Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Can These All Be the Same Man?

Herbert Marshall

Kent Smith

Apologies to all you George Brent, Herbert Marshall and Kent Smith fans. Someone has been pulling the wool over your star-gazed eyes! Now the truth can be revealed after decades of sworn to secrecy silence: these three men were not separate individuals at all. How is this possible? More importantly, how come no one noticed?

I don't know, I just know they are all the same man! Yes, I'm sure of it. No, I'm not making this up. Watch them in their movies, watch how they played their parts, more importantly watch the parts they were given, for goodness' sake.

Nine times out of ten they were playing the same man, no matter what the movie. They always wore the same clothes and looked spiffy in black tie and tails or raincoat and fedora. I'll bet anything they all wore the same size. (Well, of course they would if they were, as I propose, the same man.)

If you needed a well-dressed second lead to play the cuckolded husband, the callow or smug or clueless fiancee, the jilted at the altar would-be groom, the blackmailer, the well meaning friend, the pompous lawyer, the doctor, the dentist, the bank manager, the judge, the gambler, the boss in love with the leading lady from afar, the guy in uniform who will die at the end in a fiery plane crash which the leading man will survive...


...the husband who will be allowed to die of a heart ailment while his wife stands malevolently by, the guy who marries a cat woman, or the guy who'll play an all purpose, continental playboy at the drop of a chapeau.

Yes, I know that all three (or is it ONE?) played leads too, but ladies and gentlemen they always had the look of a second lead. Always that same manicured and slightly pompous air.

It's not that these actors all looked so much alike, it's just that they were so much the same physical type!

I've given my theory much thought after watching film upon film, role upon role, and I've come to the conclusion that these were all the same man. It's the only explanation that makes any sense.

I've got my eye on Kenneth Tobey too. It's possible he is really the other three in disguise.


"There is no use trying," said Alice; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Lewis Carroll

New Film Opening Today: THE DEBT starring Helen Mirren

This looks mighty good. Helen Mirren. Nazis. Spy mission. The Mossad. What could be bad?

Read about the film and see the excellent trailer here at The Daily Beast

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER (1963) starring George C. Scott, among many others.

It's Tuesday and that means Tuesday's Overlooked Movies, the weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM. Make sure and check in to see what other overlooked movies other bloggers are talking about today.

Oh how to say this - despite its faults, I LOVE THIS MOVIE!! Even if it is really a big flopperoo of a stinkola film. For those of you who don't know, there's a whole misguided attempt to squeeze in Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Tony Curtis, Frank Sinatra and Burt Lancaster IN MAKE-UP meant to disguise their movie star looks and identities as they play victims and/or suspects. All I can say, all I've always said is: Whose abysmal idea was this?

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way:
Not only does this stupid gimmick not work, it is so ridiculously obvious that the actors are wearing make-up disguises in their scenes that all it does is distract from what's going on. 1963 was not a good year for prosthetic make-up. It was an appallingly bad concept that should have been nicked by director John Huston in the bud. But no, let's pull the wool over the audience's eyes and then we can all laugh at the end. Hello?! It's a mystery with MANY nasty murders including a blown-up airplane loaded with passengers. Not exactly a laugheroo.

See, here's the thing: if you're going to disguise actors DON'T USE MEN WHOSE FACES WE CAN RECOGNIZE IN OUR SLEEP. DON'T USE MEN WHO HAVE LARGE, RUGGED FACES WITH LARGE PROMINENT FEATURES - hello? Even I can figure that one out and I'm not a make-up expert. I know, I know, THAT was the WHOLE POINT. Famous iconic actors hidden under layers of ugly make-up make for BIG SURPRISE un-masking at the end.

But, here's a question: WHY? Why on earth? What was the point? Did they hate the script that much?

Okay, got that off my chest and boy I feel so much better. Bear with me now...

Back to the story:
The script by Anthony Veiller is quite good. In fact, it's better than the book by Philip MacDonald. The film's ending is actually an improvement on the book's lackluster final pages. So why the film-makers felt they needed a goofy gimmick to sell the movie is beyond me.

Yet I did say I LOVED this movie and, beside the script, here are the main reasons why:

George C. Scott as Anthony Gethryn, Jacques Roux as Raoul Le Borg, and Clive Brook as the Marquis of Gleneyre.

Good movies are easy to love. Bad ones require some finessing, some shtick that makes you want to watch the film over and over even if you know you are not in the presence of greatness. What makes THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER memorable - besides a fabulous title and a good script - is something indefinable: the presence of three actors whose warmth and personality jumps off the screen. These are three characters you want to spend time with and fortunately, in this film you do.

I've never seen George C. Scott at work in such a mellow and likable mood (except maybe in THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, another overlooked film which is not available on Netflix either), he is splendid as Anthony Gethryn, retired MI-5 officer, a genial, brilliant man drawn into solving a seemingly impossible mystery. Scott pretends to an English accent here which I don't mind. He speaks quite well enough. I could watch him in this part over and over and never tire of it. He is simply wonderful.

Jacques Roux as the Frenchman Raoul Le Borg, a survivor of the previously mentioned airplane disaster, is Scott's equal in wonderfulness. Their scenes together sparkle with charm and amiability.

Clive Brook as the eminently eccentric and insouciant Marquis of Gleneyre is all throwaway charm.The British aristocracy has never been better represented on screen. Though not an especially intelligent man, he is, nonetheless, a likable old coot filled with an unselfconscious joy of privileged living.

If not for these actors and a nice bit by John Merivale as Adrian Messenger, the movie would be unwatchable. Dana Wynter as Lady Jocelyn Bruttenholm is okay too, though she really doesn't have much to do.

John Merivale as Adrian Messenger.

But it's because of George, Jacques and Clive that I never get tired of watching (when I get a chance) THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER. I definitely have to look around for a nice inexpensive copy.

Here's the gist of the story:

Adrian Messenger is a British writer at work on a current book requiring a certain amount of research. At the country estate of the Marquis of Gleneyer, he asks family friend Anthony Gethryn to check on a list of names he's been working on. They will meet and discuss the list upon Messenger's return from overseas. He is on his way to Montreal for further research.

When Messenger's plane blows up over the Atlantic, his body is found floating barely alive, by fellow passenger Raoul Le Borg. Before he dies, Messenger mumbles some non-sensical words which Le Borg will later repeat to Gethryn when he is interviewed at the hospital. Gethryn suspects that the explosion which brought the plane down was meant to kill Messenger and unfortunately the other passengers were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

After Le Borg recovers from his injuries, he and Gethryn decide to work together to solve what looks to be an incredible series of ruthless yet haphazard murders - murder on a grand scale. (It turns out that Le Borg and Gethryn worked together without ever having met, during the war. Le Borg as a member of the French Resistance.)

Gethryn has learned that the names on the list given him by Messenger are men who have died over several years, mostly by accident. As he and Le Borg begin to put the pieces together, they run into the disguised American actors named earlier, more bodies start piling up, including the harmless typist who'd worked on Messenger's manuscript.

All along, we are shown the disguised killer (who can't disguise that he is Kirk Douglas or another guy who looks like Kirk Douglas and did most of the grunt work) in a variety of disguises, fake noses, hair and such as he goes about his killing spree. Blech...!

How it all ends you'll have to see the movie to find out. The extraordinary motivation for the crime - the solving of it is ingenious and comes about three quarters of the way through the story. Still, the film's death at a fox hunt ending is much more exciting than the book's, despite the ridiculous make-up shenanigans.

George C. Scott, Jacques Roux, Dana Wynter and Clive Brook.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Book Review: THE IRON HEART A Franz Schmidt Mystery by Marshall Browne

Marshall Browne is an Australian writer you've probably seen me talk about before. I consider it one of my callings to spread the word about his work whenever I get the chance. He's just much too good to be overlooked. Browne, a former merchant banker, writes two terrific suspense series: the Inspector Anders books set in modern day Italy and the Franz Schmidt books set in Germany on the eve of WWII.

Forced to choose, I'd pick the Schmidt books as my favorites, but the enigmatic Inspector Anders is not far behind.

THE IRON HEART is the second book in the Schmidt series, published in 2009 and not, currently, readily available in this country for reasons that mystify. I was thrilled when I finally got my hands on a copy - thankfully sent directly to me from Australia, by the very accommodating author. I'm happy to say that the book more than meets my expectations. It is even better than I dared imagine. (Not always the case with second books in a series.)

The first book in the continuing Schmidt saga, THE EYE OF THE ABYSS was/is one of my favorite books and now I must add this second adventure in which Schmidt once again risks life, limb and everything else he holds dear, to work undercover against the insidious Nazi regime. This is as good a book as the first one and simply put, I was completely caught up in the story - kept reading till 3 in the morning one night, same thing the second and third nights. What a terrific book!

The gist of the story: Franz Schmidt is a bank auditor who has helped mysterious anti-Nazi forces (apparently controlled by the powerful General Manfred Von Streck, a member of the Nazi inner circle) in the past. Schmidt's ingenious machinations in the first book resulted in several Nazis killed - framed for embezzlement at Bankhaus Wertheim, the bank Schmidt once worked for. This time around, General von Streck places the clever auditor inside the ultimately more important Reichsbank'the financial heart of the Third Reich' in Berlin. It is the freezing winter of 1939.

"You're a man with extremely unusual and useful qualities, a Machiavellian mind. A man upon whom good luck smiles," Von Streck had announced to him in November. It was true, though he'd only become aware of it in those last vexed and dangerous months at Wertheims.

Not only is he to keep his eyes open (well one eye for sure, the other is a prosthesis), Schmidt is to photograph a certain Nazi financial blueprint kept at night in the bank president's safe, then pass the photos on to Von Streck. Schmidt has also to maneuver - daily - through a dangerous phalanx of suspicious Nazi party members and workers who bristle at the idea of his being brought in from the outside to take over as Chief Auditor. These include the zealous amazonian bank manager, Fraulein Freda Brandt, a passionate, resentful woman and her lover and deadly cohort, Sturmbannfeuhrer Sack of the Gestapo. It isn't long before both begin to suspect the Chief Auditor is up to something.

Schmidt also has to tread lightly around the lascivious bank President, Dr. Funk. Funk, an ugly little man with pretensions of grandeur, is a known homosexual. He is intrigued by the handsome Chief Auditor and plots an unseemly romance. Schmidt is repulsed by Funk's drunken debauchery but forced to put up with him if he [Schmidt] has any hope of undermining the Reich's financial plans.

Also working at the bank is the beautiful and aristocratic Fraulein Anna von Schnelling. The young woman (who has caught the divorced Schmidt's eye) is placed in grave danger when she forcefully foils the plans of Herr Rossbach, a vile oaf of a manager (and future boss of her department) intent on rape.

When she has no choice but to turn to Schmidt for help, he is drawn deeper into a secondary plot which can only endanger his primary goal. Deadly undercurrents swirl around him as Schmidt, despite the many distractions, continues to carry out his  assignment. The grimly impatient Von Streck may be working against the Fuehrer's plans, but he is not someone to trifle with.

In another and ultimately very moving storyline, we meet Fraulein von Schnelling's friend, the intellectual (and rather politically naive) Elizabeth von Bose who has been holding literary salons in her Berlin home, inviting society women and others to speak freely against the government. She is sure that the authorities would not act against them, at least without due process. A tragically wrong assumption on the part of von Bose and her well-meaning friends once they are infiltrated and betrayed by a young Swiss doctor.

Perhaps the most heart rending parts of the book are the scenes at Gestapo headquarters once von Bose and a woman friend are picked up by the authorities. The women are helpless against the kind of animal brutality they have never imagined existed.

This brought home to me once again, one of the possible explanations why citizens of 1930's Berlin and elsewhere in Germany did nothing while the Nazi juggernaut marched forward. It's possible there were many people who simply did not believe that humans - Germans themselves - were capable of such depravity on an organized scale. By the time they were forced to believe it, it was too late.

As the factions at work in a futile attempt to help von Bose and her friend combine and overlap with Schmidt's plans, murder and deadly intrigue become commonplace. Ultimately, in one of several hold-your-breath moments in the story, a daring escape to Switzerland (a neutral country during the war) is activated and succeeds because of an ominous and unexpected presence.

Marshall Browne expertly weaves layer upon layer and all I can say is, this is now officially one of my favorite series of all time. (I can only hope there will be a third book.) It's not just Schmidt who intrigues, there are other secondary characters all beautifully realized: Frau Singer, the elderly Jewish woman who lives across the hall from Anna, Abwehr Captain Eugene Von Beckendorf, in love with Anna, but dying of tuberculosis, he will make the ultimate sacrifice to help her and Schmidt, ex-Judge Rubinstein, a Jewish man surviving in the shadows, supplying false papers, working just a step ahead of the Gestapo. All these characters live in this incredible book.

Browne writes with aplomb and the gift of a sure story-teller. He understands the deep conflict of his main character only too well. Herr Schmidt is a reserved, even brilliant man - once just a staid banker -  trying to stay alive, caught on the slippery slope of equivocation as his duties force him more and more into murderous conspiracy.

(There is a further ominous note in the story, the revelation that Schmidt's ex-wife (he divorced her for her own protection) and his little girl are living in Dresden. This is one of the most heavily bombed German cities during the war - over a hundred thousand people were killed.)

5 Best Books: 5 Best Books Based On A True Story

For whatever reason, I don't normally seem to read fiction books that are based on true stories. But checking through my various lists, I've managed to come up with five. To my surprise, there are actually a couple more but I've spoken about those recently under other headings. At the risk of repeating myself, don't wan't to keep repeating myself. You know how it goes.

5 Best Books is a weekly meme hosted by Cassandra at INDIE READER HOUSTON Don't forget to check in this week to see what 5 Bests other bloggers are talking about.


1) THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR by Josephine Tey

A story by the wonderful Golden Age writer, updated but based on the notorious 18th century case of Elizabeth Canning, a maid who claimed to have been abducted and held against her will by two women. (Read about the Canning case here.)

Robert Blair, a small town English solicitor is called upon to help Marion Sharpe and her mother when a maid, Betty Kane, accuses them of holding her prisoner in their country home known as The Franchise.

Tey's book has been turned into a film and several television adaptations followed. THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR was picked as one of the 100 Best Mysteries by the UK Crime Writers Association.

2) ELEVEN DAYS by Donald Harstad

Author Harstad was once a cop out in the Midwest himself and this story is based on a shocking real event. Written in a taut business-like manner (which I happen to like very much for this sort of story), this is a police procedural set in the fictional town of Maitland, Iowa and featuring a likable cast of characters, most especially the lead cop, Carl Houseman.

A distress call comes into the police station from a local farm. When the police arrive, they find a horrible scene, a dead family and no clues to the whereabouts of the killer or killers. But this is only the beginning of the violence. The laconic sheriff, Carl Houseman is baffled and though the story may at first appear to be a 'Fargo meets Dragnet' sort of thing, be assured the story soon takes off, resulting in a rock 'em sock 'em ending which will leave you breathless.

This is one of my all time favorite books, a debut by a guy who knew what he was doing and went on to write several more highly recommended books featuring Houseman and his stalwart cop crew.

An aside: This would make a great movie. It surprises me that no one's thought of it.

3) WHITE SHADOW by Ace Atkins

A gritty and violent re-telling/re-imagining of the famous Florida murder of mob boss Charlie Wall. The author is a former award winning reporter turned writer of extraordinary crime books. (As well as the brilliant Nick Travers series.) He takes great care to create fictional characters who will integrate smoothly with his meticulously researched facts. Few writers do this as well as Atkins.

Tampa, Florida in the 1950's was a hotbed of criminal activity -  Sicilian and Cuban mobsters had a strangle-hold on the town. It was an unseemly mix of smoky nightclubs, cigar factories , brothels and gangsters left to practice their various nefarious trades unchecked. So, when a mob boss is bludgeoned to death, the truth is the least of anyone's worries.

4) THE DAUGHTER OF TIME by Josephine Tey

Another Tey book which would easily go on my  own list of 100 Best Books. When Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant is hospitalized with a broken leg, he has enough time on his hands to seek out the truth behind the assumed guilt of Richard the III, the hunch-backed monster of a king who supposedly murdered his two nephews to usurp the British throne. The two young boys were tucked up in the Tower (for their protection) and never seen again.

While lying in his hospital bed, Grant solves 'the case' to Tey's satisfaction (and mine). This is a brilliant story told in 'modern day' detective fashion as Grant uses reason and research material brought to him by a friend, to ferret out the historical truth.

If you haven't read this, I urge you to do so, especially if you have any interest whatsoever in English history and vintage mysteries.

5) THE TOMB OF THE GOLDEN BIRD by Elizabeth Peters

Fictional characters Amelia Peabody and her irascible husband, Radcliffe (known simply as Emerson) and their intrepid family, are back in Egypt and on the verge of making the greatest archaeological discovery in history - the tomb of Tutankhamun. Unfortunately their reputation for trouble precedes them and they have been forbidden from digging anywhere in The Valley of the Kings.

Convinced the discovery of the tomb is imminent, the Emersons try to get Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter (the real-life discoverers of King Tut's tomb in 1922) to relinquish their digging rights but to no avail.

Forced to watch on the sidelines as the greatest archaeological treasure in history is uncovered, the Emersons still manage to find themselves embroiled in another mystery - "...every summer another murder." Eventually they have the satisfaction of knowing they were right in originally figuring that Tut's tomb lay waiting in The Valley of the Kings.

Read about the real life discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb here.


Couple of other books I've recently recommended that were based on true stories:

THE PERSIAN BOY by Mary Renault

DEVIL'S GARDEN by Ace Atkins

Damage Report...!

Well, my basement is a wreck. Had no hot water this morning so went to check downstairs and found the whole place flooded. (I know, I know, you may ask why didn't I check down there sooner? Well, here's the answer: I didn't want to. Especially since there wasn't much anyone could do about it yesterday. My landlord's basement flooded as well.)

Anyway, it's obvious the water was swirling around, kind of like the ocean. Many things that were on shelves are on the floor. Glass vases (some broken), boxes, baskets, that sort of thing. Nothing valuable or irreplaceable, most of it stuff I didn't really need. But it will all have to be dealt with. What a mess! GAK!!

The funny thing is: I didn't hear any of this. Must have happened while I slept.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Could have been worse...!

The famous umbrella scene from Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT. Not one of my favorite films, but this is definitely a brilliant scene. And perfectly apt for today's Irene Weekend. (Without the assassination of a peace delegate.)

Fortunately we've only had manageable rain and wind so far. Lost power last night for a couple of hours. But other than that, all is well, at least on my block. Rocky hates the rain and refuses to do his ablutions outside, but hey, nobody's perfect.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

If only....!

If only this were true and all we had to do was summon Mighty Mouse and all would be well this rainy, blowy, floody, bothersome Hurricane Irene weekend. I thought this cartoon might give us a bit of a smile.

Link to the short cartoon here. Mighty Mouse and The Jamestown Flood.

"Yesssir, when there is a wrong to right, Mighty Mouse will join the fight. Here I come to save the day! It means that Mighty Mouse is on his way...!

Stay safe out there.

Saturday Salon: A Favorite Painting or Two....or Three...! Men in Art.

Self Portrait - Marc-Aurele de Foy Suzor-Cote (1869 - 1937)

Self Portrait - Francesco Hayez (1791 - 1882)

Self Portrait - Lord Frederick Leighton (1830 - 1896)

Self Portrait -  Paul Gaughin (1848 - 1903)

Portrait of A Bedouin Arab by John Singer Sargent

Portrait of Lord John and Lord Bernard Stuart by Anthony Van Dyck (1591 - 1641)

Portrait of Max Jacob by Modigliani

Portrait of Lord Ribblesdale by John Singer Sargent

Man in Railroad Car by J.J.J. Tissot

Laugh by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606 - 1669)

Portrait of Pieter van den Broecke by Franz Hal (1580 - 1666)

Young Man in Repose by John Singer Sargent

Portrait of Willem van Heythusen by Franz Hal 

Portrait of John J. Pershing by Philip Alexius de Laszlo (1869 - 1937)

Frederick Leighton by J.J.J. Tissot

McSorley's Bar by John Sloan (1871 - 1951)

Lately I seem to have been posting mostly women as subjects in art as well as a predominance of women painters, so today I thought I'd do the opposite. Just to keep things lively.

Men in Art. Not one artist, but several. Not one specific school of painting but many. I think these paintings prove (if it needed proving) that in art, men can be just as ornamental as women.

Frederick Gustavus Burnaby by J.J.J. Tissot (1836 - 1902)

Friday, August 26, 2011


I love these sorts of group photos, always have. Nobody seems to do them anymore. At least not so they look this interesting. Don't know why. Aren't they fun? I have one such of a group of young women in 1930's bathing suits featuring my ex-mother-in-law. It's currently part of a collage that belongs to my daughter.

There's just something so charmingly naive about these vintage photographs. Plus you get an instant overview of fashions, styles and even attitudes, at the moment in time the photographer snapped the shot.

The photos featured today have been found by yours truly online. No photo credits at the moment. If one of these is your photo and you object to its inclusion in my post, please let me know and I'll remove it immediately.