THIS WEEK’S TOP RELEASES:
“56 UP” “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” Starting in 1964 with “Seven UP,” The UP Series, created by Granada Television and director Paul Almond in 1964, has explored this Jesuit maxim. The original concept was to interview 14 children from diverse backgrounds from all over England (lower, middle and upper class, all but one white), asking them about their lives and their dreams for the future. Every seven years, Michael Apted, a researcher for the first film, “Seven UP,” has been back to talk to them, examining the progression of their lives. Of the original 14, only 13 have continued from “Seven UP” to the current “56 UP,” one young man quitting after “21 UP.” From cab driver Tony to schoolmates Jackie, Lynn and Susan and the enigmatic Neil, we follow these subjects as they turn 56 and more life-changing decisions and surprising developments are revealed. And the ravages of time — as well as its joys — weigh heavily on the participants. The series is at once a bold sociological experiment and riveting viewing, almost a precursor to today’s reality television. And if you haven’t seen the previous films in the series, fear not: Apted skillfully weaves old footage with the new, though that can cause some problems: as one participant puts it, filming each of them for seven days every seven years can give odd connections between the past and the present as well as only highlights of their lives — but what dramatic highlights! A towering achievement in the annals of cinema, the UP Series is, according to critic Roger Ebert, “an inspired, almost noble use of the film medium. Apted penetrates to the central mystery of life.” Apted, by the way, is the classy director of such big-screen hits as “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Gorillas in the Mist,” the Bond outing “The World Is Not Enough” and, most recently, “Chasing Mavericks.” From First Run Features.
I was still in junior high school when “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” one of the first TV shows to really key in on the longings and aspirations of teenagers — in particular those of teenage boys seeking popularity, money, and the attention of beautiful and unattainable girls — hit the airwaves in September, 1959. Sure, there were teens on other TV shows — “The Donna Reed Show,” “Father Knows Best,” “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet” — but “Dobie” was the first to center on teens in America. It was an immediate hit — and the talk of my school every Wednesday morning (the show aired Tuesdays at 8:30 pm on CBS).
The show was loosely adapted from American writer and humorist Max Shulman’s book of short stories “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” which inspired the 1953 film “The Affairs of Dobie Gillis” with Debbie Reynolds, Bob Fosse and Bobby Van. Shulman was fairly active in the 1950s, having written such big-screen hits as “The Tender Trap” and “Rally Round the Flag, Boys!” He also wrote a weekly uncensored college newspaper humor column, “On Campus With Max Shulman,” from 1954 until the mid-60s.
Dwayne Hickman, fresh off Bob Cummings’ “Love That Bob” TV show, starred as Dobie, a typically indecisive young man who continually set out on hopeless quests for popularity, money and the attention of beautiful girls, all the while trying to make his parents happy; Bob Denver played Maynard G. Krebs, Dobie’s sweatshirt-wearing beatnik best friend. The show lasted four years, with Dobie and Maynard moving from high school through a stint in the army to junior college. In the first season, Dobie chased after the unconquerable money-hungry blonde Thalia Menninger (Tuesday Weld) while trying to compete with wealthy, well-dressed Milton Armitage (Warren Beatty); after Weld and Beatty left the show, Dobie’s love interests changed from episode to episode, while his nemesis became Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. (Steve Franken). By the fourth season, the show had worn thin, with “ugly duckling” Zelda Gilroy (Sheila James Kuehl) — introduced in the first season — coming to the fore not as a love interest but as the female chasing after Dobie. Dobie’s dad and mom were the great character actors Frank Faylon and Florida Friebus.
For those of us growing up in the 50s and 60s, Dobie Gillis was a benchmark TV show, one sorely missing from late night reruns today. Now, however, the folks over at Shout! Factory have put together a long-awaited box set that includes all 147 episodes — on 20 DVDs — of the series, for $139.99 ($199.99 at Amazon). Extras include original rare pilot footage and bonus episodes from “Love That Bob!” and “The Stu Erwin Show.” For a glimpse of pre-Vietnam, pre-counter-culture teen America, where all that mattered were girls, bongos and crazy schemes, “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” is a must.
If you’re a fan of “Wallander” (either the British or Swedish versions), “Borgen,” “Midsomer Murders,” “The Killing,” “Inspector Morse” and the works of Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo or Henning Mankel, you’ll love “Falcón” (2012), a critically acclaimed crime series that stars Marton Csokas and Hayley Atwell and is based on the bestselling novels by Robert Wilson. Set in the magnificent Spanish city of Seville, “Falcón” follows a smart, intuitive detective bent on exposing hard truths and corruption. The British production features a seductive beauty and sinister undercurrent all its own, along with stunning cinematography and stylish direction. It’s incessantly gritty, quirky and suspenseful, full of surprising twists and turns and dark secrets bubbling below the seeming calm of Seville’s high society. In these two feature-length thrillers — “The Blind Man of Seville” and “The Silent and the Damned”– Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón (Csokas) investigates a murder connected to his father’s murky past and the apparent suicide of a businessman whose former misdeeds impact the present. There’s also corrupt officials, power-hungry judges, an ex-wife and a seductive lover to complicate matters. U.S. debut. Two-disc DVD, $39.99 from Acorn Media.
Also due this week: The Blu-ray debut of “The Kentucky Fried Movie “ (1977), the original “take-off” cult classic from the highly successful team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker. Directed by John Landis, the spoof features a lewd, loosely connected collection of skits that spoof blaxploitation films, news shows, porno movies, TV commercials, kung fu flicks and more. Includes well-known stars such as Bill Bixby, Donald Sutherland, Tony Dow, George Lazenby and Henry Gibson in 22 segments including “Cleopatra Schwartz,” “The Wonderful World of Sex,” “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble,” “A Fistful of Yen” and more. A wonderful Blu-ray edition of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers: Collector’s Edition” (1968), starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Lee Meredith, Christopher Hewett and Renee Taylor, in a new HD transfer, also makes its debut this week. Extras include “Mel and His Movies: The Producers.” Both releases are from Shout! Factory.