Friday, February 24, 2012

Now Playing: FEB. 24, 1962

While I could excuse my neglect of "Now Playing: 1962" this week by pleading overwork and placing a priority on reviews, the fact is -- it's been a pretty dull week back in 50yearsagoville. There's just not a lot of interesting product opening around the country. In a lot of places, the week's big release is a re-release of Disney's Pinocchio. Otherwise, drab stuff like A Majority of One -- which sells itself as "Auntie Mame Goes Asian" and presents Alec Guinness as a Japanese, opens in mid-sized cities. But if that turgid affair is some people's idea of class, there's always an alternative. This ad from a Feb. 23 Charleston paper sets the tone.

I could comment on tastes in comedy then compared to now, but the truth is: the more things change...

People in Madison WI had it better, but I must explain that the event advertised below is a kind of ringer. It isn't a movie at all, but live theater -- and look at that cast!

Here are a couple of footnotes to history. This show in Madison is one of the last performances in the life of the great Thomas Mitchell, one of the most reliable character actors of the classic studio era and the one who seemed to appear in nearly every major film from the golden year of 1939. I don't actually exaggerate that much. Mitchell would continue touring with the show until his death later in 1962 at age 70. The other footnote is that the role he played in the play was Columbo -- this is the same story, elaborated from a one-hour TV anthology episode, that would be made into a full-length TV movie  and form the basis for Peter Falk's famous spot on the NBC Mystery Movie and beyond. The character was conceived as a much older man than Falk was when he first took the role; Bing Crosby had to turn Columbo down before Falk got his chance. But if you suggest to me Thomas Mitchell as Columbo -- yes, I can see it ... except I can't. If only someone had filmed the play with this cast in it. But you can't rewrite the past; you can only cut and paste it.

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