GORE AND GUTS ON TV – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My husband is a sweet and gentle man. He is not aggressive and doesn’t have a violent bone in his body. Yet he spends hours a day watching violence on TV, in movies and actively participating in it with video games. What is going on? His appetite for onscreen blood and gore is unfathomable and unsettling to me.

He says that it’s all make believe, that none of it is real. But my problem is that to me, it’s all way too realistic. I have no tolerance whatsoever for any kind of on screen blood and guts. I can’t even watch realistic operating room scenes on my TV medical shows. The sight of someone getting an injection makes me cringe, let alone someone being sliced and diced, even by a pretend doctor. I am a total wuss.

I may have become more sensitive as I get older. Or maybe it’s just that the entertainment industry has taken onscreen violence to another level. It’s more extreme and more gruesome these days. It’s also more graphic and much more realistic looking.

Onscreen violence used to be more suggested and less in your face. When someone got shot or hit on the head, they just fell down and maybe bled a little. Now, wounds are gaping, flesh is torn, internal organs are everywhere and blood is all over everything.

I can’t handle it. I could deal with pretending that someone’s hand was cut off. But in a recent episode of my favorite show, “Outlander”, the cutting off of the hand looked so real I almost lost my dinner. This is true everywhere in the mainstream now, not just on the military, underworld, superhero or shoot ‘em up shows.

There is so much fighting and brutality on TV and in movies. People seem to be more inhuman to each other, and also more creative in their violence. Torture is portrayed, again realistically, all the time. People don’t just shoot each other or stab each other, they use more inventive and sicker ways to inflict pain and suffering.

The world is portrayed these days as a much more brutal place. Man’s inhumanity to man is front and center and perverse sadists are everywhere you look. Many shows are very dark. They are dark in theme as well as lighting. I can tolerate some, like “The Blacklist” and “Blindspot”. But some, like “Gotham” are over the line for me. They portray the underside of life, the worst of the worst. The public’s appetite for darkness, crime and just plain meanness seems boundless.

Close to half the shows my husband watches on TV, he has to watch without me. I can’t stomach them. If I did try to watch them, I think I’d be depressed and anxious all the time. I know there is horrible stuff going on out there. But I can’t focus on it or wallow in it. I can’t even bear to read stories about cruelty to animals or children. If I think about it, I become obsessed with awful images and I literally feel sick.

I need to spend most of my time dealing with the normal and the positive. I get enough angst from reading and watching the news. I don’t need to add to that by watching sadism and butchery as entertainment. There is enough crazy and destructive going on in the government, I don’t need to watch pretend craziness and destruction on television in my down time.

Please let me keep some of my illusions about people having common sense and caring about each other. If I can’t keep some of these fantasies alive, I don’t think I’ll ever make it out of bed.

DESPERADOES: RIDING WITH THE DALTONS – RON HANSEN

Desperadoes: A Novel, by Ron Hansen

This is not a new book. It was released again on Kindle in May 2013. Desperadoes has been available in soft or hardcover (currently, only soft) since 1997.

I love western movies and have since I was a kid. I’ve read a lot of “western” novels too over the years, enjoyed some, didn’t much like others. Over all, I prefer this genre as cinema rather than on the printed page. Nonetheless, I was drawn to this book after I realized I know very little about the personal lives and motivations of these notorious bandit gangs of the turn of the century wild west.

Until this book, I hadn’t realized the James boys, the Youngers, Coles and the Daltons were all related. Cousins, it turns out. This led me to interesting speculations about the relative importance of DNA versus environment in character formation. The familial relationships certainly present some intriguing possibilities. Perhaps the cousins were all copying each other’s “feats.” The story hints that there was at least some jealousy by the Daltons of cousin Jesse’s fame.

Desperadoes is well-written and feels authentic, so much so that I found myself asking how much of this was “made up” and how much was historical.

The answer is that although a lot of it is fact, a lot of it isn’t. Fiction and fact are beautifully woven throughout the story until it is difficult to tease them apart. Nonetheless, this is a novel, so if you are want history, this isn’t it. On the other hand, if you are more interested in the psychological profile of these characters and the feeling of being transported to another time and place, this might be exactly the right book. Sometimes fiction contains more truth than “only the facts” can convey.

Whether you enjoy the book will depend on if you can find a way to emotionally connect with any of the characters. All of the Daltons and their close associates lack a moral compass as well as a fundamental understanding of right and wrong. Even granting that they came from backgrounds of extreme deprivation — and their role models were as depraved as they themselves became — it’s hard to understand the characters’ rapid, virtual overnight, transformation from relatively decent people and officers of the law into rustlers, bank robbers and sadistic thrill killers.

Despite occasional actions that could be interpreted as “gallant” or at least decent, their primary goal was attention. Fame. They wanted to be feared and recognized. Towards that end, they also stole money but money was never a primary motivator. To achieve this end, there were no lines they would not cross, no rules they would not break. At no point is there any feeling that it mattered a whit to any of them how many people’s lives they ruined or ended. They were sociopaths (maybe psychopaths — I’ve never been entirely clear on the difference), utterly lacking in empathy except for one another … and there were limits to that, too.

The story is told in the first person by Emmett Dalton, the one brother who survived. He went out to Hollywood where they were happy (apparently) to pay him big bucks to “advise” and provide authenticity to the making of movies.

Of all the bandits — all his brothers and cousins — only he remained alive to “cash in” on the notoriety.

Ironically, they started as lawmen. While still functioning in that capacity, they began rustling horses. They didn’t think there was anything particularly wrong with it. It wasn’t that they didn’t know it was illegal, but the whole “right” and “wrong” thing seems to have been rather hazy to them. Moreover, working as a sheriff or deputy sheriff was so poorly paid they actually couldn’t live on the money. So they initially considered horse-stealing a way to supplement their incomes. They eventually were caught though only big brother Gratton (Grat) (probably mildly retarded) was arrested for rustling. Grat spent a bit of time in jail, but was ultimately released. A trial would have embarrassed the judge who had employed the Daltons as lawmen. He didn’t want it known his employees were horse thieves. Except that everyone knew. It just wasn’t official — and never became official.

The Dalton boys’ decision to become an outlaw gang was exactly that: a choice. They were not forced into a life of crime. They genuinely enjoyed being outlaws and criminals. They liked beating people up, breaking their body parts and killing them, sometimes just because they felt like it. No sense of remorse is forthcoming through the voice of the narrator.

Emmett, as the first-person narrator, supposedly was privy to every moment of the life of his brothers. This is a bit hard to swallow unless the other gang members spent all of their free time telling Emmett everything they had done since they’d last talked. You have to suspend your credibility or there’s no way to get into the book.

Memento Mori of the Dalton Gang. Left to right...

Left to right: Bill Power; Bob Dalton; Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the Dalton lads (there were 15 brothers and sisters and you never learn what happened to most of the others) Bob is the true glory hound. Grat is a big dumb guy who seemed to not have any thoughts about much of anything. Emmett, two years younger than Bob, is his older brother’s passionate admirer. His adulation of his Bob Dalton was unlimited, though to Emmett’s credit (?), he did occasionally think up an interesting crime to commit, so he was not without a degree of personal creativity. He also appeared to be, of the gang, the only one with any capacity for love — in a severely circumscribed way.

Then there’s Bob’s psychopathic girlfriend, Eugenia Moore who was the real brains of the outfit, though perhaps brains is too strong a word.

As you can probably tell, I didn’t like the characters. There is a high probability that the author has captured the essence of these people accurately, but accuracy alone wasn’t enough to make me enjoy being in their company. Ultimately, if I can’t relate to at least one character in a book, it’s difficult for me to enjoy the story. I spent the first half of this book looking for a redeeming feature in someone. I spent the rest of the book wishing I’d never started reading it in the first place.

English: Grave of Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton and ...

Grave of Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton and Bill Power (Photo: Wikipedia)

This was Ron Hansen’s first novel. He has written a dozen or so since then and he is highly regarded. I have no argument with his skill as a writer and perhaps I would like his later novels and non-fiction better than Desperadoes.

I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps the nature of the material fore-ordained my response. Sadistic, vicious sociopathic killers are not romantic. I don’t find a trip through their minds pleasant or fun. Interesting is as good as I can give it.

They make my skin crawl. But other people obviously did like the book and it has received some excellent reviews on Amazon. If you can read it as a case study of a bunch of old-timey criminals, you might like it better than I did. It is well-written and thoroughly unpleasant at the same time. I guess that’s what you get when you write about outlaw gangs, even when you write really well.

THE LIFE AND LEGEND OF THE SHORT WESTERN – RICH PASCHALL

My Top Ten Half Hour Westerns, By Rich Paschall

Previously on Top Ten Lists, the half hour dramas were pursued and captured by our list makers after a mighty struggle with the internet.  The hero of our saga had to hunt down the short dramas of yesteryear, because the present day folks had completely abandoned the idea of getting to the point quickly.  These stories were rounded up one by one and displayed in Too Much Drama, an episode from a couple of weeks ago.  Now the tale of the half hour drama resumes with the Western division.  Our hero will ride off into the sunset looking for horse dramas that actually had a plot and moved right along.  Saddle up and follow us down the trail.

In the early days of television, the western was a staple of programming.  Many shows were radio broadcasts that became television series.  With an abundance of radio scripts that could be filmed, it was a natural progression of the media.  While you may remember the famous one hour westerns of the 1960s and 1970s, they were preceded by a short western with a somewhat simple plot where the bad guy was always caught.  “Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver!” The half hour western rides again!

Johnny Crawford as Mark McCain

10.  Rifleman starring Chuck Connors.  Lucas McCain brings law and order to North Fork with a modified rifle.  Johnny Crawford played his son and by the end of the series in 1963 he was a true teenage heart-throb.  This added to my interest, I suppose.

09. Trackdown starring Robert Culp.  The series attempted to tone down the violence prevalent in other westerns.  Steve McQueen appeared as Josh Randall in the series and Wanted Dead or Alive became a spin-off in 1958.

08.  Cisco Kid starring Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo.  It was the story of an American hero, the Cisco Kid, and his slow-witted sidekick, Poncho.  Renaldo was arrested in 1934 for illegal entry into the US (before DACA) and ultimately pardoned by the President.  Carrillo was of Spanish descent.  

07.  Wanted Dead or Alive starring Steve McQueen.   McQueen plays bounty hunter Josh Randall for three seasons.  His character didn’t seem to be in it for the money, however, as he gave much of the earnings away.  It could be said this series launched a huge movie career for McQueen.

06.  The Roy Rogers Show starring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.  The show started in 1951 and ran for 100 episodes over the next six years.  It was heavily marketed to children with a glut of Roy Rogers, “King of the Cowboys” toys.  Dale Evans penned the popular closing song, Happy Trails.

05.  Zorro starring Guy Williams.  “Zorro, the fox so cunning and free,” ran for just 78 episodes, but seemed to us like it was on forever due to syndication.  It also had 4 one hour shows on the Walt Disney series.

04.  The Lone Ranger starring Clayton Moore and John Hart.  Although everyone thinks of Moore as the Lone Ranger, Hart covered the role for 52 episodes from 1952 to 1954.  The series overall output was 221 episodes and reruns featuring Hart were shelved for decades after Moore returned following a contract dispute (or creative differences, depending where you hear it).  Like other short form Westerns of the era,  the program was heavily merchandised to children.

03.  The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp starring Hugh O’Brien. The highly fictionalized version of the real life western legend ran for 229 episodes over 6 seasons, yes they made a lot of episodes for a season in those years.  O’Brien held a slight resemblance to Earp which allegedly was an influence in the casting.  The series started in Kansas but naturally ended in Tombstone, Arizona years later.

02.  Bat Masterson starring Gene Barry.   This TV series is another highly fictionalized version of a legendary figure.  The real Masterson may have worn a derby hat in the Wild West days as Barry did in the series, but he may not have been as likely to deal with you by knocking you on the head with his cane rather than using his gun.  In any case, the series was very entertaining and Gene Barry was much better dressed than Masterson in any of the surviving photos.  Interesting side note is that the real life Earp and Masterson were deputies together in Dodge City and met again later in Tombstone.

01.  Have Gun, Will Travel starring Richard Boone.  Although Paladin might prefer to avoid fighting and blood shed, he would not hesitate to shoot you if necessary.  The San Francisco based hired gun had a strong sense of justice in 225 episodes.  As a kid I had a holster and plastic gun like the one in the opening sequence as well as the business cards announcing “Have gun – Will Travel.”  At that young age, however, I didn’t travel very far.

Do you have favorite half hour dramas?  Add them to the comments below.  For any opening hit the title above, or watch all the openings on the Playlist here.

Related:  Too Much Drama

TOO MUCH DRAMA – RICH PASCHALL

My Top Ten Half Hour dramas, by Rich Paschall


Have you ever watched an hour-long drama and decided it was too long?  Even with all the commercial breaks, it did not seem to have a story of any length.  “They could have told that in a half hour,” you may think.  With all of the extraneous character development for the sake of giving us details into the private lives of the main characters, the story may go on for much too long.  Recently I saw an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles that seemed to be torturing us with filler.  If they stuck with the main plot line, it could have been over quickly, but they found plenty of uninteresting ways to stretch out the episode.

Why can’t each episode be a half hour if that is all the story they have?  Why do they bury us with scenes that do not move the plot along?  While there are a few half hour dramas, there has not been much to choose from in recent years.  Showtime cable network has given us some short dramas, including the well regarded “In Treatment.”  A few other cable or internet programs have also tried the short form.  If you search for lists of half hour dramas, however, you will likely get redirected to lists of sitcoms. It is as if the internet does not know of any half hour dramas.

TESTPATTERN_RCA_3

In the 1950s and early 1960s, broadcast television was filled with half hour dramas as well as situation comedies.  Many of these shows have found new life on such networks as Decades, MeTV, Cozi, Antenna TV, Nick at Nite and TV Land.  In case you are wondering what were the best short dramas, I am here to advance the plot with my top ten dramas of the past.  Turn up the sound, adjust the rabbit ears and set the channel to SERENDIPITY TV.

Before we get too far along let’s give an honorable mention to a few.  Naked City was a favorite of my grandmother.  The first 39 episodes were just a half hour before the popular police drama expanded to an hour.  A syndicated series Tales from the Darkside was a hit in the 1980s, but most locations ran it late at night so perhaps you missed it.  MASH is often consider a comedy, but there were dramatic elements and serious story telling that made it a unique hit that was hard to classify.  By the way, you will find no Westerns on this list.  There were so many half hour Westerns it deserves a list of its own.

10.  Adam-12 starring Martin Milner and Kent McCord.  Think of this as Dragnet with police officers rather than detectives.  In fact the creator and Executive Producer was Jack Webb, star of Dragnet.

09.  Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  The anthology series was hosted by the famed director and ran 7 seasons as a half hour show before morphing into the Alfred Hitchcock Hour for 3 more seasons.  Hitchcock only directed a relative handful of episodes and those clever opening and closing monologues were written for him.

08.  M Squad starring Lee Marvin.  The novelty of this 1950 series for us was using Chicago as the setting.  We all knew that the municipal vehicle license plate numbers began with an “M,” hence M Squad.  I guess you could say there were really no unmarked police cars in those days.

07.  Sea Hunt starring Lloyd Bridges.  The main thing I remember about this show was that my father loved it, so we never missed an episode.  Who knew so much action could take place under water?

06.  Dragnet starring Jack Webb, Ben Alexander and later Harry Morgan.  The popular radio series came to television in 1951 and aired for 8 seasons with Ben Alexander as Jack Webb’s partner in the police drama.  When Webb brought it back for 4 more seasons in 1966, Alexander was unavailable and Harry Morgan stepped in as his detective partner.  The second series was in color.

05.  Lassie.  A boy and his dog, what’s not to like?  The long running tales of the heroic collie should actually be considered several series.  Lassie kept turning up in new homes and with new owners.  It seems the dog even joined the US Forest Service for 6 years.  Let’s stick with the first two main sets of owners. 1954-1957 Jeff’s Collie and with Tommy Rettig as Jeff and Timmy & Lassie with Jon Provost as Timmy.

04.  Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves.  OK, we knew that Superman was breaking through fake walls and yes, we wondered why people were so stupid they could not realize Clark Kent was Superman, but we loved it anyway.  The series started in black and white, but went to color in 1955, long before the others.

03.  The Twilight Zone.  The anthology series was created and hosted by Rod Serling, who also wrote many episodes.  It touched on a variety of genres and always contained a twist or unexpected ending.  Ranging from Science Fiction and Fantasy to horror and the supernatural, each story held your interest.

02.  Honey West starring Anne Francis.  It was time for a female detective but it only lasted 30 episodes before the network reportedly went for cheaper programming.  It was an unfortunate decision as the series earned Francis a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy nomination.

01.  Peter Gunn starring Craig Stevens.  This crime drama featured a suave detective, a jazz club and plots that were well developed.  Executive producer was Blake Edwards and the well-known theme song was written by Henry Mancini.  This one never ages.

Note:  Click on any of the titles above for the opening sequence.

LATE NIGHT DOSES OF SANITY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I can’t stop reading or watching the news. I don’t read as much or watch as obsessively as I used to, but I can’t stay away.

I do have an antidote to the craziness and corruption I read about during the day. The secret to my mental stability is a healthy dose of the late night talk shows. They reaffirm my belief that intelligent and moral life still exist in this country. It also confirms for me that I’m not alone in seeing the Trump Administration as dangerous and erratic, out of touch with reality, and just plain stupid and uninformed.

I’m comforted by the jokes and comments of the liberal late night hosts. They voice my frustrations and fears, horror and exasperation. Lately it even seems that the late night personalities are having an impact on the national discussion of issues.

Jimmy Kimmel recently gave an emotional monologue about his infant son’s heart surgery and his need for health insurance in order to survive. It reached, and touched, a lot of people. A conservative Republican Senator got into a pissing contest with Kimmel and came off badly. Some people think that Kimmel may have humanized the issue of health care and helped prevent the repeal from passing in the Senate.

Kimmel talking about his son and tearing up

Maybe when the ‘Trump is crazy and dangerous’” drumbeat from different sources gets loud enough and broad enough, it may give courage to the timid Republicans who agree, but are afraid to act.

Republican Senator Bob Corker said in an interview that most Republican senators agree that Trump is insane, incompetent, a moron, and temperamentally unfit to be President. They also agree he is a serious danger to the country and the world. So now, all we have to do is get these assholes to speak out. Then something constructive might actually happen in Washington, D.C.

Even Trump’s faithful are beginning to abandon him. Recent polls show significant erosion of support from his ‘base’. So maybe soon, Republican Congressmen can be less afraid of losing electoral support from this ‘base’, and more afraid of a nuclear war being started by a tweet.

Maybe the voices of sanity in the government, the press, the internet and on television, will crescendo to a level where Republicans will have to listen and actually do something about Trump. I don’t know if or when this will happen. But my nightly doses of reality and sanity keep my hope alive.

GOOD NEWS STARTS WITH A BALL AND A BAT

Where have all “the positive” stories gone? Didn’t there used to be “positive stories” on the news?

Actually, the answer to that is “not really.” Even in the better-than-now old days, when the world was a little bit less insane, and calamities weren’t a daily (hourly?) event, news media focused their efforts on evil-doers.

Drugs. Murder. Fire. Car crashes. Plane crashes. Derailment. Financial disasters. Trials. Protests. Scandal. More scandal.

Garry worked in the news from 1962 until he retired in 2001. He didn’t do a lot of “positive” stories. He did a lot of murders, trials, drugs, fires, and blizzards. The theory of news stations is that death and destruction sells best. If you don’t have death and destruction, scandal and political protests can take up the slack. If, by some miracle, you run out of scandal … well … maybe you can add a feature about glorious autumn leaves or the new, improved zoo. Maybe there’s a hero somewhere getting an award.

That’s not just the way it is. That is the way it was and has been, as long as there has been “news.”


News isn’t good. It should be called “bad news” since it pretty much always is. Bad, that is.

They used to say “if it bleeds, it leads.” Carnage makes news sell better. If you can scare people to death, your ratings are sure to go up. We complain about the awful things going on politically and climatically, but news ratings are way up. The worse things get, the higher ratings go. Even people — like us — who used to avoid watching news find we watch at least a piece of it every night because we have to at least keep up with change.

The only other thing that sells news as well as murder is extremely bad weather. If, by some extraordinary luck, you get terrible weather that also results in deaths, bet your ass every news channel will be on it like ticks on a dog.

It is interesting to me that the same people who complain about how we don’t have any “good news” on the news, also complain that sports are a waste of time. Because essentially, sports are the good news portion of the news.

The point of sports is to have something entertaining and involving which doesn’t include politics, ranting commentaries, and piles of bodies. For example, you can get fully engrossed in baseball for decades or your whole life. The most tragedy you are likely to experience is a bad shoulder injury by a winning pitcher, a losing home team, or maybe a scandal. Even the scandals rarely involve death or destruction.

I have learned to enjoy sports. I don’t come from a sporting family, though I know back in the very old days, we listened to the Dodgers on the radio and rooted for them. We weren’t fanatics, but we were interested. For the past couple of years, the Red Sox and the Patriots have brought smiles to our faces even when the rest of the world was in a state of siege.

Say what you want about “overpaid athletes.” You try throwing a fastball 90 feet to get the batter out at the plate. It may be a game, but it isn’t an easy game. I bet you couldn’t play it no matter how much money they offered you. They pay these guys a lot of money the same way and for the same reasons we pay actors, singers, dancers, and other performers a lot of money. Entertainment matters. Why do you feel a great pitcher is less deserving of being well-paid than a movie or television star? You mean … pretending to be a detective on TV is so much more validating than playing quarterback on a football team? Because being a fake detective is inherently more enriching than throwing a ball?

We pay entertainers — including athletes — a lot of money because they do things we can’t do and which we enjoy seeing. Because we need something in our world that is interesting, involving, and fun. A place in our universe where we can go and just enjoy it. Whatever it is.

This doesn’t mean that we aren’t interested in the arts. Or books, movies, music, television and other events humans enjoy when they aren’t fully absorbed in horrors of politics and war. But sports is more than just entertainment. It gives us something to root for. These days, we need that. I need that. I absolutely need something I can be “for” which isn’t life and death.

Sports has been our saving grace of the past few years as what used to be reality turned surreal — and sometimes became meaningless.

The next time you watch the news, consider that there is good news. It’s sports.

DECEMBER BOYS (2007) DANIEL RADCLIFFE – RICH PASCHALL

DECEMBER BOYS (2007)


Movie Review, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

You probably missed it in the theater.  Daniel Radcliffe stars in this independent production at the height of the Harry Potter phenomenon.  The Australian made film found a big name distributor for the USA and Canada, Warner Brothers.  Yes, the same mega movie studio that distributed Harry Potter.  If you were the producer of this little Australian project, you might have expected to hit the jackpot with Radcliffe’s star power, plus one of the biggest movie distributors in the world.  You would have been wrong.

Distributor: Warner Independent

Distributor: Warner Independent

Filmed down under in 2006, December Boys is based on the novel of the same name.  The setting was moved up from the 1930s to the 1960s and is told as a flashback, as it was in the book.  This allows the ending to be brought up to modern times. The boys are orphans at a Catholic institution.  Four boys (five in the novel) share December birthdays. Each is given a gift of a Christmas holiday at a large beachfront home.

Radcliffe, a teenager at the time, is the oldest of the boys, known as Maps.  The other three, Spit, Spark (or Sparks, the film is unclear) and Misty are younger boys of about the same age.  Misty is the narrator.

For Radcliffe, this is a coming of age story.  He meets a girl who is a bit of a wild child and through the course of the movie you will see Radcliffe smoke, drink and, well, if you don’t know what they were doing in that cave, you were never a teenager.  Later, Maps dismisses an inquiry by one of the younger boys about that mark on his neck.

The home of the older couple who hosts the boys’ holiday introduces the element of health problems of one of the adults.  It’s a bit of a sad sidetrack to a storyline filled with side tracks.  There is also an old fisherman at the sea trying to catch some elusive large fish.  Naturally one of the boys get caught in that story line.

Then there’s the young couple who fail to conceive a child.  When the young husband tells the priest from the orphanage they are having trouble getting pregnant, you know what the priest will suggest.  Misty overhears and determines to be the one adopted. Eventually he tells the priest he was eavesdropping. The other boys force him to spill the story.  Then the little ones try to be model citizens, while Maps knows an older boy will never be adopted.

There are plenty of hi-jinks for the boys.  The young man pushing the adoption with his wife owns a motorcycle and gives the younger boys rides along the beach.  Misty goes in the water and nearly drowns and our hero comes to the rescue. Do I have to tell you who?  There is disappointment and heartbreak in store. Throughout, the single thing the boys share is the only family they know, each other.

In addition to various goofs, some of the symbolism is confusing. And unnecessary.  A dark stallion periodically appears, symbolizing something, but I’m not sure what. Misty has “visions” of the future — nuns and the Virgin Mary.  It works having Misty picture the future through an empty frame; the rest doesn’t work. Boomers may find the out-of-time 1970s songs jarring.

Radcliffe wasn’t paid a big salary to make the movie.  He probably wanted a chance to be someone other than Harry Potter.  The character of Lucy, with whom Maps has a relationship, was not in the novel.  Perhaps this intrigued Radcliffe. Perhaps it worried Warner Brothers.

When the film opened in September of 2007, it had staggered release dates for Sydney, Melbourne, and London, most likely so Radcliffe could attend. When Warner Brother opened it as a “limited release” in the US, it was on four screens the first week, eight the next, and 13 next. After which it more or less disappeared. Not exactly a grand opening for a boy known round the world. Of course, the boy was known for a specific role and Warner Brothers wanted to keep it that way, at least to the degree they could control it.

It didn’t make much money. Of course. In the U.S., it grossed about $100,000 during its three-week release in September 2007. The film cost an estimated $4 million and grossed around a million dollars (U.S. and Australia) during its theatrical release. It’s currently available as a digital download from Amazon, and on used DVD.

December Boys got mixed reviews. The confusion of the story lines mixed together was criticized.  Immortal film critic Roger Ebert said, “There seem to be two movies going on here at the same time, and “December Boys” would have been better off going all the way with one of them.”  One thing critics agreed on: young Daniel could play someone other than Harry Potter.

The “coming of age” story with Lucy and Maps was created for the big screen. Perhaps therein lay some of the problem of plot development.  It might have been better to skip the extra plot and have Radcliffe play a boy who everyone looked up to, who came in to save the day when there was trouble for any of the other characters.

Oh wait, he was already doing that. Rather successfully too.