“The Sunset Also Rises”

28 August 1998
[Does Gertie's future lay in television writing?]
[Does Gertie's future lay in television writing?]
Written by David Ives.

Directed by Juan Jose Campanella.
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When it was announced that there would be another episode like "From the Pen of Gertrude Reece," I was a little dismayed. What made that episode work was that Rupert had obviously been planting parallels for it.

Several things in "Magic," the episode of Victor's return, seemed designed to resonate off "Casablanca." It is revealed that Scott, like Rick, had fought for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. But Scott and Rick were no longer involved in the war. Thinking Victor dead, Betty/Ilsa had allowed herself to feel romantically towards Scott/Rick. Then, at the end of "Magic," Betty(/Ilsa) finds out that Victor's still alive. Victor finds himself doing work for the Allies (though Victor had yet to become the well known figure that Victor already was. If you take my meaning.) And so, a romantic triangle was formed.

A loving homage to "Casablanca" seemed inevitable. What was inevitable about a take-off on "Sunset Blvd." or any other famous work of fiction? Granted, I hadn't seen "Sunset Blvd." Perhaps there were obvious parallels I was missing. But it seemed more like the mentality that says, "Well, 'Friends' is popular, let's have a show like 'Friends' every night of the week on the network. We'll schedule them right after our new series, 'Citizen Kane, Jr.'."

So it was with this low expectation that I went into "The Sunset Also Rises." (Someday I'll see the film and probably have to rewrite this or add an addendum.)

Gertie's crack at a script in "From the Pen of Gertrude Reece" wasn't a passing impulse. She seems determined to carve out a career as a writer. She's taking classes and becoming informed about the general industry (she's aware of television's possible luminous future). And since she respects Betty's writing she asks for comments.

Betty's a little hesitant when she first picks up the script. She's got her own writing to do and I suspect Gertie may have a habit of asking for Betty's input. [Nice framing of Gertie through the bookshelf with the faux rabbit ears.] But Betty's a trooper and gamely opens to the "FADE IN."

Joe Sherwood arrives at what he believes is an abandoned radio station just off Sunset Avenue. Leaves cover the stage floor, er, ground, and cobwebs cover the gate leading to the house. He is greeted by the German butler whose name, Spaetzle, seems to make the most of that special quality of spit inducement that the German language has.

With the cobwebs, thunder and lightning, and the lighting, you would think this is an homage to old horror films. This theme seems to be followed as the strange butler glides down the corridor like Dracula and asks about a coffin.

Then we meet Norma Dismal, the once big star of radio as "Baby Sweetums." This character at least dovetails as Hilary is a faded Broadway star looking for a comeback.

Norma confirms Joe was right, the place was a radio station. The very station "Baby Sweetums" was broadcast from.

Norma shows Joe the studio and he makes a good crack about its eeriness, "[It's] real Edgar Allan Poetry."

Joe is obviously not the expected party who was bringing a coffin. So Norma inquires as to his identity and he volunteers that he's a radio writer. "A radio writer?" Norma responds. "Perfect!" (reminiscent of "Prior to Broadway")

Norma has been requested to appear on "The Big Broadcast" as Baby Sweetums and she needs a script. Joe (after mentally deciding against it) agrees, but warns her, "It'll cost ya."

Back in the WENN reality, Hilary arrives in the writer's room and gives her take on what's she's heard (just as the three ended up in "From the Pen of Gertrude Reece”).

Just as she felt she wasn't suited for the older role in "Armchair Detectives" (from the episode, um, "Armchair Detective") and wanted the younger role Celia played, Hilary sees herself not as Norma Dismal, but as "Joan Booth", a young, giddy radio writer. With Eldridge as Norman Dismal, she too (after mentally deciding against it) agrees, but warns him, "It'll cost ya."

Scott joins in on the script discussion and insists the script needs him as the leading man. I don't know if this was to regain the Joe Sherwood role or if this could have lead to a Scott as Norman Dismal if "Remember WENN" was at its old running length.

Betty takes her turn. Like Hilary didn’t see herself in the obvious role (faded star), Betty doesn't see herself in the obvious role (the radio writer). She envisions herself as the other lead, Norma Dismal. She also sees the role as a more light-hearted romp. After a couple pages, Betty's instincts leads her to correctly assess, "No. No, never mind."

Hilary gracefully relents and accepts the casting as a "self-centered, beautiful, radiant diva." And Hilary is just beginning to suggest someone for the demeaning, subservient, humiliating role of the butler when Jeff walks in.

Gertie’s script goes on to introduce a dead baboon to be buried. This causes a protest from much of the gathered group except the arriving Mr. Eldridge who points it out it would be worse burying a live baboon.

Joe is so offended at the idea of burying a dead canary, that he begins to leave. But his plan is foiled by the repossession of his bicycle by Sears & Roebuck.

Norma promises to buy Joe a Schwinn as she tries to induce a schwing.

Joe is seduced into staying and they being working on a script. But Norma's plotline seems to run quite a bit longer and complicated than a brief appearance on a show. Joe suggests they could turn the script into a screenplay. But Norma doesn't care for films and questions the significance of feature films. After a joke of the type that will be identified with "Airplane" for the next 30 years, Joe suggests using it on "Telly Vision". Norma replies, "On radio, we didn't need faces. We had dialogue!"

Norma identifies her radio with pride. Her radio turns out to be a television with the brightness turned down. (An allusion, no doubt to the old joke, "I turned up the brightness switch, but the shows were just as dumb.")

In the evenings, for relaxation, Joe and Norma tangoed to the playing of a quartet...a quartet of record players, that is. (Leading to odd dance transitions when the music changed.)

Eugenia enters the writer's room and writer's arena by casting herself as Norma. Instead of requesting her “close up,” as in the film, Eugenia's Norma is ready for her "long shot."

Next is some drawn out playing with "v's" and "w's".

Mr. Foley makes his appearance with his idea of relaxed evenings. Some nice camera work here with a play on silent films and Mr. Foley's usual silence. (I wonder whether Tom Beckett actually said aloud, "I pass," during the filming or if he stayed in character.)

Gertie points out that the scene made effective use of the television medium. But Betty thinks it would be more logical if the guests are old radio chums of Norma. So we are treated to two uncredited radio ghosts. Note that Mackie is playing the incidental music to accompany the former radio actors as if they were on the air.

After six months (mentioned at the beginning of the episode), the script is finished and the show's representatives arrives. We find that not only does this episode mark the return of Christopher Murney (yay!), but John Bedford Lloyd puts in an appearance as the odd man from "Big Breakfast" (Norma has misheard "Big Broadcast" over the phone).

Even now she misunderstands, "Yes! We'll do it as a serial for the breakfast crowd!"

Soon, Joe takes a dive for the drink (the Baby Sweetums baby pool) and Norma is ready for her...sound check.

The group has become so wrapped up in their script by committee they haven't noticed the football game WENN had been broadcasting has finished early. Victor admonishes them and they’re left with a need to fill unexpected air time. Gertie leaps to put forward her script and soon "The Sunset Also Rises" is improvised.

Well, I think I need to see "Sunset Blvd." I'm sure more of this episode will make sense.

That this was a non-Rupert episode seems obvious without having to check credits for confirmation. There were too many bits that were too simple and went on too long. The coffin/coughin' was good for one shot, not for a recurring gag.

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