“SAN ANDREAS FAULT” ALL THE AWFUL IN ONE MOVIE! – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Friday Flashback — December 7


Last night, tired of the endless depressing, appalling, horrible news, Garry played a movie he had previously recorded.

San Andreas Fault is not merely a disaster film. It is every disaster film you have ever seen in one film. It’s earthquakes that will turn Kansas into the Pacific beach capital of the nation. It’s crashing buildings, towering infernos, the hugest OMG tsunami. We get to see the bravest heroes and most craven cowardice.

It’s all there.

The crashing bridge

Every cliché from every disaster movie made in this and the previous century includes a lot of movies.  Worse, I’m pretty sure we’ve seen all of them, but we’d never seen this one before.

I think it was originally filmed in 3D. Everyone said it was drivel, but it made more than $300,000 million at the box office, so clearly drivel sells well.

Crashing cruise ship

It certainly sold well at our house. When the intended second husband of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson‘s wife (Carla Gugino)  played by Ian Gruffudd (aka “The Asshole”) abandons Rock’s daughter to her fate, trapped under fallen cement in a parking garage, it’s no less than you expect from the cowardly CEO of a major corporation.

Hollywood crashing

We know they are cowards because … well …that’s what they always do in the movies, right? Have you ever seen a brave, manly CEO stand up to anyone or anything outside a boardroom? Especially when they are trying to marry the hero’s ex-wife who we all know should be with the hero.

Even though The Hero can’t utter a coherent sentence (and probably hasn’t since he came back from The War (insert name of war here), he’s a hero (with medals to prove it) and would never run, not even when a million tons of water and a complete cruise ship is about to fall on his head.

The Rock watching everything crash

Finally, the family reconnects. The entire west coast is smoldering ruins covered by about half the Pacific Ocean. There isn’t a bridge, a building … nothing. Total, absolute devastation everywhere.

Garry is giggling to himself.  Because he knows. I know. We both know. It’s coming.

The Rock, arm around his wife, his daughter saved, is gazing over the wreckage of the world and Garry murmurs … “Now, we rebuild.”

Beat. Beat. Beat. Pause.

And THEN The Rock says: “Now, we rebuild.”

Garry collapsed into laughter. The last time he laughed that much was when Trevor Noah had Ben Carson on the show and Trevor did a better Ben Carson than Ben Carson. Garry was still howling while the credits rolled.

A perfect ending.

san-andreas-fault-with-dwayne-the-rock-johnson-000

We’d seen the world end. We’d see the best, the bravest. The worst. We’d seen the most depraved cowardice imaginable and in HD wide-screen.

But now, we rebuild. We have to rebuild … because … SAN ANDREAS 2 is coming! As the headline says, this will finally allow The Rock (who no longer calls himself “the Rock”, so you have to call him Dwayne) to punch an earthquake.


This is everything that we fear will result from climate change, but it all happens in one movie. I need to see this again. Especially how they rebuild a world that has been totally wiped out.


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.

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.

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 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!

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!

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!

THE UNREALITY OF FINDING YOUR WAY HOME – BY TOM CURLEY

AND because this is absolutely relevant to the previous story … here’s one by Tom Curley.

I’m not a fan, I’m a zealot. I’ve read all his books. Listened to all the BBC radio series. And watched both movies of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.”  The first one done in the ’80s with the original BBC radio cast was actually a TV series. It was done on a budget of maybe 25 bucks, but it was great.

The Disney movie was okay. Mostly, because Douglas Adams was the producer. Unfortunately, he died before it was finished. Even if you didn’t like the movie, it was worth watching just for the opening musical number “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish”.

While Hitchhiker is my favorite Adams work, I also loved the Dirk Gently series.

One of the things in the book always stuck with me. Whenever Dirk was lost he would simply follow someone who looked like they knew where they were going. He found that he never got to where he was going but he always ended up where he needed to be.

I used that concept once. I was driving home from work one night and I was on the local road that leads to my house. I came upon a police barricade. The road was closed.

There were no detour signs. I only knew that one road. So, I did what Dirk did. I saw a car in front of me turn off the road. He/she seemed to know where he/she was going. So I followed him/her. For the next 20 minutes to a half-hour, we wound our way through twisty back roads in the bowels of Southern Connecticut. I had no idea where I was.

Suddenly, the car in front of me turns on to the main road again. Past the barricade. I couldn’t believe it! It actually worked! But here’s where it got weird. The car in front of me turned off the main road and on to the road I live on. OK, I thought. Makes sense. There are a lot of houses on my street. This person was obviously going home too. But then the car turned into my driveway! That’s when I realized it was my daughter. I should have recognized the car, but I didn’t put two and two together.

The really funny part was that my daughter had just spent the last 20 minutes or so completely freaking out because this mysterious black car had been following her, turn for turn and then followed her to her house! True story.

I know Douglas Adams was smiling.

TASTE AND FREEDOM – Marilyn Armstrong

I have personal taste that tends toward humor and wit and some things that I find funny aren’t really funny, but I find them hilarious. I tend to overvalue wit and cleverness and at least a hint of humor.

I like what I like and often write about movies and books I enjoy. I love it when I help someone discover books or a movie they might like.

I also don’t mind if you don’t like what I like.

The last Session

Some people talk about how they believe everyone is entitled to believe what they want … but I actually mean it. There are things — news and political things — that I feel are completely wrong and while I would never force you or try to force you to believe as I do, I reserve the right to not talk to you about beliefs I feel are wrong … or evil.

I do believe in right and wrong. I don’t believe in a particular God or gods, but I think the devil is lurking behind every closed door. In fact, I think his hoofprints are all over this world and a lot of people have sold their souls to him. I think most of our senators and certainly our so-called president have sold their souls to him. It’s the only way I can explain their behavior.

But as for taste? If you read serious books you couldn’t pay me to open, that’s okay. Just don’t try to force me to read it. If I like bizarre British science fiction and it goes right over your head? That’s okay. You aren’t required to love it just because I do. You don’t need to like the same television shows, movies, books, or poetry.

I don’t care if you are a Republican as long as you innoculate your children and don’t try to convert me.

The elephant in the room

Okay, that’s not true. I have trouble coping with anyone who thinks caging children is okay because they have brown skins and don’t speak English. My heart bleeds for those people and there is no way I can reconcile myself to people who don’t care and feel the value of everything can be reckoned using dollar signs.

I guess that’s where I draw the line — my line between good and evil.

THE LAST DICTATOR – WHEN CHARLIE CHAPLIN TOOK A STAND – Marilyn Armstrong

The Final Speech from The Great Dictator

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world, there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost …

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women, and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!

In the 17th Chapter of St. Luke it is written: “The Kingdom of God is within man.” Not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you!

You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

Final speech from The Great Dictator Copyright © Roy Export S.A.S. All rights reserved.


The Great Dictator was Chaplin’s first film with dialogue. Chaplin plays both a little Jewish barber, living in the ghetto, and Hynkel, the dictator ruler of Tomainia. In his autobiography, Chaplin quotes himself as having said: “One doesn’t have to be a Jew to be anti-Nazi. All one has to be is a normal decent human being.”

For RDP-Sunday-HELP

MANY GUNFIGHTS AT THE O.K. CORRAL – Marilyn Armstrong

The first movie I remember seeing with my mom was “Gunfight at OK Corral.”

It was a busy day at the Utopia Theater which was a small movie house. There were hardly any seats left by the time we got there, having walked from home. I had a non-driving mom who believed in healthy outdoor exercise.

Wyatt Earp at about age 33.

Wyatt Earp at 33. (Photo: Wikipedia)

We found a seat in the second row. Burt and Kirk had heads 20 feet high. It left an indelible mark on my mind. I became an O.K. Corral aficionado, catching each new version of the story as it was cranked out by Hollywood. When videotaped movies became available, I caught up with all earlier versions, too.

I stayed with “Gunfight” as my favorite for a long time. Maybe I’m just fond of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Garry generally favors “My Darling Clementine” but he is a John Ford fan.

In 1993, along came “Tombstone.” One viewing and it was my favorite version of the gunfight story. A few more viewings and it morphed into my favorite western. There are a lot of contenders for second place.

I don’t love it for its historical accuracy, though It is nominally more accurate than other movie versions. It omits more than it includes, but if you are looking for accuracy, you should consider reading a book. There are quite a few written and some are excellent. The Earps were a wild and crazy family. Doc Holliday was even wilder and crazier.

They were a lot wilder and crazier than depicted in any movie made about them. They are always shown as lawmen, but in those strangely shady days, there was an exceedingly thin line between law enforcers and lawbreakers. The Earps fell on both sides of it, depending on which account you’re reading.

English: John Henry "Doc" Holliday, ...

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (Photo: Wikipedia)

They were all lethal and no more honest then they needed to be.

There were also other Earp brothers who are left out of the story, maybe because they weren’t in the peacekeeping business. Dad was a real piece of work and deserves a movie of his own. Although I tend to be prickly about historical details, I do not watch westerns for historical accuracy. There are just some genres that don’t work if you are searching for accuracy and westerns are a big one.

I watch westerns because I love horses, deserts, the great blue sky of the west, and dusty old towns with wooden sidewalks. Really, I will watch anything about horses. You could just run films of horses in a field and I’d watch that too.

Tombstone

Next, I love westerns because when I was growing up watching Johnny Mack Brown movies on the old channel 13 (before it became PBS) in New York, I always knew the guys in black hats were villains and the ones in white hats were heroes. It appealed to my 8-year old need for moral simplicity.

In westerns, revenge and righteous violence are good, clean fun. Not merely acceptable, but desirable. In the Old West, when you find a bad guy, get out the six-shooter, shotgun, or both — and mow’em down. Justice is quick and permanent. Without guilt. You can be a wimp in real life, but watching “Tombstone,” as Kurt, Val and the gang cut a swathe of blood and death across the southwest — I cheer them on.

“Tombstone” is deliciously violent. The gunfight at O.K. corral is merely the beginning. There’s a deeply satisfying amount of killing to follow. I revel in it. When Kurt Russell declares that he’s coming for them and Hell will follow … I am there. Yes, kill the bastards. It’s so cathartic!

Garry and I made a personal pilgrimage to Tombstone.

Tombstone shopping

I have argued with people who keep saying the movie was filmed on a sound stage. Unless everyone in Tombstone was the victim of a mass hallucination  — note that mass hallucinations are not nearly as common as Hollywood suggests — during which time a movie company rebuilt the town to look like historical Tombstone, then the movie was  filmed in “Tombstone.

I have pictures of Tombstone. We bought tee shirts. It was our favorite part of a long summer’s vacation in Arizona. Although there may have been some re-shooting on a set, the bulk of the film was shot in Tombstone. It was and remains the only thing of note to happen there in the past 100 years.

August was not the best time to visit, but our host worked. It was hard to find a good time to visit. The mercury climbed to 124 and never dropped below 120 while the sun shined. It was a heat wave, but heat waves seem to be pretty common there.

I think that’s why they invented awnings over the wooden sidewalks. It certainly isn’t to keep the rain off.

It was painfully hot. Maybe that how come everyone was shooting everyone else. Who wouldn’t want to shoot people living in that heat without air conditioning? It makes one cranky.

I don’t watch movies for a dose of reality. I have plenty of reality. I watch westerns for escape and entertainment. Westerns let me immerse myself in a kind of violence I normally abhor but somehow when they are shooting their 145th bullet from a six-gun, I forgive them.

BASE BEAST IN A SMALLISH TOWN – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Base

Another week has run away. Left me in the dust.

Maybe it’s just me, but time seems to have sped up and each time I look up, a week, two weeks, a month is gone.

Garry is running errands and I’m at home. With the dogs who obviously wish Big Daddy Doglegs would come back.

Because mom isn’t nearly as much fun.

I got some interesting portraits of Gibbs this morning. He’s fuzzy. A bit grubby. A bit matted if you look closely, but he is 100% cute with a weird factor of 9 out of 10.

72-gibbs-early-november-02112016_03

And today, for some reason, he reminds me of “poor Larry Talbot,” the Wolfman.

He’s got a werewolf face, doesn’t he?

Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the Wolfman

Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the Wolfman

But, to be fair, Gibbs doesn’t bite so no one will catch his terrible illness. He’s even delicate about dog biscuits. I think he will keep his monthly moon mania to himself.

Still, he really DOES resemble poor Larry Talbot.

NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION by JOHN LAHR – Garry Armstrong

It’s been a while since I finished reading the Bert Lahr biography, “Notes on a Cowardly Lion“, written by his son, John. I am still emotionally involved.

Why does a book which was written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago sit front and center in my mind?

I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who strive for objectivity.

Part of the job is celebrity. When you appear on television five or six days a week for more than four decades, you become a household face. People ask for your autograph. You receive special treatment in stores and restaurants. Eighteen years into retirement, folks still recognize me, tell how they grew up watching me on TV and ask for autographs.

Mine is a regional celebrity although I’ve encountered fans almost everywhere I’ve traveled in the United States and overseas.

I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my celebrity. I miss it a bit when I’m not recognized but I don’t get depressed if I go unnoticed. I needed to share a little of my life because it puts my feelings about the story of Bert Lahr’s life into perspective. I really understood in a very personal way where the man was coming from.

I enjoyed the biographical side of the book. It speaks to history, the history of vaudeville and burlesque, show business venues that are frequently misrepresented.

As a self-proclaimed trivia maven, I received a little education. Case in point: Clifton Webb, long perceived as a middle-aged effete, film actor actually was a well-received song and dance man in vaudeville.

I learned the difference between vaudeville and burlesque. I came to appreciate the art form of Bert Lahr’s overly broad slapstick comedy. I understood how Lahr’s art form suffered at the hands of Hollywood film directors who tried to minimize his well-honed craft and squeeze it into a musical comedy.

Lahr’s comic genius never had a chance to shine in Hollywood. “The Wizard of Oz” was the exception. But that success also spelled disaster in Tinseltown because Lahr never again received a film role like the Cowardly Lion.

Years later, he would find similar frustration with television which tried to restrict his comedic moves in variety shows. Lahr didn’t think much of TV comic legends like Milton Berle and Sid Caesar.

Ironically, both Berle and Caesar spoke highly of Lahr in lengthy interviews with me — even as they lamented the fading of their celebrity. But that’s another story.

Back to Bert Lahr.  Born into poverty, Lahr was always worried about financial security.

BertLahrEven when he returned to Broadway where he found his greatest success over the years, Lahr never felt secure though he was earning top star salaries.

In later years, as a TV pitchman for Potato Chips, Lahr earned more money for a thirty-second commercial than he did for starring in a play, movie or TV special. He still didn’t feel secure.

Bert Lahr did find some unexpected late professional success with surprising turns in work like “Waiting For Godot” co-starring E.G. Marshall. Lahr savored critical acclaim but was never satisfied. It was never enough. For all of his professional and financial success, he was an unhappy man. He was insecure as an aspiring comedian/actor seeking stardom.

He was insecure as a star sure that others were trying to undermine him. He was insecure as he aged, a respected legend. He always believed people had forgotten him even though he was recognized everywhere he went. Lahr was miserable as a husband and father, demanding but not giving.

Lahr desperately needed the audience — the laughter, the applause — throughout his life. Sadly,  he never appreciated the love and admiration he got from his family.

As the curtain closed on his life with his loved ones gathered around him, Lahr still longed for his audience, their laughter, and applause. He couldn’t let it go and move on, nor could he appreciate the good things life offered him. Lahr’s loneliness haunted me. The deeper I got into the book, the more painful I found reading his biography.

I know first-hand how intoxicating and addictive celebrity is, especially when you fail to appreciate real life. Bert Lahr was never able to see the joys and sorrows of family and friends as “the real thing” that makes the rest of it all worthwhile. It’s the celebrity that is unreal and ephemeral.

It’s the people who love you who will sustain you after the curtain closes and the audience departs the theatre. That Lahr was never able to recognize what he had and accept the love that was there for him was his personal tragedy.

It’s a fine biography, but not a joyful reading experience. It is in many ways a cautionary tale, a reminder of how important it is to keep one’s perspective and one’s feet on the ground.

A PILGRIM’S TALE – Garry Armstrong

Our Arizona vacations were trips back in time to some of my favorite western movies and TV shows.

Those cactus covered fields and surrounding mountains evoked memories, especially of the John Wayne-John Ford classic Westerns and the areas around Phoenix are similar to some of the areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made many of their iconic films.

In the aftermath of my first Arizona post, there were requests for my oft-told story about meeting Duke Wayne. So now, a few years after the second trip, here it is again. If you’ve heard it before, head for the nearest saloon, Pilgrim.

Forty-three winters ago, as I reckon, it was John Wayne versus the anti-Vietnam War crowd at Harvard and the surrounding areas of The People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Duke was cheered and jeered as he sat atop an armored “half-track” which moved slowly through the crowd as light snow fell. Some dissidents lobbed snowballs at Wayne as they shouted in derision. The Duke smiled and waved. At one point, everything stopped as the legendary star hopped out to shake hands amid a flurry of snowballs. It was a bad situation for a reporter attempting an interview.

I called in a few favors and somehow, Duke and his entourage slipped into an empty theater. What felt like an eternity to me, I waited alone on stage for John Wayne to appear. Suddenly, the stage lit up. I froze.

“Hello, Garry!” boomed the Duke in a friendly voice as he ambled in that familiar gait across the stage. After the greeting,  my TV persona kicked in. I shook hands with my hero, beaming with pleasure.

I was oblivious to the cameras and how much time had passed. Later, I would learn from the tape that it had been a pretty long interview. Me swapping stories with Wayne including some anecdotes about my stint in the Marine Corps which impressed the Duke. He laughed when I recalled how I’d upset several drill instructors during basic training with my irreverent behavior.

The interview ran long. Towards the end, a press agent had to pry Duke loose to resume his “march” to Harvard.

During a formal, group interview at Harvard, Wayne singled me out as “his pal and former Gyrene.” I remember basking in the glow of that moment as other reporters glared at me. Later, as the crowd dispersed, Wayne approached me and said, “Good to see ya again, Gyrene”.

I offered what must’ve been a dumb smile and said, “Good to see you again, Duke.” I could see, over my shoulders, my crew smirking and giggling. I didn’t care. This was the interview I’d dreamed about.

Back in the newsroom, I walked around the newsroom repeatedly asking everyone if they knew who shook my hand that day. Finally, someone told me to throw some cold water on my face and get on with my job.

They didn’t get it. I had spent “private” time with the Duke. With Hondo, Sgt. Stryker, Ethan Edwards, Capt. Nathan Brittles, and Rooster Cogburn … among so many others. Damn — I had swapped stories with the man who really shot Liberty Valance.

Sadly, there were no personal pictures from that memorable day. No autograph. I’d always felt uneasy about asking celebrities for these artifacts.

Ironically, this gesture apparently opened the door for more candid conversations and some unforgettable social afternoons and evenings with Hollywood legends, Royalty, Presidents, sports heroes, wise guys, godfathers and even Mother Theresa who singled me out from a crowd, chastising me about news coverage. I never figured that one out.

Topping all those memorable days and nights was my afternoon with the Duke. Back here in Arizona, where the Duke galloped through so many westerns, I think maybe … mebbe … I can top that encounter in the future.

That’ll be the day!