Friday, November 29, 2013

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: MURDER, MAESTRO, PLEASE (1952) by Delano Ames

Before you run screaming out the door, I really am trying to curb my crush on Delano Ames' books (and obviously not succeeding very well). But I promise that this is the last one for awhile. It's getting harder to locate Ames' books online especially when you don't want to pay big bucks. But mostly it's because they're just not available. Oh how I wish someone/anyone, would reprint the entire Jane and Dagobert series.

MURDER, MAESTRO, PLEASE (1952) is another 'let's take a holiday with Jane and Dagobert' book - honestly, do these folks ever stay home? Nah, then we wouldn't have all these murderously fun adventures to read.

This time the amateur sleuths are traveling in the Pyrenees area between Spain and France when suddenly they're shot at - a nice way to begin a couple of weeks off. They're supposed to meet up with a cousin of Dagobert's, a young woman traveling with mutual friends - one a long ago school pal of Jane's - and all will be attending a slightly off the beaten path music festival.

But back to the shots which have momentarily caused a crimp in Jane and Dagobert's forward motion.

"We were as a bird (or a bullet) flies, very near the frontier of Andorra where, according to the guidebook, it is the 'inalienable right' of every adult male to carry firearms. On the slopes of the Pic des Quatre Vents they shoot the isard. It was out of season, but we had had an exquisite civet d'isard for dinner last night. It is a shy animal, difficult to shoot. Doubtless you stalked it in the dense fog. 

Then there were smugglers. Probably the frontier people fired at smugglers from time to time. In brief, there a dozen satisfactory explanations. I wished I could think of one.

Dagobert had been pursuing a different line of speculation. 

"I was wondering, " he said, "what mortal enemies we have made in the neighborhood."

"Don't..." my voice rose, but immediately sank to a controlled croak, "say things like that. This is supposed to be a holiday."

He picked me sympathetically out of the ditch and dusted me off. "You don't like the idea of mysterious assaults on our life?"


"Sinister attempts to make us abandon our project?"

"I wouldn't mind those so much," I admitted.

Our 'project' was to reach Puig d'Aze on a tandem bicycle via Andorra and the less accessible regions of the Eastern Pyrenees; I was quite willing to abandon this project on the spot. It had been formed four evenings ago at the Cafe de la Gare in Perpignan when the question of how to get to Puig d'Aze had first become acute.

There is, of course, a train and a regular bus service, but Dagobert had been reading a guidebook which was written before these things existed. It was full of maps showing mule paths. I had seen him gazing at the shop window next door which displayed hobnailed boots, steel-tipped sticks, campers' and cyclists' equipment. Recognizing the far-away look in his eye, I said quickly:

"There's a place down the road with motor-cars for hire."

Before you know it, Jane and Dagobert are honorary life members of the Club du Cyclisme des Pyrenees Orientale  and riding away on a tandem bike built for two, making their decidedly not uneventful way to their destination.

Once in Puig d'Aze, they (and we) meet up (at various times) with the usual (but very welcome) Delano Ames cast of colorful characters which, this time, include:

Naomi Gordon-Smith, a flighty, aging femme-fatale wannabe and Jane's long ago school pal.

Geoffrey Gordon-Smith, Naomi's patient, wealthy and very understanding, British hubby.

Perdita, Dagobert's cousin-by-marriage, a lovely, limpid girl for whom Dagobert assumes a natural family responsibility. She is newly engaged to:

Squadron Leader Johnny Corcoran, a famed test pilot and dashing man about Europe who, in turn, has his roving eye on any female within his immediate radius. He and Naomi appear to have a secret. Uh-oh. 

Tyler Sherman, an American from Texas with a drawl and a suspicious way of popping in and out when least expected. He has his eye on the lovely Perdita and he may or may not be a spy.

Vicky Stein, a young and prickly foreign woman of impoverished circumstances who is harboring secrets and obviously lying through her teeth. She may or may not be a spy.

Mitzi Stein, her even younger, likable and rather precocious, protective sister who is apparently, a bit of a prodigy. She too may or may not be a spy.

Fred Evans, another suspicious type - British this time - who claims to be a newspaper reporter - excuse me, 'roving correspondent'. He may or may not be a spy.

Last but not least, there's the hard drinking, oh-so-eccentric master of the harpsichord, Kitson, a loud, bushy-bearded slovenly type in a plum dinner jacket who is the sole reason for the Puig d'Aze Music Festival. At the first concert he plays nothing that is on the official program to the confusion of the invited audience.

Of course when Jane and Dagobert show up anyplace and at any time - can murder be far behind?

MURDER, MAESTRO, PLEASE is simply another in the wonderful Delano Ames' repetoire of books bound to please.

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. 

Oh, a note to those of you who may not be too familiar with the area of the world in which Jane and Dagobert find themselves this time out.

Traveling by motorcars from Puig over the border into Andorra:

We found a picnic spot about an hour later and waited until Tyler, who had been giving a driving lesson to Perdita, caught up with us. It was a green valley thick with wild narcissus, a few miles before the village of Adorre-la-Vielle, the capital of the republic. (It isn't quite a republic, but since 1278 a fief owning feudal allegiance to two co-princes who are the Spanish Bishop of Urgel and the French Assemblee Nationale. It is very complicated and doubtless fascinating, but details of 'viguiers and bayles' as Dagobert explained them to us during the picnic fortunately slip my - and his - memory.) 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Let's Give Thanks.

I'll be celebrating with my daughter and her hubby and my two adorable grandchildren - not to mention, my brother and his wife + two dogs of differing personalities, but of one mind when it comes to turkey scraps. 

Hopefully none of us will overdo the feasting, but of course there's no guarantee. Ha!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: HATARI (1962) starring John Wayne, Red Buttons and Elsa Martinelli

I haven't seen this film recently so my post is written from affectionate memory. And yet, I have to add that despite my deep-rooted affection, HATARI is one of those films that doesn't, necessarily, improve on excessive re-watching. But watched one or two or even three times, it's quite enjoyable. I shall explain as we go.

HATARI (1962) is a Howard Hawks production starring John Wayne, Red Buttons and Elsa Martinelli. Filmed mostly on location in Tanzania (aka The United Republic of Tanzania), Africa - which is actually the main attraction if you, like me, dreamed of going on safari (with film camera) when you were young and full of oats. ('Hatari' means 'danger' in Swahili.)

One of the film's more memorable enjoyments is the jazzy light-hearted score by Henry Mancini. I owned the album for years and think I might want to get my hands on the CD - now that the film has sprung into my mind again.

An aside: I had a friend who went to live in Africa - maybe Senegal, not sure - with her new hubby. They were there for a couple of years but came back to America, rather chastened, I think. They just could not accommodate themselves to the vast changes in lifestyle. At any rate, I'd given her a gold ring to take with her so that at least something of mine, if not my actual self, would have traveled there. Now that I think on it, I know three people who have been to Morocco, so that's three others in my sphere who have actually set foot on the Continent of Africa.

Back to the movie:

Besides the attractions of Africa and star power of John Wayne, there are a bevy of good looking men in secondary roles - more than enough to make any young heart flutter: Bruce Cabot as 'The Indian' is an older - but still good enough for a flutter or two - white hunter (though nicely tanned) whose leg goring at the horn of a rhino in the beginning of the film adds drama and is supposed to make that particular beast seem mysterious, deadly and too difficult to take back alive except if you're John Wayne. It also makes it easier to add a swaggering young Frenchman to the group, since The Indian must recuperate and can no longer join in the animal hijinks.

Wayne plays Sean Mercer, a gruff co-owner of an outfit based in Africa, whose job it is to catch animals for zoos around the world. This they do with extreme vigor and hands-on enthusiasm. The best parts in the film are those when we're on the chase - since the camera goes right along - adding the necessary gritty verisimilitude to the various treks across the African plains. Just really wonderful camera work by Russell Harlan - director of photography.

Joining Wayne in the animal round-ups, are: an adorably blond and sexy Hardy Kruger as Kurt Muller, the German in the cast, an equally adorable and even sexier Valentin de Vargas (sadly he died this year on my birthday at age 78) as Luis Francisco Garcia Lopez, the Mexican in the cast, (Luis has very little to say in the script, but his eyes and expressive face do the 'saying' for him), Gerard Blain as the less adorable but just as sexy, Charles Maurey, nicknamed 'Chips', the Frenchman in the cast, and finally the almost too adorable Red Buttons as 'Pockets' the American of the secondary group - a handy jack of all trades and inventor - a silly side plot involving rockets.

There's lots of male bonding exposition, joking, smoking, some drunkenness and manly oneupmanship that must be waded through of course - it's a Hawks film - plus testosterone usually flows when John Wayne is around. But I must tell you that a little of this sort of thing goes a very long way.

Well, as you can see, we have a veritable United Nations of actors in the cast. Part of the fun. Gives a kind of international flavor even if it stretches credulity a bit.

Along with all this heavenly pulchritude we also have French actress Michele Girardon as Brandy de la Court who has lived in Africa since she was a child and has known The Indian and Sean all her life. Sean tends to think of her as a girl still, but in truth she's a grown woman and pretty soon the younger men notice and begin to jockey for position. Her choice near the end is rather obvious from the first, but we pretend not to see it. It's meant to be cute.

Okay, so into this mix comes beautiful Elsa Martinelli as Italian wildlife photographer Anna Maria D'Allesandro, almost immediately nicknamed 'Dallas' by Sean - he had initially mistaken her letters requesting interviews and photos for a magazine spread as having come from a male journalist. (She signed the letters with her initials.) So there's exasperated fussing and fuming in the beginning as he initially wants her to leave - the African plains are no place for a woman.

"But what about Brandy?" Oh well, she grew up here. She's one of the boys. Unsaid: Plus she doesn't go in for feminine falderals as Dallas presumably might.

Needless to say, Dallas, a determined woman, stays on. Though I must add that as far as picture taking, she doesn't seem to have much professional paraphernalia and apparently only one small 35 mm camera. Not that you see her working that often. But as usual I'm nitpicking.

Everything that happens in this movie is foretold in the first half hour or so so that the only reason for watching are the thrilling (and I mean, thrilling) animal chases, the African landscape, the accompanying music and the aforementioned Hardy Kruger and Valentin de Vargas who are hardly the main stars.

My favorite line in the movie: "My name is Luis Francisco Garcia Lopez, I don't wear pajamas."
You have to watch the scene to know why this signifies. I swoon every time. Even if it's only a brief screen moment.

The truth is, John Wayne was really too old to be playing the smitten school boy, even a reluctant one. And Elsa Martinelli's character was too young to have fallen for this very irascible older guy whose attractions, I must say, are not what they once were. Though I was never one to pooh-pooh the appeal of extreme competence - the alpha male syndrome and all (I can be a sucker for that myself). But again I'm nit-picking, Wayne's the star and that's that.

Wayne and Martinelli meet 'cute'.

Don't get me wrong, I liked John Wayne in most of his screen incarnations - always playing John Wayne - but when younger, he was easier on the eyes and his 'manly' shtick hadn't worn out its welcome. But by the sixties, he was oh-so-predictable that you had to role your eyes. (Except for maybe in TRUE GRIT.)

The rest of the film is basically a will they/won't they with animal chases in between and near the end two little elephants to up the 'cute' quotient and make Dallas seem more 'motherly' and adorable just in case we were thinking she might be too sophisticated for Sean.

Okay so why am I recommending this film when I seem to be damning it with faint praise? Well, you know I'm the contrary sort. Besides what annoys me may not necessarily annoy you.

Take a look, see what you think. I know that when I was young and impressionable, I really loved this boisterous Howard Hawks tale of adventure in a kind of theme-park Africa. Despite my older self looking back with a certain amount of cynicism, I probably wouldn't mind seeing it again one of these days. It's not a bad film at all to watch with younger kids either. Despite my grumpiness, there are some really delightful scenes and the whole thing does kind of make you wish you were there.

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog today to see what other forgotten (or overlooked) films and/or audio visuals, other bloggers are talking about today.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saturday Salon: The bright, tantalizingly weird and stylized world of Robert LaDuke

I love Robert LaDuke's paintings even if sometimes I'm thinking 'what on earth does this man mean by this?' That's half the fun.

I suppose this is an art deco type style, if it must be categorized. I'm taken by the flatness, the odd perspectives, the bright colors, behind the stylized stillness, the almost constant sense of desperate motion, the occasionally bizarre situations and even the portents of disaster. There's something excruciatingly silent about Robert Laduke's world - I simply can't imagine what music might accompany it. Or for that matter, what actual noises. Everything that is happening I'm imagining happening in total silence. Even those plane and cars falling out of the sky. But I don't seem to mind it. That's the odd effect the work has on me.

I couldn't find much biography of the artist, except that he was born in 1961 in Massachusetts and attended the Art Institute of Chicago. I wish there were more. If you find any, please let me know so I can update.

Link to see more of Robert LaDuke's work here and here.

Fortunately many of the paintings are available as posters online.

I've culled the paintings in my post from various sources online in the interest of education, enlightenment and just the sheer joy of sharing art that I love. All the paintings are copyrighted by Robert LaDuke and no infringement is intended.

Friday, November 22, 2013

J.F.K. - 50th Anniversary

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 - 1963), 35th President of the United States
Portrait by Aaron Shikler

Today, November 22nd, is the 50th Anniversary of that dreadful day in Dallas, Texas, when a gunman destroyed not only a President and his presidency but any remaining traces of innocence my generation might have harbored. The death of a young President, happening so horribly, was the very last thing any of us would have ever envisioned. It was not only the shock, you see, it was the idea; if a President could be gotten at, than who on earth was safe? The world was suddenly turned topsy-turvy in a most terrible, unexpected way.

Gone in the shock of a few moments was the 'Camelot' of our dreams, the soft-spoken elegant wife - no longer the First Lady, those adorable children we'd become so fond of, the dogs, the ponies, the vigorous Kennedy clan coming and going at the White House, the very idea of an exuberant America on the brink of something grand.

How could this happen? No wonder an anguished Walter Cronkite (the most respected television newsman in America) cried on the air. This was an event that defied the imagination.

Fifty years later, it was just yesterday. A few days ago.

I still occasionally ask: how could this happen?

I was startled recently when standing on line at the supermarket, I happened to glance at the front page of a tabloid flashing autopsy photos of President Kennedy. My initial reaction was outrage. It still is. What has happened to us? How can it be that so many think nothing of such a deviant invasion of privacy? The plundering of a murdered man's dignity. 

Along with assorted groceries, breath mints, potato chips and pictures of dim-witted celebrities, you're welcome to look at photos of a President's corpse.

Fifty years later.

How could this happen?

Watching the funeral in a shop window.
Chicago, November 1963

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: DADDY LONG-LEGS (1955) starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron.

Let me say going in that I've never found Leslie Caron a scintillating screen presence except for maybe, in GIGI. So there's that to consider. But I can see Fred falling for her French bubbly effervescence - why not. He's an old guy, she's young and vibrant. There's that accent AND she really, really knows how to dance. Plus she's awfully cute. What more could any man want?

And I know that there are MANY people who think Fred was just too old for this role - I've even heard that some people find the whole thing creepy. I don't, but then far as I'm concerned Fred was ageless. But let's not dwell on the reality, ladies and gents. This is a movie. A musical. In Technicolor. It's Fred Astaire. Honestly, who cares how old he really was? It's make-believe!

I'll tell you a secret, I found Gene Kelly much more objectionable (age-wise) opposite Caron in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. But that's just me.

DADDY LONG-LEGS (1955) is a film directed by Jean Negulesco with a screenplay by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron based on the wonderful (maybe even legendary) epistolary novel of the same name by Jean Webster. Read more about that version on my earlier blog post here.

As with most adaptations of novels, the movie takes liberties, but that's to be expected. For instance, in the book, the young American waif is named Jerusha 'Judy' Abbott. But since Caron is so obviously French, her name was changed to Julie Andre and she becomes a waif in an orphanage in the French countryside.

Traveling in France, Jervis Pendleton III (Fred Astaire) a fabulously wealthy businessman, stops off at an orphanage which he sponsors. He spots a charming young girl, Julie Anders (Leslie Caron) and decides to underwrite her education in the states. To that end, Julie shortly gets shipped off to a college in New England where her roommate and friend will be (coincidentally) Jervis's niece, Linda (Terry Moore). (Not that Julie knows about the family connection. She has no idea that Jervis is 'her' Daddy Long-Legs.)

You know how girls's colleges were depicted in movies once upon a time: fun, fun, and more fun. Sweater-sets, plaid skirts, saddle shoes, singing, dancing, the students all perky and bright-eyed and looking to connect with husband material. (There's a male college conveniently near by.)

At the orphanage, Julie's only glimpse of Jervis had been of his shadow - just enough to capture her imagination. He is tall and thin with long legs, hence the moniker 'Daddy Long-Legs'. But she is told by the orphanage administrator that she and her benefactor will never meet, that is one of the scholarship's provisos.

Jervis worries that if anyone found out he was sponsoring a lovely young girl, gossip might be hurtful not only to her but to his corporate dealings - Jervis is a hard headed business man first and foremost. He has no interest in friendship with his new ward. In fact, before too long he forgets about her.

Julie, however, has been told she must write to her mysterious sponsor and let him know of her life at school but she must not expect any replies to her letters. Huh?

I don't know about you, but that seems just the teensiest bit off-putting to me. But hey, she's getting a scholarship and a chance to have a better life, so why not. Besides she doesn't really believe he actually means not to respond to her letters.

But as the years pass and she writes her 'Dear Daddy Long-Legs' letters to Jervis - letters which he doesn't even bother to open - she finally realizes that her guardian did, indeed, mean what he said. Though that doesn't stop her continuing to write and unburdening herself to him. She is, after all, very grateful for this chance at a new life, not to mention his continued generosity.

When over time Jervis's gruff secretary, Alicia Pritchard (the wonderful Thelma Ritter) reads some of Julie's letters, she is so touched, she begins to chide her boss for not responding. Even Jervis's equally gruff associate Griggs (the equally wonderful Fred Clark), eventually gets in on the notion. Life is more than just about business, Miss Pritchard insists, to Jervis's surprise. Really? At the very least, he decides to read a letter or two.

Despite his inclination to keep ignoring the young girl he's uprooted and installed in a state-side school, Jervis decides - finally - to check up on her. Yes, he is touched by her letters too. He will drop in at the school to visit his niece Linda never admitting to Julie - whom he meets and is again enchanted by (in the way that only a younger woman seems able to enchant an older man) - who he really is.

Once they dance together (Sluefoot!), of course, it's all over but the wedding invitations. But that's a little later in the story. First Julie and Linda (who can easily see that her uncle dotes on Julie) travel to NYC on school break while Jervis tries to figure out how to tell Julie who is and Julie, smart girl that she is, begins to suspect.

It's all happily ever after of course, and even if we all know (including Jervis) that he's too old for Julie, it doesn't seem to matter much - love will find a way. It's only thirty or so years difference after all.

Several terrific songs and dances later, all's well that ends well. You know how that goes.

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's site, Sweet Freedom, to see what other films and/or audio visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Salon: New York Cityscapes

American Impressionist Colin Campbell Cooper  (1856 - 1937) 'Hudson River'

Contemporary American painter Anne Bascove (b. 1946 - )

Canadian-American Impressionist/Realist Ernest Lawson (1873 - 1939)

Spanish  painter Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863 - 1923) 'New York City Marathon'

American Illustrator Leonard Weisgard (1916 - 2000)

American Realist and 'Ashcan School' Painter John French Sloane (1871 - 1951) 'Woman's Work'

American Contemporary painter Francis Livingston

American landscape painter Guy Wiggins (1883 - 1962)

American Impressionist Colin Campbell Cooper (1856 - 1937) 'Chatham Square'

American Social Realist painter Reginald Marsh (1898 - 1954)

American Contemporary painter Eric Drooker

American Impressionist Childe Hassam (1859 - 1935) 'Lower Manhattan'

American Modernist painter Georgia O'Keefe (1887 - 1986) 'New York at Night'

American illustrator Mary Petty (1899 - 1976) (illust. for a New Yorker cover)

American Realist painter Edward Hopper  (1882 - 1967) 'Riding in the Park'

American Realist and 'Ashcan School' painter John French Sloan (1871 - 1951

American Contemporary painter Stephen Magsis '108 Franklin Street'

American Realist and 'Ashcan School' painter George Luks (1867 - 1933) 'Bleeker and Carmine Streets'

American illustrator Arthur Getz (1913 - 1996)

American Realist and 'Ashcan School' painter George Bellows (1882 - 1925) 'Cliff Dwellers'

American Contemporary painter Christine LaFuente

French illustrator Jean Jacques Sempe (b. 1932 - )

American Realist and 'Ashcan School' painter John French Sloan (1871 - 1951) 'Cornelia Street'

American Contemporary painter and illustrator Owen Smith (New Yorker cover 2006)

New York is central to my happiness even if I haven't been there in a while - I grew up in Manhattan, the city has a habit of latching onto your heart forever. Though I rarely get a chance to visit much anymore, in my own mind, I'm still a New Yorker and always will be.

At this holiday time of year, especially, the city glows in a special way.

So it's not at all remarkable to me how many artists have tried to capture the city in their work. The place is, after all, a magical sort of kingdom.

American Impressionist Colin Campbell Cooper (1856 - 1937) 'South Ferry'

Researching more of Cooper, I found this wonderful painting showcasing South Ferry, an area on the tip of Manhattan, very familiar to me growing up. I lived just about four or five blocks away and here's where we used to walk to take the ferry to Staten Island in the summer to go swimming or later, to ride horseback.