Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday Salon: A Favorite Painting or Two or Three....!

Dorothea Sharp (1874 - 1955) is a recent discovery for me. I don't ever remember seeing her work before a week or so ago on the beautiful blog, COLLAGE OF LIFE. But I knew immediately I wanted to see more.

She was a British artist, but Sharp's style puts me in mind of the American Impressionists.Though there is a fair amount of movement in these paintings, I love her tranquil approach, the use (with rare exceptions) of low-key colors, the gentle nature of her subject matter. There is also grace and a quiet joy here, instantly engaging. Don't these paintings just  make you smile and take a deep, relaxing breath? I can feel my blood pressure drop when I'm in Dorothea Sharp's world.

For whatever reason I can't find much bio (except what I've linked) nor much specific information about her mode of working.

She doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. If I come across any more information in the future, I'll add it to this page. If any of you know of an in-depth link to more about Dorothea Sharp, I'd welcome the info.

Dorothea Sharp

Friday, July 8, 2011

Old Lady Memory Alert: A Favorite Fictional Character: Roderick Alleyn in the books by Ngaio Marsh

One of my favorite bloggers, Ryan, over at WORDSMITHONIA, asked me to write up a guest post naming My Favorite Fictional Character - well, one of my favorites anyway. (While he relaxed a bit during these hot summer days.) I did so and he very kindly posted it on his blog this past Wednesday, July 6th. And where was I?

Oh, probably staring off into space, musing on the infinite.

Somehow I missed writing about the post and linking to Ryan's blog. GAK!!

I feel awful about it and my only excuse is that my memory obviously needs some kind of electric charging these days. My batteries are definitely running low.

Ryan being the forgiving sort, I'm hoping he'll see his way clear to calling off the hit man and alls well that ends well.

Without further ado: Here's the link to Ryan's wonderful My Favorite Character Weekly Meme - this week written by yours truly. Subject: Roderick Alleyn, Ngaio Marsh's suave gentleman detective. Enjoy.

Friday 'Forgotten' Books: DETECTIVE (1987) by Parnell Hall

My entry this week in Patti Abbott's Forgotten Books Meme is DETECTIVE (1987) by Parnell Hall, the first of Hall's Stanley Hastings mysteries.

(To check today's complete list of forgotten or overlooked books and titles, please go to Patti's blog, PATTINASE. )

Stanley Hastings is the quintessentially cautious, easy to frighten, most emphatically NOT heat packing private eye working the streets of NYC grumbling all the while because what he really wants is to be is an actor. Realistically speaking, that dream is fast-fading. Stanley thinks he's pretty much useless as a detective and makes no bones about it but a man has to do some sort of work. He still considers himself an actor first, detective second. If there's any kind of audition on the horizon (unlikely as that may be), Stanley will figure out a way to fit it into his day of chasing around Manhattan.

Stanley is, admittedly, an ambulance chaser. He works insurance claims for yet another ambulance chaser: Richard Rosenberg, Attorney at Law and well on his way to millionaire-dom. Stanley gets ten bucks an hour.

"...Look, you know all the lawyers that advertise on TV for accident cases? Well, I work for one of them. He handles insurance claims. People fall down and break their legs, they see his ad on TV, they call him up. He calls me."

I'm usually laughing out loud when I'm reading a Stanley book, and a lot of the scenes I'm usually laughing out loud in, concern Richard Rosenberg. He is so awful in his focused greed,  he is a total shark. He is also hilarious. Despite his personality failures, he is also a brilliant lawyer with a complete grasp of the law as it applies to accident victims and also as it applies to swooping in when Stanley gets picked up by the cops. Richard loves to give the cops a hard time. His usual first question to Stanley is: "Did they lay a hand on you?" You gotta' love him.

There are a couple of ways in which Stanley distinguishes himself from other run-of-the-mill tough guy genre detectives. One, he's happily married to a woman named Alice, two, he has a cute little five year old son named Tommie. They all live in a two bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Rent: 750 a month. I know. WHAT?!! But remember this was back in 1987.

Anyway, there are now 17 books in the Stanley oeuvre. While I haven't read the very latest yet, I have read the rest over the years and mostly enjoyed them all, usually, as I said, laughing out loud.

The thing with Stanley is that he's most emphatically not what he thinks he is. He's a damn fine detective and while no Elvis Cole or Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe, he is certainly NOT a coward. It is this personality quirk that so endears him to me. He honestly does not realize what a terrific guy he  is. A guy who, fumbling and stumbling, always manages to do the right thing. A hero in spite of himself. No wonder his wife Alice loves him.

"The problem with my wife, and it is a problem, is that she really likes me. At least that's the impression that she gives, and I have no way to prove it false. And more than just liking me, she respects me. She thinks I'm intelligent, and capable, and worthy, and she wants the best for me. In short she drives me nuts."

Not to worry, Stanley loves her back.

These books are most emphatically set in a gritty, often sweaty and swarthy NYC and its five boroughs (boros). Soon as Richard the lawyer hears of someone tripping on a sidewalk Stanley is off and running. The subway is his best friend. And I love how he plots his trips across the city, figuring out how long it will take him to hop over to the Bronx then back down to Brooklyn or wherever. He is a logistics expert, he has to be. Any New Yorker really has to be. Author Parnell Hall obviously knows the city well and it shows.

As I said, DETECTIVE was the first in this long-running series (all with one word titles). In it we're introduced to Stanley's world and are welcome to come along by the very engaging use of first person point of view. (I love first person point of view.) The immediate problem for Stanley this time out is that a guy shows up in his office one day and wants to hire him to do 'real' detective work. Somehow the sign on Stanley's door stating Stanley Hastings, Private Detective, has lured him in.

When I read DETECTIVE several years ago, I was grabbed immediately by the opening sequence. This is, to my mind, are some of best opening lines in the history of mysteries. I mean, I was hooked from the getgo. Laughing all the while.

"I want to kill someone."

"Who doesn't?"

"No, I mean it. I really want to kill someone."

"Everyone wants to kill someone. It's no big deal. I, myself, have a long list, usually headed by my wife."

"You don't understand. I'm going to do it."

For the first time, I gave him my full attention. I looked him over and tried to recall his name. I'm terrible with names.

I'm grinning while I'm writing this. Even after having quoted it so many times.

So here's what happens next. After Stanley explains that he can't take the case because he's not a 'real' detective, his would-be client goes out and gets himself killed. So, Stanley feels duty-bound to investigate much to every one's surprise, including the cops and Richard Rosenberg. They do not take it kindly.

If you want a good laugh, read this book. If you don't like to laugh while reading, then don't. But I have to ask you - why ever not?

To see a full listing of author Parnell Hall's prolific output, please link to to his fantastic fiction page here.

If you can't find a hard copy of the book, looks like an E version (iphone, ipad or ipod touch) is available for $2.99. Better than nothing.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Charlie Chan Extravaganza!

For my birthday (which was last month) I treated myself to a box o' Charlie Chan films I found reasonably priced online at - gak! - Amazon. I didn't order them until a few days ago because I had to think long and hard about actually doing so. No spur of the moment spending around here, these days. Ha!

But I justified it by telling myself I couldn't pass up the opportunity. The price was just TOO good. Besides I am well and truly deserving of a belated Birthday treat. How's that? Works for me.

So, long story short: the package arrived today:

CHARLIE CHAN Volume 5 - Starring Sidney Toler

Seven, count 'em, 7(!) of my favorite Charlie Chan films in one convenient little box o' dvds collection.



The only favorites missing are: CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA and CHARLIE CHAN ON TREASURE ISLAND. But other than those two, my Charlie Chan obsession is satisfied. I am one very happy movie maven.

This is the collection.

Note: On double-checking, it looks like there might be a chance I've never seen CHARLIE CHAN in DEAD MEN DON'T TELL. How is this possible I ask you?

The truth is, I probably did see it, but so many years ago as makes no difference to my memory. The brief synopsis doesn't sound even remotely familiar. Well, I'll soon find out. Although my Netflix film arrived today as well and I want to write about that one for Tuesday's Overlooked Films. Obviously, this is another embarrassment of riches. Am I complaining? Nope.

Happy Birthday, John H. Watson, M.D.!

Watson and Holmes in the original drawings by Sidney Paget.

Nigel Bruce as Watson in all fourteen films with Basil Rathbone as Holmes.

Ian Hart as Watson in the PBS Mystery production of The Hound of the Baskervilles with Richard Roxburgh as Holmes.

David Burke as Watson in the Granada television production of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett as Holmes

Edward Hardwicke as Watson (he took over from Burke and made the role his own) beginning with The Return of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett as Holmes.

Martin Freeman as Watson in the newest, modern day version of Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes.


Today - July 7th - is the birth date (supposed) of John H. Watson (b. 1852 ), doctor, army surgeon, wounded soldier, dedicated friend, trusted and devoted side kick to the greatest detective who ever lived, Sherlock Holmes. As much as Holmes always bridled at the very idea of Watson's case-book chronologies, I wonder where the world of detectivizing and literature would be today if not for Watson's insistence on telling tales.

Arthur Conan Doyle knew what he was doing by having the Holmes stories narrated in the first person by an interested on-looker. Stories told by Holmes himself would have been, admittedly, nothing but humorless, romance-free tracts on crime-fighting in Victorian England with particular attention paid to the copious and various minutia of scientific clue-gathering, tobacco particle by bit of ash, by bit of indigenous earth by depth of footprint.

Thank goodness for John H. Watson. Without him there would be no stories. Without him, you could say, there would be no Sherlock Holmes.

The role of Watson hasn't changed much over the years, even as the stories based on the original canon have expanded and morphed into modern day scenarios - he remains the devoted helpmate, ready to lend a hand, move into 221-B Baker Street between marriages and/or run off with Holmes to solve a case on nothing more than a moment's anxious notice. His devotion to his friend is complete and unstinting. For my money, this friendship is what makes Holmes, who would otherwise be nothing more than a brain encased in a walking/talking shell, human. Though occasionally short-tempered and impatient with Watson, Holmes' affection and devotion for his friend is, I believe, as deeply felt and returned.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I believe that Watson was Holmes' savior. There was always that something about Holmes that made me think he did not want to, essentially, disappoint Watson's hero-worship. Though Holmes is, of course, as self-involved and selfishly self-centered as any genius, he does come to realize, I think, that with Watson at his side,  he [Holmes] is a better man.

Okay, enough mush.

Today we celebrate the birthday of a man who would have probably been embarrassed to be called 'great' and yet, in my book, he evidenced his greatness by the very unimaginative, naive and sheer simple goodness of his nature and his complete devotion to that most difficult genius whom he called "...the best and wisest man whom I have ever known."

We should all be so lucky to have such a friend.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Vintage Mystery Challenge: Four Nero Wolfe Short Story Collections

I re-read these stories over the last couple of weeks during lunch and/or dinner. Nero Wolfe makes for great meal time companionship if you enjoy reading at meals.  I do. Since mine are paperbacks, the books are easy enough to hold and maneuver - unless you're eating finger food, in which case oh well, try and prop the book up someway or other. Nero Wolfe is worth the trouble.

Though I've already finished my challenge requisites for the Vintage Mystery Challenge hosted by Bev at MY READER'S BLOCK (and was very nicely awarded a Dorothy Sayers book by Bev, for my trouble), I'm still reading and rereading vintage when and where the time is right. Suffice to say, the time is usually never wrong. Though Bev, John and Les usually put me in the shade when it comes to reading vintage. Still, I muddle through. HA!

Don't forget to check out Bev's blog to see what the other Challenge participants have been up to.

Four Short Story Collections:

NOT QUITE DEAD ENOUGH (1944) - two novellas.

TROUBLE IN TRIPLICATE (1949) - three short stories

CURTAINS FOR THREE (1950) - three short stories

AND FOUR TO GO (1958) - four short stories

Stout wrote other story collections of course, but these are the four most recently re-read by yours truly.



Christmas Party
Easter Parade
Fourth of July Picnic
Murder Is No Joke

Four mysteries, three set during three separate holidays. Most appropriate this time out was Fourth of July Picnic in which Wolfe is actually persuaded to go to a labor organization picnic and give a speech. Of course murder follows Wolfe and Archie wherever they go and this time it's no different.

This collection also has the classic story, Christmas Party, in which Wolfe disguises himself as Santa to spy on Archie when he suspects Archie may be about to get married.(!?). In truth, the whole Santa idea is rather appalling, but Stout makes it work. Hilariously. Think of it as a satirical swipe at his own creation.



The Gun With Wings
Bullet For One
Disguise For Murder

One of the stories, Disguise For Murder concerns a strangler in disguise, this time most emphatically NOT Nero Wolfe. Though the killer does manage to pull the wool over Archie's and our eyes. Wolfe, though, is onto the killer's identity, improbably as it may seem, almost from the very beginning. Well, that's what a genius is for.

This is one of two stories (there may be a third fled from memory) in which I can remember a murder occurring in Wolfe's office. Oh, the ignominy! This time during an ill-advised garden party tour of the orchids on the roof.

Another story in this collection, Bullet For One, also concerns a disguise. This time a disguise and a horse and murder on a canter in Central Park. Oh, and a chase near the end involving NYC's finest mounted police and Archie on foot.



Before I Die
Help Wanted, Male
Instead of Evidence

Wolfe and Archie are at odds (wouldn't be the first time) in Before I Die and Wolfe, most likely to spite Archie, but with Wolfe, one never knows - invites Dazy Perrit, criminal kingpin into the brownstone and actually takes on a case for him. After the end of WWII, meat shortages have rendered Wolfe grumpier than ever and black market meat may be the actual raison d'etre behind Wolfe's intent. Archie, rightly perturbed, suspects this is the case that may get them both killed and dumped in the river.

Help Wanted, Male is only the second story I remember in which Wolfe hires a man to impersonate him. The other more famous example is in THE DOORBELL RANG (1965) one of Stout's most brilliant books. In that novel, the impostor has to fool the FBI, but in this short story, the imposter's job is to hang around the office and wait to get killed.



Not Quite Dead Enough
Booby Trap

Both these novellas take place during WWII. Archie has, of course, enlisted, but to his chagrin, is being kept state-side to work the intelligence angle and help manage Nero Wolfe when Wolfe is called to work for Army Intelligence. In this first story, Archie is actually sent back to the brownstone to request Wolfe's help on an urgent Army matter. Once Archie enters the old brownstone, his home and place of employment for many years, he gets the shock of his life.

In their own inimitable and totally preposterous fashion, Wolfe and Fritz are preparing themselves to go fight the Germans.

I was thinking that if you're not that familiar with Wolfe and Archie and I know there are several of you out there, then these short stories might get you into the fold - might be a good way to introduce the few stragglers who haven't yet made Wolfe's acquaintance. No time like the present.

For a complete list of all the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout, please check the best website for this sort of thing,

10 Interesting Things About Rex Stout - link here  He really did have a very intriguing life.

Wednesday: Quote/UnQuote

Finish each day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Learn from it; tomorrow is a new day.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Note: Originally found photo at contentinacottage - a great blog for photos, amusing and/or beautiful.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten 'Rebels' In Fiction

TOP TEN TUESDAY is the clever weekly meme hosted by the gals at THE BROKE AND THE BOOKISH. Every week we're given a different topic and sent forth to construct a list. Today's topic is a bit difficult but I'm up to the challenge. I hope. Top Ten Rebels in Literature - Characters who stood up for what they believed in even if the personal consequences were dire. (Or words to that effect.) I decided, however, to narrow the field a bit and concentrate on fictional rebels.

Here's my entry: (As usual, in no particular order except as the titles occur to me.)

1 ) Sir Percy Blakeney in THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL by Baroness Orczy

British nobleman, master of disguises, stalwart hero and mincing, snuff-sniffing, poetry-spouting twerp. Add these up and you get Sir Percy Blakeney, the 18th century bane of Robespierre and Citizen Chauvelin and the salvation of many French noblemen and women (and their heads) during France's Reign of Terror. I read this just a couple of years ago (though, of course, I've seen the movie versions over the years) and loved the story of a man who does what he thinks is right even as most of society, his wife and friends included, think him an ineffectual dolt.

2) Atticus Finch in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

We all know the reasons why. A popular choice, but an inevitable one. He doesn't really have his life on the line (I don't think) but certainly his position in the small town hierarchy, his own belief in himself, his view of right and wrong and justice and the example a father must set for his child are all tested here. Finch is a man who does what is right even if all are against him, even as he knows what the outcome must be.

3) Aibileen and Minny in THE HELP by Kathleen Stockett

Set in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. This is basically a rather facile story of a young white woman, Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan, who decides to write about something that bothers her in order to jumpstart' her career as a budding journalist. Though many reviewers and bloggers fell madly in love with this book - I did not. But I will admit that the world Stockett writes about (theoretically based on events in her own background) spawned some rebels that need to on my list. Aibileen and Minny, the first two black servants who dare speak about their conditions to Skeeter as she, rather naively, attempts to collect info for her book, are true rebels.

In the face of ominous opposition and pressure, Aibileen and Minny break a rigid social barrier to speak the truth. One woman risks her only livelihood the other risks any future prospects of a job (she's already been fired several times for speaking back to her white employers) so there is much on the line when these women speak up for themselves as well as the 'lot' of other black workers in the town of Jackson. Though I found the book stereotypical and sentimental, I'm adding these brave women's names to my list anyhow. Call me contrary.

4) Sid Halley in COME TO GRIEF by Dick Francis

In the Edgar Award winning book featuring ex-champion jockey turned private-eye, Sid Halley, the sequel to ODDS AGAINST and WHIP HAND, Francis gives us the most gut-wrenching case of Halley's career. Though Francis generally only wrote stand-alone books, he did write a brief series featuring this, one of his most fascinating characters. Halley is a jockey who was forced to retire after a horrific accident on the track cost him the use of a hand - now paralyzed - which is encased in a kind of inflexible glove; a daily reminder of what he's lost. Driven by initial bitterness and despair he has re-built his life. He is now an investigator with a respected reputation.

A reputation which goes downhill after Halley, against popular consensus, must turn in a friend, a popular and adored racing figure. A man whom he alone suspects of  being the 'monster' committing unspeakable crimes.

After Halley makes the accusation and testifies, the world turns against him. Who will stand with him? Not many. It is up to Halley then to try and right his world and catch a killer.

I had this friend, you see, that everyone loved.
(My name is Sid Halley.)
I had this friend that everyone loved, and I put him on trial.
The trouble with being an investigator, as I had been doing for approaching five years, was that occasionally one turned up facts that surprised and appalled and smashed peaceful lives forever.

COME TO GRIEF is a splendid entry in the long list of Dick Francis books - most of which I have read and can recommend enthusiastically. It is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart, but it is for those who want to read about a man who does what's right even at the cost of a very public condemnation. A rebel? Yes, I think so.

5) Amelia Peabody in CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peabody

Near the end of the 19th century, Queen Victoria was still on the throne of England and women were still basically chattel to their husbands. An English woman who defied the conventions was seen as 'odd' and worse, as someone to shun. Victorian society could be merciless. Rebellion, especially among women, was not encouraged.

When Amelia Peabody, a spinster of 32 years, unexpectedly finds herself an heiress she travels to the Continent for the first time to begin what will be, for her, a brand new life filled with adventure, mystery, romance and well, Egyptology.  The thing that makes her a rebel in my mind is the way she goes about this. Standing for no nonsense, not suffering fools or the indignities of society, she barrels her way through and even, at one point, 'invents' culottes so that she will be able to move more freely among the ancient Egyptian tombs. Amelia is a 'woman to be reckoned with' as her various Egyptian servants, guides, interpreters, villagers and boatmen will find. She cares not a wit for others' opinions of her actions and will always be guided by her own sense of right and wrong.

Walking with her Italian guide one afternoon, Amelia stops on the streets of Rome to aid a 'fallen' woman - literally a woman who has fallen down in a faint - when other travelers, mostly British, just stand around tsk, tsking and turning up their noses at the very idea of helping their fellow man...uh, woman. Much less a woman who appears unkempt and alone and under no protection of either a man or servant of some kind. I mean, really.

Amelia steps in, imperiously takes command of the situation and in doing so, makes a lifelong friend who will have major impact on her own future. Amelia proves herself a woman not only of substance, but of action. A rebel to her social class.

6) Peter Blood in CAPTAIN BLOOD by Rafael Sabatini

In 18th century England, during an aborted rebellion against the king, an action in which he had no part, Irish physician Peter Blood is nonetheless sentenced to be transported to the Caribbean and sold into slavery. His crime? Helping a wounded man - a stranger - when summoned in his role as physician. In essence, doing what was right, practising his profession, even against the law of the land.

Blood is thereby turned into a rebel, forcibly, when he escapes from the island of Barbados during a pirate raid. After suffering unspeakably at the hands of the plantation owners, Blood and a group of other slaves become pirates, openly rebelling on the high seas against James II of England. Lost to his country and to the woman he unwittingly loves, Peter Blood becomes the infamous Captain Blood.

I love a good swash and buckle story. This is a spectacular one. Peter Blood is a truly memorable character.

7) Queen Elizabeth in AN UNCOMMON READER by Alan Bennett

A modern day fairy tale, but wouldn't it be wonderful if...? When the Queen inadvertently (she is following one of her corgi dogs who has gone astray as corgis will) comes across a lending library van on the grounds of Buckingham Palace she borrows a book merely to stave off any embarrassment her presence might cause.  But when she finds the book fascinating and continues to call on the van for more and more books, her staff and ministers are thrown for a loop as they begin to notice the change in her. She's no longer the monarch by rote they're all used to. She's become a thinking person. Where this will lead nobody knows, but they don't like it and try to put a stop to it.

What this rebel with a cause, the Queen, does in the end will surprise and amuse you. I loved this book.

8) Randy Dreyfus and D.J. Pickett in THE DREYFUS AFFAIR by Peter Lefcourt

What if, in the middle of a baseball pennant race, a heretofore happily married shortstop and a second baseman (on the same team) improbably fall in love? That is the basis of Peter Lefcourt's outrageous love story. A story that is human, humane, funny, eye-popping and full of sports metaphors. Think about it. A pennant race. A possible shot at the World Series. And suddenly out of the blue - THIS! And it's all happening inside one of the most homophobic settings anyone can imagine: Major League Baseball.

When Randy and D.J. are found out by their bosses they are asked to pretend otherwise, to take back the untake-back-able, to lie. This really didn't happen - did it? It's all a big mistake.

But sometimes a baseball player's got to do what's right for himself, his fragile heart, his sense of who he is and who he wants to become. Sometimes it's not all about the game. Talk about the ultimate rebellion played out in front of thousands of angry, uncomprehending baseball fans, the omnivorous press, the furious, scandalized baseball commissioner. Why even the President of the United States gets into the act. The very social fiber of America is at risk. This is mom, baseball and apple pie they're tinkering with. Probably about the biggest no-no there is, in fiction and reality.

This is one of my very favorite books.

9) Hazel in WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams

A band of rabbits on the run from something only one of them can sense. They must leave their present warren at the insistence of one of their kind who is sensitive to the winds of change. One whom most of them ignore, a quiet nobody. Except for Hazel, an intrepid rabbit who goes his own way, thinks his own thoughts. He listens to his friend's warnings and when the time is right - after being reprimanded over and over for attempting to warn the others, he and a band of followers desert the only home they've ever known and set out to find another.

"Watership Down is a remarkable tale of exile and survival, of heroism and leadership...the epic novel of a group of adventurers who desert their doomed city, and venture forth against all odds on a quest for a new home..." The London Times.

Next to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, this is probably my favorite book of all time. That's how much I love it.

10) Jane in JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte

Oh, the ultimate rebel. Even as a child, knowing instinctively that a great injustice is being perpetrated on her. She attempts rebellion and is shot down over and over and ultimately sent to the hell that was Lowood School. Eventually she pretends to adhere to the rules merely to survive. But as soon as she's able she advertises for a position as governess! Think of the temerity. This is no mere little miss-ish miss, this is a young woman to be reckoned with.

Then, when Rochester comes into her life and she falls in love, she denies the natural fruition of that love when it becomes apparent that there is A Great Impediment. Even if only she and Rochester would ever know about the woman in the attic, she must leave him behind. She will not stay to be his mistress. "Who would know, Jane?" She would know. She does what's right even at the cost of two broken hearts.

The ultimate rebel in my book.

Forgotten or Overlooked Movies: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR (1942) starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

I suspect this movie has purposely been forgotten my some to whom the idea of Sherlock Holmes still alive and kicking in or around 1940 or so, is anathema. Horror of horrors. Conan Doyle must be spinning in his grave. Nah. Far as I'm concerned, Holmes is now, was then and always will be, immortal. (Despite Doyle's fussing.) So why shouldn't he show up to help fight Nazis? What greater evil has ever daunted the British lion? (A hint of this appears in the opening credits as the darkness of war looms over Great Britain.)

In this third of what would eventually be fourteen Holmes and Watson films (most directed by Roy William Neill), suspend your disbelief and join in the fun of watching Basil Rathbone - one of the three best Holmes interpreters, the other two being Peter Cushing and Jeremy Brett - as he goes about the business of taking on 5th Column spies and saboteurs plaguing England on the very eve of World War II. This time directed by John Rawlins.

Here's the story: Alongside Watson - played bumblingly and endearingly by Nigel Watson - Holmes is called in (as a last resort) to add his peculiar genius to a problem-plagued Government Defense Committee faced with a national disaster of nightmarish proportions.

What the newspapers have dubbed the Voice of Terror is a nightly (more or less) radio transmission - interrupting regular broadcasting - in which a strident German accented voice (speaking in English) predicts the immediate defeat of the British while, more importantly, predicting some deadly terrorist event, i.e. a train carrying hundreds of soldiers blown up while the Voice is on the air, similarly, a bombed factory or other important site destroyed, ships blown up and sunk in the night -that sort of thing. All these disasters happen almost instantaneously as the news is being broadcast, under the very noses of the government and the defenseless British people. Needless to say, this has the country on edge.

A seemingly hapless and helpless War Cabinet is not something any government wants to project while the threat of war is sitting across the Channel. At any rate, why the broadcasts are not simply knocked off the air is not very adequately explained, really, but that's okay - without the Voice of Terror there would be no story. And what a voice it is, too. Mocking and devious, self important and self-satisfied. There's no one like the British for saying the word, 'terror' with just the right amount of ominous emphasis. Also the word, 'futile' but I'm off on a tangent again.

When Holmes is called in, the Voice has been having it all his way for a while and a desperate cabinet has voted (not unanimously, so there is dissension in the ranks) to allow civilians - Holmes and Watson - access to heretofore 'secret' information regarding the Voice.

In this film, Basil Rathbone appears especially impatient, focused and harried, you can almost see his colossal brain working, shifting gears into overtime His country needs him - dammit!.He wears very dashing tweeds and a flamboyant kind of hairstyle which I didn't mind, but others seem to. (That means you, Classic Becky. Ha!)  He also has occasion to make a couple of strong, stirring patriotic speeches and very nicely too. The ending comments by Holmes to Watson, in a bombed out church, are especially poignant and prescient - Shakespeare, I think - This Sceptered Isle - but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Back to the story: Once Holmes is on the job, he almost immediately deduces that the voice has to be a member of the Defense Committee - a traitor in the upper reaches of government; treachery of the worst sort. (But he tells no one since it is merely suspicion.) He also deduces that the Germans are making one secret flight every few nights - a single plane under cover of fighters flies low over the English countryside to drop papers, plans and the recording. You see why Holmes's brain is needed during these fateful times?

In the meantime, Holmes has allied himself with the scruffier denizens of the Limehouse district of London. By appealing to their patriotism - hey, even crooks and low-lifes have patriotism - he has them spying and snooping about the city for anything untoward, especially around the wharfs and darker regions of town. Holmes always was good at getting this sort of help even back in Victorian times. The members of the Defense Committee - all upper class twits themselves - are, of course, scandalized. But Holmes could care less. War is not the time for the niceties of social class.

In general, the film has an excellent cast which includes Reginald Denny (a favorite), Thomas Gomez, Henry Daniell - hissss! (who went on to play Moriarity and other villains in several more Holmes films) and Montagu Love. It also stars Evelyn Ankers playing the important role of a young woman from Limehouse who, at Holmes' urging, insinuates herself into the shadowy household of a vile Nazi conspirator played by the always repugnant, Thomas Gomez.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR is well done and has a good dramatic sense of urgency to it  - it was filmed in 1942, after all. I like the look of it in comparison to the later films whose budgets were practically nil. Though the films in this long-running series were never meant to be more than B grade, this one, in my view, is a stand-out. But then, I've always liked these sorts of story lines in this sort of setting. And there's no getting around the whole 'Voice of Terror' shtick which I enjoy immensely.

I did miss the Victorian trappings, but needs must and I, for one, am not taken aback that Holmes would be brought forward in time to deal with the Nazis. Of all the modern updates of Holmes, this remains a favorite.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July!

Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull (1756 - 1843)

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July!!

Fourth of July 1819 - by John Lewis Krimmel (1786 - 1821)

For some very enlightening and entertaining historical details pertaining to July 4, 1776 - link here to the blog, IT'S ABOUT TIME which has featured many fascinating July 4th commemoration posts and accompanying historical artwork, for the past several days. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday Salon: A Weekend for Exuberant Art!

Cut paper bouquet - Artist Unknown

Artist: Bill Traylor

Marionette People by Clifton Sulser

Luna Park by Vestie Taylor

Great Carved Fish - Artist Unknown

Flying Elephant Whirligig by David Butler

Well, it's raining here, so our exuberance is dampened a little. If any fireworks were planned for tonight they'll probably be postponed for the Official Day tomorrow - unless it rains then as well. It was a gorgeous day yesterday but hey, you can't plan how these things will turn out. Mother Nature will have her say.

Exuberance is key with Jasper Johns' work, at least it is usually what I have in mind when I see his paintings and structures. The cruder aspects of his three dimensional work occasionally remind me of outsider or, perhaps, naive or folk art.Though Johns is far from naive or folksy. But a bit of the 'tone' is there - don't you think?

'Outsider' and/or 'naive' or folk art can be engaging, but also unsettling as well. I've always loved it though I've never had the money to collect any but a few bits here and there and even those were re-sold long ago. Now, of course, the prices are sky-high and none but serious collectors need apply.

Still, I love seeing the work when I stumble across it here and there. One can only hope that the artists still living are benefiting from the sky high market themselves.

Flag-gate - Artist: Unknown