the life of the Red Sox Hall Of Fame outfielder, and includes interviews with  teammate Bobby Deorr, former president George H.W. Bush, and actor Robert Redford.

Ted Williams’s career (1939-1960), in terms of raw statistics, speaks for  itself….six batting titles, two MVP awards, two triple crowns, and the  distinction of being the last major leaguer to hit over .400, when he batted  .406 in 1941. However, Ted Williams was also baseball’s anti-hero…he feuded with  sports writers, had a complicated personal life, and had, what could best be  described, a love-hate relationship with the Boston fans… in the process of  hitting 521 career homers, Williams ignored the time honored tradition of  tipping his cap to the crowd as he crossed home plate.

Williams 21 year career was twice interrupted by military duty, as he served  in both World War Two and Korea…it was during the Korea conflict that he flew in  39 combat missions, once crash landing his plane after it had been hit by enemy  fire. Ted Williams’s stints in the service cost him five seasons, but despite  that, his batting eye never deserted him, as he played into his 40’s, compiling  a lifetime batting average of .344. Playing in his final game in 1960, the 42  year old Williams would homer in his last career at bat. The writer, John Updike, described the scene at Fenway Park, in an essay printed in the New Yorker….after  Williams circled the bases, he retreated to the dugout, as always, failing to  tip his cap. Teammates, coaches, and even umpires pleaded with him to somehow  acknowledge the cheering fans, but it never happened…as Updike pointed out, “Gods do not answer letters”.


Hope, Crosby ‘Road To..’ films featured on Turner Classic Movies

Bob Hope and Bing CrosbyIt was 70 years ago when Paramount  Studios made the decision to team America’s favorite singer with one of it’s  best known comedians. The result of that pairing will be celebrated Thursday  night , January 28th, when Turner  Classic Movies will run five of the Bing Crosby, Bob Hope “Road To..” movies, beginning at 5pm, pst, with a  showing of “Road To Singapore”(1940). The success of the Hope and Crosby “Road” pictures is evident, not just from the fact that they would eventually make  seven of them, but that they found a winning formula during the making of the  first “Road” film, and never deviated from it while producing six more.

All of the “Road To” movies are musical comedies that are short on plot, but  chock full of wise-cracks, sight gags, running jokes, and lines that seem to be  ad-libbed, having little to do with the story. While none of the six “Road” movies that followed “Singapore” are sequels, Hope and Crosby’s characters in  all of them are interchangeable. Basically, Bing would play a sharp con man  while Hope was his cowardly, but hysterically funny sideman. During all of their  misadventures, the duo would travel to an exotic locale, find themselves in  dangerous predicaments, and meet up with Dorothy Lamour, who appears in all of the “Road” films.  (Interesting to note, Hope is billed third, behind Crosby and Lamour, in the  first “Road” film, “Road To Singapore”)

Actually, all of the “Road To..” movies are spoofs of many of the popular  film genres of the day, including African jungle flicks, Arabian Nights films  and South Seas adventures, with a few songs thrown in along the way. Hope and  Crosby’s willingness to abandon the films original scripts and throw in their  own ad-libs became legendary, as well as Hope’s tendency to break the fourth  wall and speak directly to the audience. Much of the humor consisted of inside  jokes, that poked fun at themselves, Paramount Studios, and the very films they  were staring in.

Turner Classic Movies will follow “Road To Singapore” with “Road To Zanzibar” (1941) at 6:30pm, pst, “Road To Moracco” (1942) at 8:15, pst, “Road To Utopia” (1946) at 9:45, pst, and “Road To Bali” (1952) at 11:30pm, pst. “Road To Bali” is  unique to the series in that it is in color, and has several cameos, including Jane  Russell, Humphrey  Bogart, and another famous comic duo, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Continue reading on Hope, Crosby ‘Road To..’ films featured on Turner Classic Movies – San Francisco Cable TV |

Wyatt Earp profiled on PBS

Wyatt EarpHistory, fact, fiction, and myth all collide Monday night, January 25th when American  Experience premieres , “Wyatt Earp”, a one hour documentary on the famed Western  lawman. (9 pm PBS). This new Earp profile should go a long way in separating the  real Wyatt from the character who has inhabited our popular culture for over 100  years. “Wyatt Earp” is edited by Bruce Shaw, written, produced and directed by  Rob Rapley, and narrated by Michael Murphy.

Earp (1848-1929) has probably been the subject of more movies, and portrayed  by more actors than any other historical figure from the 19th century American  West. Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster, James Garner, Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner  are just a few of those who have been cast as Wyatt Earp, while Hugh O’Brien did  the honors for several years on television. Most of movies about Earp  concentrate on that short period of his life, in 1881, that led him and his  brothers to Tombstone, Arizona, where they, along with Doc Holiday, faced the Clantons at the infamous O.K. Corral.  That incident, however, lasted only a few seconds, of what was an 80 year  life.

One event in Earp’s life, which has never been included in any film happened  in San Francisco in 1896, where Wyatt was selected to referee a major  prize-fight between Bob Fitzsimmons and Tom Sharkey. In front of 15,000 fans at Mechanic’s Pavilion, Fitzsimmons appeared to have knocked  Sharkey out in the 8th round, only to have Earp accuse Fitzsimmons of a foul,  awarding Sharkey the victory by way of disqualification. To this very day,  boxing historians have speculated as to the honesty of Earp’s actions.

Continue reading on Wyatt Earp profiled on PBS – San Francisco Cable TV |

‘Have Gun Will Travel’ returns to Encore Westerns Channel

Fans of classic TV westerns will be pleased to learn that the Encore Westerns Channel recently added Have Gun Will Travel to it’s weekday lineup ( M-F 6:36pm  pst). Have Gun Will Travel, which originally ran six seasons on CBS (1957-1963),  stars Richard Boone as Paladin, the gun for hire, whose business card inspired  the name of the series. Paladin was much different from the traditional western  hero…he was an intellectual with deep knowledge in history and literature, and  obviously made a comfortable living for his services .Often, at the program’s  opening, Paladin would be shown living large in his 1870’s San Francisco  residence, the Carlton Hotel, appearing in formal clothes, perhaps dressed for  the opera. But when he accepted a job, he would easily shift to his familiar,  all black attire.

What Paladin did have in common with all other western good guys was a  strong moral compass. It wasn’t unusual for him to switch sides in a conflict,  if he found his employer to be in the wrong, and, as one would expect from a  lead character, he was unbeatable with both gun and fist, although he preferred  to settle issues with his brain.

Since Encore westerns generally run episodes in their original running  order, it’s still possible to view the first season of programs, and since there  were 225 half hour shows filmed, Encore Western could, if they choose, present  the show for almost a full year, without having to broadcast a repeat. Not to be  overlooked, is Have Gun Will Travel’s memorable theme, sung by Johnny Western.


A’s World Series wins featured on MLB Network

A's owner Charles O. Finley surrounded by the World Champion Oakland A'sBay Area baseball fans will want to check out MLB Networkon Friday night, January 22nd, as highlights of the Oakland A’s World Series wins in 1972 and 1973 will be broadcast back to back (5 and 6pm pst, with repeat showings). Both series went to a seventh game and are each memorable in their own right.

1972 saw the A’s facing the Cincinnati Reds, who were led by future Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan, not to mention Pete Rose. The A’s, despite having to play without Reggie Jackson, who was injured during the ALCS, prevailed, thanks to some great pitching from Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers, and the unexpected slugging by series MVP Gene Tenace. Six of the seven games were decided by one run.

In 1973, the defending champion A’s played the New York Mets, in a series that was almost overshadowed by controversy, when A’s owner Charles Finley tried to fire second baseman Mike Andrews, after the latter had made two crucial errors in game two.(Commissioner Bowie Kuhn reinstated Andrews, and fined Finley). Oakland, falling behind three games to two, rallied behind Reggie Jackson to post wins in games six and seven to win their second straight World Series ( they would make it three in a row the next year by beating the Dodgers in five games). The 1973 World Series marked the end of the line for Willie Mays, who played his final games as a New York Met. Also worth noting is that A’s manager Dick Williams announced his departure from Oakland shortly after game seven.