Pop quiz: What do a ludicrous sci-fi B-movie starring Shirley Temple's ex-husband, a long-running local (New York City) TV show, and the most boring Democratic Convention in American history have in common? A lot more than you might imagine, and in the wake of the recent unpleasatnesses in Denver and St. Paul perhaps their confluence is surprisingly relevant. A word of warning: This is not a funny story, so please try not to laugh.
But first -- STEVE'S MOVIE REVIEWS™!!!
Burn Before Reading -- Who knew Tilda Swinton was funny?
The Women -- For some reason, after seeing this, I have an overwhelming urge to sleep with men. Seriously -- Diane English's idea of updating the script is to have a character ask "What is this, some 1930s movie?"
Righteous Kill -- You haven't lived until you've seen Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, the greatest actors of their generation, arguing about whether or not Underdog was on meth.
But I digress, so let's begin with the local TV show. I refer, of course, to the fondly remembered (by those in the Tri-State Metropolitan Area) Million Dollar Movie, which ran on WOR-TV Channel 9 in New York starting in September of 1954 and well through the 70s. Said movies -- introduced at all times by the Max Steiner theme from Gone With the Wind, which for years I thought was written for the show -- were aired daily from Tuesday to Monday; they were slotted from 7:30 to 9 P. M. and from 10 to 11:30 P. M each weeknight, and there were Saturday and Sunday matinees for a total of sixteen showings per week. The movies themselves were a fairly mixed bag; some of them were major studio oldies, like the very first one (Magic Town, starring Jane Wyman and James Stewart), and some of them were vintage drive-in shlock.
Which brings us to the aforementioned Democratic Convention, specifically the August 1964 edition. The earlier Republican convention, in July of that summer, had been great TV -- a dramatic battle between the Rockefeller and Goldwater factions of the party, with lots of on-camera dramatics (booing, etc) and concluding with Goldwater's famous acceptance speech, in which he told the country, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." The Democratic follow-up, however, was bound to be a snooze-fest by comparison, leading to the never in doubt nomination of LBJ for a second term, and in fact it was skull-crushingly dull, kind of like most of the tightly scripted conventions we've endured since the 80s.
TV viewers that week were thus understandably looking for a programming alternative and Million Dollar Movie provided it in spades by airing the hilariously awful 1957 John Agar vehicle The Brain From Planet Arous, a film which might best be described as The Citizen Kane of Floating Beach Ball F/X Movies.
Gor, a powerful criminal brain from the planet Arous (represented by a painted beach ball on strings) invades the consciousness of scientist Steve March (Agar, the aforementioned ex-husband of Shirley Temple). Val, another alien brain, tells Steve's fiance Sally that Gor will be vulnerable when forced to leave Steve at intervals to re-energize. Sally describes Gor's vulnerable spot, the Fissure of Orlando, in a note she secretly hides in Steve's lab. Gor evades destruction by hiding, briefly, in the body of Steve's dog, but in the end Steve smashes the crap out of the floating Gor and everybody lives happily ever after. Or do they?
Here's the big finale, as seen by thousands in the NYC area on Thursday night, August 27 1964, during the conclusion of the Democratic festivities.
Bottom line: Even after four previous airings on Tuesday and Wednesday, the result was that both the 7:30 and 10:00pm reruns of TBFPA on Thursday still pulled significantly higher ratings than the three major networks showing the Convention.
A postscript: Despite this setback, Lyndon Johnson went on to beat Goldwater in November in a landslide. History, alas, does not record if John Agar's career experienced a commensurate boost as a result of the Convention exposure. In any case, he died on April 7, 2002, and was buried, alone and possibly friendless, two days later (deflated beach ball not included).
Like I said, this was not a funny story, so please try not to laugh. Thank you.