Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Stand-Up Comics

If you've been wading through the waters of The Underworld for a long time now, you know that I periodically do a little feature on classic comic book covers, ones that I find either amusing for some reason or that feature stars I like or that I happen to find appealing in some way (or feel that maybe one of my readers will enjoy.) In my many travels through the worldwide web, I come across these things from time to time and stick them away for a future grouping. I very well may have come to the end of this sojourn (which may delight some people out there who are sick to death of hearing about them!), but I do have enough for a third go 'round! Some of these shows are repeats, but not the covers themselves.

I have long sung the praises of these vintage comic books, sometimes dotting my tributes with them, not so much for the (often pedestrian) art and storytelling inside), but because they offer a wonderful chance to own a keepsake of a favorite celebrity, TV show or movie. Often, the photographic cover is a rare picture that is difficult to find elsewhere. Look at this vivid cover featuring Chuck Conners and his TV son Johnny Crawford of The Rifleman.

Take this comic book based on the popular series Bewitched. Made during the earliest stages of that show, it clearly plays up the supernatural, almost scary, aspect of the (then) black & white program. It's a far cry from the colorful, campy, light-hearted product that the show eventually morphed into. How can anyone not love that shot of Agnes Moorehead's imposing face?

Less imposing (I guess!) is this shot of Miss Eve Arden. Known to millions of younger fans for her role as the school principal in Grease, she was, prior to that, an indispensable feature film supporting actress (in Mildred Pierce, to name only one) and then the star of her own television situation comedy, Our Miss Brooks.

The show first saw life as a radio program in 1948. Shirley Booth and Lucille Ball were considered for it first before Arden was signed. A big hit from the start, it was adapted for TV in 1952 and ran through 1956. Then a feature film version was put together in which Miss Brooks was finally married to her longtime object of affection Mr. Boynton, a fellow teacher. This particular comic book even gives readers a photographic backstory page that makes sure they understand the premise of the series prior to reading, making it even more fun and collectable!

The portraiture of actors and actresses on these covers is one thing that gives certain issues special meaning to collectors. Look at the striking shot of Jonathan Frid (as Barnabas Collins) on this issue devoted to Dark Shadows. The mysterious, gothic soap opera amassed a sizeable cult following during its relatively brief five-year run. Note, too, the ornately carved handle on Frid's walking stick. When the series was revamped for prime-time TV years later, there was another round of comic books issued.

Back when comics were big, westerns were big, too. It was rare for a western series to not be represented in comic form, for one issue at least. These gave young fans a great opportunity to have pictures of their favorite cowboy heroes (in color, too, when so many shows were in black & white.) Nowadays, they give fans of good-looking cowboys and wranglers a chance to see them in their prime. Wagon Train ran for eight seasons and included several shifts in the regular cast over the years. This shot (I believe from season seven) has a nice shot of Robert Fuller's trousers (which couldn't get too much “fuller!”)

I all but worship Clint Walker, but I prefer him with some more meat on him than he displayed in the early seasons of his hit series Cheyenne. This shot is from his lean days, but I'm including it because it shows a surprising bit of crotchery. (Yes, I made that word up!) I also like the caption, “It was a different kind of MANHUNT, with Bodie the hunted.” Indeed, many men had been after Walker during his heydey, but he seems to have escaped their grasp (most of 'em anyway!)

During Walker's contract dispute with Warner Brothers, a couple of other cowpokes were brought in to fill up the missing space. One of them, Bronco, was played by Ty Hardin (who is profiled elsewhere here) and the other was Sugarfoot, played by Will Hutchins. Hutchins was not my type, per se, but he definitely had (and has) fans out there. Hutchins' time in the sun was relatively brief and by the early '70s he was playing unbilled pit parts. For four years in the late '60s, he was Carol Burnett's brother-in-law (married to the “real” Chrissie, who was played in a fashion on The Carol Burnett Show by Vicki Lawrence.) In time, he became a professional clown (!) and made only the most sporadic appearances as an actor. Still with us today, he is eighty-one as of this writing.

You know, I have always wanted to like The Lone Ranger, but I just can't seem to get there. I love his li'l blue outfit and this particular cover shot is pretty, but somehow the popular series always winds up leaving me kind of cold. One of these days, I'm going to get around to seeing the horrifically dismal feature film redux The Legend of the Lone Ranger with Klinton Spilsbury. I have a feeling its hapless ineptitude will appeal to my love of bad movies.

This comic book based on the TV western Laramie gives folks a chance to see actor John Smith. Born Robert Van Orden, he was a client of notorious talent agent Henry Willson, who gave most of his young, male clients snappy new names like Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Chad Everett, Dack Rambo, Rad Fulton and so on. When it came to Van Orden's turn, Willson was almost fresh out of ideas and, instead, pendulumed the opposite way, giving him the most generic name ever, John Smith! This resulted in a certain amount of publicity in its own right, though. A Native American named Pocahontas Crowfoot was in attendance when he signed the papers to change his name and he also got mileage at Thanksgiving with publicity pictures in line with his pilgrim-ish moniker. Like a lot of his peers, his screen career petered out in the mid-'70s. Smith passed away of cirrhosis in 1995 at the age of sixty-three. Shown with him is Robert Fuller, from the aforementioned Wagon Train. It's surprising that Laramie isn't a more popular western in reruns (especially given the anatomically correct pants shown on this eye-opening DVD cover, from Smith in particular!) I'd rather see some of it than the never-ending Bonanza and Gunsmoke currently running (and re-running) on TV(Waste)Land.

Speaking of tight pants, check out Lee Majors' on this cover from one of the few The Big Valley comic books. This was my own favorite western for a variety of reasons. I did a tribute to it way back in the early days of The Underworld (before I started doing posts that rambled on and on and ON!) Likewise, there's a tribute to Majors himself here, which can be found by clicking on his name in the column to the right.

One of TV westerns' most beautiful men ever was the tan, tightly-packed Robert Conrad of The Wild, Wild West. Every issue of that show's series of comic books cruelly places a block of verbiage over his crotch. This one is the same as the rest, but at least we get a nice view of that amazing, tan, chiseled face. You can find further info on Mr. Conrad by clicking on his name to the right as well. In his day, he was one very stunning specimen!

Segueing from cowboys to the Indian front, we move to film and to young Sal Mineo as White Bull in the Disney movie Tonka. Mineo, who was nearing twenty at the time of this film, but was able to stave off aging for quite a while thanks to his inherently youthful looks and build, played a brave whose love for a horse coincides with General Custer's conflict with the Sioux. Ultimately, the Battle of the Little Big Horn comes about with both Mineo and his horse coming into play.

Eve Arden and Sal Mineo are hardly the only movie stars to appear on the cover of a comic book. Many times, major stars can be found in this area whether they were on the way up at the time or, perhaps, on the way down. One who was entering the twilight years of his career was Robert Taylor. Once the dashing love interest of Greta Garbo and a major movie star in his own right, he eventually turned to TV as a means of keeping himself employed (his ex-wife Barbara Stanwyck had done the same with her own anthology series and, later, The Big Valley.) This cover is from his moderately successful show The Detectives. If I were going to watch it, I'd want to do so in the second season when future Lost in Space star Mark Goddard was in the cast or the season after when a pre-Batman Adam West came on board as well.

A star who was on the up (up and away!) is Sally Field. She'd been starring in Gidget, which was prematurely cancelled before anyone realized just how popular she and the show were, and next rushed into The Flying Nun. To her dismay, Nun was a hit as well and ran longer than Gidget, making her something of a joke for a time thanks to its goofy premise. It wasn't until she won an Oscar (or perhaps, two, according to her own feelings) that she corrected her career trajectory and become an accomplished actress.

Popular TV shows were great fodder for comic books, especially ones that appealed to youth. When you consider the enduring fame of The Brady Bunch, it's really surprising that there weren't more editions published. I know of only two! Surely, the simple stories performed on the show could have translated into more books. This one has a rather fun publicity portrait on the cover, taken from the earliest days of the series' production, but there's a glaring error on it. Indicative of how meagerly known the child actors were at the time, Christopher Knight (who played Peter) and Mike Lookinland (who played Bobby) have each other's names placed next to them! Also, note Bobby Brady's dark wig, intended to drive home the fact that the boys were all related... God forbid that one's hair is lighter than the other two!

Another family show from that same period (as a matter of fact, it was scheduled in between The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family!) is Nanny and the Professor. Juliet Mills and The Big Valley's Richard Long starred in the show, with one of the three children being little Kim Richards. Richards would later grow up to be one of the hot mess ladies starring on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills with her sister Kyle, who had also been a child actress. The show has devoted fans even now, though it only managed to last for 54 episodes stretched across three different television seasons when it first aired.

A more topical program from that same era was Room 222, running from 1969 to 1974. (It eventually took over Nanny and the Professor's time slot, nestled between Bunch and Partridge) The quartet depicted on this cover stayed with the show for all five of its seasons with the show, Michael Constantine and Karen Valentine all winning Emmys in 1970. The high school setting allowed for a gallery of characters to rotate in and out while facing a myriad of social and political problems. Miss Valentine became almost as famous for her appearances on Hollywood Squares, cracking up at everything Paul Lynde said, as she did for her work here. (Strangely, she seemed to disappear entirely, long before one might expect such a performer to, with only the rarest of TV guest shots since the dawn of the 1990s.)

Richard Chamberlain as young, idealistic Dr. Kildare was a major player in early '60s TV, but not to be forgotten was the alternative Ben Casey. A slightly older, more combative and more hirsute figure, Casey (as portrayed by husky Vince Edwards) was decidedly more intense than Kildare. Both shows premiered around the same time and lasted just about as long as each other (from 1961 to 1966.) Pertaining to nothing, why does it bother me that Miss Ackerman spelled her name Bettye?

Fantasy shows translated very well to the form, too. There have been countless issues of Star Trek comic books made from a variety of publishers. I like this cover the best because, unlike so many others, it includes the entire primary cast (the ladies, in particular, never seemed to make the cover of the issues that featured photographs.) I can never say enough about how much I loved these original costumes/uniforms and how unaccepting I've been of virtually any others that have come down the pike since! I think I mentioned in a long ago post how, as a bored (and warped) sixteen year-old working the dining room attendant shift at Wendy's (back when such a thing existed!), I would picture the diners in these uniforms, deciding which color and style would best suit each person! HA!

Another very colorful and adventuresome (yet fun) science-fiction show was Land of the Giants. All about seven people and a dog stuck on a planet where everything was similar to Earth except that the inhabitants were ginormous (and often very threatening and dangerous), it was produced by Irwin Allen. Here, years before MacGyver, Don Marshall seems to be creating something out of a thimble and an aerosol spray can. Meanwhile, hunky leader Gary Conway poses next to a huge pocketwatch. The two-season show boasted a different, bouncy, John Williams theme song for each year it was on and I dearly love both of them.

My Favorite Martian was a sitcom that starred Ray Walston (of Damn Yankees! and South Pacific fame) as a man from Mars with extraordinary powers who finds himself stranded on Earth and passes himself off as the uncle of Los Angeles newspaper reporter Bill Bixby. The caption on this amusing comic book says “A real live Martian visits Earth and out-of-this-world things begin to happen” (such as being mounted from behind by a guy in a navy blue suit while a trio of soldiers looks on?? Sounds hot!)

Bixby went on later to star in The Courtship of Eddie's Father (the show itself being based on a prior movie that starred Glenn Ford and Ron Howard.) At the wonderful blog Stirred, Straight Up, with a Twist, there is a follower who delights in answering most any “Guess Who?” question with the response “Helen Twelvetrees.” Likewise, I have a friend who tends to toss out the name Miyoshi Umecki at the drop of virtually any showbiz trivia question. Thus, I couldn't resist posting this cover, which prominently features Miss Umecki.

Though it wouldn't be long before comic adaptations of TV shows fell out of favor (only to be resuscitated years later with shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the trend did continue through the late '70s with Happy Days. The primary cast is shown here with Henry Winkler's The Fonz taking center stage. Back in the day, Fonzie seemed so cool. Looking at the show now during an occasional rerun, Mr. Winkler often comes off as one of the least cool things I have ever witnessed! Thank goodness he is surrounded on the show by comparative buffoons so that he can at least come off in a better light than they often do. Also, you can see the oncoming lack of charm and quality in the cover art as the classic era of comic tie-ins was drawing to a close.

Back to the movies for a bit, I give you the comic version of John Paul Jones, starring Mr. Robert Stack, the first of several epic films made by producer Samuel Bronston. I'm going to be watching this movie for the first time pretty soon as it is recorded on my DVR. It is there chiefly because Miss Bette Davis has a role in the film (as Catherine the Great.) Seeing as it is a two and a half-hour motion picture, I'd love to know how they whittled it all down into a single issue comic. I may be checking in again later with an update on the film once I've seen it.

Another lengthy film that I saw once long ago and doubt that I will subject myself to again anytime soon is The Happiest Millionaire. An all-star cast that included the promising cast of Fred MacMurray, Greer Garson, Geraldine Page (!), Gladys Cooper, Lesley Ann Warren, Hermione Baddeley and John Davidson was rendered nearly unwatchable by the over-the-top antics and presence of Tommy Steele, a bouncing, braying Brit whose personality (an acquired taste to be sure, that I have yet to develop) soiled a few musicals in the 1960s. This one laid an egg upon release despite being the last personally overseen movie of studio founder Walt Disney.

You never know just who you will see on the cover of a vintage comic book. Why, here “I” am, Poseidon, Ruler of The Underworld, threatening the hell out of the Argos in the adaptation of the adventure movie Jason and the Argonauts! Ha ha! If you've gotta go, I guess there are worse ways than by a wet, shirtless, hairy-chested, salt 'n pepper daddy with an axe to grind.

More hysterical is this copy of David and Goliath, a 1960 Italian feature that boasted Orson Welles in a supporting role (with top-billing) as King Saul. Someone named Ivica Pajer played David while a person who went by the name Kronos (actually real-life circus giant Aldo Pedinotti) portrayed Goliath. Get a load of that hideous, fake muscle suit that he's wearing!! Interestingly, Pajer went on a couple of decades later to play Meryl Streep's father in Sophie's Choice... Folks, there is no other world like the world of show business.

Movie adaptations continue to this day, though comic books have changed dramatically in the last couple of decades. More traditional was this tie-in to the cinematic version of Annie (haplessly directed by a dispassionate John Huston), though it eschews a photo cover for illustration. I always wish for people to click to enlarge all applicable photos at The Underworld (for some unknown reason, those that are “centered” in the posts do not enlarge, but all others usually do), but in this case I demand it. Look at the ungodly shitty artwork offered up in the depiction of Sandy the dog! Someone basically chose a human face with hair on it, like Star Wars' Chewbacca, in lieu of a golden retriever or whatever type of canine Sandy was in the movie!! This Sandy looks more like Burl Ives or something. How tacky!

Our tour of vintage comic books is going to end on what I consider to be a high note. Perhaps I'll make believers of you yet! One of the most common subjects from the movies to be covered in comic strip form is that of Tarzan the Ape Man. Though Johnny Weissmuller is the actor most closely identified with the character, he was rarely, if ever, depicted on the cover of a comic book. By the time it became commonplace to use pictures on the covers, he'd departed the role. Here, we have the primary TV Tarzan, Ron Ely, trimly tied to a tree and perhaps about to be rescued by his loyal chimpanzee pall Cheeta.

Before Ely had taken on the role for TV, Denny Miller and, more importantly, Mike Henry had played the role in the movies, but they never made it on to comic covers for some reason. Their predeccessor, Gordon Scott, did though. Scott was one of the most muscular and stocky Tarzan's, but a very handsome one. (He was also the onetime husband of Miss Vera Miles!) It's not hard to picture him in this shot sitting naked in his little grass hut!

He was actually quite tall at 6'3”, but, strangely, seemed to come off shorter than that on film and in still photos. One reason could be that, unlike many of his fellow Tarzan's, Scott was frequently photographed in a crouching position and tended to be shot from below. Maybe because he was so broad, carrying all those thick muscles, it made him look less lanky, as 6'4” Ely certainly did.

One benefit of having Scott depicted crouching and from below was the great glimpses we sometimes got of his behind. In this cover, his ass is practically bare! No wonder someone held on to this issue for all time and kept it in such stellar condition. While I certainly appreciate Scott and most of his fellow Tarzans, my own personal favorite is Weissmuller's immediate successor, Lex Barker.

To most people, Barker may not have been the best Tarzan, either in acting or authenticity, but, for my money, he was the most beautiful. That face! He looked stunning from practically any angle. I never, ever tire of looking at his sleek, classic features. Of all the comic book Tarzans, Barker appeared on the most covers.

Some of his pictures were beautiful, some flattering, some sexy, but there were more than a few that were corny or even bordering on humiliating! Look at the coy, hilariously affectionate way he embraces Cheeta in this one. Not to mention it was rather rare in the staid early '50s to show this much male skin. No wonder he ran into severe type-casting issues when he finally vacated the role. A movie to Germany in the late '50s led to major stardom there. But we will end this post with some of his Tarzan covers, the glorious and the goofy. Do enlarge them in order to fully appreciate his handsomeness!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Happy "Anniversary"

This has to be one of the least prolific months at The Underworld and for that I am sorry. With a play reading at the start of August, a pleasure trip last week, a work-related convention over the last couple of days and then the stacks of work that have accrued while I've been away, I just haven't been able to post as much as I would like to. And I'm off to another convention, this one theatre-related, over Labor Day weekend! So life is hectic down here at present. Then there's the sad story of how I prepared 5/6ths of a profile spotlighting yet another favorite hunk only to have the entire thing disappear with the click of a (wrong) button! Nevertheless, I've still got plenty to say, show and share. I'll be back in the swim of things soon and will have more frequent postings.

Wednesday of this week was something of an occasion here as August 24th is the two-year anniversary of the inception of this website! It's been a source of great fun for me and, I hope, for my readers as well. My goal in creating Poseidon's Underworld was to a) give myself an outlet for all the tidbits, opinions, information, pictures and so on that I have accumulated since I was bitten by the nostalgia bug, b) shine a light on some of the lesser known people and product that I have enjoyed during my journey through vintage movies and TV and c) build the type of blog that I would want to visit myself. This last one is interesting because, in all honesty, I never thought anyone out there would give the things I happen to care about a second glance (I've often remarked here about how my “real” friends couldn't care less about the many topics and personalities I've covered!), yet I have swiftly learned that I was wrong. There are folks out there who enjoy it as well and for that I am grateful.

I make no money off of Poseidon's Underworld and have no plans to ever “monetize” it, though I am frequently approached about or alerted to the feasibility and profitability of it. It's just not about that for me and I prefer not to have the pages littered with ads if I can help it. I am consistently amazed at not only the keywords that draw people to this site, but also the jaw-dropping variety of countries who are represented in the statistics. My sense of geography has improved greatly since I've taken a look at where some people are located who delve into The Underworld! I have yet to conquer Antarctica or the better part of Africa, but most other places have been represented, hence the new tongue-in-cheek blurb at the top of the page. I also, as you surely noticed, have made a little switch to the logo to give the place a quick coat of paint.

Onward to today's subject. I thought that since this is being written on and shortly after the two-year anniversary of this site, I should profile something with an appropriate title. Thus, today I will look at 1968's The Anniverary, a Hammer Studios black comedy film starring Bette Davis and quintet of snacks for her to gnaw on (this referring, of course, to her fellow cast members who were acting against her in one of her most formidable and fire-breathing parts!) Even the press book for the film had her huge, looming visage, with mouth agape, behind all the other cast members standing there like toothpicked appetizers.

The Anniversary first saw the light of day as a 1966 play, staged in London and starring Mona Washbourne and (as her character's youngest son, Michael Crawford.) It concerned a domineering matriarch whose three sons are endlessly tied to her, even though one is married with children and another has been engaged several times. The family ritualistically celebrates the parents' anniversary each year, though the father has died a decade prior. The sons (two, in particular) make haphazard plans to escape their mother's stranglehold, but cannot ever seem to win in the end. Meanwhile, the mother makes no attempt at civility, especially when it comes to the wife of one son or the fiance of another!

Strangely enough, one of the early names bandied about for the hard, demanding mama of the film version was Miss Greer Garson, an actress known throughout her career for playing demure, thoughtful characters. She passed on the project and the writer-producer Jimmy Sangster (who had written 1965's The Nanny, starring Bette Davis) went to Miss Davis with an offer. She initially turned the part down, but reconsidered once Sangster made some script revisions that tailored the role more to her persona.

The title credits roll as the vintage Al Jolson/Saul Chaplin composition “The Anniversary Song” is prominently sung by a male vocalist with The New Vaudeville Band (Alan Klein, I do believe, though no one is credited.)

As the film opens, we meet Elaine Taylor, an attractive blonde girl who has come to the workplace of her fiance Christian Roberts. Roberts, the youngest son of Davis, works in the construction business with his brothers, none of them being particularly skilled, dedicated or filled with integrity when it comes to their work. Amazed that Roberts has brought yet another girlfriend home for the title celebration, his brothers Jack Hedley and James Cossins abandon their projects and head home for the big night.

Hedley is married to Sheila Hancock, a strong-willed redhead with whom he has five children and another one on the way. He's lived under the thumb of his mother for all of his life and harbors the secret desire to flee to Canada and start life anew there with his wife and their brood.

Cossins is single, most likely due to the fact that he is a major league fan of women's lingerie, stealing panties, bras, slips and so on from peoples' clotheslines while thoughtfully leaving money pinned to the line in their place. (We are spared the sight of the husky cross-dresser actually donning any of this stuff.) An early scene has him stopping off at a florists, where he spies the lacy lingerie of the clerk (who has some fun, flippy hair.)
Roberts, of all the sons, makes the least attempt to cover up his feelings toward his dragon lady of a mama. He gives her plenty of back talk and flippancy, though there often seems to be a humorous tinge to it. On this anniversary, though, he is determined to make a go of his relationship with Taylor and finally break out of the stranglehold Davis has on him.

The five attendees of the anniversary party mingle together until it's time for Miss Davis to make her grand entrance. For this, a record is played while she sashays out of her room and makes her way flouncily down the considerable set of stairs. We see that she is missing her left eye and that it's covered with a patch in the same color as her vibrant, sleeveless dress.

She's barely down the steps and into the living room before the barbs begin. There's little or no pretense of civility to speak of as she flits across the room and starts tearing open her presents (taking time out to scoff at the sizeable flower arrangement she's been given.) The presents are either taken with a modicum of appreciation or else pointed out for their faults, though she does get a kick out of Roberts'. It's a statuette of a small boy who pees water out of his winky. The demonstration of the novelty gift causes Davis to let out one of her trademark loud, cackly, bellowing laughs.

During the course of the action in the living room, some positively gargantuan anniversary cards can be spotted on a mantle, situated within some curved alcoves. This is quite clearly a very special occasion for Davis and it seems that everyone had better be ready to pay tribute! One of Bette's most quoted lines comes when she turns to Taylor and asks if she will sit elsewhere because “Body odor offends me!”

Next, she heads into the (massive) kitchen where she makes an attempt to interact with her bratty grandchildren, tossing them coins as treats, even the baby! One of them sticks his tongue out at Taylor when she attempts to greet him and, though I can't place him, I know I've seen this kid before. (He isn't credited....) Anyone??

What's most interesting here is that the children are drinking bottle of PEPSI-COLA!! I should think that after her early-'60s tussles with Miss Joan Crawford, longtime board member of the Pepsi-Cola Company, Bette would have thrown every last drop of the stuff out into the street and replaced it with Coca-Cola (or practically ANY other soda!) The labels are never very clearly shown (as Joan would have insisted they be), but it is definitely Pepsi.

After a very short period of time the children are sent packing, with Cossins in charge of driving them home, leaving Davis free rein to taunt and antagonize the remaining foursome. As the evening unfolds, we learn little bits about how Hedley has both allowed himself to be controlled by his mother while simultaneously exploiting her for extra money, all with the blessing of his exasperated wife Hancock. Cossins is revealed to have gone upstairs and tried on some of Taylor's unmentionables, much to her horror. We also see the kinky side of Roberts, who wants to bed down with Taylor in his mother's own bed, purely to disgust and upset her!

Davis schemes to get Hancock out of the way for the night, though that only works temporarily. The unhappy gathering of “celebrants” dine at a local restaurant and are presented with a massive, pink, candle-lit cake. Unfortunately, one of their disappointed homeowners shows up to complain about the lack of workmanship in his newly purchased house (there's no kitchen floor installed!) Here, Davis shows a rare display of consideration -- until the man walks away! Then Cossins is dispatched to take care of his floor.

Back at the mansion, Davis and Co. are preparing to shoot off a fireworks display to honor the marriage of her and her deceased husband (who, in a painting, seems to resemble Grover Cleveland or William Howard Taft.) Before this can take place, though, Davis feels the need to rat out Taylor's Achilles Heel and finally does so in an eye-poppingly hysterical scene.
Not content to humiliate Taylor in front of everyone, she has peered into the future with her one good eye and determined that Roberts might be planning something untoward in her bedroom. When Taylor strips to her skimpy underthings and pulls back the sheets, she gets quite a surprise (though we don't actually see it and her reaction to it does seem just a tad over the top all things considered.)
The parade of spite, hatefulness, revenge and deception continues on into the night. There are little surprises here and there along with the exposure of an untruth or two. Davis is running on all four cylinders, her one unobstructed eye darting feverishly all over the place as she spits out her lines from between two rows of chartreuse teeth (which are set off by some vivid red lipstick.) The sons can conspire all they want, but there's never any doubt as to who is in charge within the movie (and apparently behind the scenes, too!) The venom grinds to a halt in time for Davis, cackling mightily, to try out her gift from Roberts again, effectively telling everyone that they can “piss off” for all she cares.
Mothers-in-law from hell on film were certainly nothing new. Both Helen Hayes and Irene Dunne had grappled with their in 1933 in Another Language and The Silver Cord, respectively, and there were surely others before that. By 1968, though, there was no Production Code to ensure that monstrous behavior on screen was punished in the end, so Davis could do whatever she wanted to and possibly get away with it. Davis herself was rather inimitable to begin with, though she wasn't above borrowing an aspect or two from others if it suited the role. Here, she has an overstuffed greenhouse that harkens back to that of Katharine Hepburn's controlling mama in Suddenly, Last Summer.

Within the six years prior to The Anniversary, Davis had done five films that presented her in a light that ranged from intimidating (Where Love Has Gone and The Nanny) to dangerous (Dead Ringer) to batshit crazy (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.) Thus, she was firmly entrenched in the battle axe phase of her career and was able to portray a gorgon like this with ease.

The striking eyepatch, similar to one her old pal Olivia de Havilland once wore in That Lady (and which allegedly led to some balance and skin irritant issues) aside, it would be tough to concoct a more severe, immobile hairstyle for Bette. With those sawed-off bangs and the shellacked wings on the sides of her face, she is quite a sight, though she was never afraid to dive off into the deep end when coming up with a look for her character.

She was also still enough of a star, too, to be able to put her foot down about things. For one, the director, Alvin Rakoff, was deemed unsuitable due to his heavy television background and perceived lack of artistry, so he was canned within one week of the start of filming. Veteran director Roy Ward Baker, who had been keeping busy with a lot of television himself in recent years, was brought in to take over. He scrapped all the Rakoff footage and even redid some of the costuming and décor in order to make the film his own. (Note how this lobby card photo - taken during Rakoff's time on the film - depicts Hancock in a suit, rather than the floral print dress she wound up wearing in the finished film and with less elaborate hair.)

Hancock, a stage actress who had played her role previously opposite Mona Washbourne in London, couldn't believe the star treatment she was witnessing during her time on the set. Then again, let's face it, the primary draw for tickets to this movie, then and now, was the visage of Bette Davis looming on the posters with her eyepatch and unforgettable facial features. Davis apparently wasn't all that fond of Hancock either and tried unsuccessfully to have her replaced with Jill Bennett, an actress she'd worked with in The Nanny three years earlier.

Hancock, like most of the supporting cast, is not known much at all in the U.S., but she has had a distinguished theatre career in the U. K. A stage actress from the late '50s on, she eventually portrayed Miss Hannigan in Annie and Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd when those productions were mounted in London. Later, she won a Laurence Olivier Award for her work as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret. A breast cancer survivor, she ironically lost both of her husbands to esophageal cancer, one in 1971 and one in 2002. Still working, she played the grandma in the film The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a take on concentration camps as seen through the eyes of a young boy living near one.

Hedley, who played Hancock's husband, was another original member of the stage cast and had done quite a bit of TV and film work prior to this, though often in small roles (at least in the films.) The year after The Anniversary, he had a small part in the flop musical adaptation of Goodbye, Mr. Chips with Peter O'Toole. In 1976, he again played the father of a brood of children, married to a strong-willed wife, and angling for his parent's inheritance when he played Gooper to Laurence Olivier's Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This is the one that starred Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood as Brick and Maggie! Now eighty-one, he hasn't done any movie or TV work since about the year 2000.
Cossins was still another actor from the stage production. He gives a welcome understated performance that doesn't attempt to sensationalize the fact that he's a closet transvestite. (In a refreshing twist, Davis' character is remarkably non-judgmental about the fact as well, even remarking on his good taste in garments! It's sort of a precursor to the way Sophia regarded her unseen son Phil on The Golden Girls.) He'd been a busy character actor before this and would continue to do so, sometimes appearing in hit films like The Man with the Golden Gun and Ghandi, but mostly flying under the radar on television. He died in 1997.
Roberts (who took over Michael Crawford's part) was a relative newcomer compared to most of the rest of the cast. He'd just had a hit the previous year with To Sir, with Love, in which he was one of several rowdy students under the tutelage of new teacher Sidney Poitier. His subsequent films tended to land on the hooty side. The Desperados was a vulgar western with Vince Edwards and an impossibly hammy Jack Palance. Then he was one of The Adventurers (a bloated, loony mess that is profiled elsewhere on this site.) The Last Valley, an adventure film with Michael Caine and Omar Sharif, was not a success. He soon was out of feature films and by 1979 his screen career had petered out entirely, though he did occasionally return to the stage. Still with us, he runs a restaurant/hotel in Barbados.
Taylor, a newcomer as well, had played a small role in the garish 1967 version of Casino Royale and had a featured part in Half a Sixpence before The Anniversary. The year after this, she worked in Lock Up Your Daughters! with Christopher Plummer and the two fell for each other. They were soon married and she only appeared on TV and in movies sporadically after that, concentrating more on her marriage and their mutual love of renovating and designing homes together. In a happy bit of news, they are still going strong after more than 40 years of marriage and I think she looks terrific!

The Anniversary is not really a pleasant film. The spitefulness and overall sense of doom can become oppressive if one doesn't appreciate the black comedy form. It also suffers from staginess, despite a couple of attempts to open up the action and the presence of a truly cavernous and elaborate set. It's chief appeal is to see Bette in dragon lady form, tossing off insults and manipulating those around her. It might not be an accident that she has Joan Crawford-like lips and eyebrows and sometimes puts on a falsely polite act. These were things she allegedly disliked about her old nemesis. (She'd already lampooned these Crawford qualities earlier in The Star.) She outlived Crawford by about a dozen years, passing on in 1989 (and working longer than she should have at that. The Whales of August in 1987 should have been her last movie and would have been if she hadn't entered into the dreadful The Wicked Stepmother.)

Anyway, it's surprising that Bette Davis isn't better represented here in The Underworld because I love her work and find her fascinating. Thus, I'm proud to share my own anniversary with hers!