Monday, May 31, 2010

Disney Does Drugs (Dragnet, 1969)

Set in Los Angeles and starring Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday, the 1960s TV incarnation of crime drama Dragnet was known for its stories allegedly based on actual incidents culled from police archives. The show often took itself so seriously, you couldn't help but laugh.

I've always been amused by the propaganda campaigns designed to scare kids away from illegal drugs, probably because of the glorious absurdity on display when adults try to make a dire and humorless lecture palatable to teens through their clumsy interpretation of youth 'hipness'.

So when I first stumbled upon this Dragnet episode (1969, Season 3, Episode 11, Narcotics DR-16) that revolves around a group of teenagers who've been recruited to fashion their own hip anti-drug campaign aimed at their peers, I was already at full attention. But the show is elevated to BEST.EPISODE.EVER. status when it takes an unexpected detour to the Disney studios in Burbank.

The fun starts immediately when some no good punk kid is taken into custody after staggering around a rooftop swatting invisible snakes with a TV aerial. What could cause a kid to act like that?

A quick search of his pockets reveals the cause... LSD, now in convenient pill form!

The incident gives Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) and Officer Bill Gannon (Harry Morgan) an opportunity to ponder the horrible state of today's youth.

Gannon: "Where's the kick in going out of your head?"
Friday: "You see them in juvenile... 8 and 9-year old glue sniffers, 10-year old acid freaks."
A local concerned citizen, Mr. Squire, invites the pair to sit in on a new project he's cooked up, SmarTeens, a student-led anti-drug group whose mission, as one of its members puts it, is to "make it the in thing not to do making anyone who tried pot or pills feel stupid, instead of like some big shot on campus."

After some initial suspicion, the kids eventually open up and start brainstorming ideas for posters, slogans and jingles, among them:

S.O.S. - Stamp Out Stupidity
Keep Off the Grass
Any Moron Can Smoke Pot, and Most Morons Do
So far so good, but things take a turn for the awesome when Joe Friday announces he's going to take the kids' poster ideas to his friend, Disney animator Al Bertino. "I've known Al Bertino for a long time... he's a top artist out at Walt Disney's," says Friday.

Next stop, Walt Disney Studios, Burbank!

Friday and Gannon arrive at Al Bertino's studio. "Welcome to Bertinoland. Tell me how this little Italian boy can help you stamp out dope addiction."

Now Al Bertino's face is not as widely known as some of Walt's nine old men, so it's no surprise that I didn't immediately recognize that this "animator"...

...was actually being portrayed by an actor!

That's okay, this Thomas Bellin guy can draw too... kind of. Here's a few rough drafts for posters he turns out in just a few seconds.

Here's my favorite... Don't "Meth" Around. It's funny cause its true.

Friday seems to approve.

Not sure what Bill Gannon thinks, but is that concept art for Disney's Mineral King ski-lodge project I see tacked up on the wall behind him?

A few days later, SmarTeens reconvenes to evaluate several of Al's roughs... including this one that has been cleverly placed by the clock where every student is sure to see it.

Here's a selection of final posters.

I'm assuming Al Bertino really did do some artwork for an anti-drug organization called SmarTeens in the late 60s, but I haven't found any evidence of it beyond this fictionalized account. This episode of Dragnet is available for streaming on Netflix.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mant and Mosquito!

I previously posted about 13 Ghosts, the William Castle haunted house film in which the audience was given "ghost viewer" glasses (a variation of red/blue anaglyph 3-D glasses) to allow them to choose to either hide or reveal the on-screen ghosts.

The use of in-theater gimmicks to allow the audience to interact with what was happening on the screen was director William Castle's trademark, but he didn't have a monopoly on such ballyhoo.

Lawrence Woolsey's 1962 giant-bug film "Mant" was enhanced with gimmicky special effects, including vibrating seats, fireworks, and the in-theater appearance of the half-man/half-ant antagonist (achieved via a costumed actor).

Woolsey was a William Castle imitator who, like Castle, often appeared in the trailers for his films, to speak directly to the audience about his latest screen sensation.

For the Mant trailer, Woolsey speculates about the effects radiation might have on ants, and man.

The resulting mutation would be part man, part ant (hence, "Mant")...ALL TERROR!

Mant opens with stock footage of a nuclear explosion...

...before turning to the office of dentist Dr. Grabow (William Schallert) who is explaining to his patient Bill and Bill's wife, Carole (Cathy Moriarty) , that an ant must have bitten him while he was getting his teeth X-rayed.

How else to explain this most unusual side-effect?

In a situation reminiscent of 1958's The Fly, Bill must deal with the increasingly unbearable effects as first his head, then arms, followed by the rest of his body, slowly mutates into those of an ant.

But at least The Fly stayed the size of a man. As Mant transforms, he continues to grow at an enormous scale, until he's finally large enough to scale a skyscraper ala King Kong.

In a scene that may remind you of Castle's The Tingler, the giant ant runs loose through a movie theater... OUR movie theater... bursting right through the screen!

And then there's Mosquito!, another giant bug film, this one filmed in "Three Dimensional ProjectOVision" and featuring an in-theater gimmick as well.

Detail from the one-sheet for Mosquito!

Mosquito! even opens with the same nuclear bomb stock footage as Mant!

After the sensational opening titles have rolled, we meet Skeeter (Robert Dickman) and lady veterinarian Dr. Latimer (Suzanne Hunt), who are investigating the mysterious deaths of several sheep that have been found drained of blood and with large puncture wounds in the back of their necks.

Dr. Latimer speculates that the military's underground radiation tests may have something to do with it... but what? While driving to the army base to investigate, they hear a loud humming noise above their car...

It's a giant mosquito!

The mosquito lands on top of the car, piercing it with its giant needle before sucking the life out of poor Skeeter.

Dr. Latimer makes it to the base where Lt. Bradley (Barry Jenner) and Corky (Thom Adcox) call in the military for support.

But the mosquito isn't beaten yet...

Here's a rare photograph (circa early 1960s) of the in-theater gimmick that accompanied the exciting climax... a large mosquito prop that swooped over the audience, suspended from the theater ceiling.

Unfortunately neither Mant nor Mosquito! have ever been made available on DVD or VHS, but you can see clips of Mant in Joe Dante's fictionalized account of the Cuban Missile Crisis Matinee (1992) while scenes from Mosquito! can be seen in the slasher-film Popcorn (1991).