OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough

We watch it every year on Memorial Day, the best movie ever made about ‘the war to end war.’ It was just as good this year — in the same funny, awful way — as it was every other year.

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

I first saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969 and never forgot it. Based on the long-running British stage production, it’s World War I — in song, dance, and irony. The catchy score sticks in your brain. The songs are those sung by the troops, and the cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen. The credits are a who’s-who of English actors.

World War I is hard to understand, even when you study it. No matter how many books I read, I’m not sure I do. Its causes are rooted in old world grudges that make no sense to Americans. So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.

My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any. When the war began, it was the old world, ruled by crowned heads of ancient dynasties. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918, the world was remade — beyond recognition. The monarchies were gone. A generation of men were dead, the death toll beyond belief. The callous indifference to loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.

More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease and starvation. It remains one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, paving the way for major political upheaval and revolution in many nations.

You can’t make this stuff up. And why would you want to?

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

The first World War could well be categorized as an organized international effort to murder a generation and they did a damned good job of it. The absurd statements and dialogue of the historical characters, all safely lodged a safe distance from actual fighting, sound ludicrous.

Did General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really say: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? Apparently he said it. And meant it.

The arrival of the Americans, their takeover of the endless war and bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to preserve, is a great moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would they still be fighting it today? Would Europe even exist or would it be a wasteland?

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs are mixed with pithy comments by generals, kings, Kaisers and occasionally, soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and the meaning of those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.

The music is ghastly, funny and catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and also love great movies, grab one before they disappear. Over Memorial Day weekend, one of the movie channels usually plays it. I didn’t see it listed this year, but we own a copy, so I didn’t look very hard.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and surprisingly informative, this motion picture is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You will not be disappointed and you will never forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I never forgot it.

SINGING IN THE RAIN

My Top 10 “Rain Songs,” by Rich Paschall

Every time I consider a Top 10 list of songs, I think I will never come up with ten.  The fact is, I always pass 10 and must consider which ones to toss.  Remember, this is my top 10.  Some make the list only by virtue of the fact that I heard them thousands of times as I grew up.  They seem to be woven into my life and have been there now for decades.  I have one of recent vintage to toss on the list, I think you will like it.

I did notice there are a lot songs that are well-regarded in this area, but I could not bring myself to add them.  One is the horribly overblown version of November Rain by Guns and Roses.  The over long video with the orchestra and strings is a self-indulgent piece of … (I digress), but it nevertheless makes the top of some lists.  Guitarist Slash said in an interview last year he has no idea what the 1992 video for the song is about.  Yeah, it makes no sense to him either.

Without further a do, or is it ado, or a dew?  Anyway it is not just dew, it is rain and here they are:

10. I Wish it Would Rain, The Temptations
9. Fire and Rain, James Taylor. Taylor has given various explanations of its meaning.
8. Here Comes the Rain Again, Eurythmics
7. Rainy Days and Mondays, The Carpenters Yes, it is pop fluff. I like it anyway.
6. Rainy Night in Georgia, Brook Benton There are a lot of versions, Benton’s is the best.

There are a number of fan videos of Hunter Hayes performing Rainy Season, but nothing official.  Since I have not found a good one, I will give you this audio version from the Encore album.

5.  Rainy Season, Hunter Hayes

Neil Sedaka had a string of hits that go well back into the 1960’s.  His early rock songs made him a star.  In 1974 he composed Laughter in the Rain with lyrics by Phil Cody.  It was a come back for Sedaka and the song made number 1 by February of 1975.  Forty years later, at the age of 76, he gave the following performance.  Yes, I can find earlier versions where his singing is a little better, but I just love it when the old guys can still deliver the goods.

4. Laughter in the Rain, Neil Sedaka

There are a LOT of versions of “Come Rain or Come Shine.”  The Ray Charles version is particularly good, and I highly recommend it.  My addition to the list may surprise you.  Jerry Lewis was not known as a singer and yet, he had a successful album after the breakup of the comedy duo of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.  Jerry was eager to prove he had more talent than just as a slapstick comedian.  My mother owned the 45, or was it a 78 rpm, recording and we played it ad nauseam.  The A side was Rock a Bye Your Baby and certainly got a lot of radio and juke box play, but the B side was well-regarded also. There is a You Tube video of Lewis performing the song at one of the 1990s telethons.  I decided to just go with the actual recording he made famous.

3. Come Rain or Come Shine, Jerry Lewis (Jerry Lewis Just Sings)

Whenever I hear this hit song, I think of Paul Newman riding a bicycle in the 1969 movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The song was written and produced by the song writing team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  It was offered to others, but the B.J. Thomas version is the only one that matters.  It was the first number 1 hit song of the 1970s.  On the version recorded for the film, Thomas was recovering from laryngitis.  It is why that version does not sound the same as the hit record.

2. Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head, B.J. Thomas

Seriously, what do you think of when you think about rain songs? Purple Rain? Have You Ever Seen Rain? Who’ll Stop the Rain? What one song immediately comes to mind? All fans of movie musicals will think of my number one. Is there any other?

The 1952 film, Singing in the Rain, got its title tune from a 1929 (or earlier) song that appeared in 1929’s The Hollywood Music Box Revue.  It was recorded a number of times before it was recycled to great success as the centerpiece of the classic movie.  Gene Kelly directed and starred in the film, recording one of the most famous dance sequences ever shot.  The remarkable part is that Kelly was ill and running a high fever at the time of the performance.

1. Singing in the Rain, Gene Kelly

SOME OF THE GOOD STUFF

Worldly Encounters

What would I share with a casually met alien? The same stuff I’d share with anyone. Stuff that makes me smile, tap my toes, sing along.

Life is complex and uncertain. Eat dessert first.

These are favorites. Take them seriously at your own risk!

Life is messy and we are messy creatures. No easy explanations, so let’s just try to make the best of it.

Have a little taste on me.

MEETING HITCH – GARRY ARMSTRONG

A friend just sent me a link to the Alfred Hitchcock Geek site. I didn’t follow it but was reminded of the night I met the master of mayhem.

I’ve always been a Hitchcock fan dating back to his early films like “The Lady Vanishes” and “The 39 Steps”. “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”, the TV series, was a family favorite.

frenzy poster

Flashback to a warm summer evening and the Boston première of “Frenzy.” I was psyched for the encounter and hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed. It happens.

The “Master” approached me, two drinks in his hands. I figured he was fortifying himself. But he handed me one of the drinks and said “Salud!”

Cognac! Top shelf stuff. I savored the aroma before taking a small sip.

“Good show!”, Hitch said approvingly.

“Good stuff”, I replied. We smiled at each other as we drank slowly. I noticed his face was very, very red. He snapped his fingers and two more cognac arrived. After we finished our third cognac, Hitch nodded. It was interview time.

hitchcock

We chatted about favorite films. I mentioned “The 39 Steps” and my crush on Madeline Carroll. Hitch’s face grew redder and he pursed his lips. We swapped names of favorite stars. Hitch approved of my taste.

Conversation about “Frenzy” was minimal. Hitch didn’t seem excited about his latest film. We were up to our 5th cognac.

Hitch surveyed the crowd as we chatted. The interview had ended a few minutes earlier. A publicist tried to intervene but Hitchcock brushed him off. We were standing close to each other so we could hear ourselves talk. It became clear that Hitch had started on the cognac well before we met. He was smiling broadly now and his face was a scarlet red as he stared at some of the women who were staring at him.

It occurred to me that Hitch was making conversation as he evaluated his female admirers. He asked if I was a film critic. I told him I was a film maven. He burst into laughter and slapped me on the shoulder.

A trio of publicists approached. Hitch looked at me with a wry smile and said, “Tally ho!”, as he was reluctantly led away.

BUCHANAN RIDES ALONE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was watching Randy Scott in Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) last night as my “fall asleep movie” in bed. Headset on, so I could hear everything. I’ve seen this film countless times before. But last night, it finally dawned on me — the movie is awful.

"Buchanan Rides Alone FilmPoster" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

“Buchanan Rides Alone” – Film poster licensed under Fair Use via Wikipedia.

I know this is heresy. This is a 1950’s Randolph Scott western. It’s directed by the legendary Budd Boeticher. Here’s the rub. The bad guys are just plain stupid. Not scary. Stoopid! Moreover, Randy’s character is aimless and a little dim-witted.

In a pivotal scene, Randy, L.Q. Jones, and another guy, leave a trio of bad guys loosely tied in a shack after a mediocre fight. Next, Randy and the boys leave the bad guys’ guns in the shack — with the bad guys. And, to complete the picture of truly dumb, they leave the bad guys’ horses conveniently tied up, just outside.

Randy and his pals trot slowly away. Very slowly.

What a surprise! A mere five minutes later, the bad guys catch Randy and his pals.

Randy wears an idiotic smile throughout the film. Now I know why Buchanan rides alone.

LIFE IN THE REAL DESERT: WESTERNS AND OLD MOVIES

Marilyn Armstrong:

The best affectionate analysis of this genre I have ever read … and I’ve read a lot of them. Beautifully written. If you love Westerns, you’ll love this. Promise!!

Originally posted on Mikes Film Talk:

Town sign outside of Burger King
My life in the real desert thus far has consisted of much more than personal injury and the shock of having no television. It includes the reading of old western favorites and movies that remain in the collection. Split into blu-ray, NTSC, Region 0 and Pal, the DVDs are spread out between RV and 5th wheel. In terms of stimulation, the tales by Louis L’Amour are hard to beat. Each story a sort of male romance novel built around rugged and hard men who must either fight, solve a mystery or puzzle, or defeat a villain who has designs on the girl of the protagonist’s dreams.

It took me awhile to figure out that these adventure stories of the old west were, in fact, the male answer to Harlequin Romance. These gunfighters, gamblers, cowboys, miners, lawmen, soldiers and so on are all just men searching for something. In the books…

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DOC, WYATT, AND BAT

Everyone knows the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the OK Corral. It’s possibly the most iconic story out of the “wild west.” But there are many more stories yet untold. I’ve been following the trail of this one for a while. Doc Holliday. Wyatt Earp. Bat Masterson.

Afternoon walk - Tombstone

Where did they meet? How did Doc Holliday — legitimately a D.D.S.(doctor of dental surgery) and apparently a good one — wind up best friends with Wyatt Earp and his brothers? How did this polite, educated gentleman become a gunfighter and a gambler? When did Bat Masterson get into the mix?

The "Dodge City Peace Commission", June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

The “Dodge City Peace Commission”, June 1888. (L to R) standing: W.H. Harris, Luke Short, Bat Masterson, W.F. Petillon. Seated: Charlie Bassett, Wyatt Earp, Frank McLain and Neal Brown.

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (August 14, 1851 – November 8, 1887) became a gambler and gunman out of necessity.

Not quite the killer his reputation made him out to be, Doc’s reputation was part truth, mixed with a lot rumor and publicity. Often credited with killing people he never met, the rumors were fueled by Holliday’s own publicity.

He wasn’t fond of killing people. Being a notorious gunman made it less likely he’d be challenged. He was famous for shooting opponents in the hand or foot, thus ending a duel without killing anyone.

Stagecoach in Tombstone

Doc Holliday was otherwise known as a mild-mannered, well-bred southerner who would have rather been a dentist. Except for being tubercular. Tuberculosis is a career ender for a dentist.

Exactly how he met the Earp brothers and with which of the many Earps did he connect first? Lots of speculation, but no evidence that can stand up to scrutiny. When and where did Bat Masterson come into the mix?

Bat Masterson is a great character. He pops in and out of the story, shows up in the nick of time to pull someone’s iron out of the fire, then disappears back to his own story. Sounds like a supporting actor Oscar to me.

copy-75-vintage-tombstonenk-005.jpg

The OK Corral has been done to death. Can I convince someone to write this story? No zombies, no werewolves, no vampires. Let’s keep it all human, in the just-before-the-turn-of-the-century west.

Interesting Factoid: Doc Holliday was a cousin by marriage to Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone With the Wind.”


There is history for which the facts are known. We don’t know who said what, but we know the players, dates, locations. Documentation exists.

Much — maybe most — history is not straightforward. There is no evidence. No indisputable documentation or trustworthy testimony. You might as well print the legend because that’s all you’ve got.

Sometimes, you can pick your favorite version of the tale. Or write your own. One is as true as another.

HELL’S COMING WITH ME: A TESTOSTERONE MOMENT – TOMBSTONE, 1993

Tombstone poster

Wyatt Earp: All right, Clanton… you called down the thunder, well now you’ve got it! You see that?
[pulls open his coat, revealing a badge]
Wyatt Earp: It says United States Marshal!
Ike Clanton: [terrified, pleading] Wyatt, please, I …
Wyatt Earp: [referring to Stilwell, laying dead] Take a good look at him, Ike … ’cause that’s how you’re gonna end up!
[shoves Ike down roughly with his boot]
Wyatt Earp: The Cowboys are finished, you understand? I see a red sash, I kill the man wearin’ it!
[lets Ike up to run for his life]
Wyatt Earp: So run, you cur… RUN! Tell all the other curs the law’s comin’!
[shouts]
Wyatt Earp: You tell ’em I’M coming… and hell’s coming with me, you hear? …
[louder]
Wyatt Earp: Hell’s coming with me!