King of late 1970’s and early 1980’s comedy and horror movies John Landis made an immediate impression with his 1977 movie The Kentucky Fried Movie, and followed that up with a string of cult classics from The Blues Brothers to An American Werewolf in London.
Despite a few misfires in later years including a ill judged sequel to The Blues Brothers his early movies remain essential viewing. Incidentally trivia fans may like to note that Landis made a surprise cameo appearance in superb Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton series Psychoville.
Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
The title for this satiric look at commercials, television, and movies comes from the Kentucky Fried Theatre, a Madison, Wisconsin, theater troupe that was the launching pad for Abrahams and the Zucker brothers. They became better known as the auteurs behind “Airplane!” (1980), but this earlier work features plenty of their patented sight gags. Also gave director Landis his first big shot in an outing with a comedic sensibility not far removed from his breakthrough the next year with “National Lampoon’s Animal House”. One of the skits in Kentucky Fried Movie concerns a character called Rex Kramer. The Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team would use this dynamic name again in their next film, Airplane! (1980), for Robert Stack’s character.
Cast: Bill Bixby, Donald Sutherland
The Blues Brothers (1980)
The feature-length comedy starring characters made famous on television’s Saturday Night Live. Jake and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi) are on a mission from God” to save their church. In order to raise the necessary $5,000, they reunite their band and go on tour. A multitude of musical cameos from renowned musicians, including James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, add to the delightful and energetic film.”
Cast:Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, James Brown, John Candy, Carrie Fisher, Henry Gibson
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Filmmaker John Landis updates an age-old horror genre – the werewolf movie–by infusing it with his established comic style (Animal House, The Blues Brothers) and some shocking special effects in this cult favorite. When an unseen creature attacks two American college buddies in the English countryside, the results are disastrous: One man dies (Griffin Dunne) yet continues to appear within his quickly decomposing body; the other (David Naughton) experiences a horrifying transformation into one of the beasts. Darkly funny, scary and intense, this 1980s horror classic resulted in the first Oscar for legendary special effects makeup artist Rick Baker. Two years later John Landis created another werewolf classic that was seen over and over by millions: the groundbreaking video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Cast:Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, Brian Glover, David Naughton, David Schofield, John Woodvine
Trading Places (1983)
Two wicked old tycoons (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) make a bet about heredity versus environment, then set out to prove their points by arranging for a homeless con man (Eddie Murphy) to trade places” with a privileged preppie snob (Dan Aykroyd). Great comic energy from the leads, aided and abetted by the impeccable Denholm Elliott as a butler, by the sexy Jamie Lee Curtis as a prostitute with a standard-issue heart of gold, and by the great Elmer Bernstein’s sprightly score.”
Cast: Don Ameche, Dan Aykroyd, Ralph Bellamy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Denholm Elliott, Kristin Holby, John Bedford Lloyd, Avon Long, Eddie Murphy
Three Amigos (1986)
Genuinely funny farce about three silent film stars (Steve Martin, Martin Short, Chevy Chase), recently canned from their studio, who eagerly head south of the border for what they think will be a lucrative public appearance. Instead, they discover they’ve been summoned to save a village from a real-life bandito (Alfonso Arau) without a shred of pity. Initially wimpy, the Amigos find their courage and, rather ineptly, set out to conquer the evil El Guapo. Co-written by Martin, director John Landis, Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, and irrepressible songwriter Randy Newman, whose out-on-the-prairie lullaby (with local wildlife joining in) is a highlight.
Cast: Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Patrice Martinez, Alfonso Arau, Joe Mantegna, Tony Plana, Jon Lovitz.
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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