Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Salon: The World of Sherlock Holmes - Victorian England in Paint

The Bayswater Omnibus 1895 - George William Joy - source

The Shop Girl - J.J.J. Tissot - source

The Rifle Range - J.J.J. Tissot - source

The Circle of the Rue Royale (Detail) - J.J.J. Tissot - source

The Circle of the Rue Royale (Detail) J.J.J. Tissot - source

The Circle of the Rue Royale (Detail) J.J.J. Tissot - source

The Circle of the Rue Royale - J.J.J. Tissot - source

The Confessional - J.J.J. Tissot - source

The Artist's Ladies - J.J.J. Tissot - source

Emigrants - J.J.J. Tissot - source

Going to Business - J.J.J. Tissot - source

General Gordon's Last Stand (Khartoum) - George William Joy - source

John Atkinson Grimshaw - Old Chelsea - source

The Drawing Room at Townshend House - Lawrence Alma-Tadema - source

The Departure from Victoria Station - J.J.J. Tissot - source

The Letter - J.J.J. Tissot - source

Following on a theme: these paintings will have given you an idea of what I envision as the world in which the famed detective carried out his cases. In truth, in my mind's eye, I can't visualize Victorian England without Holmes and Watson - so alive are they in my imagination.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - Narrated by Simon Vance

"In a romantic chamber of the heart, in a nostalgic country of the mind where it is always 1895." V. Starrett

I've read all the Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories many times over the years, needless to say, and of course, I am very familiar with the movies and television versions. But I'd always thought about getting the entire collection on audio - and now, finally, I have. Hard to explain the 'comfort' of Sherlock Holmes to anyone not similarly affected or 'afflicted'.

I downloaded the entire unabridged series of stories from Audible with brilliant narration by Simon Vance and in effect, I've been happily ensconced in Victorian England over the past week or so.

Vance is a wonder, his remarkably rich voice captures the varying personalities of each and every character in the canon, even the American voices in A STUDY IN SCARLET and THE VALLEY OF FEAR. 'His' Holmes is perfection. I can't imagine a finer and more adept audio interpretation.

There are some audio versions of the Holmes stories available for free downloading online, but nothing on the level of Vance's narration. At least not that I've heard. This is the version to beat.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: 11 Vintage Variety Movie Mugs

Sleazy Mug: Dan Duryea - Source

Rubbery Mug: Jack Carson - source

Duplicitous Mug: John Emery - source

Sinister Mug: Boris Karloff - source

Gangster Mug: Edward G. Robertson

Sophisticated Mug: Sir John Gielgud - source

Daffy Mug: Bob Hope - source

Leading Man Mug: Sterling Hayden

Menacing Mug: Peter Lorre

Wacky Mug: Danny Kaye - source

Pugnacious Mug: George C. Scott - Photo: Granger - source

Actors with mugs instead of fashionably chiseled good looks always seem more interesting than their refined brethren - don't you think?

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films, Television or other Audio/Visuals, other bloggers are talking about today.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dames - What do you go for? Go see a show for? Tell the truth, You go to see those beautiful dames...

This is my second post featuring the mannequin work of Pierre Imans (1850 - 1930) whose fabulous creations I've just recently discovered online. So thanks must first go out to the Monsieur Imans' Atelier for having fashioned these extraordinary and very recognizable types.

Read my first post featuring the male side of all this, here 

Movies from the 30's and 40's were usually populated with dames of this sort (there was even a movie called DAMES), so much so that I simply can't imagine a film from that era without at least one or two of these gals serving back-up to the leading lady or, for that matter, even occasionally (but rarely) taking the lead role themselves especially over at RKO or Republic.

After all, Ginger Rogers began in films as a blonde floozy (albeit a blond floozy with gumption), not even second best, but inserted as third or fourth where by dint of talent and ambition, she then moved up, film by film, level by level, to fame and glory with a guy named Fred Astaire who embellished her with movie class.

If you love those old movies as I do (no matter how you discovered them) you know who this post is about - right? We're talking the best friend. The room-mate. The wall flower. The reporter. The sarcastic secretary (though this category sometimes moved up to leading lady status). But also the step-mother. The society dame. The night club singer. The innocent pawn. The gun moll and occasionally, the murder victim. The divorcee. The devoted wife. The other woman. The Mata Hari. The sacrificial lamb. The housekeeper. The wisecracking maid. The little sister. The older sister. The evil step-sister. The shop girl. Well, obviously I could go on and on, but I'll stop here. You get the picture.

Okay, who do we have here? Obviously (I mean, look at that face) this is the egregiously spoiled older daughter who takes after her father, a powerful Senator. She is the disapproving heiress who can barely tolerate her high spirited sister Polly, the leading lady (takes after her late mother), a math whiz who refuses to wear dresses preferring instead to stride around the family mansion in glasses, overalls and brogues. The perky genius is in love with her older sister's discarded boyfriend, a hapless scientist oblivious to his lucky escape.

Usually named Pamela (never call me Pam) or Laura or Barbara, no one remembers ever seeing this haughty creature laugh. When was the last time those tight little lips broke into a real smile? Not lately. Convinced of her own superiority, this gal is too busy finding fault and belittling the lesser world about her. Her current fiance George, a sacrificial scion of an old but impoverished society family, has been driven to drink and all but cowers when this snooty miss enters the room. (What some people won't do for money.) The servants, who tend to come and go in quick rotation, are convinced she has the evil eye.

Older sister would, of course, prefer to rule the world but will have to settle for ruling the clique at the country club and eventually, the jittery George. She will, of course, wind up dead as a door-nail in the gazebo. Tsk. Tsk.

This kindly looking sort is the leading lady's understanding aunt who is nursing a broken heart. Deeply in love with her phlegmatic hubby Kirby, who is a tall, dark and handsome British novelist, she is aware that he does not return her devotion - although she cannot figure out why. The truth is, Kirby is in love with his best friend and literary agent, Ben. Of course, this being a 1930's movie, nobody is aware of this, not even Ben who is secretly in love with the gardener (an undercover German spy) who has his stealthy eye on the plucky leading lady who has volunteered for war service and is currently a driver for her widowed father, the natty chief of Army Intelligence. Aha! you say.

Usually named Cynthia, Margaret or Nancy, our virtuous family relation suffers in silence, unaware of the pent-up emotions and desires swirling around her as she blithely goes about her cloistered existence planning charity fetes, tea parties and knitting balaclava helmets. If only she knew that happiness is waiting for her in the person of Major Abernathy, a long time family friend and war hero who has loved her from afar for years.

Will virtue ever get its just reward? Will Ben ever get his hands on the Teutonic gardener? Will said gardener ever get his hands on the leading lady and/or any secret papers lying arbout? Will the love-lorn Major ever notice the spy lurking among the roses? And by the way who and where the heck is the leading man?

This femme fatale (with a heart of gold) has obviously been around the block a few times (note the dark hair and brutal make-up - a giveaway) so therefore she cannot get 'a happily ever after' with the leading man - this femme must necessarily die (usually stepping in front of a bullet meant for you know who) at the end. She might as well carry a placard in front of her that says, 'I am doomed.'

Once upon a time our gal was pure as the driven snow, but headstrong and spoiled. Result: a couple of errors in judgment (the usual clumsy affair of the heart when she was young and green) resulting in expulsion from her strictly middle class family, a hasty runaway marriage and shortly thereafter even hastier widowhood. Add a few years up the river for manslaughter (she killed him in self-defense, ladies and gentlemen) and it's obvious life has left our bad luck gal with a jaundiced view of men and worse, no easy way to earn a living except, sadly, to become a floozy chanteuse at a seedy nightclub on the wrong side of town.

Usually named Margot or Sonia or Brenda, she has recently (and unadvisedly) fallen hard for the fresh-faced cop (the leading man) who has sworn to bring her mobster boss to justice. The cop, in turn, has been making goo-goo eyes at the saucy leading lady (a young society type engaged to an up and coming politico) who is apparently the long lost daughter (given up for adoption after mom was carted off to prison) of our dark-eyed gal who has no clue - yet - to the girl's true identity. Prediction: disaster and heartbreak


This is the rather pragmatic society grand dame who has in her own unruffled way seen it all, done some, and is shocked by little. She is an American, daughter of a railroad tycoon, married to a British earl who, on the whole, prefers horses, dogs and the life of a country squire - something our lady tolerates with a bemused eye reasoning - rightly - that it could all be much worse. Usually named Marian or Catherine or Dorothy, she is the mother of two grown sons who adore her and whom she indulges shamelessly. Though maybe not so much when the youngest shows up out of the blue (sent down from Oxford) with his brand new bride, a Harrod's shop girl named Petal Phelps.

What is a mother to do when disaster looms? Especially when said son was already betrothed to Lady Gwen Pierpont (the leading lady), the 'horsey' good-natured daughter of their closest neighbor, the excruciatingly proper Duke of Beresford. Well, maybe the older son (very correct and not given to wild ways) can step in and prevent social catastrophe - if he can be convinced to sacrifice himself by stepping into his brother's shoes. Little does mother know that Lady Gwen has secretly been in love with the eldest son (the leading man) since she was twelve years old. He merely thinks of her as that 'funny looking' kid with freckles who, in between riding horses, inexplicably became engaged to his younger brother. Stay tuned for further developments.

This is the perky, fun-loving, gap-toothed best friend who pretends her father hasn't lost the family's money speculating in a flabby stock market - the real reason she's has had to get a job as a reporter, insisting she wants to be independent and fend for herself. All her well-to-do friends, except one, tsk-tsk in sneering amazement when they're not rushing about getting ready for the upcoming debutante ball.

Usually named Patty or Alice or Debbie, this best friend is the sort of gal who will stick by the leading lady, a beautiful but empty-headed heiress who has a habit of stumbling into misadventure. The beauty can't decide which beau to marry, and her reporter friend must dive right in to help when they find the dead body of one of the handsome beaus hanging in the pool house. The leading lady faints but the best friend begins taking notes in her brand new reporter notebook.

Once revived and told (by said best friend) not to be such a wet noodle, the two pals will try and save the leading lady's younger brother whom the reporter secretly loves and on whom all suspicion has fallen since he was last seen playing an afternoon set of tennis with the dead guy and has since disappeared - the brother, that is, not the dead guy.

Of course we must have a handsome but confused homicide cop (the leading man) who is perturbed by two young lovelies interfering in the investigation, mixing up the clues and even getting themselves kidnapped and needing to be rescued again and again. Well, nobody ever said that being a cop was an easy career choice.

Now here we have a true angel in distress. So much distress that she might almost be the leading lady of the piece. In fact, if this were anything but the story of a rather gruff and exceptional female at the forefront of early aviation - first of her sex to join the embryo Royal mail corps where she will, rightly, be viewed as just another pilot - then our fragile looking lovely would rule the roost. But instead this innocent wilting lily is the female pilot's younger sister, the girl left behind by the hero, a pilot wounded grievously in the war. A hero too noble to permanently inflict his scarred visage on such a fragile flower of young English womanhood.

Especially since said 'flower' cowered with revulsion when he first came home and revealed himself to her. A jagged  gash across his forehead and down his cheek to his chin has made this tender miss have second thoughts.

Usually named Susan, or Ellen, or Elizabeth, the wilted lovely is now overcome by guilt, wishing she were not so repulsed by the ruin of her ex-fiance's good looks and had not, in her heartbreak, turned to the hero's still handsome brother (the prodigal son who managed to avoid active service and is currently involved in black market activities) to assuage her grief. She is weak and spineless, she tells herself. Well yes, but really, how could anyone with any delicate sensibilities be expected to spend her life with a Frankenstein? Oh, if only she could be less fastidious.

In the meantime, our heart-broken hero has joined the mail corps where he will deliver air mail alongside the plucky heroine whom he has grown to admire for her grit and bravery and who, unbelievably at least to him, does not seem to notice his grotesque physical scars. She, in turn, has successfully hidden the fact that she has been in love with him for years.

Why can't the course of true love ever be nice and neat?

'Dames' Song Lyrics

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: SON OF KONG (1933) starring Robert Armstrong and Helen Mack

Source of all three fabulous movie posters - link.

Okay, I know some of you haven't seen this little known sequel to KING KONG, but I have and so I thought I'd mention it in passing. Well, it is 'forgotten (or overlooked) films' day over at Todd Mason's blog and as usual, I'm reminding you to check in and see what other forgotten or overlooked films, television and/or other audio/visuals other bloggers are talking about today. We're a cunning bunch.

SON OF KONG (1933) is a film directed by Ernest B. Schoesdack, screenplay written by Ruth Rose and starring Robert Armstrong and Helen Mack. In my view, the film is notable for a couple of reasons:

Armstrong and Mack make a nice couple.

1) Robert Armstrong was not normally the star of any film, he usually played the second or third lead. Here he acquits himself splendidly as Carl Denham, the guy responsible for foisting King Kong on NYC. AND he even gets the girl at the end.

2) The screenplay was written by a woman. (Never heard of her. I wonder if she ever wrote any other films.)

The story: It's about a month after the disastrous events outlined in King Kong and Denham feels mighty bad about the whole thing. Well, who wouldn't? At any rate, he's being hounded by lawsuits right and left (results of Kong destruction) and so decides to board a ship with his pal Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) and set sail into the night. But making a living shipping cargo is not what it's cracked up to be.

Somewhere in the South Seas Denham and his pal come across a seedy traveling show full of performing monkeys run by an old man and his beautiful daughter, Hilda (Helen Mack). In quick succession, the old man is killed in a drunken brawl with the same notorious captain who'd originally sold Denham the map to Kong island. Uh-oh. Talk about coincidences.

This surly guy now insists that there was a big treasure on Kong Island and - hold onto your hats - it's still there for the taking. UH-OH!

Well, before you can say don't do it, boys, this motley group is off to Kong Island to search for treasure. But not before a mutiny on board their ship forces our hero and his small group (including the beautiful Hilda who has stowed aboard) to wade ashore by themselves onto Kong Island where they will find - guess who?

Now you may wonder who the mama of this enormous baby might be and when on earth he was born and all that sort of logistic whatnot - since his dad was shipped off to Manhattan to die falling off the Empire State building a while back. But one can surmise that he came into the world at some point when Daddy Kong was still having fun harassing the natives. But to whom? Where was the doting mama during all this? Who can tell. At any rate, there he is, Song of Kong, adorably welcoming Carl Denham and his friends to the island and, more importantly, holding no grudges.

Well, after several Baby Kong vs. some prehistoric monster set-to's, the island volcano decides to erupt and put an end to all this foolishness.

A fun film with a not so fun ending which I hated (as I did the ending of King Kong), but I am a big fan of Robert Armstrong and for he and he alone, I recommend this absurdity of a movie.

Armstrong would show up in 1949 in yet another movie featuring a giant ape, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG with Terry Moore and Ben Johnson - my favorite of all the ape movies primarily because it has a happy ending for ALL concerned.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

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

J.C. Leyendecker - source

Amos Sewell

Norman Rockwell - The Facts of Life - source

Susan Mitchell - source

Dame Laura Knight - Lamorna Birch and His Daughters - source

My dad died when he was 89, so he lived a good long life. He wasn't the best in the world but he was mine and I miss him.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: Six D.E. Stevenson Treasures

British painter Russell Sidney Reeve (1895 - 1970) source

Since I have just recently fallen under the spell of D.E. Stevenson's writing (had heard of her for years but had never succumbed before), you will have to pardon my gushing. You know how enthusiastic new converts can be.

Oh how I love this author's books and how glad I am to have found her at just the right time in my life. As I'm writing this I'm sighing with contentment. That's how Stevenson's books have affected me. Of course since I am an old Anglophile from way back when (I think it began with Agatha Christie) finding this treasure trove of books filled with gentle stories of mostly honorable but very human British people going about their business, doing their best as war raged in Europe (or just about to rage or having just finished raging) is for me an event worth celebrating. So I have, with afternoon tea as often as possible and eager trips back and forth to the library.

Dorothy Emily Stevenson (1892 - 1973) was a prolific Scottish writer whose more popular stories took place in the years before, during and after WWII (though some were set later) far as I can tell. Her Wikipedia page is bare bones though it does list all her book titles. But since I haven't read them all - yet - I'm doing a bit of surmising.

I'm reminded by Lyn that this is a D.E. Stevenson website worth perusing, especially for those of you who are new to her books - like me. Besides lots of D.E. Stevenson minutae, the site lists all the books in order and mentions which characters show up in more than one book, among many other interesting facts.

Stevenson's books feature all sorts of people not just the moneyed class, but old family money, understandably, predominates. And just as well, since in that era of tumultuous world doings, happy endings were hard to come by. But money does help settle things nicely I always think - coupled with love and in some cases heroic sacrifice - primary Stevenson people have honor above all else. The women, mostly equipped with intelligence and good basic common sense, are shown to be as strong (in their way) as the men who are often off fighting in distant (and not so distant) lands.

The extraordinary idea that houses were lived in generation after generation always intrigues someone like me who never had anything like that in her life. And there is too the added attraction of characters' lives lived in charming villages of the sort I've always dreamed about. So obviously I was ready, willing and able to fall under D.E. Stevenson's spell.

So here are a few words about the six books I've recently finished reading while I wait for the next bunch to show up at the library. I'll soon exhaust their supply, so I'll be searching online for those titles that I couldn't find otherwise. Most especially Miss Buncle's Book and Miss Buncle Marries. (I understand those were recently re-released so that shouldn't be a problem. Though I can't understand why my library doesn't have them.)

Are you familiar with the work of D.E. Stevenson? Have you read any of the following? If so, are we on a similar wavelength?

THE HOUSE ON THE CLIFF (1966) This was my first Stevenson book and thank goodness. The story of a young woman in penurious circumstances who quite suddenly inherits a distant family house (on a cliff) is just exactly what one would imagine and all the better for it. There are a few surprises but in general it's all so wonderfully familiar: a likable heroine, a worthy hero and a loathsome cad of an interloper, but everything works out properly in the end. As it should. An entertaining, heart-warming read that left me wanting to read more of Stevenson's work.

VITTORIA COTTAGE (1949) In postwar rural England, widow Caroline Dering lives in the village of Ashbridge with her two children. When the time comes, her two will fall love with the county squire's two and that seems to settle things on the domestic entanglement front until Caroline herself becomes intrigued by an enigmatic stranger recently arrived in the village. The book's quiet charm enveloped me almost at once as I was caught up in the day to day doings of Ashbridge friends and neighbors. I enjoyed it enormously. Do yourself a favor and read Lyn's (I Prefer Reading) review here.

FLETCHER'S END (1962) I fell in love with the house first of all, then with the characters. FLETCHER'S END is a sequel to another book (BEL LAMINGTON) but I've read it out of order and don't think I'll read the first one, I love this one so much. Fletcher's End is an old and decrepit house on the outskirts of a country village. The current owner, a young naval officer away on sea duty, could care less about the property and is looking for a quick sale. But with only an old caretaker (who loves the house and takes her duties seriously but is unable to do much other than clean and polish) and no real attempt to keep up the property - the garden is a jungle - the years pass and the house continues to sit empty and forlorn.

Enter Bel and Ellis Brownlee, a happy couple only recently married who are looking to settle in the country. Sigh. You can imagine. They, with the convenient help of an architect friend, will discover that Fletcher's End has fine bones and beautiful structure and, with a few adjustments, is just the perfect place for them to begin their new life together. I adored this book and plan on re-reading it forever.

SUMMERHILLS (1956) Set in Scotland, just after WWII, this book is a continuation of AMBERWELL, which I've yet to read since my library doesn't have it. At any rate, I found no difficulty jumping right into the gentle trials and tribulations of the Ayrton family. When Roger Ayrton, a widower (his wife was killed in the London Blitz) with a young son, comes home to Amberwell (another exceedingly wonderful country house) on leave from army duty he sees that his son Stephen will soon have to be sent to school. But where to send him is a problem. There is nothing close by.

Roger is a wealthy man (thanks to a huge inheritance), so he decides to build a school which will serve a necessary need, it will cater to military men and their families. Fortunately, a nearby estate is for sale, and with the help - both professional and otherwise - of friends and family, he establishes Summerhills. Another book I'll probably reread forever as well.

MRS. TIM CARRIES ON (1941) Written early in the war, this is one of a series of books based on D.E. Stevenson's own WWII diaries. Hester Christie (Mrs. Tim Christie) is the engaging wife of a British Army Officer away on duty. She, as so many wives were, is left behind to man the home-front and take care of family while their men head across the channel and beyond. The day to day, village chores and war-time deprivations are all handled (with rare exceptions) by Mrs. Tim and her neighbors with stoic charm, endurance and tenacity, a combination which helped make the Brits so heroic during 'their finest hour'. What I loved best about this book is its simple truth that life must be lived no matter what, even in war, the minutiae of the every day must still be dealt with. Another book to love and re-read as time goes by.

MRS. TIM GETS A JOB (1947) The war is over and Mrs. Tim's hubby, the Colonel, is still serving in the Army, away in Egypt this time. The children are at school and what with one thing and another, Mrs. Tim is off to Scotland, egged on by her friend Grace, to work for the eccentric Erica Clutterbuck at Tocher House, a country estate in the Highlands. There she will become cautiously involved in the lives of the house's guests and staff and be called upon to give advice and/or listen wisely to various and sundry tales of woe. Something Mrs. Tim, for whatever reason, is suitably fashioned for.

One of the main attractions of this particular book are the fine descriptions of the Scottish countryside, descriptions which entirely capture the imagination, so much so that they appeared in color in my mind's eye. I have been in Scotland and I can tell you that the author does it justice.

There are two other Mrs. Tim books and I propose to read them as I come across them.

Detail of larger painting by Evelyn Dunbar (1944) source

The two paintings I've used on this post are not directly related to D.E. Stevenson in any way. They just happen to remind me of the lives of the people in her story.

Since this is 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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films: A Few Movie Posters to Leave You Agog, Agape and Aghast. But in a good way.

Now we know what television was originally intended for.

One does wonder what all those men are doing dancing in their pajamas.

The hilarious awfulness of this poster boggles the mind. Luckily we soon had Johnny Weissmuller to deflect the horror.

I've only seen one of these movies (Sherlock Holmes Faces Death) - which is probably just as well, but I sure as heck love the posters. Far as I'm concerned movie-poster-wise, garish and lurid make for a great combo. Specifically, I love these designs for the bright colors, the glee, the enthusiasm and the 'look at me! - look at me!' and of course, the titles - the more absurd the better.

Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom to see what other forgotten or overlooked films other bloggers are talking about today. We're usually a fun bunch.