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.

YOU KNOW HOW TO WHISTLE, DON’T YOU? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Whistle

TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT 
Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart (1944)

“Just put your lips together and BLOW!,” she said.

He blew.


Note: Lauren Bacall’s “real” name was Betty Persky, but Humphrey Bogart’s name was Humphrey Bogart, Jr.

FROM D-DAY TO V-E DAY: TRUE GLORY FROM THE IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM – Marilyn Armstrong

Cover of "The True Glory - From D-Day to ...

From the Imperial War Museum Official Collection

The True Glory: From D-Day to V-E Day (1945)

The movie’s title is taken from a letter of Sir Francis Drake “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the True Glory.”

Question: Which President won an Oscar?

Answer: No, not Ronald Reagan. The 1945 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature went to its uncredited producer, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower didn’t merely produce the movie. He also directed the Allied forces of Word War II, a feat which deserved its own Oscar. So we gave him the presidency. It was the best America had to offer.


A co-production of the US Office of War Information and the British Ministry of Information, The True Glory documents the victory on the Western Front, from the invasion at Normandy to the collapse of the Third Reich.

The officially credited director was Garson Kanin. British director Carol Reed was not officially credited, but is listed as director on IMDB and other sources. Paddy Chayefsky is the officially listed writer.

Other writers not officially credited are Harry Brown, Frank Harvey, Gerald Kersh, Saul Levitt, Arthur Macrae, Eric Maschwitz, Jenny Nicholson, Guy Trosper and Peter Ustinov. So many people were involved in this remarkable documentary — which received the Oscar for best documentary in 1945 — it’s impossible to list them all.

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...
General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film was brilliantly edited down from more than 10 million feet of film taken by hundreds of war photographers, none of whom are credited.

The editing involved is extraordinary. During one long segment of film, there must have been thousands of cuts, each less than 2 seconds in length, most no more than one second long. That is a lot of splicing. It’s beautifully done, professional all the way.

You have likely seen many propaganda films from World War II. This isn’t one of them.

I’ve seen a lot of war movies. This is a real war, not a Hollywood redo.

English: Senior American military officials of...
Senior American military officials World War II.

The effects were not done with a computer. The bodies of the dead are human bodies. Soldiers, not actors.

The guns are firing ammunition. No special effects were used. The ships are on the seas and the aircraft, pilots, bombardiers are the real deal.

The battles are life and death. In real-time. It gave me the shivers.

As the movie progresses, there are maps so you can follow the progress of the various armies. It’s the first time I actually understood where the Battle of the Bulge took place and why it was called “the bulge.” It was like time travel for me, listening to Dwight D. Eisenhower. I grew up when Eisenhower was President. I remember his voice as the voice of the president of my childhood.

Perhaps it’s a good moment to ponder whether or not Eisenhower displayed his Oscar in the White House. My guess is, he didn’t. After you’ve been commander-in-chief of the Allied forces for a world war, the Oscar isn’t as big a deal as it might be for someone else.

English: Gen. of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower...

If you have not seen this movie and you have an interest in World War II, you should see it. It’s remarkable.

It is available on a 2-disc DVD. The set includes the European war, the Italian campaign, and the battles in the Pacific.

There are many good movies about the war, but this set of documentaries has the most remarkable footage I’ve ever seen.

Seeing it without any Hollywood manufactured footage is seeing the war for the first time. This is not a movie about the war.

This movie is the war.