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Higgins as Benji (1974)

The dog that played the title role in the 1974 family film Benji was a mongrel named Higgins, a mix of cocker spaniel, poodle and schnauzer. Animal trainer and breeder Frank Inn adopted him in 1960 from the Burbank Animal Shelter in Burbank, California. For seven seasons Higgins was the dog (un-named) in TV’s Petticoat Junction. Although there were several sequels to Benji, Higgins only appeared in the first film. He died aged 17 in 1975. Mr. Inn also trained the animals used in The Beverly Hillbillies (1962), as well as the chimpanzees in the Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp series in 1970. When he passed away in 2002, he left instructions for Higgins’ urn to be placed inside his casket.


Nigel Green

Nigel Green was said to have been greatly depressed throughout the filming of The Ruling Class (1972). Shortly after production concluded he passed away from an overdose of sleeping pills. His death was officially ruled as ‘accidental’, but many who knew him during his final days were convinced he had taken his own life. Fans of Zulu (1964) will lovingly remember him as Colour-Sergeant Bourne, the man that many felt should have won the Victoria Cross. In fact, the real Bourne was offered a VC but chose a commission instead.

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Ronnie & Nancy Reagan

The Reagans, both Ron and Nancy, relied on astrology to make every decision. The President called his astrologer, Ed Helin, to determine the best timing for invading Grenada, for bombing Libya, for launching the Challenger shuttle, and so on…A local representative of the Republican National Committee would deliver an envelope of cash to Helin each month. Ronnie had started with astrologers early in his Hollywood career and then Nancy got into it. As First Lady she switched astrologers a number of times but, nevertheless, hired and fired White House aides and other staff according to their advice. Her San Francisco – based astrologer Joan Quigley charged $3,000 a month for her advice. It was Quigley who convinced the Reagans to hold off announcing Ronnie’s intention to seek re-election until 10.55pm (precisely) on Sunday, 29 January 1984.

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Shirley Jones & Gordon MacRae

As much as I love the wonderful Carousel (1956) soundtrack, the movie itself seems to lack the magic that truly great musicals tend to generate. Consequently, even though the critics were kind to it, the public was not and it was probably Rodgers & Hammerstein’s least successful picture at the box-office. Personally, I could never understand why the delightful tunes, ‘Blow High, Blow Low’ and ‘You’re a Queer One, Julie Jordan’ did not find their way into the film. Both are on the soundtrack album. Significantly, Shirley Jones favoured the Carousel score over all the works of Rodgers & Hammerstein.

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Martin & Lewis in Artists & Models (1955)

Artists and Models (1955) was the third last screen appearance of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis together, and even then they were not on speaking terms. Shirley MacLaine worked with them in this picture and soon discovered that Dean was the spontaneously funny one of the two. Jerry was all seriousness once the cameras were off, a kind of ‘scientist of comedy who wanted to be a director’. He basically took over, and when he did so Dean walked. Shirley developed a huge crush on Dean but nothing was consummated because his wife was always around. It was Dean who knew all the mobsters, his pal Frank Sinatra was what the ‘wise guys’ called a ‘wannabe’. Mob boss Sam Giancana taught Shirley how to play gin rummy!

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Michael Caine in The Italian Job (1969)

The 1969 version of The Italian Job is basically a movie about cars and driving. A large proportion of the film involves mostly British Minis zooming about helter-skelter, carrying out a heist planned and led by Michael Caine’s character. Yet we never see him actually behind the wheel of a vehicle. Never. Even when he picks up an Aston Martin at the garage and, in the next shot we see it arrive at the hotel, Caine gets out of a stationary Aston Martin after a further cut. Why? Because Michael Caine could not drive a motor vehicle. He had never learned how.

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Vincent Price as ‘Prime Minister’ Richelieu in The Three Musketeers (1948)

The power of the Church, particularly the Catholic Legion of Decency (CLOD), was evident when MGM made the 1948 version of The Three Musketeers. LB Mayer and the studio’s hierarchy were so afraid of drawing flak from religious groups, that they removed all mention of Richelieu being a cardinal or even a man of the Church. Instead, he was referred to as Prime Minister, even though neither France (nor England for that matter) had prime ministers in the modern sense in the seventeenth century.

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John Belushi

Robert De Niro and Robin Williams were both with John Belushi the night before he fatally overdosed at the Chateau Marmont in 1982. On March 5, the 33 year-old funny man was found dead in his bungalow. The cause of death was deemed to be a lethal injection of cocaine and heroin. Several years later Belushi’s drug dealing/ drug user companion during those final weeks, a woman named Cathy Smith, was sentenced to three years in prison for supplying the drugs that killed him.

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The impact of Deliverance (1972) on the tourism industry in Rabun County was such that it is now the major industry in the county. Jon Voight’s stunt double, Claude Terry, anticipated this, purchased equipment used in the picture from Warner Brothers, and founded Southeastern Expeditions which is, today, the oldest white water rafting company on the Chattanooga River. By 2012, rafting had developed into a $20 million industry in the region. Commercially, however, not everyone thrived. After the picture’s release the sale of camping equipment plummeted and the Appalachian camping industry was almost bankrupted.

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Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1942)

Last night I had my regular ‘fix’ of Casablanca (1942). I have watched it dozens of times and am still of the opinion that it is the best motion picture ever made. Ever. There simply is not a bad scene in the entire film! If someone asked me to choose the best scene in Casablanca, I would suggest it might be any scene that has Humphrey Bogart in it! His portrayal of the world-weary, heartbroken, cynical Rick Blaine is flawless, the best character interpretation in the history of the movies. So, did it win him the Best Actor Oscar? Of course not. He was nominated but the prize went to the ordinary Paul Lukas in the equally ordinary Watch on the Rhine. Go figure.




    • I have always been partial to Rafael Sabatini, PC Wren and George Macdonald Fraser myself, Max. I have all the ‘Flashman’ books by GMF, Sabatini’s ‘Scaramouche’, ‘Captain Blood, ‘The Sea Hawk’ etc, and I was weaned on ‘Beau Geste’, ‘Beau Ideal’ and ‘Beau Sabreur’. I suppose I am just a romantic at heart.

  1. This reply has to do with “Deliverance.” My late, beloved grandmother insisted that we watch it when it was first shown on TV. So I’m responding to what was probably a much-edited version. I believe I was 22 or 23 years old and was visiting my grandma on my break from grad school, which was out of the country.) Despite whatever cuts were made, the film shocked and scared me so much that I had to keep getting up and running out of the living room on pretext of going to the bathroom. My grandmother, however, sat placidly through it all and very much enjoyed it. I refuse to watch the uncut version to this day. There’s not enough booze in the world….

  2. I also remember Nigel Green from Ray Harryhausen’s masterpiece stop-motion animation film ”Jason and the Argonauts.” Nigel played the legendary Hercules in that movie.
    I enjoyed the weight lifter Steve Reeves as Hercules in the 2 movies he did about the Greek character.
    However,it was refreshing to see Green’s Hercules instead of the usual muscle bound actors they always picked to do the part.

    Whenever Dean Martin was funny on the set of a Martin & Lewis movie,Jerry would be seething with jealousy. In time he’d develop mysterious stomach aches and the production would come to a halt until Jer’s doctor could arrive.

  3. “Watch on the Rhine” was adapted, almost verbatim, from the play by the same name, written by Lillian Hellman. Hellman was then a Hollywood favorite and had assistance with the script from Dashiell Hammett (Hellman’s lover) and Dorothy Parker (Hellman’s best friend).The film also featured Bette Davis in a small supporting role as the hero’s wife. Until the day she died Hellman referred to herself and Hammett as “premature anti-fascists,” which I have to suppose was code for communists. (Hammett was a member of the party; Hellman always hedged when asked, most famously during the HUAC investigations led by the debauched and paranoid Joseph McCarthy.) I think that if one sees the film with that background in mind, its story becomes much more poignant. Cards on the table: I, too, am a member of the Communist Party USA so my appreciation of the movie may be colored by that.

  4. Not a fan of Bogart and I appreciate casablanca….it is FAR from the best pic every made. Bogart pretty much always played a variation of the same character, Never got his attraction…to me it is folks just thinking they should like him…

    • These things are all a matter of personal opinion, of course. I just watched ‘Casablanca’ for the umpteenth time about an hour ago and I STILL think Bogart was wonderful. As for ‘folks just thinking they should like him…’, I could say the same thing about Woody Allen and Alfred Hitchcock, neither of whom I have much time for. As I said, it is all a matter of personal tastes I guess. I like Bogart in this picture and ‘To Have and Have Not, but can take him or leave him in most of his other hits. For instance, I have always found ‘The Maltese Falcon’ to be greatly over-rated. Most fans would not agree, however.

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