Over the years as numerous elections and campaigns have come and gone, it wasn’t that uncommon to see some figures in popular culture, try to ‘get in on the fun,’ and attempt to become the next Commander-in-Chief.
In the 1970’s, The Walt Disney Company had a little fun with citing Winnie the Pooh for a presidential candidate. In the 1990’s, the Brain from Pinky and the Brain, showed up on a campaign to “Put a Brain in the White House” (never mind his straight-forward intentions to enslave mankind and take over the world!).
When it came to the Peanuts Gang, the front-runners for President were usually Snoopy, Lucy Van Pelt, and Charlie Brown.
Of course, most voters often go straight for Snoopy: he’s a dog, he’s cute, and he has a vivid imagination. However, when it comes to his ‘political track record,’ few seem to remember his brief stint as the Head Beagle, back in 1970.
Fortunately, that’s what this Peanuts Prospectus is all about: to let you know the truth, so that you may know what to expect the next time you see a Snoopy for President slogan.
In the Peanuts comic strips, the Head Beagle is the unseen ‘ruler’ of all dogs (though we never do find out why the position is not all-encompassing of all dog breeds). In the fall of 1969, he was officially introduced by name, when Frieda threatened to report Snoopy to him, for not going with her to chase rabbits.
Not wanting to get in trouble with his superior, Snoopy went with Frieda, but upon letting a rabbit get away, she angrily reported him, and he was soon summoned to appear before the Head Beagle.
Snoopy headed off to his appointment (clad in black), and returned in a daze, a few days later (“This is the way you always look when you return from having appeared before the Head Beagle!” he claimed).
Though Frieda’s letter did result in him being reprimanded, Snoopy mentions (in his thought balloons) that the Head Beagle was very understanding (so it wasn’t as horrible an experience as many would assume).
The subject of the Head Beagle followed Snoopy into the early months of the 1970’s.
On January 4th, 1970, Snoopy received a yearly report sheet, which all dogs must fill out for the Head Beagle. The strip was obviously making fun of the irritation of having to fill out income tax forms, and it’s fun to see Snoopy getting snippy about some of the questions he is required to answer.
Snoopy snidely finished filling out the forms and sent it away, but remarked that though he hates filling out the yearly report, there was always the possibility that he could become Head Beagle one day, if he played his cards right.
The next day, Snoopy received another summons from the Head Beagle. This led to an assignment to stand guard over the playground adjoining the school where Charlie Brown and Linus went. However, after a few days, Snoopy was chased off the school grounds, but angrily cited that this did not mean the school principal outranked the Head Beagle.
And then, on February 16, 1970, it happened: Snoopy received a letter, that claimed he had been chosen as the new Head Beagle!
Of course, the day after the news hits, some assume the worst (take Lucy, for example).
This was followed shortly afterwards by a televised inauguration. It must have been a dogs-only event, as Charlie Brown is seen watching it with Linus and Lucy, from his living room. Though Linus has kind words for Charlie Brown’s dog, Lucy just frowns.
“He’ll probably get impeached,” she murmurs.
February 19th, was Snoopy’s first active day in his new role. Right from the start, Snoopy soon finds that being Head Beagle, is anything-but-easy.
His job seems to entail the placement of dogs in areas where they are needed, as well as hearing out a number of cases. Of course, his appointed secretary is also a little inept.
As February turned to March, Lucy voiced her displeasure at the way the world was going (see right), and Linus inquired to Snoopy about pollution, claiming that the Head Beagle was supposed to do something about it. Frieda even demanded to see the Head Beagle at one point, but was met with an angry stare from his secretary.
March 5th was the day things finally came to a head. Working deep into the night, irritated that noone seemed to appreciate his hard work, Snoopy finally admitted to himself that he had had enough.
The next day, brought word that the Head Beagle had disappeared, when his secretary arrived for work, only to find noone atop the dog house!
Most of the kids in the neighborhood wonder where Snoopy could have gone, but Charlie Brown has an idea.
Calling up Peppermint Patty, his hunch proved correct. Finally tiring of his duties, Snoopy had gone awol, and was hiding out at her place.
Once the weekend was over, Charlie Brown dropped by Patty’s place on March 9th, with a letter for Snoopy. Upon opening it, the writing was on the wall: Snoopy had been replaced as Head Beagle, for abandoning his post.
The end of Snoopy’s career as the Head Beagle, also meant his appointed secretary was out of a job. However, a few days later, Snoopy found the little bird hard at work, writing a book: “I Was Secretary For The Head Beagle.”
Naturally, Snoopy was upset that he was being included in a tell-all book. However, the situation became a bit less upsetting, when his secretary attempted to send off his manuscript. Due to a tree and a strong wind, the pages of the tell-all book were never published.
Even though he abandoned his post, the fact that Snoopy had been the Head Beagle at one time, was enough to get him invited back to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, as a guest speaker. Word was there were some young dogs who wanted to meet someone who had come from the puppy farm, and gone on to such a distinguished position.
Of course, Snoopy’s speaking engagement didn’t go over so well, but that’s a story for another time.
Naturally, we are left to wonder what the former secretary to the Head Beagle might have mentioned in his tell-all book, but hopefully, this article will make you think a bit, the next time you see Snoopy’s name appear on a ballot for an election. After all, if he couldn’t handle being the Head Beagle, how well do you think he could handle being President of the United States?
Throughout the years, the concept of love and relationships has popped up in many shows, often as Valentine’s Day approaches.
In February of 1963, it just so happened that the broadcast date for a new Twilight Zone episode, fell on that fated day. And with it, brought the tale of an Appalachian love triangle, between flaxen-haired Ellwyn Glover (Laura Devon), the handsome Billy-Ben Turner (James Best), and the raven-haired Jesse-Belle Stone (Anne Francis).
At the Glover’s annual barn dance, Luther Glover (George Mitchell) praises the bountiful harvest that he and his neighbors have collected, along with an announcement: his daughter Ellwyn Glover, is to be wed to Billy-Ben Turner.
However, not everyone in attendance is happy for the couple, notably Jess-Belle Stone, who quickly leaves. Billy follows her outside, where Jess claims that she still longs for the time when they were together. She feels that Billy is only marrying Ellie for her family’s wealth, but Billy claims that isn’t so.
Before he returns to the dance, Jess asks Billy to tell his bride-to-be, not to start making her wedding dress just yet.
“Why should I tell her a thing like that?” replies Billy, curiously.
“She ain’t married you yet, Billy-Ben,” says Jess, sternly. “Maybe she never will.”
It is then that Rod Serling’s voice is heard, as we see Jess watch the lovers embrace, before storming off:
The Twilight Zone has existed in many lands in many times. It has it’s roots in history, in something that happened long, long ago and, got told about and handed down from one generation of folk to the other. In the telling the story gets added to and embroidered on, so that what might have happened in the time of the Druids is told as if it took place yesterday in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Such stories are best told by an elderly grandfather on a cold winter’s night by the fireside, in the southern hills, of the Twilight Zone.
Jess-Belle is next seen at the home of a woman named Granny Hart (Jeanette Nolan), whom the locals claim to be a witch. Granny just laughs this off, and inquires why the girl has come to her.
Jess claims she wants the old woman to help her make Billy-Ben love her again, but upon being asked for money for the old woman’s services, the girl claims she has none…but is willing to pay ‘any price.’
With those words, Granny pulls out a small bottle from a covered shelf. Jess drinks it’s contents, but suddenly flinches! After a few moments, her eyes open, and Granny Hart claims that once Billy sees her, he’ll never have eyes for another.
Jess-Belle then returns to the barn dance, where she interrupts a dance-circle, and catches Billy’s eye. Just as Granny Hart promised, he becomes enchanted by her, and as Ellwyn and the others watch, the two walk out of the barn!
Ellwyn’s mother and father immediately have harsh words for Billy turning his back on their daughter, but Ellwyn claims she knows what happened: “Jess-Belle bewitched him.”
Some ways off, Jess-Belle and Billy lay in a field, talking of their future together. Suddenly, Billy notes the moon overhead going down, causing Jess to suddenly claim she has to get home.
Once there, she rushes for her room, ignoring the entreaties of her mother. As the clock tolls The Witching Hour, Jess collapses to the floor of her room, and in a puff of smoke, turns into a leopard.
Some time later, Billy comes to Jess, and gives her the ring he had given Ellwyn, claiming it now belongs to Jess. He also speaks how he has made plans with a preacher, and how her mother will make her a wedding dress, but Jess seems perturbed by all this.
She claims she needs to go away, but as Billy grabs her arm not wanting her to leave, she lashes out a hand at him…leaving three claw marks raked across the side of his face!
She then rushes back to Granny Hart, claiming she feels an emptiness inside. It is then that Granny claims that she really is a witch, and reveals the price Jess paid for Billy-Ben: her soul. Granny also reveals that because of this, Jess has also become a witch!
“You paid the price,” she tells the girl. “Take what you paid for.”
After several days of doubt, Jess puts aside her fears, and decides to heed the old woman’s advice, soon giving in to Billy’s request to be wed soon.
Sometime later, Jess-Belle comes across Ellwyn Glover picking wildflowers. The two trade ‘quiet barbs’ with each other, before Jess tells Ellwyn to watch out for a wildcat that’s been seen in the area.
However, Ellwyn claims her father is rounding up a number of men (including Billy) to take care of the creature, before morning the next day.
Jess returns home, where her mother works to hem her wedding dress. When she claims she saw Ellwyn out in the fields looking ‘sickly,’ her mother thinks maybe she should take the girl some tonic.
“You and your tonics,” laughs Jess. “You’re worse than Granny Hart-”
The slip of her tongue causes an awkward silence between mother and daughter. When Jess’ mother finds out her daughter has knowledge of the old woman, she soon deduces what her daughter has done in getting Billy to love her again.
When the girl reveals the price she paid, her mother says they should pray for her, but Jesse claims that will do not good. Instead, she asks her mother to lock her room door, so that she cannot get out until morning.
Though her mother does as she wishes, Jess (in her leopard form), escapes out her bedroom window, and ends up in the Glover’s barn, spooking the horses, and scaring Ellwyn.
The girl’s screams attract her father and the men hunting the cat. Billy and another man fire at it, and are surprised as the creature vanishes in a puff of smoke!
“A witch,” exclaims Ellwyn’s father. “That cat, was a witch!”
Billy examines where the wildcat disappeared, and finds the ring he had given to Jess. As the other men leave, Billy begins speaking to Ellwyn…a sure sign that his connection with Jess-Belle has been severed.
A year passes, and Ellwyn and Billy are set to be wed. As Billy prepares for the wedding, he is visited by Jess-Belle’s mother, who gives him her daughter’s silver hairpin as a gift…along with a warning.
As talk turns to Jess-Belle, her mother claims that she does not believe her daughter is dead. Though Billy claims one of his bullets hit the wildcat in the Glover’s barn, Mrs Stone tells how she saw a toad in her daughter’s room, and upon trying to kill it, it turned to smoke, and flew away!
Billy tries to put this thought out of his mind, but at the wedding, he notices a spider crawling on Ellie’s veil. Plucking it off and holding it in his hand, it then disappears in a puff of smoke, leading Billy to believe that Mrs Stone was right.
After the ceremony, the newlywed couple returns to Billy’s house, where strange things begin to happen. Ellie finds herself attempting to slap Billy, and a clock in the room suddenly falls to the floor! Billy then gives Ellie their Bible, and tells her not to leave the house, as he rushes off.
Billy seeks out Granny Hart, wanting to know how to kill a witch. She asks for a lock of his hair as payment, but Billy instead pays her in coins. Hart then tells Billy that he needs to make a figure of the girl, wearing something she wore, then stab it in it’s ‘heart’ with something of silver.
Billy then goes to Jess-Belle’s home, where her mother gives him the wedding dress she hemmed for her daughter. before he leaves, she tells Billy that she is sure her daughter would appreciate what he is trying to do.
Billy returns to his house, where he finds Ellwyn standing outside. He tells her that he knows how to be rid of Jess’ spirit, but is shocked when Ellie starts speaking, with Jess-Belle’s voice!
Billy rushes into the house and locks the door (with the possessed Ellwyn pounding on it from the outside). Putting the dress on a seamstress’ mannequin, he then stabs it in the heart-area with the silver pin. Suddenly, Jess-Belle materializes, before the figure crumples to the ground and disappears, leaving behind the empty dress.
Billy then finds Ellwyn outside, having no recollection of what happened since her wedding. As he embraces her, the girl’s eye is drawn to the heavens, where she witnesses a star, streaking through the sky.
My mama says when you see a falling star,” she tells Billy, “that means a witch has just died.”
“So I’ve heard tell,” replies Billy, sure that he and Ellwyn are now safe, and that Jess-Belle is truly gone, but also finally at peace.
I’ve often been a fan of stories with a “be careful what you wish for” storyline. Of course, this wasn’t the first Twilight Zone episode to handle the concept of love and potions.
In Season 1, there was the modern-day story called The Chaser, where a young man gets a love potion to get a girl he lusts after, to love him. In the end however, her constant fawning over him gets to be too much, and he ends up paying for something called, “the glove cleaner,” to fix his dilemma.
Writer Earl Hamner Jr, wrote eight episodes during the last few seasons for The Twilight Zone, and in one interview, he claimed that Jess-Belle was his favorite one to write.
It was also done relatively quickly. When another script fell-through, Hamner pitched, wrote, and finished Jess-Belle in a week’s time (with no time for revisions!).
There was also an issue with the kind of cats considered for Jess-Belle’s nightly transformation. The original idea for a tiger was dropped, when the producer Herbert Hirschmann claimed they were hard to work with. After this, there was consideration for a black leopard (to match the color of Jess’ hair), but none could be found, leaving the production to settle on the spotted leopard in the episode.
Along with writing the episode, Hamner also wrote the lyrics to several musical interludes throughout. As the story progresses, a female voice sings bits of a small ‘ballad,’ about the story. It is notable that in place of a closing narrative by Serling, we get a reprise of part of the ballad, heard in the beginning of the episode:
Fair was Elly Glover, dark was Jess-Belle.
Both they loved the same man, and both they loved him well.
Hamner also uses some creative wordplay, when it comes to Jess and Ellwyn. They never get into a shouting match over their love of Billy-Ben (being decent young women), but Earl gives them a small moment of trading barbs, through wordplay.
This comes when Jess-Belle finds Ellwyn in a field by herself.
“Lots of wildflowers around here,” notes Jess. “Saw a patch of ‘old maid’s fern’ up on the mountain.”
A few moments later, Ellwyn responds with: “I notice a lot of ‘vixen-wort’ around here m’self.”
Buzz Kulik, the director, also was a Twilight Zone alumni, directing nine episodes during the show’s run.
In several of his episodes, he had a way of having the camera play among people’s faces, having the actors say plenty with just their expressions.
This type of storytelling is seen in the opening scene especially, when we see Billy-Ben looking a bit nervous, locking eyes with Jess-Belle, after his and Ellwyn’s engagement is announced.
It’s the look of a young man who seems to have possibly made a snap-decision, without telling the other party.
The overall story plays out almost like an Appalachian ‘fairy-tale,’ but it does feel like it stretches the story a bit long for the hour-long format of Season 4. Some areas feel a little repetitive, though one wonders if maybe there could have been more of Jess-Belle in her leopard form, and how her late-night presence affected the locals.
Word is that Earl Hamner was also planning to adapt the story into a musical at one point. When Anne Francis (who played Jess-Belle) heard this, she told him she’d love to play the role of Granny Hart in it…only for him to say he didn’t feel she would have been right for the role. However, this venture was never completed (as far as I know).
Out of all the characters in the episode, it is Jess-Belle and Granny Hart that stand out the most.
The character of Jess-Belle could easily have been a vindictive and over-the-top girl who is willing to knock aside anything and anyone in her way. One can easily see the girl’s name is a take on the word ‘jezebel’ (meaning ‘an impudent, shameless, or morally unrestrained woman,‘ according to Merriam-Webster), but the character here is crafted to be little more than a young woman, whose yearnings end up being her downfall. She thinks all her troubles are behind her once she has Billy-Ben, but it feels like everyday after, she is stuck living with the consequences of her actions, making her a tragic figure.
Jeanette Nolan seems to have the more ‘fun’ role in the episode, as she plays Granny Hart as a witch with a spirited personality. There is a devilish mischief Nolan imbues on the old woman. She seems to delight in causing mischief, and a naive young woman who wishes for a man’s love, gives her some entertainment. It doesn’t help that she seems to smile a great deal, a Cheshire grin that makes one wonder what is going on in her mind.
There is even an interesting juxtaposition, as we first see her in black robes conjuring something, before she pulls the robes away, and simply looks like a kindly old woman, expecting company.
Jess-Belle is not one of the more popular episodes of The Twilight Zone, but it feels like it was somewhat ‘experimental’ in it’s execution. And for that, it sticks out in my mind.
It’s cautionary tale about how love can sometimes blind people to the consequences of their actions, proves to be an intriguing story that the episode’s cast and crew, wove together, all those years ago.
*Some people may say that most films lose their way by a third sequel, but that isn’t always the case. For every “Wrath of Khan” or “Toy Story 2,” there’s a dozen ‘number 2’ films that were made, that could not uphold the energy and enthusiasm of the first film. This review section, aims to talk about these “Terrible 2’s”*
When it comes to putting the city of Chicago, Illinois on film, there are a number of films to choose from. For many people, the film they most associate with the city, is John Landis’ 1980 comedy, The Blues Brothers.
Based around characters created by John Belushi and Dak Akroyd on Saturday Night Live, the Blues Brothers’ film debut sent Jake and Elwood Blues all over the Chicagoland area, trying to get their old band back together, to save their childhood orphanage.
The film garnered praise for it’s soundtrack, featuring performances by Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, James Brown, and many more.
Of course, the story also involved a wild ride through a shopping mall, a weapons-toting ex-lover (played by Carrie Fisher), and one of the most memorable Police chases throughout the city.
After the film’s release and the death of John Belushi in 1982, Akroyd still attempted to keep the characters, and the spirit of the Blues Brothers alive.
Akroyd would sometimes perform as Elwood Blues in several stage performances, alongside John’s brother James Belushi (as Zee Blues), and John Goodman (as “Mighty Mack” McTeer), in the late 80’s/early 90’s.
Then, in 1998, many were surprised when Blues Brothers 2000 was released early in the year. Shepherding the sequel were the original film’s director John Landis, as well as Akroyd. Also along for the ride were Goodman (in his “Mighty Mack” persona), Joe Morton (as the illegitimate son of Cab Calloway’s character, Curtis), and the return of a number of actors and Blues artists who had lent their talents to the first film.
Having served his time after the events of the first film, Elwood Blues is released from prison, but finds out upon release, that Jake has also died(?)
Elwood’s first stop is to see Mother (formerly Sister) Mary Stigmata (Kathleen Freeman). Elwood finds out that the orphanage has shut down, and that his father-figure Curtis has died. Mary also introduces Elwood to a young boy named Buster (J Evan Bonifant), and suggests that he spend time with the boy.
After the meeting, Elwood takes Buster with him, and decides to try and reunite the Blues Brothers Band. Along with recruiting a new member in the form of Mighty Mack, the group heads off on a new adventure.
What is the point?
That should be the biggest question when it comes to BB2K.
Usually, sequels are made when there’s a good reason to tell another story, but when it comes to this film, it plays out like a bad 90’s TV show, following a guy going through his midlife crisis (and not a very entertaining one!).
Probably the biggest slap in the face regarding the film, is when we find out that the orphanage Jake and Elwood worked so hard to save…is now gone!
Plus, Elwood seems convinced that all he has to do is get the band back together, but what is the point in doing so this time? It feels like the only reason he’s doing this, is that he feels it’ll somehow help him achieve some form of balance in his life, after the death of his brother.
All the guys from the band who are still around, seem to have settled into comfortable jobs in the late 90’s (one of them even runs a Mercedes dealership!). So naturally, Elwood upsets their lives, to try and get through his brother-less, midlife crisis.
Plus, while the first film showcased the city of Chicago, BB2K spends a good deal of it’s time, filming in Canada, and claiming it to be Illinois. There were a few scenes shot in Illinois, but for much of the film, it was cheaper to film up-north for this sequel.
In the first film, Elwood claimed that they were on a mission from God. That was all the justification we seemed to get regarding the semi-charmed way the duo were getting out of all these close scrapes, in sometimes impossible ways.
In this film, Elwood’s catchphrase is: The Lord works in mysterious ways.
One has to wonder if that phrase was utilized, so that Elwood can justify so much of the ridiculousness that happens throughout the film.
Probably one of the most ridiculous bits that stands out the most in regards to the film, is the inclusion of the orphan named Buster.
It seems strange that Mother Stigmata would allow a child to be mentored by a recently-released felon…then again, maybe she just had more of a problem with Jake, and felt Elwood was the less troublesome of the boys.
Speaking of Buster, one assumes that maybe there would be some fun, character-building hijinks he would get into with Elwood, kind of like Russell and Carl in Pixar’s Up…but no. Instead, Buster just seems to tag along, dances, miraculously plays the harmonica, has a few lines, and that’s it.
It is also strange that after the sisters in her care report Buster being gone for 7 days, Stigmata calls the Police on Elwood…never telling them or the sisters what she had told Elwood about overseeing him.
In later interviews, director John Landis would say that Buster was thrown in there as part of a bargaining chip with Universal Studios, in making the film. There was even word that if the film had been made earlier in the 90’s, Macauley Culkin might have been given the role.
This all seems…very familiar.
Watching the film, it feels like Akroyd merely took a lot of what was done in the first script, and re-purposed it for the sequel (but toning stuff down, for it’s PG-13 rating!).
–Many remember the massive Police car pileup scene that goes on for about 30 seconds in the first film. Well, in BB2K, they do it all again, but also flog the joke to death when almost 3-4 times as many cars end up flying into this massive pile-up (see right) that seems to go on for longer than it needs to. (it’s also notable that one extra car-crash in the film, allowed BB2K to beat the first film’s record at the time, for most cars crashed on-screen).
-In the first film, Jake ‘sees the light’ at a church (overseen by James Brown), that convinces him that they need to get the band back together to save the orphanage. In this film, Curtis’ illegitimate son Cabel has a revelation at a tent ceremony (aso presided over by Brown!), where he ‘sees the light,’ in an even more over-the-top way.
There was also a run-in with some disreputable characters.
In the first film, the boys ran afoul of some ‘Illinois Nazis.’ In BB2K, the trouble has been doubled, with Illinois Russians, and a militia group.
That seemed to be the rather annoying thing about the overall sequel, is that Landis and Akroyd merely went through the original film’s script, and started trying to do callbacks.
We’ve seen this kind of stuff done with films like Ghostbusters 2 and Home Alone 2, and just like those films, much of what passes for comedy being run through the wringer a second time, just makes us long for the first time we saw these jokes.
Explain, movie! Explain!
One of the most memorable icons of the first film, was the 1974 Dodge Monaco Elwood had bought. Though Jake wasn’t happy with it, the car seemed to have the uncanny ability to get them out of almost any scrape they got into. Supposedly, a deleted scene would have shown the vehicle stored in a garage under an electric sub-station, and this was the writer’s idea for how the car could do a lot of what it does.
The film hit us with enough comedy and humor, that much of the time, you could roll with the absurdity at hand. Sadly, that hope that comedy could save BB2K, is dashed pretty quickly.
The filmmakers try to make Elwood’s 1990 Ford Crown Victoria the ‘Bluesmobile 2.0,’ but the film is such a slog, that we end up questioning why it can drive underwater, spin in a circle, or even be remote-controlled!
There also comes a strange moment, when the group performs Ghostriders in the Sky. Clouds suddenly form in the skies above, out of which skeletal ‘ghost riders’ ride over the crowd below…and surprisingly, noone on the ground seems disturbed or terrified at the apparitions above them.
There is even magic thrown into the mix, as the guys go to a battle of the bands, which is being presided over by a Voodoo Witch. She turns the guys into zombies to perform a carribbean song, and then…turns the Russian Mafia guys who come for the gang…into rats!
Of course, it’s not like the first film was berift of craziness.
We had people in a church doing acrobatic jumps in the air, Cab Calloway suddenly go from normal-to-suited in singing Minnie the Moocher, and of course, a station wagon ‘launches’ off an unfinished overpass, and falls several hundred stories to the ground! Heck, Fisher’s character uses a rocket launcher and destroys several downtown Chicago storefronts to rubble, and the brothers survive!
Some films have a fine line they can tread between acceptable and ‘downright spurious,’ and it feels like this film crosses that line, and keeps on going.
Blues Brothers 2000 opened in early February of 1998, and quickly sank from sight after 3 weeks. Needless to say, the film became another one of those unnecessary sequels, that was rarely ever talked of after it’s debut.
If there was one silver-lining in the release, it was in the film’s soundtrack. Taken on it’s own (outside of the inherent rambling of the film), the discography is good for a listen or two.
Following the release of the film, there were still further attempts to bring the characters back.
In 2004, a musical titled The Blues Brothers: Revival, premiered in Chicago. The stage production (approved by Akroyd and Belushi’s estate), dealt with Elwood trying to save Jake from an eternity in purgatory.
Crazy as it may sound, there were a few attempts to even bring the characters to life, in animated form!
In 1997, there was an 8-episode animated sitcom produced (but never aired), and in recent years, another animated series has been shopped around (though at this time, there’s been no word if that iteration will ever see the light of day).
In my opinion, the 1980 film could very well have been seen as the highlight of the Blues Brothers’ big-screen career. Stage performances like the kind Akroyd would put on, was a great way to keep the characters alive, but it feels like when it comes to film and television, there’s really not much left to mine regarding the characters.
I like to think when it came to some areas of entertainment regarding popular culture, I inherited some of my tastes from my parents. While my Mom turned me on to the wonders of Walt Disney and his animation studio, my Dad I feel, opened my eyes to adventure, and science fiction.
One series that we often watched over the years when it’d show up on television, is Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Serling’s anthology series enthralled my Dad as a young man, and during my early years, they came to entrance my own imagination as well.
As I got older, I found myself drawn to Serling’s tales that explored humanity, and oftentimes, how simple it could be for things to break down, or even how dangerous some people could become, for want of attention or respect.
Serling’s hand was often behind many of those introspective tales. In The Twilight Zone’s 4th season, he explored the possibility that an enemy that was once thought to have been extinguished after the second World War, could very well be lying in wait, ready to instigate those seeking power, or manipulate those who are easily led astray…
As the episode starts, we see that it’s a hot night on a city street corner, and a small group of neo-Nazis are giving a speech to a small crowd.
Presiding over the gathering, is a young man named Peter Vollmer (Dennis Hopper). Peter preaches about ‘foreign control,’ and that a conspiracy is under way by minorities, to take over the country.
Several people throw vegetables at Peter and laugh at him, causing him and his men to rush out into the crowd, where a fist-fight breaks out.
The ruckus causes the Police to show up, and the citizens scatter. When they inquire to Peter who started the fight, he nonchalantly claims they were ‘all Communists,’ and walks away.
Peter and his men reconvene in a side alley. One of them claims that the heat brings out ‘the stiffs in the crowd,’ but Peter blames himself, claiming he couldn’t verbally get through to the people he saw.
As Peter sulks, Rod Serling appears, delivering our opening monologue:
“Portrait of a bush-league Fuhrer named Peter Vollmer, a sparse little man who feeds off his self-delusions and finds himself perpetually hungry for want of greatness in his diet. And like some goose-stepping predecessors he searches for something to explain his hunger, and to rationalize why a world passes him by without saluting. That something he looks for and finds is in a sewer. In his own twisted and distorted lexicon he calls it faith, strength, truth. But in just a moment Peter Vollmer will ply his trade on another kind of corner, a strange intersection in a shadowland called, The Twilight Zone.”
Peter then heads to the apartment of a man named Ernst Ganz (Ludwig Donath).
Upon seeing Peter, Ernst demands that he wash his face, and provides him with some medication for his wounds.
The older man begins to lecture Peter on getting into trouble, but the young man doesn’t want to hear it. However, he requests if he can stay the night at the old man’s place.
Peter claims that he and the old man are ‘good friends,’ but one can see Ernst is questioning that statement. Ernst recalls how as a young boy, he’d take Peter in: a rock in the storm of an abusive father, and a mentally-deficient mother. He recalls how Peter was a scared, lost little boy.
“Now, you peddle hate on street corners, as if it were popcorn,” he sighs.
It’s not hate,” defends Peter. “It’s, ‘a point of view.’ It’s a, ‘philosophy.'”
Ernst claims there were men who said the same thing…and because of it, he ended up in the Dachau Concentration Camp for nine years.
After Ernst leaves Peter to go to bed, Peter gets a strange feeling, like he’s being watched. Going to the nearby window, he sees a man in shadows, standing on the sidewalk.
When Peter asks who he is, the figure claims he’s ‘a friend,’ and wants to talk. Going downstairs, the figure tells Peter that he believes in much of what he was talking about earlier, and wants to help his cause.
The shadowy figure then gives Peter speaking tips, claiming he should speak to the people, like he was one of them.
“Speak to them in their language, on their level,” says the dark figure. “Make their hate, your hate. If they are poor, talk to them about poverty. If they are afraid, talk to them of their fears. And if they are angry, Mr Vollmer…if they are angry, give them objects for their anger.”
Peter takes the figure’s advice, and at the next meeting in a local hall, he claims that many say his group is biased towards minorities. Peter takes these words and turns them around, telling those in attendance, that ‘they’ are the minorities! He tells them that ‘patriotism’ and ‘love of country’ is not a majority notion anymore, and that his group, will make it so again.
This draws applause, and Peter’s associates are also energized by his fiery rhetoric.
The shadowy figure returns a little while later to help Peter, quietly giving him the money he needs to keep speaking at the hall, and praising how he speaks to the people.
It is then that the figure claims their ‘party’ needs something more, in order to ‘cement the organization’: they need a martyr.
“How do you find a martyr?” asks Peter.
“You do not ‘find’ one, Mr Vollmer,” the figure replies. “You ‘choose’ one. You take one of no value, and you make him into a symbol. You wrap him in a flag, and you make his death work for you. Find a man who is of no value while he’s alive, but who can serve you when he is dead.”
Of the men in his employ, Peter decides that one named Nick, will be their martyr. Peter then lies to a cohort named Frank, telling him that Nick has been telling the Police about their meetings, and must be taken care of.
Frank does as he’s told, and some time later, the Police find Nick’s body in an alley, with a note pinned to his jacket, making it look like someone is trying to send ‘a message’ to Peter’s group.
Though Frank and Pete are able to put Nick out of their minds, their associate Stanley misses his friend. Trying to act stoic, Peter claims that Nick was a traitor, and not worthy of being mourned.
However, moments later, Peter is using Nick’s death to electrify the crowd, claiming that those in the room, will carry on in his honor. His words do their trick, and the audience applauds loudly!
We then cut to some time later, to a candy shop across the street from the hall. Ernst is sitting at the counter talking to the store’s proprietor, while across the street, Peter’s voice bellows out from the open door, over which hangs a large portrait of the young man in uniform. As Peter’s voice continues to spill out into the night, Ernst and the proprietor have a conversation.
“Used to be, people would laugh at him,” says the man behind the counter. “But lately, he gets the crowd…and not many people laugh, either.”
“I’ve seen it before,” says Ernst, thoughtfully. “I’ve seen it all before.”
“That was another time, Mr Ganz,” says the proprietor. “Another place. Another kind of people! That doesn’t go here.”
“That’s what we said, too,” says Ernst, bowing his head. “We called them ‘brown scum.’ ‘Temporary insanity,’ part of the passing scene, too monstrous to be real. So, we ignored them, or laughed at them….because we couldn’t believe there were enough insane people to walk alongside of them! And then one morning, the country woke up from an uneasy sleep…and there was no more laughter. The ‘Peter Vollmers’ had taken over. The wild animals had changed places with us in the cage!”
As he thinks, Ernst rises from his seat, and goes to the window.
“But not again,” he says, a tone of defiance rising in his voice. “It mustn’t happen again. We can’t let it. We simply can’t let it happen again!”
Determined to do something, Ernst enters the crowded hall through the stage entrance, and catches Peter off-guard.
Ernst tells Peter that he’s heard these kinds of rantings before. Peter quietly pleads with Ernst to stop talking, but the old man addresses the audience, with Peter watching, unsure just what to do.
“Let me tell you about ‘this one,” preaches Ernst, pointing at the scared young man. “About the breed, the species. They’re all alike…they’re all alike! Problem children. Sick, sad neurotics, who take applause like a needle!”
Peter once again pleads for Ernst to be quiet, but the old man threatens to tell about Peter’s ‘weaker’ side, claiming the young man can only find strength in the ‘show’ he puts on…leading Peter to strike the man (whom he called ‘a friend’) across the cheek!
“The only sort of answer ‘your kind’ know how to give,” says Ernst, before walking out through the front door, followed by the audience.
Afterwards, Peter is alone in the hall, when he hears the shadowy figure call to him. Peter is still upset at what has transpired between him and Ernst, but the figure shows no sympathy, sharply criticizing Peter for his timidity at what took place.
“And you…what are you!?” cries out Peter. “You direct traffic from the darkness! You plan the battles and you’re never there when they’re fought! Why don’t you come out in the light? Why don’t you come up here alongside of me!? Why don’t you give me a name, and a face, and a reason WHY!?”
“Mr Vollmer!” responds the figure, sharply. “I was making speeches before you could read them. I was fighting battles, when your only struggle, was to climb out of a womb! I was taking over the world, when your universe was a crib! And as for being in darkness, Mr Vollmer…I, INVENTED DARKNESS!!”
It is then that the figure steps into the light, and Peter’ eyes go wide with fear, when he sees that his mysterious benefactor…is Adolf Hitler!
When Peter claims that Hitler picked him, the dictator claims it to be the other way around.
“You chose my ideas,” he says. “You invoked my name, you stole my slogans! So now, you must take whatever else comes with it.”
The old dictator then gives Peter a gun, and orders him to kill Ernst, promising that if he does not, the old Jew will keep returning to ruin their meetings.
Peter then goes to Ernst’s apartment, where the old man claims he showed the crowds how weak Peter really is. When Peter pulls his weapon on Ernst, the old man falters slightly, claiming that the young man won’t kill him.
“Just goes to show you don’t know me very well, Ernst,” claims Peter.
“I know you,” says Ernst, quietly. “From a ravaged little boy wanting love, to a torn man, craving respect, identity, pride. Peter…I don’t fear you. So you may do what you have in mind, anytime you wish, but this last reminder to you: you can never kill an idea with a bullet, Peter…never.”
“I’m all steel now,” Peter stoically counters. “Ernst, I’m made of steel. No sentiment, no softness…just purpose, and will.”
With that, Peter fires, and Ernst collapses to the floor.
As he dies, the old man utters his last words: “All steel. All Strength…but at the expense of the thing most other men have. Some…fragments of decency, to tell them right from wrong. To make them feel guilt at dishonor…to make them…that make them love. Yes, Peter, you have steel…but you have no heart.”
Peter then returns to the hall, where he tells his Fuhrer, that killing Ernst made him feel “immortal.”
“Mr Vollmer,” screeches Hitler’s voice. “WE! ARE! IMMORTAL!!”
Suddenly, the hall’s lights come on (and Hitler disappears). Peter turns towards the doorway, to see several Policemen, who have come to arrest him in regards to the murder of his comrade, Nick.
However, when face-to-face with the Police, Peter does not act as an “immortal,” but as a coward, fleeing through the nearest door! The Police chase Peter into the nearby alleyway, where he is shot, and falls into a pile of trash.
As the officers come over to him, Peter looks at his hands, covered in blood.
“There’s something, very wrong here,” he gasps. “You’ve made a terrible mistake. I’m made out of steel. Don’t you understand…that I’m made out of steel?”
The officers walk away to radio in what happened, but as they do, Hitler’s shadow falls over Peter’s dying body, and slowly, walks away. As he does so, Serling’s closing monologue is heard:
“Where will he go next, this phantom from another time, this resurrected ghost of a previous nightmare. Chicago? Los Angeles? Miami, Florida? Vincennes, Indiana? Syracuse, New York? Anyplace, everyplace, where there’s hate, where there’s prejudice, where there’s bigotry. He’s alive. He’s alive so long as these evils exist. Remember that when he comes to your town. Remember it when you hear his voice speaking out through others. Remember it when you hear a name called, a minority attacked, any blind, unreasoning assault on a people or any human being. He’s alive because through these things…we keep him alive.”
It is notable that in his closing narration, Serling strays from his regular path. The closing narration would normally make mention of The Twilight Zone, but here, Serling chooses not to tell us that what we’ve witnessed has safely been contained in another dimension. His narration confirms, the ‘monster’ of this episode is alive…and he is walking amongst us!
When I saw the episode many years ago, it was not one that stuck out in my mind, but after recent events, I revisited it, and found it to be surprisingly eerie, regarding the story that Mr Serling had written (and broadcast over 50 years ago).
Sometimes people say Serling’s writing can become a little heavy-handed, and it feels that way with the character of Ernst. Then again, Serling portrays Ernst as Peter’s ‘last friend,’ the one who may still see some small shred of humanity in him…and when he dies, so too it seems, does any hope of redemption for Peter. While Peter did order Nick to be killed as a martyr, it is Ernst who dies by his hand.
I’ve never been a big fan of Dennis Hopper. For much of his career, he seemed to usually end up being cast as “the crazy guy,” in everything from Easy Rider, to Apocalypse Now. With his role as Peter Vollmer, this may be the most ‘toned down’ I’ve ever seen Hopper (in his quieter moments anyways).
Hopper manages to sell the desperation, and the longing to be somebody. He channels Vollmer’s ‘strength-through-repression,’ with the character dismissing these faults as if they were just overreactions.
It is notable that we encounter Vollmer a ways into the movement he’s taken a part in. Serling keeps it ambiguous if Peter originated this movement, or maybe, it was ‘inherited’ from another neo-Nazi on the streets. I could see that possibly being the case, and maybe Peter was enthralled by those same ‘poisonous promises.’
Of course when it comes to the figure of Hitler, Serling keeps it ambiguous if his spirit is still alive, or if he is just a figment of Peter’s imagination, almost like a ‘devil’ on his shoulder, in the guise of an ‘angel,’ claiming to show him ‘the right path’ to go down.
Over the years, television show and film viewers have often found pieces of popular-culture, and elevated them to a new status, given ‘current events.’
While many are quick to point out more popular Twilight Zone episodes like The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, or To Serve Man, I feel He’s Alive may gain more traction these days, given it’s cautionary tale (of course, the big question is: is it too late?).
Even though he brought the story to his anthology series, Rod Serling was also considering giving Hes Alive a second life, as a longer, feature-length film.
Th film would have added an FBI agent, investigating Vollmer’s ‘movement.’ However, the film proposal was turned down.
Even so, one has to wonder what Serling would make of current world events, and maybe even wonder if we truly have all been spirited away into…The Twilight Zone.
When it comes to feature-film directors, many of them have a script or a project, that they desperately long to do.
For director Barry Levinson, one script that had been on his mind since the start of his career, was Toys. Word was when he began to make the move from television to film, he wanted this film to be his feature debut. However, it’d take over a decade, and numerous attempts, before the film was made and released by Twentieth Century Fox, in 1992.
The film concerned a company called Zevo Toys. It’s founder Kenneth Zevo (Donald O’Connor) passes away, but rather than will the company to his son Leslie (Robin Williams), he requests his brother, General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon) take over management.
Of course, Leland is not of the same mind as his brother. Soon, the factory’s production begins to shift into making ‘war toys,’ which were never produced when Kenneth was alive. As the world around them begins to shrink and becomes more threatening, Leslie and his sister Alsatia (Joan Cusack), must find a way to restore their father’s legacy.
The film was released around Christmas of 1992, but even with it’s colorful production design, whimsical previews, and Robin Williams as it’s lead, the film failed to even recoup back it’s production budget.
Viewing the film on VHS several years after it was released, I couldn’t help but become curious over the years, and wonder: what was it about Toys that had Levinson signify it as his ‘passion project?’ Was there something in the original scriptment, that had somehow gotten lost in translation?
In July, a trip to California allowed me some time to stop by the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills. Owned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, it houses a number of scripts, pictures, and other material not often available to the public.
Notable to me for this visit, was perusing through three drafts of Toys they had in their collection. Each script was written in 1979, 1982, and 1992, with writing credits on all three, given to Valerie Curtin (Levinson’s first wife), and Barry himself.
My curiosity piqued, I delved into all three copies of the script, but was most interested in the one dated December 14, 1979. What follows, is a summary of that script.
Taking place in Connecticut, the story focuses on a company called Panda Man Toys, Inc. It is housed in a “three story, nondescript building sitting isolated in the countryside.”
The company’s founder, Kenneth Presswell, is close to death, and has sent for his Militaristic brother, General Leland Presswell. During their meeting, Kenneth makes clear his intentions to turn the factory over to Leland. The meeting takes a morbid turn, when Kenneth dies right in front of his brother.
The General is given time to consider the offer, and upon deciding to take over, is given a 60% stake in the company. The remaining 40%, is split between Kenneth’s children, Leslie, and Alsatia.
Leslie is identified as being 34 years old, but not ready yet to take over the company (with Kenneth’s assistant Wyeth Owens, claiming he’s ‘sowing some wild oats’). Leslie is somewhat of a prankster like his father, but is a ‘late-bloomer’ when it comes to business.
Alsatia is not given an age, though it is noted that she did not leave grade school until the age of 18. Even so, she is considered a devoted factory worker.
The General quickly makes it clear that he isn’t enamored with the factory’s ways, at one point claiming that money and manpower is being ‘wasted,’ when it could be used to ‘develop new ways to annihilate foreign races.’
Wyeth brings up his misgivings about the General to Leslie, but Leslie just brushes off the concern, figuring that time at the factory, will ‘loosen up’ his uncle’s demeanor.
Visiting his bedridden father (a former 5-star general), Leland tells him about the factory, but the old man shows no interest. However, as he talks about his brother’s company, Leland begins to formulate a plan.
Once he takes charge, the General makes it clear at a board meeting, that he feels the company will not survive, unless they start producing ‘toy weaponry.’ Wyeth claims that Kenneth never had the company make ‘war toys,’ because he was a pacifist.
“I know he was a pacifist,” declares Leland. “That’s why I used to kick the $#!t out of him all the time.”
(This declaration causes Leland to laugh at his ‘joke,’ while everyone else in the room remains silent.)
Talk of industrial espionage hurting the company’s R&D department, has the General send for his son Patrick, who soon starts using some brutal interrogation methods among the staff, to try and weed out the spies.
Leland also brings aboard his secretary, Gwen Tyler. Though she has a very serious demeanor at first, Leslie slowly starts to get her to lighten up, and a romance blossoms between them.
Still concerned with espionage, the General takes Patrick’s advice, and decides to counter-espionage designs from a competitor, named My Toys. Patrick manages to trick Leslie into helping him create a distraction for some guards, by putting on a strange show, seen on the My Toys security cameras. which manages to temporarily distract the guards, and allows them to make off with some of the company’s designs.
Upon hearing what has been done, Wyeth voices his objections to the General, but is ignored. Other projects and departments are then shut down, as the General commandeers the staff to work round-the-clock to produce toys off of the stolen designs.
The General likes most of the designs, but one of them he calls “a little submarine,” he thinks has potential. He soon hatches a plan to make ‘war toys,’ with the money made off of them, used to fund a few of the General’s ‘special projects.’ As work continues, more departments are shut down, and Alsatia even loses her office in the factory.
Soon, Panda Man Toys is producing and selling war toys (tanks, jeeps, paratroopers, etc). With the development continuing on the General’s projects, he soon invites some men from Washington to secretly see the designs for them. However, they are not impressed by his ideas, including his (as one of the men calls it) “submarine with a nose.”
After the General loses his temper and assaults one of the men, Patrick takes him away to calm down. Even with this setback, the General claims he is still going to go ahead with his plans.
One day, Wyeth manages to sneak into the restricted area of the factory. There, he finds men testing miniature war machines, along with video game simulators. However, Wyeth is spotted, and he is chased into a room with a large water tank. Wyeth gets into the water tank to hide, but is then attacked and killed by some underwater toys in the large tank (making the General very happy that they work!).
After Wyeth’s death is labeled an ‘industrial accident,’ Leslie demands Patrick tell him what the General is doing. Patrick attempts to stay loyal to his father, until Gwen tells him how his mother died (the true facts of which the General never told him!).
Patrick then confronts his father, and upon finding out that a nurse he likes also had an affair with his Dad, he finally confesses to Leslie, Alsatia, and Gwen, everything that has been going on. The General’s main goal, is to use video computer technology, to turn kids into ‘super-patriots,’ willing to die for their country without question!
The group then hatches a plan to steal the designs, and stop the General. Alsatia and Gwen are left behind, as Leslie, Patrick, and his surveillance team, attempt to break in.
They are attacked by a number of toys, with several of them dying (one is vaporized by a toy tank’s blast!). The final battle takes place in a miniature village, and it is during the fighting, that the ‘submarine with a nose’ (referred to as “The Guppy”) is unleashed. Of course, the General’s brilliant idea ends up being his downfall, as “the Guppy” kills him.
The final scene shows two tombstones, side-by-side. On them are the following:
Kenneth T Presswell – 1910-1979 – May Joy and Innocence Prevail
Leland H Presswell – 1914-1979 – I Disagree
It’s never been divulged just how many scripts were written for Toys, but the next draft the library had (dated February 1982), starts to become closer to the 1992 shooting script. Here are a few noted changes:
- The General’s secretary Gwen Tyler, becomes just another Panda Man employee, whom Leslie slowly falls in love with (becoming the character Robin Wright played in the final film).
- The 82′ script changes Alsatia from being human, to a robot, whom Kenneth built after Leslie’s mother died when he was younger. Alsatia and Gwen also attempt to stop the General, going along with Leslie and Patrick at the end (the surveillance team Patrick had in the first draft, is dropped).
- Unlike the 79′ script, the 82′ script has the men from Washington willing to forgive the General for assaulting them, and tell him that NATO has a weapons conference coming up, that he might be interested in getting ready for. This ‘second chance’ mentality, would be dropped in the final script.
- The 82′ script also jettisons Leslie and Patrick stealing toy designs from a competitor. Instead, the General and Patrick purchase some competitor’s toys from the store, and attempt to build them. One of them that the General attempts to assemble, is a “Sammy the little Submarine” toy. Like the 79′ script, this toy somehow inspires the General to make a ‘killing machine’ based off of it, which the General dubs, “the Sea Swine.” Not much is told about this rendition of the sea swine, except it has two periscope-like eyes that pulsate with an eerie light, and it makes a ‘creature-like sound.’
What is most notable about the original script, is how dark it gets. Kenneth dies right in front of his brother, and his assistant Wyeth, and the General are killed. In the 82′ and 92′ scripts, Kenneth dies (off-screen) on the way to the hospital, and both Wyeth and the General survive.
There is also the fact that the original Panda Man Toys was little more than a non-descript factory building, before becoming a surreal toy factory, located who-knows-where. Plus, at the end of the day, I am still no closer to knowing when the decision was made to change the company name from Panda Man, to Zevo (the Panda Man moniker is still prevalent in the 82′ script).
Plus, there is still the question of just how a toy submarine, evolved to become the semi-alive ‘sea swine’ mentioned in the 82′ and 92′ scripts.
One item I found intriguing about the final scene in the 79′ script, is the difference in ages. I had assumed that Kenneth was the younger brother, and Leland had followed directly in their father’s foosteps. This may have been done to show the wisdom of the older brother, vs the younger, who may have wanted to be seen as acceptable in the eyes of their militaristic father.
The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that Levinson’s goal with the ‘idea’ for Toys, was to create a ‘surrealist film.’
Surrealism is often the giving of something a dreamlike quality, where the material skirts the line between real, and unreal.
We see that so many times in numerous scenes in the final film. There are many bits inspired by surrealist painter Rene Magritte throughout the film(even the poster of Williams in a bowler hat, appears to be inspired by his works!).
One could even see the decision to put a Militaristic General in charge of a toy factory, definitely being one of several ways the story tries to keep it’s viewer ‘disoriented.’
I think that is Toys’ greatest flaw: Levinson got so into trying to make it surreal, that it probably would have made a better series of paintings (or even a short-subject), than a feature-length film.
Over the years, when Toys has come up in interviews, Levinson still defends the film. In one interview, he claimed it’s been the one film he has been most criticized about.
Even with many not embracing the film, some can’t deny that it seemed almost prescient. This is notable in the use of small, unmanned planes, meant to get into enemy territory, without having to place a human soldier in danger.
This tied into the thinking of the time that Military budgets were being heavily slashed during peace-time, and there was some intent to keep advancements in weaponry relevant, as well as economical.
Of course, it may also be seen that Toys could be somewhat relevant in our current day-and-age, as we seem to also have a madman intent on turning our world upside-down, as we struggle to find some good in a world, that seems to have gotten darker.
James Cameron is a good example of how a filmmaker can come from anywhere. Originally working as a truck driver, his viewing of a film called Star Wars, inspired him to pursue a new career path.
After quitting his job and working on several films for Roger Corman, James eventually crafted his first original film, as a writer/director. The Terminator debuted in 1984, and quickly garnered praise for it’s effects-work, and gritty science-fiction scenario.
In the 30 years since the film’s debut, Cameron’s name not only became elevated in science fiction circles, but at the global box-office, where his last two films took off like gangbusters in 1997, and 2009.
In 1997, Titanic was released, and took off in a way that hadn’t been seen since the days of the early 80’s box-office hits!
The film was truly a phenomenon that could not be quantified: a $200 million film whose release was pushed back 5 months to the Winter of 1997 due to editing and effects issues. The numerous delays, made many feel that Cameron’s “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic” story, would surely sink his career.
Of course, as we know now, the rest is history. Titanic managed to ‘stay afloat’ in theaters almost 8 months after it’s debut, and broke attendance and ticket records in almost every country it was released in!
While it isn’t my favorite Cameron film (that distinction still belongs to Terminator 2: Judgment Day), I still can’t help but admire the man’s big-budget attempts to bring his fascination with the ship to life. Willing to build a 90% scale recreation to film on, as well as the mixture of practical and visual effects, to put us aboard the doomed luxury liner, and make us feel for the plight of it’s 2,200 souls.
Watching films over the years, I would sometimes look through most filmmakers’ works, looking for similarities, or reasons why certain subjects would fascinate them. As I was looking through Cameron’s films, I was surprised to note that when thinking through the story of Titanic, I found several story elements, that seemed to borrow from the structure Cameron used on The Terminator.
And so, I thought I’d share some of my findings with the internet.
When it comes to the male leads for both Terminator and Titanic, one can see that both Kyle Reese and Jack Dawson, are ‘anomalies’ in the worlds they find themselves in (Kyle in the year 1984, and Jack aboard the Titanic).
The future world Kyle has come from, is one devoid of the luxuries that the average person living in 1984 takes for granted. As a soldier, Reese got by on his wits, struggling to just survive each day, in a world ravaged by the machines. When he gets to 1984 Los Angeles, Michael Biehn portrays him as a man out-of-time, determined to save Sarah Connor, while also dealing with post-traumatic stress, from his time as a soldier.
Jack on the other hand, has lived his life going from place-to-place, with a very bohemian lifestyle. An artist by trade, he does what he can to get by, but still is willing to keep to a basic set of principles.
Both men are also unique, in that they encounter their leading ladies in the midst of life-or-death situations (Sarah about to be killed by a Terminator, and Rose threatening to commit suicide).
Throughout the course of the films, both Kyle and Jack act as cheerleaders to Sarah and Rose, claiming they are more than what they seem. We see both women at one point claim that these men are mistaken, but as the story goes on, we see them breaking out, and even saving their men in several instances.
It is also notable, that both of these men sacrifice themselves so the leading lady can live, and are ‘lost to time’ as the films go on.
In Terminator, Kyle Reese did not exist until after Judgment Day. When the LAPD catch him, there is no record of him on file. During the final battle, Kyle sacrifices his life to try and destroy the T-800. After his body is recovered after the event, he is sealed up in a body bag, and is never heard of again.
In Jack’s case, he came aboard the Titanic along with his friend Fabrizio, with tickets not to their names (both were won in a poker game). After the ship sinks, Jack has Rose get aboard a piece of the ship, so she’ll be out of the freezing waters. However, in his attempt to save her, Jack succumbs to hypothermia.
When Rose let go of his hands, and he sank into the abyss, that was the last anyone saw of Jack Dawson. The only thing that physically exists that proves his existence, is the drawing he did of Rose (that was found in Cal’s safe). Rose even mentions that she has no picture of Jack, whose face only now exists in her memories (of course, the irony is that there actually was a person on the Titanic named Jack Dawson, just not the one that Cameron had Leo portraying).
Most of Cameron’s films have an underlying theme regarding technology, and whether Man can control it, or if that technology may end up destroying it’s creator.
Though there is a definite technological difference between Skynet’s T-800 Terminator, and The White Star Line’s Titanic, they both represent the hubris of man.
Skynet was a fully-automated system integrated into the US Military, as a deterrent to human error, and to safeguard against enemy attacks. However, the artificial intelligence soon deemed all humans to be a threat. The system triggered an attack that lead to a nuclear war, that became known as Judgment Day.
Though the Titanic was not a living entity, her creation could almost be seen in a similar light.
At the time of her creation in the early 20th century, the Titanic was touted by her creators as one of the largest, most luxurious ships of all time, and…she was considered to be unsinkable, at least, according to the press and media (word was the White Star Line never claimed such hubris).
Her double-bottom hull and multiple water-tight compartments were seen as a deterrent to death, their advanced technological breakthroughs deemed a way to keep her passengers safe.
Of course, the claims of how this early 20th century technological marvel was going to revolutionize travel and pretty much plow through whatever Mother Nature threw at her, were rendered moot after she struck an iceberg, and sank on April 14th, 1912.
Both Skynet and the Titanic, were creations meant to show how far mankind had come…and in ways that most could not comprehend, they ended up defying their creators.
Skynet was touted as a program that would not suffer from the errors of humanity, like fatigue or emotions. However, once those in charge soon realized what they had done, it was too late to change course.
The Titanic was touted in a number of publications of the time, as being ‘unsinkable,’ a vessel to stand against God and nature. The push for luxury over safety, also overruled the added safety deterrent, of giving the ship enough lifeboats to handle her massive human capacity, leading to the tragic loss of over 2/3’s of her passengers.
It is also notable that in both films, Skynet and Titanic, are shown within alien-like worlds, ravaged by time.
In Terminator, the world of 2029 is shown torn asunder by nuclear annihilation, and the neverending threat of Skynet’s many war machines, to wipe out the last of mankind.
In Titanic, we see what became of the great ship’s own Judgement Day, some 85 years after she sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. Just like the future world of Terminator, we see once normal imagery made ‘alien’ before our eyes, bathed in a faint blue glow. The ocean, the sinking, and a number of other factors, have twisted the remains of the once-great ship, into something other-worldly, far away from the normalcy of her heyday, in 1912.
Though many decades separate their life-changing stories, Sarah Connor and Rose Dawson have story arcs that are very similar.
When we first meet them, both seem to be stuck in a certain place, seemingly trapped.
Sarah is working as a waitress, and looks to be heading towards a normal suburban lifestyle, that will eventually lead to marriage, and children.
Rose’s family name and fortune have allowed her to become the fiance to a young businessman, in a society and world where her choices seem limited.
Both women find themselves in a precarious situation, when strange men from another world (Jack from the world of Bohemia, Kyle from a war-torn future), end up ‘saving’ their lives, and attempt to make them believe that they can be more than what they think they are.
Kyle tells Sarah of what he was told by John, regarding how she trained him to be a warrior, and was a source of great strength.
Jack’s pep talk is moreso based on what he’s observed regarding Rose. Jack has noticed that Rose seems to have a fire within her, much more than those around her. The upper-class world she is in won’t allow for such ‘outbursts,’ and she’s in danger of that fire burning out.
By the end of their films, both Kyle and Jack have died, and in the wake of their deaths, it is up to the women they championed, to decide if they want to die, or live.
In Terminator, the T-800 is still alive after Kyle is killed. It is up to Sarah to finish the job (and decide if she wants to live or die). Sarah manages to lead the Terminator into a metal press, where it is crushed.
In Titanic, a lifeboat returns to the ship’s debris field, looking for survivors. Upon realizing Jack has died due to hypothermia, Rose almost gives up, but then remembers her promise to Jack. She manages to get the attention of the lifeboat’s crew, and is saved.
In the final minutes of each film, we get a small glimpse of how these encounters changed both of their lives.
Sarah is last seen driving off into an uncertain future, though more confident, and starting a new life, to prepare her unborn son for what is to come.
In the final moments of Titanic, we see Rose asleep(?), with a number of pictures by her bedside. Each of them in a matter of minutes, shows that she seems to have tried to live life to it’s fullest…a life she probably would never have had, if she hadn’t encountered Jack Dawson.
While I have mentioned Terminator as sharing some DNA with Titanic, there is a little of Terminator 2 in the film as well…albeit in a deleted ending.
In his original ending for T2, once the T-800 had been destroyed, the film would cut to 30 years in the future, to a park in Washington D.C. Sarah, now a Grandmother, explains how Judgment Day didn’t happen. The disaster was averted, and John Connor is now a Senator.
In the audio commentary for T2, Cameron claimed that he became fascinated with the idea of seeing a person, at two different stages of their life. However, he felt that the sudden appearance of Hamilton playing Sarah at age 64, was too much of a shock to the system.
In re-evaluating what went wrong, he felt that if he were to sell the illusion of a character at different stages of her life, the character would need to be introduced at their older age, to help ease the viewer into their younger ‘identity.’
Cameron was determined to use this storytelling device post-T2, and made it work 5 years later on Titanic. While Kate Winslet portrays the younger Rose character and is the film’s ‘lead,’ it is Gloria Stuart who bookends the film, as ‘old Rose’ leads us into her past, and back to the present day.
While both films do not line up exactly in comparison, it is notable at what I’ve seen in regards to both films, and I have been surprised noone else has really written such a comparison piece. But then, I’m one of those people that is weird enough to do so.
I came back to finish this post, after seeing Titanic’s 20th anniversary release last weekend. The audience was rather small, but seeing it in an HDR setting with an incredible sound system, took me back to those halcyon days of my senior year in high school, sitting in my hometown theater for the first matinee of the film (minus it breaking 15 minutes before the end!).
That re-visit of the film on the big-screen got my mind going, and soon made me think of a few other comparisons one could make regarding Terminator, and Titanic:
I was surprised to realize how in each of the films, an image of Sarah and Rose, are vital to the journey several people undertake in these films.
In The Terminator, it was a picture of Sarah Connor, that pushed Kyle to accept the mission, to go back and protect her.
In Titanic, it is Jack’s drawing of Rose, that brings ‘old Rose’ to the attention of Brock Lovett (Bill Paxton), as the image shows her wearing The Heart of the Ocean necklace, the treasure he is seeking within the remains of the ship.
One scene that is most memorable to those who saw The Terminator, is when Arnold’s T-800 massacres a whole police station, in his search for Sarah Connor.
Surprisingly, a similar cat-and-mouse situation (minus the multiple guns and dead bodies) was shot for Titanic, but ended up on the cutting room floor.
After Cal (Billy Zane) chases Jack and Rose down to the flooded First Class Dining Hall, he gives up the chase, due to the rising waters and a lack of bullets in his gun…only to realize that Rose’s coat still has the necklace in it’s pocket!
In the deleted scene, Cal tells Lovejoy (David Warner) that he can have the necklace if he can get it, and the bodyguard reloads his gun, and skulks into the dining hall.
While the cat-and-mouse game in The Terminator helped with the suspense, the same scenario happening amidst the sinking dining hall just didn’t work.
Cameron had hoped the scene would excite the audience, as Jack gets some comeuppance upon Lovejoy. However, while the sight of the familiar setting being eerily submerged charmed Cameron, the added tension just seemed to be too much for the audience, who were already full ensconced by the more pressing matters of the ship sinking.
After a few test-screenings, Cameron removed the dining hall fight altogether, and with it, went any negative comments about the moment!
In the final film, Jack and Rose merely rush through the dining hall, and the audience is left to assume that Cal and Lovejoy returned to the upper-decks, to try and get on a lifeboat.
I will admit the two films aren’t perfectly similar in their narratives, but as one can glean from the article, it seems that James Cameron likes to reuse some things, if he can find a place for them.
Of course, I do wonder if any other story scenarios will show up in the upcoming Avatar sequels. Cameron’s fascination with deep-sea diving, is said to be a part of the upcoming sequel. I doubt we’ll get any interstellar submersibles, but I’m sure he’ll work on trying to give us some fascinating underwater creations, beneath the waves on Pandora.