Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Salon: A Film I Definitely Want To See.

Thanks to Jonas Nordin at his blog, All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing! I've learned about a new film that sounds like something I will definitely want to see. THE ARTIST, a movie by French director Michael Hazanavicius had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May of this year and since I usually don't keep up with the whole panoply of new films unless I'm hit over the head with a great review or an intriguing bit of casting news, I'd never heard of it until today.

THE ARTIST is a surprise, a silent film done in black and white with a synchronized score and sound effects and a short dialogue sequence at the end in the style of the 1920's. It's all about the rise and fall of a 20's silent film star. But what struck me the most when I saw the amazing trailer is the incredibly 1920's/30's 'look' of actor Jean Dujardin. Is it only a Frenchman who can look like this? I admit it, I was dazzled. (Uggy the Jack Russell terrier won me over too.) The film also features American actors, James Cromwell and John Goodman.

All I can say is, I can't wait to see THE ARTIST. Hopefully it will show up in this country and on Netflix at some point.

Link to the wonderful trailer here.  (There's a short color trailer of a German film to sit through quickly before THE ARTIST trailer begins.)

And read this review by Skukhdev Sandhu in The Telegraph.

Sounds like a winner, doesn't it?

Uggy and Jean Dujardin

Saturday, July 30, 2011

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

Henry Siddons Mowbray (1858 - 1928) was an American artist born in Alexandria, Egypt of English parents. He was raised in the United States by an uncle, George Mowbray and aunt, Annie Fade, after the death first of his father in Egypt, then later of his mother in this country.

Mowbray left West Point Academy after one year, then studied under artists Leon Bonnat and Jean-Leon Gerome in Paris. Their influence is obvious.  Mowbray's moody representational style is fused with gorgeous color and use of shadow and though his work is reminiscent of other romantic painters of the time, there is still something quite unique about his point of view. Mowbray was also know for his paintings done in Renaissance style featuring religous themes. His work is represented in many public buildings around the country as well as in private collections and museums.

To read a bit more about Henry Siddons Mowbray and his work please check this link.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Back To The Future As It Used To Be...

Cover art by Howard V. Brown - Astounding Stories 1935

Thanks to the blog lines and colors for the heads up on the incredible artwork being featured on the blog DARK ROASTED COFFEE Wierd and Wonderful Things. These are highly inventive concepts of the future done by sci-fi artists of the past and wow! are they fabulous. I love this sort of thing. Go take a look. Amazing stuff. Here's the link.

Illustration by Gladney - Astounding Stories July, 1939

Forgotten Book Friday: HE DONE HER WRONG (1983) by Stuart Kaminsky

Friday is Forgotten Book Day and here's my offering. Today the posts are being collected by Todd Mason at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM. Next week, we return to Patti Abbott's blog, PATTNASE for the usual listing of Friday's Forgotten or Overlooked Books. Here's the link to Todd's Blog.

Something you might know about me if you're a regular reader of this blog is that I'm a major fan of the late Stuart Kaminsky's books. Most especially his very entertaining series featuring 1940's L.A. detective, Toby Peters - aka Tobias Pevsner. (I've talked about one of his other books before on Friday's Forgotten Books: THE DEVIL MET A LADY in which Toby gets mixed up with Bette Davis.) Kaminsky captured that long-ago era; Los Angeles and its environs during WWII - the home front, and made it his own.

Over time, Toby interacted and solved cases for some of the biggest movie stars and personalities in the biz. Though he remained nothing but a down on his luck, sartorially challenged, good-for-not-much private eye with a yen for his ex-wife, he still, somehow, was the one called upon when a move star needed a p.i. do some undercover work. (I almost said 'when a movie star needed a dick...' But that wouldn't have been nice and in keeping with the wholesome flavor of this blog.)

"I was not like the Dalai Lama, born into my profession," I said politely. "First I was a kid, little and then bigger, followed by a few years as a Glendale cop, followed by a few years as a studio security guard at Warner Brothers, followed by a few years of poverty and creditors..."

People a lot sharper than the Aardvark had tried to read my kisser and got nowhere. Mine is a dark face with a flat nose topped with a full head of dark hair generously sprinkled with gray. I stand about five nine and do my best to give the impression that I can take on tigers. It's part of the job. The truth is that my nose has been smashed three times in losing causes. Once by my brother Phil's fist, once by a flight through the windshield of a 1931 Oldsmobile, and once by a baseball thrown by my brother. I sweat too easily, dress too shabbily, and usually can't resist the urge to open my mouth when I should keep it shut.

I smiled at an old lady in a little black hat who had looked my way. My smile scared her...

HE DONE HER WRONG is the eighth book in the Toby Peters series (beginning with MURDER ON THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD in which, you guessed it, Judy Garland gets involved when a murder - the death of a munchkin - occurs on the set of 'you know what' film). This time though, it's Mae West's turn to seek Toby's help when her memoirs are stolen.

...out stepped Mae West, but it took me a blink to recognize her. Her voice was the surest touchstone. The woman before me wearing a frilly purple dress had neck-length brown hair, not blond, and was barely on the good side of plump. She gave off a heavy perfume that smelled like a flower I couldn't place and looked at me with amused violet eyes and her hand on her hips.

"Welcome to Paradise," she said, stepping back. "It's a little gaudy and overstocked, but we call it home."

The usual suspects are on board to help or hinder Toby's quest for West's sizzling autobiography which someone is afraid may contain some unpalatable truths. Toby is right at home trading bon mots with West and later dealing with a crazed West fan, a roomful of Sherlock Holmes aficionados, Cecil B. DeMille, the inmates of a loony bin...uh, sanatorium from whose clutches Toby must make a daring escape, assorted family secrets and murder most egregious.

Along for the ride are Toby's best friend the Swiss midget and translator, Gunther Werthman, the wrestler and poet, Jeremy Butler and the unhealthy, cigar chomping dentist from hell, Shelly Minck - not to mention Toby's ancient landlady Mrs. Plaut who can never seem to get Toby's name right and thinks Toby is a combo book editor and bug exterminator. Throw them all into the mix and you get another hilarious Toby fun noir detective yarn which culminates at a banquet thrown by Cecil B. DeMille with a  guest list including, Chester Morris, Madeleine Carroll, C. Aubrey Smith and D.W. Griffith, among others. As Toby says, "It was going to be some party."

For a complete list of titles in the Toby Peters series and all the rest of Stuart Kaminsky's books, please use this link to Kaminksy's Fantastic Fiction page.

1950's Monster Mash Blogathon!

This review is my contribution to the 1950's Monster Mash Blogathon running from yesterday July 28th through August 2nd and hosted by FORGOTTEN CLASSICS OF YESTERYEAR.

Each day of the Blogathon various bloggers will post an individual review on a Monster flick from the 50's. You will be able to link to each blogger's post directly from FORGOTTEN CLASSICS OF YESTERYEAR. So go take a look. Host, Nathanael Hood has worked extra hard to pull this whole thing together (over 40 contributors signed up) and there will be many monsterous films to talk about every day.

It falls to me to write a rational piece about an essentially irrational film. I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE (1958) starring Tom Tryon and Gloria Talbott, written by Lous Vittes and directed by Gene Fowler, Jr.

This was a movie I had never seen before but when the Blogathon was first announced, I didn't move quickly enough to grab my favorite title(s) and well, that's how I got my chance to see this creaky...uh, creepy 50's monster 'classic' for the first time.

This over-long (or maybe it just seemed that way) movie could be seen as a very B-minus version of the very B - plus, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS with Gloria Talbott (who seemed to show up in just about every film made in the 50's - usually in some form of distress), in the Kevin McCarthy role of frustrated clarion. The movie's not a direct copy, mind you, but yeah, it's the similar idea of aliens from outer space taking over the bodies of humans for some nefarious purpose of their own.

In this case, the plan appears to be male aliens mating with human females to propagate a species in which all females have died out due to their inability to stand the effects of an unstable sun. (The women naturally being weaker then the men - even in outer space, females can't catch a break, at least in the 50's.)

Happy-go-lucky (even if he does drive a station wagon), about-to-be married insurance salesman, Bill Farrell (played by the woodenly handsome presence, Tom Tryon) is accosted on his way home on the night before his wedding. He stops on a country lane having seen - he thinks - a dead body. Once he exits his car, he is immediately 'absorbed' by some dark, foggy looking smoke emanating from a creepy space alien who appears at the side of the road perhaps looking for a lift.

The alien takes Bill's form and shows up at the wedding the next day. Once married to the comely Marge Bradley (Gloria Talbott), they soon set off for their honeymoon. At this point I was already having an 'ugh' factor reaction.

Marge notices that something is not quite right with hubby, we see her writing a letter to her mother (which she doesn't mail but throws in the garbage) stating how 'differently' Bill is behaving.  But before you can say 'alien in human form' a year has gone by and darn, Marsha is still not pregnant. The doctor has assured her that she is in fine health and that perhaps he should see her husband for a check-up. Yeah, right, that's gonna' happen.

One day, Marge brings home a dog from a pet store (she obviously doesn't know that a pet store is the last place to buy a dog, but I digress...) as a surprise 'present'  for Bill on their one year anniversary. The dog growls and snarls at Bill (you can't fool a dog) and they put the pup in the basement - tied up in the dark. ANIMAL CRUELTY ALERT! (Things were different back then.) For whatever reason, Bill later goes down the basement and the dog meets an untimely end. SECOND ALERT! We don't see much of this. Marge is horrified, but Bill tells her the dog got himself snared in the leash. Sounds reasonable. Right.

He comes up from the basement and she's curled up on the sofa reading a magazine. Of course. That's what we'd all do right after a dog has died in our basement under suspicious circumstances. She doesn't even wonder what will happen to the body nor does she appear to feel the slightest twinge of guilt. She is inert. He is inert. This was the inert 50's.

The thing is, there really wasn't much else for women to do in films. In those days they more or less stood around, flirted with the hero when necessary, wrung their hands, jumped at the slightest noise, tripped over rocks and screeched when a monster jumped out of the shadows. In the small town of Norrisville in which this story takes place, women grew up, married, had kids. That was IT. Not much variety. Although you'd think marrying an alien would add a bit of spice to Marge's life. But maybe not. Hard to tell the 'real' Bill Farrell from the wooden imitation since Tom Tryon - better known later in life as a best selling author - was never the most animated of fellows. (When he does try to animate himself in this film, the moments are 'cringe-inducing'.)

In the meantime, the aliens haven't been lying around doing nothing. In ONE whole year, they've managed to effect a couple of transformations: the chief of police (who happens to be Marge's godfather), two cops and some friends of Bill who then hurry up and marry, eager to make alien babies - not that that appears to be happening any time soon. But here's the thing: In ONE year, this is all these aliens have managed to do? Well, actually, I think there are only two or three of them in the one ship and I guess it takes time to figure out who to absorb next. But, a year?!

One night the enterprising and increasingly suspicious Marge follows Bill on a night time jaunt out to the space ship. She in a nightgown and robe running up the mountain road, he, casually though not formally dressed. Somehow he has no suspicious he's being followed by his wife and still manages to kill a cat on the way, much to Marge's continued horror. ANIMAL CRUELTY ALERT!! (Yeah, I know it's not a 'real' dead cat. but honestly...) When Bill shows up at the ship Marge sees some ugly business indeed and realizes what's what with her imitation hubby and animal rights violator.

She runs back to town and tries to alert people, but to no avail. Who believes her? No one that's who. Not even friends. When she runs to her godfather, the chief of police, we realize he's been absorbed too. He tells her to go back home and make the best of it. Ha! Advice women have been getting for  thousands of years. Anyway, he tells her that running away might look suspicious, at best she should act as if nothing is wrong. See what I mean? Women being told to act as if nothing is wrong. Why does that sound so familiar? Sometimes you just have to shake your head.

But what else can she do?

It isn't as if she were man.

At any rate, back home she goes. There we have some claustrophobically effective scenes of menace as she does, indeed, try to make the best of a quirky situation. Later, when she's had enough, she tries to drive out of town but there are some road blocks set across the one access road  and the two cops who have been 'absorbed' by the aliens stop her. The road ahead is washed out even though it hasn't rained in months. Marge knows that's a crock but does she throw caution to the winds and crash through the flimsy road block and make a mad dash to freedom? Of course not, it wouldn't be lady-like.

The pressure's on.

We get the impression that the entire town except Marge has been taken over by aliens.

But, not so.

She finally goes to her medical man, Dr. Wayne, played by gruff appearing, gruff speaking Ken Lynch (The same guy who played the gruff mining engineer in my favorite Star Trek episode, The Horta.) He believes Marge when no one else will and figures out that the only men who can be trusted are men whose wives have recently delivered earth babies. (There have been no alien birthings yet since apparently, implementing their take-over plans is not the only thing the aliens are sluggish about.)

The doc rounds up several athletic new fathers armed with guns, rifles and shotguns, and off they go into the hills hunting aliens and their space ship. One of the men brings his two German Shepherds along. Uh-oh.

But then, in the end, it's the dogs who save the day and the reason why Bill saw fit to murder a pup in his basement is possibly explained.

The doc and his men find the 'bodies' of the absorbed men inside the space ship, attached to tubes and things which relayed information to the aliens inside the human husks. They rip out the tubes and as they do, the few aliens in town expire and some oogy, mushy stuff oozes out of their clothing as they flop on the ground.

The real Bill is reunited with a happily ever after Marge and except for a few dead domestic animals and humans, alls well that ends well. Oh yeah, then the space ship blows up.

Most of this film is supposed to take place at night and one of the main problems with the 'look' of things is that scenes were actually shot in daytime then darkened, as was the case back then. This never worked properly and night time very often looked like late afternoon or early evening. Disconcerting to say the least.

Question: Why did the aliens only infect a few individuals in that one long year? What else were they doing? If there were only two or three of them, it seems kind of a lackluster invasion. I mean, they had BIG plans to breed with earth women, take over the world and save their species - right? But in the end it looks like there are only about seven bodies in the ship. A kind of wimpy invasion force, I'd have thought.

I know, I know - Yvette, you can't expect logic. I mean, in THE THING From Another World, there was only one ship and one alien. But he did have a means of reproducing quickly - the little innocent seeming plantlets? So, it's not quite the same.

One main thing I did love about this film are all the gorgeous 1950's cars. Honestly, some of those two-toned hunky machines were absolutely drool-worthy.

I have several favorite films from this era (this is not one of them) but, as I said, those titles were quickly commandeered by my fellow bloggers (darn!). I would much rather have been talking about, THE THING From Another World, THIS ISLAND EARTH, WAR OF THE WORLDS, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THEM or IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE. But, that's the way the cookie crumbles. No use crying over spilt milk. Ha! I'll be reading posts on these films and many others over the next few days, same as you. Can't wait. I'm a big fan of films from the 50's and I love this whole Blogathon idea.

Not a scene from the film, but a great 'still' anyway.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Born to Play THE Part!

The idea for this post came from a comment on a recent post left by Nan from Letters From A Hill Farm.  She mentioned how certain actors seemed born to play certain parts and of course I agreed and thought - why not a post? And so, VOILA!

Please note: I've left the more obvious names off the list. We can all agree that the wonderful David Suchet was born to play Hercule Poirot and Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett were both born to play Sherlock Holmes, Bogart was born to play both Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe, William Powell and Myrna Loy were born to play Nick and Nora Charles, so I left them off the list. I thought I'd go with Ten OTHER actors born to play the role of their lives.

1)  Jane Marple - Joan Hickson. For me, there has never been another Miss Marple, there will never be another in my lifetime. Joan Hickson was THE personification of the brilliant, self-composed old maiden-ish crime solver. There was intelligence gleaming in her wrinkled, powdery face, purpose in her dithery-ness. And at the time these particular episodes were being filmed, they were not butchering the original plots as they have been doing in recent years.

2) Inspector Morse - John Thaw. Can you imagine anyone else as the irascible, classics loving, opera devotee and brilliant Oxford police detective?  I can't either. He owned the part. Thaw had the ability to make himself appear rude, objectionable, short-tempered, impatient and yet, despite this, his second in command, Lewis admired, respected and even loved him.

3) Jason Bourne - Matt Damon. Though Damon is a multi-talented actor willing to play off-beat roles and will continue to do so for years to come, it is as Jason Bourne that Damon will be be remembered - at least by me. The Bourne Trilogy is on my list of Top Twenty Favorite Films of All Time and, that is a big surprise to me since I'm not normally a fan of action spy films. (I will not be seeing the 4th Bourne film if Damon isn't playing the part.)

4) Frankenstein's Monster - Boris Karloff. Though other actors tried, once Karloff stopped playing The Monster, they all became caricatures of his interpretation. No one else could infuse the creature with Karloff's inchoate sadness, longing and wretched brutality.

5) Dracula - Bela Lugosi. Vampires come and go, but they will always be with us. At least in the movies. But no one embodied the sheer glamor of the undead as well as Bela Lugosi dressed in black with his flowing cape and his intense, darkly gleaming eyes, his clever, wicked smile. He made it seem a privilege to be bitten in the neck until undead. Though Lugosi became a caricature of himself in later roles, I'll always remember him as Count Alucard - that's Dracula spelled backwards.

6)  Superman - Christopher Reeve. I know, I know, there were and will be other fine Supermen. But Reeve was the first to make him 'human' and believable and gloriously romantic, not to mention, innocent while indecently handsome. To look at him in all his glory, was to see Superman step down from a pedestal and come to life.

7) The King of Siam - Yul Brynner. Brynner was the embodiment of raw vitality and sexuality, the allure of the mysterious and intriguing. Who else could have made a bald head sexy? For that matter, who else could have made calf muscles sexy? When, in THE KING AND I, Brynner puts his hand on Deborah Kerr's waist for the first time - a touch that precedes a joyous dance - I almost swoon. It is one of the great love scenes that is not an actual love scene in films. Tantamount to Fred Astaire making love to Ginger Rogers on the dance floor. (Because really, what else was Fred doing?)

8) T. E. Lawrence - Peter O'Toole. O'Toole captured the isolation, the angst, the daring and the quizzical incomprehensibility of the enigmatic Englishman T.E. Lawrence, leader of an Arab revolt against the Turks during WWI. Physically he was too tall, but in every other way O'Toole did resemble the shy, quiet, self aggrandizing individual who, inexplicably, became Lawrence of Arabia. I can't imagine any other actor except, perhaps, Leslie Howard, in the role. And Howard would have played it with his own slant, of course.

9) Rhett Butler - Clark Gable. Oh well, it is said that Margaret Mitchell had him in mind when she created the character in her epic GONE WITH THE WIND and it wouldn't surprise me in the least. There is no one, NO ONE, who could have played Butler then or now except Gable. He was the physical embodiment of the reckless, head-strong, conniving, cynical, gloriously male individual who was Rhett Butler. A man destined to be a hero denied a hero's ending.

10) Fitzwilliam Darcy - Colin Firth. Though I'm convinced Firth can play any role he sets his mind to, for me he will always be the ultimate Darcy in the TV mini-series of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. When I envision the part, it is always Colin Firth who springs to mind. It's going to be very difficult for any other actor to dislodge him from my film consciousness.

If there is any objection to my using any of these pictures in this post, please let me know and I'll remove the photo immediately.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blog-O-Versary GIVE-AWAY - Update.

July 18th was my one year Blog-O-Versary and as my thanks to you for showing up here and helping make this blog the most fun I've had in ages, I'm having a Give-Away. Ta-Da!

As I explained in a previous post last week - see link here - anyone who left a comment then (comments are closed for that post) AND/OR wants to leave one for this post, will be entered in the drawing to win the original matted watercolor featured here. I painted this piece purposely for the Give-Away, so it's not just something I had lying around.

You do not have to have left a comment last week to be eligible to win. A comment on this current post will make you eligible even you DID NOT comment last time. Sorry if I didn't make that clear. Reason for two posts is this: I was running late and didn't finish the painting and get it photographed until AFTER July 18th which was the date of my actual Blog-O-Versary.

I'm fond of fireflies and that was the starting point for my thinking. The color of the girl's hair came from my granddaughter. The teddy bear is one I had when I was a kid. I'm pleased with the way the piece turned out and I hope the winner will enjoy this for years to come.

Those of you immune to this sort of whimsy, hang the painting in a kid's room. Though, personally, I could see this in a kitchen or, for that matter, nearby a work station. It's a cheery thing.

If you did leave a comment last week and want to do so this week, that's fine. Your name will be counted twice if you do. If you didn't leave a comment last week but want to be counted twice anyway, then leave TWO comments on this post. Ha! I'm easy. I will not be counting Twitter comments or Facebook because I don't want to drive myself too crazy.


I have to confine this Give-Away to mainland USA because of overseas postage rates and I am really sorry about that. I wish I could include the rest of the world.

The drawing will be held on or around noon on Friday, August 5th and I'll post the winner here on the blog. That person will then email me a street address and voila!. My daughter has assured me that is easy enough to use. I'll give it a try. But if I can't make heads or tails of it, I'll use the old tried and true method of simply putting every one's name into a bowl or hat, close my eyes and pick.

This is my first (hopefully not my last) Give-Away, so please cut me some slack. Ha!

Quicky Review: THE CORNBREAD BOOK A Love Story with Recipes by Jeremy Jackson

This is one of those books that slipped through the cracks and wound up in my kitchen bookcase NOT having been read by yours truly though I'd promised myself awhile back, to do so. After all, I do enjoy 'the idea' of cornbread and I always enjoy reading about food. Well, the other day I glanced over at the bookshelf -  thought why not? - plopped down on the sofa and read this in one sitting.

THE CORNBREAD BOOK (2003) is a fun, cheerful read. You  breeze through it, become a convert to the charms of cornbread (if your weren't a fan already), then spend an inordinate amount of time contemplating, trying and enjoying the recipes. (RESEARCH!) Recipes which, by the way, look fairly easy to make.

Author Jeremy Jackson must be the world's biggest cornbread devotee and his ardor shows in this wittily written little book.

From the introduction:

The first thing I'm going to do with this book is make conrbread one word, once and for all. It deserves that much. After all, pancake is one word. So is doorknob. And telemarketer. Telemarketer! Though a few cookbooks and dictionaries do use cornbread as a single word, they are a lonely minority. I won't be satisfied until Merriam-Webster takes note.

The second thing I want to do with this book is to have cornbread named the official bread of the United States of America. It should also be the unofficial bread. For example, it should be on all fast food menus. And presidents should choke on cornbread, not pretzels. Also, all newly sworn-in citizens should receive a free piece of cornbread with a little toothpick American flag in it. And when you go vote you should get a piece of cornbread as a reward. And when you lick the back of a stamp, it should taste like cornbread, with or without butter, your choice.

I like Jeremy Jackson's style and his devotion to a culinary cause.

Who even knew that the USA had an 'official' bread?

The author goes on to sketch the probable reasons for his love of cornbread in a quick and amusing bio sketch which involves his mother allowing him to play in a batch of dry cornmeal when he was a toddler in Missouri. Read the book you'll find out why.

He also gives us some corn-as-a-grain history in this country as well as Europe. All written in the same wry amusing voice. Jeremy Jackson wants us to convert but appears slightly indulgent of our cornbread ignorance. I've never thought about cornbread in this way before, if I thought about it at all. I have to say that it all sounds very educational and completely delicious.

I usually have cornbread once or twice a year in the colder months and I've always vaguely wanted a recipe for corn pancakes - corn cakes - having tasted these in a restaurant once upon a time. And a good recipe for corn fritters would not be amiss.

Well, now I have that and more. Jeremy Jackson's enthusiasm is catching. I feel a conversion coming on.

This book is a total delight and I can't wait to try some of the recipes. Most especially when the cool weather finally comes around again. Forgive me, Jeremy, but it's just too hot right now for much cooking.

A few of the recipes included in THE CORNBREAD BOOK :

Indian Pudding
Drop Biscuits
Ozark Cornbread
Griddle Cakes
Cornmeal Waffles
Corn Fritters
Three Peppery Cornbreads
Hush Puppies

...and more.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday Forgotten Movie: THE LONG HOT SUMMER starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Orson Welles, Anthony Franciosa, Lee Remick and Angela Lansbury

What a cast! THE LONG HOT SUMMER (1958) is the perfect title, the perfect movie to talk about during this very long, very hot, very steamy summer of 2011. 

Tuesday's Forgotten or Overlooked Movies is a Weekly Meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM. Be sure and check to see what other forgotten 'classics' other bloggers are talking about. Here's the link.

THE LONG HOT SUMMER is the film for those who may not remember Paul Newman's early movie star good looks. (Not that he wasn't a handsome and charismatic older man.) Or for those of you who never knew Paul Newman's work in the 1950's. Or those of you who - God forbid - only know Newman from the salad dressing labels. Since he had such a long career, there are some who may not have the complete dazzling picture.

A film glossily produced by Jerry Wald and directed by Martin Ritt, THE LONG HOT SUMMER has a misguided sappy theme song sung in 50's crooner style by Jimmie Rodgers. The tune lets you know right off the bat that nothing too, too dreadfully dire is going to happen as a barge sails down the Mississippi with drifter Ben Quick (played by Newman) on board. On the move after being chased out of yet another town, Newman's eyes were never bluer as he gazes avidly out at the world, looking for his main chance.

Okay, if you can tear yourself away from looking at Newman in all his glory, there is a dynamite cast surrounding him in what is, essentially his movie. Although Orson Welles does his good ol' Southern boy best to steal the show from under Newman's perfectly chiseled nose. I can't help myself, I loved Welles in this even if he did go a bit heavy on the cornpone.

The screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. was based on three William Faulkner stories: BARN BURNING, THE SPOTTED HORSES and THE HAMLET. So it's not pure Faulkner by any means. It's a Hollywood invention of Faulkner with a tacked on happy ending - enjoyable as pure movie star fare. But I've always had a soft spot in my heart for this version of THE LONG HOT SUMMER.  (An updated adaptation filmed for TV in 1985 with Don Johnson, Judith Ivey, Jason Robards and Ava Gardner as Minnie Littlejohn was nowhere near as good, though Johnson was always a treat to watch - especially in an undershirt.)

The central character, Ben Quick, is a man with a shady past. A man who may or may not be a dangerous 'barn burner'. The Quick family, of which Ben appears to be the only one left, has a certain disreputable reputation in the state of Mississippi. A reputation that Ben does his best to enhance in his own inimitable bad-boy style. As played by Paul Newman, Quick is no one to trust, but he's so winning, so engaging and so devil-may-care handsome, he gets away with just about anything. At least he does in Frenchman's Bend, a sleepy Southern town set along the banks of the Mississippi.

Will Varner (Orson Welles), the local land baron, takes a liking to Quick and hires him to work in his mercantile on main street, mainly to spite his [Varner's] family. This upsets son Jody (played by Anthony Franciosa) whose hands begin to sweat whenever Poppa Varner enters the room - a man so pathetically afraid of his father is a sad thing to watch. That his father is a  gorgon doesn't make it any easier. It's obvious to anyone and everyone that old Poppa Varner is just waiting for Jody to show some backbone, but Jody, poor sap, just doesn't get it.

I've never thought - then or now - that Anthony Franciosa could physically pass for a Southern son of Orson Welles and he sure as heck doesn't look anything like his 'sister' in the film played by the classically calm, cool and collected Joanne Woodward.  But that's my only quibble with the casting gods.

The beautiful Lee Remick plays Jody's very giggly, fun loving wife, Eula (LOVE that name), whom the neighborhood boys howl at from the bushes night after night. As indulgent as she appears about Varner family dynamics, she too is beginning to weary of Jody's quaking fear of ever pleasing his father.

The only one who stands up to Pa Varner is his daughter Clara (Joanne Woodward) a snippy, icy blond whose regular gentleman caller Alan Stewart (Richard Anderson) is so obviously unsuited to her (he is probably homosexual, though that's only hinted at) that Ben Quick spots it right away: "If you're saving yourself for him, you've got your account in the wrong bank." He has a way with words, does Ben Quick.

Will Varner's liking for Ben Quick takes a darkly devilish turn when he invites him to live up at the big house with the family. He then insists that Clara make a choice. She must either hurry up and marry Alan - they've been 'dating' for six years - or she will have to take Ben Quick as her husband. Time is flying by and Poppa Varner wants immortality - grandchildren! He's apparently given up hope of Eula ever needing maternity clothes.

Speaking of matrimony, Varner's long-time lady friend, Minnie Littlejohn (played wonderfully by Angela Lansbury) is putting on the wedding pressure herself. After all, they've been dancing around the issue for twenty years. It's now or never.

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman were already married, I believe, by the time they made this film and the sparks between them fly onscreen - this is not always the case with real life lovers or married couples. But Woodward and Newman always knew how and when to turn it on. She is just right as the deceptively cool school teacher waiting for the right man to come along, in the meantime burying herself in the literary classics, making do with iced tea and long, fitfully nervous walks. She is 23! Practically an old maid. (Though I must say that Woodward looks a few years older than 23 in the film.)

When Poppa Varner promises Ben Quick land and money to marry his daughter, Quick jumps at the chance. It's the sort of unprincipled thing he's good at and he might as well live up to his reputation. It doesn't hurt any that he's attracted to Clara to begin with.

In the meantime, Ben has snared Jody in a get rich 'quick' scheme involving some worthless property and a buried treasure. The upshot of which makes Jody an even bigger fool than he already is and adds fuel (literally) to the final, moving confrontation between father and son.

When a fire breaks out  in Varner's barn- as you knew it must else why make Ben Quick a suspected barn burner to being with - Quick is the immediate suspect. But a lynching is averted and the end result sets everything to rights and leads to an un-Faulkner-like happy ending and a very satisfying closing line for Orson Welles.

Original trailer for THE LONG HOT SUMMER.

Monday, July 25, 2011

5 Best Books With An Unconventional Hero

5 Best Books is a terrific weekly meme hosted by Cassandra at INDIEREADERHOUSTON. Today it's 5 Best Books With An Unconventional Hero.

Unconventional in any sense of the word. If you can think of 5 such books (and I'm sure you can), why don't you join in?

1) Mr. Rochester in JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte..

For me he is the prototype for all the moody, sinister, dark browed, dark tempered, scowling men with mysterious pasts who live within the pages of all my favorite romantic tales then and now. But when Charlotte Bronte created him, he was definitely unconventional and even, daring. Rochester was more at home stomping about on the moors than simpering over a lady's hand in the drawing room. Rochester kept his mad wife in the attic.

He was the perfect anti-hero, a man with a dreadful secret and a 'go to hell' attitude about life in a time when such men were usually the villains of the piece.

2) Hazel in WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams.

Well, you can't get more unconventional than a rabbit for a hero. Hazel is that but so much more. While first and foremost being a creature of his kind (Adams sees to that while even inventing a language for the rabbits ), he is also a born leader and a daring adventurer. A guide out of the wilderness for his band of followers, away from the destruction of their homeland.

3) ODD THOMAS in the book by Dean Koontz.

Odd is a young man who can see the dead and often feels called upon to set thing right if he can. He is an antenna who can spot gathering evil, making him aware when a disaster will take place. This, of course, is the main reason why he avoids crowds - they cause him too much psychic stress. Odd is also self-effacing and gentle, a perpetual outsider and a wanderer through life. A beautifully created soul, especially engaging in the first book, ODD THOMAS (which I consider a classic) and in BROTHER ODD.

4) Christopher John Francis Boone in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon.

Christopher is a fifteen year old boy who knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7, 057. He relates well to animals but cannot comprehend human emotions. He can't stand to be touched. Although he has a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. He functions best in a regimented, carefully constructed world.

But when his neighbor's poodle is murdered, Christopher decides to find the real killer by emulating his hero, Sherlock Holmes. We are drawn then into Christopher's thinking process, his own brand of logistics uncolored by emotion. A unique book with an equally unique hero.

5) Buck in THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London.

Buck is the half St. Bernard/half Shepherd hero of what is considered by many to be Jack London's best book. When Buck is stolen from his California home and eventually sold as a sled-dog he becomes the hero of his own hard, crushingly cruel life in the Alaskan wilderness.

Honorable Mentions:

This time out I couldn't stop at 5 - well, the truth is, it's always hard to stop at 5 and this time I didn't.

Louis Drax in THE NINTH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX by Liz Jensen.

Louis is a nine year old boy lying in a coma. The story is told from his point of view, his thoughts as he goes over his accident prone young life and how he finally wound up in that hospital bed at Dr. Pascal Dannachet's famed coma clinic in France.

We also, occasionally, get the point of view of Dr. Dannachet as he is drawn into the life of Louis' enigmatic mother.

A chilling, heartbreaking story with, at its core, a very young boy trying to unravel the adult mysteries of the human heart.

Yashim the eunuch in THE JANISSARY TREE by Jason Goodwin

When murder fouls up the plans of the Ottoman Sultan, Investigator Yashim is called to find the killer. Deep within the halls of Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, the Sultan understands that Europe is changing and some modernization is called for. But murder rears its ugly head to threaten the delicate balance of power in the Sultan's court. Are the now outlawed Janissary soldiers planning a comeback?