Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bits and Pieces

Xavier Mellery

The power went out at approx. 7:30 Monday evening and just came back on this morning at 6 so that wasn't too bad. (Actually it seemed like the power was out forever.) I pretended it was the 1800's as I carried candles from room to room (as well as a flashlight which I pretended was a gas lantern). Perfect night for a murder, I thought, and scared myself silly. Ha! Probably the result of reading one too many murder mysteries. You think?

John Singer Sargent

Turns out though that two of the books I brought home from the library and talked about in my previous post, were duds. I began reading one, got half way through and put it down on the little table by the front door where books - half-read - sit in a kind of downcast and woebegone state. Then I began a second book and it too wasn't especially thrilling, so it joined its depressed friend on the table. The third book I picked up is faring a little better. Don't you hate when that happens? You bring home a bunch of books with the highest of hopes and already two aren't quite what you expected. Well, even the best writers can't be expected to write classics every time out. I am disappointed but philosophical.

Amelie Fontaine

Large areas of New Jersey are still without power and many of the coastal areas have been devastated by the hurricane as you all no doubt know. I'm just now reacquainting myself with the news outlets and piecing together what happened while my power was out. It was a very scary business. Not something I'd care to go through anytime soon. But it could have been much worse for me and Rocky and don't I know it. We were very fortunate.

So, a hurricane can hit inland New Jersey - who knew?

New Jersey and for that matter, New York, are rarely in the path of hurricanes. For many of us Hurricane Sandy came as somewhat of a surprise. Obviously, we've been spoiled. Mother Nature doesn't like it when we get smug.

Oh, almost forgot, it's Halloween. I'm kind of hoping most people will settle for indoor celebrations if they celebrate at all. Got bags of candy here just in case. But jeez, this is not the kind of day for kids to be traipsing about in costumes - what with downed branches and trees and electrical wires flopping about. Just sayin'.

At any rate, glad to be back to what passes for normal around here. Thanks so much for all your kind care and concern. This community we have of online friends is a truly wonderful thing. I'm feeling blessed.

Samuel L. Margolies

Monday, October 29, 2012

So far, so good...

Painting by Albert Joseph Moore (1841 - 1893)

Waiting for the worst to hit us, but as of this moment, Sandy has declined to do so. While I still have power thought I'd catch you up on my latest reading material. In preparation, I went to the library (as any other bibliophile would do when faced with an emergency) last week and brought home a daunting slew of books.

Reading by flashlight (candlelight in a pinch) is about the best way to sit through a storm, I'm thinking. Oh, and a bag of chips by your side doesn't hurt, though you have to watch that greasy fingers don't stain the pages.

David Small

Here are the books I lugged home over a two day period. Am I nuts? Yeah, probably. But that's been said before.

DIE A STRANGER by Steve Hamilton. This is the very latest Alex McKnight novel and the one I'm currently reading.

LULLABY - A Robert J. Parker Spenser book by Ace Atkins - If it were anyone else except Ace Atkins I probably would not consider reading this.

THE MEMORY OF BLOOD (A Peculiar Crimes Unit book) by Christopher Fowler - if you don't read this series - what the heck are you waiting for?

ISLAND OF BONES  by Imogen Robertson (Hooray! I've been waiting forever for this book to show up at my library.) A must read series set in 18th century England.


THE BEDLAM DETECTIVE by Stephen Gallagher - Don't know about this one, it's new to me.

THE GARDEN INTRIGUE by Lauren Willig - I'm very fond of Willig's series of 'Scarlet Pimpernel' pastiches.

TRAIL OF THE SPELLMANS by Lisa Lutz - A humorous series about a family of detectives who mostly spend time spying on each other.

DORCHESTER TERRACE by Anne Perry (A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt book.) These last two books by Anne Perry are from long running series that I've been reading for years.

A SUNLESS SEA by Anne Perry (A William Monk book.)

David Small

Just recently finished THE MOONSTONE by Wilkie Collins and my review will be up and running after the storm. I want to have time to do the book justice. It's going to be a goody.

I'm also currently trying to squeeze in THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach (a book my brother loved) and SPEAK OUT BEFORE YOU DIE by our fellow blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch. Not to mention a couple of Patrick O'Brians I'd forgotten I still had lying around unread.  PLUS two major non-fiction books I have been meaning to get to (presents from last Christmas - how ashamed am I?).

But since I don't like to think of reading as a race to the finish line, I'll just continue to take my time. I won't make 100 books read this year, shame on me, but as I said: it's not a race. (I'm being defensive, I know.)

Confession: I need to spend more time reading and less time on Pinterest. But there's just something about Pinterest that soothes the cares of the world and indulges my visual senses. I am especially fond of my boards (in another life I must have been a curator) devoted to art: paintings, sketches, drawings and illustration - current and vintage. Honestly it's almost like an out of body experience. Ha!

Hal Mayforth (source)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tuesday's Forgotten Film on Sunday: HURRICANE (1937) starring John Hall and Dorothy Lamour

Since I may be without power for several days as Hurricane Sandy barrels its way up and into my neck of the woods - New Jersey - I thought I'd post my Forgotten Film Tuesday post today.

Apropos of up and coming conditions, my choice for Tuesday is Samuel Goldwyn's HURRICANE (1937). A film directed by John Ford and Stuart Heisler with a screenplay fine tuned by an uncredited Ben Hecht. Talented people. The special effects are also quite good not only for 1937, but for anytime - they work and catch you up in the thrills and harrowing chills. What more do you want?

Remember too, to check Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom for more Forgotten Films. Hopefully he'll be online as will the majority of movie mavens who normally post on Tuesday.

It just occurred to me that I could have set this up to post automatically on Tuesday. But just to be on the safe side, I'm posting this evening. There's no law that says you HAVE to read it today. For that matter, there's no law that says you have to wait until Tuesday.

HURRICANE has a terrific all star cast - well, an all star B-movie/character actor cast.

Dorothy Lamour
Jon Hall 
Mary Astor
C. Aubrey Smith
John Carradine
Thomas Mitchell
Raymond Massey
Jerome Cowan

Okay, so mix all these acting pros together in a tale of racism, murder, persecution (ala Les Miserables) PLUS some really nasty weather and you have one terrific popcorn movie.

How gorgeous are these two?

The story takes place during the good old days of Colonialism (I'm being ironic) in the South Pacific. John Hall plays Terangi, a well-meaning native who works on an island schooner captained by the always acerbic Jerome Cowan (one of my favorite actors).

Terangi's intial run-in with the law after a brief scuffle in a bar in Tahiti initiated by a racist lout, begins years of hardship for an man who, as his sentence keeps getting extended, cannot stand being confined. Terangi tries repeatedly to escape and get home to his wife Marama (Dorothy Lamour), not to mention to the daughter he's never seen.

The story is revealed in flashback by Dr. Kersaint (Thomas Mitchell), who tells the tale to a fellow passenger as their ship passes a ruin of an abandoned island somewhere in the Pacific. Kersaint knew all those involved in the story and so is the perfect person to enlighten us.

Thomas Mitchell as the doctor. The actor received his first Oscar nomination for the part.

Hanging on for dear life.

Making faces at the wind.

The main memory I have of this movie is the hurricane near the end. It is extremely well done and one of the main reasons for seeking out this film while you're sitting around, hopefully nice and dry and cozy. Unlike me.

Raymond Massey, Mary Astor and Jerome Cowan.

I even liked Mary Astor as the sympathetic wife of the French Governor of the island, Eugene De Laage (Raymond Massey) Let's face it, no one could play a stiff-necked, rigidly inclined, law and order type like Raymond Massey. (Though it's hard to imagine Massey and Astor in the privacy of their bedroom, but let's not digress.)

I love a good sneer.

The gloriously evil-countenanced John Carradine plays his usual scurvy type who gets his just deserts in the end and C. Aubrey Smith is well cast as a humanist priest, good at keeping secrets.

The craggy faced C. Aubrey Smith (another of my faves) and Mary Astor.

As the main hero and heroine, Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour are just right: beautiful, sympathetic, idealistic and therefore, probably doomed.

If you've never seen this film, don't miss it. It is now available for instant viewing on Amazon for a couple of bucks and for instant streaming on Netflix, if you happen to be a member. Trailer.

John Ford and crew, shooting a scene on set.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Foreign Film Poster Friday

Son of Frankenstein in French. Now this I would pay money to see. 

The poster below is, I believe for the first film in the series, just plain: Frankenstein. I'm posting it because of its wonderful design. Don't know the language. But I see Stockholm at the very bottom. So, Swedish? I thought the Swedes spoke French. Or am I mixing them up with the Swiss? Probably. Someone correct me.

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book Friday: RIVER OF DARKNESS (1999) by Rennie Airth

"What passing bells for those who die as cattle?"
Wilfred Owen, 'Anthem for Doomed Youth'

"I'm back again from hell
With loathsome thoughts to sell;
Secrets of death to tell;
And horrors from the abyss."
Siegfried Sassoon, 'To the Warmongers'

Friday is Forgotten Book day, a weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. I simply can't believe I haven't posted about RIVER OF DARKNESS before except in brief bits and pieces as part of another post. So today this splendid book gets it own post.

Don't forget to check in at Patti's to see what other wonderful but somehow forgotten (or overlooked) books other bloggers are talking about today.

RIVER OF DARKNESS is the first novel in a trilogy written by Rennie Airth, an ex- Reuters foreign correspondent born in South Africa and currently living in Italy. RIVER OF DARKNESS and THE BLOOD-DIMMED TIDE - the second book in the trilogy, are must reads. The third, THE DEAD OF WINTER, you can skip.

Why I say this: I believe that Airth is the sort of writer who needs time to really get going, develop his plot and characterizations and last but not least, polish his style to a high gleam. He is not a 'book-a-year' guy and should not be forced to be so. THE DEAD OF WINTER is a book that seems written just to meet a deadline and the requirements of a contract. It is a poor effort which reads as if an editor wasn't paying attention.

The first two books appear to have been written in just the right amount of time needed by the author and hence, are truly remarkable. So that's why I say, read these two and skip the third - it isn't necessary.

Okay, back to RIVER OF DARKNESS:

Normally I do not like multiple points of view (as many of you know), nor do I like reading from the point of view of the killer - BUT - as is very often the case, I break my own rules when the writing is so fabulous and the story so compelling. Such is the case with RIVER OF DARKNESS.

Yes, this is murder in the English countryside. But it is as far from being a 'cozy' as it is possible for a book to get. The horrors in this book rival the grim horrors of war just recently ended across the Channel. The grisly murders which up-end the bucolic quiet of a country village in Surrey, are made even more incomprehensible by the total lack of motive. Adding to the confusion of the investigation is the complete lack of knowledge of the sort of crimes known today as 'serial killings'.

In 1921 England, just a few years after the end of WWI (the war to end all wars), Scotland Yard Inspector John Madden, himself a veteran with dark memories of his own to quell, is sent into the rural countryside to investigate the grisly murders of an entire family.

Madden is an interesting guy, he is not only a war veteran but a widower as well. He's  been through a lot and the suffering has, naturally, colored his countenance and his view of the world.

"A tall grim man with a scarred forehead, he seemed more like a monk than a policeman, the young detective constable thought. An impression that gained strength now each time the inspector's glance fell on him.  Madden's deep-set eyes seemed to look at you from another world.

He had a strange history - Billy had heard it from one of the sergeants. Madden had left the force some years before after losing his wife and baby daughter, both in the same week, to influenza. The son of a farmer, he had wanted to return to the land. Instead, the war had come, and afterwards he'd returned to his old job with the Metropolitan Police. Changed, though, it was said. A different man from before. Two years in the trenches had seen to that."

So it is especially comforting to the reader to have Madden begin to come to life again when he meets the village doctor, Helen Blackwell. (Women then were only just beginning to study medicine and with the death of so many young men in the war, it seems logical that a village, no matter how reluctantly, would be forced to accept a woman doctor.) She has her own burden of sorrow having lost close family members in the war.

(The recent hellishness of WWI casts long shadows on the events in this story.)

Blackwell will add her own medical and psychological expertise to the case as will an 'alienist' that Madden consults when it becomes obvious to him that the murders in this current case are not the result of a robbery gone bad, but the work of a single, fiendish individual. Then after much painstaking attention to detail, it becomes apparent that this individual has killed before but in the confused frenzy of war, his murders have been taken for separate crimes, if discovered at all. In effect, the killer has been able to use the war to cover his own murderous trail.

The mood of this book is grim (how could it not be?), and everything appears (in my mind at least) seen through 'a glass darkly'. But if you're in the mood for a brilliant historical thriller in which the 'whodunit' factor is less important than 'how-dunit' and 'why-dunit', not to mention the procedure of it all, then this is it.

There are similarities to Caleb Carr's book, THE ALIENIST (set in NYC, at an earlier time), but Rennie Airth creates his own world, quite separate and equally gripping. I understand too that there are similarities to the Charles Todd series of apres-WWI mysteries. (I hope to begin reading those at some point in time.)

The free-wheeling and often frenzied world between two world wars was a time when society was in flux, the  established norm was no longer so normal or so established and new methodology was needed to deal with the sometimes chaotic results. A good time for a man adept at disguise and re-invention and compelled to kill.

Don't miss this book.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Jackie Robinson Passed Away 40 Years Ago Today.

Jackie Robinson (1919 - 1972) 

Jackie Robinson was the first African American to play in major league baseball and died on this day forty years ago. He was gone too soon but what he left behind was the story of a life well lived as a human being, a gentleman and a ball player par excellence. (We should all be so fortunate.) The story of Robinson's life and legacy ought to be required teaching at every school in America.

"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."  Jackie Robinson

"He knew he had to do well. He knew that the future of blacks in baseball depended on it. The pressure was enormous, overwhelming, and unbearable at times. I don't know how he held up. I know I never could have." -Duke Snider

"Thinking about the things that happened, I don't know any other ball player who could have done what he did. To be able to hit with everybody yelling at him. He had to block all that out, block out everything but this ball that is coming in at a hundred miles an hour. To do what he did has got to be the most tremendous thing I've ever seen in sports." - Shortstop Pee Wee Reese

"I don't care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fucking zebra. I'm the manager of this team and I say he plays." - Leo Durocher

"Jackie Robinson was the best athlete ever to play Major League Baseball." - Ralph Kiner

The wonderful painting of Jackie Robinson is by contemporary artist Graig Kreindler - Use the link to see more of his work and learn about his talent.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film Tuesday: EVIDENCE OF BLOOD

Tuesday is Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film day - the weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog, Sweet Freedom. So don't forget to check in at Todd's to see what films, television or other audio/visuals other bloggers are highlighting today. We're an eclectic bunch.

David Strathairn

My entry is EVIDENCE OF BLOOD 1998, an above average thriller (made for television) directed by Andrew Mondshein and starring David Strathairn and Mary McDonnell, an actress with one of the most elegantly expressive faces in films. But because she's got a couple of wrinkles, she doesn't work as much any more. Our loss. (Unfortunately, I believe she has since  succumbed to the temptation of face configuration and doesn't look nearly as wonderful or interesting as she did without it. Hollywood's obeisance to the fountain of youth has a helluva lot to answer for with so many beautiful woman ruining their looks with ill-advised surgery. Notice that Strathairn's wrinkles aren't held against him.)

I discovered this film (based on a book by Thomas H. Cook) on Netflix, read a couple of the quicky reviews (that's about all I allow myself when it comes to online reviewing of ANYTHING except books, shoes and appliances) and decided that since I like David Strathairn as well as Mary McDonnell, I might as well take a look.

I'm glad I did.

Strathairn plays Jackson Kinley, a Pulitzer Prize winning true crime author bothered by nightmares not eased by his having had to witness the execution (electric chair) of a serial killer about whom he'd written a best seller. The killer's taunts haunt Kinley as he prepares to go home to small town Georgia following the death of his father, the sheriff (possibly retired or about to, can't remember). At any rate, once back in the stifling small town atmosphere, a hazy, mysterious event from his troubled childhood enters his nightmares and triggers the asthma Kinley has suffered from since he was a boy.

In the not-so-friendly town where everyone knows everyone else's business, Kinley can't help but become involved (at first peripherally) with the forty year old murder of a young woman - something his father had apparently been re-investigating before his death.

Though the case was supposedly solved and the killer long ago caught and dealt with, it is quickly apparent that an innocent man was executed. (No spoiler here, this is made rather clear almost from the beginning.)

Once Kinley meets up with his father's girl friend Dora (Mary McDonnell) who, coincidentally, is the daughter of the man executed for the long ago crime, he is almost immediately smitten with her (really the only false note in the story - a minor quibble) and she with him. Dora, more than anyone else believes that an injustice was committed years before - on the flimsiest of evidence, really, she can't believe her father  capable of murder. Unfortunately for Kinley and Dora, very few in town are interested in the ugly truth coming to light. Some secrets are better left dead and buried.

As the plot thickens and Kinley's nightmare continues to nag at him, a sinister conspiracy begins to reveal itself. It's obvious that he is on the brink of remembering something dreadful having to do with the original murder - something he has blocked from his memory.

The truth of it all, when it comes, is told in exciting, rapid-paced flashback which works very well. The only problem is that the ending - the final scene - seems a little abrupt. I had to sit and think for a few minutes to reconstruct what had happened for my own satisfaction - I wish there'd been a few more minutes of film.

Ah, these archaic, sleepy Southern towns, so full of ancient secrets just waiting to be unearthed.

Much of the story is actually an interior one as Jackson Kinley (a rather interesting guy) acts to solve the mystery of his own past and in doing so, discovers the truth about Dora's as well.

A terrific thriller which, fortunately, is currently available on Neftlix streaming.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Forgotten Book Friday: ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton

Today is Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book day over at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinsase  Don't forget to check out all the other book mavens talking about forgotten books today. Lots of good recommendations.

I know that ETHAN FROME is not the first book you think of when you think of Edith Wharton's work - the woman wrote several classics of early 20th century literature - but it's the only one I remember reading in high school - thanks to Miss Eisenberg, my wonderful English teacher. I've since re-read it many times, it remains one of those books hard to define but intriguing as hell. It's a kind of grim romantic tragedy that is also, because of its ending, a horror story. At least in my view.

I have a feeling it was one of Miss Eisenberg's favorites as well since she was/is a big fan of allegory and symbolism. And let me tell you, ETHAN FROME is a symbolist's dream.

Part of our lesson plan was to highlight and interpret the various symbols Wharton used in the book, for instance, 'the sled'.  Let me tell you we had some great discussions in class.

The story is set (mostly in winter) in a bleak New England village, imaginatively enough called Starkville, by the author. Frome is a tall, silent, physical 'ruin of a man' when we first meet him. He is an enigma to the narrator who, an outsider, is in Starkville on some sort of company business never much elaborated on because it isn't important.

"I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.

If you know Starkfield, Massachusetts, you know the post-office. If you know the post-office you must have seen Ethan Frome drive up to it, drop the reins on his hollow-backed bay and drag himself across the brick pavement to the white colonnade: and you must have asked who he was."

Note the specific use of the word, 'drag' in describing Frome's approach to the post office door. The narrator then goes on to describe him in detail, making a powerful picture in our minds before we're much into the story.

Many people are put off by the idea that the story is not told from the point of view of any of the protagonists but from that of a sophisticated humanist, someone who has no stake in the outcome except assuaging his curiosity.

But we enter the story twenty four years after the main events and as Wharton herself puts it in an Author's Introduction, she gave the mechanics of story-telling a great deal of thought:

"The problem before me, as I saw in the first flash, was this: I had to deal with a subject of which the dramatic climax, or rather the anti-climax, occurs a generation later than the first acts of the tragedy. This enforced lapse of time would seem to anyone persuaded - as I have always been - that every subject (in the novelist's sense of the term) implicitly contains its own form and dimensions - to mark Ethan Frome as the subject for a novel. But I never thought this for a moment, for I had felt, at the same time, that the theme of my tale was not one on which many variations could be played. It must be treated as starkly and summarily as life had always presented itself to my protagonists; any attempt to elaborate and complicate their sentiments would necessarily have falsified the whole. They were, in truth, these figures, my granite outcroppings; but half-emerged from the soil, and scarcely more articulate."

The plot:

In his late twenties, From is married to a needy and unpleasant woman, a bitter hypochondriac who's joy in life is to complain. His character dictates that he make the best of the situation; he is silent and stoic and accepting of life's harsh vicissitudes.

Until his wife's young, vivacious and impoverished cousin comes to stay on the farm.

The inevitable ending - inevitable because of the time and place and who these people are - has a garish horror to it which transcends even the general bleakness of the story.

Everytime I re-read ETHAN FROME, I get caught up and hope for a different outcome. It never happens.

The book was turned into a movie a few years ago starring Liam Neesom as Ethan Frome (he was wonderful in the part) and Patricia Arquette. It wasn't bad. But read the book first.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Rant: I'm Sorry But I Can't Take it Anymore!

Victorian Optician Eye Box

Okay, heaven knows I've tried to make it easier for older folks (like me) to post on my blog, I've tried to make it easier for older eyes (like mine) to maneuver the whole commenting process without yanking out whatever hair we've got left.

How? Well, by eliminating that 'wordy identification' thing that Google Blogger invented to make everyone insane. I read your complaints and I responded - you've probably noticed that I've gone to comment approval status for a couple of weeks now. BUT, here's the truth of it:  I HATE IT!!! Apparently I don't have the patience. I admire bloggers with the patience to deal with it, but I'm not one of them.

I could live with it if only I weren't constantly being BOMBARDED with emails of the most spurious sort. I mean, some of it is kind of creepy and I know it's being sent by machines who could care less about my creep intolerance, but ladies and gents, I don't like being annoyed. Not even a little bit. I especially don't like being annoyed by things that make NO SENSE - half the spam mail is unreadable so I'm assuming it's in some sort of binary code. HA! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THIS? Am I seriously supposed to respond? Well, I did get one that - very politely - said the sender was really disappointed with my blog and shouldn't I do something about it. I rolled my eyes and deleted.

I know Google blocks the spam from actually reaching the blog - thank goodness - but I hate that my mail is constantly clogged with this crap.

The viagra ones, especially, bother the heck out of me because the damned machines (or whatever you call spam program/computer/what-nots) don't even know that I'm NOT SOME OLD GEEZER with locomotion problems!

See, here's the thing: SPAM MAKES NO LOGICAL SENSE. It's not at all like advertising flyers being sent to the house - flyers can be useful for wrapping fish or for tearing into bits and making alternative reality jewelry. But what on earth is the use of spam online??? WHAT IS THE POINT???

Are there people who actually interact with spam?

Anyway, long story short: I apologize to those of you who have trouble with the 'wordy identification' thing but for my own peace of mind, I am going back to it. Even though my daughter says people won't leave a comment if they have to deal with that kind of stuff from the comfort of their i-phones.

I'm sorry for that because your comments mean a lot to me. I so enjoy interacting with you guys and I like to think the enjoyment is mutual. But if it becomes too awkward for you to post a comment, I will understand if you decline to do so.

But I hope you won't.

Am I the only one with Spam Intolerance Syndrome? How do you guys handle it all?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film Tuesday: THE SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM starring Lionel Atwill, Gloria Stuart and Edward Arnold

If it's Tuesday, then Forgotten Films (and other assorted Audio/Visuals) are on the menu once again. Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other forgotten or overlooked films other movie mavens will be talking about today.

Since it's only two weeks until Halloween, I'll be concentrating on mysteries and/or horror films (light on the horror, though - I'm not a huge fan) for the time being. Beginning today with a dandy - a long ago film that was once considered 'lost'.

THE SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM (1933) is a film directed by Kurt Neumann and starring, among lesser known others, Lionel Atwill, Gloria Stuart and Edward Arnold. This is not a great movie, far from it, and not really a 'horror' film at all - though it is occasionally classified as such. It's one of those locked room B movie mysteries that studios used to delight in churning out - thank goodness.

If you're a Lionel Atwill fan like me, you'll enjoy his playing against type. He really did have a great screen presence - I liked him in just about anything. Gloria Stuart you know from playing the elderly lady who ditches the jewels in TITANIC. Here she is young and beautiful and gets to sing a love song at the piano in a room full of several men lusting after her. Very daring, I'd have thought. But also rather like dangling cheese in front of a bunch of hungry mice. But I'll say no more lest I give the denouement away.

This is just the kind of creepy little movie for a rainy Autumn night when all you want to do is put your feet up, have a nice cup of tea and not think too much. When you don't want to watch anything too exhausting or exacting but you're still in the mood for a vintage mystery, movies like THE SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM fit the bill nicely.

Lionel Atwill, Gloria Stuart and Paul Lukas

The plot:

The setting is an old mansion/castle/whatnot owned by Richard von Helldorf (Lionel Atwill), a rich man with a mysterious past, whose daughter Irene (Gloria Stuart) is celebrating a birthday - her twentieth, I think. Celebrating with Irene and her father are three men who are in love with her. In fact, in the middle of the 'party' she gets an intense proposal from one of them. But Irene's not having any. Apparently, she'd rather dangle the three on a string though she is not a coquette by any means. Just a young woman at the height of her girlish powers about to get a lesson in the harsh realities of movie life.

One of the men, Captain Walter Brink (Paul Lukas in his younger and more dashing mode) appears to be the favorite, but we only learn that as the film progresses.

Okay, so the group settles in for after dinner drinks and Von Helldorf is cajoled into telling a mystery story. The tale concerns dastardly doings in the castle's Blue Room which is now and forever kept locked. Uh-oh.

It seems that twenty years before, Von Helldorf's sister inexplicably flung herself from the room's window into the moat below. After that, a young man died in the same room and AFTER that a detective hired to solve the mystery spend the night in the Blue Room and was found shot to death. No gun ever found.

All three events happened at the stroke of one o'clock in the morning. From then on to this day, the room has been kept locked and apparently the sinister butler, Paul, has the only key.

Okay, you know what happens next.

One by one, the men at the birthday celebration decide they will spend a night in the Blue Room to prove their courage to the young and beautiful Irene.

One disappears, one is shot and one...well, you'll have to see the movie to find out what happens. None of it really makes much sense and the resolution should have been apparent to anyone with any ounce of brains, but it still makes for a creepy, sinister story worthy of a Halloween night.

Oh, and Edward Arnold makes his appearance about half way through the movie as the local police investigator, called here the Commissioner and addressed as Mr. Commissioner. He's a friend of Captain Brink's and arrives at his request to try and solve the crimes.

Of course, Lionel Atwill lurks about just for diversion's sake and there are mysterious comings and goings which add to the general ominous atmosphere.

As I said earlier, a dandy movie for a rainy autumn night.

You will be pleased to know that youtube currently has the movie on view for free. (AVOID the comments section which spoils the surprise ending.)

P.S. The opening credits make use of Tchaikovsky's music from Swan Lake apropos of nothing but the fact that they probably had no money to spend on original music and/or that back then, music was not considered all that important in the unveiling of a story. (Though there are two swans in the castle's moat and maybe that brought to mind...ah, who knows?)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Think Pink: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Giovanni Boldini

Photo: Skye Fillmore

Giovanni Boldini

Albert Herter

Jean Gabriel Domergue

Mariloes Reek

Andrew Lattimore

Augusto Giacometti

Egon Schiele

Giovanni Boldini

Martin Johnson Heade

J.J.J. Tissot

Frank Stanley Herring

Marie Felir Hippolyte Lucas

Edward Lear

Guy Pene de Bois

Jean Baptiste Perronneau

John Humphreys Johnston

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and as some of you may know, I am a breast cancer survivor - going on four years now. So, this 'all things pink' post is just a reminder that if you are of a certain age and haven't lined up a mammogram, perhaps you ought seriously to think about it.  Monthly self-exam is how I found my lump so keep that in mind as well. When it comes to cancer, much better early than late.

Until me, there was no cancer in my immediate family and I'm the type who never gets the flu or even a cold. Imagine my surprise.

October 19th is National Mammography Day. Awareness is key, ladies and gents. Don't be foolish. If  an old scaredy cat like me can take care of business, then you can too. Just do it.

Useful links: 
American Cancer Society
Susan G. Komen Foundation (Very helpful to me.)