Fury

TV classics: Fury

USA 1955-60, five seasons, 116 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, NBC, black & white. Cast: Peter Graves, Bobby Diamond, Jimmy Baird, William Fawcett, Roger Mobley, Ann Robinson.

Plot summary: “The story of a horse and the boy who loved him.”

Review: As an orphan, Joey Clark never had an easy life. When Jim Newton witnesses a fight the boy wins over a bigger rival, both of their lives change forever. Jim lost his wife and son to an accident and has lived alone since. Brining Joey home to his Broken Wheel ranch, he doesn’t only show him a life of hard work, freedom and adventure, but also introduces him to a wild Mustang called Fury. Independent in spirit and dangerous to experienced horsemen, the horse calms down in Joey’s presence and becomes the kind of friend Joey never had.

As one of those children’s favorites that re-ran for years after the show’s conclusion, Fury is dearly remembered by anyone who grew up with classic, quality shows. Value-laden, innocent and exciting, each episode focused on Joey’s friendship with the dark horse and the lessons the boy learned from his substitute father, farm hands and weekly adventures. Intelligent, heroic and gentle with his human friend, the Mustang was the main attraction of a show that allowed each child to be a cowboy for a while, inviting them to ride along with Joey every week. Available now on DVD as an incomplete collection, the show still has the potential to fire the imagination of members of all generations.

Don’t you already hear Joey calling out Fury’s name? Aren’t you already looking for your Fury lunch box in the basement and feel like dusting it off for your (grand)kids?! I don’t know about you, but with a gem like this on my shelves, I cannot wait to feel like a kid again – if only for a moment – and then pass it on to the next generation.

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The Golden Girls

TV classics: The Golden Girls

USA 1985-92, seven seasons, 180 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, NBC, color. Cast: Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Estelle Getty

Plot summary: It can be fun pushing towards retirement, if you share a house with friends and know where to get Miami’s best cheesecake to get over your troubles with family and men.

Review: Cynthia Fee sings Thank You For Being a Friend and the pictures introduce you to a show about friendship, pun and laughter. Bea Arthur is credited first, then Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty. As Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia, they share a house in Miami, three widows and a divorcée. Dorothy (Bea Arthur) is a teacher whose sarcasm matches her Ma’s (Estelle Getty) sharp tongue when Rose (Betty White) shares her small town wisdom and Blanche (Rue McClanahan) brags about her nightly escapades with men. They butt heads at times, are jealous of each other and sometimes snarky – all in all, however, they are good friends and there is nothing a piece of cheesecake couldn’t mend.

Premiering on September 14, 1985 on NBC, The Golden Girls were an instant hit on television, securing an audience from and beyond the Greatest Generation. With three small screen veterans as leading ladies, the show managed to build up on their previous fame without typecasting them. While Bea Arthur’s character showed certain parallels to Maude, Vivian Harmon and Sue Ann Nivens did not make a reappearance. Although originally auditioning for Blanche Devereaux, Betty White ended up playing naive Rose Nylund from St. Olaf, Minnesota, while Rue McClanahan got to show her playful side as a man-hungry Southern Belle. Blessed with fantastic scripts right from the start and Estelle Getty as TV’s new discovery, the show had a successful run of seven years and addressed many previously untouched topics.

Following Bea Arthur’s departure in the show’s popular finale in 1992, The Golden Girls lived on for another season at The Golden Palace and graced Nurses, as well as Empty Nest (both also created by Susan Harris) with occasional guest appearances. Twenty years after going off the air, The Golden Girls are still dearly remembered by a worldwide audience. Released on DVD and available as individual seasons or a complete boxset, the show still attracts fans across the generations by walking the fine line of entertainment and quality. Rewarded with sixty-five Emmy nominations, the writing and cast was top notch then and remains funny today. In times of reality TV and anything goes, the show is still refreshing and, like Betty White’s popularity, never seems to get old.

The Barbara Stanwyck Show

TV classics: The Barbara Stanwyck Show

USA 1960-61, 1 season,  36 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, NBC, black & white. Presented by Barbara Stanwyck, Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Guest stars: Dana Andrews, Joseph Cotton, Peter Falk, Dennis Hopper, Julie London, Jack Nicholson, Lloyd Nolan, Marion Ross, Stephen Talbot  and many others

Plot summary: As a classic anthology series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show featured different genres and actors each week, often including the hostess herself.

Review: As one of Golden Hollywood’s female stars, Barbara Stanwyck followed a popular trend of starring in her own TV show when movie offers became scarce due to her advancing age in the early 1960s. A typical anthology series, The Barbara Stanwyck Show presented different genres each week with a new cast, including the popular actress herself. Usually wrapping the first act in sixty seconds, the storylines ranged from funny to dramatic, allowing Ms. Stanwyck to show variety and depth. Although rewarded with an Emmy for Outstanding Performance by a Lead Actress in a Series in 1961, the show, unfortunately, did not last longer than one season due to its moderate ratings. It wasn’t until The Big Valley four years later that led to a more lasting success for her on the small screen. With another Emmy win and two more nominations in the 60s, as well as her renewed success with The Torn Birds two decades later, Barbara Stanwyck remains one of Hollywood’s most successful stars whose work is now available on DVD.

Although only selected episodes have been released so far, The Barbara Stanwyck Show Volumes 1 and 2 are a worthy investment for anyone who appreciates the actress and her genuine style. Always classy, poised and beautiful, Ms. Stanwyck breathes life into a series that didn’t live enough to reach its full potential. It is the perfect treat for fans of classic Hollywood, no matter how how young or old, and a show you may find yourself coming back to over and over again.

The Barbara Stanwyck Show sample episode

The Jack Benny Program

TV classics: The Jack Benny Program

USA 1950-65, 15 seasons,  343 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS & NBC, black & white. Sponsors: Lucky Strike, Lux, Lipton Tea, Jell-O and others, Cast: Jack Benny, Eddie Anderson, Don Wilson, Dennis Day, Mary Livingstone, Mel Blanc, Frank Nelson and various recurring guest stars

Plot summary: As one of America’s most beloved comedians, Jack Benny entertained his audience on radio before he found fame in fifteen consecutive TV seasons on CBS and NBC.

Review: Like many of his contemporaries, Jack Benny originally started out on radio before he took television by storm with a show based on his continued radio success. Reliable as a source of hilarity and entertainment, the comedian created one of those early hit shows the majority of America refrained from missing back in the days. Welcoming many stars of his time, including Humphrey Bogart, Raymond Burr, Bing Crosby, Walt Disney, Irene Dunne, Bob Hope, Jane Mansfield, Groucho Marx, Marilyn Monroe, James and Gloria Stewart or Danny Thomas, the show guaranteed diversion and relaxation and succeeded for remarkable fifteen consecutive seasons.

With some episodes now in public domain and the rest eagerly awaited by Jack Benny fans to be released on DVD, today, the comedian is still regarded as one of America’s greatest performers and one of Hollywood’s generous stars. His show, though not easy to categorize, offered previously recorded, as well as live broadcasts and aimed at entertaining the audience often on his own behalf. Judged as easy formula entertainment by some, The Jack Benny Program did a wonderful job diverting an entire generation and their children from their daily hardships in a time that was less cushioned than many people imagine today. Never dwelling on cynicism, Jack Benny offered a good half hour of gags and laughs, while always trying to deliver the best material for the audience to enjoy. Supported by a decent cast and beloved recurring characters, the comedian managed to leave a mark on his audience despite his irregular television appearances in the early 50s. After ending his radio commitment, The Jack Benny Program was broadcast more frequently until his farewell, at the height of his popularity, in 1965 on NBC.

For old fans and new ones alike, selected episodes are available on DVD. Selected radio episodes are available on the Internet Archive.

The Jack Benny Program sample episode with guest star Bob Hope

Dragnet

TV classics: Dragnet

USA 1951-59, 8 seasons,  276 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, NBC, black & white. Narrated by George Fenneman and Hal Gibney, Created and produced by Jack Webb. Cast: Jack Webb, Ben Alexander, Recurring cast members: Olan Soule, Vic Perrin, Ralph Moody, Walter Sande, Harry Bartell, Art Balinger, Jack Kruschen, Art Gilmore, Herb Vigran, Barney Phillips, Herbert Ellis, Virginia Gregg, Bert Holland, Lillian Powell, Natalie Masters, Victor Rodman, Harry Morgan et al.

Plot summary: Based on real cases, the crime show offered an insight into the challenges of the police force in Los Angeles, following the daily work of Sergeant Joe Friday and his partner(s).

Review: Following his small role in the movie He walked by Night from 1948, Jack Webb created a crimes series of his own liking. Researching real police work and driving night patrols with police officer and technical film advisor Marty Wynn, Webb sought the endorsement of the LAPD with a promise to depict their work in a realistic and unbiased way. Supported by NBC for a small number of episodes, Dragnet entered America’s living rooms on radio in 1949 before it also premiered on television two years later.

Not an immediate hit, the show did well as soon as it conquered the small screen, weekly featuring a new drastic case. Introduced by a narrator who assured the audience that the story they were about to see was true, each case was built around Sgt. Joe Friday, his partner(s) and the different types of crime they were confronted with. Often mentioning the specific situation in L.A., the series showed a very different side of the city’s police force and was sometimes criticized for leaving out internal problems. All in all however, Dragnet gave a well-rounded introduction to general police work and looked at crimes from an investigative point of view.

Starting out with “The Human Bomb” in 1951, Joe Friday was supported by a variety of well-known regulars and guest stars of the time until the show ended in 1959. It was picked up again in color eight years later and lasted another three seasons, earning criticism as well as praise for its depiction of the so-called counterculture of the late 1960s. Today, the show offers a great look back at a time that was different in some, but not in every way. After all, Los Angeles, like any big city, has never been a cushioned place to live in.

Selected episodes available online in public domain. Sample episode, “The Human Bomb”, season 1, episode 1 (with Raymond Burr).

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.

Perry Mason TV Movies

TV classics: Perry Mason TV movies

USA 1985-95, 30 episodes, 90 minutes each, NBC. Based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels and the Perry Mason TV series. Cast: Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Katt, William R. Moses, Recurring Guest Stars: James McEachin, David Odgen Stiers, Guest Stars: Barbara Babcock, Scott Baio, Polly Bergen, Gene Barry, Angela Bassett, Shari Belafonte, Tom Bosley, Diahann Carroll, Dixie Carter, Morgan Fairchild, Genie Francis, Robert Guillaume, Hal Holbrook, Brian Keith, Diana Muldaur, Patrick O’Neil, Regis Philbin, Davis Rasche, Debbie Reynolds, John Rhys-Davies, Jerry Orbach, Anne Schedeen, Dwight Schultz, Jean Simmons, Paul Sorvino, John Spencer, Susan Sullivan, Holland Taylor, Alan Thicke, Vanessa Williams et al.

Plot summary: Perry Mason returns to Los Angeles to defend his former secretary Della Street and opens up shop with her again after he gets her acquitted.

Review: It was nineteen years after the last episode of the original Perry Mason series that the famous lawyer gone judge reunited with his loyal secretary in Perry Mason Returns: facing murder charges in L.A., Della Street calls her former boss who steps down from his duties in San Francisco to rush to her aid like he used to when a damsel was in distress back in the days. Fitting right back in with Della who easily switches into her secretarial mode during her own trial, Perry immerses himself in saving his friend and contacts Paul Drake Jr. to get on the case. Skeptical about Junior’s attitude at first, he hires young Paul upon his client’s request and asks him to investigate the murder victim and his family. Like in the classic show,  justice prevails in the end and Perry wins his case with his usual theatrics and courtroom charm.

Although Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale were the only members of the original Mason cast who were able to reprise their iconic parts in 1985, the fate of their characters’ friends remained open. Paul Drake Jr.’s existence was never explained in the nine episodes William Katt played the charismatic detective, but it was clear that he had grown up in the presence of Perry and Della. Profiting from his natural chemistry with his mother Barbara Hale, Billy Katt added a spark of energy to the rejuvenated investigation scenes, reminding fans of Bill Hopper’s original Paul Drake whenever he started flirting with the ladies. In 1989, he was replaced by William R. Moses as Ken Malansky, a young lawyer Perry defends and later takes in as his associate. Ray Burr and his longtime leading lady picked up where they had left off at the end of the Perry Mason series in 1966. As experienced performers in their golden sixties, they returned to their congenial dynamic and used their sparkle to remind the audience of the lingering attraction between Perry Mason and Della Street. Although never openly expressed on the original show but always sizzling in the air, the famous lawyer finally got to kiss his loyal secretary in 1993, confirming the romance Erle Stanley Gardner himself had established in his early Mason novels.

In general, the TV movies gave Della and Perry more time for having a private life, as well as a past. Although still underused as faithful Miss Street, Barbara Hale got more screen time in most of the ninety minute episodes which were produced on an irregular basis. Moving production to Denver to cut down the costs, Perry Mason eventually moved his practice to the Colorado capital, too, which didn’t stop him from traveling to New York or Paris, something he had rarely done on the original show.

Successful from the first reunion movie on, the re-imagined franchise lasted another ten years and welcomed a variety of top notch guest stars who were eager to be on the stand for Perry Mason. Some of these stars were former colleagues of Raymond Burr or Barbara Hale, others merely impressed by the TV lawyer and his suspenseful cases. There were two actors who stepped into Perry Mason’s shoes without impersonating him after Raymond Burr’s untimely death in 1993 – Paul Sorvino and Hal Holbrook. Both played lawyers who replaced Perry on a case while he was busy otherwise in the Perry Mason Mysteries. Perry Mason himself never died and was ultimately entangled in court in Europe where Della joined him when Barbara Hale bowed out of her contract for personal reasons in 1994. The series ended with her departure and the movies are still frequently shown on different channels. Perry Mason Returns was published on the 50th Anniversary of Perry Mason DVD in 2008 and with the original show still being released in its entirety, fan hopes are high that the complete movie collection will also be available eventually.

The Perry Mason TV movies:

  • Perry Mason Returns (1985)
  • The Case of the Notorious Nun (1986)
  • The Case of the Shooting Star (1986)
  • The Case of the Lost Love (1987)
  • The Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987)
  • The Case of the Murdered Madam (1987)
  • The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel (1987)
  • The Case of the Avenging Ace (1988)
  • The Case of the Lady in the Lake (1988)
  • The Case of the Lethal Lesson (1989)
  • The Case of the Musical Murder (1989)
  • The Case of the All-Star Assassin (1989)
  • The Case of the Poisoned Pen (1990)
  • The Case of the Desperate Deception (1990)
  • The Case of the Silenced Singer (1990)
  • The Case of the Defiant Daughter (1990)
  • The Case of the Ruthless Reporter (1991)
  • The Case of the Maligned Mobster (1991)
  • The Case of the Glass Coffin (1991)
  • The Case of the Fatal Fashion (1991)
  • The Case of the Fatal Framing (1992)
  • The Case of the Reckless Romeo (1992)
  • The Case of the Heartbroken Bride (1992)
  • The Case of the Skin-Deep Scandal (1993)
  • The Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host (1993)
  • The Case of the Killer Kiss (1993)

The Perry Mason Mysteries:

  • The Case of the Wicked Wives (1993), starring Paul Sorvino as Anthony Caruso
  • The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle (1994), starring Hal Holbrook as “Wild Bill” McKenzie
  • The Case of the Grimacing Governor (1994), again starring Holbrook in the same role
  • The Case of the Jealous Jokester (1995), again starring Holbrook