Simpson Sunday: Elizabeth Taylor’s Guest Appearances

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor has the distinction of making two guest appearances on The Simpsons, both during the show’s fourth season. Her first appearance was in the episode Lisa’s First Word, in which the family is trying to coach Maggie into saying her first word, which leads to Marge and Homer telling the story of Lisa’s first word. In the end, Maggie does finally say her first word, although it’s said when nobody else is around.

Maggies First Word

Elizabeth Taylor agreed to provide the voice for the famously non-verbal Maggie’s first word. Although her part only consisted of a single word, it was a role that had its challenges. In the DVD commentary for this episode, some of the show’s staffers talked about how it took a few tries for Taylor to get the voice just right. Her initial takes of the word sounded too vampy for a baby. But in the end, she got it just right and played a role in one of the most genuinely endearing moments of the series.

Elizabeth Taylor on The Simpsons

Elizabeth Taylor returned for the season 4 finale episode, Krusty Gets Kancelled, playing herself this time. When Krusty the Clown’s show gets cancelled because all of his viewers start turning into a rival show, Bart and Lisa help him get back on his feet. When they discover Krusty has lots of connections to big entertainment stars like Bette Midler, Hugh Hefner, and Elizabeth Taylor, Bart and Lisa start organizing an all-star TV extravaganza. When they approach Elizabeth Taylor’s agent, he turns it down and she’s okay with that.

Elizabeth Taylor The Simpsons

But as she watches the special on TV (while polishing one of her big diamond rings, naturally) she regrets not getting in on it and decides to fire that agent.

Simpson Sunday: Bart Grable

Betty Grable Pinup Picture

Season 4, Episode 4: Lisa the Beauty Queen

When Lisa has a bout of low self-esteem about her appearance, Homer has the well-intended, albeit misguided idea to make her feel better by entering her in a beauty pageant. At first, Lisa is horrified and convinced that she could never stand a chance of winning. To build up her confidence, Bart decides to become her pageant coach. When trying to show her how to walk in high heels, Bart strikes a pose and it’s pretty clear the animators were using Betty Grable’s very famous pin-up picture as a reference for this scene.

Bart Posing as Betty Grable

Head (1968)

Head The Monkees 1968

“Hey, hey, we are The Monkees

You know we love to please

A manufactured image with no philosophies

We hope you like our story

Although there isn’t one

That is to say there’s many

That way there is more fun”

Attempting to explain the plot of Head is truly an exercise in futility. The above quote comes less than 10 minutes into the movie, so you certainly can’t say this movie makes any false pretenses. Pretty much everything mentioned in this chant is what Head delivers. (Although I wouldn’t say it’s a “no philosophies” movie since it does have some political moments in it.)

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if the members of The Monkees got together with Jack Nicholson and spent the weekend taking drugs and brainstorming ideas for a movie, look no further than the movie Head. No, really, that actually is how this movie came about. Apparently every crazy idea they came up with made it into this one movie.

You could say that Head is an abstract satire of TV/music stardom, but there really isn’t one main story; it’s more of a series of vignettes and musical numbers that deal with themes like free will.This is a movie that truly has a little bit of everything: Davy Jones doing a parody of Golden Boy with Annette Funicello, Mickey Dolenz assaulting a Coke machine, a parody of The Perlis of Pauline, a cameo by Frank Zappa, The Monkees being terrorized by a giant Victor Mature, lots of 60s psychedelia, and of course, lots of music.

Given the non-linear nature of the film, Head simply isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But despite that, I’m one of the people who loves this movie. It doesn’t make sense in the way that people traditionally expect movies to, but it has a lot of interesting things going on in it. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic. In terms of editing and visuals, it’s a really fascinating movie to watch. There’s plenty of comedy in it. All things considered, this movie is endlessly entertaining to me. The fact that it doesn’t have a conventional plot, but still manages to be so entertaining, makes it the kind of movie that’s perfect to watch if I’ve really mentally exhausted myself at work that day. I don’t have to think about it, it makes me laugh, and I love the music in it — after a long day, it’s pretty much everything that I could possibly want. But just because I don’t have to think too hard about it doesn’t mean it’s totally without meaning; I really do like the way it handles the themes of freedom.

Simpson Sundays: Abe Simpson’s Gold Rush

Chaplin The Gold Rush

Season 5, Episode 21: Lady Bouvier’s Lover

When Homer’s father Abe starts feeling lonely and depressed, Marge decides to set him up with her mother, Jacqueline. To impress her on their date, Abe grabs some forks and some potatoes to recreate Chaplin’s famous dinner roll dance scene from The Gold Rush. 

Abe Simpsons Gold Rush Parody

Jacqueline gets a kick out of this, until some lawyers find out what’s been going on:

Chaplin Lawyers The Simpsons

Lawyer: “Sir, I represent the estate of Charles Chaplin. I have a court order demanding an immediate halt to this unauthorized imitation.”

Simpson Sundays: It’s Not a Wonderful Life

George Bailey Jimmy Stewart Bank Run Scene

Season 6, Episode 21: The PTA Disbands

After the teachers at Springfield Elementary go on strike and shut down the school, Bart and Lisa cope with their newfound spare time in different ways. Lisa is completely lost without the structure of the school day, while Bart spends the days finding new ways to get into trouble around town. One day, he goes to the bank and starts a rumor that they’re out of money, causing a scene reminiscent of the bank run scene from It’s a Wonderful Life. When the bank customers get in an uproar, a Jimmy Stewart-type teller steps out to calm things down:

George Bailey Parody on The Simpsons

Jimmy Stewart-esque teller: “J-j-j-just a second here. I don’t have your money here. It’s in Bill’s house! A-a-a-and in Fred’s house!”

Alas, the crowd in Springfield was a little harder to please than the crowd in Bedford Falls was.

Moes Money

What’s on TCM: July 2016

Olivia de Havilland

Happy July, everyone! Hope everyone is having a nice summer so far. But while it’s tempting to go out and enjoy the nice weather this time of year, TCM has some pretty convincing reasons to stay inside and watch movies.

First of all, in honor of her 100th birthday, Olivia de Havilland is July’s Star of the Month! Since I’m a big fan of hers, I’m certainly looking forward to being able to see several of her movies every Friday night this month.

If you’re a fan of Westerns, you’re going to absolutely love this month’s schedule. TCM is doing a spotlight called “Shane (Plus A Hundred More Great Westerns),” so every Tuesday and Wednesday this month, it’s nothing but Westerns all day long. Westerns aren’t one of my favorite genres, but even I can find a few things to look forward to in that schedule.

Throughout the month, TCM will be doing a series highlighting some of the most definitive films to come out of the 1970s. And last, but certainly not least, there will be a two night spotlight on classic films made by African-American filmmakers, which should be fantastic. Many of the films in that series have never been shown on the channel before.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the rest of the schedule.

(more…)

What We Know About “Convention City”

Convention City Joan Blondell

Nothing makes a person want to see something quite like being told they can’t see it. Anytime a movie causes a stir because of its content, people will inevitably want to see it for themselves so they can make up their own minds about it. But when you take a movie that has a reputation for scandalous content and add in the fact that nobody can see it — literally — you get a movie that becomes a special breed of legendary film.

In 1933’s Convention City, the employees of the Honeywell Rubber Company arrive in Atlantic City for a convention. Of course, business the last thing on the minds of the visitors and they quickly get mixed up with booze, women, and other acts of debauchery. When it was released, it did pretty well at the box office, but it’s been largely unseen since then because no prints are currently known to exist. Not even the original theatrical trailer is known to exist.

When Convention City was released in December 1933, Hollywood was in the midst of its glorious pre-code era, which would come to an end less than a year later when the production codes started being fully enforced in July of 1934. Films during this era were often very suggestive, risqué, and innuendo-laden and Convention City certainly has a reputation in that respect. A critic for the New York Times said of Convention City, “Several of the jokes require a subterranean mind to be understood correctly.” In one of her books, Joan Blondell wrote about how she had a private copy of the movie and liked to screen it at parties because of its content, describing it as, “…the raunchiest there has ever been…we had so many hysterically dirty things in it.” Blondell also described Convention City as being ” burlesque-y.” In fact, legend has it that Warner Brothers ultimately destroyed the film because its content was so completely unfit to be re-released under the production codes. (We’ll talk more about that in just a minute.)

Convention City was more than just risqué content, though; it also had a pretty stellar cast. Several top stars of the time such as Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Mary Astor, and Adolphe Menjou are all in the film, leading Screenland magazine to dub Convention City, “the comedy Grand Hotel.” Even if it didn’t have a reputation for scandalous content, the cast alone would be enough to have classic film fans clamoring to find a print of it.

First of all, let’s discuss the idea that Convention City was destroyed because it was simply too controversial to be re-released. It is true that Warner Brothers listed their negative of Convention City as being junked in 1948, but according to Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project, this was because the nitrate negative had deteriorated and could potentially pose a safety hazard. However, hundreds of prints were made for the film’s original release and were circulated around the world. Just because Warners junked the original negative, that doesn’t necessarily mean every single print of the film was successfully recalled and destroyed, too. Over the years, stories about it being shown later in the 1930s and 1940s have surfaced, so there is evidence to suggest that not all prints were systematically destroyed by Warner Brothers.

There’s also the fact that, despite its reputation, Convention City was hardly the most controversial film to come out of the pre-code era. Other highly controversial films like Baby Face and The Story of Temple Drake were both also deemed unsuitable to be re-released under the production codes, but we’re still able to see those movies today. (Although Baby Face was only available in a censored form until an uncut print was found in one of the Library of Congress’ film vaults in 2004.) So content alone clearly wasn’t enough for a movie to automatically earn a one-way ticket into oblivion.

Not everything about Convention City has been lost to the ages, though. Some footage that had been filmed for establishing shots in Convention City was discovered in the late 1990s. Several stills from the film still exist, as does the original script. Thanks to the fact that the script still exists, a few live readings of the script have been staged over the years. Some people who attended the live readings have compared it to 1934’s The Merry Wives of Reno, which features some of the same stars as Convention City.  The fact that Convention City has been compared to Merry Wives of Reno both delights and frustrates me since I seem to remember that movie being pretty hilarious.

So, while there might not be any prints of Convention City that are currently known to exist, there is still a possibility that a print could be found someday. Many film historians and archivists are certainly keeping an eye out for this lost pre-code gem. If a print ever is found, it will absolutely be a very happy day for pre-code cinema fans everywhere.