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.