Ford Television Theatre

TV classics: Ford Television Theatre

USA 1952-57, 5 seasons, 195 episodes, 30 minutes each, NBC and ABC. Sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. Cast examples: Gene Barry, Joan Bennett, Barbara Britton, Raymond Burr, Bette Davis, Richard Denning, Irene Dunne, Barbara Hale, Brian Keith, Angela Lansbury, Maureen O’Sullivan, Larry Parks, Ronald Reagan, Barbara Stanwyck et al.

Plot summary: Like many anthology series of the time, the Ford Television Theatre presented a new story with a new cast of actors in different genres each week.

Review: Like many of its sister anthology series, the Ford Television Theatre presented a new story with a new cast of actors in different genres each week. Originally a radio program, the show was first broadcast like on TV in 1948 and picked up for a full run of 195 half-hour episodes in 1952. The show got its name from its sponsor, the Ford Motor Company and was often introduced by a commercial that presented the latest Ford models. Ford Television Theatre managed to attract a great variety of movie and working actors, including Barbara Stanwyck, Irene Dunne or Claudette Colbert.

Unfortunately rather hard to come by these days, the episodes differed in quality and are definitely still a matter of preference and taste. Barbara Hale’s appearance on Behind the Mask, for instance, increased the resonance of the episode for me which offers a storyline about a medical impostor that’s too complex for the format. Man without Fear on the other hand made perfect use of its thirty minutes and lived of its concise story and brilliant cast including Raymond Burr as a haunted fugitive who confronts the man who got him into prison. The Ming Llama presented Angela Lansbury with her captivating talents but failed to live up to the story’s apparent inspirational source, The Maltese Falcon.

All in all, it’s safe to say that Ford Television Theatre offered a decent collection of episodes with a great mix of stories from all kinds of genres. Some were based on true stories, others were plain entertainment, ranging from suspenseful to corny. Footnote on a Doll with Bette Davis as Dolly Madison was one of the latter and due to Ms. Davis’ reliably gripping performance, it’s one of my favorites. Remember to Live is another episode I greatly enjoy, especially because it made use of Barbara Hale’s background as an artist. Fugitives with Raymond Burr in a small role completes my current list of favorites, surprising enough not for his convincing as always delivery but for the main plot he’s only a side note in.

But no matter if you share my preference in actors, their talents and style, Ford Television Theatre created entertainment for everyone. So if you get a chance, check out some episodes and see how they affect you. Favorite actors or not, I’m sure you’ll discover more than just a single gem.

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Remakes

Although it may sometimes seem as if remakes are a contemporary idea, they actually go back to the 1920s (e.g. The Battle of Sexes, made in 1914 and then again 1928, each directed by D.W. Griffith) and the 1930s when talkies became more popular than silent movies. When studio bosses decided to re-do successful films. Hollywood, after all, has always been an industry.

But as old as its core motivation, the discussion of remakes has also remained the same – is it necessary to re-tell a story that has worked before? Can’t Hollywood come up with new ideas? New characters and plots?

Well, in times of reshaping and relaunching TV shows from the 1970s and 80s, I guess the answer is clear. It is often cheaper to pick up on an already established franchise. May seem more sensible. Almost like an homage – although  how could it be  if everything that used to work and made a product genuine is being replaced, updated and beautified?

Opinions will always differ on remakes. I myself was thrilled when I first heard about a new version of The Women back in 2008. Annette Benning’s name truly pleased me when I saw it listed for the project. Then I saw the movie. And in spite of Ms Benning, it paled in comparison to the original movie from 1939 on all levels.

But remakes can work. There are examples, sometimes unknown to us today. Love Affair from 1939 for example, starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. It was remade by the same director, Leo McCarey, in 1957 with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, called An Affair to Remember. And then again under its original title in 1994, starring Warren Beatty and Annette Benning, plus Katherine Hepburn.

The Window from 1949 (see Talking Classic‘s first “Talkie of the Week” entry) was also remade in 1966, under the title of the short story the film was originally based on, The Boy cried Murder. I have not yet seen this version but would love to see how and if they made it work.

Father of the Bride and Father’s little Dividend from 1950 and 51, directed by Vincente Minnelli, starring Spencer Tracey, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Bennett, were also remade in 1991 and 95. Then with an all-star cast led by Steve Martin and Diane Keaton.

What’s striking about the remakes of Father of the Bride and The Women though is the almost screwball-like quality paired with hysterics. Although equally well cast, the films don’t live up to the originals. It may be a reflection on the 1990s and 2000s, but the adaptations seem to lack a sense of sincerity in their otherwise entertaining and comedic plots. Steve Martin is not a Spencer Tracey, Diane Keaton is no comparison to Joan Bennett, nor is Meg Ryan a Norma Shearer. How could they be? They live in different times and so do the stories that were told so beautifully in their own time, with their original cast.

Now another remake is being discussed, green-lit by Warner Bros. The Thin Man is supposed to be redone, starring Johnny Depp and Rachel Weisz. I personally adore the original six movies which came to theaters between 1934 and 1947. William Powell and Myrna Loy. What better a pairing could you find? I am not convinced that you could replace them. Or that the plot will work in a new movie with a contemporary perception of Dashiell Hammett’s characters. Mind you, it worked to base a couple on Nick and Nora on TV in the 1980s. Hart to Hart was a good success. But William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora are so iconic – just have a look at the screen version of Bewitched  from 2005. Another example for an over-the-top version of a classic hit franchise. It disappointed fans and didn’t exactly score with the critics. However, the film did bring in some money, so if that’s the old motivation, I better keep spending it on the originals. And hope for more of them to be released on DVD.