5/29/13

Urban Myth of the Day: Zoot Fenster - The Man On Page 602 (Antique, 1975)

I used to hear about this "thing" that happened, from time to time in my childhood, whispered here and there...usually, as I would come into the room, the conversation would stop, but I gathered that "something" had happened that I needed to know more about, and Sears was involved.
Flash forward to a few years ago, when I was reminded of this "event," the one that embarrassed and hushed chattering aunts and grandmothers...and I learned a few more of the details.  I will give you the quick version: a picture in a department store catalog caused a furor in the mid-70's.  This is hard to believe in our "modern" age....if you are trying to tell this story, odds are you will first have to explain that department stores used to send out regular catalogs a couple of times a year, and that as children, we would eagerly await the Christmas ones ("wish books") and begin tearing through them...but I digress.
I found out there was a (novelty) song about the incident, but promptly forgot about it.  Imagine my surprise when I found the single in a pile of otherwise dull records recently.
Since this subject is sort of outside the bounds of what we usually cover here at The Sphinx, and it's not one of THOSE sorts of taverns, I will direct you to the fine urban-myth-debunking folks at Snopes.com for the rundown, as well as the offending photo, so you can see and decide for yourselves.

5/23/13

GODZILLA BATTLES THE TRICEPHALON MONSTER (1979, HG Toys) Part 2

Picking up from where we left off yesterday, let's take a closer look at the many parts that make up this incredible playset.  On the side of the box, we see the contents listed:
I suppose we could just follow the order they suggest. Let's start with "GIANT GODZILLA"!
As the star of the set, Godzilla is around 5" tall, and solid, non-posable plastic, with a hollowed-out area in his belly, which is probably for molding purposes, and to keep the figure from being overly heavy.  It isn't visible from any angle,as you can see.  His feet don't stand flat, making his stance a little lopsided, but they captured the lumbering qualities and heaviness of his walk very well.
Next we have the other star, the one HG Toys created, the Tricephalon Monster.  He is equal parts fish, turtle, and dinosaur, and I have previously noted his comparison to King Ghidorah.  The artwork (also used for the largest of their puzzles) shows his heads and necks to be metallic, but here they give the impression of being scaly and plated like the rest of his body.  He's 7" long, and is also hollow under his belly. His green hue of plastic is a little different from Godzilla's, which was a nice touch.  There is one case (you can see it on You Tube even) of a Tricephalon monster being found made of red plastic.  At first I thought it had to be a fan-made remold or something, but when I stopped to think about all the variations possible with this sort of thing (especially because the plastic pieces for this playset were manufactured separately, overseas in Hong Kong), then anything is possible.
 The "Civillians," like the Army men, resemble traditional plastic soldiers from all of our childhoods, but the comparison ends there.  In person, they are both much smaller, an inch or slightly less tall, and made of softer plastic.  There are five different Civillian figures, with six different humans.  On the left we have a splayed-out man in a weird position...he could be a drunk stumbling out of an alley, but he makes a better dead body.  If it wasn't for the base, I would think that's what they intended.  Next we have an old-fashioned cop, who could be straight out of BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS.  The pair of children really shows the level of detail that this playset gives us: the sister, teddy bear in hand, pulls the young boy, who is pointing at the sky in horror! Next is a favorite of anyone who sees the playset, the grandma shaking her cane, looking like a Ruth Buzzi character from LAUGH-IN.  While this is an extraordinary touch, the downside is that, getting three or four of these makes it look like the city is populated by bag ladies.  Last but not least, the screaming woman is so traditional, but so necessary, that it really adds to the scene...look at her, she can't run at all.  She is completely frozen in fear, with both hands to her head in true monster movie fashion.
There are six different poses of soldiers included.  All of them are completely appropriate for defending the city. My one complaint is, like the bag lady, ending up with three or four of the "Walkie Talkie guy" is a little problematic.
Also included are two jeeps, two tanks, a police car, ambulance (nice touch!), and fire chief car.  Including vehicles was thoughtful, because the playmat has several roads, and the bridge is a prominent part of the playset, after all.
The two "F-111 Jet Fighters" and the "Missile-Firing Destroyer."  While these are awesome, you should have seen the ship when I got it.  The playset had been in somebody's garage for years, and I gave everything a bath and/or cleaning.  Anyhow, why specify "F-111" instead of just "Jet Fighters"? Maybe because it sounds cooler? Looking up the F-111, it was a real thing, known as the "Aardvark," and was brought into use by the U.S. Air Force in 1967. They only built 563, and they were phased out.  As for the Destroyer, I still am not quite sure how it fired missiles--well, I am, because you can see a spring in the instructions.  What I really am not sure of is what the missiles looked like.  There's no clue from the box or instructions.  Maybe you were supposed to supply your own.  Who knows? 
The Playmat is 30" square, and is similar to what used to come with traditional army men, or even Play-Doh, playsets.  It has roads, a dock, and a large river for the Tricephalon to destroy your boat.
I was really, really lucky to get the instruction sheet included, and it's the first time I've seen one.  It's single-sided, and shows how to set up the cardboard pieces, assemble the boat, and put the spring in the gun turret.  
As we wind this thing up, there's one more factoid I wanted to mention, and it ties into the subject of variations I discussed above.  Somewhere, I read there were TWO different background scenes, and I had thought that the large diorama piece was simply two-sided.  Mine isn't, which makes me wonder.  The only place I can find it in writing is the ad (which I've posted before) from an old FAMOUS MONSTERS magazine:
from FAMOUS MONSTERS #184
You can see that it says "two different background scenes, one of city docks, one of crumbling skyscrapers!" which almost makes it sound like two separate pieces.  I only bring this up to wonder if this was a later addition, but then again, one of the small photos on the box shows us this:
I just haven't seen any photos on the Internets of folks who had two separate pieces, and we can't see the whole thing here, to figure out if it was later produced as a reversible backdrop. If anyone wants to clarify this, or share some info, just let me know.
At any rate, I hope you have enjoyed seeing an up-close look at the many details of this once-in-a-lifetime toy. I hadn't seen any in-depth reviews of this amazing relic, and I thought it really deserved one.

5/22/13

GODZILLA BATTLES THE TRICEPHALON MONSTER (1979, HG Toys) part 1

I am excited to say, another of my holy grails can be checked off of my list of vintage Godzilla items! I have written about this playset before, and there are a few good sites with pictures and scattered information here and there, but this thing is so cool, we are going to take a two-part, in-depth look at its awesomeness.  Because it just demands it!
It was the late 1970's, and GODZILLA was part of that time sacred to children, Saturday morning cartoons.  HG Toys produced four Godzilla puzzles, which we have discussed and documented on this very blog.  They also produced playsets, ranging from generic alien invasion or military, to licensed themes, like Buck Rogers or the mighty Godzilla.  At the Plaid Stallions website, you can see dealer catalog scans showing these.
But to think these were akin to mere "plastic army men"-type playsets is just not accurate.  Specifically on this amazing playset, they were able to take the extra steps to cram detail and play value into their product.  So much so that there simply hasn't been anything to match the scope of this playset on either side of the ocean, in all these years, which is puzzling to me.  Sure, there are great Godzilla playsets to be found, such as (on a small scale) the Trendmasters "heads," or even Bandai's excellent CRUMBLE ZONE, but to be fair, Bandai was representing a specific film...while this playset manages to capture the full experience of the classic films in its own unique way.  
Today we are going to look at the big picture, and in Part 2 we will look at the individual elements that make up this rare treasure.  After years of longing and searching, my wait is over.
Cue the music: "With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound..."
Don't worry though, the soldiers are deployed!

You know, though, if you are the military, defending the city, this is the last thing you want to see ahead of you!

Godzilla is waiting for the chance to say, "You sank my battleship!"


Meanwhile, the city is in flames! People run; children scream; cardboard trees rattle; old women shake their canes at the battling beasts!

You have to love little details like this: the diner is named "Joe's." Of course it is...as classic cartoons have taught us, ALL diners are named Joe's!

"Pilot One to base...I have surveyed the scene, and I would like to report that we are completely screwed..."

5/17/13

Godzilla 2000 Mylar Theater Sign

Here's a cool item that arrived in the mail yesterday...has it really been 13 years since a REAL, as in genuine, Godzilla movie has been released to American theaters? This is also a neat item because the technology has changed since those days.  If you remember, when you bought tickets, there was a large board behind the cashier that showed movie times, and each one had a small card showing the movie logo and title...unfortunately, theaters today have big "digital" scoreboards.  I understand why this has happened, but isn't it better to have some color to catch your eye? I mean, look at this simple little sign.  It's slightly smaller than a bumper sticker, but it has the artwork, the title logo, and everything you need to find the film you are looking for.  It's another case where technology has left artistry behind.

5/14/13

Engrish of the Week - Levenge of the Sith

You know it's a bad sign when there are perforated lines on your DVD artwork (left hand side)...
I know, that wasn't very nice, but you will see why I am a little bummed out...do you ever find Asian-made bootlegs at your local thrift store? If you live in Chicago, or Seattle, or in California, you probably do....but in the American South? Really? Most people where I live can't even spell Asia...the ones that can think it's an American Idol contestant.
A better question is, why would I buy another copy of this awful movie? Well, I have to admit, I bought it hoping it was the famous "Backstroke of the West." If you don't know what that is, it is a bootleg of Episode III that was out at the time of the film's release, where the subtitles where a literal translation of the Chinese, back to English, so we got things like this:

If you haven't seen this, or at least know about it, you probably don't have an Internet connection, so you should stop reading this now, because you are defying the laws of good sense.
If you have, then you know this is the best way to watch Episode III, hands down.
I tell you all that because, I was hoping that was what this was...I wanted to own an "original," but alas, it wasn't to be....turns out, I was fooled by the very thing I am about to celebrate: a steaming pile of twisted Engrish! Yes, I saw "English" listed in the subtitles, and bought it...luckily, we can get some entertainment value out of it. (By the way, it's a substandard print that is letterboxed INSIDE OF the 4:3 ratio, so it's tiny, and the only subtitles are Chinese! Oh, and also by the way, I scanned the UPC code, and got a photo of some foreign classical-music CD's, hmmm!!)
Let's start with the summary on the back of the box, shall we?
Hm, I want to buy a film...I've heard a lot about this "Star Wars" thingy; let's see what it's about.........after reading this, I still do not know.  
I sort of wish this was the plot of the actual film.  It would be more interesting to see a zombie-like "dead and legislative assembly" than discussions about banking clans, and the "inflexible army of deadly separation" would have to be way cooler than bumbling, comic-relief Battle Droids.  Also, the idea of "Coruscant Palpatine" is exciting to me for some reason, I am picturing a Unicron-like, planet-sized Emperor...revolvee-ing.  I even think the name "Anakin Skywalker" pales in comparison to "Sky Passerby Ad Admiing Gold," although I guess that wouldn't fit on action figure packaging very well. And what does this "bosom friend" [snicker] want? Why, to advocate the armed might, of course.  Already we are way ahead of Lucas...Disney might want to consider running some English through Babelfish, and then back again, for Episode VII.  "Instant script!"

Moving on, we then stop to read the part that most of us skip...we already know what movie we are buying, right? Who reads this stuff, anyway? Stupid Americans, that's who. Imagine my shock to see it wasn't Samuel Jackson, but Morgan Freeman in this movie...you see, already we have gone and improved it again! That would be amazing!
Yes, the bootleggers just cut-and-pasted some details from another film, and slapped it on here...nobody's going to notice.  "Look mom! It's NOT RATED!"

And here we are, at the part that fooled me into hoping there were English subtitles, and that they would be hilarious...of course, if my reading skills were better, I would have noticed the 99 minute running time....and probably the 1958 release date.  Yes, I read the back of a Chinese bootleg DVD to see what the content was, and made my purchasing decision based on what it said.  Unbelievable.  Oops!
At this point, the bootleggers have given up caring, and are just hitting the keyboard with their feet, you know, for fun.  Any semblance between this and actual language is unintentional...
The best is truly last...this is the "finer" print at the bottom of the back cover, and it's truly hilarious.  I can't read it without laughing out loud.  In the first line, they butcher the very name of the company they are supposedly talking about by spelling it THREE DIFFERENT WAYS: "Dolby and the doulbe symbo are trademarks of doolby..." I mean, really? That's bad even if you are phoning it in! And the next part is the funniest to me...the "Doolby Labones Licensing Duorpation Bent Chanel Fourlsion Corpration" is going to be my next band name.
Actually, isn't a "Duorpation" a name for somebody that holds two careers at the same time?
The other funny things about this text are that it's one long sentence, even without any punctuation, and that they decide it's important to put a "2002" in there, which is three years before the actual film came out. Oh, and PRINTED IN USA, so there, America...and let's not overlook the pretend FBI logo! Don't copy discs, kids!

So what have we learned from this adventure? Absolutely nothing, and I would do it again.  And probably will.  But wait, there's more! At the very same thrift store, on the very same day, I also actually, literally, and physically bought the following:
Oh, the artwork...I think we all know this feeling.
Yes, that's right.  Fireworks.  Just let it sink in for a moment.  I know thrift stores that refuse to take PAINT, for the love of Pete, and some genius at this one thought it was okay to put explosives on the shelf.  With gunpowder.   In the toy section.  For $1.50.  
And I bought them, of course, and there were eleven left, and they were still in working condition, I am happy to report.  (Or should that be, I am happy to "loud report" !!)

How To Display Minifigures In A Shadowbox - UPDATED WITH INSTRUCTIONS

For quite a while, my #1 most-read post on this blog has been my original "What's the Best Way To Display Minifigures?", and I've given it a badly-needed update, with specific instructions, and details I did not have handy when I wrote it the first time.  If you are interested in modifying a shadowbox for your own display, check it out, and benefit from the mistakes I had to learn from!

5/10/13

Kaijubilee #15, "Do-It-Yourself Baragon"

Short post today, but I have some new audio coming soon that I am converting and equalizing right now.  While we wait on that, here is a Do-It-Yourself Kaiju Portrait Kit, sort of.

I saw a guy on Pinterest who was taking cheap, student-quality paintings he found a thrift stores, and adding monsters to them...turns out, this is not a new thing, and if you search Pinterest for "Thrift Store Monsters" you will find quite a few.  I was determined to try this, and I found the following masterwork at my local shop:
The trick, of course, is getting a decent enough photo of it, if you are too cheap like me to actually buy the painting...anyhow, I put the image in Photoshop and drew on top of it, and got the following result:
If you are interested in trying it, save the above image, and let me know what happens! More kaiju artwork in the not-too-distant future (great; now I will have the Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme song in my head the rest of the day...!)

5/7/13

Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013)


It is with great, great sadness that I report the death of legend Ray Harryhausen.  Not just another light, but a blazing sun, has gone out in the Pantheon of Genius.  My personal gallery of heroes has gotten very slim indeed.
One of my prized possessions is an autographed color photo, that he personalized to me, of him standing in front of a case filled with some of his armatures.  I always agreed with Harryhausen in his statements that no CGI or other type of digital effects matched the reality of movement that stop-motion affords; the heft, the organic-ness, and the natural presence which only a real object can give...these qualities made it the perfect vehicle for fantasy films.
And who could forget the films he gave us? Just to hit the high points is to mention MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (where he worked with his hero, Willis O'Brien), BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (I have already noted in this blog its connection in the lineage of Godzilla), EARTH vs THE FLYING SAUCERS, the amazing SINBAD movies, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, and his swan song, the original and unsurpassable CLASH OF THE TITANS.

I can't imagine a world--no--I don't want to LIVE in a world, that doesn't have JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. Or THE VALLEY OF GWANGI, for that matter.

God bless Ray Harryhausen.  Thank you for all of your genius that you shared with us during your life.

5/6/13

Marvel 70's Novels!

I picked these up at a flea market a couple of weeks ago.  The Fantastic Four novel is from 1979, and the Hulk one is dated 1978.  Apparently, the Hulk novel is about a nasty-sounding, tentacled monster from outer space.  It is intelligent, and on the "preview page" in the front of the book, it tells the Hulk that it will be victorious, to which old Greenskin replies:  "Bah!  Hulk not afraid of puny jellyfish!"
Sometimes, I really miss the 1970's!
 



5/2/13

Classic Children's Books: Bullwinkle, Felix the Cat, and more

Golden Books, 1960.  This is a gem of a book from start to finish, with both charming art and story.
I love old Children's books...I will buy nearly anything I find that came from the 70's or 80's, but I'm also very partial to more vintage stuff, especially anything with classic animation characters.  Here are a few I have picked up in the recent weeks! I was going to include Beany and Cecil, but I think we will look at those in a separate post.  Heck, we could go on for days!

Whitman "Tell-A-Tale" Book, 1976

Bullwinkle's Masterpiece, back.
A "Wonder Book," 1956.  This one strangely and ironically pre-dates Felix's famous run of color TV cartoons with the memorable theme song, because in this book, he's trying to get on television...and he has an OWNER, a young boy! But the art is by Joe Oriolo, so this is a must!

Merrigold Press, 1976.  The Golden version from the year before was soft cover, and cut into the shape of Bullwinkle's head!

Whitman, 1953

Tweety (back cover)