Sunday, September 23, 2012

Off-Topic: Retro TV Action-Adventure-Thon

          And now a brief message from the larger world of ’70s nostalgia—last weekend (Sept. 21–22), the fine folks at Warner Archive Collection, the DVD-on-demand imprint that’s made hundreds of obscure movies and TV shows available in recent years, held a fun event at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. The Retro TV Action-Adventure-Thon featured screenings of rare TV episodes, plus appearances by actors from cult-fave shows. Of special note for readers of this space were sessions with Patrick Duffy and Belinda J. Montgomery (pictured above in a photo by yours truly), who chatted about their short-lived series Man from Atlantis (1977–1978), and Michael Gray, who played Captain Marvel’s youthful alter ego in the Saturday-morning superhero show Shazam! (1974–1977). Others on hand were Ron Ely, of the 1966–1968 series Tarzan, and Clint Walker, of the 1955–1963 Western Cheyenne.
          Man from Atlantis kicked off the weekend. Duffy and Montgomery, both caustically funny, explained they were disappointed by the evolution of the franchise into a campy superhero show once it became a weekly series. (As noted here, the original pilot film is fairly serious in tone, with a plaintive quality absent from the weekly episodes.) While an episode titled “Melt Down” was screening, Duffy and Montgomery laughed broadly and even heckled the screen. After the episode finished, Duffy got onto his hands and knees and made for the door, as if he wanted to crawl away in embarrassment.
          Happily, he stuck and around and chatted with Montgomery and moderator William Keck for about 45 minutes, sharing droll stories about cheap producers, reckless safety risks, and the drudgery of filming a series that seemed fated for cancellation from its first weekly installment. (Only 13 episodes of Man from Atlantis were made.) It was fun to watch Duffy and Montgomery remind each other of colorful memories, since they hadn’t seen each other in 34 years; for instance, Duffy recalled that he often looked to Montgomery for approval after takes because she had years of experience when they made Man from Atlantis, whereas he was a newbie. Plus, what ’70s kid weaned on action shows could resist hearing Duffy discuss the beloved Man from Atlantis swimming style? “It was the most miserable way to swim you could possibly imagine,” Duffy said, adding that because of the contacts he wore to simulate his water-breathing character’s otherworldliness, he couldn’t see anything while performing underwater.
          The following evening, after Ely, Gray, and Walker made their appearances, the Retro TV Action-Adventure-Thon concluded with a screening of the notorious 1979 TV special Legends of the Super Heroes: The Challenge. One of two live-action programs Hanna-Barbera produced featuring DC Comics characters, The Challenge is epic in its awfulness. Adam West and Burt Ward reprise their ’60s Batman and Robin roles while delivering terrible one-liners in a cheap-looking one-hour program (shot on video) that’s half superhero adventure and half sitcom. (The Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder are joined by the Flash, Green Lantern, and others while battling baddies including the Riddler, played, once again, by Batman fave Frank Gorshin.) Watching The Challenge is a challenge, but the thing is an amazing time capsule from a moment when the variety format ruled the airwaves. For brave souls, Warner Archive has released Legends of the Super Heroes on DVD, pairing The Challenge with The Roast, a spectacularly unfunny costumed-adventurer insult-fest. Ed McMahan hosts, believe it or not.
          In any event, the Retro TV Action-Adventure-Thon was a hoot, and it’s totally groovy that Warner Archive has preserved such esoteric programming for the curious and the nostalgic. DVDs available at include two Man from Atlantis sets (one with TV movies and the other with weekly episodes); a complete-series set of Shazam!; the Legends of the Super Heroes twofer; and sets of other shows featured at the event, from Cheyenne and Tarzan to The Herculoids and Superboy. Keep on keepin’ on, Warner Archive!


The Mutt said...

What? The Man from Atlantis swimming style works great! After I first saw the show, I tried it out the very next time I went to the pool. It's fast and smooth, though it is not energy-efficient. But I could make it from one end to an Olympic-sized pool underwater to the other using it.

The Mutt said...

Don't know went wrong with my last sentence there, but what I meant was end-to-end.