Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Age of Not Believing: Week Five

"The Age of Not Believing" is a movie review series tracing the history of Disney in the years following the death of Walt Disney. It covers three films a week in an effort to see all theatrical Disney films released between January 1967 and December 1973. The entire series can be found here.

Week Five of the "Age of Not Believing" is now upon us, so it's time to collect some thoughts before the midterm break.

I began thinking about the idea for this series after seeing The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band for the first time. It was included in a set of 4 DVDs with two Disney movies I genuinely wanted - Darby O'Gill and Happiest Millionaire - and if readers thought I was rough on that film in my review here they should've been there upon my first screening. But something happened in those two hours that had never before happened to me in a Disney film: I was mad.

I had been bored before, I had been disappointed before, but I'd never seen a Disney film that made me actually mad. Mad enough to write.

The more I thought about it the more I realized that there was a whole swath of Disney that I had next to no contact with. My childhood had a Disney bias - I caught a lot of vintage material on the Disney Channel in the 1990s, back when they actually showed the back cataloge, and I was especially impressed with Darby O'Gill and Blackbeard's Ghost, but unlike the many Disney 50s live action comedies I rented or watched I realized that I had no experience with the 60s material and, as such, no nostalgia. I was coming to the bulk of these films totally fresh and, realizing this, I also realized I could leverage this fact against my otherwise fairly decently developed film knowledge to maybe create some interesting writing.

What I mean to say about all this is that I don't come to these films necessarily to praise them. There's a lot of writing about, say, Charlie the Lonesome Cougar online that's more about the age the author was when she or he first saw it and very little about what's on screen. Nor am I out to grind an axe or prove some larger cultural thesis, which is the other dominant mode of a lot of serious Disney writing, and a critique is not always an attack.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Disney films are built on nostalgia, and once we see them, then they become nostalgic memories of our own. This is why Main Street, USA still works - there's nobody left to actually be first-hand nostalgic for what it depicts, but it is designed to evoke nostalgia and then becomes nostalgic, so the emotional affect works in two directions simultaneously. We respond to an idea then the idea becomes an ideal, a self-actualization. Everyone who enters Disneyland is doomed to be nostalgic for Main Street.

This is why Disney markets the diverse material we're covering here under banners like "Movies We Remember" or "Relive the Magic". It's not so much about the film as it is about the viewer. Are the Disney films of the era we're looking at in this series, except for maybe a few exceptions, museum pieces or heirlooms? Would a ten year old of today respond to The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes? Would they even recognize the titular computer?

December 24 1969 - The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes

If there's such a thing as a unified Disney Theory, than Medfield College is the nexus of everything. Yes, it is also the setting for The Absent-Minded Professor and Son of Flubber, but then don't forget that The Shaggy D.A. is set in the town of Medfield, and thereby probably The Shaggy Dog is too. Then there's the Merlin Jones series, set in the possible alternate-universe Medfield of Midvale College. And then there's the Merrivale College of The World's Greatest Athlete. Then don't forget the Medfield College of the 1997 remake Flubber, which itself also draws in the Imagination Institute chronology at Epcot, by which time the town of Medfield has effectively annexed the entire Honey, I Shrunk the Audience franchise as well as Dreamfinder, Figment, and a former Python.

There's a lot of stuff in there, and my my mind the original Walt Disney "Professor Brainnerd" films are nothing to sneeze at, but the Dexter Riley trilogy - The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Now You See Him Now You Don't, and The Strongest Man in the World are most fondly remembered. For better or worse, they truly capture an era.

By 1969, the times they weren't changing, they had changed - and left Disney in the dust. The top three grossing movies of 1969 were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Easy Rider, and Midnight Cowboy, and Disney wasn't even in the top 25 box office draws anymore. American Film was in the midst of what some call the "second golden age", an era when intellectual and artistic potboilers like The Godfather and Chinatown were becoming the big hits. Disney couldn't do anything remotely approaching that - they made movies about talking mice. Still, some tentative efforts were being made to meet their audience halfway, as seen in The Love Bug. Despite its ga-roovy title and hippie extras, there isn't too much about Love Bug that screams "late 60s" - this despite being set in San Fransisco, whose Haight-Ashbury district was then sitting under a permanent cloud of pot smoke. At least, I don't think that's a pot cloud Dean Jones runs into after Herbie.

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes does that one better by bringing a pack of likable kids into the center of the film. Introduced eavesdropping on the absurd contingent of old fuddies who run their constantly broke private college, instead of the fatherly Fred MacMurray of the Walt-era Medfield films having all the fun, Tennis Shoes is powered by this group of teens.

Okay, so they're not exactly 60s-style rebels. About the only political persuasion these kids seem to express is that Dean Higgins is a rube and they make some mildly topical jokes. A telephone is answered as if a boarding house is a pizza service - that joke was cutting edge in 1935. Still, to Disney's credit, the kids drive the whole narrative and even once mention Playboy.

When it comes to plot contrivances, Tennis Shoes exists firmly in the "lightning can do anything" genre, although the nearest cousin to its basic plot as far as I can tell from Disney is the Baby Weems segment of The Reluctant Dragon: average schlub gets an amazing ability, turns the world upside down, then loses it at an inopportune moment. In this case Dexter Riley gets electrocuted by a giant 60's mainframe computer after being out in the rain and somehow transfers the computer into his brain.

As visually creative as Disney is, the way they show the school's realization of this is weird and lazy. Doctors examine his eye as see a montage of the computer's blinking lights; when they look into his ear they see, well:

I'm pretty sure young boys in 1969 or now don't have fantasies about women riding around in bathtubs on wheels but who am I to judge.

Once he becomes The Computer, Kurt Russell packs Dexter Riley with lots of interesting performance touches, from eerily precise head movements to the strangely credible way Riley is shown memorizing entire encyclopedia. In the third act after getting dropped on his head, the computer part of his brain starts malfunctioning, and Russell here delivers an extended, scenery chewing performance modeled on HAL-9000's death rattle in 2001: A Space Odyssey. He's convincing enough that we wonder how the computer's memory death doesn't adversely affect Riley physically.

Cesar Romero's villain A.J. Arno isn't given much to do. If the Dexter Riley subplot is recycled from Baby Weems then A.J. is nothing but Silky from Blackbeard's Ghost given yet another spin around the block. Just about the most menacing activity Disney can come up with for a small town empire of crime is running illegal back-room gambling dens; were these super common in the late 1960s or something? Arno is nearly undone when The Computer starts listing the earnings of his gambling dens on television after being prompted by the password...

...APPLEJACK! Sorry, I had to. Arno and his cheap thugs get their comeuppance in a bale of hay and then later by driving onto a poorly disguised Disney Studio lot from Buena Vista Drive and being stopped in front of the sound stages. This is mostly interesting for providing views of the vacant lot of land which would one day house the Burbank St. Joseph Medical Center.

In my notes I wrote down that Tennis Shoes "feels like a TV episode", and that's because that was the medium of director Robert Butler. He keeps Tennis Shoes humming along at a good pace - nearly every scene has a "flip" optical transition familiar from 60s television comedies and they keep the film feeling lively, similar to George Lucas' use of the wipe to keep Star Wars moving at a quick pace. The film begins in media res and ends there, too.

Personally I'm relieved that these Disney movies are starting to move faster. There's really no justification of something like Monkeys, Go Home! to fill up more than 90 minutes of your life. Actually, there was, and it was that all of these movies were destined to be recycled on The Wonderful World of Disney in a year or two, and the longer they were, the more they could be broken up into chunks for television airings. I wonder if the gradual increase in the length of televised commercial breaks accounts for the overall shortening of the Disney movies.

And with that, folks, Disney exited the tumultuous sixties and went blazing into the 1970s with that renowned classic leading the pack...

February 11, 1970 - King of the Grizzlies

"It was time for an introduction to the wonderful world of solid food."

What was the deal with Winston Hibler?

Here's a guy who came up in the story department at Disney and is credited with work on some genuine classics but is mostly remembered for those nature movies where a genial narrator blathers over footage of romping animals. He made a seemingly bottomless well of these for Disney, most of which sound like the sort of thing that you'd honestly think I made up if they weren't corroborated by online documentation. A quick search on IMDB brings up such titles as:

Little Dog Lost
Chico, the Misunderstood Coyote
Lefty, the Dingaling Lynx (srsly)

The Hound That Thought He Was A Raccoon
Ida, the Offbeat Eagle (stop)
Sammy, the Way-Out Seal
The Pidgeon That Worked a Miracle

And oh yeah, King of the Grizzlies. This one is bad. This is the sort of thing you'd be punished with in middle school if your teacher was out sick a whole week. Watching it I began to feel like I was in middle school. All that was missing was the whir of a 16mm projector.

King of the Grizzlies defines "television filler". The unengaging saga of a baby grizzly bear who grows up to be King of the Grizzlies (who knew that post was open to election?) and the mystic connection he has with a native American working as a cattle rancher, I had had enough of this one after about ten minutes but stuck around for the full 85 out of loyalty to this series.

To be fair, this film was made by two units: an animal unit and an actor unit. The actor unit is fine, occasionally managing some evocative shots and interesting scenes. The actors here are much better than in Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar, although they're working from a script that could've been written on a post-it note. You don't even have to watch the movie half the time; Hibler's droning narration spells out every plot point for you. Wahb the bear isn't nearly as fun as Good-Time Charlie anyway.

While waiting for this film's run time to expire we are treated to such riveting sequences as the "Wahb uses a tree as a toboggan" scene ("That trip made Wahb feel a little wobbly", Hibler helpfully intones on the soundtrack), and of course the seminal "Burying Shorty" scene. Twenty minutes into the movie Wahb's entire family is killed by a rancher and we are so bored we hardly even register alarm.

Grizzlies is full of weird editing to make the basic illusion work; bears are evidently less trainable than cougars. But in reality the basic problem is that the concept and style of Charlie worked to dramatically push the film along but King of the Grizzlies doesn't. Charlie was just a big cat, not a mystical king of the wilderness. The main human actor was some random schlub instead of a human protector. The disarming effect of the documentary style of Charlie hinged on the fact that Charlie could turn into a real danger at any moment as he got older, Wahb is a total fantasy creation embodied by an inarticulate animal. King of the Grizzlies needed to be something like an animated movie to work. As a live-action Hibler Special, it's dead on arrival.

July 1, 1970 - The Boatniks

"This chicken is indestructible."

There isn't much that can be said about Ron Miller that has not been said before. Publicly humiliated and forced out of the Walt Disney Company in 1984 in what basically amounted to a family feud inside a corporate takeover, Miller is today a controversial figure - a close associate of Walt's associated with a string of visible failures but also with Diane Disney Miller and the Walt Disney Family Museum. Many of the projects Miller began during his brief presidency of Disney became Michael Eisner's earliest successes. But just looking at his filmography, it doesn't seem like Miller every really wanted to work for Disney.

Of the three producers for Disney we've been examining in depth here since 1967, Bill Walsh was the most accomplished, Winston Hibler was the most conservative, and Ron Miller was all over the place. Miller was most willing to mash up things with Disney that most people would try to keep separate, producing such out-of-the-box movies as Freaky Friday, Candleshoe, and Escape to Witch Mountain. As his career progressed Miller got bolder and bolder in his choices, eventually leading to a series of "dark" adventure-dramas that remain something of a black eye on the company: Watcher in the Woods, TRON, The Devil and Max Devlin, and finally the one that cost him his job: Something Wicked This Way Comes. He didn't even last long enough to suffer the repercussions of The Black Cauldron.

Miller produced The Boatniks and I think it's supposed to be a kind of Disney version of the kind of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style of comedy popularized by Blake Edwards in the 1960s, something like a family-friendlier version of It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or Casino Royale or The Party. Of course, to have a comedy like that you have to be willing to break some rules and offend some sensibilities, which makes the idea of a Disney version even more absurd - but really, is it any more absurd than a Disney film that's also a horror movie? Boatniks may not be funny, per se, but it does do something nearly no other Disney film of its era is willing to do: try anything for a laugh.

Ostensibly about the tribulations of a tedious Coast Guard Ensign Robert Morse - a very long way from How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying - the center of the whole film is yet another pack of Disneyized criminals on the run. In this case instead of Silky's gamblers, Joe Smooth's reformed mobsters or A.J. Arno's..... gamblers, we have jewel thieves whose grand plans to conceal their jewels inside food inside a picnic basket and yacht to Mexico goes non-dramatically pear shaped.

Boatniks has a huge array of gags in it, and about one in sixteen actually works. If you sat in your living room with a tape recorder and tried to cue the "sad trombone" music every time a joke misfired, the tape recorder would probably explode around minute 45. I nearly gave myself a neck cramp from shaking my head for 100 minutes.

To be fair, some jokes do land, and they're actually funny. But the entire film is such a soul-deadening chore to watch that it isn't worth the few clever laughs and weird moments. The film goes nowhere - it's a succession of random blackout sketches of varying length. Imagine Monty Python and the Holy Grail except almost nothing is funny. And nothing is played for even minor irony. Typical of this film's jokes is a sequence where the jewel thieves, having lost the picnic basket of jewels at the bottom of the sea, think to call in a favor from a Japanese friend to get an authentic pearl diver. The Diver arrives in Los Angeles - a geisha straight out of a sixteenth-century wood print. Those backwards Japanese! Of course then she strips down to a bikini as Morse salivates on the other end of a pair of binoculars. Later, she puts the hoodlums in their place - it's revealed she learned perfect English by watching TV last night. Joke? Joke??

If that wasn't racist enough the film then goes on to top that by having Phil Silvers put in a call to Trans-Mexican Airlines, which is run by two sleepy stereotypes sitting in a desolate shack with a sign reading "Sancho Panza Airport" on the roof. When their aqua-plane is rented, the pilot chases his giant family of Mexican children out of the plane - which they've been using as a house.

All of this comes to a climax with what may be the most boring chase scene ever filmed, where a dramatic escape to scored the leisurely Hawaiian music and the jewel thieves make use of a yellow submarine (get it?? LIKE THE SONG) to slowly effect an even more boring escape. As they board their Mexican flight, they're offered coffee, tea, or tequila. After the jewels are thrown out of the airplane in a joke we can see coming half the film away, Silvers quips: "Maybe the movie will be good" and pulls down an in-flight movie screen the side of a small window shade.

It wasn't.

The Boatniks concludes week five of our series and next week I will be taking a break. The Age of Not Believing will continue the following week, with the new post going on on the long July 4 weekend. Blogging on the Fourth of July? That's politics!

For July 5: The Wild Country, The Aristocats, and The Barefoot Executive

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Age of Not Believing: Week Four

"The Age of Not Believing" is a movie review series tracing the history of Disney in the years following the death of Walt Disney. It covers three films a week in an effort to see all theatrical Disney films released between January 1967 and December 1973. The entire series can be found here.

Thought for the week:
"Movies are terribly easy to make. It's much harder to put on a play. Oh yes.

What's hard to do is to make a very good movie. Even a good movie is easier to make, because if you have a good camera man, if you have the cast that happens to be right, if you have a story that happens to be vaguely interesting - that is the art form that works in our day and age.

It would be very hard to write a great play in blank verse today, but I think it was pretty easy in Elizabethian days to write a good verse play. Not a great one, but a good one. It's damn near impossible now because it has nothing to do with our culture. But somehow, a good movie gets itself made even by a lot of second rate people."
 - Orson Welles, 1974

December 20, 1968 - The Horse In The Gray Flannel Suit

As America exited the war years of the 1940s and began to navigate the rocky terrain of the 1950s, a new and creeping social unease began to spread. Many men returning from combat found it difficult or impossible to re-acclimate to civilian life, and even worse: while they were gone, everything changed. Women had entered the workforce and were hesitant to return to submissive roles as housekeepers. Russia's threat began to loom large, and the massive strides in mechanization and industrialization which had made the manufacture of war machines possible had created a new kind of job where conformity was key: the corporate office.

While we look back at the 1950s as a romantic era of rock n' roll, Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, on the ground it was not so pretty. Part of the price of waging war and then simply being able to carry on was conformity: everyone was expected to put on a happy face. In this environment, stories of the day to day struggles of small men in big companies became new myths. The most important of these was The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit, released in 1955.

Gray Flannel Suit was such a big success that it sparked a cycle of "Flannel Suit" movies: Executive Suite, Desk Set, and The Power and the Prize followed suit. By the end of the decade the genre was well enough established to inspire outright parodies (Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?) and cynical deconstructions (The Apartment). Madison Avenue and advertising agencies were a popular setting in the post-war corporate boom culture, a setting lately re-invigorated by Mad Men. The trope even crops up in North by Northwest.

What does this have to do with Disney's The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit? Well... nothing. It's about an advertising man who buys a horse to get a promotion. At no point does the ad man (Dean Jones....... again) become a horse to be a horse in a gray flannel suit, nor does the horse itself ever get near a grey flannel suit except the ones Dean Jones wears. Heck, the advertising angle practically vanishes from the movie after a certain point. The horse is gray, however.

About ten minutes into this movie I paused it and jotted down some guesses about where it would be going. Dean Jones is a single dad to an under confident young girl who, it is dramatically revealed, perceives herself to be...


....and so Dean has to find some way to get her a riding horse and save his advertising career at the same time. In my estimate, I guessed that Dean Jones would come across an enchanted artifact that would turn him into the Horse In The Gray Flannel Suit, allowing his daughter to go on to fame and fortune while resulting in high-larious office hijinx. In the end, the curse is lifted and everyone learns the true meaning of family.

Instead I got a rather straightforward, if pleasantly shot, equestrian show drama. Geared at young girls, the film spends long stretches focusing on the riding and training, care, and feeding of horses, courtesy of riding pro "S. J." Clemens, played by Diane Baker. S. J. becomes a surrogate Mom to young Helen Bolton and beau to her father Fred (Jones), all while the three steadily rise up the ranks of the horse shows. Young Kurt Russell is in sight as a hunky but wholesome prospective boyfriend (with a sports car!), and just about the most exciting thing that happens is that Helen's horse Aspercel (named for a stomach acid reducer) gets loose and Dean Jones ends up in jail for riding him back home in his underwear.

Pleasingly full of autumnal tones in a convincingly rendered New England setting, Horse has an abundant case of the cutes. There isn't even anything unintentionally awful - in the last third a Chinese Gardener materializes out of nowhere to provide "comedy" for about a minute. Probably the most unfortunate thing in the whole show is the Boltons' nickname for their horse Aspercel: Aspie! As you probably know, Aspie is a term used inside the community for those with Asperger syndrome. Even the entertainment value of seeing Dean Jones repeatedly shout "Aspie!" at a horse, regrettably, soon wears off.

This movie isn't half bad but I can't see too many people remembering it fondly. It goes down easy and smooth and ends before you know it. Two hours after watching it, I had to think carefully about whether or not I had seen it yet. Aspercel may as well be a sedative.

December 24, 1968 - The Love Bug

You've probably heard this one before, via
"Two of those big huge 18-wheelers were involved in a collision at very high speeds; one tail-ended the other one really really hard, so hard that the two trucks were basically fused together. The proper authorities dragged the trucks (still connected) to wherever it is they take them, I guess a junkyard, and then just left them there until someone could figure out what to do with them. After a few days, a stench started to emanate from the wreckage, and no one knew what it was. It got worse each day. When they finally pulled the two trucks apart, they found that a VW Bug, its passengers still inside, had gotten smashed between the trucks during the accident."
There's something about the Volkswagen Beetle. It's cheap - mass produced, yet distinctive. It's one of the few cars you can positively identify on profile alone. It inspires legends to be created about it. Almost everybody has a family member who is purported to have done something ill-advised in a Beetle - my family's story is that my cousin drove one over a mountain in a blizzard with only a candle on the dash board for heat to get home for Christmas. Or the story about all the people who fit into your uncle's Beetle that one time. Or the old story that they float on water.

In many ways this is the most inspired thing about The Love Bug - I mean, if any one car would come to life, it would have to be a VW Beetle. It's just taken for granted today. The vehicle already has such a patina of mythos about it that taking it one step further into actual anthropomorphisism is only natural. Who would want to see a movie about a Studebaker with a big heart?

The Love Bug is unusually well-built considering how inevitable its central conceit is. In the first reel we already have reaction shots of Herbie as he attempts to unite with driver Jim Douglas (Dean Jones... again) and a gag where Herbie "pees" on the leg of the villainous Peter Thorndyke. We all saw the ads: we all know the car is alive. But the amount of time it takes Dean Jones to realize that is the interesting point. It's an entire hour before he and Herbie are reconciled on the Golden Gate Bridge.

In the meantime we have some intriguingly evocative philosophizing from Buddy Hackett as Tennessee Steinmetz, a hanger-on to Jones who spent time meditating in Tibet and gained some kind of rapport with machines. A crane game would feed him prizes that he could sell for money to survive, an idea that could figure into something like Stephen King's Maximum Overdrive were this not a Disney film. Every character in the film seems to sense Herbie's sentience without needing to explain it.

All of this is good because the film simply doesn't have too much atmosphere in its first half. This time Robert Stevenson isn't even given interesting sets or locations to place his camera in. The Love Bug must've been an especially cheap movie for Disney - the entire thing is shot in a few okay interiors on Burbank sound stages, an alley on the lot, and the rest is done entirely in front of optical screens filling in for a variety of locations. Peter Ellenshaw works overtime here to make the zany firehouse Dean Jones and Buddy Hackett live in look real. The second unit must've loved working on Love Bug - their shots are literally the entire show. The film begins with an endless montage of second unit destruction derby car crashes, perhaps to prepare us for the extravaganza to follow.

In this stretch it's all up to the actors and editors to make something out of this extended demonstration of rear-projection, and the film does alright. The script is a cut above most Disney scripts of the time. When Michelle Lee is trapped inside Herbie at a drive-in with Dean Jones, she shouts at two nearby hippies: "Help me, I'm a prisoner!". One hippie solemnly waxes poetic: "We all prisoners, chickie baby!" Dean Jones is far less expressive here than he was in Blackbeard's Ghost and Grey Flannel Suit, allowing most of the showy material to go to Buddy Hackett and David Tomlinson. Tomlinson is especially funny as the villain Thorndike, managing to be credibly funny and menacing at once, something most Disney villains can't hack. Buddy Hackett is extremely weird - at first we think he's Jones' mechanic, but later reveals he doesn't know the first thing about fixing cars!

With most of the cast making their typical funny faces and Stevenson marooned on the optical stage, I think the bulwark of the film's success can be attributed to Bill Walsh. A former Edgar Bergen staff writer, Walsh is responsible for either writing or producing (or both) the bulk of Disney's best remembered live action films, starting with The Absent-Minded Professor in 1959. Walsh's clever character dialogue and eye for clever construction and a quick tempo is all over both this and most of Stevenson's other Disney projects. Love Bug works through sheer force of will alone.

Eventually the film begins to get somewhere when Ellenshaw and Stevenson conspire to spring an atmospheric San-Fransisco-under-heavy-fog pursuit, leading to a final race sequence that takes up most of the rest of the movie. This is the material the movie was built around, and it's worth the wait. Crazy gags and stunts pile up one on top of another - unexpected Chinese guys carry Herbie like a ricksaw, the car skids across the surface of a lake, and Thorndike sabotages their tires, leading to a terrific Keaton-like escalating series of gags. Tomlinson gets the biggest laugh in the picture here by giving his stiff Thorndyke an out-of-nowhere epic wild take.

In the end, of course, Herbie wins both first and third place by splitting in two and it's a happy ending for Jones and Lee. In 1968, The Love Bug was a gigantic success for Disney - the third-highest grossing film of the year. To put this in perspective, Love Bug grossed three times the average Disney product of the 60s, behind only Mary Poppins and Jungle Book in their stable of hits. And unlike Jungle Book, it didn't require years of painstaking hand-drawn animation. Herbie was huge. Disneyland immediately began inviting car enthusiasts to parade their VWs in "Herbie Days". A bug with the number 53 on its hood became an overnight Disney icon. You still see them at car shows.

Why did Herbie click in 1968/9? What did audiences find in this film that inspired them to reward it so handsomely? I honestly am not sure. It's justifiably well remembered, but looking at it here in context it's easier to say that Love Bug isn't all that much better than the average Disney product. Instead of looking for some kind of internal answer, I elect that it was one of those moments where the right material hit the right audience at the right time. You can't pack that sort of guaranteed response into any film, no matter what today's movie producers may say.

One thing about timing intrigues me. In 1969, plans for the Magic Kingdom in Florida were firming up as foundations began to be laid. On early early blueprints and models for the park, we can see that Tomorrowland was slated to receive a copy of Disneyland's Tomorrowland Autopia - complete with the tell-tale clover leaf pattern. Then, in fits and starts, it's replaced with the Grand Prix Raceway that opened there in 1971 - patterned after a high-speed race track. I've always wondered why they bothered to re-theme the car ride at all - after all, racetracks are even less "Tomorrowlandy" than freeways, and the resulting product is far inferior to the wooded, charming Disneyland ride. Herbie may be the culprit here - the timing of the change lines up more or less perfectly with the height of The Love Bug's success. Yet it remains a mystery - there's no explicit Love Bug call-out in the attraction except for the painful Buddy Hackett section of The Grand Opening of Walt Disney World TV special. Funny to think that one of the most unfortunate things in the Magic Kingdom may be indirectly attributable to such a cute movie.
Is this the highway that Herbie killed?
March 21, 1969 - Smith! [Unavailable]

"Smith!" "Johnnyboy!" "Brewster?" "Chief?!" "McCloud!?"

Okay, here it is, the first film we're going to skip.

I vacillated on this one for a while: Smith! can be purchased through the Disney Movie Club and/or Disney Store, but it's not yet available for rental in any form and I'll be darned if I'm going to make anyone buy a 1969 Disney Western just to keep up with a blog series.

Smith!, which I've never seen, stars Glenn Ford as a rancher who defends a Native American named "Johnnyboy". And yes, while Smith! remains unseen, celebrating it briefly here is an adequate excuse to walk around your house and bellow "Smith!" at the slightest provocation.

A side note: up until 1969, Walt Disney Productions had been managing a steady release of around six pictures a year, with one film each year slated as a "tentpole" and released around Christmas. That's not bad for a small studio. In 1969, they only managed three pictures, and none of them featured Dean Jones. Of course 1969 also saw the Haunted Mansion finally open at Disneyland plus the start of real steady construction in Florida so it's not like this is Disney resting on their laurels - an obscure Western, a raccoon movie, a classic attraction and Kurt Russell in one year is the sort of year I wish I'd see Disney pull off in 2014. Still, one wonders if the slackened pace indicates that the Studio was finally using up the last little bit of left over Walt Disney concepts.

June 11, 1969 - Rascal

"I've got to de-raccoonify him!"

This one really took me by surprise.

All I really knew about Rascal is that it featured a raccoon - I thought it would be another Winston Hibler Special, a weird little comedy/documentary along the lines of Charlie or Perri. What I was not expecting was a rather sweet little period piece, but that's what I got. And maybe that surprise completely disarmed me but I was entirely captivated and charmed by Rascal from beginning to end.

I admit, I'm a nostalgic at heart so this sort of thing hits home easily for me. Set in the Midwest in 1919, Rascal is the cliche "last summer of innocence" story. This time director Norman Tokar is given a new producer - True Life Adventures producer James Algar - and his output is significantly better here than in Grey Flannel Suit. Tokar seems to have really come to life when allowed to go outdoors in his movies - the only moments where Millionaire seems to have any life is daylight exteriors. In Rascal, out of nowhere pops great period atmosphere and really effective natural light photography. As awkward teenager Bill Mumy rides his bicycle with Rascal on the front the shots are both beautiful and appealingly casual, unfussy. It's a reminder that sometimes getting great photography amounts to nothing more than showing up at the right place.

Algar seems to have contributed a healthy love of period detail. Rascal is overstuffed with design detail that wouldn't be out of place on Main Street USA. Gaslights still flicker and a major plot point is an obnoxious local automobile enthusiast. A sequence in a small town market house is on board seemingly only to include yet more period detail. Rascal rides in a little basket that brings money up to a cashier located in an isolated loft, exactly like those inside the Disneyland Emporium. If the mechanics aren't vintage, they're darn close replicas.

Rascal may be the title character and is treated to extended scenery-chewing cute animal sequences, but the story here remains tightly focused on the core characters of the film: Bill Mumby's awkward teenager Sterling and his flaky absentee father, traveling salesman Williard, played by Steve Forrest. Sterling's mother has recently died, and Dad's devil-may-care attitude towards life leaves Sterling home alone for the summer with only Rascal and his dog to keep him company. Sterling slowly builds a canoe in the living room, and when Dad returns from his periodic and long term trips the two boys totally trash the house over the course of the summer. As Rascal grows from a raccoon kit to a yearling over the course of the summer, he becomes increasingly uncontrollable.

One thing I love about this film is that all of the drama has a completely understated edge. The neighbors squawk about the unconventional nature of life in the North household and we keep expecting one or another of the local villains to show up and snatch Rascal like Toto in The Wizard of Oz; this never happens. A schoolteacher and a local priest show up to intervene; Father arrives with a new jug of top-quality cider and the adults instead spend the night getting thoroughly drunk. Even the final dramatic sequence where sister Theo convinces Father of his need to settle down and raise his son we expect shouting but get instead a quietly dignified scene. This is a very well played movie and by Disney standards this alone is a marvel.

Typical of Rascal's easygoing grace is a scene where Steve Forrest must decide on a housekeeper. He sits at an upright piano, talking over the prospects to his dead wife's photograph. As each prospective housekeeper is mentioned, Father plays a few characterizing notes on the upright: crashing chords, a hymnal, an Irish jig. It's the sort of casual integration of character and content you'd expect to find in a John Ford film; the tunes tell us more about Father than they do about the housekeepers. The most gently moving moment in the film comes when Father rejects the authoritarian Mrs. Satterfield: "She'll break your son's heart."

Moved along by a gorgeous Buddy Baker score, Rascal delivers gentle lessons and emotional understatement where we have reason to expect ponderous sentiment, and it's not a minute too long either: there's no padding in its 85 minutes. As far as accomplishments go it may be a slight one, but Rascal turned out better than anyone had any reason to expect. It's the nearest the Disney studio got to another Summer Magic.

Rascal, by the way, is based on Sterling North's Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, a Newbery Honor-winning book. The real-life house the events took place in is preserved as the Sterling North Museum, and the various fences and guards Sterling put up to keep Rascal inside the house may still be seen. In a bizarre twist of fate, the same book was adapted into a 52-episode anime by Nippon Animation as part of their "World Masterpiece Theater" ongoing television show. "Rascal the Raccoon"'s wild popularity created demand for imported raccoon pets, and is thus credited with accidentally introducing the North American raccoon into Japan.

Not a bad peripheral legacy for a Disney obscurity.

For next week: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, King of the Grizzlies, and The Boatniks.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Age of Not Believing: Week Three

 "The Age of Not Believing" is a movie review series tracing the history of Disney in the years following the death of Walt Disney. It covers three films a week in an effort to see all theatrical Disney films released between January 1967 and December 1973. The entire series can be found here.

February 8 1968 - Blackbeard's Ghost

"I, Captain Teach, affectionately known as Blackbeard, was not... all bad."

I've been singing the praises of director Robert Stevenson time and again these past few weeks, and I'm afraid we're in for more of the same now.  While The Happiest Millionaire was playing out its troubled run around the country in a perplexing variety of forms with a high ticket price, first-run promotion strategy (one pointedly not undertaken for Mary Poppins), Disney released a film much more worthy of Walt Disney's legacy: Blackbeard's Ghost. It is another one of Stevenson's  memorably atmospheric creations for Disney.

This is the first live action Disney film we've seen here which I can honestly, conscientiously, and with no qualifications or excuses recommend to anyone. It's an exciting, fast paced comedy adventure with imagination. Amazingly enough, in the first four minutes there's a real laugh - not a strained, cute, sort-of-amusing gag the likes of which you'll find in other Disney films but a genuine funny thing occurs, and this chemistry keeps occurring throughout this film.

Blackbeard is held together almost entirely by  Peter Ustinov. At once a wildly imaginative and appealingly casual creation, Ustinov's Blackbeard is probably the saddest sack of a pirate to ever appear in a film. Lazy, drunk, and petty, Blackbeard steals everything impulsively and unglamourously as possible. His immediate response to any problem is to gamble or cheat. Although this is definitely a cutesier, more childlike interpretation of piracy than that found in Disney's recent Pirates of the Caribbean films, to me Ustinov here is more on the mark with his portrayal of Blackbeard as an amoral stooge than the more embroidered and romantic versions created by Johnny Depp or Geoffrey Rush. His moral lapses have real - if absurd - consequences.

His straight man here is Dean Jones who, with a good director and a decent script, suddenly shows  promise as a sort of kiddie James Stewart. In this case he's stuck training a hilariously hopeless track team, assisted by Blackbeard who pulls some truly mean tricks to ensure the team will win. Jones spend the entire film fuming as Blackbeard doggedly follows him around, leading to the usual assortment of jokes where Jones is accused of being either crazy and/or drunk. Since he's the only one who can see Blackbeard, he even shouts Ustinov down, nearly losing the big game for his track team by refusing to cheat in a sequence seems to be an attempt to recreate the spirit of the famous football match in Son of Flubber. Throughout the film, Blackbeard causes inversions of characters' moral values: Jones accepts Blackbeard's trickery if it wins the game for his clueless team, and his girlfriend Suzanne Pleshette unexpectedly develops a mania for gambling at the worst possible moment.

The macguffin that drives this plot is a land grab by local villain Silky Seymour, but the real star here is a spooky, moonlit, fog-shrouded coastal atmosphere and the stunning, imaginative Inn at stake on the land built by Blackbeard out of pieces of ships. Some sort of predecessor to the Columbia Harbour House, the film gets by for two full reels on spooky atmosphere alone until Ustinov shows up. An atmospheric beach scene ends the film on a high note as Blackbeard rows off into the mist and rejoins his ship and crew glimpsed as silhouettes in a fog bank, an idea which may have influenced the ending of The Goonies. Blackbeard's Ghost may count objectively as only mediocre entertainment, but unlike so many other live action Disney films of its era it is remembered fondly for good reason.

It's here, I feel, where we can assess what a good director on the Disney lot could do within the constraints of the Disney story department system. Make no mistake - in the Walt era on films like Mary Poppins or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea every casting choice and visual detail was devised with input from Walt. Mary Poppins was begun with songs and paintings, then storyboarded in its entirety, then a script was written to  bridge the sequences in a pre determined order, and then all of that was given to the director and actors to execute on set.

Mary Poppins storyboards

Compare the sense of tone and pace conveyed in even a mediocre Stevenson film like Gnome-Mobile to the total washed-out drudgery of Happiest Millionaire. On Millionaire, Norman Tokar painted by numbers in exactly the way described in the storyboards and ended up with a paint by numbers movie. Blackbeard is a less controlled film than Millionaire - probably only the effects sequences were heavily boarded - but the whole film moves and flows and maintains a consistent tone and energy. Actors and technicians can't spin dross into gold just on their own - there needs to be a mediating creative force that holds the whole thing together inside the constraints. That's the sort of thing an engaged director can bring, pushing quality films along even in an era after Walt Disney.

March 21, 1968 - The One and Only, Genuine, Original, Family Band

"It just didn't seem like the type of song that would appreciate a Republican convention."

Well, here it is, and there's no reason to be shy about it. This is it. This is the first Disney movie I've ever seen that angered - not bored, but angered me enough to strongly consider throwing the DVD out a window and then running it over with a car.

Talking to older Disney fans, or my parents, I was well aware that there was an era when liking Disney was just about the most socially inadvisable thing possible. I knew, intellectually, that there was an era when Disney was run entirely by middlebrow white men in mediocre suits who decided to build Space Mountain between liquid lunches at the Glendale country club and hob-nobbing with guys in Richard Nixon's inner circle. Or, to put it another way, that Disney was in that day - intellectually, aesthetically, and politically - the squarest of the squares.

I knew all this conceptually, and then I collided into Family Band. In 1968, despite better than average production values and a run in prestigious theaters around the country, this film deservedly burned and sunk at the box office. Released on the eve of when American politics were about to get truly ugly, this film shows Disney with their eyes shut, ears plugged - squatting on the dynamite keg. It's an appalling sight.

Why? Why drag politics into this seemingly perfectly nice family musical, those who have not seen this film may ask? Well, because that's exactly what Disney did. They started it. And if that's what this film is about, then there is no reason to jump around it sheepishly. Family Band must qualify as one of the most misguided, boneheaded allegories I've ever seen.

This is one of those movies that doesn't go remotely the way you want it to. After a very unusual cold opening, we find our Family Band cavorting about a barn to the tune of yet another song by the overworked Shermans. For about thirty minutes this appears to be a very different movie than what it is, ie, a fun, lighthearted musical. Excitingly enough, they are headed to the 1888 Democratic National Convention to perform a campaign song written by grandfather Walter Brennan for Grover Cleveland, despite the Republican convictions of their father, played by Buddy Ebsen. To top that off, daughter Alice (Lesley Ann Warren, again) has just met suitor Joe (John Davidson, again). This is conveyed in no less than four Sherman songs in under twenty minutes, the principal campaign song "Let's Put It Over With Grover" feeling like the better part of the run time of Happiest Millionaire alone.

Okay, now pause. Can you guess where this film is going? Perhaps there will be a wacky train ride to the convention. The Bower children will march up and down the aisles and Warren and Davidson will have a duet on the caboose. At the Convention, things will heat up. There will be a complication in the staging of the song, but the family will triumph and somebody will knock Grover Cleveland into the punch bowl. Just a fun, simple family comedy in an intriguing historical setting.

Well you're wrong.

Instead, newly arrived Joe Carder convinces the family to move with him to - Dakota? And once in Dakota, the family will - zanily be swept up in the politics of the 1888 presidential election and become politically and emotionally divided? By the 45 minute mark they're whimsically causing a political riot by playing "Let's Put It Over For Grover" in staunchly Republican, pro-Benjamin Harrison Dakota and you will be searching for your belly button to confirm that you have not accidentally branched off into an alternate reality.

I mean, with a date like 1888, there's no way this could possibly be a topical commentary on the election of 1968, could it?? Well, it is.

Before too long, there's dramatic confrontations. Brennan is dispatched to close a schoolhouse, and ends up teaching all the schoolchildren that they have the right to stand up for their beliefs - just like the hippie kids of today! This causes the townsfolk to publicly and humiliatingly harangue Lesley Ann Warren for allowing her grandfather to "poison their minds". How could this possibly be resolved? Perhaps Dean Jones will appear with four monkeys dressed as ghosts who will drop some hay on the assembly? Nope, another ill-conceived dramatic speech. Fun!

It's hard to fully convey the insulting banality of this film. While the anti-Americanism sentiment in Monkeys, Go Home! at least stays in the background and is treated casually enough by the film to come across as a tasteless joke of no great consequence, in Family Band the political struggle between Dakotans is the point of the whole darn thing. Every scene in the second half of the film is directly caused by splintering politics. It's like drunkenly flipping between Turner Classic Movies and CNN at four in the morning and reassembling the result into a composite film in your head.

The political struggle is that Dakotans want Statehood, but they want to be admitted into the Union as two states, allowing them to send twice as many Republicans to Congress. Of course, we all know that Dakota is indeed two states, and if there's any fact generally known about Benjamin Harrison at all, it's that he narrowly won the presidency against Cleveland. This makes the entire enterprise feel weirdly futile - why invest in the political persuasions of anyone when we know they're barreling towards an inevitable outcome? And who wants to invest in a family only to see their ugliest moments? Who wants to pay to see a family musical comedy that's short of warmth and humor and long on moralizing and discomfort?

The Shermans only manage one truly great song here, and it's "Dakota" - which is, truthfully, probably amongst the best of their obscurities. But if "Let's Put It Over With Grover" amuses with it's pure audacity than with real quality, then the late-film musical theme "Benjamin Harrison Is Far Beyond Comparison" makes Grover look like an inspired masterpiece. I wish I were making this up. Practically all of the other musical numbers aren't even as good as the less inspired ones in Millionaire. This is a problem for a "comedy" short on actual humor in its back half.

The basic problem with Family Band is that it offers nothing to anyone who doesn't want to deal with the political side, but insults anyone (of any political persuasion) who does bother to invest in it by offering a non-resolution. Cleveland, not Harrison, extends statehood to the Dakotas - as two states. Just when the Republicans exult in victory, news comes down that Cleveland has also ratified two more states - who vote Democratic. After over an hour of unpleasantness, what does the film say to codify this into a moral?

"That's politics!"

Now back up a moment. Let's pull out of 1888 and look at 1968, the actual political era this film in intended to be received as a parody of for a moment. Yes, complex political issues are dividing families and friends into opposing camps. But unlike in 1888, a relatively peaceful era in American politics, in 1968 riots and demonstrations are taking place in every major American city. In less than a month, Dr. King will be murdered. Three months later, Robert Kennedy will be murdered as well. Lyndon B. Johnson has painted his party into a corner where they cannot oppose the war in Vietnam or appear to be backing down on party policy, and the nation in general is moving towards electing Richard Nixon as president and shattering the "solid South" forever. Nixon would leave his office under a cloud of disgrace, but not after extending the Vietnam war to secure re-election. This is not "just politics", this is a pivotal year in American political history. People are dying.

In the end, Disney's "ya win some, ya lose some!" resolution is far more offensive in retrospect. But worse than that: why is this film even about politics at all? It's entirely unjustifiable, and after putting its audience through the emotional wringer has nothing to say, to boot. The Dakotans are given a feel-good reconciliation that would never come to 60s America. The social upheaval forever shattered the post-war fantasy of national consensus.

Back in our film, Walter Brennan looks even more bored here than he did in Gnome-Mobile but, professional to the end, is always engaging when the camera is rolling. Leslie Warren is given more fun things to do than in Happiest Millionaire but has less overall screen time. She's pared with John Davidson and he's much better this time around, giving his boyfriend some real charm and shading. Stuck playing leader to a pack of moppets who appear to have been cast according to height, Kurt Russell shows real acting chops despite being given nothing to do, and all but vanishes in the second half of the film.

Technically the film is both better and worse than Happiest Millionaire. TV director Michael O'Herlihy manages consistently good angles and cinematographer Frank Phillips actually knows what to do with a light, giving each scene the visual variety and pleasure so badly missing from Millionaire. Just like Millionaire, every song is looped, but unlike Millionaire everything is badly out of sync. There's sections where the family band stops playing their instruments while the soundtrack plays on. Thankfully, the film is fairly tightly paced - no sloppy half-done editing here. It's a handsome film, it's just lousy.

1968 may have been a good year for vague political manifestos. Later in 1968, long after Family Band had been fully forgotten, John Lennon would be roundly pillaged in the Liberal press for writing the song "Revolution", which cattily suggests that social upheaval isn't all it's cracked up to be.That's politics!

As for The One and Only, Genuine, Original, Family Band? You tell me it's the institution - well, you know, you'd be better to free your mind instead.

June 26, 1968 - Never A Dull Moment

"I've fallen over a hot dog!"

Titles like these are catnip for snarky critics, so, no, I'm not going to go for it. Besides, Never A Dull Moment doesn't deserve it - it isn't half bad. It has at least two things going for it - Dick Van Dyke and Edward G. Robinson. That said, it's not half good, either.

Robinson was one of the most gifted screen performers of the early sound era. His Rico in Little Caesar was a groundbreaking achievement in screen acting, a detestable little creep who rises from nothing to be one of the top mafia bosses in Chicago only to die squawking in a ditch with a stomach full of machine gun lead. It wouldn't be until James Cagney in The Public Enemy and Boris Karloff in Frankenstein that the early sound motion picture would result in performances more dynamic, and Robinson was made into a star overnight.

What isn't talked about much is that Robinson hit the same wall that Cagney would in a year's time and Humphrey Bogart would much later - the performances that made them famous were the sort of performances that top box office attractions didn't give. Movie stars did not play pitiless sociopaths. It would not be until the post-War period when, led by Bogart's brilliant performance of Fred C. Dobbs in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, that Cagney and Robinson would once again play outright villains. Cagney as Cody Jarrett in White Heat and Robinson as Johnny Rocco in Key Largo are truly frightening monsters.

In between came a lot of "tough guy makes right" and "gangster with a heart of gold" roles for Robinson and Cagney, and it is in this period that Edward G. Robinson proved himself as a surprising, if gifted, comic performer. Never A Dull Moment is, in spirit at least, the last of these films.

Throughout the 1930s Warner Brothers kept Robinson in sight in a series of tough guy roles and straight up gangland faces, starting in 1932 with The Little Giant (get it?) and proceeding through Larceny, Inc in 1942. The best of these is probably A Slight Case of Murder in 1936, and in places Never A Dull Moment seems to revive the spirit of these vintage comedies, including the fact that they aren't very good.

Dick Van Dyke is an actor who is mistaken for an assassin and brought to the house of Prohibition-era gangster Joe Smooth, introduced in the midst of an art lesson. Longtime film fans will immediately think of Robinson in Scarlet Street as the tragic artist who becomes the fall guy of his own conscience. Robinson always had an air about him that allowed him to play kindly doctors (The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse) and heroic lawmen (The Stranger) as easily as he slipped into the role of a mafioso.

In the first third of the film, Robinson takes over the film and absolutely steamrolls over Van Dyke as Joe Smooth plans to heist a gigantic painting, "Field of Sunflowers", from the Manhattan Museum of Art then return it to the museum upon his death. His pack of hoodlums includes Slim Pickens, wasted in his role but still very funny, and Jack Elam appears briefly as the real hired killer.

Van Dyke isn't given much to do here, and when the film's balance shifts back to him the movie finally begins to drag. He shifts between an amusing tough guy act and a drunk performance for one long sequence, but the best jokes remain conceptual or visual: required to dispatch two museum guards, Van Dyke merely touches each guard and they pass out immediately. The final slapstick sequence finds Van Dyke hiding amongst a pop art exhibit in the museum, making this the only Disney film in history where a huge hot dog plays into the denouement.

Shooting mostly on a recycled Happiest Millionaire set, director Jerry Paris, who directed and acted in Van Dyke's television show, manages some nice shots and uses some interesting colors, but he's no Frank Tashlin for sure. During one long chase we mostly spend time admiring how the Millionaire set looks when somebody's actually trying to light it dramatically. Appropriate for being a gentle send up of the crime genre, the film has some nice atmosphere, especially in the opening reel as Van Dyke slips down New York streets provided by some gorgeous matte paintings.

Still, pretty much the main reason to see the film remains Eddie G, who carries all the best laughs. Just as in A Slight Case of Murder, he labors over his hoodlums, no more able to pronounce "hors d'oeuvre" than they are ("or-doo-ver"). He slaps a lackey repeatedly, drawing blood, then snaps: "Stop that bleeding, will ya? It's stupid." At the end of the film, we're sad to see him arrested. Dick Van Dyke's character runs off the Hollywood to star in the very film we've been watching!


Innervated by a recent Disney Cruise vacation and having just finished J. B. Kaufman's excellent book The Fairest One of All, following Never A Dull Moment I was feeling rather down on Disney and this project in general and found myself poking through not only my DVDs of Snow White but also Pinocchio and Fantasia - Walt's "Holy Trinity", if such a thing is open to election.

It's sometimes hard to put all of the pieces of this company together. There are definite phases where everything seems to be "of a piece", as they say - there's a clear line of progression from the New York World's Fair projects and Mary Poppins on to New Orleans Square, Pirates and Haunted Mansion and then onto Magic Kingdom. Slot the products into the right order, and an aesthetic narrative emerges.

But then we come across stuff like Cinderella, a bare bones basic fairy tale produced at the tail end of a period of imaginative experimentation throughout the 1940s. Compared to something crazy like Three Caballeros, to me Cinderella is manifestly a step down in ambition. But those first three animated features, the Trinity, are even tougher to pull into any narrative. They exist out on their own, remote and unapproachable.

How do we get from the ruthless economy and textural complexity, the emotional fever pitch of Snow White to the vaguely amusing humdrum of Never A Dull Moment? What weird alchemy allows us to place Happiest Millionaire and Family Band in remotely the same aesthetic universe as the nearly perfect Mary Poppins? Is film art really all that open to chance?

In the 1950s as Walt diversified his interests into live action, television, and theme parks, the company finally had something it had never before enjoyed: stability. But Walt was always willing to hedge it all. Having created the most beloved film on the face of the planet in 1938, he spent all those earnings and more on Pinocchio and Fantasia. Yet as the empire expanded, Walt suddenly had a luxury that was not afforded him in those heady days between 1934 and 1941: he could put out a mediocre product. Not everything needed to be an A-list effort.

The films we're looking at in this series often seem to be the creative leftovers of a remarkable legacy. Even today it's remarkable how challenging and rewarding something like Fantasia is - it's still way out on the conceptual horizon of animation, sitting snugly alongside artists like Stan Brakhage and Walther Ruttmann. Were Walt's attentions too divided in his final years? Or was he planning yet another bold new direction that would only make sense in retrospect - his EPCOT city perhaps? Had he lived only ten years longer, I suspect only then would posterity know for sure.

That's politics!

No, that's leadership.

For next week: The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Love Bug, and Rascal