WHAT’S THAT SHMATAH YOU’RE WEARING? – Marilyn Armstrong

“How come Gibbs is wearing a coat in Arizona in the summer?”

I was talking to Garry. It was an NCIS rerun. We watch a lot of reruns, though this new fall season of TV is shaping up better than I expected, so maybe there will be new shows to watch.

 

The question about costumes comes up often and on various shows. One of the more common “duh” moments is when the male lead is wearing a coat and the female lead is skimpily dressed. No explanation needed for that one.

More weird is when each cast member is dressed randomly, apparently without regard for the plot. One is wearing a heavy winter coat, another a light denim jacket. A third is in shirtsleeves. Some are clothed in jeans or other casual stuff while others look ready for Wall Street … or a cocktail party. Women are supposedly hiking. Or running from or after serial killers while wearing 4-inch spike heels. My feet hurt looking at them.

A pair of red shiny leather stiletto heels with gold heel-pieces

Garry and I have done a tiny bit of movie “extra” work so I’m guessing it goes like this:  “Go find something that fits in wardrobe and be on set in ten.”

Everyone hustles off to wardrobe, which looks like a jumble sale or the clothing racks at the Salvation Army store. Most of the clothing in the wardrobe probably came from some second-hand source or other.

72-Garry-NCIS-Uxbridge_01

Everyone dives in looking for something that fits. As soon as they find an outfit … any outfit … they head for a changing booth, then off to be on set before someone yells at them. Stars get slightly better wardrobe or wear their own clothing. Wearing ones own clothing, both on TV shows and movies is common. I understand why.

The real question is not why everyone on a show is poorly or inappropriately dressed. It’s whether or not the people who produce the show think we won’t notice.

My theory is they don’t care if we notice or not. They don’t want to spend money on a wardrobe. They figure if you and I notice, we won’t care. In any case, we’ll keep watching. And they’re right. It’s a bottom-line world. A wardrobe is one area where corners can be easily cut.

The thing is, we do notice. You don’t need to be a professional critic or especially astute to see the incongruities of television costuming.

Open closet

It’s not just costumes, either. Sloppy editing, crappy scripts, stupid plots that include blatant factual and continuity errors. Ultimately, we do stop watching. Because it’s obvious they don’t care so why should we?

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You notice it on long-running shows that originally had good scripts and editing, but not anymore. The quality of the show slides. Producers are baffled when loyal fans stop tuning in. Obvious to a normal person, but apparently incomprehensible to network executives. Disrespect for viewers is at the root of much of the illness besetting the TV industry.

They should be nicer to us. We’re, after all, the customers. Aren’t we?

JACK WARNER, NAZIS, AND HOLLYWOOD – By Garry Armstrong, with a bit of inspiration from Marilyn Armstrong

I was usually able to get candid comments from “old Hollywood” people because I didn’t ask the typical questions about favorite co-stars, celebrity perks, or favorite roles. I frequently shared my disdain for the “suits” in my business who tried to interfere with my work. This attitude, along with being a minority,  got me some sympathetic responses from people who normally just gave standard sound bites. It also helped that I was a movie “maven,”  more knowledgable than many so-called ‘entertainment reporters’ famous for fluff questions.

Jack L Warner, 1970. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The topic of Jack Warner came up this morning. Marilyn is reading his biography, a book called “We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Film” by Noah Isenberg. Do NOT buy the book, by the way. It’s written well — and completely wrong about pretty much everything.

Marilyn said the author apparently believes that Jack Warner was a man with a conscience who claimed to go the “extra mile,” slipping anti-Nazi stuff into Warner Brothers films in the late 1930s and early 1940s when it was “dangerous” to speak out against the Nazis.

Much of this country’s population was essentially isolationist.  Businessmen didn’t want to rock the boat,  including many Hollywood moguls concerned more about their overseas markets, especially Germany.

As always,  it was all about the money.

So, here’s a list of a couple of Hollywood legends from Tinseltown’s golden years and their takes on Jack Warner and his “anti-Nazi” stance.

JAMES CAGNEY

Probably Warner Brothers’ most bankable star from 1930 to 1950. In a 1971 conversation with James Cagney (an informal afternoon chat on Martha’s Vineyard),  the star gave full credit to Warner Brothers for giving him his breakthrough roles. Cagney got his “Public Enemy” role when the director switched Cagney’s supporting role with the star,  favoring Cagney’s energy.  Despite his “gangster” popularity, Cagney had to fight the Warners for diversity in roles.

Cagney and his horses on Martha’s Vineyard.

In Hollywood back then it was not uncommon for big studios to keep a tight rein on their stars.

James Cagney with chickens

Cagney was still doing gangster films in 1939 as the Nazis flexed their muscles. In Hollywood, big and small studios were nervous about doing films that might jeopardize their lucrative overseas market. The inside word was: “Don’t antagonize the Nazis in your films.” Germany was a large market for American films.

There was a film waiting to be ‘greenlighted called “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” at Warner Brothers. The director, European expatriate Anatole Litvak, was eager to get started. The project sat for months. The behind-the-scenes arguments between the Brothers Warner could be heard throughout Hollywood. They were the butt of jokes, concern. and anxiety by other studios who wanted to tackle Nazi Germany on film. Someone had to be the first to do it.

Sam and Harry Warner were decidedly in favor of taking it to Adolph Hitler.  They held the keys to the studio’s financial and legal coffers.  Jack was the smiling front in Hollywood, dealing with actors, directors, and writers.  He was the public face. With his big, broad smile, pearly whites who some people likened to those of a great white shark, Jack was regularly bashed by actors and actresses as gross, a sexual predator, a philanderer, and a fraud — which was typical stuff for Hollywood suits.

When “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” came across his desk, Jack Warner blanched and balked. He didn’t want to touch it. The first-generation immigrant mogul didn’t want to risk losing his studio and power to Nazi pressure.  His brothers disagreed saying it was their duty to do the film.

Jack disagreed until a lackey suggested they could do it as a gangster film with underworld bad guys subbing for Nazis.  His brothers refused to do it that way. Jack started leaning on his stable of stars — James Cagney, George Raft, Paul Muni, Edward G. Robinson and others. They surely could pull off the film as a Tommy-gun melodrama.

No one wanted to do that film.

Jack Warner fumed! Meanwhile, Edward G. Robinson, widely admired in Hollywood as a Rennaissance Man of courage way beyond his screen image, lobbied for the film as an out and out warning against Nazism.  He even put up some of his personal earnings to back the script while agreeing to take on the lead role as a Federal Agent ferreting out Nazi spies in the U.S.

Edward G. Robinson

Jack Warner winced. Other prominent actors including George Sanders and Paul Lukas, encouraged by Robinson, agreed to join the film, playing unsympathetic Nazi spy roles. They didn’t care if it jeopardized their careers.  If “Eddie G.” was doing it, that was good enough for them.

Over Jack Warners’ private arguments, “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” was made in 1939.  Surprising many insiders, it was a box-office success and nominated for several Oscars.  During the Oscar Ceremony, Jack Warner leapt past the winner to embrace the award and give a big patriotic speech about the courage of fighting Nazis at a dire historic time.

Warner talked humbly about ‘tuning up’ the script to bash the Nazis without endangering the film.  Insiders just smiled.  The cast and crew of the film fumed silently. Thirty years later, James Cagney recalled Jack Warner’s antics. Cagney had a strange smile on his face as he talked about Jack Warner.

“The man had chutzpah,  I’ll give him that. He certainly gave me my chance. But, young fella, he was the epitome of a two-faced, hypocritical ‘suit’.  You think you have worked for bad guys.  Give yourself a few more years.

“Jack Warner took credit for everything he rejected. He loved getting awards. I remember attending award ceremonies. I had to do them.  Part of my job.  The VFW, DAR, Sons Of American Freedom. You name the award ceremony and Jack Warner was there, big teeth and phony smile, to accept the honor.

“He was always ‘umble.  Young fella, I had to hold my stomach and breath around the guy. He loved garlic bread and used to sit close to me.  I was his pet or so he thought.  Jack Warner a hero and anti-Nazi fighter?  No!  He was even a bigger problem when we did “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.  He didn’t want any strong anti-Nazi bias in the film. He said it was just a song and dance film,  nothing more.

“George M. Cohan was around one day and wanted to deck smilin’ Jack. Sorry to drift on about Jack Warner but even in my so call mellow years, the man still angers me.”

That’s an unfiltered remembrance of my conversation with James Cagney.  It was a wide-ranging talk that included his not so fond memories of Jack Warner — years after his final film for the studio.

CHARLTON HESTON

 In 6 or 7 meetings, ranging over a similar number of years, Charlton “Call me Chuck” Heston gave me wide-ranging inside looks at Hollywood. Once he talked about Edward G. Robinson who was one of “Chuck’s” heroes. They made “Soylent Green” together which turned out to be Robinson’s last film.  He died a short time after the film was completed.

The movie “Soylent Green”

Heston talked warmly about Robinson and his gentle “man of the world” presence.  Heston volunteered the information about “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” and Edward G. Robinson’s pivotal part in getting the movie made with its strong anti-Nazi message.

Heston relayed stories Robinson shared with him about Jack Warner.  They weren’t flattering. Heston had a few encounters with Warner as a young and rising Hollywood star.

I gave him a look and Heston just smiled, shaking his head.  No words needed.

RUTH DONNELLY

She was a contract player at Warners in the 1930s.  She usually played ditzy friends of lead actresses like Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins, Olivia DeHavilland, Barbara Stanwyck, and other stars.  Often Donnelly was paired with Eve Arden as a comedy foil in melodramas and romantic comedies.

“A Slight Case of Murder” starring Ruth Donnelly

Donnelly was on the Warners lot when “Confessions of A Nazi Spy” was in production. She remembered, in a 1970 interview,  how Jack Warner used to interrupt scenes being shot. This is a big NO-NO unless you held the money for the film. Warner, Donnelly recalled, was boorish and intimidating. He tried to bully writers on the “Confessions” film, demanding they change their scripts and then feigning ignorance when asked by Anatole Litvak, the director if it was true.  Warner even tried to get the writers fired for the controversy he created.

Ruth Donnelly smiled when I asked what she would say to Jack Warner in 1970.


Also see: What Charlie Chaplin Got Right

OF ALL THE GIN JOINTS IN TOWN … — Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, we watched Casablanca. Again. We’ve seen it on TV. We even watched it on the big screen in the movies. Last night, we watched it once more — and it still has the best dialogue of any movie of its kind. There are other, more exciting movies, more thrilling movies, though I find Casablanca pretty thrilling. What Casablanca gives us is the reality of a war that never was, but which we needed.

The passionately dedicated French underground.

The anti-Nazi heroism of ordinary people, willing to put their lives on the line for the greater good.


“What if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can’t kill that fast.”


Not the way it was, but the way we wanted (maybe needed) it to be. Even now, we want the grandeur of people at their finest. Truth be damned.

And love. Undying love that lasts through war and loss, no matter what the world brings. As we watched — and we know the movie well enough to hear the line coming — Garry looked at me and I grinned back. Wait for it … wait for it … Ah, there it is!


“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”


There’s the first of many great lines, There are many more. We went to the movies to see Casablanca on the Big Screen when TCM sponsored a release of this1943 Oscar-winning classic a few years ago.


“We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”


The filming of the movie was a crazy time. The script was written — and it’s a great script — page by page. The actors didn’t know what they’d be doing any day until the pages arrived.


The set was chaotic and Ingrid Bergman wasn’t happy. Bogie was underpaid — a bad contract with Warner’s he had signed before he was a big star. Casablanca went a long way to fix that. Claude Rains earned more than Bogie, and he was arguably worth it.


(Standing in front of the plane in the fog.) “I’m saying this because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”

“…But what about us?”


However it happened, Casablanca is movie magic. It’s a brilliant and witty script that plays even better on the big screen than it does at home.


“…When I said I would never leave you…”

“And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

(Ilsa lowers her head and begins to cry.)

“Now, now…”

(Rick gently places his hand under her chin and raises it so their eyes meet, and he repeats–)

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”


Maybe it’s something about how differently we focus when we watch it in a theater than when we see it at home, with the dogs, the refrigerator, and a “pause” button. A difference in the “presence” of the film. The clarity of the visual presentation.


“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”


I’m sure it was and somewhere, it still is.

THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET – Rich Paschall

ATTEND THE TALE, by Rich Paschall

Broadway shows have always been a favorite of mine. I love to see a good live production. With a few notable exceptions (The Sound of Music, West Side Story, etc) I usually hate the movie treatment. This show has a good theater and movie version available on DVD. They are both tasty morsels.

Benjamin Barker is wrongly accused of a crime and sent away from England to a prison in Australia. His beautiful wife is taken by the judge to be his own, and his daughter is adopted by the same judge. Mrs. Lovett makes meat pies, and her shop has fallen on hard times.  Anthony, a sailor, picks up Sweeney Todd, who is adrift at sea. All of this is just for openers.

Todd returns to Fleet Street and his former home, where he encounters Mrs. Lovett.  The sailor comes across the beautiful Joanna, daughter of Todd (Barker), locked in her house by the evil judge.  Of course, Anthony falls in love with her beauty as seen from the window and with her voice.  The Beadle does the judge’s dirty work, which includes keeping people away from his ward.

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd

One DVD version is the Tony and Emmy award-winning stage production with  original lead performers. The 1979 Broadway smash of the gruesome tale was recorded for television in 1982, starring Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett and George Hearn as Sweeney Todd. Hearn had replaced Len Cariou (now on Blue Bloods) in the original stage production. Lansbury won a Tony award for her portrayal while Hearn picked up an Emmy.

As experienced theater performers, these two knew how to fill the house with their dynamic interpretations of Lovett and Todd.  They had to be both evil and somewhat sympathetic.  Todd is out for revenge and Lovett is doing her own conniving as well.  Some of the nature of her evil is immediately apparent.  She not only has designs for Mr. Todd, she also sees a way to improve the sale of her meat pies by getting some fresh meat.  If that needs further explanation, I will let you see one of these productions.

Sweeney-original cast

The music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim.  The composer of many Broadway shows has mixed a variety of styles here to score big, not just with awards, but with a long running show.  It is proof that a gruesome tale can mix drama and comedy, love and evil, revenge and murder with music and come out a winner.  It is this show that intrigued a young Tim Burton, who would bring us the movie version 25 years later.

sweeney-todd-broadway

In 2007 the silver screen version was released. Featuring most of the Sondheim score and original script, Burton was able to use film to bring more variety to the settings and more blood to the tale.  The gruesome revenge tale was certainly now more…uh, gruesome.

The surprise casting included Johnny Depp as the Demon Barber. Helena Bonham Carter played Mrs. Lovett. It certainly was easier to have some sympathy for the situations of these characters when they were portrayed by the well-known and well liked stars. The immediate question, however, was could they sing.

Alan Rickman (Severus Snape in Harry Potter) is the evil judge. Timothy Spall, who also appeared in many of the Harry Potter films, is the Beadle.  Sacha Baron Cohen is Adolfo Pirelli, the rival barber and con artist from early in the story. His young assistant, Tobias Ragg, is played by a small man with a tenor voice in the theater production, but is covered by 14-year-old Ed Sanders in the film. This is an important change as it more accurately fits the character.

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Gone from the movie is the Greek chorus offering warnings to the audience and an admonition to:

Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd.
His skin was pale and his eye was odd.
He shaved the faces of gentlemen
Who never thereafter were heard of again.

The Burton film saw no need for The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.  The song works well as a theater device and is used throughout the play.  With the movie being able to give you a stronger visual, you should not need the warnings of the chorus.

Also gone is the song “Kiss Me.” You never see in the movie version that the lovers Anthony and Johanna have actually met, while they spend enough time together in the play to do a musical number. Gone too is the “Wigmaker Sequence.” The explanation from Todd to Anthony on how he will rescue Johanna is almost completely missing.

These omissions along with shortened versions of songs leaves the movie at 116 minutes while the television production of the play did not cut anything and runs 139 minutes. The play does add in an “Intermission” so you can go to the refrigerator or wherever.

While it is no surprise to say that the crew of Broadway veterans delivered on their songs, you may wonder about the movie cast. Sondheim himself retained a right of refusal on casting choices for the main parts.

Sweeney-todd-twisted-characters

Though he feared a rock interpretation by Depp, he was pleased with the audition singing of the megastar. Helena Bonham Carter sent a dozen audition tapes to Sondheim.  As she was Tim Burton’s partner at the time, they wanted no hint of nepotism.

Cohen also auditioned extensively and is said to have sung just about everything from Fiddler on the Roof. Alan Rickman, a stage and screen veteran, delivers on the singing of the judge. The duet of “Pretty Women” with Depp rivals anything you may have seen on stage. Having teenager Ed Sanders sing the Toby part adds the poignancy the stage version may miss.

Depp claims never to have sung publicly before, yet he delivers as a brooding, vengeful Todd. Although Bonham Carter picked up awards for Mrs. Lovett, I find her song performance without life. I guess it would naturally suffer against a comparison with Lansbury.

Both productions have features to recommend. Purists of theater productions will opt for the Lansbury/Hearn portrayals. Those in favor of better effects and star power will enjoy the movie. In either case, be sure to “attend the tale.”

MOSES, MEL, AND ME – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Before I put a finger on the keyboard, I admit this is probably heresy, at least to some people. One simply doesn’t make fun of religious movies. It is simply not done. Especially not these days.

But I do.

Every Passover or Easter (usually, it’s both together), Marilyn and I watch “The Ten Commandments.” We don’t watch it for its high level of religious sentimentality. While Cecil B was going for life-altering moments, he gave us some much-needed laughter.

It isn’t a movie that has stood up well to the years. Time tested it — and found it wanting.

Heston-Charlton-Ten-Commandments

Every year when some big religious holiday rolls around, the lineup of movies on our favorite cable stations includes all the familiar biblical movies. Few are watchable even a few years past their shelf date, much less stand ye olde test of time.

Most are obviously well-intended, like George Stevens’, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. But the man who gave us classics like “Shane”, “A Place In The Sun” and “Giant”, wound up with a ponderous and static film in “The Greatest Story.”

Its biggest sin? Boring. Truly dull.

As I write, we are watching Mel Brooks’, “History of the World-Part One.” This movie is the perfect antidote to historical films that have become parodies or which were not really all that good in the first place. We probably have a greater appreciation of history because of Mel’s equal opportunity insults rather than the cardboard epics which play fast and loose with facts.

Mel Brooks last supper

I must admit I love watching gladiator movies. It’s a guy thing, like war films.  I also enjoy seeing semi-clad (or even lesser clad) young women engaging us in erotic dances before evil monarchs who are not playing with a full deck. We’re not talking about great cinema here.

Charlton “Call me Chuck” Heston was really honest when he talked about playing Moses. He told me it was a good gig. Working with Cecil B. DeMille (for a second time) was good for his résumé. It gave him a boost for the religious epic he really wanted to do — “Ben Hur.”

“Ben Hur” is one of the few good religious films to come out of Hollywood. William Wyler’s fine direction and brilliantly done stunts using real live (and one who died) human being — were spectacular. No computer generation. It hadn’t been invented. The chariot race alone is worth the price of admission.

history-of-the-world--part-1

This is obviously subjective stuff. If you love Cecil B’s heavy-handed narration of his version of the Old Testament, so let it be written. So let it be done. Meanwhile, we’re back with Mel. It’s the French Revolution and those generously endowed girls are displaying their charms.

It’s good to be the king!

SPACE AND SUPERHEROES – ELLIN CURLEY

I’m usually not a big fan of space or superhero shows, but I really like the “Star Trek”-ish television show “The Orville” and the movie “Wonder Woman.”

I think the reason I like these two particular representatives of their genres is that they focus on the human (or not quite human) relationships. The shows are not primarily about the pyrotechnics, battle scenes, superpowers or twenty-third-century technology, although those are elements of both shows. In these two stories, the characters and their interactions don’t get lost in — or play second fiddle to — special effects.

In the first part of “Wonder Woman”, I became absorbed in Diana’s early life on a mystical island of Amazon women. Then I enjoyed watching her adjust to life in the early 1900s of WWI. I also loved the way her romance with Steve evolved. The movie is, at heart, a beautiful love story.

I’m a big fan of WWI and WWII movies. The major plotline here revolves around a ratty band of anti-heroes — plus Wonder Woman. They are trying to destroy the Germans’ new, extra lethal nerve gas before it can be used on the Allies. You could also almost call the movie a WWI drama with superheroes.

Talking about “Wonder Woman”, I have to mention the star, Gal Gadot. In addition to being breathtakingly gorgeous, she exudes intelligence, strength and compassion. She embodies the quintessential modern female superhero.

If you have any reservations about watching something like “Wonder Woman”, I recommend it as more than just a typical comic book-based movie.

“The Orville” has a “Star Trek” vibe. But again, it is much more than your average space travel adventure. Members of the crew have quirky and interesting personalities and there are many fun and intriguing relationships on the ship. For example, the Captain and the First Mate are ex-spouses who haven’t fully worked through their issues.

Seth McFarlane is the writer, producer and also plays the Captain. He is fantastic, as usual.

There’s lots of humor and lightness in the show as well as charming banter between the exes. In addition, there are serious and topical issues that are brought up and discussed in most episodes. There was one that dealt with the conundrum of whether or not to change the sex of a female baby who would face serious discrimination and banishment on an all-male planet.

The plots are good and I find it an engaging and entertaining hour of television. I have ADD and often can’t sit through a one hour show, so that says a lot for me!

Over the years, I’ve become an expert at glazing over during most of the comic or space ship-based shows I watch with my husband. These are two that actually got my attention and kept me engaged.

Kudos to the makers of “Wonder Woman” and “The Orville.” You can watch “The Orville” on Hulu and Wonder Woman is, I think, still available on Netflix. But if not there, it’s surely on one streaming channel or another.

A LOVELY WAR: A WORLD WAR I MEMORIAL – Marilyn Armstrong

Happy Birthday, Great War. It’s 105 years since the day you officially started. World War I (WWI), also known as the First World War, was a nearly global war. It officially began on July 28, 1914, though its real beginnings were rooted in events beginning decades, even centuries earlier.

It was an ugly, devastating war. Four years of slaughter that — technically — ended on November 11, 1918.

The official number of military casualties is 22,477,500 killed, wounded, or missing in action. The combined number of military and civilian casualties is more than 37 million. If, as I do, you consider World War II as chapter two of the same conflict, the number of dead becomes even more incomprehensible.

For the past couple of weeks, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has been “celebrating” the centennial of the first world war, inviting historians and military people to do the introductions and closing comments on the films. General Wesley Clark has been doing TCM’s intros and outros, the last of which was for Oh! What a Lovely War.

He referred to the movie as a musical comedy. While it has amusing moments, calling it a musical comedy doesn’t really cut it. If comedy can be dark, this is one dark comedy.

It’s also surprisingly informative. I can date my interest in World War I and modern American history to seeing this movie when it was released in 1969.

In his closing comments following the movie, General Clark said he hoped we had learned our lesson from this and all the other wars of the past century. I turned to Garry and said, “And what lesson, exactly, might that be?”

“Obviously,” said my husband, making a sour face, “We have learned nothing.”

I agree. Well, I guess we did learn a few things. We learned to build more efficient weapons, including weapons of mass destruction. We can kill more people faster — but no deader — than we did 100 years ago. Much of our military technology emerged during and post-WWI.

I don’t see this as progress. If you want to know why I’m so cynical, why I have trouble believing in a benign deity, look at the casualty figures from the collective wars of the past century.

I love this movie. Not only because of its historical veracity — it’s accurate — but because the music is wonderful. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British cinema at the time — Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson and more, all having a great time.

I’ve seen this many times and I guess so has Garry since we can both know the words to all the songs.

Catchy. Very catchy.


OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough (his directorial début)

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

I 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. Its catchy score sticks in your brain.

The songs are those sung by the troop during that long war. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen during the 1960s. The credits were a veritable whos-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 or will. 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. Europe was a giant bomb waiting for someone to light a match.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any other. When the war began, it was the old world. The crowned heads of Europe ruled. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918 (it didn’t really end — WWII was the second chapter of the same war), the world had changed beyond recognition. The European monarchies were gone. A generation of men had been slaughtered; the death toll was beyond belief. The callous indifference to the 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 or starvation. It paved the way for major political upheaval throughout the world.

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 be called an orchestrated, organized international effort to murder a generation of men. They did a good job.

The statements of the historical characters — all lodged a safe distance from the fighting — are ludicrous. General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really said: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? He said it. And meant it.

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

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs mixed with pithy comments from generals, kings, Kaisers, and 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 what 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, 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 love great movies, grab one.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and informative, this movie is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You won’t be disappointed and you won’t forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I haven’t forgotten it.


From Amazon.com:

Richard Attenborough’s directorial début was this musical satire that deftly skewers the events of World War I — including the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a Christmastime encounter between German and British forces, and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles — by portraying them as absurd amusement park attractions. The all-star cast includes Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson; look quickly for Jane Seymour in her screen début.


144 min. Widescreen (Enhanced); English Dolby Digital mono; Subtitles: English; audio commentary by Attenborough; “making of” documentary.

ALL I WANT TO DO IS ENTER MY HOUSE JUSTIFIED – Garry Armstrong

It’s a memorable line from the classic western, “Ride The High Country”. The 1962 MGM film was released with little fanfare. Hard to figure because it starred two long-time movie cowboy heroes, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea and was directed by the maverick, Sam Peckinpah.

“High Country” also introduced the spunky Mariette Hartley. The supporting cast reads like a who’s who of top-notch character actors: James Drury, Warren Oates, L.Q. Jones, John Anderson, John Davis Chandler, Edgar Buchanan and R.G. Armstrong (no, not a relation).

Another classic western, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” was released the same year and overshadowed “Ride The High Country.”

“All I want to do is..enter my house justified” is Joel McCrea’s summation of his very ethical lawman who’s grown old and, with little money to show for his estimable career, but refuses to abandon his ethics for a grab of the money he’s transporting from a mining town to the bank that hired him  based on his reputation.McCrea is sharing his belief in honesty with longtime pal, Randolph Scott who temporarily has been seduced by greed and plans to steal the money. It’s against typecasting to have Randolph Scott as the former lawman on the verge of becoming a thief — at the expense of his life-long and honorable friend, Joel McCrea.  When I saw the film in ’62, I found it hard to grasp Randolph Scott as a bad guy.

He does a very believable job as the ambivalent villain wannabe. Scott’s old and jaded gunfighter is exasperated by a lifetime of upholding the law with very little money to show for all the bullets he’s taken. It’s the old west take on “show me the money.”

Joel McCrea’s insistence on honesty and taking the high road despite many obstacles is a parable for our current political world where ethics and honesty have become a sham and a bad joke leveled at people blinded by our P.T. Barnum Commander-In-Chief.

Can you imagine a Presidential tweet saying, “All I want to do is enter my house justified”?  The unfolding impeachment proceedings mock any pretense at ethics and honesty in the Oval Office. The McCrea line also flies in the face of all the Gordon Gekkos in our public arena where “greed is good” is the unofficial mantra.

Think of the high-profile celebrity parents facing the music and jail time for trying to buy a college diploma for their kids.  You don’t enter your house justified with that as your moral code. Our political and moral swamp is spilling over instead of being drained.

Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea

It’s taken a while for me to see “Ride The High Country” as more than just an excellent western.  Its underlying message about moral codes is clear to me now.  The same can be said for “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the movie that gave us the iconic (yes iconic) line:


“This is the west, Sir. When fact catches up with myth,
you print the legend.”

There’s a lot of legend printing going on these days. Come to think of it, there are a lot of Liberty Valance wannabes trying to muck with our Constitution and standards set by the men who wrote it. To be fair, some of those guys liked to print the legend too. But, that’s another story.

Randolph Scott sees the light in a memorable shoot out, teaming up with Joel McCrea, to take down execrable killers at the end of “Ride The High Country.” Spoiler alert?

Marriage parade in a mining camp

Nah. Would you expect anything less from Randolph Scott?

We could use Scott and McCrea right now to run the current gang of miscreants out of town and out of the country — with some jail time thrown in.

They will never enter their house justified.

LOOK FOR THE FLAGON WITH THE DRAGON – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s either in the chalice from the palace … or the vessel with the pestle … or possibly, the flagon with the dragon. One of them has the brew that is true, but if you mistakenly drink the wrong one? Then you’ve consumed the pellet with the poison. And your goose, so to speak, is cooked.

Herein I praise some of the funniest movie dialogue ever to grace a screen. This particular “bit” has been going through my head since yesterday.

I defy you to memorize the words and keep them in order. I’ve been trying to remember them in order for decades, to no avail. I always lose track eventually.

Maybe you’ll have better luck but I doubt it!

‘THE LATE, LATE SHOW’ – “GUILTY PLEASURES” (MA-XXX) – Garry Armstrong

Yes, I know. The title sounds like a promo for a soft porn movie. No, it’s not!  I don’t do that stuff. Hold on. It does involve soft porn. I’ll get to that in a few minutes.

One of the few retirement perks we have is staying up late. During my 40 plus years as a TV/radio news guy, I had crazy schedules, usually mandating I be out of bed way before the roosters and sunrise. It meant missing lots of stuff that aired after dinner and during the wee, small hours. It meant missing lots of my favorite old movies.

I’m an ardent fan of the old movies. As a 20 something, I’d set the alarm for 2 or 3 am for “The Late, Late Show.”  This was before the DVR age when all you had to be was awake to see your program. Not just the classics like “Casablanca.” I’m a devotee of film nuggets like “Jubilee Trail” a B-western from the 1950s.  I love the film’s theme song and, actually, almost lobotomized myself to see the pre-dawn airing of the film just to hear Buddy Baer and the iconic Vera “Hruba” Ralston sing the song. I sang along with them until my parents awoke and told me to shut up. “Jubilee Trail” is one of my guilty pleasures.

The Magnificent Seven

Hell is definitely coming …

Marilyn doesn’t share my fondness for these movie nuggets. Golly, my heart still skips a few beats when Forrest Tucker finally concedes his love for the adorable Joan Leslie and the “Jubilee Trail” song swells up full volume to a happy ending and the closing credits. My eyes still tear up over the romantic conclusion. Yes, a guilty pleasure for a cheezy b-western.

Marilyn doesn’t share my fondness but “gets” the pleasure I derive from these films. She’s set me up with headphones and the opportunity to nightly watch my guilty pleasure flicks as she listens to audiobooks or watches her own favorite stuff on her Kindle.  Thanks, Marilyn!  You’ll do!

Okay, last night, still recovering from my “Marathon Man” like dental session this week, I snuggled under the covers with a headset on to watch some classic guilty pleasure stuff.

I started with “Marie Antoinette,” a lavish 1938 MGM picture I haven’t seen in decades. I watched it with great anticipation.  What a cast!  Norma Shearer, Tyrone Power, John Barrymore, Robert Morley, and Gladys George just to name a few legends from the studio that boasted more stars than there are in heaven.

Norma Shearer was queen bee at MGM from the late ’20s to the early ’40s. She was married to Irving Thalberg,  Metro’s “Boy Wonder” who churned out some of Hollywood’s greatest films.  It meant Norma Shearer got all the plum roles. It didn’t matter that she was always “playing young” for parts in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Marie Antoinette.”  It usually doesn’t faze me.

However, last night I realized Norma was bringing her “Sandra Dee” take on the “let them eat cake” lady.  It was ridiculous. I stayed with this epic out of respect for old Hollywood. I gave up, however, when Joseph Schildkraut popped up, wearing more mascara, powder, and eye-liner than Norma Shearer. I couldn’t handle it.

What a cast!

I went to something I knew would be good. A Randolph Scott western. “Riding Shotgun.” a 1950s Scott cowboy saga in blazing color. I sat up straight as the credits rolled and a deep baritone voice sang a familiar range rider song. This was gonna be great!

Randy was doing a voice-over narration to barrel up a plot that was older than its venerable star. I watched in disbelief as the movie played on like a “Blazing Saddles” parody except this was not supposed to be a comedy. I gave up in disgust about 30 minutes into the western. Unbelievable!

Two classic movies, guilty pleasures, that were stinkeroos. I felt so cheated, so abandoned, so bereft and numb. I was in limbo, trying to fall asleep.

Remember my line about soft porn? Yes, guilty pleasure of a different kind. Why do guys watch (soft) porn? For its cinematic value?  Hey, I used to read “Playboy” for the articles and studied the photo layouts for their pictorial artistry.

I remember attending The Fine Arts Theater back on Long Island of the ’60s. It was a semi cultural venue. They were running “Tunes of Glory.” I went, anticipating “culture” with 40-DD breast cups. I was bummed out. “Tunes of Glory,” with Alec Guinness and John Mills, turned out to be a memorable twist on war movies. Guinness and Mills were brilliant as the disparate military heroes. Think “Bridge on The River Kwai” with a heavier bashing of heroic images.

I sat in the dark, mesmerized by the film but disturbed that it wasn’t a Hugh Hefner/Russ Meyers product. Gee Whiz! It wasn’t a total loss because the film introduced Susannah York who I immediately adored. So, a guilty pleasure? Yes!

I must “out” myself on another guilty pleasure type film. As a kid and young man, I was addicted to westerns and war movies, normal for any red-blooded young fella. I cringed when the action paused for “mushy stuff.” I didn’t understand critics who praised the work of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy and other notable actresses of Hollywood’s golden age.  The gooey love stuff was so boring. Nowadays, I never miss the films of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, Myrna Loy and the other legendary ladies which I dissed as a young movie maven.

I like the pluck displayed by these women on and off-screen. They fought the studio bosses for quality roles and against movies and parts that demeaned women. I didn’t get this when I was younger. Now, as an old fart, stereotypes, and ageism, resonate strongly.

Guys are not supposed to like romcoms, chick flicks, melodramas or other movies where women have equal standing or are stronger and savvier than the male co-stars.  Reality bites!

When I hang out with the guys, we mourn the demise of westerns and dramas where a man was a man. If I mention Davis or Crawford, I can see the eyebrows rise around the lunch table. You have to be discreet with guilty pleasures, right? No, wrong, dammit! Our current political culture is egregious enough without ridicule of your entertainment preferences.

I wonder how Duke Wayne, Papa Hemingway, Bogie, and their brethren would deal with today’s good old boys and the too-long delayed exposure of their moral decay.

I’ll take my guilty pleasures, thank you, and enjoy their stories.

What’s it all about?  As an iconic movie private eye once observed, “Uh, the stuff dreams are made of!”

THE MAVEN ANNOUNCES “IT’S MOVIE NIGHT AT THE UXBRIDGE SENIOR CENTER”! – Garry Armstrong

Hey, movie mavens!  Tomorrow night it’s “Roll Everything!” as I host “Rustlers’ Rhapsody” at the Uxbridge Senior Citizens Center on Main Street in downtown Uxbridge.

It starts at 5:30 pm with refreshments and trivia prep time.

At 6pm, it’s curtain time for “Rustlers’ Rhapsody,”  a wonderful 1985 spoof and homage to those wonderful “B” westerns of our childhood. Surely, you remember the Saturday matinees at your favorite neighborhood theater? You know, where the good guys wore white and the bad guys wore black.

The plots were simple. Good versus evil. Good always won. The heroes had nice outfits. The villains usually wore dirty, ill-fitting garb you could smell from your front row seats as you chowed down popcorn, juji-fruits and hot dogs.

At 7:45 pm, it will be Q&A time as we swap trivia about favorite movies.  Maybe the featured film will sharpen your recall of those golden olden days.

“Rustler’s Rhapsody” fondly remembers heroes like Roy and Gene. There’s a nice bit of surprise casting that will leave you smiling. If you know who I’m talking about, mum’s the word.

You’ll find yourself singing along with the wonderful ballad at film’s end that definitely will have you recollecting your days of innocence, lost in the wild west where there was no doubt about law and order.

So, saddle up your cow pony and ride the high country to the Uxbridge Senior Citizens’ Center tomorrow night.  We’ll start the show at 7pm. We need your help to smoke out all those bad hombres.

That includes YOU, Pilgrim!

SABOTAGE – AND – MURDER

Early Hitchcock, by Rich Paschall

The 1936 Hitchcock thriller, Sabotage, could be a story for the present day.  Foreign saboteurs are planning terror attacks on a big city.  No one is sure who these people are or why they are planning these things.  In this adventure the city is London and the time frame is “the present,” in other words the mid 1930s.  It is loosely based on a story by Joseph Conrad, Secret Agent.  Hitchcock released another film in 1936 named Secret Agent.  It is no relation.

Alfred Hitchcock

In Sabotage London experiences a blackout which most take in good humor.  At a local theater, patrons are demanding their money back, and when the wife goes to see if her husband, the theater owner, is home he claims to have been there all along.  We have seen that he has just returned.  He is the saboteur.

Oskar Homolka, the Austrian actor, plays the theater owner.  You are left to guess what European country or group he may be working for.  Sylvia Sydney plays his wife, apparently an American, while her younger brother, played by Desmond Testor, sounds rather British.  Homolka as Karl Verloc does not come across as particularly evil, but rather caught up in the plot.

Scotland Yard is suspicious of Verloc and has Detective Sergeant Spencer on the case.  He is undercover as a grocer assistant at the business next to the movie theater. He ultimately befriends Mrs. Verloc and her brother to get information.

Unhappy with the results of the blackout, the saboteurs want Verloc to plant a bomb that will terrorize London.  It is to go to the station at the Piccadilly London underground at a busy time of day.  Verloc does not want to coöperate with anything that may cause loss of life, but is threatened by his contact who apparently has some hold over him.

Sabotage

Sabotage

The film was released in America in 1937 under the title The Woman Alone.  I guess you could say Mrs. Verloc is alone in this story.  She is unaware of her husband’s activities and seemingly has no one else.  Well, no one else until the concerned Scotland Yard detective comes along. He obviously becomes fond of her as the story progresses.

Although early in his career, the film shows some of the aspects of the great Hitchcock films.  As we build to what is supposed to be the big moment of the terror plot, we see the rapid fire cutting of scenes, to take in not just the faces of the people around the bomb, but the clock as we watch the time move faster and faster to when the bomb is supposed to explode.  Things are not unfolding as planned, and then they take a Hitchcock style plot twist.  We will leave the rest to you in case you wish to track this down.

It is not going to land on the top 10 Hitchcock movies.  It is just an interesting early work of a director who will ultimately become a master of this type of intrigue and suspense.  This certainly is not very satisfying when compared to later Hitchcock fare.

The 1930 drama, Murder, is also an early Hitchcock piece that exhibits some brief moments of Hitchcock style, but basically contains all the elements of bad early “talkies.”  It does not contain much to hold your interest.  I fear its great reviews of more recent years are based on the reputation of the master of suspense, and has little to do with this work.

The plot starts out like Twelve Angry Men, but does not go down that road for long.  Written by Hitchcock, his wife Alma Reville and Walter C. Mycroft the story is based on the novel and play, Enter Sir John.  The story opens with a young actress being accused of the murder of another member of an acting company.  She seems to have been caught red-handed with the murder weapon at hand.  One of the jurors, Sir John, does not think she is guilty and after all jurors give in to the guilty verdict, including Sir John, he decides to investigate.

Murder

Murder

The lead character is played by Herbert Marshall, who went on to a long career in Hollywood films.  Norah Baring plays the actress about to face the gallows.  Yes, they were going to hang the beauty.  This give Hitchcock the nice opportunity to show us the shadow of the noose as the gallows are being built outside the cell window.  There is no need to show the actual building when he can terrorize the audience through shadow and sound.

The lighting and editing are poor, more often than not.  A little of that may be due to restoration.  Hitchcock admitted in an interview years later that the actors were encouraged to improvise dialogue in scenes that were not quite finished.  “The result wasn’t good; there was too much faltering. They would carefully think over what they were about to say and we didn’t get the spontaneity I had hoped for.”

This might account for the slow pacing and awkward pauses we find in many places.  Also, the actors are playing as if they are in a theater rather than in a movie.  It is not uncommon to see this in early talking pictures with actors who were trained for the stage.  The over dramatization of all the actors is a bit uncomfortable.  The type of staging seen here was more suited to the West End than the silver screen.  At the same time, Hitchcock also filmed the movie in German with other actors.

digging grave

If these two features offer anything, it is a look at life in London in the 1930s.  You can see how a poorer class of people lived and at the very least, you know the props and sets come right out of that time period.  Unless you are such a Hitchcock fan that you need to track down these re-mastered works, you could take a pass on them.  For some reason, they are available on DVD, and for free on You Tube.

OLD MOVIES, NEW EYES – Garry Armstrong

Those of you who are regulars on “Serendipity” know I love old movies and watch them frequently. I grew up with “Old Hollywood” having seen my first movie at a theater in 1946.  I was four. “The Best Years Of Our Lives” has its place in my sense memory because my Dad had just returned home from Europe and World War 2 as an Army Sergeant.

Armstrong family portrait

We have a large picture of Sgt. William Armstrong, His Wife, Esther, and their firstborn tot, Garry.  It’s the way we were. That 1946 night at New York City’s movie mecca.  Radio City Music Hall is covered in a silver-gold haze in my memory.

From that first movie night, I would go to see films now regarded as classics on a regular basis. We’d go to the movies three times a week. It could be the local second-run house like the Carlton or a first-run theater. For the first-run houses, we had to take a bus to Jamaica Avenue in Queens.

Those were the days when film studios still owned theaters.  The theaters only showed studio made films. Valencia with its star-filled ceiling ran MGM and Paramount movies. Across the street, the RKO Alden ran RKO and Warner Brothers films. Down the avenue, there was a Fox house which ran nothing but 20th Century Fox movies.

The Valencia Theater in Jamaica, Queens

Marilyn and I have shared memories of seeing films like “Shane” in 1954 at the Valencia. Diminutive Alan Ladd seemed larger than life as gunfighter Shane, righting wrongs on the screen beneath the celestial ceiling. It was an experience within an experience. You couldn’t duplicate it with the new medium television.

I came to know all the stars, directors, character and bit actors with as much knowledge as I did with my favorite baseball players helped by info on bubble gum cards.

As a grade-schooler, I knew the likes of supporting or character actors like Thomas Mitchell, Edward Brophy, Jerome Cowan, Eugene Palette, Zazu Pitts, Franklin Pangborn, Barton MacLane, Charles Lane, and James Gleason as well as the major stars like Bogie, Tracy, Gable, Grant, Hepburn, and Cooper.

My Mom, a huge Gary Cooper fan, named me after “Coop.” A clerical error on my birth certificate turned Gary into Garry. That spelling gaffe would reoccur decades later in my career as a TV News Reporter.

I loved the fantasy life of the black and white movies of the ’30s. The stories about the rich, carefree, trouble-free White millionaires who lived in ritzy mansions or mega large Park Avenue apartments with sparkling floors, gleaming walls, and tables kept in pristine condition by domestics who were usually minorities.

Blacks, Asians, Jews or Italians always portrayed in a blatant stereotyped fashion. As a kid, we laughed at the bug-eyed Black actors who were comedy foils in Charlie Chan movies. Chan, although the “hero,” was also portrayed in stereotyped fashion by White actors.  My middle brother and I giggled at the antics of Chan and his aides. They seemed like the clowns we saw at the circus.

Laugh riots! The stars – White actors and actresses — laughed or smiled broadly at the buffoonish behavior of the minority characters. They provided comic relief from heavy moments in the films.

My love of these old movies and their cliche characters didn’t diminish over the years as I became a self-proclaimed movie maven and impressed people with my knowledge of obscure actors, forgotten films and terrific lines of dialogue.

A friend once called me at three o’clock in the morning, woke me up to ask about the names of a certain movie and its stars. I grumbled and then laughed as I fed him the info while still half asleep but always razor-sharp with trivia.

My movie knowledge helped in numerous encounters with stars from old Hollywood when I became a Boston TV news guy.  I could skip jump from local reporter to film expert talking with stars about their personal, often lesser-known movies. I could insert stuff with people like Gregory Peck who told me he didn’t do comedies because they were not his forte.

I reminded Peck of his film, “Designing Woman” with Lauren Bacall which was a remake of the Tracy-Hepburn classic, “Woman of the Year.” Peck shot me a “you sonofagun, you got me” laugh and all was fine.

In retirement, I like to watch as many old movies as possible – no longer saddled with my murderous TV news schedule. I usually go to bed, wearing headphones, and watch an old movie as my sleepy time tonic. Marilyn usually is listening to a book or watching her own favorite film or show on her computer.

A strange thing has happened to me.

Marilyn has had lengthy conversations with me about the blatant racism in those beloved scatterbrained 1930’s movies. She also has discussed her discomfort with my beloved westerns. Cowboys versus Indians, a staple of my life from youth to senior citizen. Marilyn cites the blatantly unfair portrayal of the Native American in most westerns. Truthfully, my bluster rose in defense of the oaters.

My heroes have always been cowboys.

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

My personal favorite interview was with the Duke, John Wayne. I can quote, chapter, verse, scene-by-scene dialogue in movies like “The Magnificent Seven.” One of my all-time favorite films is “The Searchers”,  probably John Ford’s best western in a career defined by westerns and the rugged, southwestern landscape.

John Wayne’s dark, brooding and racist Ethan Edwards is, in my mind, the Duke’s finest acting work. The movie focuses on racism and hatred of the Red Man, portrayed as villains by White Men. Supposedly the good guys trying to take the Native American’s land.

Ford – who made his directorial life on this theme – was, perhaps too late in his illustrious career, trying to balance the scale with the White and Red men. I’ve always loved the film for its depth, its hauntingly honest depiction of the Wayne character. A man you wouldn’t invite in for dinner.

Ford’s dark movie is still lighter than the original novel in which Ethan Edwards really has no redeeming character values.

Tombstone

I’ve come to understand Marilyn’s strong feelings about not watching this classic western. But I still watch it whenever I can because it’s a beautifully made film with excellent acting, great script and dialogue and a memorable closing scene — no happy ending for the Wayne character. It’s all bittersweet. The stuff of life.

I now also view some of my other favorite westerns with new eyes. The White hero, in nice, fancy clothing with a beautiful horse is not necessarily the good guy. The Indian Chief with a muddy face and perpetual snarl is not automatically the savage. Clothes don’t make the man.

Likewise, I look back at some of those wonderful, frothy 30’s comedies and say “No, thanks” when the bubbly blonde announces “I’m free, WHITE and 21”.  I’ve heard and seen this countless times before but now with new eyes and ears.

That’s a wrap. PRINT IT!

THE CIRCLE OF MOVIE LIFE – Rich Paschall

The Lion King, a review, Rich Paschall

In the world of the Disney movie magic, what goes around will go around again. This is especially true for the beloved animated classics. You may have noticed this by their calculated re-release program.

Disney has employed what is is known as the Vault program. When they released a movie for video sales, first by VHS and then DVD and BluRay, it was limited in nature. The very fact that it was limited created an instant demand. When it was gone, it was gone forever.  OK, it was not really gone. Every 7 to 10 years they would bring it out of the vault, so to speak, for another limited release. There could be Gold editions, anniversary editions, Platinum editions. There might be interviews and other bonus material included. Each would be different and therefore the Disney fanatic would need the next version of something they already owned.

Original Snow White

Consider Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, one of Disney’s oldest and most endearing classics. It was released in 1937 and re-released in 1944. The success of the re-release set the precedent for what would be crafted into the Disney Vault Program. Snow White came around for a visit in theaters again in 1952, 1958, 1967, 1975, 1983, 1987 and 1993. In this time period, something wonderful happened for Mouseland. The VHS player became standard home equipment.

In October 1994 Snow White appeared in homes on VHS. She was also released on the short-lived LaserDisc format. Seven years later it was the Platinum edition on VHS and also on DVD. In 2009 it was the Diamond Edition with two discs on DVD and BluRay. What could be better than a Diamond Edition? The Signature Edition!

The Signature Edition came out on BluRay in 2016. Disney must have felt that they were missing out on a big piece of the audience and released a different Signature Edition on standard DVD in 2017.  In between all of these you can find some foreign language releases for other countries. Is a live version coming soon? What do you think?

Among the many Disney animated classics is The Lion King. The 1994 release is the 11th highest-grossing animated film of all time. What’s number 1? Hang on by your claws for a moment. We’ll get there.

Lion King was released on VHS and laserdisc in 1995 in various editions after its spectacular run in the theaters. Those editions were gone in a few years and into the vault went the King. Before he could come back to the home video market, The Lion King returned to the theater in standard and IMAX release in 2002. The following year saw various editions for VHS and DVD.

In 2011 the King came to life in a 3D theatrical release followed a few weeks later by BluRay release including 3D. The Signature Collection release came out in 2017 on HD Digital, DVD and BluRay. If you thought all bases were covered, think again. The Lion King was so popular, he came out again in 2018 in Ultra HD BluRay and 4K digital download.

You may think you don’t need any of these various Lion King media presentations.  You can stream it on Hulu or Netflix. But the Mouse King has a surprise for you. Disney bought a controlling interest in Hulu and has bought their way out of the Netflix agreement.  Why end the Lion King’s reign in the streaming world? Did you really think the King was going to run away to another land? Just like Simba, the film will return because Disney will soon have their own streaming service, Disney+.

The Lion King also rules over the Broadway stage. He made it there in 1997 and never left, but I digress. We were talking about movies, weren’t we?

This year we received the live action version. OK, it’s live action if you believe those animals are really singing and dancing. Disney has employed CGI (Computered Generated Imagery) to make a realistic looking version of The Lion King. This sort of thing was inevitable. Movies have been using CGI for years. Video games get their realistic look from this remarkable computer wizardry.

The 2019 version of The Lion King is actually an animated remake of the original.  The story is the same. Much of the dialogue is the same. The songs are the same, except they added one more to the mix. Some things are added or lengthened for affect, but you are getting the same story with a new kind of animation.

Simba

The Lion King, Mufasa, from the beginning of the story is the same. Let’s face it, James Earl Jones is so memorable in the role, why get another actor? He is King of the story. All of the other parts have been recast. Some are just as good or at least equal to their 1994 counter parts. Others are not.

Holding up their parts as the Warthog, Pumbaa, and his little friend meerkat, Timon, and Seth Rogan and Billy Eichner. They are the comic relief, which is absolutley needed in light of the darker, more realistic looking, death and fight scenes. While the original performers were great, these guys do quite well.

The villian lion Scar was Jeremy Irons the first time around. This time  it is Chiwetel Ejiofor as the scary one. Ejiofor sounds to me at times like Alan Rickman at his evil best.

Donald Glover does not match Matthew Broderick as Simba. Others fall short of the original all-star cast as well. Critics have not been kind to Beyonce as Nala. We know she is there both to add star power and to sing a song. The part is lengthened to explain exactly how it is Nala found Simba, but the voice work lacks the energy and passion of Moira Kelly as the original.

When you compare the casts, you may wonder why more than James Earl Jones was not retained from the original. In many places they did not do better. The Circle of Life opening is performed by different singers in the two movies, and the 2019 version fails to add the Elton John version to the soundtrack at the end. I think they missed the mark there too.

Still, this is a version worth the time, if only for the stunning visuals. By the way, I promised to mention the number one animated box office hit and here it is: The Lion King 2019.

Sources include: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (video),” disney.fandom.com

 

SECRET BRAIN STEALERS – Marilyn Armstrong

I spend way too much time reading science fiction. “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is my favorite of the brain-stealing monster stories.

I first saw the movie when I was 14. I had a tumor on my right tibia. Not malignant, but big and it had to be removed. Even a non-malignant tumor can do considerable damage if it keeps growing and this one was growing like mad.

The movie was surprisingly quiet, a movie that sneaks into your brain

So there I was in Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York. I had a private room. I think most of the rooms were private and it was in that hospital that I very briefly met Eleanor Roosevelt who was not long for the world at that time. It was an elevator meeting, two wheelchairs and a brief “You are the woman I most admire in this world” and a “Thank you, dear.”

I was probably the only kid on the floor and the nurses tended to congregate in my room in the evening. I was watching TV at night. During the day, I read. One night, there was a movie on the tube — “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

I was terrified. I was convinced there was one of those pods under my bed and I made the nurses check there and in all the closets. Those Body Snatchers were sneaky and I wasn’t going to let them turn me into one of those emotionless neo-robots!

And if the movie isn’t enough, I just got the audiobook. Woo hoo!

Although I’ve seen many other science fiction movies — and read thousands of books in the genre — I think that was the single story that scared me the most. Not because of its strange appearance. No tentacles and nothing bug-like, but because it looked like me. Or you. It was the alien clone that removed our humanity.

I think I’m still afraid of that. Maybe that’s the one thing left to fear!

SNOOPY AS A ROLE MODEL – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I read a unique article in the Washington Post by a writer talking about something from her childhood that inspired her to be a writer as an adult. Her name is Ann Patchett and her title names the motivating force in her career choice. The article is called, “Snoopy taught me how to be a writer.”

That’s right – the Snoopy from Charles Schultz’s beloved comic “Peanuts”. The perpetual loser, Charlie Brown’s dog. Ann says she read Peanut compilation books, as I did, in her formative summers and was smitten by Snoopy. She says that she was a nerdy, uncool kid who saw Snoopy as the essence of cool. He even raised the totally uncool status of his ‘person’, Charlie Brown, just by being so quintessentially cool himself.

Snoopy was confident enough to let himself become totally absorbed in his fantasies – WWI Flying Ace, Soldier in the French Foreign Legion, figure skater, tennis star, astronaut, and so on. He brought everyone else along with him in his fantasies to the point that they too heard the imaginary bullets flying by and the roar of the imaginary crowds.

Most important, Snoopy was a writer. He let his imagination run wild here too and then he sat down on the top of his doghouse and typed. He sat at his typewriter and plinked the keys to form hackneyed and repetitive paragraphs that he knew needed ‘editing’.

He had confidence and sent his manuscripts out to editors. He got lots of rejections, like all writers, yet he kept on trying. The best thing about Snoopy was that even when he failed and his doghouse was riddled with bullets, he lost in sports or his manuscripts were rejected again, he was still cool.

His superpower was that he remained cool in failure as well as in success.

Snoopy at his typewriter

Anne says that Snoopy taught her how to survive the publishing process; to deal with rejections and then get over them; to ignore bad reviews and move on. Snoopy turned out to be her perfect career mentor and he also led her into a life with dogs who enriched and fulfilled her. She says she always assumed that her dogs have an active inner life and are always cooler than she is.

I was never inspired to write. I just always did and so did my parents. My school required creative writing and analytical writing as well as research papers from the third grade on. My high school papers are indistinguishable from my college ones.

My father published seven books and numerous articles in the field of psychiatry and anthropology, many before I was born. He spent every summer locked in his study, writing, Every day he would present his writing to my mother who would edit it and encourage rewrites when needed. There was a lot of heated discussion about content, organization and writing style throughout my childhood.

My father in his fifties

When I was around fifteen, I joined my mother and we became my father’s editing team. As he got older, his writing often rambled and went off-topic and it was our job to keep him focused. We often had to outline material for him and even rewrite sections ourselves when he resisted our ‘advice’ and insisted on his now more stream of consciousness style. That may work for fiction, but not for an academic treatise.

Writing has always been a part of my life. I went through a period of anxiety and insecurity in my own writing when I was in high school and my mother did for me what she did for my father. She helped me figure out what I wanted to say and the most effective and persuasive way to say it. She taught me how to organize my thoughts and present my ideas cleanly and clearly.

Me at seventeen

When I started writing short audio theater plays with my husband, I had to learn how to write dialogue, which is a totally different kind of writing. I was used to writing analytical prose, which is not the way people talk. Dialogue has to sound like someone is actually speaking, not reading aloud from a non-fiction book.

So my writing evolved and expanded to encompass a new format for me. It is amazing and gratifying to hear actors bring your words to life. It’s even more awesome to hear audiences reacting to your words by laughing and applauding.

Title page of one of our scripts

I loved Snoopy too growing up, but I identified more with Linus and Charlie Brown than with the fearless, adventuresome Snoopy. I can imagine that if Snoopy ever wrote short plays, he would picture the adulation of audiences and bask in their approval. I’ve had that experience, so in a way, I’ve had my ‘Snoopy moment.’

Even a nerd like me can feel cool. But never as cool as Snoopy.