Rupert Pupkin Speaks: VHS Gems Guest Post: Todd Liebenow ""

Saturday, October 13, 2012

VHS Gems Guest Post: Todd Liebenow

Todd runs the Forgotten Films blog which I am a regular reader of.
Follow him on twitter at @forgottenfilmz.

When I saw Brian starting up this new series on films that you can only find on VHS I thought it sounded very interesting. Truth be told, I also thought, “I kinda hope he doesn’t ask me to write an article.” Don’t get me wrong, I loved writing for Brian’s last series on “Bad Movies we Love,” but I wasn’t sure if I could come up with a list of movies that fit the criteria. I’ve never given up on my VCR...would you believe the one I own was passed down to me from my grandmother. It probably cost her about $500 when she bought it in the early 80’s and it still works! But most of the films in my VHS collection are pretty mainstream and have long since made the transition to DVD. I just wasn’t sure I’d have anything great to contribute. However, I have come up with a list of 1 film. This film popped into my mind when I read Brian’s original post in which he highlighted the film “The Kid with the 200 I.Q.” starring Gary Coleman. That immediately made me think of another Gary Coleman flick that, to my knowledge, has not made it to DVD yet. How I wish I had a copy of it as it’s probably been at least 20 years since I watched it.

 “On the Right Track” (1981)
Gary Coleman stars as Lester, an orphan kid who lives in a locker at Chicago’s union station. All the folks who work at the various shops and newspaper stands in the terminal know him, but none ever turn him in to the proper agencies. He earns enough money to stuff quarters into the lockers by shining shoes. But things go haywire when a woman discovers Lester sleeping in a locker and thinks he’s dead. The authorities come in to take him to an orphanage, but when a social work named Frank (Michael Lembeck...son of Eric Von Zipper himself Harvey Lembeck) discovers Lester’s special talent, he has a change of heart. It seems that when Lester shines shoes while looking at a racing form, he is able to pick the winning horses. The infant Swee’ Pea possessed a similar talent the previous year in Robert Altman’s “Popeye.”
This film has always had a special connection for me because I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and I remember when they were filming it. You see, in my part of the ‘burbs, pretty much every kid’s dad got on the train each morning and went into the Windy City to work. My dad was one of them. There were many days when he witnessed the filming of “On the Right Track” as he was arriving or departing from the station. But these weren’t my dad’s first encounters with young Gary Coleman. See, my dad worked for Chicago’s Harris Bank and Coleman’s career took off when he did a series of commercials for the bank, pitching plush versions of the bank’s famous mascot, Hubert the Lion. I remember my dad coming home from work and saying, “I saw the kid from the commercials today!” Shortly afterward, Coleman got the role on “Diff’rent Strokes” that would make him a star. So, we always followed the career of the Hubert kid with great interest.
I seem to recall that when the film was released, the critics were not kind to it. But when it debuted on TV, we set the timer on the old VCR and taped it. Hundreds of viewings followed. It was a favorite among me and my siblings. The film was released by 20th Century with the newly created Fox Cinema Archive series of VOD releases, I have high hopes that “On the Right Track” will soon make it to DVD!

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