Thursday, April 23, 2015

Female Comic Strip Character Movie No. 10: ANNIE

This is the one I've been dreading. It is a musical with one of the sappiest songs ever written. It is based on a comic strip that had an extreme right-wing, bigoted slant and some of the worst artwork ever. Come on, I've been drawing people since I was five and I HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN HOW TO DRAW PUPILS IN EYES! Yes, this is Annie, based on Little Orphan Annie.

Little Orphan Annie was created by Harold Gray in 1924. In the original story, Annie is adopted by millionaire industrialist Oliver Warbucks and his wife from an orphanage run by cranky Miss Asthma. The wife, who was the daughter of a union plumber, hated Annie. When Daddy Warbucks would leave on business, Mrs. Warbucks would send Annie back to the orphanage, which was later ran by another cranky woman name Ma Liscious.

Annie would escape and get into an adventure with spies, gangsters, labor unions, Democrats and Hollywood studio executives. Luckily, Annie would be saved by Daddy Warbucks and his two bodyguards, the Indian mystic Punjab and the ninja-like Asp. At one point, Daddy Warbucks died because the American people re-elected FDR. Daddy Warbucks magically came back to life after FDR died (I am not making this up).

In 1977, a musical based on Annie began on Broadway and was a huge success. In 1982, Annie became a movie. The movie was directed by legendary director John Huston. It stared Aileen Quinn as Annie and Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks. Quinn is great at saying "Leaping Lizards!" at the right time.

The musical removed the characters of Mrs. Warbucks, Punjab and the Asp. It also removed the right-wing propaganda and, ironically, made FDR a character. The movie brings back Punjab (Geoffrey Holder) and the Asp (Roger Minami), as well as adding Daddy Warbucks' gyro-copter from the comics, which he uses to take Annie to visit the White House. It is shown that there is a contentious relationship between Daddy Warbucks and President Roosevelt (Edward Hermann). It is at this point in the film that Annie sings the aforementioned sappiest song ever written, "Tomorrow," which FDR likes so much that he makes Daddy Warbucks and Elenore sing along.

In both the musical and movie, Miss Asthma/Ma Liscious are replaced by Miss Hannigan, an abusive, drunken floozy played by Carol Burnett. Certain things in television history have been comedy goldmines, such as Ernie Kovacs camera tricks, Benny Hill chasing women, David Letterman breaking stuff and Carol Burnett acting sexy. She does it here in a musical number with Albert Finney.

The first part of this movie is kind of sweet and corny, however the climax, where Annie is rescued by the Asp and Punjab, in the gyro-copter, from a railroad bridge is exciting.

I should mention there were two other movies from the comic strips heyday, but neither of those are available.

An entire generation of kids have grown up watching Annie, not knowing about its early beginnings in the comics. Hard to believe but Aileen Quinn is grown up too (photo above). The music has become part of our culture as "Hard Knock Life" was used by rapper Jay-Z and David Letterman used "Tomorrow" as background music for a film clip of an owl eating a mouse. The movie removed some of the darker eliminates and replaced it with a good dose of sunshine and hope. So watching it wasn't a bad thing after all.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Female Comic Strip Character Movie No. 9: SHEENA QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE

Sheena riding a real zebra

Some movies earn a reputation as bad but some eventually develop a cult following because they are funny when they aren't supposed to be. Sheena Queen of the Jungle is just that kind of film.

Comic book Sheena

TV Sheena Irish McCalla

First, the background of the character. Sheena was created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger, under the pen name W. Morgan Thomas, for a company called Fiction House. Sheena had already been adapted for TV in the mid-50s staring Irish McCalla, who looked exactly like the comic book Sheena. Same body proportions too, which is incredible considering that there couldn't possibly be a woman built like that in real life.

That is one of the problem with this adaption of Sheena. Tanya Roberts (Charlie's Angels, That 70s Show) is beautiful and sexy, but not an imposing figure like the comic book Sheena and Irish McCalla. You might say she is not scary enough to be Sheena.

The plot involves a coup of an African country by the king's wife and his football player brother, who are planing to wipe out a tribe protected by the king, take the land for a mineral that is a miracle cure. This just happens to be the tribe that raised Sheena. The tribe shaman (played by a lady name Elizabeth of Toro) teaches Sheena how to communicate with the animals by holding her forehead and closing her eyes. It looks cool when the shaman lady does this, but when Tanya Roberts does it, she looks like she's suffering from a migraine or bad PMS. This power was not in the Sheena comics or the Sheena TV series. I believe the writers stole this from Aquaman.

I should point out the origin story in the movie is much simpler than the one in the comics, however, explaining either origin story to you would be take way to much time. In the comics, Sheena had a civilized, male friend named Bob, who was a hunter/explorer. In the movie, she befriends a TV journalist named Vic Casey, played by Ted Wass (Soap, Blossom). Sheena calls him "Vicasey."

One of the highlights of this film is Sheena taking a shower under a waterfall. When this film was released, the late Roger Ebert joked would be the first PG movie that should play continuously on the Playboy Channel. Now, if you are waiting for me to complain about the nudity as with my review of Friday Foster, you will be waiting a while. For one thing, it fits with the character. In the origin, at the beginning of the film, we see that for about the first ten years of her life, Sheena didn't wear a shirt. Second, she is taking a shower. Even a woman who has grown up in the jungle knows you don't take a shower with your clothes on. Third, and the main reason I'm not complaining (other than seeing Tanya Roberts naked is awesome), is Sheena was occasionally naked in the comics too.

Sheena is wet and naked in the comics

Before someone launches in some stupid Facebook meme version of revisionist history and tells me "But Sheena was from the good old days, when people liked Shirley Temple instead of Honey Boo-Boo,"  let me break it to you gently. Sheena's comic books came about before what was known as the Comic Book Code of Authority. Among the things banned in the Comic Book Code was nudity. Yes Virginia, there was some nudity in comic books in those days. Not the major companies, but the company that Sheena was published by was so notorious that the Comic Book Code put them out of business. Half of things banned by the Comic Book Code were things that Fiction House, and the companies other imprints, were almost trademarks of that company. Nobody noticed Sheena's nudity, when the company's crime comics were filled with open-eyed corpses, big-breasted hookers, crooked cops, suicides and slashed throats.  

The problem with this movie is that it seems to be two different movies slammed together. It starts off great with the origin story, then they bring in the coup part that never makes sense, and then there is the romantic story of Sheena and Vic. Another problem is the action sequences featuring the mercenary soldiers range from extremely violent to looking like outtakes from The Gods Must Be Crazy.

The same could be said for the animals. Usually in movie, the chimpanzees upstage the human actors. The chimps in this movie act like they don't know what they are doing. There is a scene when probably looked good on paper but the animals didn't cooperate. When Sheena and Vic kiss in the "Land of Waterbirds," the birds were supposed to fly away. Only half of the did and the other half stand still like "Hey, let's watch this couple kiss." The waterbirds also look silly when Sheena has them attack a helicopter she is held hostage in. Instead of looking like a scene from The Birds, it looks a group of flamingos came and sat down in a helicopter.

Tanya Roberts riding a fake zebra

One of the things this film is most famous for is Sheena's pet zebra, which was a white horse with black stripes painted on it, because zebra's couldn't be trained to let a woman (even one as hot as Tanya Roberts) ride them. I remember this being in the news, because it was the first time I heard of animal rights activist.

She is wicked with that bow & arrow

The editing on this movie is not tight. The scenes go on longer than they should. The climactic scene with Sheena, Vic and the King's brother is one of the best moments of the film (photo above), but would be much better if it didn't take so long. The same goes for the waterbirds attacking the helicopter.

This movie also suffers from one of the most boring musical scores ever. It is certainly not made for a comic book inspired movie. More of a chick flick score.

While not a great adaptation of the comic book, it is fun in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of way and, of course, Tanya Roberts is naked.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Female Comic Strip Character Movie No. 8: ELLA CINDERS

I had not planned to review this film because I thought I couldn't find a copy and it is a silent movie from 1926 of a comic strip that disappeared before most of this blog's target audience was born. However, this film is only an hour long and fun to watch. In 2013, this film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

An Ella Cinders comic book

Ella Cinders was a comic strip that started in 1925 by Charles Plumb and Bill Conselman. It was one of many of the flapper-continuity comic strips boom of the 20s, such as Blondie. She also has something in common with Valentina in that she was drawn to look like actress Louise Brooks (although you can't tell it).

Ella began as a comical, modern version of Cinderella (Ella Cinder - Cinderella, get it?). Eventually, it used comedy only in the Sunday funnies and became a more adventure oriented storyline having to do with Ella's life as a movie star in the daily comics. At its peak, there were comic books, Big Little Books and an Ella Cinders doll (above) that were popular among kids. The comic strip was discontinued in 1961. 

Colleen Moore

The movie stars Colleen Moore (above) as Ella Cinders. Moore was probably in films because she bore a resemblance to Louise Brooks. In this movie, Moore is extremely cute and funny. One of her best moments is when she practices "acting with her eyes." (above gif)

Click to enlarge

Much of the early comic strip revolved around Ella trying to escape from her evil step-mother and her ugly step-sisters. She is in love with an ice delivery man name Waite Lifter (It was common in the comic strip characters of that era to have bad puns for names).

Ella enters a contest to win a movie contract and a trip to Hollywood. The contest turns out to be a scam, but determined she sneaks into the movie studio. She wanders into several movies, including a film staring comedian Harry Langdon. This would be the equivalent today of bumping into Will Ferrell, while he is making a movie.

I'll stop here, because I don't want to give away the ending. I will point out that through out the original comic strip, Ella shared her adventures with her little brother, (wait for it) Blackie Cinders. He is not in the movie version, which is okay, because he would add nothing to the movie. Also, in the original comic strip storyline, Ella gets to Hollywood and finds the movie studio out of business. She spends several weeks trying to get an acting job.

Ella Cinders is a pleasant and enjoyable surprise. It can be found on YouTube for free. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Female Comic Strip Character Movie No. 7: BARBARELLA

This is one of the post for this series that I have kind of dreaded, partly because 1) I've had to find time to watch this on a VHS tape I bought years ago 2) I know I'm going to get hate mail from trolls. IF YOUR COMMENT IS NOT ABOUT COMPARING THIS FILM TO THE ORIGINAL COMIC STRIP, IT WILL NOT GET POSTED.

Barbarella is the 1968 adaption of French artist Jean-Claude Forest's (above) famous, erotic, science fiction, comic strip about a sexually liberated female ingenue, who travels the galaxy trying to save the world. The comic strip appeared in 1962. It was later translated into several languages due to the controversy surrounding it. The English translation were sold through Playboy magazine. In all, Forest drew four graphic novels from 1962 to 1982.

Watching this film and looking at the various examples online, I find this film is the opposite of the problem I had with the Friday Foster movie adaption. Friday Foster was a family friendly comic strip turned into a sexually explicit, black exploitation film. The problem with Barbarella is there isn't enough sex to be a competent adaptation of the comic. Jean Claude Forest's original Barbarella strip it is loaded with bare breasts and hairy vaginas. Let's be honest, Jean Claude Forest draws a moist vagina like nobody can. This movie is almost family-friendly. In 1977, after Star Wars was released, this movie was re-released again in an edited PG version. The video versions have always been the original unedited film. Watching it now, I don't know what was edited out to make it PG, because this is almost a G rated film at times.

One thing that I should point out is that this movie over years has become a cult film.  It has its detractors, for the wrong reason and often by people who never watched it. It should be noted that even the stars hated this movie. Jane Fonda hates it, Marcel Marceau hated it, John Philip-Law hated it, David Hemings hated it. Basically everybody that was involved with it hated it later.

If you ever look at the post on Flashbak by Yeoman Lowbrow or Gilligan Newton-John on Retrospace, you'll notice he's also pointed out that the directors have a unique way of covering up the nudity and that's true. In the opening sequence, they use the opening credits and later on a cluster of rayguns. There isn't enough nudity in this movie!

Barbarella is attacked by children with snowball and dolls with razor teeth
Barbarella is put in a cage with mean birds
Pygar saves Barbarella and the Black Queen

The plot line in the film pretty well adhered to the comic strip's storyline in the three pages above. The ending is exactly the way the original comic strip ended. There was an effort to try to duplicate Jean-Claude Forest artwork (He was an adviser) and the world he created. The movie is very good eye candy. However, when you suck the sex out of this it really just becomes another science fiction movie. This film comes off as a cross between the TV shows Batman and Star Trek. Producer Dino DeLaurentis later made the Flash Gordon movie in 1980 and that pretty well copies Alex Raymond's artwork. Forest's style is unusual, so that may have been part of the problem. However, they should get a B for effort. The film has a sunshine pop-psychedelic soundtrack by Bob Crewe, which is augmented by the water guitar work of Vincent Bell.

Something I want to point out is the scientist Barbarella is sent to look for is called Durand Durand with a D at the end of his name. The rock band Duran Duran kind of misunderstood the name and named themselves after it. In the comic strip, he is a bearded man with an eye missing.

Barbarella and Diktor

One thing that's left out from the original story is Barbarella has an affair with a robot named Diktor, who has a drill bit for a penis.

Overall, it's not really that great of an adaption of a comic strip, however, adapting this comic strip to film would be very difficult. It would be an NC 17 or an X rated movie. The rating system wasn't in effect yet when this was made, so you wouldn't even have an X rating. If it had been VERY FAITHFUL to the original Barbarella comics and Jean-Claude Forest, it wouldn't even get made.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Wow! I did not know this existed. I'm going to have to look into the origin of this stop-motion animation version of  Stan Freberg's "St. George." At any rate, the audio is the original Capitol record. I hope to dedicate a whole post to Freberg in the future.


Most people are remembering James Best for his role on The Dukes of Hazard. He gave an interview a few years ago and said he hated that show. He also said that he and Sorrel Brooke (Boss Hogg) were once fired for criticizing how bad the show was. BTW, MST3K pointed out that Best's character refers to his gun as his "Roscoe."

Sunday, April 5, 2015


I picked this photo because Doris had a birthday today.

Female Comic Strip Character Movie No. 6: JANE

Artist Pett, Leighton-Porter and Fritz

When I started this series of post over a year ago, I thought I would have to skip over a 1987 film based on the racy British WWII comic strip Jane. I could only find the trailer on Youtube and a news reel about the strip's artist, Norman Pett, promoting the comic strip.

The good news is I found both the first Jane film and the 1987 film. Now the bad news, I found both the first Jane film and the 1987 film.

Click to Enlarge and see Jane's panties

Click To Enlarge and see Jane's panties

First off, Jane (which debuted in 1932 in The Daily Mirror with the cumbersome title of  Jane's Journal or Diary of a Bright Young Thing)  was kind of a one note comic strip, with emphasis on strip. The reason for its popularity in England and its failure in the United States was due to the running gag of Jane losing her clothes or undressing. Jane's dress would get caught in the doors on a train, doors on an elevator, a nail or shrubbery and they would be torn off exposing Jane's brassiere and granny panties. Surprisingly, both films include this gag.

Jane loses her skirt in the 1949 film

In the 1949 film, entitled The Adventures of Jane, Jane is played by Chrystabel Leighton-Porter, the model who posed for Norman Pett.  By her own admission, she said she couldn't act and the movie was awful. Interestingly enough, the producers try to pass her off as the real Jane.

The best way to describe this film is dry and dull. An old man, who is a fan of Jane's burlesque act, gives her a bracelet. Her boyfriend, Tom, is a humorless dick, in more ways than one. He gets jealous then tells her it is fake. He then brings up that he is on the trail of a gang of jewel thieves.

You would think that would make an exciting film, but it doesn't. This is an hour of wasted film. There is an interesting effect for a car wreck near the end of the film. This movie makes everything tedious. There is a beauty contest (featuring 3 or 4 girl prettier than Chrystabel Leighton-Porter, but that is just me) which is boring. Most of the last portion of the film seems to be a long sequence of Fritz the dachshund running for help, accompanied by stock music that was in some of the Famous Studios cartoons.

Even though I am a fan of British films, I only recognized two of the actors in this film. Carry On regular Peter Butterworth plays a drunk, who is supposed to be comedy relief, but it is too forced.

Mr. French plays French guy

Then there is the Frenchman who nearly cries when a customs agent marks on his suitcase with chalk. I said to myself, "WAIT A MINUTE! THAT FRENCHMAN IS MR. FRENCH!" Yep! Sebastian Cabot, star of Family Affair, Checkmate and Ghost Story, has a small part. He and Butterworth are the biggest stars in this movie.

Jane And The Lost City is much more fun, but still not an award winning film by any degree. This film was made in 1987 during a time in which Jane was experiencing a nostalgia revival. In the early part of the 80s, the BBC ran a Jane TV series, in which the action took place inside comic strip box frame.

This movie was probably made to compete with the film Brenda Starr, which had already been announced but was not released until 1989. The film is played as a comedy, and unlike the 1949 version is very funny at times. This time Jane is played by the incredibly cute Kristen Hughes (above), who looks great in granny panties and nylons.

Jane, working with her boss, The Colonel, go to Africa to look for the giant diamonds of the Lost City, in hopes to get them before the Nazis' top agent, Lola Pagola (Maude Adams). After their plane crashes, Jane, The Colonel and his valet, Mr. Toombs, are rescued by Jungle Jack Buck, played by Sam J. Jones (Flash Gordon, The Spirit, Ted). Jungle Jack is an improvement over Tom the Dick, as Jones plays Jack as a smiling, would-be Indiana Jones.

One could make the complaint that this tries too hard to be funny. There is are Nazi triplets, all played by Jasper Carrott, who comes off as a poor man's Rowan Atkinson. The Lost City's Leopard Queen turns out to be a girl Jane knew from college. The film is also filled with references to films such Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark, To Have and Have Not, The Mummy and Goliath and the Sins of Babylon. Jane loses her clothes more in this film, including a scene where a monkey tears them off.

Obviously, I recommend the 1987 film more. It is actually more enjoyable. Now let me leave you with a photo of both movie Janes together and fully clothed, during the making of the 1987 film.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Female Comic Strip Character Movie No. 5: BLONDIE

Hard to believe that after a year hiatus on this subject, I'm giving you two in a row. I thought this would be the hardest for two reasons: availability and viewing pleasure. Thanks to Youtube, I watched this for free, as well as a few others in the series.

I remember seeing these at various times on WTCG/WTBS from Atlanta, and later on they were run on KSPR in Springfield, MO on Sunday afternoon. I was afraid that seeing this again after all those years would I would say to myself, "This sucks! I thought this was so wonderful in my childhood. I must have been a moron!" Truth is, I enjoyed seeing this again.

The 1938 film, Blondie, was the beginning of a long running series of films based on the popular comic strip, that is still in newspapers today. Most of the movies I've reviewed have been based on continuity strips rather than gag-a-day comic strips. The fact is Blondie started out as a continuity strip and also part of a short lived fad called "pretty girl" strips. She was a ditzy blonde flapper, who liked to party. I realize I'm going to upset some people with this next statement, but the "pretty girl" comic strips were the 20's version of some of the reality shows on cable TV.  Before we had Paris Hilton, Tila Tequila, Lauren Conrad, the Kardashians, and the girls of Jersey Shore, the funny papers had Tillie the Toiler, Winnie Winkle, Boots and Her Buddies, Dixie Dugan, Ella Cinders and Dumb Dora. Several of these characters were drawn to look like actress Louise Brooks, just as Valentina would later.

Blondie, as well as another strip, Fritzi Ritzi, were part of this trend but survived long after because they were revamped. Fritzi Ritzi was joined by a little niece named Nancy, who became the focus of the strip. Under the name Nancy, the comic strip is still popular to this day.

From the first day of the strip Blondie was in love with a somewhat clumsy and goofy son of a railroad magnet named Dagwood Bumstead. When they finally married, Dagwood's father disowned him. From that moment until today, Blondie became the smart and well-grounded one in the relationship. It also dropped the continuing storyline for the gag-a-day format that it has today.

Blondie is played by the lovely Penny Singleton. Close your eyes during one of these movies and listen to her voice. If it sounds familiar, it is because she was later the voice of Jane Jetson on The Jetsons. She is very convincing as a beautiful young woman, who would do anything for her doofus husband.

Speaking of doofus husband, Hollywood could not have found a better actor to play Dagwood than Arthur Lake. His head is shaped like Dagwood's head is shaped in the funnies. Lake paved for actors such as Buster Crabbe, Tom Tyler, Ralph Byrd, Sam J. Jones, and, more recently, Ryan Reynolds and Ben Afleck to play more than one comic strip/book character in the movies. Lake had played Harold Teen in a silent movie of that popular comic strip.

However, the movie is stolen by Larry Simms, a four year old playing Baby Dumpling (now known in the comic strip as Alexander). He is hilarious in this first film and rather good in the others that I sampled. I'm sure some would be upset with a scene where he bashes a neighbor kid in the head with a large brick (Off camera, but still the suggestion would upset people).

This movies sets up a formula that worked in the rest of the series. Dagwood gets in trouble with Mr. Dithers (Johnathan Hale), who eventually fires him, then Dagwood gets involved in some other mess trying to win his job back, meets a beautiful woman, Blondie becomes jealous, but she eventually saves the Dagwood's butt.

The movies were made from 1938 to 1950. They were re-released to the theaters for several year and then syndicated to TV with an opening theme song, featuring two unknown singers, were added over the original credits. Also the opening featured a clip of Dagwood crashing into Postman Beasley and his yell "BBBLLLOOOONN-DDDEEEEE!," which may have been from the radio show, since Lake and Singleton played Blondie and Dagwood radio too.

Besides Dagwood running late and smashing into Postman Beasley, there is an appearance of one of Dagwood's famous sandwiches. One thing changed from the comic strip was Blondie's maiden name. In the movie, her mother and sister have the last name of Miller. In the comics, Blondie's family name was Boopadoop. Sometimes movies change things about comics for the best.

My only problem with this movie is an appearance by my least favorite actor of all-time, Willie Best. Ugh!

The Blondie film series is the forerunner of many of the early TV sitcoms. The humor and situations are identical. I realize someone reading this will go into one of those rants about "If only we had movies like this today the world would be a better place." Well, brace yourself for this, but in the early 90s, the artist behind Blondie, Dean Young (son of the strip's creator Chic Young), decided to update the strips look and content in the 90s. For many years, everything in the strip was drawn the same as it was when these movies were made, which may have been why they were still popular for years after their original run. From the 90s on the characters used cell phones and computers. Blondie wears slacks and started a catering business with her friend, Tootsie. Baby Dumpling now works at a fast food joint called Burger Barn. He and his sister listen to hip-hop. Yes, folks change has to come, so GET OVER IT!!!

As I mention, this film and most of the other films in the series are available on YouTube. The only trailer I could find is either from a re-release of the 50s or a TV promo for Blondie On a Budget. It is obviously a re-release because the voice over is by comedian Eddie Lawrence, who didn't become famous until the mid-50s and Rita Hayworth was not a major "promotable" star when this film came out. 

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