Saturday, April 30, 2011

NATIONAL TRAIN DAY- Saturday, May 7 - A Week Ahead of Time

Next Saturday, May 7th is National Train Day but since it's also the day before Mother's Day, I'm posting a week early in order to give trains their full and worthy due. (I have a special Mother's Day post lined up for next Saturday since, ahem, I'll be busy on Sunday with Mother's Day duties. A heaping BIG THANKS to Jacqueline over at Another Old Movie Blog for cluing me in on this greatest of all days - at least for those of us who adore trains and train travel. (I've done very little travel on trains in reality, but in my dreams, ah, my friends, I've been there and back.) Be sure and read Jacqueline's fun train post.

Eleven Films in which Trains are, at least, part of the action: (I realize that there are many more films in which trains are featured but I wanted to stick with films I've actually seen.)

1) MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974) by Agatha Christie (1934) - The mother of all train films and books, I suppose. The train in the film directed by Sidney Lumet is beautifully and affectionately photographed. The film's music doesn't work, but other than that, it's a terrific film. Even if for you, like me, Finney is not the ideal Poirot.

2) THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN (2006) An excellent PBS Mystery version of a good book by Agatha Christie (1926). Not filled with many sympathetic characters, the mysterious death of a spoiled heiress on board a train is nevertheless, intriguing.

3) NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH Starring Rex Harrison and Margaret Lockwood in a film directed by Carol Reed. The title says it all. A terrific Brits against the Nazis spy film. Rex Harrison is young and surprisingly sexy.

4) MINISTRY OF FEAR (1944) Several key scenes in the beginning of this super Ray Milland noir-ish spy thriller take place on a train. One of my favorite films. Review here.

5) THE 39 STEPS(1935) Starring Robert Donat and based on a book by John Buchan (1915). Parts of this superb spy film directed by Alfred Hitchcock take place on a British train as John Hannay (Robert Donat) tries to escape the cordon closing in around him.

6) TWENTIETH CENTURY (1934) Starring John Barrymore and Carole Lombard. Second half of this hilarious film takes place on the cross-country Twentieth Century train to Los Angeles. A brilliant spoof of melodramatic Broadway and Hollywood types directed by Howard Hawks. My review, here.

7) THE LADY VANISHES (1938) Starring Michael Redgrave and Margaret Lockwood. An early spy thriller from Alfred Hitchcock in which an enigmatic old lady (played by Dame May Whitty) disappears from aboard a train. Next to 39 STEPS, my favorite Hitchcock.

8) UNION STATION (1950) Starring William Holden, Barry Fitzgerald and Nancy Olson. Tense action on board a train, also in and around the famous train station as authorities search for a kidnapped blind girl. Features Lyle Bettger as an odious bad guy - a role he specialized in. Directed by Rudolph Mate.

9) NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) Starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock who is obviously fond of trains. An innocent man on the run, not sure who from, not sure why. Action in more ways than one aboard a train.

10) THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946) Starring Judy Garland, Angela Lansbury and John Hodiak in a musical directed by George Sidney. One of my very favorite Judy Garland films almost done in by Ray Bolger's interminable dance routines. Lansbury plays a 'bad' girl with heart and Garland plays one of the 'Harvey' girls heading west by train - goody girl waitresses hired to work the new Harvey restaurants up and down the line. Features the great number, "Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe."

11) TERROR BY NIGHT (1946) Starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson in a weak story having not much to do with Conan Doyle. But since the action takes place on a train headed to Scotland, there are still elements of interest in the proceedings. Alan Mowbray is properly slimy as Colonel Sebastian Moran. Directed as usual by Ray William Neil.

40 Media Terms For Every Bookworm

It feels good and virtuous to suddenly be up on all the latest (some not so 'latest') phraseology. A few of these terms I admit I'd been curious about - just never curious enough to find out more. Now I don't have to. It's all here, in one handy little list. One of my favorite terms: picaresque. Gotta' love the look and the sound of it. You want to say picturesque, but you daren't. Kind of like wanting to say restauranteur for restaurateur. Know what I mean?

Thanks to Jon Winokur's 'Advice to Writers' Twitter link for the tip. Thanks to for the orginal post.
The inimitable Calvin and Hobbes cartoons are by the inimitable Bill Watterson of which more can be read about here. I admit I got misty when the comic strip came to an end.

Saturday Salon: A Favorite Painting

The Unexpected Guest. A gorgeously sumptuous painting by another little known English woman painter, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1872 - 1945). A link to a short bio and some further work is here.

What I especially like in this painting is that sumptuousness, the jewel-toned colors and the density of the whole scene which has the look and richness of tapestry. Note the cupid - a very handsome winged young man, lurking in the corner: the unexpected guest.

A topic apropos of the fairy tale aspects of Royal Wedding Weekend, I thought.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books: An Unfortunate Prairie Occurrence by Jamie Harrison - A Blue Deer Mystery

I'm in a bit of a bind here wanting to recommend all four books in this truly wonderful short-lived series, but only finding one on my shelves and not the first, but the third. Of course I've read all four books over the years but if you expect me to remember them in particular detail, then both of us are doomed to disappointment. (I always laugh when I think about the title of this meme: Forgotten Books Friday. Right. Truer words were never spoken.)

Old lady memory strikes again. All I can tell you is that these four titles by Jamie Harrison are some of the funniest, slyest, dryly wittiest, engagingly well-written books you will ever read. They leave a happy resonance in my faulty memory - a lingering, pleasant aftertaste of delight. That's why I'm recommending them today for the Friday's Forgotten Books meme usually hosted by Patti Abbot at her blog, PATTINASE. But filling in today for Patti is Rick at his blog, THE BROKEN BULLHORN. Link here to read all the contributors and their contributions.

What I'm going to do is post a choice excerpt from the AN UNFORTUNATE PRAIRIE OCCURRENCE which will give you a good idea of the sort of writing I'm talking about, the sort of writing I favor, and the sort of writing you should not miss. I will add though, that for whatever reason, Jamie Harrison appears to have stopped writing - I can't find any other books by her in any form. It's a damn shame, but who knows what life has thrown her way. Maybe someday, she'll return to her fictional world of Blue Deer, Montana and pick up the story where she left off.

Jules Clement was brown-haired, tall and angular. He was thirty-five and essentially solitary, currently locked into an unhappy phase in an at best intermittent love life. He had a fairly good sense of humor, but it had been beaten down lately by work. He was good at his job, despite a lack of self-confidence or despotic practicality. Jules was that final anomaly, a liberal officer of the law.

Whatever else could be said about Jules, no one had ever claimed he looked like a cop when out of uniform. A bartender, maybe, a carpenter or even a ski bum in his healthier moments. This morning waiting in a corner of the Honorable Miles Birdland's office to have an arrest warrant signed, he looked a bit like a fishing guide: he was wet to the knees from a dawn search for the missing Maryland diver. Four boats, twenty other searchers on the banks, all of it a massive waste of time undertaken largely to save a fisherman a nasty sight a week down the line.

Jules paged through the judge's magazines and politely avoided looking directly at the other people in the room.

Neil Admundsen, the judge's grandson and a deputy county attorney, was arguing, and he sounded reasonable enough until the gist of the conversation sank in.

"Mr. Jump had custody for September; Mrs. Jump had custody for October. It's spelled out in their agreement, alternate months."

Birdland's voice was querulous, dangerous. "He wanted to take the dog hunting, right?"

"Yes sir," said Peter Johansen, the defense attorney. "Their agreement cites that right, for the dog's own welfare. This is petty stuff."

"The mention is vague, and any hunting was to depend on Mrs. Jump's assent," Neil began. "Instead of asking her, Mr. Jump kidnapped the dog - "

"Spare me," said Miles Birdland. "You keep your mouth shut as well for the moment, Mr. Johansen." He shuffled through his papers, a thin, tall man, quick and graceful in his mid-seventies, with a border of dark hair and a bald spot that managed to look distinguished. He tended to listen intently while blinking slowly.....Sometimes Birdland seemed to simply fix on a face and unleash poetic venom, the way a shark might fix on a particular pair of thrashing legs at a crowded beach and bite. The man had a nose for assholes.

"This is a clear case of custodial interference," said Neil. "He came onto her property, broke her window to open the door - "

"If you'd like to push for burglary or property damage, be my guest. Waste county money. But I am not going to allow you to bring criminal charges against a man for taking his dog from his ex-wife - "

"Your Honor, you're showing bias by saying, 'his' dog."

There was an ominous silence. Jules lifted his eyes and met Peter's. Peter gave a tiny desperate shake of the head and stayed poker-faced.....The judge tapped his pen violently on a pile of paperwork.

"Neil, do you think I'm blessed with an abundance of time?"

Neil, only in his late twenties, had a surly look on his face that tamped down the handsome features and made them small and mean. "No, sir."

"What do you imagine I'd rather be doing?"

Jules feigned interest in a National Geographic article on mining in Indonesia. Peter stared at the ceiling. "Taking a walk?" asked Neil with just an edge of the smart-ass.

"Sitting with your dying grandmother!" screamed Birdland. "Now either go for a b-and-e or leave it to civil court."

Meetings with Birdland often ended in this fashion. He'd been a district judge for thirty years and tended toward brutal efficiency during court time, though his written opinions were Gothic and dense. You couldn't count on his sympathies, which his defenders took as proof of lack of bias, and which non-fans including Peter Johansen, put down to everything from indigestion, to reactionary politics to simple, old-fashioned meanness. Miles Birdland didn't have a predictable knee-jerk reaction to certain types, had no special blood lust for teenage dropouts, drinking mothers, child support shirkers, pot smokers versus drinkers versus pill poppers.

"Why are you here?" he asked Jules abruptly.

"Alston Hantz blew his parole twice over the weekend, and I need a warrant signed."

"Jesus," said the judge. The top of his head was still pink with rage. "Enough is enough."

"You would think," said Jules. "But Alston doesn't think."

"Did he at least try to be sneaky?"

"Showed up drunk as a monkey for happy hour at the Blue Bat on Friday, then hit the Bucket Sunday afternoon."

"I won't feel much compunction about sending him out of the county," said Birdland, handing Jules the warrant and moving on to the rest of his pile.

As if he ever felt compunction, Jules thought. He started to edge out the door, but the judge spoke again. "There's a rumor going 'round that you found a body on the island," he said, signing papers as fast as his secretary could hand them to him.

"Yes sir," said Jules. "Yesterday afternoon."

"Old or new?" The judge didn't look up.

"Old," said Jules. "Maybe several decades, unless there's something funny in the soil. I won't know more until I get out of here."

Birdland looked up and Jules kept his face unreadable, not a difficult task as his left jaw was crooked from a horse kick. That corner of his mouth tended to curl up in a gentle and often unfelt smile.

"Sorry to keep you from more important tasks," said Birdland with great sarcasm.

"That's, of course, not how I meant the comment," said Jules evenly.

The judge had missed a page, and when his secretary murmured a mild corrective he snatched it from her hand. "Well, good, " he said finally. "I was wondering if we'd have another mess on our hands, if I should simply retire now, let Axel age himself."

Miles Birdland was not given to humor, in the words of his tenacious secretary, now staring fixedly at the diplomas on the wall, the man was too dry to spit. Axel Scott was the county attorney, Neil's boss, and he wanted Birdland's job...

"No mess," said Jules. "I'm only worried about the rapist."

"I'd be surprised if you catch that man before I retire. I knew someone like him once, a man who kept his evil invisible in the daytime. This person could be the town's finest teacher, saving up pain for the night."

Encouraging words. Jules felt a glimmer of pity for Neil, who crawled in to apologize to his grandfather as Jules was walking out. It wasn't always easy, everyone being related to everyone else. Hardly any of the first settlers in Absaroka County had stuck it out, but in a town of new blood, virtually none had oozed through the courthouse walls. Until Axel Scott had pushed the country's lenient standards of nepotism that spring by hiring a twenty-six year old with only one year of experience, no one in town had seemed to mind that Scott was married to Jules's cousin Jetta, or that Jules and Peter had been roommates in college, or that Birdland's daughter and Scott's wife had been inseparable since kindergarten. Now Jules found himself minding; it was part of the reason he'd hired two out-of-towners as deputies that summer.

"What are you smiling at?" snapped Neil.

"Life's infinite variety," said Jules.

I do enjoy this sort of writing - quiet on the surface, ruffled underneath - which is the reason I'm always recommending it when I come across good examples. Though this series is, as I said, only four books along and probably done, I highly recommend you search it out. You'll find yourself in the occasionally wild Montana countryside, playing sidekick to the laconic Jules Harding, ex-archaeologist and current sheriff.

From the New York Times Book Review:<p>"Harrison takes her time resolving these criminal matters, allowing us to linger in Blue Deer long enough to learn its history, drink in the scenery and laugh at the kinks and quirks of its idiosyncratic residents. No wonder the world-weary Jules came running back home the first chance he got - the place is heaven."

Big Sky, old bones, and murderous obsession. Blue Deer Montana has it all.

The four titles in the series:





Nice Day for A Wedding...

...I wish them well. What are we but creatures of symbols and ceremony after all? I'll watch on youtube today and smile and pretend to believe in happily ever after. Occasionally, it does come true. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. I like the sound of that.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mystery Week

Meant to mention that this week is officially Mystery Week in NYC, culminating tonight with the 65th Annual Edgar Awards Banquet. Read more at this link. I'm rooting for Steve Hamilton's book, THE LOCK ARTIST to win Best Novel. Link to the rest of the nominees.

This Day in History: Mutiny on the Bounty

Today in 1789, Fletcher Christian and his merry mutineers on board the H.M.S Bounty cast Captain Bligh and 18 of his crew adrift in a couple of lifeboats. The story will be told in 1932 by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall in a trilogy whose first book is MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY. Link to read an overview of the Voyage and the Mutiny.

My favorite Captain Bligh: Charles Laughton. No one in the world can say, "You traitorous dog," with quite the same snarling vituperation as Laughton. My favorite Fletcher Christian: oh, Clark Gable, hands down. As much as I adore Marlon Brando (at least in his early roles) he was not then nor would he ever be an 18th century man.

The Quotable Sherlock Holmes

Since I posted some of my favorite Phillip Marlowe quotes earlier this week, I thought I'd do the same for Holmes. These quotes have been handily collected in one nice little book by John H. Watson, M.D. With An Introduction by John H. Watson III and Assisted by Gerard Van Der Leun.


"Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!" (This my favorite quote from any character in any book ever.)


"Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius." (My second favorite quote ever.)


"...There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubbable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offenses, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere."


"It's every man's business to see justice done."


"The plot thickens."


"I have been beaten four times - three times by men, and once by a woman."


"Let me see - what are my other shortcomings? I get in the dumps at times, and don't open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I'll soon be right. What have you to confess now? It's just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together." Speaking to Watson.


"Evil indeed is the man who has not one woman to mourn him."


"Singularity is almost invariably a clue. The more featureless and commonplace a crime is, the more difficult it is to bring home."


"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact."


"When you have one of the finest brains of Europe up against you, and all the powers of darkness at his back, there are infinite possibilities."


"You know my powers, my dear Watson, and yet at the end of three months I was forced to confess that I had at last met an antagonist who was my intellectual equal. My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration of his skill."


"He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, and abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order."


"I love all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life."


"You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles."


"Women are never to be trusted - not the best of them."


"I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner."


"It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London."

From: THE GREEK INTERPRETER (Talking about his brother Mycroft.)

"I said that he was my superior in observation and deduction. If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an armchair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived. But he has no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would rather be considered wrong then take the trouble to prove himself right. Again and again I have taken a problem to him, and have received an explanation which has afterwards proved to be the correct one. And yet he was was absolutely incapable of working out the practical points which must be gone into before a case could be laid before a judge and jury."


"It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."


"Read it up - you really should. There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before."


"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"

From: THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (Speaking to Watson.)

"I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt."


"Here is the fruit of my leisured case, the magnum opus of my latter years, PRACTICAL HANDBOOK OF BEE CULTURE, with SOME OBSERVATIONS UPON THE SEGREGATION OF THE QUEEN. Alone I did it. Behold the fruit of pensive nights and laborious days when I watched the little working gangs as once I watched the criminal world of London."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jersey Shore 'Reality' TV and Oscar Wilde: Perfect Together

Okay, I saw this video a few moments ago and loved it. Too funny! And may I say that I am not a fan of Jersey Shore (the tv show) - in fact, I've never seen it (nor under anything but the threat of immediate, excruciating death, would I do so) so I'm kind of operating blind here. I'll take it for granted from things I've read online that the show is a vulgar exploitation of type - fine. I suppose it appeals to those fond of watching self immolation and reality car crashes. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Having said this, I do love Oscar Wilde AND British accents. Watch at this link as actors from Wilde's THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST take on Jersey Shore dialogue and survive. HA!

Thanks to Galleycat for the tip.

Wednesday: Quote of the Day

Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. They are engines of change, windows on the world, "lighthouses" as a poet said "erected in the sea of time." Barbara Tuchman (1989)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Nasty Girls

Well, you know we mean Top Ten Nasty Women, but 'girls' sounds better. Ha! Top Ten Tuesday is the fun weekly meme hosted by the gals at THE BROKE AND THE BOOKISH. This week's topic: Top Ten Mean Girls We'd All Like to Slap Good and Proper. (I added that last part.) Link here to see who else is participating and what their choices for this week's list are.

1) Susan Silverman from most of the Spenser private-eye books by the late, great Robert Parker. Susan is Spenser's psychiatrist girlfriend though I've always felt she needed the psych care more than anyone else. Ha! I simply cannot stand her. Never could. I would not slap her because Spenser would get on my case, not to mention Hawk. Since these men are simply besotted with Susan, for reasons that totally escape me, I continue to loathe her and her modern woman simpering ways from afar. (Eat a piece of freakin' bread - why don't you!?)

2) Ophelia and Daphne de Luce - from the books by Alan Bradley - the 'wicked' teenage sisters of 11 year old budding detective and chemist, Flavia de Luce. These are satisfying mysteries (beginning with THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE) set in the idyllic (at least in memory) English countryside of the 1950's. With two sisters like these, Flavia is put through the ringer since her dad, totally immersed in his stamp collection, appears clueless.

3) A certain Oxford professor, a very dangerous woman with a nefarious father -near the end of THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE by Laurie R. King, who makes Mary Russell's life a living hell - not to mention, Sherlock Holmes. I can say no more.

4) Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare. Duh!

5) Mrs. Danvers from REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier. A housekeeper from hell. But she kept Manderley tidy.

6) Miss Holloway the loony-toons sanatorium owner from Dorothy MacArdle's book and film, THE UNINVITED. She is so devoted and has such an unhealthy love for a deceased woman that she sends the young heroine to what may be certain death. (Sounds like Danvers. Maybe they're related.)

7) Mrs. Reed from JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte. The aunt - also from hell - who does get her comeuppance, but too late.

8) Joyce Barnhardt from the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. The skanky New Joisey bleached blond who broke up Stephanie's marriage. Stephanie caught Joyce and Stephanie's equally skanky husband doing the nasty on the dining room table. YUCK!

9) The Queen of Hearts from ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll. Oh, for sure. Off with her head!

10) Julia McGee from TOO MANY CLIENTS by Rex Stout. Wolfe looked at Julia McGee and said in a voice as hard as hers had been, "You're no longer needed. Go." She started to speak, and he snapped at her, "No. My eyes are inured to ugliness, but you offend them. Get out. Go!" She got up and went.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Favorite Film: CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA (1936) starring Warner Oland and Boris Karloff

In my probably biased opinion, there are maybe four or five really terrific Charlie Chan movies - this is one of them. I am a big fan of Charlie's, so if one of the early movies is on, I'm likely to watch it regardless. Though I like Warner Oland as Chan, better than Sidney Toler, I admit that Toler grew on me and did go on to make several favorites. But once Mantan Moreland got involved in the films and the budgets went down to zero, I stopped watching. There's a nice envelope of time - 1930's - mid 40's, when the films were still reasonably good. Most especially if you didn't care if the plots made any sense. Because, honestly, the scriptwriters/film-makers apparently didn't care either. If you break down the nuts and bolts of the mysteries, you get to the end and go, huh? But, so what. Logic is not why anyone watches Charlie Chan movies - at least I don't think so.

CHARLIE CHAN AT THE OPERA takes place in NYC, always a good town for a mystery involving an escaped maniac - or so Boris Karloff is referred to in the film. Karloff plays Gravelle (he only has one name), a former opera star who, since a horrific backstage fire, has suffered from amnesia and general looniness. He has been, as the film begins, a resident in an asylum, watched over by not-very-smart guards. The film has an absolutely perfect beginning on a rainy, windswept night at the loony bin with Gravelle sitting at the piano singing away in an agitated baritone voice. (Dubbed, I'm sure.)

When the guard brings in a newspaper, Gravelle spots a headline featuring a woman's name - that of soprano Lily Rochelle who is returning to star in the opera CARNIVAL. (It was the opera in which Gravelle had also starred years before.) Lily's name sparks Gravelle's memory, he assaults the guard and escapes from the asylum. The hunt is then on (with moody music to match) for what the newspapers colorfully refer to as 'the escaped maniac'.

In the meantime, Lily Rochelle, played with exaggerated (and charmless) diva mannerisms by Margaret Irving, goes to the police (Inspector Regan played by Guy Usher), escorted by her current paramour, tenor Enrico Borelli (played by Gregory Gaye). She's received some threatening letters and wants police protection. The cops haven't yet linked Gravelle to Lily.

In Inspector Regan's office at that moment is Charlie Chan who has dropped in to say goodbye, on his way home to Honolulu after solving a race track mystery which had baffled the cops. He is sailing later that evening.

Chan makes some astute deductions which makes Regan think that the threats to Lily Rochelle come from the escaped lunatic everyone's been searching for. He orders the opera house surrounded by cops for the opening night's performance, (This is in the old days when the cops had enough manpower to do this sort of thing, I suppose.)

When Gravelle makes his presence known at the Opera House, he scares the mezzo soprano, Lucretia Borelli (wife of the philandering tenor - who recognizes Gravelle) into cooperating with him and not letting on she knows he's hiding somewhere in the opera house. Singing the part of Mephistopheles in the opera, CARNIVAL, that night, is Enrico Borelli.His wife Lucretia knows he's been cheating on her with Lily Rochelle, as does Rochelle's husband - so there's all sorts of backstage jealousy and intrigue going on before the curtain rises.

In the meantime, the cops - including Charlie Chan - arrive at the opera and are soon made aware by a frightened seamstress that Gravelle is in the house, lurking about backstage. When Borelli finishes getting into costume (in a ridiculous Mephistopelian outfit with glitter and a mask), he is assaulted in his dressing room by Gravelle who pops in from a ceiling trapdoor. Gravelle then assumes the costume and goes forth to sing the role before anyone is the wiser.

In the first act scene, however, Mephistopheles is supposed to stab Lily (who is a little old to be playing an innocent village maiden, but what the heck) and the cops are uneasy as they watch the scene develop. Lily, herself, is aware that something is wrong since the man singing Mephistopheles doesn't sound so much like Borelli, but like the man who was once her husband and fellow opera star - a man who supposedly died in a fire. Lily is so frightened that as the act finishes, she faints and must be carried to her dressing room. Gravelle escapes from the cops who chase him backstage.

When both Borelli AND Lily Rochelle are killed - stabbed to death. The obvious culprit is the handy escaped maniac.

Oh, meant to mention, in the middle of all this, there's a young couple wandering around backstage looking for Lily and we're not supposed to know why. Turns out the young woman is Lily's unacknowledged daughter trying to get her mother's permission to marry. (One of the main reasons why the events in the script make no sense is because of this girl's supposed age coupled with the year that the fatal fire took place. Also, why would the soprano be killed off in the first act of the opera? But maybe I pay too much attention to details.)

So, Charlie Chan - with the help of his number one son, played by the wonderful Keye Luke - must solve the mystery in time to board their boat back home late that night. How he does it is to stage the first act of the opera once again with all suspects involved. So we get to hear the catchy aria that Mephistopheles sings to Lily yet again - Lily played this time by the mezzo soprano, wife of the dead Borelli.

I can't count how many times I've seen this film and yet I still enjoy watching the whole preposterous thing whenever I get a chance. It is just a great deal of fun. Maybe because it's so familiar, but I think it has to do with the whole backstage-at-the-theater thing and watching Boris Karloff play an opera singer. Also Charlie Chan has never been better. Will he and number one son make it back to Honolulu on schedule? What do you think?

One further note: CARNIVAL, far as I know. is not based on an 'actual' opera except that in the end credits you see the name of Oscar Levant listed as composer for the opera used in the film. Levant is known to us from all those MGM musicals where he generally added his sour-faced, off-key voice and personality playing side-kick to Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire but who, in reality, was actually a brilliant pianist and composer. I've always wondered too if the opera CARNIVAL by Oscar Levant, was ever finished and if so, what it sounds like.

I thought I'd add this link to my own review of: CHARLIE CHAN The Untold Story of The Honorable Detective and His Rendevouz with American History by Yunte Huang. This is a terrific non-fiction book by a Chinese American Professor which gives the background and explains the era, the when and where of the Chan character and how he was formed and based on a real Hawaiian detective. If you're interested at all in how Charlie Chan came to be and the society from which his creation sprang - then this is the book for you.

Monday Book Review: TOO MANY CLIENTS (1960) by Rex Stout

Okay, I have officially embarked on a Nero Wolfe Reading Binge. It happens to me - every few years. I pick one or two of the paperbacks from my collection and begin reading idly, then before you can say, "Satisfactory..." I've gone through a bunch of 'em. Reading other things in between, of course, so I'll be talking about other books as usual. But you'll be seeing a few more Wolfe reviews on the blog. Don't quite know how to handle my reading jags since I've never had one while blogging before, so please bear with me, I'm on a learning curve.

In TOO MANY CLIENTS, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin play fast and loose with the law, tamper with a crime scene, obstruct an investigation AND get away with it. It's risky business, all hell would break loose if Inspector Kramer learned the truth - Wolfe's private eye license would be kaput. But hey, their bank funds are low and all Wolfe and Archie are trying to do is work up a client with a big fee. One can hardly blame them.

When a man shows up at Wolfe's office, identifies himself as Thomas Yeager, executive Vice President of Continental Plastics and hires Archie Goodwin to follow him to a certain NYC address on 82nd Street, to see who, in turn, is following him - Yeager - Goodwin takes on the job just to get out of the office and do something that might be finessed into something bigger.

When later, a man named Thomas Yeager is found shot to death in a Con Ed hole dug in the sidewalk in front of a certain address on 82nd Street. Archie realizes that the man who'd first hired him the day before was an impostor. The dead man is the real Yeager.

Archie being Archie and even though they don't have a paying client, he goes anyway to the 82nd street address and talks his way past Mr. and Mrs. Perez - the super and his wife. On the top floor of the building, he finds a large room, papered in gleaming red, bedecked with erotic paintings and obviously set up as Thomas Yeager, Executive Vice President of Continental Plastics' rather vulgar trysting nook. (Champagne and caviar in the refrigerator.) Archie, ever the clear-thinker, calls in Fred Durkin (one of three operatives he and Wolf work with) and instructs him to make himself at home in the red room - see who turns up - see what fish they can catch. Sure enough, women being popping up to retrieve forgotten items. Fred gets his face scratched and Archie almost gets slapped.

But once Wolfe and Archie finagle a client out of the mess of mixed identities and murder, they continue to keep the existence of the red room to themselves. The cops have not linked anything in the 82nd street address to the dead body in the hole in the sidewalk. Yeager secretly transferred ownership of the building to Mr. and Mrs. Perez, so his name is not on any official papers linking him to the address, after death.

Wolfe has been hired by the client not so much to find a murderer, but to keep the scandal of the red room from exploding all over the front pages and soiling the corporation. Archie has also, theoretically, been hired by Mr. and Mrs. Perez to keep them from being charged with Yeager's murder should the cops learn of the top floor room. (They swear they didn't know they'd inherit ownership of the building upon Yeager's death.)

Archie doesn't believe the Perez family had anything to do with Yeager's death, especially when a second murder occurs - the victim, attempting a spot of blackmail, is shot with the same gun that killed Yeager.

Rex Stout has two intriguing mysteries going on in TOO MANY CLIENTS: who committed the murders AND can Wolfe and Archie skirt the law, keep the red room a secret from the cops and earn a giant fee? You betcha'. The fun is in how the manage to do it.

Although the motive for the initial murder is a bit weak in my opinion, the deception going on is wickedly entertaining and the way that Archie initially finagles his way into the investigation is a joy to read about - what an operator!

There is an incident which may disturb modern day sensibilities near the end of the book when a cheating wife is beat up by her husband (no matter that what she was doing was vile) and this is more-or-less overlooked by the author and by Archie, but I remind you that those were the laws in those days. And it isn't as if Archie thinks it's okay. He doesn't. That was then, this is now.)

Despite that, another terrific book by Rex Stout and even better, I had forgotten who did it. Ha!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

More Easter Good Wishes!

From me (and Fred and Judy). Link here to the trailer for the wonderful MGM musical EASTER PARADE starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland. What else would we watch today? (Besides baseball, that is.) From my family to yours: Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wishing You A Joyous Easter.

For all of you who celebrate this weekend, I wish you joy and a very Happy Easter. I'll be celebrating with family and friends, including my absolutely beautiful granddaughter. (Yes, I am one of those mushy grandmas, and PROUD of it!) Ha!

These wonderful illustrations are by one of my very favorite artists, British illustrator Racey Helps. Read more about Helps here. Link.

Saturday Salon: A Favorite Painting

Celebration Day by Swedish artist: Fanny Brate (1861 (2) - 1940) There's not much information online about this artist who influenced Carl Larsson's work. But the little I found is here at this link. Brate's work is a recent discovery for me and I am totally smitten by her use of gentle color, especially in this painting, one of her more well-known works. A good choice I think for Saturday of Easter weekend.

These lush flowers look drowsy, languid and lazy. Love the varying shades of pink and the little pansy tucked in among its more elegant brethren.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Raymond Chandler, of course, wrote the Philip Marlowe stories, so the quotes attributed to Marlowe, originated with Chandler. But this little book of quotes was edited by Martin Asher and published in 2005 by Alfred A. Knopf. It was given to me by my friend Janine, a fellow booky. (Booky = book lover extraordinaire.)

Quotes really do help us to segregate a writer's thoughts. They can give you a good, concise look at what a particular author is all about. Even if, as in this instance, the quotes are theoretically, derived from a fictional character. Lots of good stuff here from one of the primary originators of American detective fiction. (Read more about Raymond Chandler here, at this link.

On Philip Marlowe:

".....I'm a licensed private investigator and have been for quite a while. I'm a lone wolf, unmarried, getting middle-aged, and not rich. I've been in jail more than once and I don't do divorce business. I like liquor and women and chess and a few other things. The cops don't like me too well, but I know a couple I get along with. I'm a native son, born in Santa Rosa, both parents dead, no brothers or sisters, and when I get knocked off in a dark alley sometime, if it happens, as it could to anyone in my business, and to plenty of people in any business or no business at all these days, nobody will feel that the bottom has dropped out of his or her life." From: THE LONG GOODBYE

On Love:

"Love is such a dull word," she mused. "It amazes me that the English language so rich in the poetry of love can accept such a feeble word for it. It has no life, no resonance. It suggests to me little girls in ruffled summer dresses, with little pink smiles and little shy voices, and probably the most unbecoming underwear." From: THE LITTLE SISTER

On luxury cars:

It moved away from the curb and around the corner with as much noise as a bill makes in a wallet. From: TROUBLE IS MY BUSINESS

On time:

The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips. From: THE LADY IN THE LAKE.

On Women's Clothing:

She nodded and got up slowly from behind the desk. She swished before me in a tight dress that fitted her like a mermaid's skin and showed that she had a good figure if you like them four sizes bigger below the waist. From: FAREWELL, MY LOVELY

On Hemingway:

"Who is this Hemingway person at all?""A guy that keeps saying the same thing over and over until you being to believe that it must be good." From: FAREWELL, MY LOVELY

On Home:

I unlocked the door of my apartment and went in and sniffed the smell of it, just standing there, against the door for a little while before I put the light on. A homely smell, a smell of dust and tobacco smoke, the smell of a world where men live, and keep on living. From: FAREWELL, MY LOVELY

On Cops:

In our town the mobs don't kill a cop. They leave that to the juveniles. And a live cop who has been put through the meat grinder is a much better advertisement. He gets well eventually and goes back to work. But from that time on something is missing - the last inch of steel that makes all the difference. He's a walking lesson that it is a mistake to push the racket boys too hard - especially if you are on the vice squad and eating at the best places and driving a Cadillac. From: THE LONG GOODBYE

On Dames:

To say she had a face that would have stopped a clock would have been to insult her. It would have stopped a runaway horse. From: THE LITTLE SISTER

Then she lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theater curtain. I was to get to know that trick. That was supposed to make me roll over on my back with all four paws in the air. From: THE BIG SLEEP

On Death:

Dead men are heavier than broken hearts. From: THE BIG SLEEP

A dead man is the best fall guy in the world. He never talks back. From: THE LONG GOODBYE

On Faces:

It was a face that had nothing to fear. Everything had been done to it that anybody could think of. From: FAREWELL, MY LOVELY

On Nothing:

After that nothing happened for three days. Nobody slugged me or shot at me or called me up on the phone and warned me to keep my nose clean. Nobody hired me to find the wandering daughter, the erring wife, the lost pearl necklace or the missing will. I just sat there and looked at the wall. From: THE LONG GOODBYE

"Men have been shot for practically nothing." From THE BIG SLEEP

On Loneliness:

Room 322 was at the back of the building near the door to the fire escape. The corridor which led to it had a smell of old carpet and furniture oil and the drab anonymity of a thousand shabby lives. From: THE LITTLE SISTER

My favorite Chandler quote: Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. From: THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER. These words describe all the detectives in all the mysteries I read and love.

Friday's Forgotten Books: A LITTLE NEIGHBORHOOD MURDER (1989) by A.J. Orde

Friday's Forgotten Books is a weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, PATTINASE. My book this week is A.J. Orde's A LITTLE NEIGHBORHOOD MURDER, a book I'm beginning to think only I have ever read. I've never met anyone else who knows this series, so here's hoping my review will pique your interest. For a list of the rest of the participants in this weekly meme, please check out Patti's blog. Link.

A.J. Orde(who is also Sheri S. Tepper, the science fiction writer and B.J. Oliphant mystery writer) wrote the series - beginning with A LITTLE NEIGHBORHOOD MURDER -featuring the enigmatic Jason Lynx over twenty years ago, but that's no excuse for it's seeming invisibility. This is the sort of series that should probably be read in order, since this first book sets up Jason's character pretty well and also explains the mysterious and heartbreaking death of his wife and the equally heartbreaking fate of his small son.

Jason Lynx is antiques dealer and interior designer living in Denver. He owns a high-end antiques shop, has a dog named Bela (named after Bela Lugosi), a Hungarian Kuvasz, and leads a generally pleasant life despite the mysteries that plague him. First: who is he? Abandoned as a baby, Jason grew up in an orphanage and was given his name by the nuns there - Lynx, because his blond hair used to tuft out like a lynx cat's. Jason has never given up asking questions about his background, his parents. Second: What happened on the day, 8 years previously, when his wife Agatha, disappeared leaving behind a crashed car and their injured baby son strapped in his seat. His wife's body has never been found and the case is now a cold one.

I seldom remember dreams. Oh, I know I dream. Everyone does. Once in a while, when I'm wakened during the night or early in the morning. I have these fragmentary visions of something that has just happened, visions that dissolve almost immediately, leaving me feeling as though I've lost something. It's the kind of feeling I get when when I try to remember the name of an old acquaintance I've seen on the street. It never lasts. That night, however, I dreamed and woke, dreamed and woke, wakened not from the dream but by it.

Each time I was in Washington D.C. I was on my way to meet Agatha. We were going to have dinner together when she got off work. There was a little Indonesian restaurant we wanted to try, just four or five blocks off the Mall on Tenth. In the dream, I explained the location to her, describing the way the place looked. I told her I'd meet her in front of the Museum of Natural History, and then, abruptly, I was trying to find the museum myself. I knew it was east of the Washington Monument, on the other side of the History and Technology Museum, but the monument kept moving. Each time I looked it was somewhere else. Streets twisted back on themselves. Some of them rippled and swayed under me. I couldn't get there. I couldn't find the right place.

I was afraid I'd miss her. I walked and walked, up and down Constitution Avenue, hunting for the building, but it wasn't there.

"I can't wait," she said from some vast distance in the dream. "Jason, I can't wait."

I woke up terrified...

Jason's neighbor George Whitney suddenly goes off with his wife Betty giving Jason some frantic story about an accident, and asks Jason to feed their dogs. Jason is curious, but happy enough to comply. George owns the same breed as Jason's - in fact, Bela came from one of his neighbor's litters. When Jason goes over to feed George's dogs in their own kennel out back, he also finds George's front door open. Then he finds the mysterious package.

When the bomb explodes, Jason's life takes a bizarre turn as the cops begin to suspect him of some sort of foul play. When the Whitney's are later murdered, Jason wants to find out what the heck happened. Who sent the bomb and why? And who on earth were his neighbors - really? Who would want them dead enough to risk a bomb?

If you can find these books, I say: read 'em. They are definitely not your usual run-of-the-mill. Jason Lynx is intriguing enough, mysterious enough and his profession interesting enough to make me wish there were many more books in the series. Right now there are only these six:

A Little Neighborhood Murder (1989)

Death and the Dog Walker (1990)

Death for Old Time's Sake (1992)

Looking for the Aardvark aka Death on Sunday (1993)

A Long Time Dead (1994)

A Death of Innocents (1997)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Library Loot

Came back from the library staggering under the weight of nine books. Just lugging them into the house was enough. I get carried away sometimes, reserving on line. It's just so damn easy.

I always reserve extra just in case the primary books I'm wanting don't measure up. Sometimes Ill bring a whole stack home and then realize my heart just isn't in it, and back they go, mostly unread. I'm quirky that way.

Okay, books home from the library this time out: (These are all books I've heard good things about on blogs or elsewhere or titles I know about from having read previous work by the author.)

1) ROGUE ISLAND by Bruce DeSilva

2)SERPENT IN THE THORNS by Jeri Westerson

3)SUSPICIOUS MINDS by Martin Edwards

4) THE ARSENIC LABYRINTH by Martin Edwards


6)ONE WAS A SOLDIER by Julia Spencer Fleming

7)DEVIL'S TRILL by Gerald Elias

8)FEVER DREAM by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

9) CEMETERY DANCE by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Flavorpill's 10 Most Badly Bungled Classic Book-to-Film Adaptations

What is it with Hollywood and so-called Classic Books? I followed Galleycat's link to Flavorpill's 10 Most Badly Bungled Classic Book-to-Film Adaptations and had a good laugh. Luckily, I've never seen any of them. Very discerning of me, I'm sure. Ha! Wait, I just remembered, I did try to sit through the film based on Pullman's The Golden Compass. But mercifully, I stopped watching about halfway through. (I did like the polar bear though.) AND I did watch I AM LEGEND, though at the moment I can't remember why. Oh, Will Smith - that's probably why.

Hollywood always seems to think they can make a classic book better (huh?) or more accommodating to its teenage male audience since, surely, no one else goes to the movies anymore. Take a look at the Flavorpill list. What other movies would you add?

I'd add five more classics:

The film adaptation for WATERSHIP DOWN (Richard Adams). Awful animation.

The film adaptation for WAR OF THE WORLDS (H.G. Wells) with Tom Cruise.

The film adaptation of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (Arthur Conan Doyle) Any version. I've yet to see this classic story filmed properly.

The film adaptation of DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS (Eugene O'Neill). Sophia Loren and Anthony Perkins? In what universe did this make any casting sense? Cringe-worthy.

The film adaptation of DRACULA (Bram Stoker) with Gary Oldman. Unwatchable. Give me Bela Lugosi any day of the week.

...and while we're at it: VAN HELSING (based on Bram Stoker's character) with Hugh Jackman. Unwatchable doesn't even begin to describe it.

These aren't the worst regular book to film adaptations, mind you, just the Bungled Classic Book-to-Film Adaptations. I'm going to post my own choices for all time worse adaptations one of these days.

Vintage Reading Challenge: WHERE THERE'S A WILL (1940) by Rex Stout

The Vintage Reading Challenge is being hosted by Bev over at MY READER'S BLOCK. This review is my current entry - I'm only a couple of books from my ultimate goal. Of course that won't stop me continuing to read vintage authors since that's something I always do, challenge or not. It's a way of life. Ha!

Most of you know how much I love Stout's Nero Wolfe books, so it's no surprise I'm talking about one of them today. This is a re-read I did Monday night, just for a lark. But then I picked up another Wolfe book and I'm currently re-reading that during meals, so it's possible I've embarked on another Wolfe Binge. (I do this every few years.)Time will tell.

WHERE THERE'S A WILL (1940) is one of my favorite Wolfe books primarily because it's one that reveals a bit more about Archie's character. In a rather melodramatic way (well, melodramatic when it comes to Wolfe), it's a book that is unabashedly about the madness and ramifications of lust. It's also, in a strange way, about the madness of beauty. There's no one to like in this book, except of course, Archie and Wolfe, Fritz and Fred, but that's beside the point, I think.

When millionaire Noel Hawthorne is killed in an apparent hunting accident, and his will leaves his famous sisters April, May and June with nothing but a peach, a pear and an apple, naturally they are concerned. Most of the millions involved have been left to a woman NOT Hawthorne's wife. Actually, the Hawthorne Girls - as they are known in society - seem more concerned that Hawthorne's disfigured wife Daisy, is going to foment a huge scandal by contesting the will and dragging everyone into court including the other woman. Scandal would harm the career of June Hawthorne's husband who is currently Secretary of State of the United States and as such, is burdened with powerful enemies. The Hawthorne Girls want to hire Wolfe to quash the whole thing by getting the parties involved to come to some sort of amicable, monetary solution. But the 'other woman', the enigmatic Naomi Karn appears implacable and sure enough of her own power.

This is one of the rare books in which Wolfe breaks his own rule and leaves the brownstone to visit a client. Unheard of. Fritz the chef, is thrown into a panic. But when the Secretary of State requests your presence even Wolfe cannot refuse. (Never mind that the 'lunch' he is served makes him cringe.)

I hopped out[of the car], went to the corner and entered a drugstore, found a phone booth, and dialed a number. A familiar voice said hello.

"This is Archie, Fritz. Give the plant rooms a buzz."

"Mr. Wolfe isn't up there."

I glanced at my wrist watch and saw 10:05. "What are you talking about? Certainly he's up there."

"No, really, Archie. Mr. Wolfe has gone out."

"You're crazy. If he told you to say that - who does he think he's kidding anyhow? Ring the plant rooms."

"But, Archie, I tell you he went. He received a telephone call and went. He gave me messages for you - wait - I wrote them down - First, Saul reported and he arranged to have Orrie relieve him [following the 'other woman']. Second, that owning to your absence he would have to ride in a taxicab. Third, that you are to go in the sedan to the residence of Mr. Hawthorne, deceased, on 67th Street."

"Is this straight, Fritz?"

"Honest to God, Archie. It took my breath."

"I'll bet it did."

I hung up and went back out to the car and told Fred: "A new era has begun. The earth has turned around and started the other way. Mr. Wolfe has left home in a taxicab to work on a case."

"Huh? Nuts."

"Nope. As Fritz says, honest to God. He really has. So if you'll -"

"But Jesus, Archie. He'll get killed or something."

"Don't I know it? You beat it. Go on home and finish your nap...If we need you I'll give you a ring."

"But if Mr. Wolfe - "

"I'll tend to him."

When another murder enters the mix and with the cops are all over the Hawthorne mansion, the sheer audacity of a murderer is revealed. But Wolfe and Archie are stumped until a photograph trips up a not-so-clever killer. The ending, of course, is revealed in Wolfe's office, chock full of suspects and the cops. The usual. Just the way I like it.

An excerpt from the first few moments when Archie appears to have met his match in 'the other woman,' Naomi Karn:

I looked at her. There was no indication whatever of any strain of baby doll in her that I could see. She was close to something new in my experience. She wasn't homely and she wasn't pretty. She was dark rather than light, but she wouldn't have been listed as brunette. None of her features would have classified for star billing, but somehow you didn't see her features, you just saw her. As a matter of fact, after exchanging only a couple of sentences with her, I was sore. During nine years of detective work, I had polished up my brass so that I regarded a rude stare at any human face nature's fancy could devise merely as a matter of routine, but there was something in Naomi Karn's eyes, or back of them, or somewhere, that made me want to meet them and shy away from them at the same time. It wasn't the old come-hither, the "welcome" on the door mat that biology uses for tanglefoot; I can slide through that like molasses through a tin horn. It was something as feminine as that, it was a woman letting a man have her eyes, but it was also a good deal more - like a cocky challenge from a cocky brain. I knew I had looked away from it, and I knew she knew I had, and I was sore.

Don't know how you'd rate it, but in my opinion, that's some damn fine writing. Mystery genre or no mystery genre. And you wonder why I love these books?

Wednesday: Quote of the Day

In most of our childhoods there have been those books beloved, not because they are marvelous children's books, but because they are marvelous books.

Anna Quindlen (1991)

Painting by Sir Walter Firle.