Author Archives: Brian G Ross

Tuesday TV Testimonials #14…

Starsky & Hutch (1975 – 1979)

starsky-1The US spat out many car-centric cop shows in the seventies and eighties, and I’ve probably sat down in front of most of them at one time or another. These days that particular form of escapist entertainment is on life support, but for many years it was a very popular and successful television sub-genre.

As the latter half of the seventies kicked off, Starsky & Hutch was the leader of that particular pack, and Glaser and Soul respectively were unquestionably the coolest cats on the box… and that includes Starsky and his ridiculously passe cardigan.

26C7E16A00000578-3070309-image-a-29_1430921370542Starsky & Hutch forces you to suspend your disbelief right out of the gates. Here are two Californian detectives who spend their days chasing the bad guys in the most ostentatious and conspicuous example of a cop car ever committed to the screen, and whose best friend and long time informant Huggy Bear is about as close to a pimp as the production company could get away with without annoying the censors. In fact, the iconic Ford Gran Torino – nicknamed the Striped Tomato – quickly became such a big part of the show that it deserved to be given a title credit right after the two stars.

But for all the silliness that Starsky & Hutch presented on the surface, it was narratively quite a grounded show and managed to present some hard-hitting episodes and adult themes throughout its run.

And if you don’t think it has one of the funkiest TV themes of all time, you’re out of your mind.

Monday Movie Mentions #14…

Rope (1948)

1 WvBI9L537SCIzmpGclCnNwJames Stewart is one of my favourite classic Hollywood actors, and this was the first of his four Hitchcock collaborations. They’re all very good, and I know I’m in the minority here, but Rope is arguably their best work together… despite the fact that apparently Stewart didn’t like it.

It’s a rather progressive subject matter for the time of its release, but it was loosely based on an actual crime that took place over two decades earlier, so perhaps that is the most jarring thing about it.


It’s a game of cat and mouse.

Students Brandon and Phillip decide to kill one of their classmates in order to see if they can pull off the perfect murder, only to have their crime brought under the microscope by their mentor Rupert. What follows is a back and forth, with Brandon enjoying the post-mortem glow and Phillip emotionally unravelling beside him, while Rupert tries to piece the whole thing together.

Hitchcock used an innovative one-camera technique which helps to give the whole thing a very intimate and claustrophobic feel, as if you’re a literal fly on the wall in the aftermath of this experimental murder. Audiences nowadays are comfortable with longer attractions, so modern cinema often throws up (a term which is apropos here) snoozefests that run over three hours, however Rope is presented as a real time affair and clocks in at a refreshingly lean eighty minutes. The entire movie also takes place in one static apartment location, so action junkies need not apply as there is no visual excitement to distract you from the limited number of characters on screen.

Although Rope is extremely underrated, and you won’t see it appearing on many ‘best of’ Hitchcock lists, it is an exercise in how to build a great plot with interesting characters and thought-provoking dialogue.

Sunday Song Suggestions #14…

Are You Lonesome Tonight? (Laughing Version) – Elvis Presley – 1969

A few days ago it was the fortieth anniversary of the death of Elvis at the age of forty-two… or – if you’re one of those people – the fortieth anniversary of that time he faked his death and went to live on a farm with Marilyn Monroe and JFK.

Elvis was always prominent in my household when I was growing up: my dad loved his music and sometimes performed gigs as him, complete with a bejeweled white jumpsuit that he had specially made. I’ve got the jumpsuit now, tucked away in a suitcase.

Are You Lonesome Tonight? came out in 1960 and is one of Elvis’ most popular songs, although I’ve never really been a big fan of it, however this customised version from a Las Vegas gig in 1969, where he changed one of the lines fifty seconds in, always makes me smile. Unfortunately no video of the gig exists, which is a shame.

The performance humanises him in the simplest of ways – with laughter – and the break in character instantly makes him much more relatable. Listening to it reminds me that he was not just the cultural icon of his generation, and one of the music industry’s first true superstars, but a guy like everyone else. Yes, it’s corny, but sometimes the truth is just that.

Credit has to go to backing singer, Cissy Houston (Whitney’s mum), who never misses a beat throughout the entire performance, and her professionalism in the face of such lyrical anarchy is probably the reason Elvis never manages to get back on track with the song.

Friday Fiction Fixes #13…

Savage Ransom by David Lippincott – 1978

51FVNzC83lL._SX304_BO1,204,203,200_This is a fairly obscure novel that I won from a friend about twenty years ago after a typically heated and well contested game of Monopoly*. While all our friends were out drinking on a Saturday night, maybe trying to pick up a couple of girls, we were content with orange juice, a bowl of crisps,  and gambling books on board games. Those were the days. Yeah, you’re right: I don’t know why we were single either.

Savage Ransom is a (pretty bloody) thriller about a child killer who goes on a spree of kidnappings, and then delivers mysterious packages to their parents afterwards. At the time I could see it as a low-budget (but passable) movie starring Dennis Hopper or Barry Newman. Looking back, it’s probably quite exploitative in its delivery, but it was the seventies – a lot of fiction was like that.

When I got it, the paperback was beaten up, the spine was torn, and I had never heard of the author, which quickly made me wonder who had really won the bet. But as it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised, and Savage Ransom quickly became one of the best novels I had read at the time. It was certainly much better than the tacky and unintentionally funny caveat slapped across the front cover.

I still have my copy to this day, still in the same state of disrepair as it was then. I can’t speak to its literary worth all these years later, but it was one of the first novels I had read outside my usual bubble of authors – and certainly the most memorable – and that in itself was a great lesson.

* Always go for the green properties first.

Tuesday TV Testimonials #13…

The Cosby Show (1984 – 1992)

CS-cosby-castIt may be difficult to watch The Cosby Show these days without its family-friendly atmosphere being tainted by the recent sexual assault allegations that have been made against the head of the Huxtable household, but having said that, I’d be lying if I denied that it was one of my favourite sitcoms when I was growing up.

The Cosby Show was extremely popular. If you were my age, and you had a TV, it seems you were at least an occasional viewer. It fought against its generic title to became the most successful small screen comedy of the eighties, and the Huxtable’s – who were the first prominent sitcom family to be both black and affluent – helped to break down the colour barriers along the way. While it was never the funniest thing on the box (even at the time there were better sitcoms) it was one of the best examples of how to do clean-cut comedy well, and still appeal to the grown-ups.

For all of his alleged real life faults, Bill Cosby as Dr. Huxtable was as familiar and comfortable as the proverbial pair of slippers; always there for his wife and five children, with a story to tell or a lesson to be learned. And whatever you may think of the man or his fall from grace, you’ve gotta love those sweaters, right?


Monday Movie Mentions #13…

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

planes-trains-automobiles-web_7101With legendary guru John Hughes in the director’s chair, and funnymen Steve Martin and John Candy in front of the cameras, Planes, Trains and Automobiles had all the potential in the world to be great… and thankfully, great is just what it is. It’s arguably the best thing that any of these guys put out in the eighties, if not their careers.

We follow laid back Del (Candy) and highly strung Neal (Martin) as they meet, maintain a love/hate relationship, and try to make their respective ways home across the United States for Thanksgiving, and it’s full of great scenes and fantastic exchanges between the two leads. It’s been several years since I’ve sat down in front of the movie, but I’ve seen it enough times that I can rattle off entire swathes of dialogue without missing a beat.

Del: You play with your balls a lot.
Neal: I do not play with my balls.
Del: Larry Bird doesn’t do as much ball-handling in one night as you do in an hour!
Neal: Are you trying to start a fight?
Del: No. I’m simply stating a fact. That’s all. You fidget with your nuts a lot.
Neal: You know what’d make me happy?
Del: Another couple of balls, and an extra set of fingers?

As great as it is – and it is one of my favourite comedy films – I’m glad it never spawned a sequel. I’m sure the temptation must have been there, because it would have been very simple to shoehorn another road trip out of these characters without making it look like a cash-in, so I applaud the restraint.

Similarly, I certainly don’t want to see it remade, as seems to be the Hollywood model in recent years. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the perfect storm of acting talent, story, and humour, and it’s very difficult to think of a couple of actors who would even come close to matching the performances of Martin and Candy.

On a side note, I have heard rumours of a four hour director’s cut of the movie that was (obviously) too long for release… but that is something I would like to see one day.

Sunday Song Suggestions #13…

Kokomo – The Beach Boys – 1988

s-l223The infectious Kokomo was a massive hit in Australia in the summer of 1988, and it was because of this song that I bought my first piece of music at the height of its success – The Beach Boys’ compilation album, 20 Golden Greats. Yeah, that one over there, and that’s right, it was on cassette. My pocket money didn’t stretch to a CD.

The guy behind the desk who sold it to me said: you know Kokomo’s not on this tape, right? Cheeky so and so. Of course I knew: I was twelve, I wasn’t stupid. That collection was put together in 1976, and it acted as my introduction to the wider oeuvre of The Beach Boys, and perhaps oddly for a guy about to hit his teens in the late eighties, they soon became one of my favourite bands.

Kokomo was featured in the Tom Cruise movie, Cocktail and it was the perfect partnership, bringing The Beach Boys back into the spotlight for a whole new generation of listeners.

The song showcases their innate ability to write a memorable chorus and shows that although it had been over twenty years since their sixties heyday, their vocal harmonies were still up there with the best in the business. While it’s certainly not their best work, it was a good springboard for me to hunt out their earlier stuff, and to really appreciate the indelible mark The Beach Boys left on the music industry.