Friday, July 31, 2015

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books: DROPPED NAMES (2012) Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them by Frank Langella

The actor Frank Langella (I always remember him from Mel Brooks' long lost classic, TWELVE CHAIRS though perhaps he's more well known for playing Nixon and Dracula - not at the same time) turns out to be a pretty terrific writer of memoirs - if DROPPED NAMES is anything to go by. Reveling in his own star-studded history and memorable encounters with the very talented and the very celebrated and occasionally with those of near mythic status, Langella coyly reveals almost all and leaves us wanting just that little bit more. Not only is the book full of engaging encounters between Langella and a whole host of entertainment lovelies, but the book is well designed - each person profiled in his or her own essay, the sort of thing that makes reading this sort of thing easy and fun and perfect for the beach.

 I think Langella understands what readers of this type of book are looking for. It's not rocket science.

And yet, there's nothing to sneer at in such a perceptive, well-written and occasionally wicked memoir of past times and beautiful people who captured our imaginations, our admiration and from time to time broke our hearts. Langella shares his opinion of a whole slew of stars and celebrities he interacted with and observed over the many years of his career. He doesn't spare us his dislike of Rex Harrison (whose unpleasant reputation was no secret) and Charleston Heston and Yul Brynner's egos also come in for a bashing. Still you don't get the feeling that Langella is out merely to bash, he is not especially mean-spirited or over the top in his observations.

But some rancor is to be expected in books of this sort. Not everyone can love everybody - not everybody is worth loving - and if they did, it wouldn't make for an especially entertaining book. Langella is most kind to the women who flitted in and out of his orbit - as is to be expected of a gentleman.

Overall I get the impression that Frank Langella is comfortable enough in his own skin and basically satisfied with his long-lived career. Plus the older he gets, the more attractive he gets. Nothing wrong with that.

"Langella's book celebrated sluttiness as a worthy - even noble - way of life. There was so much happy sexuality in this book that reading it was like being flirted with for a whole party by the hottest person in the room. It was no wonder Langella was invited everywhere." Ada Calhoun in the New York Times.

I don't know about the sluttiness aspect, but certainly the reader knows almost right off the bat that Langella is having a ball. And yeah, he was usually the hottest guy in the room. I don't mind that ego plays a part in this as it must do in any memoir of this sort. Don't read a memoir (especially from an actor) if you don't want to confront a huge ego. But ego with charm is often a delight, especially if you get the sense that the guy speaking is maybe not such a bad guy and best of all, he is someone with whom the reader wouldn't mind spending time with.

Though on screen Langella often gives the appearance of a deep, dark intensity (the man played Dracula after all), this is not apparent in his writing and isn't missed at all. He very wittily describes (and maybe embellishes) moments with Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Robert Mitchum, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Jackie Kennedy, and others of the glamorous set to whom he was introduced or worked alongside as he established his stage and film career. Not bad for a star struck Italian boy from New Jersey.

It's funny how happenstance and luck can play such an important part in someone's life and career. It was through an early friendship with Bunny Mellon's daughter, while both were at the Cape Playhouse in Massachusetts, that Langella was introduced to the grandiose, outsize life of society and celebrity. From then on there was no stopping him.

Two favorite chapters:

The one on the wonderful Billie Burke who seems to have been a total delight - remember her as the Good Witch in THE WIZARD OF OZ and also as Topper's slightly ditzy wife? In fact, she played slightly ditzy almost always and almost always won our hearts. Langella clearly adored her.

And the one on gifted Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia who was most famous, I suppose, for playing Gomez in the THE ADDAMS FAMILY film, though he was a brilliant stage actor as well. There is an element of homo-eroticism in Langella's dealings with Julia (Langella eagerly admits he was 'in love with Raul Julia', but gives the impression that their relationship didn't go beyond the 'bromance' stage). Who knows? At the time Julia was married and a father and had the Latin man's fear of being thought less than a manly man. Langella tantalizes and leaves us wondering.

I recommend DROPPED NAMES if you are the sort of reader who likes their Hollywood/Celebrity memoirs clever, inviting, well-written and chock full of charm.


Since it's Friday, we would normally check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books other bloggers are talking about today. But since Patti's away, the links this week will be corralled at Evan Lewis' blog, here

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Forgotten Film: SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950) starring Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde.

Thanks to Vienna whose comment and movie expertise comes at the perfect time, I've learned that SO LONG AT THE FAIR, one of my all time favorite movies, is currently running on youtube. And in the interest of spreading joy wherever, wherever I can, I've embedded the link and you can watch the movie here or at youtube. But you know how this goes, you have to move quickly before the movie is stricken from the site and disappears again.

SO LONG AT THE FAIR stars a very young and very beautiful Jean Simmons and an equally young and beautiful Dirk Bogarde. I first saw this on television once upon a time in my youth and knew instantly, even as a kid, that this was a very special movie. I watched it as often as it was on.

Then to my horror, the film simply disappeared from view for many MANY years. I'd even begun to think it was lost forever.

And now, thanks to Vienna, to find that it's available after all, well, m'dears, I am staggered with delight. But I'm not waiting for next Tuesday's Forgotten Film, etc. meme to recommend it, oh no, it might be gone by then and then where would we be?

So here it is for your enjoyment and don't say I never gave you anything:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: DANGEROUS CROSSING (1953) starring Jeanne Crain and Michael Rennie

Stumbled across this film on youtube the other day and when I saw the magic name of English actor Michael Rennie, that's all it took. I am a HUGE fan of actor Michael Rennie's cheekbones. I mean, if you remember THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Rennie usually looked as if he had, indeed, come from another world. He was so soothingly charismatic and never quite seemed to mesh within any given cast of any given movie (well, except for the above named one ), and as the future Saint Peter in THE ROBE he was - unintentionally, I'm sure -  super sexy, putting lead actor Richard Burton in the shade. Rennie always stood out in the crowd. As an actor he was quietly unique, elegant, and exceptionally sexy and my dears, those cheekbones. I mean, swoon. Rennie was also, one of my mother's favorite actors, so there's that in his favor as well.

Jeanne Crain and the dangerously suave Michael Rennie

Between you and me, besides the fact that DANGEROUS CROSSING takes place on board a luxury ocean liner and Michael Rennie plays the sympathetic ship's doctor, there is NO other reason to see this movie. Unfortunately Jeanne Crain is spectacularly awful in the part of a young bride whose hubby disappears even before the luggage is unpacked in their stateroom. Her scenes of frantic hysteria border on the laughable, the kiss of death in a supposed thriller. Ms. Crain (ordinarily a decent actress) is so over-the-top that you really do not blame the captain of the ship for wanting to lock her up.

But in a perverse kind of way, it's sort of fun to watch Crain emote, especially alongside the always calm, cool, and collected Michael Rennie.

Willis Bouchey as the harried ship's captain, a man with zero tolerance for loony ladies.

Are you very sure you're married?

DANGEROUS CROSSING is a 1953 film directed by Joseph M. Newman with a screenplay by Leo Townsend based on a radio play by the American mystery writing great, John Dickson Carr. The film co-stars Carl Betz (who went on to play Donna Reed's hubby on the popular Donna Reed Show for years). In this film, Betz oozes with sleaze, cast as the boyish hubby (with a penchant for disappearing) on his honeymoon. (She should have pushed him off the gangplank.)

Carl Betz, so slimy as a young married.

Since this is a thriller of a certain sort, there are almost constant billows of fog, creepy passengers lurking - seemingly concerned with the heroine's flights of hysteria - there's even a passenger with a cane that tip-taps ominously as he walks the deck. Uh-oh.

 (Lots of red herrings crossing the Atlantic on this trip.) There also a very annoying fog horn which blows almost constantly through the night scenes. No wonder the bride is terrified. Jeez.

Searching for hubby in all the wrong places.

If you, like me, are a fan of Michael Rennie's cheekbones (or, for that matter, have a deep appreciation for the sound of foghorns), then you must watch this film, available (for now) on youtube. (See link below.)

Let me tie up your sandals, m'dear.

It is hard not to like a film which is overloaded with shadowy atmospherics and all the action takes place on board a luxury liner AND you get to watch the leading lady and Michael Rennie play shuffleboard and other shipboard games.

PLUS there's a Halloween night dance in which the heroine gets to make an emotional fuss.

DANGEROUS CROSSING's story-line has a slight resemblance to the British classic (at least, classic to me) SO LONG AT THE FAIR which starred the fabulous duo of Jean Simmons and Dirk Bogarde. A marvelous film that I can't recommend highly enough and which, unfortunately, is not available to watch - anywhere. I live mostly on the memories.

John Dickson Carr's radio play, CABIN B-13 on which the screenplay is based, was apparently part of a series of stories in which the ship and the doctor were the only constants. You can learn more about the film, in terms of relevant details and more about the radio productions including a listening link, from Sergio's terrific post at his blog, TIPPING MY FEDORA. I've just realized he wrote about DANGEROUS CROSSING three years ago. 

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Forgotten Books: Staircases and Murder - Perfect Together.

Can we all agree that vintage book covers were/are a visual treat (even the lurid ones)? Good. Dissenters cover your eyes.

This particular post is about staircases as instruments of evil. Why is it that staircases are features of choice on so many vintage mystery book covers? (Possibly because staircases feature so prominently in the actual books, Yvette. ) Asked and answered. I know I did a blog post about staircases prominent in movies once upon a time and I know I did one with book covers too, but damn if I can find it in my archives. (Maybe I accidentally deleted it?) So what the heck, let me do it again for the first time.

Staircase. Murder. The two just seem to go so nicely together. When you think of one, naturally you think of the other. Ergo:

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A note.

I get in the dumps at times, and don't open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I'll soon be right.   

Sherlock Holmes - A STUDY IN SCARLET

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday Salon: I Thought We'd Stay Inside Today

Contemporary French painter Do Fournier - via

Contemporary American painter Kim English - The Back Room

Danish painter Carl Budtz-Moller (1882 - 1953) - via

Contemporary American painter Paul Schulenburg - via

Irish painter Sir John Lavery (1856 - 1941)- 'The Red Hat' - via

Contemporary South African painter (now living in Carmel, Calif.) Cecilia Rosslee 

Contemporary Greek painter Giorgios Rorris 

Canadian Impressionist painter Helen Gallaway McNicoll (1879 - 1915)

Contemporary French painter Do Fournier - via 

Contemporary American painter Lea Wight 

French painter Edouard Vuillard (1838 - 1940)- via

Contemporary American painter Kenny Harris - more

Canadian Contemporary painter Larry Bracegirdle - 'The House We Stayed In' 

American Contemporary painter Kurt Solmssen 

Contemporary American painter Jon Redmond - The Hotel Room, 2009 - via

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tuesday's Forgotten Film: LURED (1947) starring Lucille Ball, George Sanders, Boris Karloff, Charles Coburn and many other recognizable faces from the past.

The cast of LURED is a veritable 'who's who' of character actors from the 40's including a couple of actors cast against type which is something I always find intriguing. LURED is a 1947 black and white film directed by Douglas Sirk who, as you might know, later went on to direct a bunch of sumptuous 1950's films in dramatically lavish color. In fact, I checked the list of his films and discovered I'd seen quite a few - in theaters and later on television. All Sirk films had a certain symbolic style and look to them and all starred the most beautiful movie stars of the day. My favorite? ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS with Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman.

LURED (the film was later re-named PERSONAL COLUMN, a lukewarm title that may have doomed the film's success at the box office) stars the very glamorous Lucille Ball and a dapper George Sanders, but never mind that, check out this cast of supporting characters:

Charles Coburn plays a rather snuggly Scotland Yard inspector.

Sir Cedric Hardwicke plays a  nightclub owner/businessman. Hardwicke was the father of Edward Hardwicke who played a memorable Dr. Watson to an equally memorable Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes for Granada television.

Alan Napier (who later went on to play Batman's man-servant in the TV series starring Adam West) plays a detective. I'm a big fan of Napier. Most especially as the charming veterinarian in THE UNINVITED, a terrific ghost film starring Ray Milland.

George Zucco (one of my all time favorite villains, especially as Moriarity in a Sherlock Holmes film with Basil Rathbone) plays a lovable detective. Yes, I said, 'lovable'. Go figure.

Boris Karloff plays a poor, demented fashion designer with delusions. He lures Sandra to his apartment where he has her put on one of his designs and sashay around in a pretend fashion show for an audience of empty chairs, two mannequins and a bulldog.

Alan Mowbray (everyone's favorite sly butler) plays - you guessed it - a sly butler.

Joseph Calleia (everyone's favorite, steely-eyed Italian villain) plays - you guessed it - a steely-eyed villain.

Gerald Hamer plays a tout. Those of you familiar with the Sherlock Holmes films of the 40's starring Basil Rathbone will easily recognize Hamer (if not by name) as one of several actors who repeatedly worked in these films, sometimes playing the villain, sometimes playing a victim or witness or whatnot.

It's a veritable feast of recognition - that is, if you enjoy vintage films or like me, grew up watching all these actors in a variety of roles in a variety of films. In those days, character actors were memorable and seemingly plentiful.

The plot of LURED is a kind of mish-mash mystery/thriller/romance. The first half or so of the film has to do with the disappearance of several young women in London (Hollywood backlot). The police are stumped but aware that a serial killer is apparently at work. The killer's modus operandi involves placing ads in personal columns to lure his victims.

After a show she was in closes in four days, American dancer Sandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball) is stranded in London and working in a dance hall. She is concerned when her friend Lucy disappears after dating an unknown man whom she met through a personal ad. Uh-oh.

Inspector Temple recruiting for Scotland Yard. The old goat.

Sandra goes to Scotland Yard and is almost immediately recruited by Inspector Harley Temple (Charles Coburn) to act as bait for a killer which he explains has probably done away with her friend Lucy, not to mention a few other young women as well. Since Sandra has smarts and gumption, she goes along with Scotland Yard's plan and is soon answering personal ads accompanied by detective guardian H.R. Barrett (George Zucco) who lurks in the shadows and springs into action as needed.

The best scene in the movie. It showcases Lucille Ball's snappy comedy timing and also shows us a rare side of George Zucco. I can't help it, I'm a George Zucco fanatic.

Previously, while at the dance hall, Sandra had been approached by an emissary of London nightclub owners Fleming (George Sanders) and Wilde (Cedric Hardwicke), the chap had liked Sandra's classy looks and handed her a card, mentioning an upcoming audition for a new club. Manna from heaven for a stranded showgirl. She keeps the audition in mind as she sets out on her detecting duties. When she does meet up with Robert Fleming (Sanders), its at a concert where she's gone to meet a 'music lover' who'd placed a personal ad. The sparks fly between Sandra and Robert (a definite ladies man) and before you know it, they're in love and planning a future. Yeah, I know, George Sanders? I don't think so. But I did mention casting against type.

A lovey-dovey pair.

First let's back up a bit, when Sandra goes to work for Scotland Yard, there are a couple of hair-raising (sort of) episodes in which she meets up with several men who might or might not be the serial killer, including one of those 'meet me under the bridge at midnight' scenes so beloved of thriller makers. Though in this case it's not under the bridge but under a lamppost in the dead of night. I know, I wouldn't either, but this is the movies.

Meet me under the lamppost on a dark bridge and come alone. Okay. 

Incongruously, at some point the film goes off the rails and becomes, for a while, a romantic comedy. It's almost as if Douglas Sirk forgot all those dead girls. But then near the end, the serial killer returns, the wrong man is arrested, and finally, with Sandra as bait once again, the real killer is apprehended in the nick of time. The villain's identity is no real surprise, especially for those of you familiar with the actors involved. I can say no more. 

Yeah, that title will absolutely lure them in. source

An entertaining, fun movie. Not great, but good enough to pass the time with on a rainy afternoon or evening. Lucille Ball is always interesting and let's not forget that great cast of character actors.

Remember to check in later at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten Films, Television or Other Audio/Visuals other bloggers are talking about today. There's always something interesting.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Forgotten Book: DOUBLE FOR DEATH (1939) by Rex Stout - Not a Nero Wolfe book.

Don't you wish you had this edition? I do. source

I've read (and mostly loved) every single Nero Wolfe book over the years, many of them over and over. There is no mystery writer I revere more. I also loved ALPHABET HICKS, another non-Wolfe book to cross my path a while back and wish Stout had written more featuring Hicks, but alas, there is only one.

Having said that, I'm still not sure what to make of Tecumseh Fox, a character who starred in three books by Stout.

Of course I'd heard of Rex Stout's Tecumseh Fox over the years, but I'd never read any of the books until recently. I got my copy of DOUBLE FOR DEATH in e-book form for $2.49. A great deal. I wish the other two Fox books were as readily available. Though of course, I'd rather have nice hardcovers or yellowing paperbacks with lurid covers. But for inexpensive vintage reading, Kindle is hard to beat. Especially when actual copies of certain books remain too expensive for my budget.

DOUBLE FOR DEATH is a quick read - I finished it in one evening. It's not really comparable to other Wolfe books but then what is? Wolfe and Archie are a classic duo operating within a brilliant environment in a very brilliant series, very hard to equal. So, let's forget the comparison. Try and forget that Tecumseh Fox was created by Rex Stout. Without Stout's imprimatur, the book would probably read better than it is.

Plainly put: While I did enjoy the puzzle of DOUBLE FOR DEATH, the story lacks the kind of cast you want to hang out with. Except for Tecumseh Fox himself, the rest of the characters in the book are easily forgettable and one, at least, is rather annoying - that he's the 'second-in-command' is a major weakness.

(Although I do remember disliking Archie Goodwin - yeah, I know, what was I thinking? - when I first began my lifelong love of the Wolfe books. Yes, I admit it, I'm one of the few who can claim that Wolfe himself is what won me over in the beginning. Of course, now I love Archie equally.)

I don't really know what to make of DOUBLE FOR DEATH since it is so different in tone, in temperament, in style and in pace from you-know-who-and-what.  So the result is this mish-mash review.

Stout himself thought this was his best plotted book ever, so who am I to to quibble with the master? But that's all the book is - a clever plot. It's a 'forest for the trees' type thing - enjoyable, but not memorable. In fact, I'm having trouble now remembering most of it. (I know, I know, you're thinking, 'But Yvette, you NEVER remember what you read'. Yes, I agree, but there are different ways of dis-remembering.)

Tecumseh Fox lives in an enclave - a large house and property (there are cows and horses) - somewhere in, I think, upstate New York. Apparently, Fox is one of those self-made men who can live as he pleases and has no real need to make a living. He shares his house with a bunch of eccentrics, 'guests' who come and go, none of them very interesting. Fox is empathetic, imposing, suave, elegant, brilliant and somewhat eccentric.

"She heard quick light steps, twisted her head again and saw a man carrying perhaps fifteen more years than her own twenty-two, in a brown Palm Beach suit and without a hat. Her first swift thought, as she rose, was that he looked like a fox, but then she saw, his face towards her, that his chin and nose were not actually pointed and his brown eyes were opened too wide to look sly. The eyes took her in, all of her, with so brief a displacement of their focus into her own that it might have been lightning leaping a gap, and she was disconcerted.

"I'm Tecumseh Fox. Mrs. Trimble says your name is Nancy Grant. You want to see me?"

Fox has a second in command, a guy named Dan Pavey, square faced and given to tramping in and out as opposed to Fox's 'quick light steps'. As a sidekick, Pavey turns out to be pretty unreliable which begs the question why Fox should rely on him so heavily. So we look for more than meets the eye and in this book, at least, we don't get to find the answer. At least, I don't think we do.

At any rate, we begin with the death of Ridley Scott, millionaire industrialist. Apparently he has been murdered while at his secluded bungalow in upstate New York - Mr. Kisco, to be exact. Nancy Grant's uncle Andrew has been arrested and she's come to Fox to untangle Uncle Andy from the entanglement. I might add that in my view, the motive for suspecting Grant is weak to begin with.

But the rest of the plot is pretty entertaining (if slightly far-fetched) given that nothing at first seen is as it first seems. People rise from the dead and then are dead again and characters who were thought to be in one specific place turn out to have been someplace else. Lots of mis-direction.

The problem with all this is that none of it is believable on any level and worst of all, while reading, you don't really care who is who and what is what and eventually, who did what to whom. The characters are just not especially likable. Even Techumseh Fox takes a while to warm up to. And yet I kept reading. How does that work? I don't know, maybe it only works with authors you love. Or maybe it's one of those books that is better in the actual reading than in the thinking about it afterwards.

I would not turn down the chance to read the next two in the series.

P.S. Here is Tracy K's review of DOUBLE FOR DEATH from last year, with a bit more detail.

Friday is Forgotten Book day around these parts (most of the time, anyway) so don't forget to check in at author Patti Abbott's blog to see what other forgotten books other bloggers are talking about today.