Updated: Jul 8
The anthology series CINEMA TOAST has arrived on Showtime, and all 10 episodes are available for streaming. So far, I have seen four, and it’s a bit of a hit and miss affair with a 50% batting average. Ep-1and ep-3 (see below) succeed beyond all expectations while ep-2 ("Report of the Canine Auto-Mechanical Soviet Threat") and ep-8 ("Attack of the Karens") come up short. The series creator, Jeff Baena, is perhaps best known for co-writing the not-so-successful “I Heart Huckabees” with its director David O’Russell. This time, however, he has linked up with the wildly talented Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, who, from “The Puffy Chair” in 2005, to “The Skeleton Twins” (2014), to “Togetherness” (2016/2017) and “Room 104” (2017), have blurred the lines between film and television long before it became the artistic norm.
The concept of the series, which was made during the COVID lockdown, is simple and has been used many times before: use old film footage from movies that have entered the Public Domain in the United States to tell new stories with the voices of modern Hollywood actors being dubbed over the original dialogue. Each episode is unique with a different director who gives his or her own personal flair, or not, to the proceedings.
Episode 1: ”Familiesgiving”.
Scenes from the 1939 John Cromwell-directed, David O. Selznick-produced tearjerker “Made for Each Other”.The film is in the Public Domain in the United States.
Carole Lombard, James Stewart, Charles Coburn and Lucile Watson.
Alison Brie, John Reynolds, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally.
The story now involves Stewart and Lombard (voiced by Reynolds and Brie), as a young couple who get stuck with inviting Stewart’s monstrous, Q-Anon quoting mother, the always imperious Watson (voiced to comedic perfection by Mullally), to their “Friendsgiving” after she has been disinvited by her sister. When she discovers that her ex-husband Coburn (voiced by Mullally’s real-life husband Nick Offerman), who has recently come out of the closet and is now happily remarried - to a man - will also be dining at chez Lombard/Stewart, she decides to make the Holiday as miserable as possible for everyone involved.
Every scene in the thirty minute storyline will have you rolling on the floor with laughter. Hearing Reynolds' ("Search Party") voice coming out of Stewart's mouth is the first indication that we are in for some major laughs. But it's Mullally's Watson and Offerman's Coburn who really have you in stitches. Watson, who played dozens of supporting roles and was Oscar nominated in Bette Davis' "Watch on the Rhine" has, with Mullally's voice, morphed into an altogether more impressive actress! As for Coburn, just the thought that this famously conservative old curmudgeon is playing a happily married gay man is priceless and, seems to give that brilliant final scene, again with Bette Davis, in John Huston's "In This Our Life", a whole new, shall we say, gay vibe!
Episode 3: ”Quiet Illness”.
Loretta Young’s divinely glamourous, designer- dress entrance, while introducing us to a new episode of "The Loretta Young Show", which ran on NBC from 1953 to 1961. Originally titled "Letter to Loretta", in the first series, each drama would be the answer to a question asked in Loretta's fan mail. This device was dropped in subsequent series.
"Cause for Alarm!" , 1951 suspense melodrama film directed by Tay Garnett and costarring Barry Sullivan. The film is in the Public Domain in the United States.
"Eternally Yours", 1939 comedy also directed by Garnett with Walter Wanger as executive producer and costarring David Niven. The film is in the Public Domain in the United States.
Loretta in all her magnificence and devastation. Cameos by Barry Sullivan, David Niven and, for an instant, Jane Wyman.
Christina Ricci, Aubrey Plaza, Hamish Linklater.