The Millionaire

TV classics: aka If You had a Million

USA 1955-60, six seasons, 206 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Produced by Don Fedderson, Fred Henry. Cast: Marvin Miller, Paul Frees. Guest stars: Phyllis Avery, Carl Betz, Whitney Blake, Angie Dickinson, Barbara Eden, Beverly Garland, Ray Gordon, Barbara Hale, DeForest Kelly, Del Moore, Mary Tyler Moore, Agnes Moorehead, Maudie Prickett, Gloria Talbott, Robert Vaughn, Betty White, Bill Williams, Dick York and many others.

Plot summary: Millionaires are happy people or are they?

millionaireReview: In 1955, anthology programs were as popular on TV as procedurals are today. While most of them featured a different genre on a weekly basis, The Millionaire had a steady concept. John Beresford Tipton, Jr., a man as wealthy as he was generous, made out a check to complete strangers and asked his secretary to deliver them. He gave away one million dollars without any strings attached. Surprised by their sudden fortune, the recipients signed a legal contract to guarantee the anonymity of their unknown sponsor and were then abandoned to their fate. A blessing for some, a curse for others, Tipton’s gift always deeply affected the lives of people who had never dreamed of ever owning so much money.

Popular enough to be parodied on The Jack Benny Program and by Mad Magazine, The Millionaire attracted many guest stars who contributed to the show’s appeal. Although based on a simple idea, the program turned a similar situation into a new story every week and thus kept the original concept interesting for six seasons. Blessed with good scripts and the talents of Marvin Miller as Tipton’s bearer of glad tidings, the show created dramatic, funny and generally entertaining moments with actors such as Dick York, Betty White, Barbara Hale and Bill Williams. Successful for five years on CBS, the show was frequently rerun from 1960 to 1980 and temporarily revived on TV Land in the late 1990s. It is a pity that, today, the program has not yet been made available on DVD. It is a real gem for anyone who loves the Golden Age of television and a cordial invitation to dream of opening the door to Marvin Miller as Michael Anthony.

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Alfred Hitchcock Presents

TV classics: Alfred Hitchcock Presents

USA 1955-62, 268 episodes, 25 minutes each, CBS and NBC. Presented by Alfred Hitchcock, Cast examples: Julie Adams, Gene Barry, Barbara Bel Geddes, Charles Bronson, Tom Conway, Joseph Cotten, Anne Francis, Rosemary Harris, Patricia Hitchcock, Brian Keith, Werner Klemperer, Wesley Lau, Steve McQueen, Leslie Nielsen, John Qualen, William Shatner, Nita Talbot, Jessica Tandy, Dick York et al.

Plot summary: In this anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock presented new mysteries on a weekly basis, always introduced by a comment from the master of suspense himself.

Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents was one of the many successful anthology series of the 1950s and 60s, hosted by Alfred Hitchcock who commented on the weekly stories in the beginning and at the end of each episode. Often welcoming his audience with a friendly “Good Evening”, the master of suspense was a pivotal part of the show for which he caricatured his own silhouette to appear in the title credits. Although praised as Hollywood’s best directors, Hitchcock did not direct more than seventeen episodes of the original show and only one of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour which was produced for another three years after the completion of his half-hour original in 1962.

Focusing on murder, mayhem and mysteries, Alfred Hitchcock Presents had a more constricted theme for its episodes than the majority of other anthology programs, something his famous name already suggested. Always relying on suspense, a decent cast and excellent scripts, the show lived up to be one of the 100 most popular shows on TV and was rewarded with several Emmy nominations including two for the renowned director himself. Successfully rerun for many years, a re-imagined show, The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents, brought more crime to American living rooms in 1985, a popular time for revivals of popular black & white franchises.

Today, Alfred Hitchcock Presents is available on DVD and online to be enjoyed by old fans and new ones alike. Still gripping and entertaining, the episodes are a treat for everyone who enjoys great storytelling and ironic or deadpan comments on sometimes gruesome yet never horrific cases. As the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock was celebrated for his skills to seduce his audience into witnessing upsetting circumstances without haunting them with gory images. His approach was reflected in this show and still offers many hours of first class diversion – a true gem to rediscover on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Bewitched

TV classics: Bewitched

USA 1964-72, 8 seasons,  254 episodes, 25 minutes each, ABC, black & white (1964-66), then color. Created by: Sol Saks. Cast: Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York, Dick Sargent, Agnes Moorehead, David White, Erin Murphy, Also starring: George Tobias, Kasey Rogers, Alice Pearce, Sandra Gould, Marion Lorne, Bernard Fox, Diane Murphy, Irene Vernon, Maurice Evans, Paul Lynde, David Lawrence

Plot summary: When young witch Samantha marries mortal Darrin Stephens, she swears to abandon her powers and be a normal suburban housewife instead – very much to the dismay of her overbearing mother Endora who constantly frowns upon her daughter’s mortal ambitions and thus interferes with her life whenever she can.

Review: There are shows that are a pleasure to grow up with. Bewitched is one of those: funny, entertaining and lovely – from its main cast right down to every single recurring guest star. Elizabeth Montgomery (as leading lady Samantha Stephens) is a joy to watch mastering her weekly endeavors, always caught somewhere between her husband’s wish to keep their quiet little life as simple as possible and the scheming of her eccentric mother Endora, a witch to the core.

Samantha‘s struggle to please both parties and make the best of both worlds guarantees colorful adventures with characters from another world: warlocks, mythical creatures, kings and queens. Some of the most memorable ones sure are Samantha’s aunt Clara, Doctor Bombay, Samantha‘s father Maurice and uncle Arthur – all of which were beautifully cast, written and costumed. Dick York, equally well cast and convincing as Samantha’s husband Darrin Stephens (later replaced by Dick Sargent who did a fantastic job stepping into his predecessor’s big shoes in 1969) brings a genuine mixture of goofiness and earthiness to the table. His turf wars with mother-in-law Endora are a real treat, also due to the magnificently haunting talents of Agnes Moorehead, her sense for timing and her always dramatic exits.

The show lived off its cast and many creative storylines. Darrin’s boss Larry Tate, Samantha’s in-laws, quirky neighbor Gladys Kravitz and last but not least the Stephens’ children Tabitha and Adam – they all added to an atmosphere of gaiety and make-believe. They have tickled risible muscles of children and adults alike, and have created loving on-screen memories for everybody who is still in touch with her or his childhood heart.

Available on DVD. Bewitched theme song / intro

Side note: Bewitched has been referred to on many TV programs throughout TV history, e.g. on Roseanne, The Nanny and Charmed. The show itself used I Love Lucy storyline mimicry in a couple of episodes and was made into a feature film in 2005, starring Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell and Shirley MacLaine. A 1977 spin-off series called Tabitha was short-lived.

Inherit the Wind

Talkie of the Week: Inherit the Wind

USA 1960,  128 minutes, black & white, United Artists. Director: Stanley Kramer, Screenplay by: Nedrick Young (originally as Nathan E. Douglas) and Harold Jacob Smith, Based on actual events (the so-called Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee, 1925) and the play by Jerome Lawrence & Robert Edwin Lee, written in 1955. Cast: Spencer Tracey, Fredric March, Gene Kelly, Dick York, Harry Morgan, Donna Anderson, Claude Akins, Noah Beery Jr., Florence Eldridge, Jimmy Boyd

Plot summary: In America’s small town South, a young teacher is being prosecuted for teaching Darwin’s evolution theories instead of creationism to his students. His trial turns into a spectacle of arrogance and extremist views from both sides of the law. In the end, the question remains which conviction will prevail. It’s up to the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Review: Inherit the Wind is an intense film for an audience who isn’t looking for simple answers. Picking up on the 1950s drama of McCarthyism, the film illustrates the power of conviction and words in a public arena. It points out how easily masses of people can be swayed to believe one theory without listening to an opposing argument. The weight of familiar and established contents over unknown theories. The danger of half-truths and half-knowledge in a democratic society. The intimidating qualities of both, religion and science, if looked at exclusively.

What the film offers is an often surprising look at the ideals and origins of its protagonist characters, the counsel for the defense, Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracey), and the counsel for the prosecution, Matthew Brady (Fredric March), a look back into their interwoven past, their own evolution and motivation. Spencer Tracey is a perfect sparring partner for Fredric March. Their courtroom scenes are both painful and delightful to watch, they are both so brilliantly bouncing off each other.

The supporting cast is equally worth mentioning: Gene Kelly is a convincingly slick reporter whose own ideals and beliefs are constantly in limbo. Florence Eldridge gives a beautiful performance as Matthew Brady’s loyal wife who admires her husband’s faith, his creed. It is heartbreaking to watch her observing her husband’s decline in credibility. Dick York delivers a persuading performance as the young defendant whose own motives and faith get tested during his trial. He comes across as a teacher who didn’t mean to start such a public fight. He seems genuine in his portrayal of an average citizen whose own little act of courage was blown a little out of proportion.

And this is what Inherit the Wind is all about. The setting may be the Tennessee “Monkey Trial”, but in essence, this film raises many more questions than only one. It is a tale about the human condition that’s still as current today as it was in 1925 when the actual trial took place, or in 1955 when the original play was written and first produced or in 1960 when this film won a statue at the Berlin Film Festival.

Available on VHS and DVD. Movie trailer here.