MILL CREEK BLU RAY RELEASE: I Dream of Jeannie The Complete Series

I Dream of Jeannie was created and produced by Sidney Sheldon* and it seems like for a long time, he was the only person that believed in it. He originally wanted the first season to film in color — it was one of only two shows on NBC at the time not in color, but special photographic effects employed to achieve Jeannie’s magic weren’t technologically advanced enough to be in a full range of colors yet — but NBC did not want to pay it.

It was $400 an episode.

The network and Screen Gems didn’t think the show would make it to a second season. But Sheldon saw that ABC’s Bewitched was a success and bet on the show.

He was right. It was in the top 30 shows for almost every year that it was on before becoming a syndication powerhouse.

In the pilot episode, “The Lady in the Bottle”, astronaut USAF Captain Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) lands his one-man capsule Stardust One on a deserted island in the South Pacific. While wandering the beach, Tony notices a strange bottle** that moves by itself. When he rubs it, smoke and a genie (Barbara Eden) pop out.

Tony’s first wish is to be able to understand her, then for a helicopter to rescue him. Jeannie, who has been trapped in the bottle for 2,000 years, falls in love with him and follows Tony back home where she soon breaks up his engagement with his commanding general’s daughter, Melissa. It seems like this was a storyline being set up for the long game, but Sheldon realized that this romantic triangle didn’t have much rope.

Tony keeps Jeannie in her bottle until he realizes she needs a life of her own, which is mostly her using her genie powers to try and make his life better. He worries that if anyone finds out that she exists that he won’t get to be part of NASA, but his worries lead him to being investigated by psychiatrist U.S. Air Force Colonel Dr. Alfred Bellows (Hayden Rorke) with the only person — at first — that knows his secret being Major Roger Healey (Bill Daly).

Unlike many of the sitcoms of the era, I Dream of Jeannie had multipart story arcs (which were created to serve as backgrounds for national contests). For example, nobody knew when Jeannie’s birthday was and the guessing game led to a contest, with the answer being April 1. There was also a four-episode event where Jeannie was locked in a safe on the moon and fans had to guess the combination to save her and another where Tony was replaced and had to be found. But there are also several long storylines, like Jeannie’s evil sister also named Jeannie, Jeannie’s ever-changing origin story which includes Eden’s first husband Michael Ansara as the Blue Djinn, Jeannie taking over the crown of her home country Basenji and so many more.

Supposedly, Hagman was so hard to work with that the producers seriously considered replacing him with Darren McGavin. They even wrote out a story with Tony losing Jeannie and McGavin finding her, but it never ended up happening. In her 2011 book Jeannie Out of the Bottle, Eden wrote, “Larry himself has made no secret about the fact he was taking drugs and drinking too much through many of the I Dream of Jeannie years and that he has regrets about how that impacted him.”

When there were two TV movies in the 80s, Hagman didn’t return. In I Dream of Jeannie… Fifteen Years Later his role was played by Wayne Rogers and as he’s on a space mission in I Still Dream of Jeannie, he’s simply written out and Hagman’s Dallas co-star Ken Kercheval took over as Jeannie’s master. There was also a cartoon called Jeannie that aired from 1973 to 1975 that had Julie McWhirter (who in addition to being the voice in so many cartoons is also the wife of Rick Dees) play Jeannie, “Curly” Joe Besser as Babu a genie in training and Mark Hamill as Corey Anders, a high school student.

Eden has also gone on the record as saying that she never connected with another actor in the same way as she did with Hagman. They’d reunite for the 1971 TV movie A Howling in the Woods.

Why did the show end? It was still near the top thirty after all. Well, Eden believes that there were enough episodes for syndication already and the ratings had gone down after Jeannie and Nelson got married in season 5. No one except for the network wanted that and it eliminated the romantic tension of the show.

I grew up watching this show multiple times a day, often paired with its one-time rival Bewitched. Just going back through these — the original 8 episodes with Paul Frees narration instead of the theme song are a revelation — has made the end of the year doldrums so much better.

You can get all 139 episodes on the Mill Creek  I Dream of Jeannie The Complete Series blu ray set. You’ll get hours and hours of fun for a really great price at Deep Discount.

*Sheldon was inspired by the movie The Brass Bottle, which has Tony Randall’s character get a genie played by Burl Ives. Randall’s girlfriend was played by Eden.

**The bottle is actually a special Christmas 1964 Jim Beam liquor decanter containing “Beam’s Choice” bourbon whiskey. How weird is that?

2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 20: Nightmare Castle (1965)

20. CASTLEMANIA: Something that takes place in, where else, a castle.

A couple of months ago, I was doing my usual weekend of looking at used DVD stores when I noticed an older man staring at the stacks of used movies. He stopped and asked, “Do you mind if I ask you what movies I should get?” It turns out that his wife had recently died and he missed watching horror movies with her and wanted to bring back some memories. He had no idea how streaming worked and had just gotten a DVD player, so as we continued talking, it turned out that he really liked Barbara Steele in movies and was surprised that he could own this film. It made me feel really great that I could help someone out like this as well as realize that Ms. Steele has been bewitching men of all ages all around the world for decades.

Mario Caiano has made movies across nearly every genre that an Italian director can work in, from peplum like Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules to westerns such as A Coffin for the Sheriff, giallo like Eye in the Labyrinth and berserk freakouts like Love Camp 7, The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe and the kinda giallo Ombre Roventi.

This is the kind of gothic madness that I love so much, starting with Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Muller, Malenka) discovering his wife Muriel (Steele) having the gardner plant some seeds inside her. He shoves a hot poker in the man’s face, burns her with acid and then electrocutes both of them before removing their hearts and gviing their blood to de-age his servant Solange (Helga Liné!). And then he finds out that he isn’t the heir to the castle — it turns out that Muriel has an identical sister named Jenny (also Steele) who is mentally deranged but will become his new bride.

I’m in. All in.

Stephen and Solange begin to gaslight Jenny but she has the ghosts of the dead lovers on her side, as well as Dr. Derek Joyce (Marino Masé, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times). This movie looks beyond beautiful and really allows Steele to showcase her acting skills (and her piercing eyes).

“If you’re gonna scream, scream with me,” sang Glenn Danzig in the Misfits’ “Hybrid Moments,” which was inspired by this movie. Nightamre Castle is everything great about black and white gothic melodrama and I just want to live within every frame of this film. It’s also the first horror score that Ennio Morricone would write.

You have so many choices to see this. For the easy way, just stream it on Tubi. Or you can do what I did and buy the Severin blu ray, which has commentary by Steele, an interview with Caiano and Castle of Blood and Terror Creatures from the Grave included.

2021 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 2: Santo vs El Estrangulador (1965)

2. MASKS ARE STILL REQUIRED: You know it, at least one character has to wear a mask for the entire movie

Have I ever told you how much I love lucha movies? Oh, only a few thousand times? Well, let’s return to the world of Santo, a place that director René Cardona is an expert at depicting. And you may be surprised to learn that Santo doesn’t turn up for nearly half an hour, but what does happen are five musical numbers, because that’s exactly why we watch a movie about masked wrestlers.

Like a proto-giallo villain, The Strangler is, well, strangling beautiful women and leaving behind a calling card — a gardenia that Santo claims has two meanings, love and death. My research has shown that gardenias really symbolize purity, gentleness and joy, as well as the secret love between two people. It’s also connected to the world of the occult and is often tied into the arcane mystery behind why people are attracted to one another. I’m just a dude writing about movies and not a man brave enough to wear a silver mask and battle the supernatural, so maybe just listen to Santo and make him feel good about it.

For some reason, the Strangler continually forgets his gimmick and stabs people. I guess a title like Santo vs. El Estrangulador que a Veces usa un Cuchillo También was too wordy of a title. Also, spoiler warning, but The Strangler may be LGBTQ-leaning, as well as a former lothario who slept with enough women to get acid launched in his face. Now, he kills women.

The Strangler was popular enough to get a sequel battle against Santo, 1966’s El Espectro del Estrangulador. I’m all for Santo having a more regular rogue’s gallery. I am not for the goofball kid named Milton who keeps trying to get our hero to adopt him. Hey Milton, Santo doesn’t have time, he has multiple professors’ daughters to romance and battle against vampires and werewolf women and you’re just a target. Go to school and leave the Man in the Silver Mask alone!

The Murder Game (1965)

The IMDB summary of this movie is like something out of TV Guide‘s capsule reviews: “A woman abandons her husband, changes her name, and remarries again. Complications ensue.”

The real story is that our protagonist learns that his wife’s first husband isn’t dead. And perhaps even worse than that, he’s actively working with her to kill him off so they can take his money and run. That’s when a three-way game of cat and mouse ensues.

This is the last film of Sidney Salkow, ending a three-decade career behind the camera that saw him make movies like Twice-Told TalesThe Last Man on Earth and several pirate and cowboy films. Its writer, Harry Spaulding, also wrote Chosen SurvivorsWitcheryCurse of the FlyThe Earth Dies Screaming and The Watcher in the Woods.

Plus, you can spot a young Dyan Cannon, if you look hard enough.

Libido (1965)

Giallo owes a lot to Ernesto Gastaldi, who wrote The PossessedThe Murder ClinicSo Sweet… So PerverseAll the Colors of the DarkTorsoThe Suspicious Death of a MinorThe Scorpion with Two TailsThe Killer Is Still Among UsPuzzleDeath Walks at MidnightThe Sweet Body of DeborahDeath Walks On High HeelsThe Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and this movie, which he co-wrote and directed with Vittorio Salerno (No, the Case Is Happily ResolvedSavage Three).

Filmed in only 18 days on a dare, this was based on an idea by Gastaldi’s wife Mara Maryl, who also acted in the movie. Perhaps she’d seen Les Diaboliques or The Pit and the Pendulum hmm?

When he was just a boy, Christian (Giancarlo Gianni, Black Belly of the Tarantula) watched his father kill a woman and then hismelf. Now he’s come back to the house where it all happened along with his wife Helene. The only others there are Paul (Luciano Pigozzi, who we all know was Pag in Yor Hunter from the Future) and his wife Brigitte (Meryl).

As soon as the master of the house arrives, he’s seeing his father’s ghost and going mad. But is it really happening? Or is someone else trying to make him lose his sanity?

Speaking of being influenced, the beginning of the film, where Christian plays with a windup toy as he watched human lives get snuffed up, had to have been a major influence on Deep Red.

It wouldn’t be giallo if it wasn’t confusing, so please know that this is a different movie than In the Folds of the Flesh, which also had the title Libido, and yes, Spasmo is pretty much influenced by this too, down to having a main character named Christian.

Blue Panther (1965)

The Eurospy film isn’t just the domain of the Broccolis and the Italian, Mexican and American filmmakers that attempted to make their own OSS 117, Matt Helm, Santo and Kommisar X movies to take on Bond. At times, even those of a more artistic mind got involved.

Also known as Marie-Chantal contre le docteur Kha* and based on a series of novels by Jacques Chazot, this film was written and directed by Claude Chabrol, who wrote for Cahiers du cinéma before making his own films as an originator of the French New Wave. “The Balzac of Cinema,” he was suited to making mystery films that were often indebted to Hitchcock.

His heroine is French It girl Marie-Chantal, who is played by a real-life French It girl Marie Laforêt. She was a singer who brought the folk music of America to France, including her version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” that had a B-side of “House of the Rising Sun,” along with versions of songs by Peter Paul and Mary; The Rolling Stones; Simon and Garfunkel and Marianna Faithful. Her best-known song was 1977’s “Il a neigé sur Yesterday,” which was a song about the breakup of The Beatles.

As she travels by train to spend the winter with her cousin, Marie-Chantal is given a jewel in the shape of a tiger with ruby eyes that contains a virus that can destroy mankind. Now, spies from every nation are dispatched to get the jewels from her by any means necessary.

If you’re coming to this hoping for some of high art from Chabrol, you will be disappointed. If you’d like to see a great Eurospy, though, it has its rewards.

Kino Lorber’s new release of this film — available directly from them — comes complete with trailers, a 4K restoration from the original camera negative and audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson.

*Even the title is a playful joke, echoing the French title of Dr. NoJames Bond 007 contre Dr. No.

Varieties on Parade (1951) and Forty Acre Feud (1965)

We’ve made it our life’s mission to watch and review — sans his twenty-plus westerns as a producer, writer and director — all of Ron Ormond’s secular and Christian films. (The westerns will get done, eventually.) And we’re almost there. We’re left with The Eternal Question (1956), a soft skin-flick of which we have yet to locate a copy — hard or streaming.

The two most recent, Ormond non-western secular flicks we’ve watched are the films headlined on this review. We spoke of Ron Ormond’s work in the jukebox musical format with Square Dance Jubilee (1949) and Kentucky Jubilee (1951), each which thread a dramatic-cum-comedy plot through the film’s many musical acts. While Varieties on Parade and Forty Acre Feud both end up on some critics’ jukebox musical lists, these two works are less plot-driven and more about capturing a variety stage show in its entirety.

Remember, at the time of the release of each of these films, the new, technical advancement of television was not as integrated into our lives as it is today. Not everyone owned a television to watch the variety show styling of Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan. So, films, such as these Ormond productions, brought the show to the silver screens in outdoor, rural America.

Forty Acre Feud

Back in the day, country music concerts incorporated comedy into their sets, and this jukeboxer is filled with a gaggle of country singers (each doing two songs), including George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Bill Anderson, Ray Price, Del Reeves, and Roy Drusky (each lip-sync their hit songs, but doing it so well, you can’t tell), while Minnie Pearl and Ferlin Husky bring on the comedy. Shot at Bradley’s Barn in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, the “plot,” of what little there is to keep the acts hitting the stage with some semblance of rhyme and reason, concerns local election shenanigans.

Ferlin Husky went on to star in two films Sam the Bossman and I really love: The Las Vegas Hillbillys (1966), and its sequel, Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967). Both are, in fact, jukebox musicals themselves, with plots about organized crime and an inherited casino, and a mad scientists hiding out in a haunted house.

By the close the decade, as televisions became more prevalent in homes, the jukebox musical format of the silver screen was rendered obsolete by the premier of CBS-TV’s “Kornfield Kounty” series Hee-Haw in 1969.

Varieties on Parade

The whole purpose of this film is to give you “60s minutes of Star-Studded Entertainment” by bringing a big-city, vaudeville stage show to the drive-in screens of rural America. Unlike Ron Ormond’s other jukebox musicals — outside of the film’s opening POV shot, as you walk up to the box office and get a ticket, then are taken to your seat by an usher — there’s no plot to speak of to thread the acts.

This time capsule gets right down to it with an endless stream of singers, dancers, and magicians. There’s a mother-daughter bicycle stunt team and a brother juggling act, while former kid actor Jackie Coogan spoofs a routine with fellow comedian and the evening’s emcee, Eddie Garr. Are you in the mood for two comedians coming out on stage dressed as a horse? A three-woman trampoline act? An aerobics routine along with slapstick interludes? Then buy a ticket for the show!

Jackie Coogan, who got his start as a child actor with Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1932) — but since this is B&S About Movies: The Phantom of Hollywood (1974), Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), and the slasher The Prey (1980) — also appeared in Ron Ormond’s Outlaw Women (1952) and Mesa of Lost Women (1953).

You can get both of these films — and other Ron Ormond jukebox musicals (Yes Sir, Mr. Bones) — as part of VCI Entertainment’s “Showtime USA” DVD series. The restores on both are excellent and they also offer bonus commentary tracks with in-depth examinations on all of the films in the series.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

El Hacha Diabolica (1965)

El Encapuchado Negro is more than just another villain for El Santo to fight. He’s a supernatural force that has been hunting Santo and his family for four centuries. That’s correct. The silver mask has been passed down from generation to generation and it has magical powers because it was created by a magician all the way back in the 17th-century.

I mean, this thing starts with monks solemnly carrying the dead body of Santo to a tomb back in 1603 and we see the black hooded man claim that he will get back at the deceased man in the silver mask no matter what it takes. That would be 1965, as the axeman shows up as Santo is wrestling Lobo Negro. Bullets don’t stop the killer and he doesn’t show up in photos, but his axe nearly kills our tecnico hero.

Santo also has a girlfriend named Alicia, but he’s certain that he has a past love that he just can’t place. He is, however, willing to pull most of his mask to show her his face and make out — but it’s definitely not Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta under the mask for this scene.

The axeman tries to kill Santo again while he sleeps — in his clothes, no less — and he leaves his axe behind. It has the date 1603 and a small occult symbol on it, but so does Santo’s mask! Oh man, as if I couldn’t get into these movies any more. Santo was saved by a woman’s scream and that woman ends up being the ghost of Isabel de Arango. If Santo can stop El Encapuchado Negro, they can fall in love again. Santo, for his part, is dumbfounded by what is happening.

That’s when we learn the truth, as Santo uses a time machine to send his brain back in time. Back then, a man was in love with Isabel, but she only loved Santo. He tried to kill our hero yet Santo beat him in a swordfight before that rudo sold his soul to Satan and got all the power — and gold and gems — he would need to gain her love. Instead, he chains her up in a dungeon and the man who would be the first Santo goes to a magician named Abraca to gain the powers of Santo.

Santo and the Inquisition capture the Black Hood who is burned at the stake — keep this same storyline in mind for El Mundo del los Muertos — but becomes a bat and flies away. Santo decides to live in a monastary as the loss of his love has destroyed his life.

Oh man. It also turns out that Santo’s scientist friend Dr. Zanoni — the one who made the time machine — was really Abraca and he jumps in front of an axe made for our silver masked superhero.  Santo even tries to break up with Alicia for her own safety after the axe murderer possesses one of his opponent, but she dies that same night.

Santo finally tracks down the killer and finds the skeleton of his lost love — well, the first one, not the blonde who was just axe murdered — chained to a wall. Santo goes off and hits the madman with a torch, then impales him when he transforms into a bat. Isabel becomes human and goes to Heaven while Santo is left all alone as even the room transforms from a gothic tableau to an empty room. Man, what a nihilistic ending for our friend.

You could do worse than watching a man who can disappear and then show up ready to chop off Santo’s head at any moment. I kinda love this movie and would probably be even more into it if El Mundo del los Muertos wasn’t an improved remake.

You can watch this on YouTube.

That Darn Cat (1965)

Seriously, of all the Disney live action I’ve watched over two weeks, this is my favorite. It’s a solid mystery story that has a cat to keep kids interested, but never panders or plays down to its audience. Dean Jones is pretty solid as FBI Agent Zeke Kelso, Hayley Mills is wonderful as Patricia “Patti” Randall and Dorothy Provine as her sister Ingrid and Roddy McDowall as would-be suitor Gregory Benson are both perfect. Put them up against Neville Brand and Frank Gorshin as the duo who have kidnapped a woman* yet who are outwitted by a feline and you have a great movie.

Its writing crew was recognized for their work. Mildred Gordon, Gordon Gordon (the Gordons wrote the original book, Undercover Cat) and Bill Walsh, were nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Best Written American Comedy and the movie was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture.

The real star is DC** — Darn Cat — a rare movie cat who acts exactly like a real cat. He’s pretty much rude and even dangerous to everyone outside his owners Patti and Ingrid. Plus, William Demarest made me laugh out loud every single moment he was on screen, which is the hallmark of a comedic actor.

One of the Seal Point Siamese cats in this film also appears in The Incredible Journey. Let’s hear it for movie animals who appeared in more than one role!

Also — I have a weakness for fake beatniks in kid movies. Witness Canoe, played here by Tom Lowell. He’s everything plus!

*Grayson Hall, Dr. Julia Hoffman from Dark Shadows!

**In France, he is known as P.V., which comes from the French translation Petit Voyou, or little delinquent.

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)

Tallulah Bankhead — in her last movie — absolutely owns every scene she’s in here, playing Mrs. Trefoile,the mother of Patricia Carroll’s (Stefanie Powers) deceased fiance. As she comes to London, Patricia decides to get closure by visiting the old woman. Yet within a few scenes, she’s now a captive of the hysterically religious woman and is due to be exorcised.

Trefoile also has three servants — Harry (Peter Vaughan), Anna (Yootha Joyce) and Joseph (Donald Sutherland) — who are keeping our heroine away from the rest of the world, hiding her from her fiancee Alan Glentower (Maurice Kaufmann).

Also known as Fanatic**, this is a strong entry in the psychobiddy genre that has Richard Matheson adapting Anne Blaisdell’s novel Nightmare*. It was directed by Silvio Narizzano, who also made the Dennis Hopper and Carroll Baker movie Bloodbath and Georgy Girl.

Nearly fifty years after making this movie, Stefanie Powers acted in Looped, a play based on a true story about Bankhead being inebriated and unable to loop the line, “Die! Die my darling!” for this film. The role was originated by Valerie Harper, who was nominated for a Tony Award for her performancem despite the play closing after 33 performances. Harper played the role on the road until become sick with brain cancer.

*One of the many names of Elizabeth Linington, who also wrote under her real name and the alter egos Lesley Egan, Egan O’Neill and Dell Shannon.

**Bankhead sued Columbia Pictures when they retitled this for U.S. theaters.