Sunday, June 30, 2013

Who's That Knocking at the Door? - Flash Fiction Challenge Answered

Okay, here's my response to my own self-imposed Flash Fiction Challenge inspired by my current blog banner, an illustration by the great Mario Cooper. I hope you enjoy it. There might be a  couple of other posts whose links I'll add below. If you've written something, please let me know and I'll add the link. Don't let's hide your light under a bushel.

In the meantime, you can luxuriate in mine. (Then link over to Dorian's and John's)

I really do enjoy writing this sort of thing. The result is for you to judge, but I definitely think I should do more of it. Why? Well, because it's fun.

Tales of the Easily Distracted: 'Life's A Beach' by Team Bartilucci

Pretty Sinister Books: 'The Terrible Thing at the Edge of the Lake' by John


A  barrage of loud thuds shook the heavy wooden door.

‘Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, “ said Miss Pruett on the verge of tears.

“One more ‘oh dear’ and I will not be responsible for my actions,” said Joe Kirby, grunting as he quickly shoved the second lock into place, hoping the door would hold for awhile.

“Dear me…”

“No, no, dear me is as bad as ‘oh dear', Miss Pruett. May I suggest that you dispense with the ‘dears’ for the time being? It’s hot as hell in here and I’m damned if …”

“Mr. Kirby, please. My nerves are in a dither and I hardly know what I’m saying.”  

Despite her protest, Selma Pruett couldn’t help but observe yet again, that her employer’s body-guard was very tall, very blond, very muscular and very tanned. What’s more, his moist body exuded a manly smell not unlike her favorite saddle. Not many men smelled this good while in an agitated sweat. 

"Your language leaves much to be desired as well,” she added after a few seconds of primary confusion brought on by the combustible mix of male testosterone and female hormones. Inevitable, she supposed, given the intensity of their situation. They were under siege, surrounded by a dangerous enemy bent on tearing them limb from limb.

Kirby stepped back from the door. “I beg your pardon, did you actually say ‘dither’?”

“My goodness Mr. Kirby, one would think you had never heard the English language spoken aloud before.” The moisture lurking in her eyes evaporated. “At least I am not  ‘helling’ and ‘damning’ all over the place.”

Of all the women in all the world he had to be trapped with a strait-laced librarian. Heaven help me, thought Kirby, trying to refrain from kicking at the door. He was in definite danger of being overcome by a fit of extreme pique. 

Instead he made a curt bow. “Pardon me for losing control of my vocabulary, Miss Pruett. I don’t know what came over me. “

“Possibly fear of being mauled to death,” she said, trying to be helpful. Their current situation made impertinence almost mandatory.

“So you do have a sense of humor. Thank God. I’d hate to be caught on the brink of eternity with someone who had no sense of the rightness of things. “

The unnerving sounds of scratching, thudding and growling increased. A large enraged body began slamming against the other side of the door.  "I’d hoped they’d forgive and forget, but it seems not yet,” said Kirby. “My apologies, Miss Pruett. It seems we’re in for it.”

“Oh dear….” she said, still slightly bemused by his appearance. Surely someone who looked so much like the heroes in her favorite books couldn’t help but actually be a hero. If only she could stop acting like the fluttering heroine. If only the cottage came equipped with a telephone. If only she’d hadn’t had the notion of heading out on the lake by herself. If only she’d turned down this job. If only the door would hold.

“I do wish you hadn’t broken the chair," she said.

He leaned against the door. “Yes, yes, I admit it all. I behaved like a berserker.”  

"What on earth were you thinking Mr. Kirby?”

“Actually I don't think I was thinking at all, Miss Pruett.  Maybe I was simply crazed with hunger."

She made no reply.

 “Look I know this is all my fault,” he said defensively. "But you definitely shouldn’t be here. Not that I mind the company, of course.”

“Who are are you, Mr. Kirby? I mean, who are you - really?” she heard herself asking - a question that had plagued her since her arrival at the mainland country estate of her reclusive employer: an eccentric peer with a vast library which needed cataloguing. Was it only a week ago? At the moment, it seemed like ages. “Why a live-in body-guard? Lord Barrow rarely steps out in public."

“Rich men make enemies, Miss Pruett. But at this moment, it looks as if I’m the soon to be ex-body guard of a rich man with a low tolerance for practical jokes. He’s bound to think all this some sort of joke that backfired. Unfortunately, he has no sense of humor.”

The outside assault upon the door continued. Accompanied now by ferocious chortling and an ominous creaking of wood.

Kirby slammed a palm on the door in frustration. "I was hungry.. I came in here after my swim, just to look around, you know how it is. And I found three bowls of fresh porridge, still steaming.  I suppose I lost my head."

After a moment, amazed that she could keep her composure and unable to hold back a rueful smile, she said, “ I guess I picked the wrong morning to take a cruise on the lake.”  

He checked the locks unsure how much longer they would hold. The shoving and growling now combined intermittently with the rattling of the wooden shutters which thankfully they'd had the presence of mind to shut and bolt earlier. "All this fuss over porridge," he said. "Hard to believe."

"I feel as if I'm having an out of body experience, Mr. Kirby," she said.

"Didn’t the old man warn you to keep away from the island?"

She crossed her arms. “I hadn’t planned on running out of fuel. It’s such a pretty little lake. Such a hot day."

“Barrow doesn't come here very often. It’s an odd sort of place, Miss Pruett."

“No. Really? So what were you doing here?” she asked. "Besides foraging."

He shrugged. “An impulse. I swim most mornings, saw smoke coming from the chimney, decided to take a look. What about you?"

She moved away from the door. “ Well, the boat began drifting over and when I saw the cottage I walked up to see if they might have a telephone,” she said. “ Silly, I know, since they have no use for the thing. But there was nobody home. I tried the door, found it unlocked, let myself in, went exploring and found you sleeping upstairs in a rather large bed. Aren't you a little young to be taking midday naps?”

“I was replete.” He said, grinning. But looking into her worried blue eyes, Kirby lost his train of thought. Up close and without her ubiquitous glasses, Miss Pruett was definitely not Miss Mousey. Wasn’t that always the way?

 “Yes, I know, I did a stupid thing,” he said after a moment. “ But the bed looked so comfortable.” He gave the door a last frustrated shove. “I like a feather bed.” There was just no way to explain this to the old man, he thought. Not any rational way.

“You snore,” she said. “That’s what drew me upstairs.” She looked up at the skylight. “Maybe we can get out that way.”

“Yes, all you have to do is climb up on my shoulders and I’ll catapult you up to the ceiling. And then what?”

“Did you HAVE to eat ALL the porridge?!” She suddenly blurted in frustration. “Even what was left in the pot?"

"I got carried away. It was very good porridge. Reminded me of my mum’s."

"Mr. Kirby, really. I begin to despair."

"All right, all right,  no point in overreacting. Here’s what I’m going to do,  I’m going to open the door and let Poppa Bear in and then we’ll see what’s what. You go stand behind the sofa. Try not to look so threatening. He’s usually a pretty calm fellow. It’s Momma Bear we have to watch out for. She’s a terror. But I think she may be getting tired.”

The racket at the door stopped. “Right on cue,” said Kirby.

Miss Pruett stared, eyes wide.

"You mean you knew this all along? Please explain, Mr. Kirby."

"Look, after all we've been through this morning, life and death and all of it, don’t you think you could call me Joe?

“Joe.” She said, hesitating as if tasting the name on her tongue.

He attempted an encouraging smile.

But - “I'm waiting for an explanation, Mr. Kirby .”

He sighed. “Momma Bear is a very possessive sort. But a damn fine cook. She likes to make a fuss, put on a show. But her anger is usually short-lived.” He looked a bit shame-faced. “ I...uh, I’ve run into them once or twice before. Baby bear is a cute enough little fellow even if he is a bit of a brat."

Why didn’t you tell me this in the first place?

“Well, there’s really no accounting for bears. I could be wrong.”

Oh, Mr. Kirby,” she said, shaking her head.

 “I’d better let them in,” he said. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: EMMA WATSON Jane Austen's Unfinished Novel Completed by Joan Aiken (1996)

Jane Austen left behind two unfinished manuscripts: THE WATSONS and SANDITON. Both works have been finished and published over the years, other authors taking up the stories and continuing them ala Austen with varying degrees of success. After all, who can replace or replicate a genius? Especially such a finely tuned one.

I hadn't read any of the Austen 'continuations' until the name of Joan Aiken entered the mix and knowing of Aiken's finesse with words, I decided to see what she'd made of THE WATSONS. This was a novel begun by Austen in 1803(or 04) and abandoned after only about 1700 words.

The other novel, SANDITON (originally titled THE BROTHERS), begun in 1817, was cut short by the author's illness and untimely death at the age of 41 in that same year.

EMMA WATSON (the book, not the Harry Potter actress) as completed by novelist Joan Aiken (author of - among many, many other books - THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE and the even better, MIDWINTER NIGHTINGALE) and published in 1996, is a fascinating return to early 19th century England. The Regency era, years known for their strict and convoluted social conventions and rigid class divisions. Not to mention the antiquated and unfair laws of property and entailment which excluded women, keeping them bound to the males in their household either by marriage or family connection no matter how distant.

Austen herself used sly satire and wit to carefully pick apart the foolishness and injustice of her era, but only to the point where most casual readers would not take any real offence. Her books on the surface are mannered romances, but underneath may be found some rather pointed observances of English country life, actually of 'life' in general. Even within the strictures of the sheltered society she inhabited with her not very well-to-do family, Austen was able to draw sharp inferences and connect all the relevant dots.

How property and sex were bound together to the mutual benefit of a male dominated society which disguised any unjust behavior with regal manners and the myth of good 'breeding' was forage for a woman who had a very keen sense of observation and acute deductive reasoning.

The fact that what was true in her day may, on many levels, still be true today is part of the reason we so cherish Austen's writing. Human nature never really changes. It is what it is. Somehow, Jane Austen knew that.

I'm not quite clear which part of the WATSON novel is all Austen or for that matter, which part is all Aiken. Primarily because I've never read the original - I'm looking forward to doing that sometime soon. I'm assuming that Aiken her own sort of weaving method to flesh out the story and make heads and/or tails of the various relationships.

Aiken is no Austen (well, who is?) but she has a knack for embroidering a story. So much so that I stayed up all night reading EMMA WATSON. Near the end I still wondered what it was about the story that held my attention. If you asked me to pinpoint, I don't think I could. That's the way of it with Austen, she grips you and you're not sure exactly why or how.

Here's the basic story (copied from Wikipedia):

Mr. Watson is a widowed clergyman with two sons and four daughters. The youngest daughter, Emma, has been brought up by a wealthy aunt and is consequently better educated and more refined than her sisters. But when her aunt contracts a foolish second marriage, Emma is obliged to return to her father's house. There she is chagrined by the crude and reckless husband-hunting of two of her sisters. She finds the kindness of her eldest and most responsible sister, Elizabeth, more attractive.
Living near the Watsons are the Osbornes, a great titled family. Emma attracts some notice from the boorish and awkward young Lord Osborne, while one of her sisters pursues Lord Osborne's arrogant, social-climbing friend, Tom Musgrave. Various minor characters provide potential matches for Emma's brothers and sisters.
Mr. Watson is seriously ill in the opening chapters, and Austen confided in her sister Cassandra that he was to die in the course of the work. Emma was to decline a marriage proposal from Lord Osborne, and was eventually to marry Osborne's virtuous former tutor, Mr. Howard.

Joan Aiken takes these characters and I'm assuming, all of the 1700 words left by Austen, and fleshes out her own version of what might have happened to the Watsons and the Osbornes and their neighbors.

In Aiken's hands, there are several new characters introduced (an assumption on my part), among them a sea captain who falls instantly in love with Emma and she with him, but who is bound by duty to return to sea until who knows when. Will he and Emma ever get together? Stay tuned.

The hapless curate Mr. Howard (who according to Austen was destined to marry Emma in the end) is not at all the sort of man a spunky Austen heroine should marry. (I'm glad Aiken realized that.) He is embroiled in a relationship (chaste of course) with the older Lady Osborne, a widow with money who is flattered and not above 'using' the attentions of the young man to her own advantage. The handsome Mr. Howard is poor and needy and fooling nobody, but a man's gotta' do what a man's gotta' do to get by in Regency England.

At the age of 25 or so, Emma is considered too old to be seriously contemplating marriage at any rate. I mean, who would have her? The fact is that she will be expected to live with an older sibling, serving the role of the poor relation so beloved of novelists of that era. The rectory is not the family's in perpetuity and soon as the father is no more, the Watson women are expected to immediately depart the premises.

Emma's plight is not helped by the fact that her unkind and rather unfeeling older brother is married to a grasping, foolish, money-hungry woman with no tact and little familial affection. So no help to be had from that quarter. Emma's younger brother, a kindly, intelligent young man is a poor and struggling student. Emma can not count on him.

Emma's two sisters are eager to marry but respectable men (with a living or property) are in short supply. The two eligible men in the neighborhood (supposing Howard is already taken) are painted by Aiken (or Austen) in a rather unattractive light. In fact, one has caused the tragic accidental death of Emma's only real friend.

In the meantime, Emma is apparently expected to act as the sisters' drudge since servants are few and money almost non-existent. Emma, having returned to the bosom of her family after many years absence (see notes above) is willing to do what's necessary to maintain peace in the household - mainly to keep her sickly father from becoming unnecessarily upset and to keep her sisters from behaving badly.

This early part of this story showcases how unmarried women without money or property or helpful connections were often destined to lead unhappy lives at the whim of their relations. (Something Austen was particularly fond of writing about.) How Aiken manages to keep Emma from this fate is intriguing if a bit un-likely. Hint: it has something to do with sewing and later when someone from her past shows up unexpectedly, with horses. And don't forget about that sea captain sailing the seven seas...

The book isn't very long (221 pages) and I wish Aiken had developed parts of the story in a more expansive manner, but still I couldn't put the thing down and read it in one night, eager to find out what would happen next.

In the end, rather abruptly, we get a postscript which details the various marriages and what happened to whom and how. Oh what the heck, I love a good postscript.

Don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

It's Elmore Leonard Day at Patti's, but I went in a different direction.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ideas are easy...

...writing is hard. But I persevere. Flash Fiction Challenge deadline is only a week away.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Some of you may have missed this alert the first time around. (Maybe I should have added a trumpet blast!?) I'm posting it again in the hopes that a couple more brave souls might join the challenge. Right now it looks as if there will only be two of us. No matter what, though, I'll still be writing mine up.

Original Post:

Yes, it's time for another of our infrequent fan-fiction debacles...uh, delights. (I really ought to have more than one a year, but life just gets away from me, especially these days.)

I have my blog friend Kathy to thank for urging me on almost since the moment she first saw my new (at least for the summer months) header design. The artwork by the wonderful Mario Cooper naturally gives rise to speculation so I've decided that we should do just that - speculate - in 1500 words.

What is going on in Cooper's artwork? (Never mind it's original intention.) What is happening that that nicely muscled blond man in a bathing suit has to lock the door with such ferocity? Is he in the process of barricading it? Or is the lock just stuck and he's trying to pry it open while, perhaps, showing off his muscular...uh, magnificence? (It never hurts to advertise.) Is he trying to let someone in or keep someone out? Or is he, despite his heroic good looks, just a Lothario trying to keep the worried Miss in the nice outfit and stylish hat from leaving?

You decide. You invent. You decipher. In 1500 words (more or less, I'm not a very strict taskmaster).

We'll have until Sunday, June 30th, so that gives us plenty of time. On that date you can post your stories and I'll pick up the links and include them here along with my own story. So that means YOU MUST LET ME KNOW in advance if you'll be participating. If you don't have a blog, then post your story in 'comments'. We're flexible around here.

So, think it over (well, really, what's to think - you know you want to do it), and let me know as soon as you've made up your mind. Use your imagination.Write whatever you like, however you like, in any style you like just so long as it answers the question: What is going on here?

P.S. I would much appreciate if you would pick up the 'badge' and place it somewhere on your blog. Let's not keep it a secret that we're about to have some fun around here.

In the meantime, I'm also planning for our very own Georgette Heyer Blogathon (you know how much I love her work), so keep that in mind as well. It won't be until later in the summer - August 16th is the 111th anniversary of Heyer's birth - but you can certainly begin your reading now so you won't have any excuse not to join in later when it all becomes official. I'll have a badge and more info up after we finish with the Flash-Fiction Challenge.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: CHARLIE CHAN AT THE WAX MUSEUM (1940) starring Sidney Toler and Victor Sen Yung

Though Warner Oland is my preferred Charlie Chan of choice, I still harbor a not-so-secret liking for Sidney Toler in the part. Toler plays Chan in a several of my favorite movies in the series so it's hard for me to discount him (as some do), so I won't. But Keye Luke will always be my very favorite son of Chan. Okay, okay, Victor Sen Yung is a close second.

CHARLIE CHAN AT THE WAX MUSEUM (1940) is a film directed by Lynn Shores and written by John Larkin (original screenplay) based on characters created by Earl Derr Biggers. It stars the aforementioned Sidney Toler as the brilliant detective Charlie Chan and Victor Sen Yung as Jimmy Chan, the great detective's not-so-brilliant son.

This time out, as usual, the plot makes little sense, but hey, as I like to say: if you want sense then these are not the movies for you. It's only if we want comfort-food entertainment that we turn to these old familiar chestnuts. (Though maybe no so familiar to some of you. Tsk. Tsk.) I never get tired of watching my favorites in the Charlie Chan series so I am speaking to you as an enthusiastic fan and will brook no opposition. Ha!

CHARLIE CHAN AT THE WAX MUSEUM begins in a courtroom where nasty, hatchet-faced convicted killer Steve McBirney (the always reliably evil Marc Lawrence) is about to be sentenced to the electric chair. Charlie Chan was the chief contributor to McBirney's conviction and he is in the courtroom as well and earns a threat from the unrepentant McBirney who vows to get his revenge. Uh-oh.

Sure enough, as McBirney is being led out of the courtroom a gun battle ensues and McBirney escapes with the help of his cohort and henchman, the usual weasely, brainless type that these guys always seem to have in reserve.

Despite a city-wide hunt for the escaped cop-killer, McBirney later turns up (after closing hours) at Dr. Cream's Wax Museum of Crime downtown near the docks - a museum filled with scary exhibits of famous criminals and their crimes. There McBirney will receive plastic surgery (to make him unrecognizable) performed by the sinister Dr. Cream (C. Henry Gordon) who is apparently well-known in crime circles for providing this service, conveniently, in the secret basement surgery of his museum.

McBirney (wrapped in bandages) will then hide out at the museum until his face heals much to the consternation of the good Dr. Cream and his hench-woman, Lily (Joan Valerie) who would rather not be dealing with the crazed McBirney at all. But crime makes for strange bedfellows and so...

In the meantime, Chan is goaded into taking part in a hammy true crime radio performance which each week outlines a famous crime from the past. That particular week the show is being broadcast from....wait for it, wait for it - Dr. Cream's Wax Museum of Crime. Neat how these things come together.

It is on a dark and stormy night (naturally) in which all these elements have fused to make for murder most foul at the wax museum. The program for the evening is the long ago locked room murder which resulted in the conviction and execution of Joe Rocke, an innocent man. Rocke was tried and convicted for a crime rightly committed by a killer who Chan suspects had his face 'changed' by Dr. Cream (uh-oh) and who might, even now, be lurking at the museum in the guise of...well, anyone.

As the radio crew sets up the broadcast which includes among the guests, a famed German criminologist (a braggart whose faulty evidence convicted Joe Rocke to begin with) and an eager lady-reporter of the 1940's type and uninvited, a smart-mouthed lawyer who later gets to ask the reporter for a date. Jimmy Chan (Victor Sen Yung) shows up, of course, also uninvited, but ready to lend his famous father a not-always-so-helping-hand. At any rate, lo and behold, in the middle of the broadcast the criminologist is electrocuted by a handy-dandy little wire hook-up - a trap originally meant for Chan.

Thereafter a couple of other murders ensue and what with all the doors locked and the telephone lines down, the lights going on and off, and oh yes, a terrible thunderstorm, it all makes for a nicely lurid murder mystery with lots of creeping about among the dark shadows and even, lurking among the exhibits, the rather odd widow of Joe Rocke who shows up just as the museum is closing for the night.

An entertaining way to spend an evening if you're in the mind for a nicely comfortable murder and mayhem story with a dandy ending and a very familiar cast of characters all doing their shtick. Most especially the wonderfully mean-faced Marc Lawrence, a terrific character actor who specialized in playing hoods his entire career and was one of those actors (a very select group) who practically lived forever, passing away at the age of 95 in Palm Springs, California just a few years ago.

Last but not least, do not forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other overlooked or forgotten films and/or other visuals, other bloggers are talking about today. It's a mouthful, I know, but never mind, just do it - you will be rewarded.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Salon: Happy Father's Day to all you Poppas out there.

Stephan Hansen - source

Sophie Blackwell - source

Bo Bartlett - source

Vicky Wade - source

Stephanie Frostad - source

Phobe Wahl - source

artist unknown

Susan Mitchell - source

Dame Laura Knight - source

Audrey Ang - source

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Restless Reading: Two Disappointments

At heart I am always this little girl always wanting  to be astonished, always wanting to love what I'm reading. But...

For those of you - like me - who keep track of this sort of thing, it probably doesn't seem as if I'm reading a lot of books this year but the bitter truth is that lots of what I'm reading, I'm not finishing. If I don't finish a book I can't list it as read - right? So round and round I go.

Either I'm getting more particular or the books I'm picking up and tossing aside after a few pages are becoming more the norm. I'd hate to think that's the case.

Maybe this restlessness is the reason I've been doing a lot of re-reading lately. You can hardly go wrong re-visiting old tried and true friends.

Books tend to come and go around here at a very rapid pace, some I review, most I don't - even if I enjoyed what I read. No rhyme or reason. But the truth is that a lot of books don't make it past the initial 50 page criteria. Those are usually set aside with a sneer and roll of the eyes, occasionally with a sad shake of the head. I can be merciless.

You know I rarely dis books on this blog, it's not my thing. Generally if I dislike a book I just quietly swallow my disappointment, return it to the library and move on. But sometimes the disappointment lingers longer than usual and I feel the need to vent.

Two books that really rankled this year were recommended on various sites and I suppose that led me astray. Hey, I didn't say I was perfect.

One: MR. PENUMBRA'S 24 HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan seemed to hold a lot of promise. I guess I expected a kind of magical/realism thing, a 'genre' I'm always willing to love and indulge just a bit. I suppose that's why Sloan's book is the most disappointing (he is the better writer). It reads as if it couldn't quite make up its mind what it wanted to be.

The first half of MR PENUMBRA is brilliant and inventive and intriguing and everything I hoped it would be. The characters are likable, even the quirky girl who works for Google. But the second half (except for the idea of the collapsible 'cardboard scanner) fails to deliver.

You can see it coming and yet you hope against hope that maybe... But in general, I had the feeling that the author couldn't figure out how to connect the dots. However, the book doesn't qualify as unread since I did finish it (okay, skipping a few pages here and there), despite my natural inclination. Sloan is a terrific writer, I could tell that from the first, but I think this just got away from him. Foolishly, I kept hoping for something wonderful even up until the last couple of pages.

Don't you hate when that happens?

(I notice that both books I'm venting about were written by a person named Robin. Just a coincidence, folks.)

The second book, JANE The Woman Who Loved Tarzan by Robin Maxwell did sound as if it would be a lot of fun. Haven't you Tarzan aficionados (of which I am an utterly devoted one) ever wondered about the Tarzan story from Jane's point of view? I mean, it's a great idea.

Even so, at first I resisted, since everything wonderful about Tarzan is ingrained in my psyche from the Johnny Weissmuller films I watched over and over when I was a kid. (Heck, I still watch.) And I know that the 'real' Tarzan of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books was a totally different sort of chap from the film's incarnation. Yet somehow I've managed to reconcile two improbables into one heroic, loin-clothed ideal. Ideals are hard to live up to and maybe that's my problem. Maybe I expected too much.

Robin Maxwell's book features Edgar Rice Burroughs as himself - a writer looking for a good story to write. A very nice shtick. It passed the first fifty pages test (though the somewhat stolid writing troubled me a bit) and I kept on reading just to see if Jane's side of it would add something new and interesting to the mix.

But here's the problem in a nutshell: as fashioned by Robin Maxwell, Jane just isn't very likable. In fact, she seems rather ghoulish, especially when we come across her calmly dissecting a dead body alongside her father the professor. She has a lot to prove. Being the only woman in a room full of male students doesn't dampen her spirits one single bit.

Jane is a born heroine, a gal meant for great adventures. She is undaunted in her drive to prove herself in a world of male domination, a budding scientist who, with her father, will travel into the heart of deepest Africa to search for Darwin's 'missing link'.

Okay. But couldn't we like her just a little bit in the meantime?

What bothered me most about all this is that not one of the characters we meet along the way, not even Tarzan, has any living, breathing warmth. Tarzan seems more like a phantom than a real human being (not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but here it doesn't work).

Tarzan comes equipped with all his Edgar Rice Burroughs created idiosyncrasies (which is just as it should be), so in a way, this hamstrings the author. But I also thought affection for the character would have inspired some wonderful riffs. But alas, it was not to be.

Maxwell does mention Tarzan and Jane's sexual urges (something I'm not sure Burroughs ever did) - will they or won't they? did he or didn't he? - are questions answered soon enough. I suppose that's part of the problem in this version of the story: some things are better left to the imagination.

Tarzan is a living myth. I don't really want to know about his bodily functions. Or Jane's, for that matter. I don't care if Jane has a anthropologist's eye for this sort of detail. Too much information!

There is one long, boring and rather silly sequence (accompanied by drums) set among a tribe of African natives which serves no real purpose except to let us see that Jane and Tarzan have the hots for each other. (In case we didn't know.) This leads to a mundane sexual confrontation inside a native hut. Ho-hum.

Oh, and one more thing: the villain (packing a Gatling gun on a scientific expedition - sometimes you just have to shake your head) is a guy straight from Bad-Guys-Are-Us. He reminded me of Bluto from the Popeye stories. I can't help it. That's who sprang to mind. And even this I wouldn't have minded if only the book had a sense of humor.

I finally gave up.

Don't you hate when that happens?

I know I do.

Okay I promise, no more negativity for awhile.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Some Personal News

These past couple of weeks have been harrowing but I couldn't talk about what was happening in my family until now. My beautiful new grandson Tyler was born with a congenital heart defect (undetected at first) and when one week old had to be rushed into open heart surgery. Luckily he was treated at one of the best hospitals in the world: Columbia Presbyterian in Manhattan.

Thankfully Tyler came through like the little champ he is (I call him Superboy) and he's home again and healing nicely. As my daughter likes to say: babies are amazing. Yes, they surely are.

Skye and her husband Brian are doing well too after living through what I can only describe as a true nightmare. But our prayers were answered and Tyler has shown us what a courageous little guy he is.

You can read Skye's very heartfelt post about their ordeal, here on her blog.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962) starring Cary Grant, Doris Day and Gig Young

THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962) is a film directed by Delbert Mann, starring Cary Grant, Doris Day, Gig Young and Audrey Meadows. I consider it one of Day's 'perpetual virgin' entries and as such, should be viewed through that prism.

That this movie was made a little over fifty years ago (yegads that reads like ancient history) is obvious from the fashions, the Pan American Airways planes, the Greyhound bus logo and most of all, the Horn and Hardart Automat restaurant where the wise-cracking Audrey Meadows (Doris Day's room-mate) works. Ah, the 'rock-solid' symbols of the good old days.

But more telling than any of the fondly remembered product placements (though Greyhound, at least, is still with us) are the social attitudes, the sexist drivel which is at the heart of this movie. There's a lot of nonsense spoken by Doris Day and Audrey Meadows, not to mention, Cary Grant and assorted others.

But as I watched this last night, occasionally cringing, I found myself laughing out loud (and being embarrassed the neighbors might hear) at some key scenes I'd forgotten about. (Yes, I saw this in theaters and loved it then. What did I know?)

Most of these laugh-out-loud scenes are Gig Young's doing since he steals the picture from under everyone's noses (and doesn't Grant realize it). If there's any real reason to see this ancient bit of male/female will-she-won't-she, it's Gig Young, an underrated actor with one of the sweetest smiles ever recorded by a camera. Though his personal life was tortured in a way that led to eventual tragedy, his on-screen persona was generally damned endearing.

His Oscar win however, was for a 'straight' dramatic role, the sleazy dance marathon emcee in THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY? Young was adept at drama, but it's his comedy performances that I remember most with fondness.

In THAT TOUCH OF MINK, Young plays a perpetually hapless guy (his specialty) named Roger, an ex-academic who has, according to him, succumbed to the lure of an exorbitant salary ($50,000 - chickenfeed today, but back then seen as Big Bucks) and continued bonuses offered him by investment tycoon Philip Shayne (Cary Grant), which Roger is unable to turn down.

In his job as company right hand man to the suave Shayne, Roger is continuously maligning the life he is unable to walk away from as Shayne threatens to raise his salary. These bits are amusing and often seem ad-libbed.

Cary Grant plays the aforementioned suave millionaire (back when millions was important money) in an unusually deadpan way which makes him seem miles away while filming. It's a bit hard to understand why he is so taken with Doris Day's character, Cathy Timberlake.

It's all probably meant to be a kind of 'opposites attract' type thing, but there is not one iota of sexual energy being discharged by anyone in this film, not even by the sleazy, slimy, reptilian and repulsive unemployment insurance clerk Everett Beasley who has the unacceptable hots for Cathy (Doris Day). Beasley is played by John Astin, a very odd looking actor with, nevertheless, hidden suave, who later went on to prove it by starring as Gomez Addams in The Addams Family television series.

In truth, Grant and Astin (so diametrically opposite in looks and manner) occupy two sides of the same coin. Grant's character is rich beyond avarice, handsome, suave and looks good taking a shower or running out into the street wrapped in nothing but a towel.

He is after Cathy Timberlake in the same way and for the same reason as Beasley, but Grant does it with finesse, splendid good looks and a mink coat. Beasley does it with protruding hungry eyes and by trying to withhold Cathy's unemployment check unless she goes out with him. He simply cannot hide (as Grant can) the lascivious thoughts running rampant through his psyche when he looks at Doris.

Neither of these men are interested in marriage.

It's that either/or thing so beloved of movies of that era.

Anyway, on to Doris Day. I was never really crazy about the Rock Hudson/Doris Day pairings  beloved by many movie mavens. I preferred her with David Niven in PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES among other films, and even here, in this ancient chestnut opposite Cary Grant.

Day had a sweetly spunky (and very blond) screen persona which she played to the hilt and could often be endearing and quirky (she was also a talented singer though she is not called upon to do so here).

But you know, she really was a bit too old to keep playing the perpetual virgin as long as she did. In  THAT TOUCH OF MINK she is, again, protecting her virginity, this time from Cary Grant's rather tired playboy persona. Doris is, however, fabulous at physical comedy and has a couple of really hilarious scenes with Grant even if it's hard to believe he has designs on her person at all. (Although she does look mighty good in a sleek black evening gown.)

Cathy Timberlake (Doris Day) is an unemployed clerk from Upper Sandusky, Ohio, who first meets debonair millionaire Philip Shayne (Cary Grant) when his limo has a drive-by encounter with her clothing on a rainy day in New York. That innocent enough beginning soon leads to romantic complications, several unconsummated trips to Bermuda plus this that and the other including a wild taxi drive chase to Asbury Park, New Jersey (of all places).

It's all an excuse for several very funny sight gags (one concerning Gig Young's attempted visit to Cathy's Manhattan apartment) and some fun dialogue between Grant and Young. Not to mention Young's dialogue with his psychiatrist who mistakenly gets that impression that...But wait, you have to see these scenes to believe them.

Audrey Meadows, as Cathy's room-mate Connie, has the sort of cynical, wise-cracking lines that are clearly meant to be funny (and maybe once upon a time, they were) but in hindsight, are anything but. She plays a nagging mother hen leery of men in general but at heart, we know, anxious to fashion her own happily ever after. The only problem is that she's not really likable.

An aside: THAT TOUCH OF MINK always made me wonder why a woman needed a mink coat while traveling in Bermuda. I mean, isn't it hot there? But why digress, the mink is obviously meant as a symbol of decadence - The Purchase Price. I mean, if not marriage, then mink was the next best thing.

Dumb and simplistic. Yeah, but that's the way things worked back in the day. Though I still say that Doris Day and Audrey Meadows were both a bit long in the tooth to be worrying about this sort of thing even then.

The movie is worth watching mainly for Gig Young (I might even watch it yet again) and I did love the sight of that Pan American plane headed to Bermuda. I guess I never did understand how companies like Pan America and Horn and Hardart lost their way. They seemed such a permanent part of life back then.

THAT TOUCH OF MINK trailer can be viewed here.

Don't forget to head on over to Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films and/or Other Audio/Visuals, other bloggers are talking about today. We make for an eclectic bunch.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sunday Salon: Outside with Flowers

French painter Henri Martin (1860 - 1943)

American painter Kate Freeman (Clark) 1875 - 1922)

French painter Ernest Quost (1842 - 1931)

Cornish painter Harold Harvey (1874 - 1941)

German painter August Macke (1884 - 1914) Killed in action, WWI.

American painter Childe Hassam (1859 - 1935)

German illustrator Fritz Baumgarten (1883 - 1966)

American contemporary painter Timothy Easton

Russian painter Boris Kustodiev (1878 - 1927)

Hungarian painter Andor Novak (no dates or info available)

Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1853 - 1919)

French painter Louis Hayet (1864 - 1940)

French painter Claude Monet (1840 - 1926)

English painter Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale (1872 - 1945)

Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853 - 1890)

American painter Childe Hassam (1859 - 1935)

American painter Frederick Frieseke (1874 - 1939)

Claude Monet (1840 - 1926)

French painter Paul Cezanne (1839 - 1906)

French painter Raoul Dufy (1877 - 1953)

Various outdoor scenes interpreted by various artists. All masterful, all lovely in one way or another. Summer is here with a vengeance.