Saturday, May 31, 2014

Saturday Salon: The Paintings of Melissa Scott-Miller

Melissa Scott-Miller / source

Melissa Scott-Miller / source

Melissa Scott-Miller / source

Melissa Scott-Miller / source

Melissa Scott-Miller / Source

Recently I've discovered a congenial bunch of English artists whose paintings and prints have enchanted me in various ways. It's probably coincidence that they're all Brits though I'm wondering if that hasn't also influenced my latest reading material as well. Maybe just synchronicity but whatever it is, I'm enjoying it.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be featuring a few more of these painters whose work - at least for me - could not have originated anywhere but Great Britain, a setting I love. Today it's five of Melissa Scott-Miller's gorgeous-in-detail paintings primarily of London. Scott-Miller is also known for her portraits, but it was her landscapes/cityscapes that captured my attention the moment I stumbled across them online. I'm completely fascinated by the charming warmth and detail of this work.

To read about Melissa Scott-Miller's work and see a few more of her paintings, please use the link to her page at Mall Artists / Federation of British Artists.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (1938) by Winifred Watson

The gorgeous Persephone cover. Source

MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY by Winifred Watson (published first in 1938) is a light, frothy Cinderella entertainment perfect for the day or night when too much of the real world encroaches. (I seem to be in that sort of mood lately.) I thoroughly enjoyed reading my beautifully designed Persephone reprint and did so quickly, beguiled by the story's fairy tale charm.

When fate and chance contrive together to change Miss Guinevere Pettigrew's unhappy life they do so quickly and without ado. The sad-sack Miss Pettigrew is a middle-aged impoverished daughter of a vicar, alone and desperately down on her luck in London. She's just been fired (yet again) from her latest governess post. The heretofore timid and easily frazzled Miss Pettigrew is really not cut out for the rigors or strictures of that sort of life.

Enter Miss Delysia LaFosse, a scatter-brained young London lovely living it up in a gorgeous London flat owned by a dangerous night club Lothario named Nick (who is away on business but due back soon). Not one to let opportunity go by, Miss LaFosse is anxious to climb the ladder of show biz success by snaring a part in a new musical being produced by Phil, an impetuous youth who's just spend the night in Delysia's bed. Waiting in the wings is the impatient Michael, the nephew of a corset tycoon who wants to marry Delysia. He is allowing her just one more chance to prove her love by finally accepting his proposal and chucking her life as a kept woman. But Delysia can't make up her mind - she needs a bit of managing. It's now or never - whom will she choose?

Into this complicated imbroglio of the heart enters Miss Pettigrew in the mistaken impression that she's being interviewed for yet another governess position. From the moment the beleaguered spinster rings the door bell and is promptly (if bewilderingly) welcomed into Miss LaFosse's topsy-turvy world, things will never be the same again

The long-lived authorWinifred Watson (1906 - 2002), only wrote six books. MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY is the fourth. This light-as-a-feather tale - more Alice in Wonderland than Cinderella perhaps - practically tells itself. The writing style seems effortless, smooth and unruffled even as the hours of Miss Pettigrew's surprising day tick by. In my view, this sort of sophisticated light-hearted thing is tricky - it can look easy, but in reality is very difficult to do well. The lightness must always be backed up by characters who belie that very lightness in some not very obvious way.

Miss Watson's dialogue is pert, intelligent, and seemingly of the moment. Everything that happens - even when you see it coming from ten miles away - seems fresh and new. It goes without saying that we want Miss Pettigrew to find her happiness and of course, she does.

What a charming and totally unexpected confection of a book. I loved it. I recommend it. I read it straight through, captivated by Miss Pettigrew's unlikely journey of self-discovery and very well deserved happy ending.

A tip: Skip the dreadful 2008 movie which made major changes in the plot for no reason I can think of. Even Ciarin Hinds (swoon) can't save a movie that took an effervescent delight and made it not so delightful, not so funny, not so sparkling, adding a grimness totally unsuited to Winifred Watson's sweetheart of a book. Frances McDormand is miscast as Miss Pettigrew, though perhaps with a better script and a better director she might possibly have managed it. 

Amy Adams is awful in a Carol Lombard sort of role, as she mumbles her way through the part of the bubbly Delysia (technically speaking: the sound on this film is atrocious), not to mention Shirley Henderson as an unrecognizable Edythe Dubarry, supposedly Delysia's best friend. The screenplay inexplicably turns Edythe into a sharp-nosed blackmailing predator. So different from the likable girl in the book. Yegads!, please, just skip the movie. 

P.S. It's Friday so 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.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films: Five That Are So Good (in various and sundry ways) They Shouid Be Available for Viewing SOMEWHERE - but aren't.

Artist: Mabel Dwight - source

Terrific movies I haven't seen in many a year simply because, for whatever reason, they are not easily available anywhere.

If I could find a good DVD of each of these, I guess I'd buy them though their rarity makes some of these things a bit expensive. These five are not available on Netflix or anywhere else that I can figure though that may be changing - I hope - as we speak. I will not watch them with commercials so I don't bother with Hulu. (They're probably over at Turner, but I don't have cable so that's out.) And forget about the library.

The late lamented (by me, at least) films are:

1) The Wrong Box (1966) with Michael Caine, Ralph Richardson, John Mills

We learn the meaning of the legal term 'tontine' - hilariously - in this Victorians-run-amok screwball comedy. Wayward British humor, I suppose, is an acquired taste if you're not British to begin with, but I guess I must have been a Brit in another life, because I find these sorts of movies rip-roaringly funny. The expectation of a huge fortune and the peculiarites of an old will drive everyone nuts in this greed for greed's sake story enhanced by a cast that only the Brits could produce.

An oblivious Sir Ralph Richardson blithely unaware that a crazed relation (John Mills) is plotting murder most foul.

Everyone in this movie is eccentric to the nth degree and bonkers - so that adds to the cheery atmosphere. Imagine this cast: Sir Ralph Richardson as a prosy insufferable bore, John Mills as an oh-so-adorable loony plotting murder, plus Wilfred Lawson, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Nanette Newman as a naive, inclined to faint light-headed Victorian virgin tempted by Michael Caine as a fellow hapless innocent, and Peter Sellers as his usual nutso self. (I believe this is the movie in which he lives in a flat full of cats and absent-mindedly uses a kitten as an ink blotter - but don't worry, the kitten is fine.) It's all wonderful lunacy. But if you resist, you won't get it.

A movie that includes an accidental be-heading by Queen Victoria, a train crash, a body in a box and a totally disrespectful funeral to end all funerals, it is long deserving of being seen as often and as much as possible but instead it is all but forgotten by most.

2) Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990) with Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson

One of the best romantic comedies that no one's ever seen - except me - or so it seems. It's all about Nina, a disconsolate widow (Juliet Stevenson) who's having trouble getting over the death of her beloved husband Jamie (Alan Rickman), a cellist.

Alan Rickman, Juliet Stevenson and the adorable Michael Maloney

When Jamie refuses to stay dead and his ghost begins haunting Nina at home (to her immediate and touching delight), the film takes that familiar old trope and goes in a much different and unexpected direction. See, here's the thing: Jamie is a very social ghost and thinks nothing of inviting fellow ghosts (most of which refuse to leave) to his and Nina's old flat to watch television or just hang out. Nina is running out of space! What is a bewildered widow to do?

If you get a chance to see this - absolutely grab it!

3) The Blue Lagoon (1949) with Jean Simmons and Donald Houston

Forget the 1980's version with Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins as hormone-tossed teens. THE BLUE LAGOON you want to see is the black and white original with the almost too beautiful to believe, Jean Simmons and the handsome Donald Houston as Edwardian innocents first ship-wrecked as children. Left to grow up alone on a South Pacific island in the middle of nowhere, as teens they fall in love and hardly knowing how it all comes about, they have a baby and must decide what the future holds for the three of them. Jean Simmons and Donald Houston are so very believable as innocents confronted by the natural pull of biology.

The heart-stopping scene when Emmaline (Jean Simmons) and Michael (Donald Houston) discover that they are not children anymore. Beautifully done. The hushed sultry tone is perfect after the wild desperation of Michael having believed Emmaline stolen by a lecherous yacht captain who'd tricked the girl and left the boy behind on the island.

4) Five Came Back (1939) with Chester Morris, Lucille Ball and Wendy Barrie

When a plane crashes in the wilds of a South or Central American jungle, it doesn't take long before the drums of a tribe of headhunters is heard beating a death knell for those aboard who providentially or not, survived the crash. A terrific cast (except for Chester Morris who I've always regarded as an onscreen whimp, but here he acquits himself sort of admirably as a guy who must make life or death decisions as he and a mechanic try to make the plane flyable again before they're all slaughtered) makes this thriller all the more thrilling as the true nature of each and everyone is revealed under extreme duress.

I think this is my favorite airplane crash movie and has been for many years.

Exceptionally good in the cast is Joseph Calleia as a cold-eyed pragmatist, a murderer bound for prison who at one point is unexpectedly called upon to play God. Also wonderful is C. Aubrey Smith.

This film was remade in 1956 with the title changed to Back From Eternity. It starred Robert Ryan, Rod Steiger and Anita Ekberg among others. Almost as good as the original since except for a few minor things, it keeps the same basic plot. And as the original, it is just as hard to find.

5) Making Mr. Right (1987) with John Malkovich and Ann Magnuson

An eccentric scientist builds a robot who looks just like him to take part in an upcoming space mission. The android 'Ulysses' will be taught human emotions (so he will behave like a human might in outer space I guess) but unfortunately the reclusive scientist who built him, has no emotions to speak of (and is well aware of it). Into the improbable plot comes 'Frankie' a perky P.R. consultant (played by the wonderfully quirky Ann Magnuson) hired by the scientist to educate Ulysses. Makes perfect sense right?

What with one  thing and another, Ulysses the android falls in love with Frankie and she, confused, falls in love with someone - is it the nerdy scientist or his doppelganger?

The ending is a delight, though just a teensy bit bittersweet. John Malkovich is never my idea of a leading man but somehow he always manages to pull it off. I think it might be something the camera does to him.

I also think this might be available in DVD now, but I'm not sure I want to buy it since I haven't seen it in MANY years and it might not live up to my hype. It's a quandry.

Since this is Tuesday, it's time for Todd Mason's meme: Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films, etc. So don't forget to check in at Todd's blog, Sweet Freedom to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films, Television or other Audio Visuals other bloggers are talking about today. We're an eclectic bunch.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: A Vintage Assortment.

Scottish Painter Fyffe Christie - The Artist's Wife Reading, 1953 - source

I don't know why but lately I am definitely in a vintage sort of mood. I pick up newer books and put them down, then pick them up again and for whatever reason I put them down again and move on to vintage. (I know this too shall pass, but for now, I am indulging my whims.)

Lately read:

WHILE THE PATIENT SLEPT (1930) by Mignon G. Eberhart - a Nurse Sarah Keate book.
CLOUDS OF WITNESS (1926) by Dorothy Sayers - A Lord Peter Wimsey book.
MURDER IS SUGGESTED (1959) by Frances and Richard Lockridge - A Mr and Mrs North book.
MURDER BY THE BOOK (1963)by Frances and Richard Lockridge - A Mr and Mrs. North book.
THE FINAL DEDUCTION (1961) by Rex Stout - A Nero Wolfe book.
FEAR COMES TO CHALFONT (1942) by Freeman Wills Croft - an Inspector French book.

While I enjoyed all these books, I'm only reviewing two - briefly - since I am falling behind while working on another couple of posts to debut next week. Work. Work. Work. This was NOT supposed to be work. I know it doesn't seem like so much, but you know, occasionally it feels like it is. Whine. Whine. Cringe.

1) WHILE THE PATIENT SLEPT (1930) by Migon G. Eberhart 

This is the second novel by Mignon G. Eberhart featuring private nurse and aging spinster (with gumption) Sarah Keate and boy does the book revel in the achy breaky creaking style of its long ago time. But despite that, I liked it very much. Why? Because it has the murder in a dark and spooky house routine down pat. Truth is, after awhile you don't even care who committed the murder, you're just enjoying all that malevolently mysterious and oh-so-sinister ambience. It's all over the top sinister and creepy and ominous and forbidding, the stuff that makes life worthwhile. Ha! Not to mention the cast of unpleasant characters which greet Nurse Sarah Keate on her arrival at out in the middle of nowhere Federie House on a dark and spooky night.

Sarah's patient is a wealthy old man who remains abed, asleep, for the entire book (well, at least until the very last couple of pages) - that's kind of creepy in itself because the murder takes place in the same room - hence the title of the book. So the murder occurs in full view of the nurse who's half asleep at the time. Commotion ensues, half-dressed suspects pour into the room, shadows jump, curtains move of their own volition, disbelief, suspicion, fainting, trembling, noises in the night. Not to mention a disappearing elephant. Well, a jade elephant carving which holds the secret to the entire thing, but an elephant nonetheless.

This book has everything: dark visages, dark doings, dark rooms, dark halls, dark stairs, (no ELECTRIC LIGHTS only candles of course because the owner of the house - the patient - doesn't believe in new-fangle). There is also a dark storm raging outside - needless to say - plus dark and dire circumstances within, all accompanied by requisite alarming noises. Hey, even the nurse heroine inserts a ghastly scream here and there. She's not immune to atmosphere. Neither was I. A very creepily enjoyable book. Oh, and the cop's name is Lance O'Leary. What more could you want?

2) CLOUDS OF WITNESS (1926) by Dorothy L. Sayer

This is the second book by Dorothy L. Sayers featuring her wonderfully irreverent detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. While his elder brother the stuff-necked Duke of Denver is being held for the murder of a n'er-do-well engaged to the Wimseys' young sister Polly, Lord Peter must rush to find the clues (even going so far as to fly across the Atlantic) which will exonerate Denver who has, so far, refused to speak in his own defense. The why and the wherefore of this are evident fairly soon to the reader, but it takes Lord Peter a rather longer time than one would think to figure things out. Perhaps if he hadn't been so emotionally involved?

Speaking of emotionally involved, this is the book in which Wimsey's policeman friend Parker displays his obvious feelings for said younger sister Polly. They will marry later on. As Wimsey insists, after Polly's misadventures with, first, a Bolshevik twerp and second, a card sharp who keeps a French mistress, his exalted family would welcome a policeman swain with open arms.

The Duke of Denver being a peer of the realm, cannot be tried in regular criminal court like everybody else. He must be tried by his peers (fellow titled gentlemen) in the House of Lords and to read about that august if arcane and fussy body coming together to try one of their own is one of the main pleasures of this book. The ensuing trial with Lord Peter bursting in at the last moment with the final clue clutched in his hand is a joy to read about.

There is also a harrowing to read, but brilliantly written life or death struggle in a fog-enshrouded bog which almost has Lord Peter and the faithful Bunter breathing their last gasp.

The trial and the bog incident make this a not to be missed Peter Wimsey book. I've since ordered a couple more titles from the library and they're waiting for me even as we speak. I'll be heading on down there tomorrow. I read these all many eons ago, but since I don't remember, it's like reading them again for the first time. You know how that goes.


Additional notes: 

I fully enjoyed the two Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries, MURDER BY THE BOOK and MURDER IS SUGGESTED (perfect warm weather reading) and will be looking for more since I've exhausted my library's pitifully few copies. These are the sorts of books one can read with half an eye on a sandwich and half an eye on the page. I'm also thinking, one of these days, of watching the episodes from the b/w television series starring Richard Denning and Barbara Britton which I think are available on youtube. Watched them when I was a kid and thought them the height of sophistication. Plus I had a crush on Richard Denning.

THE FINAL DEDUCTION was a Nero Wolfe book I'd forgotten completely about. In fact I really thought I hadn't read it until I began reading it. Not my favorite (the murder motive isn't very compelling) and not the best written of the lot. But still, any Nero Wolfe is better than none. I never regret dropping in on Wolfe and Archie, no matter what.

FEAR COMES TO CHALFONT was part of a three novel omnibus (sandwiched between the perfectly awful CASE OF THE DROWNING DUCK by Earl Stanley Gardner and MURDER IN THE WOODSHED, equally awful, by Anthony Gilbert) and because any Freeman Wills Croft is so hard to find these days, I probably enjoyed it more than I would otherwise. The style is pretty ancient and the plot sort of reminded me of Trent's Last Case which had similar characters and a similar kind of crime. I liked it as a curiosity and also because once upon a time my late ex-husband and I had a great deal of fun reading a bunch of Freeman Wills Croft train mysteries. Wouldn't mind getting my hand on some of those again.

Since it's Friday, 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. Patti has all the links.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

FINALLY AVAILABLE: A NEW LEAF (1971) Starring Walter Matthau and Elaine May

I'm happy to announce that the best romantic comedy of the 1970's, 80's, 90's and on into the 21st century is FINALLY available on Netflix for home viewing. After waiting and waiting, practically growing a beard waiting,  Walter Matthau and Elaine May are now only as far away as your nearest mail box.


(Unless you already own the film which in that case places you in the league of rare and most fortunate of earth creatures.

Look at that body language. Elaine May and Walter Matthau - source

A NEW LEAF, in my un-biased opinion, is a romantic comedy for the ages. Hyperbole? I think not. If this film doesn't make you laugh, then ladies and gents, woe to you.

Yes, I know I've raved about this movie plenty of times before. But when has that ever stopped me from returning to rave some more? 

At some point I got tired of people saying "Huh? I never heard of this movie." HEY - your loss. Not my fault. I told you about the genius of Elaine May. Well, maybe not in exactly those words, but close enough. After all she wrote, directed and stars in A NEW LEAF so we can only assume the film reflects her unique magnificence.

Read Roger Ebert's review if you don't believe me: Roger Ebert reviews A NEW LEAF.

And if you're still not convinced, read: Ferdy on Film's Review which informs us that the film is now available in 'gorgeous blu-ray'. I mean, really, can it get any better?

Now read my previous review if you still don't believe (Jeez are you hard to convince!): My review of A NEW LEAF.

Now is the time to act, movie mavens! Get your hands on A NEW LEAF and not only be prepared to laugh but also to be unexpectedly touched. See how the most obnoxious, reprehensible gold digging ex-rich boy, Henry Graham (Walter Matthau), is brought to heel by his purely unexpected affection for Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May) the most fumblingly hapless, klutzy millionaire professor of botany who has ever lived. (But maybe not for long if Henry decides to carry through with his murder plans. The cad.)

How I envy those of you seeing this for the first time.....Sigh!

Since this is Tuesday, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films, Television and/or Other Audio Visuals, other bloggers are talking about today. We're a happy enough crew.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Salon: British Contemporary Painter Simon Palmer

Simon Palmer - The Next Door Neighbor - source

Simon Palmer - Longstone Peak - source

Simon Palmer - The Composers - source

Simon Palmer - Following the Visiting Preacher - source

Simon Palmer - Low Rookwith - source

Simon Palmer - Two Images of Himself in the Future - source

Simon Palmer - Cycling Home - source

Simon Palmer - The Signalman and the Guard - source

To see a slide presentation of more of Simon Palmer's work, please use this link.

Simon Palmer (1956 - ) is a British painter whose work I've only recently discovered. The artist lives and works in northern England, his work primarily focused on the subdued but strangely moving beauty of the Yorkshire Dales.

The artist's love of the Dales is on display in every square inch of his enigmatic watercolor paintings. The earth toned colors are symbolic, I suppose, not only of the overall light and shadow in and around his home in Ellingstring, Wensleydale, but of the earthiness of the tough and resilient people of Yorkshire.

I am taken by Palmer's imagination, the eccentric take he has on life among the hedgerows, fields, stone houses, trees and rolling hills. Slightly sinister, but beautiful and never off-putting.

The book published in 2012 source 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: IN AND OUT (1997) starring Kevin Kline

Not exactly a forgotten classic but that's okay, I don't, necessarily specialize in 'classics'. IN AND OUT is simply a wonderfully funny 1997 film with, I suppose, a socially political bent, directed by Frank Oz and written by Paul Rudnick and starring Kevin Kline, Tom Selleck, Joan Cusack, Matt Dillon, Bob Newhart and Debby Reynolds.

I can't even imagine this movie without Kevin Kline whose deadpan expression is equal to none. Kevin Kline who always seems to be the most intelligent man in the room even when he's playing hapless and clueless. Kevin Kline who manages to make his leading men interesting even when they're not. Kevin Kline who always manages to make 'wistful' look intriguing. That Kevin Kline.

Obviously, I like the man. (Even if he couldn't save the God-awful DE-LOVELY.)

And please someone tell me why Joan Cusack is not a MAJOR star?!! She is simply sensational. (She was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in this role but lost out to Kim Basinger (?!)

Okay, here's what IN AND OUT is all about:

We meet Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline), a high school teacher on the eve of his marriage to his long suffering fiancee and fellow teacher Emily Montgomery (the extraordinary Joan Cusack). Emily has self-esteem issues and has recently lost 75 pounds to fit into her wedding dress.

Howard is just a nice guy living what is an apparently idyllic existence in the small town of Greenleaf, Indiana. He is well-liked by one and all and is the most popular teacher in school until one Oscar night when in a very clumsy way he is 'outed' on national television (with the whole town watching) by actor Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon). In his effusive thanks to his former teacher, as he accepts his Best Actor award, Drake reveals what he assumes must be common knowledge back home in Greenleaf.

All hell breaks loose. It's not only that no one in town, in school, among his friends and pupils know that Howard is gay, it's that Howard didn't know. Even if he does wear a snappy bow tie, all along he has simply assumed that everyone has natural rhythm, loves Barbara Streisand, listens to scores from Broadway shows, and enjoys poetry and dancing. These are all supposed clues to his probable homosexuality, meant to simplify the concept for one and all but done in a very humorous and even innocent way and thanks to Kevin Kline's amusing bewilderment, there doesn't seem to be anything which could be termed objectionable by anyone gay or straight. (At least I don't think so.) He really is clueless so obvious clues must be dropped in his (and our) path.

The national press descends on Greenleaf on the day of Howard's wedding, sensing a Big Story. There's must be a Big Story if it involves a Big Movie Star and Cameron Drake is known to be on his way back home with his requisite, achingly thin model girlfriend (Shalom Harlow) by his side. (He keeps telling her to eat something.) Drake realizes he's fumbled, made life difficult for a man who he was really only trying to honor and he's determined to set things right.

In the meantime, a confused Walter is assessing his entire life and in one hilarious scene resorts to a self-help book and tape guaranteed to make him more manly by teaching him to ignore his 'natural rhythm'. Manly men don't dance. Kevin Kline is brilliant. (As is the voice on the tape.)

Tom Selleck (in one of his best and most comfortable roles) shows up as television newsman Peter Malloy who we learn has his own not-so-secret secret. Tom Selleck is an acquired taste that I never really acquired. Yes, he's incredibly good looking, but hey, so are many other Hollywood actors. Yes, he's talented - to a point. But for me, he just never had that 'Major Hollywood Actor' thing written all over him. I'm also not crazy about his holier-than-thou politics.

But it was interesting to see him play a secondary role (the Second Lead!) which includes sharing a highly improbable but super sexy kiss with the leading man. Selleck is simply wonderful - to my surprise. Not to mention that there is some real chemistry between both men.

I also love the very funny scene when a declaration at a local bar sends a crazed Emily Montgomery, left at the altar and still in her wedding dress, running out into the night looking for justice. I also love the sweet way in which this scene is resolved when Cameron Drake admits his high school crush on Emily (once upon a time, his teacher) never went away. He never even minded her weight issues. (Yeah, right. But let's make-believe.) And the last we see of them, both are sitting on the hood of a car eating ice cream. (At least that's how I remember it.) So Emily gets her own happy ending which, considering all she's been put through, is more than justified.

My only quibble with the entire movie is the 'preachy' ending in the high school auditorium which should have worked much better, but somehow doesn't. Maybe it's that it isn't handled especially well. Maybe it should have been subtler? At any rate, it doesn't spoil the film at all, just makes you wish it had been fine-tuned a bit.

The rest of the cast includes Bob Newhart (in a thankless role) as the high school principal and Debby Reynolds and Wilford Brimley as Howard's parents whose disbelief in the face of the incomprehensible is fun to watch. These two old pros know how to make the most of small scenes.

All in all, a terrific movie tackling a difficult subject with charm and even a bit of artlessness. It is meant to please and amuse and it does.

Since today is Tuesday, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, at some point, to see what other Forgotten or Overlooked Films, Television or Audio-Visuals, other bloggers are talking about today.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day Everyone

Jessie Wilcox Smith - source

I still miss my mother. Seems like it never gets any easier. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Second Lead

You know who I mean - right? Usually the third or fourth name in the credits. The discarded fiance, the unctuous boyfriend, the sophisticated elder (occasionally with monocle) in striped waistcoat, the toady family friend, the hero's hapless buddy or the urbane smoothy with a roving eye, etc, etc, etc. All memorable staples of beloved movies of old.

The mannequins featured on this post were created by Pierre Imans (1850 - 1930) and I'm assuming, sold, by his company to retail stores et al, once upon a time. I'd never heard of Monsieur Imans or seen any of his work until just a couple of days ago but once I'd gotten a look at the male 'types' Imans created, I was immediately taken by their odd charm and bemused by a sense of recognition.

Then it hit me - I knew these men from the movies, from the hours and hours I spent as a kid watching my favorites in black and white, sitting in front of our clunky Admiral television which had pride of place in the living room. I don't know who the models for these mannequins were but certainly I know who they represented. I mean, look at them.

Hence, today's post. A tribute to the runners-up, also-rans and the perpetually second best, second-rate, second gear, second fiddle, second in command, second to none except the leading man. The second lead.

Has to be my favorite. (I'm loving the cheekbones.) But really, who is this guy? Well, I'll tell you, he's the exquisitely mannered and tailored ultra sophisticated bon-vivant found at any 1930's high society dinner party here or on the continent. The long time family friend, brilliant dinner partner and expert dancer. Someone's uncle, most likely to wear spats.

A life long bachelor and occasional gambler who lives by his wits, practiced charm and chiseled if slightly smarmy good looks. (It's that mustache, don't you know.) Usually named Clark or Benton or Palmer, he is often seen in the background, his eyes gleaming at the leading lady or perhaps her beautiful mother. But more often than not he is squiring the young heiress around the dance floor or gardens until she spots the man she's really looking for. No woman with any intuitive smarts will take our guy seriously, but for squiring purposes he's makes excellent camouflage. Can anyone guess he's nursing a broken heart? Nah.

This one definitely has that John Litel look. That's because his name is usually Patrick or Lyle or Glenn. A stiff rather humorless type, born to bank or dabble in local politics, he lives on a small inheritance which he naturally wishes were larger. A committed bridge player, he is the hero's cousin on his late mother's side and enjoys being a big fish in a small pond. His idea of a good time is sitting around the country club, nursing a martini and looking smug. Still deemed 'the perfect catch' - but maybe not for too much longer - he was also born to be discarded by the leading lady, a willful heiress who wants to be on the Broadway stage and would rather dance than play bridge.

A swarthy, steely-jawed dangerous type who will assuredly attract the careless and dim-witted. Hair slicked back, he has that slightly sleazy, dissipated look which spells trouble. Usually named Johnny or Ray or Eddie, he will stop at nothing when there's money to be made. He owns a nightclub of course (bought with the spoils of blackmail ), where the equally dissipated rich come to throw their money away. Both he and the hero are at odds over their interest in Scarlet, a local chanteuse looking to escape small town life. Twice a widower, he attracts older women with money which generally bodes ill for their bank accounts, not to mention their persons.


(Thanks to Jane and Lance Hattat for the alternate suggestions, also to John for spying out the monocle.)

Berlin (or maybe London or Lisbon) in the 30's was the natural stomping ground of this svelte looking guy - note the monocle (which I overlooked on the first go-around). Easily bored, pale and dissipated, his hair slicked back and probably perfumed, he is a dodgy sort known to perform mysterious errands traversing the continent in first class when he's not running a night club known as The White Lily. He is, at the moment, prepared to double cross the leading lady who is intent on smuggling her wounded brother (too long a story to go into now) onto the Orient Express. Usually named Viktor or Zoltan or Egon and pretending to royal ancestry, if there's any trouble afoot, you can bet our guy will have a notion or two. He and the hero (a spy for the Brits) have had several run-ins but since they were both at Oxford together, they occasionally play for the same team, intrigue-wise.

This impressive facade belongs to the hero's older step-brother. A familiar man about town seemingly above suspicion - if only it weren't for that little pencil thin mustache. (Isn't that always a give-away?) A banker and dabbler in Wall Street, he spends most of his evenings at the country club, hanging around the leading lady fetching drinks and offering unctuous advice. Usually named Julian or Llewellyn or Carson, he is willing to wait out the ingenue's current string of beaus, believing she will eventually turn to him if only because he is stalwart, good looking, well-groomed and rich. In fact, he is a mama's boy, needy, stubborn and weak, his fortune mostly myth.

Here we have the ambitiously crusading small town doctor who desperately wants to cure any and all known diseases if only some wealthy benefactor will leave him the money to open his own hospital. He once saved the hero's life (nursed him through a bout of a rare South American fever). In the meantime the doc conducts tireless research on a little known curare derivative which accelerates healing - side effect: invisibility. Usually named Peter or Jeff or Walter, he is devoted to science though not too devoted to ignore the daughter of the richest man in town. She is intrigued by that far-away zealot's gleam in his eyes. A gleam which she would do well to think twice about.


Oh this guy definitely bears watching. Look at that stubborn jaw, that wide lapel jacket. He is the leading lady's brother, a well-known attorney whom everyone seems to trust; the suave, determined repository of a town's secrets, keen to use his knowledge skillfully, perhaps politically. He has made himself a recognized commodity - a young man going places - and is on a first name basis with everyone who's anyone. A character usually named Gilbert or Barton or Stan, he is a wily bachelor determined to wed the redheaded widow of a client who has been left a fortune by her much older hubby recently deceased. Good luck to him.

The District Attorney, who else? A friend of the hero's family. A steely-eyed seemingly incorruptible champion of the law. He is seen everywhere, at the country club, on the golf course, at intime power dinners where only the town's movers and shakers are present, at the race track. The race track? Well, that bears thinking about. Usually named Oscar or Donald or Warren, he is married to an ambitious (and famously icy) blond determined to be first lady of the state when not belittling her hubby behind closed doors. No wonder his unhappy eye has recently fastened on the hero's newly grown-up tom-boyish little sister. Prediction: heartbreak.

The resolute publisher of the local newspaper who owes his life to his best friend who, while both fought in the trenches of WWI, took a bullet meant for him (the hero survived only to be burdened with a permanent limp). Usually named Martin or Evan or Rand, that cleft in his chin gets our guy in the door, but it's the hard stare, the sheer determination and the wide shoulders which earn him respect around town. There's something about those thin lips that make me think he's a take no prisoners kind of guy.

Married to the hero's ex-fiance (a story too long and convoluted to go into here) he carries around a deeply personal secret which could wreck several lives.

So, what do you think. Did I get it right? 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Television: THE NINE TAILORS (1974) starring Ian Carmichael and Glyn Houston

In my opinion, there's little doubt that Ian Carmichael was born to play society super-sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. (In this particular episode, Wimsey calls and without fanfare is put through to the Archbishop of Canterbury with whom he is on first name basis - now THAT'S society clout.) You know how we always talk about certain actors born to play certain roles? Well, this is one of those. Carmichael not only looks the part, he is supremely at ease within it.

THE NINE TAILORS (1974) based on Dorothy Sayer's book of the same name is considered by some to be the best of the Peter Wimsey books, though I'm not part of that 'some'. I did think, however, that the television adaptation (by the BBC and shown in this country on Masterpiece Theater once upon a time) was that rare instance when (despite changes) a mini-series worked better than the original book. Less chance to get buried in Sayer's church bell minutiae.

But first: An Explanation (more or less) of the book title (from Wikipedia):

In some parishes in England the centuries old tradition of announcing a death on a church bell is upheld. In a small village most people would be aware of who was ill, and so broadcasting the age and sex of the deceased would identify them. To this end the death was announced by 'telling' (i.e. single blows with the bell down) the sex and then striking off the years. Three blows meant a child, twice three a woman and thrice three a man. After a pause the years were counted out at approximately half-minute intervals. The word 'teller' in some dialects becomes 'tailor', hence the old saying 'Nine tailors maketh a man.'

The bell used in the novel for the announcement is the largest (tenor) bell which is dedicated to St. Paul.

The story begins on the eve of WWI in an English country manor where a wedding is being celebrated. One of the guests is young Lieutenant Peter Wimsey, a friend of the groom. Another guest is an elderly woman who stubbornly insists on wearing her famed emerald necklace and later - uh oh - hiding them in a fairly obvious place.

When the emeralds are stolen over night, the two miscreants are quickly captured (with Wimsey's help) and sent to prison where one of them, a man named Deacon, later escapes. But the jewels are never found.

Later, while in the trenches in France during a lull in the fighting, Wimsey and a man named Mervyn Bunter chat. Wimsey tells the fellow soldier and friend the story of the stolen emeralds and the resulting untimely death (from stress and angst) of the lord of the manor, Sir Henry Thorpe. Thorpe had forked over the full price of the stolen emeralds (60,000 pounds) in lieu of insurance to the old lady - he had felt that responsible for the theft under his roof. She had no moral compunction in accepting the offer though Sir Henry's fortune never quite recovered.

Bunter, by the way, will go on to save Wimsey's life when shortly after their talk, a bomb buries Wimsey under a mountain of debris. I vaguely remember that in the books, Wimsey has some sort of breakdown after this event but I could be wrong. The mini-series doesn't go into it.

Ian Carmichael and Glyn Houston - Wimsey and Bunter

Twenty years later, as luck would have it, Wimsey's car has a flat tire in the vicinity of the Thorpe Fenland estate and with Bunter now serving as Wimsey's 'man' (butler/valet) they encounter a mystery which seems linked to the long ago burglary and resulting unhappy events which also blighted the son and heir who has since passed away from illness.

When at Easter, the widow also dies, a dead body is found already occupying the grave next to her husband. It is the body of a man, face badly beaten and missing both hands.

THE NINE TAILORS was filmed very nicely for television in what looks like tape rather than regular film, this adds a certain flavor to the piece. Maybe it's that the show looks more like a play than a movie. But for whatever reason, it works for me. I loved the outdoors scenes in which rain is the natural ingredient. Apparently this corner of England is a rather soggy one and a lot of the action takes place under torrents of cold rain, so much so that my toes began to feel squishy in my slippers. There occurs too, near the end, a flood which forces an entire village to seek shelter in the local church. At that point, I felt a cup of tea to be in order since I rarely keep sherry in the house.

Donald Eccles, Ian Carmichael and Kenneth Thornett as Superintendent Blundell

The cast, as always when dealing with the Brits, is perfection. 

My favorite (besides Ian Carmichael as Wimsey and Glyn Houston as Bunter) is Donald Eccles as Theodore Venables, Rector of Fenchurch St. Paul's who adds just the perfect touch of eccentric fussiness to an obvious toughness of character. He is a little Peter Cushing-like, but a bit lighter in tone. In a word (well, a couple of words), he is wonderful in the part.

Also excellent is the craggy faced Neil McCarthy as the tragic Will Thoday. 

Adding its own grim verisimilitude is the bleak rain soaked English Fenland moodily photographed, adding just the perfect gloomy tone to an engrossing, atmospheric mystery that begins with a jewel robbery and results in murder, family unhappiness, bigamy, an impenetrable cipher, a long buried secret and a deadly flood. Occasionally accompanied by the sounds of pealing bells in a belfry.

Since this is Tuesday, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten or Overlooked Films, Television and/or Audio/Visuals other bloggers are talking about today. We're a fun bunch.