Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday Salon: Rooms With A View

Irish painter William Orpen (1878 - 1931) The Window Seat

Polish painter Edward Okun (1872 - 1945)

Irish painter Sir John Lavery (1856 - 1941)

Danish painter Laurits Andersen Ring (1854 - 1933)

Italian painter Silvestro Lega (1826 - 1895)

Contemporary American painter Mark Keller

American illustrator Dick Sargent (1911 - 1978)

Hungarian painter Spanyik Kornel (1848 - 1943)

Contemporary English painter Nicholas Hely Hutchinson - A Window in St. Ives

Spanish painter Pablo Picasso - Studio 1957

American painter Andrew Wyeth (1917 - 2009)

French painter Gustave Caillebotte (1848 - 1894) Young Man at a Window 1875

Contemporary Swiss illustrator Etienne Delessert

Contemporary French painter Bernard Scholl

French painter Pierre Bonnard (1867 - 1947) - The Window

Danish painter Laurits Andersen Ring (1854 - 1933)

American painter Daniel Garber (1880 - 1958)

American painter Edward Lamson Henry (1841 - 1919)

Contemporary Italian illustrator Roberto Innocenti

Italian painter Vito D'Ancona (1825 - 1884)

French painter Henri Lebasque (1865 - 1937) - The Blue Robe 1920

Belgian painter Henri de Brakeleer (1840 - 1888)

Irish Painter Sir John Lavery (1856 - 1941)

The Met's exhibition of Rooms With A View: The Open Window in the 19th Century gave me the idea and title for this post and for the Pinterest Board which hoards these and many more paintings.

The Mets Catalogue - Cover painting by Casper David Friedrich - Sabine Rewald, designer and curator.

Unlike The Met, not all the works of art I feature are 19th century, some are later, but the view is always looking out. That was my one requisite. Oh, and in my version, it's not all strictly windows.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

20 Favorite Science Fiction Films

Fred over at his blog, Fred's Place drew up his own very interesting sci/fi list and I thought, well, what the heck, I will too.

I'm not a major reader of science fiction, but I sure love the films I saw growing up, watched later mostly on WPIX, channel 11, and even later on cable. Now of course there's Netflix and whatnot. Though I note that on my list there are many newer films (well, relatively new) I'm ready to admit that most modern sci/fi films generally leave me cold (exploding stomachs, bloody mayhem and general gruesomeness are not my cup of tea plus I'm not really fond of teenagers in charge of the future or for that matter, caped crusaders).

However, there are those films that live in memory, films that thrilled me as a kid and fascinated me as an adult. Films that opened up the possibility of new worlds, dangerous adventure and the idea that we're not alone in the universe.

I guess my first exposure to sci/fi was the afternoon live show CAPTAIN VIDEO starring Al Hodge. I watched it religiously every day and wished that when I grew up this sort of thing would be seen as normal - we would be hopping planet to planet and solving the problems of the universe as a matter of course. I was a fanciful kid.

Though sci/fi doesn't, necessarily, mean outer space, most of my choices seem to disprove that. This is not a critic's list, this is just a fan's list, so keep that in mind. Far as I'm concerned, anything goes.

Okay, here's the list - not in any real order of preference, just in the order of when I thought them up:

1) THE THING From Another Planet (1951) starring Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, James Arness and Margaret Sheridan. 

I love everything about this movie with unreasoning fervor. No more need be said. Oh well, I will say that I own it and watch it all the time and every time I get caught up in this straight-forward, very well directed tale of a vegetable-based life form (James Arness) from outer space who crash-lands in the Arctic Circle where, coincidentally, a scientific research team is studying phenomena.

They get phenomena, all right. Turns out the creature is an advance scout for an alien civilization intent on harvesting humans for food. Uh-oh.

"An intellectual carrot. The mind boggles."

2) THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955) starring Rex Reason, Jeff Morrow and Faith Domergue.

An improbable tale of extraterrestrials with high foreheads and white hair, forced to recruit earth scientists to help them create a new source of fuel - think nuclear fission - to try and save their doomed planet. Yeah, that makes sense.

But Jeff Morrow is wonderful as a sympathetic alien. Rex Reason usually played a hero impossible to like, but in this movie he comes close. The special effects aren't bad. A great popcorn movie.

"Where am I?"
"I kind of expected Neptune."

3) THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) starring Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal.

Oddly appealing Michael Rennie (he of the chiseled precision cheekbones) was my mom's favorite actor. He comes close in my own estimation as well. Here he is perfection as Klaatu, a mysterious alien from outer space come to give earth one last chance to save itself before the federation of planets he represents blows us all to smithereens. It seems humans are just too quarrelsome (think atomic bombs) to be allowed to gum up an other-wise peaceful universe.

Patricia Neal makes for an intelligent leading lady and Hugh Marlowe makes for a very smarmy bad guy. The setting? Washington D.C. where 'smarmy' is often par for the course.

"Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!"

4) THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007) starring David Lee Smith and Tony Todd.

A brilliant, low-budget sci/fi film without special effects of any kind. Yes, it's possible. The screenplay is all intelligent talk that makes you think and wonder about the likelihood of an immortal  (I'm not immortal, I'm just old.) 14,000 year old cave-man turned college professor.

A film that makes you think. The mind boggles.

"Every ten years or so, when people start to notice I don't age, I move on."

5) DARK CITY (1998) starring Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Kiefer Sutherland and Jennifer Connelly.

A mix of genres; film noir, science fiction, horror and 1940's hard-case detective. On a bleak sunless world (Earth? Possibly not.), there are dark doings when a man can't remember either his wife or whether he's committed murder. (Where did all that blood come from?)

Complicating matters are a pesky group of very weird 'strangers' with derby hats and telekinetic powers who keep putting everyone to sleep, stealing souls and changing the city overnight, moving buildings about and such.

A very underrated film that should be much better known and appreciated.

"Hey, do you know the way to Shell Beach?"

6) THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. 

Another case of unfriendly skies - aliens seeking to take over our world for their own nefarious purposes. Terrific special effects (of the time) - especially the alien's fabulous looking mid-century art deco-ish ships.

Based on H.G. Wells' novella set in England, this version takes place in California - at least to begin with. Orson Welles' panic-inducing radio play set in New Jersey was also based on the Wells' story.

"What is that gizmo?'
"I'd say that gizmo is a machine from another planet."

7) STAR TREK IV - The Voyage Home (1986) starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley and Catherine Hicks. 

This is the one where the crew travels back in time to the 20th century to kidnap a whale (whale-nap?) to take back to their whale-less future. Why? Well, a dangerous alien space probe awaits a response to a hail only answerable in humpback whale language. Wrong response = destruction. My favorite of all the early Start Trek movies.

A plea to end the killing of whales and a grand adventure. So much fun to watch the crew handle bewildering 20th century customs. The captain even gets to order a pizza.

"Captain, there be whales here!"
"You'll be rich beyond the dreams of avarice."

8) STAR WARS Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

The first in the series (though I also liked the next two). A genre-busting film that astounded me when I saw it in the theater for the first time. I like to think that I'm not that easy to astound. It was the gold 'droid that did it. Spectacular John Williams music too.

" Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope."
"May the Force be with you."

9) STAR TREK (2009) starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto

Pine is young James Tiberius Kirk and Quinto is young Spock. Quinto, especially, is brilliant in this Star Trek prequel. Karl Urban is wonderful as the (already curmudgeonly) young Bones. The beginning grabs hold immediately and then you're on your way. Don't miss it - even if you're not familiar with the original Star Trek and/or you don't much like sci/fi movies.

"Who was that pointy-eared bastard?"
"I don't know, but I like him."

10) CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) starring Richard Dreyfuss and Francois Truffaut.

The second half of this flawed film is as good a sci/fi movie as you could possibly want - the music, the special effects, the basic message. All absolutely thrilling. The first half of the film - not so much. But that darned second half makes up for everything.

"Einstein WAS right!"
"Einstein was probably one of them."

11) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) starring Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace and Peter Coyote.

A movie that had the same kind of eye-opening impact on me that the first Star Wars did. The kids in the cast are perfection - I always wondered why Henry Thomas did not get an Oscar nod.

This is the touching story of a space alien accidentally left behind on earth and the young boy who happens upon him. It is a wonder to behold. The stirring music by John Williams is really quite moving. You can probably only love this movie if you are relatively un-jaded and not overly burdened by cynicism. Otherwise, pass it by. A very snippy attitude, I know. But that's how I feel.

"He's a man from outer space and we're taking him to his spaceship."
"Well, can't he just beam up?"
"This is reality, Greg."

12) 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968) starring Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood

Okay, let's face it - nobody really knows what this movie is about. But it's still one of those things that sweeps you along and makes you think deep thoughts about the universe. The art direction is superb. Plus there's Hal the computer and that smooth oh-so-intoxicating voice. And of course, the astonishing opening credits to the tune of Richard Strauss.

"Just what do you think you're doing, Dave?"

"Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do..."

13) INCEPTION (2010) starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard.

Another movie that makes little sense but is so interesting, so intriguing, so gloriously mind-boggling that it's easy enough to throw sense out the window. It's all about a group of esoteric specialists - headed by Leonardo Di Caprio - who have the ability to manipulate dreams. They're high-tech thieves hired to steal corporate secrets while their victims are in a dream state.

The film also seems to have something to do with the manipulation of time, far as I could tell. Hard to figure what's really going on, but it's a beautifully imagined film full of incredible images and possibilities. Ellen Page is totally miscast, but hey, you can't have everything.

"You create the world of the dream. We bring the subject into that dream and fill it with their subconscious."


14) THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich.

Gary Oldman as Zorg the bad guy comes very close to ruining this movie, but I just fast-forward through his scenes because everything else, including the orange-ade costumes, works for me. Bruce Willis is totally disarming as a cab driver/trouble-shooter from the future - yes, he may be an acquired taste but I acquired it when I first saw a commercial he did for Seagram's Whiskey - back in the day. Then, of course, there was MOONLIGHTING. There's just something about Willis's face that I find SO appealing - he also happens to be a very underrated actor.

Then there's Milla Jovovich as Leeloo the supreme being. (You hadda' be there.) She sports a a head-full of shocking orange hair and speaks an unintelligible language in a rabbity-screechy way which I find utterly beguiling. Chris Tucker is fabulous as a fast-talking, cross-dressing show-biz type D.J. (he wears an eye-popping wig). The story is all about saving earth (yet again) by restoring some mumbo-jumbo element thingy stones that everyone is after. Ultimate power, you know how that goes. Terrific special effects too.

"Father, are you sure she's a supreme being?"

15) DEJA VU (2006) starring Denzel Washington

A.T.F. agent Denzel Washington must travel back in time to save a woman (whom he ultimately falls in love with) from a heartless killer, but also save a ferry-boat full of U.S.S. Nimitz crew-members and their families, from being blown-up by a bomb. A film that is surprisingly good even if some of the violence made me close my eyes and shudder - occasionally this sort of thing doesn't prevent me from watching a film that otherwise captures my imagination. Plus I love time-travel stuff.

"He's gonna kill her. In twelve hours he's gonna kill her."
"He killed her four days ago! You were at the funeral - what's wrong with you?"

16) SOURCE CODE (2011) starring Jake Gyllenhaal

This is another film (with another non-sensical plot) I didn't expect to like. Look, as long as most of it makes some sort of sense, I can forget the actual nuts and bolts which don't. Here - somehow - a soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) whose last memories are of crashing in Afghanistan, wakes up in a lab, inside a pod, trapped in a kind of suspended animation with no idea how he got there.

He is surrounded by computers and scientists who are hard at work trying to prevent a Chicago commuter train from being destroyed by terrorists. To that end, the soldier's essence (he left half his body back in Afghanistan) must - somehow - travel back in time (inside another body) over and over again (till he gets it right) to stop the horrendous event. But each time he only has 8 minutes to do it. Don't ask. It just works. You'll catch on.

"Source Code is not time-travel. Rather, Source Code is time re-assignment. It gives us access to a parallel reality."

Oh, so THAT's what's happening. I don't know, sounds like time travel to me.

17) THE ABYSS (1989) starring Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

Diving teams from an underwater oil rig (along with some Navy Seals) are asked by the Navy to help search for a nuclear submarine which has mysteriously crashed fathoms deep. Cause unknown.

The special effects and underwater filming are spectacular. The 'aliens' are beautifully conceived and their actions and reactions are enthralling. The ending is absolutely thrilling. No exaggeration here.

Ed Harris is only superb and although Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as his estranged wife and fellow scientist can be annoying, I don't mind her too much. Though I could do without their squabbling. The set of the underwater oil rig with its maze-like tunnels is something to behold. This is a gorgeous movie.

"When it comes to the safety of these people, there's me and then there's God, understand?"

18) INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman

The film which made Will Smith a star - I think. At any rate, the film that brought him to my attention. Here he has wonderful screen presence. The story: Unfriendly aliens attack earth - their space ships guided by a huge 'mother ship' (which ultimately proves their undoing).

When it looks as if all hope is gone, in step fighter pilot Will Smith and scientist/cable-repairman, Jeff Goldblum (who comes up with a very simplistic solution to destroy the aliens and stop earth's destruction - but hey, if it works...).

Bill Pullman plays the young, idealistic President.

A terrifying scene: the White House blowing up as the Prez and his staff barely escape in a helicopter. Favorite scene: Will Smith dragging a dead alien up to the gates of an Army installation and demanding entrance.

"If you're so smart then tell me something how come you go to M.I.T. for eight years to become a cable repairman?"

19) THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998) starring Jim Carrey, Ed Harris and Laura Linney.

Well, I guess this is mostly a fantasy-type thing, not strictly sci/fi - but it's MY list.

I don't like Jim Carrey. But just to be contrary I liked him well enough in this quirky, intelligent movie which works because the concept and execution are so strong. The story: Truman Burbank is a happy insurance salesman who thinks his life is pretty much ideal. What he doesn't know is that his entire life is a set-up. Unknown to Truman, he is the star of The Truman Show, the most popular television show in the world.

Truman has been observed by hidden cameras since birth and the town he thinks he lives in is actually a large studio set where actors play Truman's friends, co-workers and even his love interest.

One day, Truman recognizes an actor who portrayed his 'deceased' father growing up - this time the actor (mistakingly re-hired) is playing a stranger in the crowd. Truman begins to wonder what on earth...?

Ed Harris as the god-like director has the best line in the film:

"Cue the sun!"

20) THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011) starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt

David Norris, a young New York politician (Matt Damon +  guest-spots by a host of real politicos which is part of the fun) on his way up meets Elise Sellas, a ballerina (Emily Blunt) and sparks fly. The problem is, he is not supposed to have met her. So it's up to the aptly named The Adjustment Bureau: Fate in the shape of natty men in hats who take their mission very, very seriously - to step in and adjust the situation so that David forgets Emily and gets on with his own destiny. Preordination is not to be trifled with.

But David resists.

The special effects are terrific. The city of New York has seldom looked so special. I expected little from this film - in truth, I rented it because of Matt Damon. But this turns out to have been a very lucky choice - an underrated film woefully advertised. I loved it.

"Being early is just as bad as being late."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Book: CORPSE DIPLOMATIQUE (1950) by Delano Ames (1906 - 1987)

No, I don't have this copy - I wish I did.

I've never traveled to Nice, France, but I've always wanted to. Now that I've read Delano Ames' charming mystery, CORPSE DIPLOMATIQUE published in 1950, I feel as though I've been to the French Riviera and had the most delightful time.

I'm having trouble containing my enthusiasm for this book, so I won't. I only merely LOVED IT! There, I've gotten that out of my system.

I'd read one previous Delano Ames book, SHE SHALL HAVE MURDER and liked it well enough to look for more. This one just caught my fancy and I read it in two nights though I easily could have read it in one if I hadn't minded going sleepless.

Dagobert Brown (the rather strangely named amateur sleuth/dilettante/intellectual) and his novelist wife Jane are supposed to be frugally traveling on the Riviera. Lacking any real money but managing always to be on hand for food and drinks amid the chatter and doings of all sorts of intriguing characters. Jane and Dagobert are usually also on hand when murder strikes.

What I liked immediately is that Dagobert and Jane have an unusual, though affectionate, off-key relationship. He urges her to work on her book, while he is supposedly researching some sort of thesis about Bertran de Born, an obscure and very ancient poet - that is, unless he gets sidetracked with one or another of his various interests. Work - day-to-day wage earning work - is anathema to Dagobert and Jane is indulgent of his whims though occasionally she wishes he'd bring home a paycheck or two.

This review will be filled with several quoted passages from the books simply because I can't think how else to convey my fervor for this sort of writing - it catches me up and takes me along every single time. If you don't instantly like it then you will not like the book and oh, poor you.

'Dagobert had in mind a lonely village perched on a rocky hillside in the Basses-Alpes where we could study Provencal, so we went to the Hotel Negresco on the Promenade des Anglais.

In this way we got our names in the Riviera-Gazette among recent arrivals in Nice. We were listed with the King of Sweden, Mrs. Stuyvesant Reinlander III of Philadelphia and someone called S.A. Bao U. I wasn't dressed for it but it was pleasant while it lasted.

"It's the only place I could think of," Dagobert apologised as he put his mackintosh and hobnailed boots in the vast Louis Quinze wardrobe. "It's nice and central," he added.

"Yes, I noticed the police station around the corner. Still they won't present the bill for a week, probably."

"It's all about local colour," he said cheerfully. "S.A. Bao U. will be useful when we visit Siam, or would it be Burma?...I wonder what the inside of a French police station looks like?"

"Dagobert," I asked suddenly, "did we buy return tickets?"

He removed the belt from his corduroy trousers and shook out his grey flannel suit which had been rolled up in a rucksack.

"I suppose one changes for dinner," he said. "Well, in a way no. It seemed such a lot to spend all at once. You worry too much about essentials, Jane."

I didn't say "somebody has to," though the thought did cross my mind. I live with Dagobert - in fact he is my husband - and I have learned that discussions beginning in this way never get anywhere.'

There, now you have a bit of the flavor of the book and of the relationship of our two amateur sleuths. A bit later out on the hotel's dining terrace, Jane joins Dagobert for dinner and can't help but notice that he's made himself completely at home.

'I found Dagobert sitting under a striped umbrella, sipping a Noilly Prat. He looked as though he owned the place. He stood up and held my chair for me. He was wearing a beret I'd forgotten he had. A copy of a French Communist newspaper was folded beside his saucer and he had bought a packet of Gauloises cigarettes. He gesticulated in a very Latin way as he asked the waiter to bring me a Dubonnet. He looked essentially, unmistakably English. I'd never noticed that before.

"One could be quite comfortable here," he said, handing me the salted almonds. "Or do you find the atmosphere uncongenial to work?"

"I don't want to seem mean-spirited," I said, accepting the almonds, "but are these thrown in?"

Properly he ignored the question. "We could probably persuade the management to provide a small table for your typewriter on our private balcony." he said. "If you feel the place really inspires you, I could doubtless take lessons in Provencal at the Universal School of Languages. How did you think of starting your novel?"

"I haven't thought."

"You should," he said, sweeping the luxurious appointments of the terrace with an appreciative eye. "One has to pay for this sort of thing. Couldn't it begin right here...let's see...with what?"

He paused, frowning. I drank my Dubonnet and thought of other things. Dagobert is always thinking of ways for me to begin a novel. He has the mistaken impression that I am happier when occupied.'

Within moments, a dapper gentleman who'd earlier been giving Jane the continental eye in the lobby appears on the terrace, chooses the table immediately adjacent to the couple and orders un cafe. The little man can't help but be startled by the nature of Dagobert's conversation, centering on the best way to kill a man. (He is prompting Jane to begin her novel.) An amusing scene ensues made all the funnier by Dagobert's complete disregard of the sensibilities of his coffee-drinking neighbor though Jane is aware that the gentleman is growing alarmed byDagobert's murderous enthusiasm complete with sound effects.

Turns out that the little man is the courtly though womanizing Don Diego Sebastiano, Vice Consul in Nice for the insignificant Central American country of Santa Rica. Unknown to Dagobert and Jane, Don Diego is currently living in fear for his life and/or losing his cushy Riviera job, since the assassination back in Santa Rica, of the current President, his uncle. Hence his immediate alarm upon noting  Dagobert's blood thirsty conversation.

"What's a place like Santa Rica doing with a Vice-Consul in a place like Nice?"
"What, indeed?" Don Diego said gloomily.

At any rate, this has little to do with the main events in the story except to add confusion when just a few pages later after Dagobert and Jane have moved to the monetarily more suitable Pension Victoria (with a great view of the Mediterranean), Jane is practically a witness to the shooting death of Hugh de Courcy Arkwright, a debonair language teacher, fellow pensionair and blackmailer.

Of course we don't know right off the bat that the victim is a blackmailer, but eventually the truth - as is to be expected - will out. To add to the confusion I previously mentioned, everyone assumes that the intended murder victim was really Don Diego as he was seen walking on the promenade in the same vicinity. The bullet just missed him by inches. Therefore Arkwright's death must be a one of those nasty twists of fate.

Until Dagobert causes a stir in the Pension Victoria's dining room when he announces that Arkwright's death was no accident. Dagobert has a flair for drama as you may have noticed.

Time for a bit of introduction. Staying at the pension alongside the two sleuths are:

Mrs. Andrioli, middle-aged and earthy, who owns and manages the Pension Victoria.

American widow Eleanor Duffield and her awkward uncommunicative daughter:

Sophie Duffield, the uncommunicative daughter whose awkwardness makes her appear much younger than her 24 years. (Unknown to her uppity-crust mother, Sophie has an eye on Joe Orsini, American bartender at the Brooklyn Bar, a local dive.)

Iris Makepeace, flirtatious young married (with a husband conveniently half an ocean away, working in - coincidences of coincidences, the above mentioned Santa Rica - but more about him later) who apparently thinks nothing of indulging in an affaire d'coeur with -

French pianist Dieudonne Dompierre (known as 'Pierre' - thank heaven) who keeps a piano in his small room and was conveniently playing the chaconne from the Bach violin concerto meant for the left hand (a clue that goes nowhere as so many do in this story) at the time of the murder.

And before his death, Major Hugh de Courcy Arkwright, suave Englishman, blackmailer and murder victim.

Jane writes : 'Apart from the above six people, there was a sprinkling of Swiss, Belgians and Scandinavians whom I never really got straight. I felt that six were enough to go ahead with, especially if I added - as Dagobert insisted - the personnel of the Brooklyn Bar and the Santa Rican Consulate...'

That would be Joe Orsini formerly of Buffalo, New York, Suzette (Don Diego's favorite sultry pick-up), Don Diego himself, Juan Moro (Don Diego's sullen driver) and later Henry Makepeace, Iris's not very sanguine hubby, who shows up out of the blue, moves in and apparently has no qualms about Iris and Pierre's entanglement. He claims he and Iris have an 'open' marriage. Right.

So, plenty of suspects, plenty of red herrings, plenty of motives to be discovered and plenty of supposed clues to be inspected and tossed aside. Dagobert and Jane aren't so much actual hands-on detectives as observers of human nature and proponents of 'what if?'.

Some of what happens is told rather than shown - supposedly a writing no-no - but here it works just fine.

This is a mystery in which the killer's identity doesn't matter as much as the fun we're having.

Read about author Delano Ames, his life and work here.

This week, B.V. Lawson is collecting the Friday Forgotten Book links over at her blog, In Reference to Murder, while Patti is away. Don't forget to check in.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Artwork for CAPTAIN BLOOD by N.C. Wyeth

Best. Pirate. Book. Ever

Second. Best. Pirate Book. Ever.

Best. Pirate. Movie. Ever. (This is the French poster, I think.)

Best. Pirate. Hero. Ever. Errol Flynn. Swoon.

Best. Pirate. Villain. Ever. Basil Rathbone.

Second Best. Pirate. Villain. Ever. Captain Hook, of course.

Funniest. Pirate. Book. Ever. Well, one of them anyway.

And a pix of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow - just because.

As I always like to say: what's a day without a good snarl! Aaaargh!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film Tuesday: MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT (1959) starring Frederic March and Kim Novak

MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT (1959) is a film directed by Delbert Mann with a screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky based on his own play. It stars Frederic March and Kim Novak with a stellar cast of secondary character actors including Albert Dekker, Glenda Farrell, Martin Balsam and Lee Grant. (Edward G. Robinson starred in the Broadway production.)

It was Jacqueline's splendid review of MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT a while ago (at Another Old Movie Blog), that  brought it all back to mind, a film I'd long forgotten but suddenly craved to see again. Last seen: either on the big screen or perhaps on TV - can't remember. But I know it was in the dark ages.

Thanks to Jacqueline's kindness, my viewing is now a fait accompli.

MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT is the engrossing story of a May/December romance, a bit shocking then - not so much now.

I must say my first reaction while watching the opening credits was a total feeling of deja vu all over again, if you know what I mean - just seeing the busy streets of the city's garment district made for an unsettling kind of emotional time travel. The film is set in that busy few blocks of Manhattan's West 30's - the sidewalks cluttered with garment racks and hand trucks - where I too toiled for a time many eons ago - scrambling down the street in high heels (!), rushing to work at a dress manufacturer very similar to that shown in the movie. (I was later fired for disconnecting the owner's overseas phone call to his son. An understatement: I've never been technically inclined.)

A few years later I would return again to the garment district (though in an entirely different capacity) while working in the fashion department of a major magazine. So the setting of the film was very familiar to me.

But I don't remember it all being so damned bleak. Maybe because I prefer to remember New York as it appears in the 1949 MGM musical ON THE TOWN. I know, I know, I live in a dream world. But in truth growing up in Manhattan was a great deal of fun.

Back to the movie:

The black and white camera work by Joseph C. Brun has that gritty, sweaty quality reminiscent of most films shot in this era. But direct lighting, harsh shadows and a general unkempt air is not the way I like to remember my carefree youth. Were women that unattractive or was it the make-up and the fashions? Were the clothes really that clunky? Did everyone look older than they were? Were the men all pear shaped? These are questions I ask myself.

I'm very much afraid the answer is YES. Looking backwards is always dangerous and it's easy to feel superior, but except for Kim Novak, most everyone in this film looks pretty ancient or else has that 'used up' desperate look so popular at the time. I think it was all that smoking and drinking. As for that telltale 'pear shape' I speak of - well that's what made so many men look old beyond their time. And maybe the hats.

At any rate, Academy Award winning actor Frederic March seems ancient, or at least that's how his character has come to feel in the bosom of his quarrelsome, meddling, well-meaning, but ultimately selfish family. March - though he looks older - is supposed to be 56 (and right now 56 sounds pretty good to me, let me tell you) and he is right smack dab in the middle of a mid-life crisis, fighting the strangle-hold of creeping old age. His melancholy friends and fellow workers speak as if they are at death's door - comfortably complaining about their various aches and pains and who's who in the obituary columns.

March plays widower Jerry Kingsley, a self-made man, proud owner of a successful dress manufacturing business. He is a hands-on boss, always on the scene, pitching in, dealing with the unions, handling clients, cutting patterns if he must, sweating the details and in general making sure everything is working the way it's supposed to. The business is his life.

Kingsley's employees toil in a cramped, dark workplace, the men in suspenders and rolled up shirt sleeves, the women in dowdy clothing. It is an apparently window-less, airless enclosure wall to wall with samples on hangers and large wooden pattern tables. Even the small showroom has the same dismal ambience. Yet we know it's a successful business. But thinking back on my own experience, the place I worked in had a similar look - except for the showroom. So that must have been how things were.

One of the employees, a middle-aged hustler named Walter Lockman (played by Albert Dekker) is a sleaze of a salesman, unhappily married and forever chasing after young 'tootsies' in an attempt to recapture his youth and stave off his terrible loneliness. Walter is the direct opposite of his friend Jerry Kingsley who internalizes his unhappiness in a more quiet, dignified way.

Kim Novak, an actress known more for her beauty than her acting prowess (she confounds expectations by being quite good), plays Betty Preisser and when we first see her, we assume she's playing against type, attempting to seem awkward and plain. But something else is at work. She is Kinglsey's receptionist/model, uncomfortable in her own skin, wary of men who see her as just another 'tootsie' and suffering still, from the aftershocks of a recent divorce. She's bristly and nervous and kind of a hairs' breadth away from some sort of breakdown. At least so she seemed to me. She's supposed to be 24 (Marsh never tires of calling her a 'kid') though in truth, she looks older as - all together now - everyone did back then.

Speaking of 'everyone' - here's something you have to know: EVERYONE in this movie is unhappy. I mean, EVERYONE. I am reminded of Oscar Wilde's words: 'We're all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.'

Well, can't think who in this film might be looking at stars, maybe Frederic Marsh. But let me tell you, it takes him a while.

Kingsley lives in a large Manhattan apartment with his sister, a meddling 'spinster' who moved in when Kingley's wife passed away. She is unhappy unless she is fussing over her brother, telling him what to do and trying to set him up with lonely widows of a certain age.

There is a rather unsettling scene in which Kingsley rushes home in the afternoon to change a soiled shirt before heading out again and he is corraled by a friend of his sister's brought over to the apartment for the express purpose of catching his interest. She is played beautifully in a rather heart-breaking way by Betty Walker as a desperate, lonely, impervious woman who just can't stop talking. All the while trying to be a gentleman (he is a nice man), Kingsley is forced to run into the bathroom for a moment's breather - a sad/funny moment.

Kingsley has a grown married daughter, Lillian, and a new grandson. Lillian (Joan Copeland) and her hubby Jack (Martin Balsam) live in New Rochelle but spend an awful lot of time hanging around daddy's apartment. Naturally enough, hubby resents this. He is unhappy because he feels slighted since the baby's birth (back then hubbies had little to do with babies) and what's more, it's implied that Lillian is too busy worrying about her father to pay much attention to his (Jack's) needs. He wants to go to Florida on vacation - just the two of them. Lillian resists because 'her father needs her'. More unhappiness.

Here's the basic plot: Up until one fateful day, Kinglsey has paid little attention to Betty (Kim Novak), treating her as just another employee. But when one afternoon he has to stop at her apartment to pick up some papers she inadvertently took home (she wasn't feeling well and fled the workplace), he is drawn into her slightly incoherent tale of woe and spends the rest of the day listening to her talk about her loveless marriage and the nuts and bolts of her divorce.

To me she seems jumpy and ill at ease as if she's on some kind of drug, but that's how she plays the scene and it appears that Kinglsey is intrigued enough to notice that hey, she's a pretty little gal who's had a sad time of it.

A short time later, he asks Betty out to dinner and the die is cast. He is bowled over by her beauty seen in a new light, her neediness, her youthful gaucheness and well, her beauty - did I say that already?

Betty is one needy, unhappy woman. But sometimes that's the attraction and in this case, we have need on both sides. Betty was abandoned by her father when she was a child and her mother, played caustically by Glenda Farrell is not all she should be. Betty is attracted to an older man because she equates age with wisdom (she's the type that needs to be told what to do and what's going to happen) and besides Jerry Kingsley is a nice gentle man and not just some lout looking for a good time.

Jerry is in love. He asks Betty to marry him despite the age difference and despite the fact that there is just the slightest chance that Betty is still hung up on her ex-husband, a musician played by Lee Phillips.

Anyway, once the respective families find out about Jerry and Betty, there is hell to pay. Betty's mom calls Jerry 'a dirty old man'. Jerry's sister is appalled - 'You are making a decision that you will regret for the rest of your life!' Jerry's daughter Lillian is resentful and miserable - Betty is younger than she is. Lillian is full of psycho-babble and unresolved issues. She can't go to Florida her father needs her, she tells her furious hubby, Jack - he's already postponed the initial trip. Their's is not a marriage made in heaven, but maybe that's the way marriages were then. The two seem so unhappy and ill-at-ease with each other. Jack realizes suddenly that Lillian doesn't consider him 'family'. He is told to bow out when he offers his advice on the upcoming marriage.

In the meantime, Betty's friend Marilyn (Lee Grant) thinks she's crazy to even think about marrying 'an old man'. 'In ten years he'll be 66!' She tells Betty that life isn't meant to be happy - you get up in the morning, you struggle and then you die (I'm paraphrasing, but close enough). This is another unhappy, brittle woman whose misery is tangible. I warned you about everyone in this film.

Jeez, no wonder Betty wants to find shelter in Jerry's arms - ancient though they may be. Even if she is still confused and unsure if she loves him. But she likes to think that events have spiraled along and swept her up. Most of all, she hates being lonely and unsure of her next step.

One evening Betty's sleazy ex-husband George (Lee Phillips) shows up at the apartment wanting another chance. She tells him no but allows him to make love to her.

When Jerry finds out (because Betty tells him thinking it will be all right since it meant nothing to her) he is humiliated and breaks off the engagement - he was having second thoughts anyhow what with all the drama back at his apartment. They argue and he tells her he must have some peace, that this is all too much for him. He tells her that hers is a lousy kind of love. And she tells him that it's the only kind of love she knows.

But when his unhappy friend Walter Lockman, facing the ugly truth about himself, attempts suicide. Jerry rushes to his side and decides then and there to seize at happiness with Betty no matter what. He'll have enough peace of mind when he's dead.

A compelling movie with the feel of the old Playhouse 90 telecasts (you of a certain age will know of which I speak) and fabulous acting from Frederic March and the entire cast.

Since it's Tuesday, please remember to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other films and/or audio visuals, other bloggers are posting about. Due to a family emergency, Todd will be playing catch-up with the listings at some point but feel free to check last week's list and the weeks before that. Lots of interesting stuff there.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Saturday Salon: The Rendition of Goldfish

English genre, social realist and portrait painter,Thomas Benjamin Kennington (1856 - 1916)

Australian digital artist, designer and art director, Ken Wong

Australian modernist painter and printmaker, Margaret Preston (1875 - 1963)

Contemporary American realist painter, Janet Fish

R. Humphrey (unable to find further info) But it's such a lyrical painting, I had to include it.

French modernist painter Henri Matisse (1869 - 1954)

German Impressionist/Expressionist painter and printmaker, Lovis Corinth

American Impressionist painter Charles Courtney Curran (1861 - 1942)

Dutch painter Maria Vos (1824 - 1906)

American painter Ben Frank Moss (Born 1936 - )

French painter and photographer, Jacques Henri Lartique (1894 - 1986)

American Contemporary painter, Barbara Smith Ott

English genre painter, author and illustrator, George Dunlop Leslie 'The Goldfish Seller' (1835 - 1921)

Henri Matisse

British Academic Classical painter William Stephen Coleman, (1829 - 1904)

Scottish painter and printmaker, Elizabeth Blackadder (Born 1931 - )

British painter Charles Hodge Mackie (1862 - 1920)

American genre, portrait and landscape painter, Elizabeth Nourse (1859 - 1938)

American illustrator, Jessie Wilcox Smith (1863 - 1935)

American painter, Gertrude Fiske (1878 - 1961)

While perambulating across the Internet, I noticed that goldfish appear to be a popular subject for painters working in just about every style. These attractive little Technicolor fish show up at least once in a variety of artist portfolios. Common enough subjects can make for uncommon works of art as we all know. I love viewing the same subject through the eyes of different artists.