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WHEN TV HITS THE BIG SCREEN

by CARY O'DELL

A trip to the multiplex these days might as well be an evening of TV from 20 years ago so many feature films of late seem to be reinventions of classic TV shows. The latest “prequel” to “Star Trek” and other TV-inspired movies of recent and semi-recent vintage include “Dark Shadows,” “Dukes of Hazard,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Fugitive,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “Mission: Impossible,” “The Addams Family,” “SWAT” and “21 Jump Street” as well as all sorts of animated works including “South Park” and “The Simpsons.” (And sometimes animated TV works getting the live-action treatment--“Transformers” and “Scooby-Doo.”)

Sometimes though, particular TV series have proven so popular that it’s almost as if the small screen can’t contain them. Sometimes right after their last broadcast or concurrent with their run, a series, complete with its original cast members, will be moved to the big screen to cash in on their fame and our affection characters.

“Sex and the City” and “The X-Files” are just two of the most recent examples of this particular subgenre of film and TV and they won’t be the last. But, notably, they were also not the first.

 

“The Goldbergs” (1949-1956): Gertrude Berg’s beloved sitcom “The Goldbergs,” the story of a close-knit clan living in Brooklyn, had already enjoyed a long and successful run on radio (beginning in 1929) before star and creator Berg brought it to TV in 1949. Even with that success though, “The Goldbergs’s” media jumping wasn’t over. In 1950, Berg and company hit the big screen with this film, “Molly,” which got its title from Mrs. Goldberg’s first name. In the film, Molly and her family are in a state when an old flame of Molly’s comes to visit. A bit of trivia: Barbara Rush makes her film debut in this film.

“Our Miss Brooks” (1952-1956): Like “The Goldbergs,” Eve Arden’s successful sitcom was a hit on radio before coming to TV. In both incarnations Arden got to be her acerbic self though the film version of “Brooks” was a bit more pathos than joke driven. In their big screen effort, Miss Brooks’s main objective is to get student Nick Adams enrolled in journalism school. TV co-stars Gale Gordon, Richard Crenna and Robert Rockwell are also along for this feature film excursion.

“Dark Shadows” (1966-1971): Not to be confused with the recent high-profile Tim Burton/Johnny Depp comedy-adventure, two “Dark Shadows” films, based upon the original gothic daytime soap, were produced and released in the early 1970s. “House of Dark Shadows” appeared in 1970; “Night of Dark Shadows” emerged the year after. Both were written and directed by show creator Dan Curtis. “House” featured most of the TV show’s core cast including the late Jonathan Frid as vampire Barnabas Collins as well as Kathryn Leigh Scott, Joan Bennett, and Grayson Hall. “Night” lacks Frid but does include new or expanded roles for David Selby, Kate Jackson and Lara Parker. This “Dark Shadows” duo represents the only time that a daytime soap has made the leap to the big screen, something even “General Hospital” couldn’t do during its Luke and Laura heyday.


“The Monkees” (1966-1968): Though it didn’t contain the name of its small screen originator, “Head” was obviously the Monkees taking on the movies. Released in 1968, the film, which co-starred Teri Garr, Frank Zappa and Jack Nicholson, is psychedelic and certainly a product of its time. The movie’s plot is rather scattershot but has something to do with the four lads of the made-for-TV band feeling oppressed (by their manufactured fame?) and attempting to escape from their oppressor represented in the film by a big black box (a TV?) and the personage of actor Victor Mature.


“Batman” (1966-1968): Made in 1966 between seasons one and two of the hit high-camp series, the movie “Batman” starred, of course, Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as Boy Wonder Robin. Almost all of the rest of the show’s most famous guest cast also appeared in the film including Cesar Romeo as The Joker, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin and Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. Only Julie Newmar as the Catwoman did not take part; the feline villain role here was played by Lee Meriwether. Interestingly, this “Batman” film was supposed to appear before the TV series arrived on the air (as a way to introduce the characters) but a last-minute TV scheduling switch pushed back the film’s production.

 

“Captain Video and His Video Ranger” (1949-1955): Unique in several respects is this 15-part serial based upon the successful TV sci-fi series, the only movie serial to ever be based on a TV show. Additionally, unlike most TV to big screen translations, none of the TV cast carried over to this endeavor titled “Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere.” Actor Judd Holdren (who would later also play Commander Cody) played Captain Video and it would be his only appearance as the popular sci-fi character. In the film(s), Captain Video tangles with an intergalactic dictator named Vultura on the planet Atoma. Before the film concluded, our hero and his Ranger (played by Larry Stewart) had to battle against being frozen alive and a runaway band of killer robots. Rather ambitiously, installments of the serial experimented with color tinting of the film to convey the exoticness of other planets.

 

“The Man from UNCLE” (1964-1968): Before “Star Trek’s” various TV incarnations made it (repeatedly) to the movie theater, the hit 1960s spy series “The Man from UNCLE” was easily the most prolific TV-to-big-screen title. Starring series regulars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, the first “UNCLE” big screen affair was 1965’s “To Trap a Spy.” It featured Pat Crowley, Luciana Paluzzi and Fritz Weaver in support. The film was created by taking a color print of the TV series pilot (the show was shown in black and white) and adding additional footage to extend it to feature film length. After “To Trap,” four other episodes (or pair of episodes) from the series underwent similar treatment to fashion the following “UNCLE” films: “The Spy with My Face” (1965); “The Karate Killers” (1967); “The Helicopter Spies” (1967) and “How to Steal the World” (1968).


“Dragnet” (1951-1959; 1967-1970): Not to be confused with the 1987 camp treatment that starred Tom Hanks and Dan Ackroyd, this 1954 film contained not only Jack Webb but all the seriousness that the TV version of “Dragnet” was famous for. Along with Webb, the movie cast included TV show regulars Ben Alexander and Richard Boone. Webb also directed. The story has Sgt. Friday investigating the murder of a bookie. Unlike the TV version of “Dragnet,” this gritty, real-life story was filmed in color.


“McHale’s Navy” (1962-1966): Again not to be confused with the 1990s remake that starred Tom Arnold, this 1964 effort featured original TV cast members Joe Flynn, Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway. The plot had the sailors of PT-73 losing money on a horserace and then scrambling to cover the debt. Hilarity ensued. This film was followed by a sequel “McHale’s Navy Joins the Air Force” in 1965.

“The Munsters” (1964-1966): Released just after the cancellation of the TV series, this “Munster’s” spin-off, “Munster, Go Home” reunited almost all of the original cast with the exception of either of the show’s two “Marilyns”—Beverly Owen or Pat Priest. Instead, the “ugly” Munster was played by Debbie Watson. Watson was under contract to Universal at the time and the studio used this film as part of her “build-up” to stardom. Filling out the cast were such excellent English characters actors as Terry-Thomas and Hermione Gingold. The plot of the film has the family of 1313 Mockingbird Lane traveling overseas when they inherit an English castle. Notably as well, the film gave fans their first chance to see this gruesome brood in color.

 

WHEN TV HITS THE BIG SCREEN

TV SHOWS TO MOVIES

 

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