Category Archives: charles durning

The Magic of Gerry Anderson

Yesterday while I was writing about the deaths and lives of Jack Klugman and Charles Durning, we lost someone who was definitely lesser known, but also much closer to my heart – producer Gerry Anderson. They say these things happen in threes. Let’s hope this is the cycle and we don’t lose anyone else.

Many of you probably don’t recognize the name Gerry Anderson and there are some of you who are mourning the loss of this great talent in genre television. He was a writer, director, producer, publisher, futurist, a television pioneer, the developer of Supermarionation, and a master of storytelling. However, all that said, you might just know him better by three specific words – “Thunderbirds are go!”

I first encountered Gerry Anderson, and his then wife and partner Sylvia, as a child of the 1970s. I have a very distinct memory of hearing about a new show coming on weekday afternoons on UHF channel 17, the TV announcer had said it was ‘cooler than “Ultra Man,”‘ so you know darned well I was glued in front of the folks’ black and white television when “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons” premiered.

“Captain Scarlet” was a program created completely using marionettes and models, and it wasn’t stop motion or animation, it was film, and the puppets and machines were actually moving. To add to the fascination was the stunningly adult, startling violent story that went along with it. It was a spy drama with the earth defending itself against an evil alien race, the Mysterons, who had infiltrated mankind, and the hero who would save the day, Captain Scarlet, who had become indestructible.

It was awesome, and I was hooked. The only things that “Captain Scarlet” had going against it were my low tech TV (all the characters were color codenamed) and my own as yet non-mastery of spelling (I kept waiting for Mogera from the Toho film The Mysterians to show up). This was also around the time “Space: 1999” was hitting it big on prime time television, also, although unknown to me at the time, created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, but in live action.

Anderson’s most famous creations are perhaps only peripherally known here in the United States, but in his native UK, everyone knows “The Thunderbirds.” Among his other work, both in live-action and in Supermarionation, include “Stingray,” “Supercar,” “UFO,” “Terrahawks,” “Space Precinct,” “Fireball XL5,” and “The Protectors,” among others. He and his wife also produced two “Thunderbirds” movies at the height of their popularity.

In recent years, Anderson produced a fully computer animated version of “Captain Scarlet” and consulted on the big budget live-action motion picture version of The Thunderbirds. The former did quite well in the UK, but the latter was pretty much a flop here. The beloved producer’s reputation was still untarnished.

Gerry Anderson passed away yesterday after a long battle with dementia brought on by Alzheimer’s disease. We have lost a creative star in the field of television, he will be missed.

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Charles Durning 1923-2012

On the same day we lost Jack Klugman, Christmas Eve, we also lost Charles Durning, the king of the character actors. The multiple award-winning actor, featured in over a hundred films, was 89.

I first encountered Charles Durning as Detective Moretti in Dog Day Afternoon. He was the likable but straight arrow cop who negotiated with Al Pacino’s bank robber Sonny Wortzik. I love the film, a time capsule of the 1970s, that earned Durning a Best Supporting Actor nom from the Golden Globes. But it’s not his only film, before or since.

Durning’s resume also includes terrific roles in The Sting, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Muppet Movie, and Tootsie, among so many others. He was also a veteran of the Second World War, won a Tony for playing Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and had regular parts on the TV shows “Evening Shade,” “Family Guy,” “Everyone Loves Raymond,” and “Rescue Me.”

Throughout his long career as an actor he was rarely not working, and was always playing memorable characters. We’ve lost another of the greats. He will be missed.

Sisters

APING THE MASTER

A Video Review of Sisters

Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker

Director Brian DePalma has many times been accused of ripping off the master Alfred Hitchcock’s style and techniques with his films such as Carrie, Body Double and especially Sisters. ‘Ripping off’ and, to the extreme, theft are strong terms. After viewing Sisters again for the first time in a few years I would have to say the one we’re looking for is ‘homage.’ DePalma is paying tribute to the master.

The film having been made during his lifetime I’m sure had Hitchcock known of the script for Sisters he’d have probably killed for it. It’s right up his alley, every element is strikingly Hitchcockian. Voyeurism, murder by knife and of course the plucky independent girl reporter who wants more.

The pre-Lois Lane Margot Kidder plays a dual role of separated Siamese twins Dominique and Danielle. She is wonderfully dopey and believable even with her French accent. Jennifer Salt (whatever became of her?) is the plucky girl reporter who believes she saw Kidder slash up a lover from her apartment window across the way. Charles Durning is terrific in an early role as a helpful private investigator.

Although it begins quite bizarrely like Peter Veerhoven doing a 1970s ABC movie of the week but quickly turns into a Hitchcock flick. The “Peeping Toms” TV show in the opening looks precariously like a 21st century reality show. Perhaps DePalma was years ahead of his time voyeur-wise. His use of flashback and split screen images as well as his tricky camera shots make DePalma a genius all his own independent of the man whose mastery this film pays homage.

Sisters is a truly amazing accomplishment and should be able to stand alone as Brian Depalma’s achievement rather than Hitchcock’s tribute. It’s a thriller and a shocker that should not be missed.