A Twitter Thanksgiving: Laurel & Hardy in MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS

If WPIX can do it, so can we! Start your Thanksgiving right with our Laurel & Hardy Live Tweet, starting at 11:30 a.m. ET on Thanksgiving morning. Use the hashtag #LHThanksgiving to find the movie on Twitter and to tweet along with fellow movie-watchers.

Everybody’s second act

Do you sometimes wonder whether you’re watching a TV show, or financing an actor’s therapy?

In a review of “Carol’s Second Act,” The Hollywood Reporter informs us, “CBS’ workplace sitcom stars Patricia Heaton as a plucky retiree entering the medical field in middle age.” Remove all the words from “retiree” through “field,” and you could use the rest to play “Mad Libs” with Patricia Heaton’s career.

“Everybody Loves Raymond” co-starred Heaton (in what remains her best role) as a plucky housewife trying to deal with her clueless husband and zany in-laws in middle age. (Well, it got to be middle age by the end of the series, anyway.) “The Middle” starred Heaton as a plucky housewife (again) negotiating a crazy family and harsh American economics in middle age.

There’s not a lot in “Act” to differentiate between Heaton’s characterizations in this show and “The Middle.” She’s diminutive yet feisty, occasionally dropping her smile and lifting her head above the morass to shout, “Hey! I’m down here and I’m not finished yet!” The one element they did remove from her role as Ray Romano’s wife was her hostility. The Nice Ones on TV often seemed fearful of acknowledging their dark side, but on “Raymond,” Heaton was never afraid to let it rip. In one great scene, she uncovers another of her mother-in-law’s subtle plans to undermine her. Ray doesn’t believe it was a plan until she uncovers it — at which point she wags a threatening finger at Ray and emotes, William Shatner style, “Well, who’s the crazy one now, Ray? WHO’S…the CRAZY one…NOW??”

You can argue that an actor has to make a living like everyone else, except it’s well-known that the cast of “Everybody Loves Raymond” made millions from its success. So wouldn’t you think that well-off actors could and would be a little choosier about their follow-up roles?

It’s a question I’ve pondered for decades, and the TV graveyard is littered with examples. As wonderful as he is, Dick Van Dyke tops my list. He still does interviews where he raves about the virtues of “Diagnosis Murder,” a sluggish whodunit where Van Dyke played a wily doctor who solved murders on the side. It wasn’t enough that the show covered murder-mystery territory that had already been well raked over by “Murder She Wrote.” Here’s the real acid test: If you were trapped on that storied desert island, and you could choose only one TV program to entertain you, would you rather watch “Diagnosis Murder” or “The Dick Van Dyke Show” for the rest of your life?

And those are just the well-known examples. I still remember a period in the 1990’s when Valerie Bertinelli, the perky (there’s that word again) teenage daughter on “One Day at a Time,” was getting shoved down our throats in TV execs’ vain attempts to convince us she was a sitcom star. “Sydney” and “CafĂ© Americain” were short-lived, practically back-to-back attempts to demonstrate Bertinelli’s supposed comedy chops. (As with “One Day at a Time,” she later had better luck as part of an ensemble cast, in “Hot in Cleveland.”)

And let’s not even get into America’s decade-long job as Jennifer Aniston’s self-appointed babysitter.

Part of this is television’s usual ploy to score new hits with familiar faces. Why go for fresh talent when you have proven ratings-getters waiting in the wings? (They’ll probably never quit coming up with shows for Matt LeBlanc.)

Every actor has a right to make a living, of course. But before these veterans snag their umpteenth sitcom, they might be well advised to remember: (a) no matter whom you star in a new show, it doesn’t turn New Show B into Classic Show A; and (b) when the show’s lead role is a put-upon Everyperson, don’t fill the role with someone who just returned from the bank after counting their millions.

Let sleeping stars lie

Does someone in Hollywood really think that “bringing back” James Dean in a “new role” is an exciting idea, or even a unique one? It’s cute as a brief gimmick for a comedy or a TV commercial, but unless it’s a newly minted script for Bugs Bunny, it’s probably not enough to hold a feature film together.

Groucho: “Your ad did nothing for my career, much less yours!”

My 10 Films That Make Me Glad I’m Alive List

Hey, I’m 58 and unemployed. I need some affirmation in my life. Therefore, out with the “10 Best Films” list. Here are 10 films that make me glad I’m alive.

Cinema Paradiso

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Stop Making Sense

Way Out West

A Hard Day’s Night

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Yellow Submarine

The Godfather II

The Palm Beach Story

Blazing Saddles

What are some movies that give you the will to live?

A rich slice of film noir to start off #Noirvember

Over at Twitter, a Twitter member named Marya (@oldfilmsflicker) has designated November as the month of “Noirvember” in honor of the esteemed genre of film noir. I’m no noir expert, but I’ll try to sprinkle some fun noir stuff into this blog throughout the month.

For starters, film noir fans with sweet teeth (tooths?) will savor this 2007 gem.

THE D.I. (1957) – Jack Webb at his square-jawest

The following is my entry in the Send in the Marines Blogathon, co-hosted by J-Dub and Gill at, respectively, the blogs Dubsism and Realweegiemidget Reviews. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on a wide range of movies related to the subject of the U.S. Marine Corps!

It’s 1971, with the Vietnam War still in full force. An impressionable 10-year-old kid, concerned that he might have to face the draft in the future, is watching TV with his older brother, who recently had been honorably discharged from the war after four years of service. Their bill of fare this Sunday afternoon is Jack Webb’s The D.I., and as Webb’s D.I. character barks orders and hurls invective at his wet-behind-the-ears troops, the veteran is all too happy to tell his kid brother, “Oh, yeah, that’s just what military life was like.”

In short, The D.I. scared the s**t out of me.

Since then, of course, we’ve seen Full Metal Jacket and other movies that have been far more explicit about the harshness of military life. (In fact, unlike those other movies, The D.I. [made in a peacetime era] doesn’t even go beyond boot camp.) But thanks to Webb’s spartan direction, the movie still packs quite a wallop.

The movie centers on Gunnery Sergeant Jim Moore (Webb), a Parris Island officer who is tough as nails, but (naturally) only because he has to be. The main thorn in Moore’s side is Pvt. Owens (Don Dubbins), a milquetoast recruit who seems to go out of his way to do everything wrong. Owens proves to be such a pain that Moore’s superior gives him an ultimatum — make Owens tow the line in three days, or he will be dishonorably discharged.

If you’ve seen Webb do his square, clipped version of virtue on “Dragnet” (always ending a scene with some pearl of wisdom about modern life), his D.I. characterization won’t be any great surprise. At one point, Moore tells one of his peers, “When I get a punk [in my squadron], I get rid of him. When I get a guy like this Owens, I cultivate him!” (Cue commercial.)

However, for this kind of story, Webb’s straight-on directorial style works perfectly. The camera is always just close enough in that we feel the claustrophia of these put-upon soldiers. And Webb never wastes any shot with fancy technique, always making his point and then moving right on to the next scene. (There’s a surprisingly touching back-and-forth moment where Owens is planning to desert the company and one of Owens’ peers tearfully tries to talk him out of it.)

There are only a couple of instances where the movie manufactures some hollow drama just because it can’t think of anything else to do. One is where Moore’s potential love interest Annie (Jackie Loughery) gets all worked up over nothing just so that the movie can give them an argument about a conflict that isn’t there. And there’s some business regarding a dead flea that starts to make you worry that Moore has finally gone over the edge. Fortunately, these dizzy spells don’t last long, and the movie overall is quite satisfying.

During one of his lectures to Owens, Moore gets all Yoda on him and says, “We don’t try here in the Marines. We either do or we don’t!” The D.I. shows that the Marines, and Webb, get the job done pretty well.

Here’s a trailer with Webb taking you on a “tour” of the movie.