Hollywood loves taking television properties and turning them into feature film franchises. If the studios think audiences will go to a theater to pay for what they've already seen on the small screen, then they will make it happen. In the 1950s and 1960s, they took shows already on television, or were just recently taken off the air, and made movies with much of the same talent. It might look like a cash grab, but the films hold up quite well.
McHale's Navy/McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force (1964/1965): Before going in chronological order, let's start with Shout Factory's new double feature DVD because...well, because it's new! Kudos to Shout not only for following its McHale's Navy series release with these two films, but also for offering solid value by combining them in one package.
One approach to bringing a TV show to the big screen is expanding the stakes or the scope to make everything seem bigger. These two movies do that with increased location shooting and extended set pieces, but each one still feels like the original series. The first film is especially representative of the show, bringing virtually the whole gang together in a setting (the archipelago of New Caledonia in the South Pacific) used in the series. It even includes a heavy who was on the show before, albeit in different roles, in the late George Kennedy.
As for the follow-up, I don't know why the title McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force amuses me so much, but it does. Oddly, McHale isn't even in the movie. Different stories circulate as to why Ernest Borgnine isn't on board. He himself cited issues with producer Edward Montagne, and while the actor was filming another project at the time, something was going on if the sitcom's head honcho did the movie without the star of the show...whose name is actually in the title. It's like seeing a Gilligan's Island flick and in the first scene the Skipper tells the Professor his little buddy is off on a camping trip.
The hardest-working men in the cast are Tim Conway (Ensign Parker) and Joe Flynn (Captain Binghamton) who arguably provides most of the series' comedy, anyway and Conway does whatever he can to earn it--stammering, prat-falling, and dressing in drag. Flynn does his usual shtick as well, and while McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force feels more like a Conway/Flynn team-up than a true ensemble, that's true of some of the best episodes.
Dragnet (1954): This fantastic adaptation of the iconic radio and TV police drama establishes itself as just a little different in the beginning, with aerial shots and a murder victim staggering directly towards the camera. Indeed, this opening is a departure from the standard Dragnet formula in which we follow Friday and Smith as they solve a crime. This time they are trying to prove what we already know.
Jack Webb's movie takes us back to the good, old days when cops could detain suspects for hours without representation and then systematically harass them when they don't confess. One notable moment depicts Webb's Sergeant Friday and Richard Boone's Captain Hamilton, both disgusted, literally tearing up the scraps of paper on which some low-level criminals declare they are pleading the fifth.
Other highlights include a great poker room brawl and a memorable hipster jazz musician who gives the boys some info. My favorite scene is the initial interrogation Friday gives gangster Max Troy (Stacy Harris). When Troy insults Friday's salary, the policeman responds by itemizing his entire paycheck, including deductions for withholding, pension, and widows and orphans. 'That badge is worth .82 an hour, so, Mister, you just settle back in that chair because I'm gonna blow about 20 bucks of it right now.' It's a great example of the back-and-forth dialogue you expect from Dragnet, and it's just one reason why this adaptation is successful.
Our Miss Brooks (1956): Even in today's world of endless reboots and revamps, we don't see a television program (one already adapted from radio) take the same characters played by the same people and tell the same story all over again. Yet Our Miss Brooks 'introduces' us to Eve Arden as teacher Connie Brooks, who arrives in town, settles into a new place, and begins her new job at Madison High while hoping to find a husband.
That's not a bad premise except for the fact the TV Miss Brooks already went through this, and in fact switched to an elementary school in her final season. So this movie is, in the immortal words of Mel & Tim, 'starting all over again.' Nevertheless, it's a charming effort with plenty of amusing moments. Given that the TV series is not on DVD other than a few scattered episodes turning up on various low-budget discs, it's nice having the franchise represented in some form.
Along for the ride are series mainstays Gale Gordon (whose scenes with Joseph Kearns, who he later replaced on Dennis the Menace, are a treat), Robert Rockwell, and Richard Crenna. New elements include a father/son duo played by Don Porter and Nick Adams. Connie juggles her tutoring of Adams with dealing with romantic advances from Porter, all while counseling them in their own relationship.
It's folly judging old movies by the standards of today, but one thing that always irks me about the Miss Brooks character is her endless pining for a man. Arden is so sharp and funny that it's frustrating seeing her stop everything to try to get the attention of anyone, let alone a square like biology teacher Mr. Boynton. That's just the way it is, though, and Eve Arden is brilliant enough to overcome any dated aspects. There's a hilarious moment when Principal Conklin drafts her to run his campaign for school board; her incredulous reaction is enough to justify the movie.
Our Miss Brooks is another fine adaptation of a long-running radio/TV property. I'm thankful Warner Archive released the film, but I'd really love to see a proper DVD release of the series from CBS.
Hey There, It's Yogi Bear (1964): Hanna-Barbera does a solid job expanding a series of 7-minute shorts into a feature-length film, giving audiences something not seen in the original cartoons: a little more characterization which includes an expansion of the relationship between Yogi and Ranger Smith, who reveals how much he cares for his nemesis after all; and perhaps more surprisingly, musical numbers!
There is a fun story about Yogi pursuing Cindy Bear after she mistakenly escapes to track him down. After Smith once again foils Yogi's scheme to separate tourists from their picnic baskets, an angry Yogi demands a transfer, but he does a switch when the ranger actually tries to ship him to the San Diego Zoo. Thinking he's really gone, a distraught Cindy escapes for San Diego, only she winds up in St. Louis causing Yogi to set out after her.
The romance and the adventure make this, the first feature adapted from a TV cartoon, something bigger than its source material, but what really makes it distinctive is the music. In one memorable sequence, Yogi serenades Cindy with 'Ven-E, Ven-O, Ven-A,' and singer James Darren provides the voice to amusing effect.
The showstopper occurs when Cindy realizes she's on a train to St. Louis, and a group of bears (uncredited in the movie but later identified as 'Jonah and the Wailers') perform a number called 'St. Louis, Mo.' As expensive as a trip to Disney World is these days, if the Country Bears were there playing something so energetic, I'd book reservations now.
Munster, Go Home! (1966): When I saw color pictures of The Munsters as a kid, something didn't seem right, but now I appreciate how good this movie is. Seeing the Munster family in glorious Technicolor is a real delight, with the makeup on Herman, Lily, and Grandpa really popping on screen.
As if filming in color isn't enough, Universal also takes the family to England, or at least pretends to do so. The group goes overseas after Herman inherits a mansion and the title of Lord Munster. On the ocean voyage, we meet Robert Pine, later Sergeant Getraer on the cop show ChiPs, as dapper English blue blood Roger Moresby. It says something that the movie replaces the family's 'homely' cousin Marilyn yet again, jettisoning Pat Priest (herself the second Marilyn in the series) for Debbie Watson, and yet it's nowhere near the strangest piece of casting.
Roger and Marilyn's developing relationship drives much of the action, but I have a hard time buying the performers in the roles. Somehow I can accept Grandpa accidentally turning himself into a wolf, but not Pine turning himself into a nobleman, nor Marilyn turning from a Monroe-esque platinum blonde to more of a strawberry blonde.
Series co-producers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher co-write the screenplay, and director Earl Bellamy is also a series veteran. That continuity plus the fact the movie began shooting right after the second (and final) season helps the franchise make a smooth transition into a funny, lively feature presentation. My one quibble with Munster, Go Home! is I wish it featured just a bit less of the less of the villainous English relatives led by Terry-Thomas and more of the Grandpa/Herman interplay that makes the series for me.
Still, the supporting cast is decent, with a memorable turn by John Carradine as creepy butler Cruikshank, plus spots for familiar TV faces like Richard Dawson and Jack Dodson. Herman's climactic road race through English countryside is also a lot of fun.
Batman: The Movie (1966): Talk about cash grabs--Batmania was sweeping the nation in 1966, with multiple episodes on ABC each week, a ton of Bat merchandise, and now a movie, hitting theaters just a few months after the season one finale, but if there was any concern about the public being Bat-urated (sorry) by the Dynamic Duo, well, the producers threw in a whole rogue's gallery. That's right, Bat fans: The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin, and Catwoman all team up in a nefarious bid for world domination. Giant super villain team-ups were rare in comic books then, let alone in movies and television, so it must have been cool to see all four villains at once. Commissioner Gordon knows it's a big deal; when he figures out they're working together, he calls the notion 'so dreadful I scarcely dare give it utterance.'
The opening sets the tone with a written message: 'We wish to acknowledge our gratitude to the enemies of crime and crusaders against crime throughout the world.' However, the producers also dedicate the film to 'lovers of unadulterated entertainment' and 'fun lovers everywhere.' Yep, this is pretty much the same Batman you get on the 1960s TV series, complete with virtually the entire supporting cast with the exception of Lee Meriwether, who steps in as Catwoman for Julie Newmar, and though Newmar is my favorite Bat villain, her replacement does well and actually carries much of the story.
Viewers experience thrilling aquatic action -- including a shark -- the Batcopter, plenty of gadgets, and a memorable scene in which the Caped Crusader tries to get rid of a bomb. At over an hour and forty minutes, it may be a tad long, but it's still an excellent extension of the series and essential viewing for fans of this incarnation of the World's Greatest Detective.
The Man Called Flintstone (1966): Years ago, my boss and friend told me he had just seen 'the greatest spy movie ever made' that weekend. 'It has everything -- action...adventure...intrigue.' I racked my brain trying to guess this awesome-sounding picture. I suggested several James Bonds, a couple of Hitchcocks, maybe even a Matt Helm before I gave up. 'The Man Called Flintstone,' he announced triumphantly.
I'm not sure it's the greatest spy movie ever made, but I have to say he's right: This flick really has everything! You'd be hard pressed to think of any classic spy movie elements missing from this animated epic. There is a master of disguise, there are gadgets (appropriately stone-age suitable), and even an exotic woman of mystery in the Goose's underling Tanya (brilliantly but unsurprisingly voiced by June Foray). Another element prominent in Flintstone is the music.
Apparently Hanna-Barbera just didn't think a cartoon movie was legitimate unless it had a bunch of songs! The movie gets off to a great start with a catchy theme song and a wild car chase involving secret agent Rock Slag, a dead ringer for our man Flintstone. When Slag is injured in this opening sequence, his handler Chief Boulder (Harvey Korman, who I keep expecting will to go into Gazoo mode and call Fred a 'dum-dum') enlists Fred in a caper to capture the notorious criminal mastermind known as the Green Goose.
The oddest segment is 'Someday (When I Am Grown Up).' As Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm play in a sandbox, Fred contemplates their future in a world dominated by the Green Goose. Suddenly children sing an upbeat tune over animation based on juvenile stick-figure drawings; it's a bizarre stretch and a rare bit of reflection from Fred. If audiences weren't already aware they weren't watching 'just' an episode of the series before this scene, they certainly got the message by now.
The Man Called Flintstone is a fine spy movie but also a strong Flintstones outing focusing on adventure more than comedy while fitting neatly into the series' legacy. The movie is a good example of how a creative approach can, and often does, turn a TV-to-movie project into something more than cash grab.
Rick Brooks is the proprietor of Cultureshark, a blog in which he uses an often irreverent approach to express his reverence for the classics and the un-classics.