Friday, December 9, 2016

Eve’s Rib-Katharine Hepburn And Spencer Tracy’s “Adams Rib” (1949)-A Film Review 

DVD Review 

By Sam Lowell 

Adam’s Rib, starring Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Judy Holliday, directed by George Cukor, written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin 1949   

Now that we are deep into the “third wave” of women’s liberation (except mostly noticeably these days that glass ceiling still hovering over the White House) it is a nice touch to see that even if in a comic way the question of woman’s equality before the law, before society norms was being addressed after the “first wave” early in the century (women getting the vote and other legal rights like owning property in their own name). Although we today might cringe a little at some of the dialogue and some of the social expectations no matter how high-minded this film, Adam’s Rib, starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy two unmarried off-screen lovers in an age when that status was frowned upon, is a rather nice for the time look at the double standard between men and women (of which there is still plenty of residue.)  

Here’s the premise being worked out. Then if a guy cheated on his wife with some floozy that was “not nice” but if a wife decided to do something about the matter-say, as here, take a rooty-toot-toot gun and blast the creep (and take shots at his floozy as well) that was terrible. Hang her, hang her high. That double standard implied that the guy could get away with anything while the poor wife has to suffer and grin and bear it. Of course in Adam’s Rib where the two main characters, Adam, played by Spencer Tracy, and Amanda, played by Katharine Hepburn are both married and lawyers (by the way then woman lawyers were unlike today sparse, very sparse on the ground) you know from minute one that they will be locking horns with each other over their respective views of what was right in the case. So married to each other writers Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin have set the stage for a battle royal between the two views on display- Adam’s stern if blind-eyed justice demanding a conviction against Amanda’s fight against the double standard and an acquittal.          

As the gloves come off-you know of course that Adam, a crack prosecutor, and Amanda who has wangled her way into defending the scorned woman, Doris, played by Judy Holliday are going to go for broke to win the case. The law, the stern law would seem to be on Adam’s side since Doris freely confessed that she plotted to pop her man for his infidelities. But Amanda throws plenty of monkey wrenches into the mix, including ticking Adam off when she brings in a female weight-lifter who lifts him over her head to prove the general point that a woman can do what a man can do. Needless to say Amanda wins the day.

But that is not the whole story-not a 1940s whole story which is moreover billed as a romantic comedy even if it is now a proto-feminist classic. The wrangling between Adam and Amanda in the court case had frayed their own marriage and Adam decided he had had it and flew the coop-was looking for the divorce court. Maybe by his lights he was right to blow town once Amanda bested him but when the deal went down he and Amanda loved each other and so that was that. After all this was Hollywood-first wave or not. The film’s plot-line would make little sense today but as a snapshot about the battle between the sexes and the social mores of the time before the “second wave” of the 1970s changed many things it is worth a view. And to see Hepburn and Tracy go through their paces too.    

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Down And Dirty In The America Night-With Fred McMurray and Barbara Stanwyck’s 1944 Film Adaptation Of James M. Cain’s “Double Indemnity” In Mind 

By Lance Lawrence 

Steve Roberts admittedly was a quirky guy, a guy known for an ironic turn of phrase but also for his eclectic taste in all things cultural, if his love of movies, old time black and white movies could qualify as cultural, a term he himself would not have used to describe his interests being an old working-class guy who would eschew such fancy terms of art. He just liked them, didn’t need a guy like Professor Jameson, a guy he read about recently in the newspaper, see I told you he was an old-fashioned working-class guy, who wrote a book of observations about the great crime novelist Raymond Chandler which went way overboard with the sociological and critical jargon. Tried to place his work in some high culture academic frame-work instead of just accepting the stuff as good story-telling about a time and place that was worthy of some play. Chandler himself would have roasted Jameson alive for his quirky interpretations of his work.  

Here’s is how that quirky fit played out recently to give the reader an idea of how Steve’s mind works when he gets an enflamed idea. He and his lovely wife Lana had gone to their local movie theater, the Majestic, in Riverdale to see Brad Pitt’s latest film, Allied, where Bard as a Canadian British Intelligence Officer during early World War II is in the thick of espionage and counter-espionage as well as in the thick of an off-hand romance that had all the signs of nothing but trouble for him-and anguish too in the end. Lana’s reason for going was simplicity itself. She wanted to see Brad’s female co-star, Marion Cottillard, who plays a French Resistance fighter aiding Brad in his work and his heartache romantic interest but more importantly had been involved in a swirl of rumors about being the reason that Brad and his paramour Angelina Jolie had split up. Steve’s reasons were more pedestrian once he found out from Lana who had heard a review on NPR one afternoon which included a chat with the film’s director that part of the storyline was set in wartime Casablanca (World War II in case you forgot to clarify which war we are talking about in an age of endless wars). That reference made him automatically think about Rick, Rick’s Café, Ilsa, Victor Lazlo, Louie the Vichy-loyal local gendarme, Bogie, Ingrid Bergman,  Claude Rains, Paul Henreid,  Play It Again, Sam and a million other off the top of his head thoughts about the classic black and while film from the 1940s, Casablanca.               

 After viewing Allied Lana had asked Steve the inevitable question about what he thought of the film and naturally he mentioned that while he liked it Casablanca would kick the thing down the road and have time for lunch as a saga of wartime romance. Lana accepted that answer although as usual without good grace since she was thrilled by the whole period piece and begged the opinion that this Cottillard woman looked like a home-wrecker and had the full blush lips that Brad seemed to go for but such were their different takes on movies (and music) that she just let it go. (Although Steve would never know when his opinion might come back in haunt him in some future more serious argument as an example of how they were too different to breathe but he, they had been through enough of those spats they called them that he had long ago given up trying to curb his real opinion just to keep peace in the household.) 

Steve that night though having a fitful night as always when he sees a current film that provoked some serious thoughts unlike the vast bulk which he would be glad to inform that Professor Jameson are just plebian entertainment, harmless and not worthy of the high culture treatment. Were written, directed, produced acted in strictly for the cash nexus-end of story. So he ran through the film in his mind again-and as he did he mixed in his tenth at least re-run through the plot of Casablanca. Something was gnawing at him and he could not quite figure out what. Finally he went to sleep with visions of Bogie telling Claude Rains not to do anything foolish like the Nazi officer had done trying to stop Victor Lazlo-Ilsa in tow-from leaving on the last plane out of Casablanca that night.      

The next afternoon he went on to his computer to Google any reviews of Allied. Most of them were laudatory which would be his own estimate if for no other reason that the feel of the film as a 1940s period piece, including a party hosted by Max and Marianne in bombed out London with Benny Goodman, the king of swing, holding forth in the background as the partiers jitterbugged away the night (before being curtailed by the inevitable German bombing raids) but one stuck out which caught the feeling that he was having about the town of Casablanca as backdrop for romances. 
Sam Lowell, one of the fairly well-known reviewers for the American Film History blog whom Steve had read reviews by before although usually not current films but classics where they had a mutual interest, had mentioned that Casablanca was a tough town to have a romance blossom in. Maybe something about the desert air, maybe the decadent of the Casbah, hell, maybe the colonial atmosphere of the place in those days. That phrase that idea got Steve thinking back to the film Casablanca and how thwarted love was a big theme there when it came right down to it. Maybe the fate of three high-strung people didn’t mean much against all the craziness of the world at war, didn’t as Bogie said mean a hill of beans but he had let he go because a guy like Victor Lazlo whatever personal bravery he had could not face the nights alone and because Ilsa was made to keep such men intact.

He had written down a little something about the plotline and how things played out for his own purposes after finishing reading the other reviews which didn’t quite speak to his concerns the way Sam Lowell did, to show Jack Davis his friend that night when they would have a couple of drinks and catch up on each other’s week. That write-up trying figure out what in Casablanca made things go awry in turn got him thinking about other classic love thwarted classics from the 1940s and that led inevitably to a humdinger of love thwarted, Billy Wilder’s film adaptation of James M. Cain’s potboiler Double Indemnity. Quirky guy, right.             

Steve believed almost without question that the Billy Wilder-directed Double Indemnity was the greatest noir produced in the 1940s, better by far than Casablanca even in the romance department since it got down to the real nitty-gritty that mattered a hill of beans to the two twisted lovers. The grift in Double Indemnity is pure unbridled, unhinged passion gone amok leading to, well, pure murder, murder my sweet when you got right down to cases. Watch this one unfold from minute one when the gunshot gutted insurance man grabs a Dictaphone to “confess” his crimes just for the record, just to get thing straight. But our man had had sunnier days, did not always have the mark of Cain on his forehead. 

Okay here’s the play, take a hustling insurance salesman Walter, played by Fred McMurray, out in the sunny slumming streets of pre-war Los Angeles before the hordes came out to infest the land looking for defense jobs, sunny weather, the end of the frontier and to get the damn dust out of their throats from the Okie dust storms (by the way the war is World War II again), looking to close an insurance deal walked right into lonely housewife man-trap Phyllis, played by alluring Barbara Stanwyck, with his eyes wide open, very wide. Wide open from that first moment he took his hat off as he feasted his eyes on her after sunbathing and moments later as she came walking down the stairs all sexy and swagger with an ankle bracelet he would not soon forget. And the smell of jasmine, honeysuckle, something like that which goes deep into a man’s sexual instincts honed over a millions years or however a man has hungered at the sight of good-looking if dangerous woman. Almost immediately they did the dance around each other for who knows what purpose she all coy and he all resistance, fast fading resistance. (There was great foreplay with her talking about the speed limit in the state as he rushed her and he countered with, well, false contriteness. The unbridled passion took hold of each of them (at least he thought so and he after all is telling the story into that damn jittery Dictaphone) so quickly that they lost their moorings, or at least he did. She, a classic femme fatale to rival Jane Greer in Out Of The Past although not as handy with a gun when it came right down to it, as will be found out later had the morals of a great white shark. That is to say none but she kept him driving her chariot anyway.                

So Walter, egged on by that jasmine, hell, maybe the ankle bracelet, maybe frontier fever, or strictly lust, in any case being led by the nose, or some such organ, with his great insurance man instincts for the main chance put together a “fool-proof” plan to murder her husband after getting his to unknowingly sign an accident policy with the fatal double indemnity clause of the title. Fatal for hubby  meaning if he died of an accident the claimant would double up, or double down maybe a better way to put this delicate matter. He was a goner any way you cut it once that signature got inked on that contract (and the check handed over). Beautiful. Walter’s plan was simplicity itself, although it required too many moving parts in the end. Get her subsequently injured boorish stingy husband (the original plan assumed that he would be healthy) to board the train to Palo Alto for his class reunion-or to appear like he was on the train and had due to his injury had fallen off the back of the train. Accident-go straight to the cashier’s desk. The real deal was that Walter was going to be in the back seat of their sedan when Phyllis drove her husband to the station for his well-deserved rest at his reunion, Walter would kill him there, dump the body and crutches along the railroad track after he had replaced the husband as the man with crutches on the train. Hey, I like it in theory, a little off-beat, shows a nice knowledge of the inside of the insurance scam. Our Walter on his good days with that scent driving him crazy was still a pretty smart guy. What Steve and his boys in the old hang-out days called “street smart,” which were the only kind of smarts that mattered around his way. Book smart got you pushed around and punched out for simply reading some freaking book (Steve something of a bookworm survived by doing the other guys’ homework and besides had a older brother who looked after him.) Probably Walter’s too.          

Recently in a review of a film, Cassandra’ Dream, which Steve had read where two brothers wound up killing a guy who was ready to jam up the works for their rich uncle who had requested they do the deed so he could avoid jail (and go on providing very nicely for the family) Sam Lowell, as already mentioned the fairly well-known reviewer for the American Film History blog, noted there is a strong reason why most civilized societies put murder, murder most foul, beyond the pale and subject the act to harsh penalties. That little pearl of wisdom can be repeated here to advantage. This deed, this well-laid out plan even if expertly executed could have no happy ending. Helping that inevitable bad end is one Keyes, played by Edward G. Robinson, the chief fraudulent claims guy for Walter’s insurance company. Although it took him a while to figure something was not right in the end his tenacity made him believe that something was amiss-Phyllis’ husband had been murdered. The question was who beside the obvious murderous wife had aided her in the dastardly deed.        

That is when the panic and bad blood set in. After the deed was done, after the insurance company was ready to pay out Keyes put the brakes on the whole scam with his, what did he call it, oh yeah, his “little man” gnawing at him suspicions. That meant that our two confederate had to keep away from each other, keep their torrid affair under wraps. And that hard fact, that no dough situation, amounted to the kiss of death for somebody-hell, for our boy Walter. See after the split up Walter started getting some small, very small doubts, about his paramour. Seems sweet sexy tantalizing Phyllis had been her late husband’s first wife’s nurse who died under some seemingly mysterious circumstances. Mysterious to her step-daughter, Lola who gave Walter a chilling earful one afternoon. He had to clam her up about that, about her suspicions which she wanted to take to the cops so lover boy Walter started taking Lola around town for a good time to keep an eye or three on her. This worked out okay for a while since she had broken up with her volatile boyfriend Nino.         

Here is where any guy smitten or not, under the sway of that honeysuckle, jasmine or whatever the scent or not had to take stock for a minute anyway. When you run up a real femme fatale or the on the screen kind watch your back, watch all of you if it comes to it. Keyes had what he thought was the whole thing wrapped up after all-the dame, the so-called grieving widow no doubt was the mastermind but through his snooping he found out that sweet Phyllis was keeping time with, get this, Nino. Lola’s ex-beau. And the only reason that she was keeping company with her step-daughter’s ex-beau. Well you know why, who is kidding who here. Walter had become a loose cannon, had to take a fall. And if our Phyllis could wrap up a mature guy like Walter for cold-blooded murder with a simple ankle bracelet and a few whiffs of random perfume then it would be like taking candy from a baby to put the blast, the full court press on Nino. Then she would have had to gather up some poor sap to do the deed to Nino. It would never end. 

Fortunately Walter got wind that Phyllis had been seeing Nino and Walter saw he had to put an end to the madness. So in their last go-round he left her with some famous last words when they met and she tried one last lie, one last lie plus a few gunshots aimed at him, just to keep in practice-no dice. He wasn’t buying, had gotten wised-up fast. “Good-bye baby,” were the final words she would ever hear as he put two in her right where it would hurt. Nice work Walter, nice work and Steve hoped they would not hang him too high. Steve had had to laugh though when he thought Casablanca was not the only town that was tough on the love racket.            

President Obama Pardon Chelsea Manning-She Must Not Die In Jail-A 
Story Goes With It

By Fritz Taylor

[The organization that the two men, Ralph Morse and Bartlett Webber, in the story below belong to, Veterans for Peace, has been a long-time supporter of the struggle for freedom for heroic whistle-blower Chelsea Manning. Veterans for Peace has supported Chelsea since the organization found out in the summer of 2010 through Courage to Resist, an organization dedicated to publicizing the plight of military resisters, that she had been arrested and through a long process wound up in solitary confinement down at the Quantico Marine Base south of Washington in Virginia. She had been charged with releasing hundreds of thousands of documents via Wiki-leaks to a candid world. Many of them documenting the cover-up at all levels of military atrocities by American soldiers, mercenaries under contract to the American government or within the American-led coalition. The most graphic and infamous piece of evidence of such actions was a tape of a helicopter crew gunning down unarmed civilians in Iraq which is available on YouTube under the title Collateral Murder and laughing about it afterwards. (That tape, the entire tape, all thirty-nine minutes is permanently part of the record in the Manning case placed there at trial by the defense team. No one ever challenged the veracity of the tape although no one was ever charged with any crimes either.)

Chelsea was held in pre-trial confinement for over three years (opening an appeal question about constitutional speedy trial rights-applicable even in the military courts. Her solitary confinement (for her own good either because she was then a suicide risk by one account or because her fellow soldiers would be so outraged by her whistle-blowing that they feared for her safety by another-take your pick) at Quantico lasted almost a year before she was due in part at least to a public outcry and rallies of hundreds at the gates of Quantico for her release she was placed in Fort Leavenworth. (Here is the military logic tough-every time she had to appear for some matter before the court at Fort Meade she would be flown back and forth after the conclusion of whatever had transpired.) Ms. Manning (Private if you prefer her rank) has after an over two month trial been convicted of a number of charges including several counts of espionage under a law going back to World War I and sentenced to a thirty-five year sentence as a result of being court-martialed in the summer of 2013 and is currently being held in the all-male barracks at Fort Leavenworth out on the prairies of Kansas.      

Ralph and Bart first heard about the details of the case in the fall of 2010 when they received an e-mail from the American Civil Liberties Union announcing a forum to be held at Boston University to publicize the case. (Bart was not sure that he had not seen something about the matter earlier on Boston Indy Media where Anonymous, a radical underground group, had places news about the case and of course the leaks would have been by then public knowledge but this forum was the first active part they played in the case.) They both attended that forum and as a result have been ever since involved one way or another in Chelsea’s defense. Their first action was to “pony up,” these are working-class guys so pony up is right, some money for the defense. (Courage To Resist was/is the repository for raising and accounting for all legal defense monies since the beginning. As stated above that organization has had a long history of supporting military resisters-for military whistle-blowers as well.)          

There were many reasons why this case had appealed to them personally but the strongest reason was that they were “paying their dues” as Bart put it while speaking about the case one Saturday afternoon at a vigil for Chelsea at historic Park Street Station on the Boston Common for not having had the courage during their own military service during the Vietnam War to “buck the system.” For a long time, actually since the last days of the Vietnam War when they supported an anti-war G.I. coffeehouse near Fort Devens about forty miles outside of Boston, they had no opportunity to get involved in a military resister case so once this case surfaced they were “all in.” (After they “got religion” on the war issue they had done their respective peace activist works through various mostly ad hoc organizations and for the past several years through VFP. The last time I checked they were still “all in.” That will tell you something about them, about how razor sharp that military service had made them  about the folly of war and about the importance of the Chelsea Manning case, especially as now as the long drag of her sentence and her environment has worn her down and she has attempted suicide twice in the past few months. (Google the Chelsea Manning Support Network for details.) So their fellow VFPer Frank Jackman’s phrase “she must not die in jail” in the headline is not a rhetorical flourish. Not at all. F.T.]       


“You know it is a crying shame that the Chelsea Manning case has fallen beneath the cracks, that her plight as the only woman prisoner in an all-male prison out there in the wheat fields of Kansas, out at Leavenworth has been ignored except for an occasional news note or yet another petition for President Obama to do the right thing like he has with the drug cases and pardon her, to commute her sentence to time served, to the six plus years she has already been tossed away behind the walls,” yelled Ralph Morse over to Bart Webber while they were preparing to set up a banner proclaiming that very idea as part of a birthday vigil for Chelsea on her 29th birthday on this cold December day. (Ralph thought to himself while he was yelling over to Bart that he would never get over those basic training drill sergeants during his time in the military during the Vietnam War, never get over being spooked by them that if you did not toe the mark you would wind up in Leavenworth and here he was supporting a young transgender whistle-blower who wound up in that place and who did what he should have done but cowered to those redneck drill sergeants. Well even 60-somethings can learn a thing or two from the younger crowd.) 

“Yeah, between the fact that she had to in order to protect herself against maltreatment from a bunch of goddam threatening guards who told her to “man up” at Leavenworth after she was convicted and sentenced to those hard thirty-five years in 2013 “come out” as a transgender woman and the overriding blow-up over the Snowden revelations which took all the air out of any other whistle-blower case Chelsea got the short end of the stick,” replied Bart also yelling his comment across to Ralph against both the windy day and the constant stream of loonies, crazies and con men and women who populated the environs around the Park Street subway station at Boston Common on any given Saturday between the hours of one and two in the afternoon when the space, or part of it, was given over to  peace action groups and other left-wing political organizations. 

(Oddly, or maybe not so oddly at that, Bart, as he told Ralph later that day when they were sitting in a bar having a couple of drinks to warm themselves up against the coldness of the day thinking about the day’s action that he too had been thinking about how incongruous it would have been in his old working class neighborhood in Riverdale to be supporting a transgender soldier condemned to Leavenworth, a “transvestite,” a drag queen they would have called her not then making the subtle distinctions that have evolved on questions of sexual identity. Had that day thought about the time that he and his corner boys, that is what they called each other back then when there were corners for dough-less guys to hang around on, that one summer they had traveled down to Provincetown, even then a gay and other odd-ball Mecca for the specific purpose of baiting the drag queens, faggots and dykes along with getting the usual drunk to gather courage. Jesus.)                    

Ralph thought to himself as he cut a few wind holes in the banner proclaiming the need for President Obama to grant Chelsea her pardon that he had come a long way (and Bart too) since the fall of 2010 when they learned that Chelsea (then using her birth name Bradley but here will use her chosen now legal name and assume everybody understands that this is the same person we are talking about) was being held essentially incommunicado down at the Quantico Marine Base (strange since Chelsea was in the Army) in solitary and their organization, Veterans for Peace, had called for demonstrations to have her released even then, or at least taken out of solitary and stop being tortured (no small “peacenik” charge since the appropriate United Nations rapporteur had made such a finding in her case). Ralph and Bart had been among the very first to set up a rally (not at Park Street but in Davis Square over in Somerville where Bart had lived for the previous decade) and they had been committed to her defense ever since. 
(Their own admittedly sorry response to “their” war, Vietnam, by in Ralph’s case joining the Army and in Bart’s case by accepting induction into that same Army had caused then after the fact, after their military service to “get religion” on the questions of war and peace. Ralph had gone out of his way to join up as soon after high school as he could. Hell a young man was looked down at in his old Forsyth Street section of Troy if he waited for the draft board to come calling for him to get on the ball. Most of the guys he knew were already in or getting ready to. The neighborhood had already lost a few guys over in Vietnam, a few more had come back as shells of their former selves. He had done his “tour” in Vietnam without a peep although already he knew that he had to do something after he got out if he survived to calm the horrible pit that never left his stomach one he got “in country.” 

Bart had had more qualms about the war, had seen no way though that he could escape the draft once the draft board tagged him. Like Ralph most of his friends and neighbors supported the war, the guys doing their service, a few not coming back as in all wars. While he made a few more noises about his feeling about the war while he was in uniform he had kept quiet mostly, kept “you don’t want to wind up in Leavenworth quiet. He did not wind up going to Vietnam as they were beginning to pull back the troops during his time. He often wondered though if he had gotten orders for Vietnam what he would have done. Probably gone quietly like his wife wanted him too when they deal went down. No Canada or jail for him.)         

They saw the Chelsea case as pay-back to a real hero, maybe the only hero of the Iraq War and had worked like seven dervishes on the case. More importantly had kept the faith even after the case inevitably went off the front pages and became a cypher to the general population. Not doing what was right at the time of your own war a very powerful now lifelong impetus to push on in the face of indifference and hostility among the general public these days.)           

Both men had agreed once the fanfare had died down that along with keeping the case in the public eye as best they could they would commemorate two milestones in Chelsea’s live yearly-the anniversary of her incarceration by the government now over six years in May and her birthday in December (this year her 29th ). That was why Ralph and Bart were struggling with the downtown winds to put their banner in place. These days they were not taking the overall lead in setting up such events but had responded to a call by the Queer Strike Force to do so and they were following that organization’s lead to rally and to make one last desperate push to get Chelsea a pardon. Everybody agreed, willingly or not, that under the impending Dump the Trump regime that Chelsea’s chances of a pardon were about zero, maybe less. So the rally. And so too the desperation in Ralph and Bart’s own minds that the slogan their fellow VFPer Frank Jackman had coined-“we will not leave our sister behind” would now fall on deaf ears, that she would face at least four, maybe eight years of hard ass prison time-time to be served as a man in a woman’s body when the deal went down. Worse that Chelsea had already attempted twice earlier in the year to commit suicide and the hard fact emblazoned in the added sentence on their banner-“she must not die in jail” had added urgency.        

Ralph and Bart had met down in Washington in 1971 after both had been discharged from the Army and had gotten up some courage, with some prompting from their respective very anti-war girlfriends (Bart had divorced that hung-ho wife as soon as he got out of the Army), to go down and get arrested during the May Day actions when in another desperate situation they tried to help shut down the government if it would not shut down the war-the Vietnam War. They had been through a lot over the years in the struggle to keep the peace message alive and well despite the endless wars, and despite the near zero visibility on the subject over the previous ten plus years. 

Both had grown up in very working class neighborhood respectively Troy in upstate New York and Riverdale out about thirty miles west of Boston and had followed the neighborhood crowds unthinkingly in accepting their war and participating in the war machine when it came their time. So no way in 1968,1969 say could either have projected that they would hit their sixties standing out in the lonesome corners of the American public square defending an Army private who in many quarters was considered a traitor and who moreover was gay. In the old days the best term they could think of to describe their respective attitudes toward gays was “faggot and dyke”-Jesus. (That whole gay issue was already well known to them from some information provided by agents of Courage to Resist, the organization which was the main conduit for publicity about the case and for financing Chelsea’s legal defenses. They also were aware through those same agents about Chelsea’s sexual identity which all partisans and Chelsea herself had agreed to keep on the “low” in order not get that issue confused with her heroic whistle-blower actions during trial and only later revealed by her publicly as a matter of self-defense as mentioned above.)     

Later that night after the birthday vigil was over and Ralph and Bart were sitting at Jack’s over in Cambridge near where Bart lives (Ralph still lived in Troy) having a few shots to ward away the cold of the day’s events both had been a bit morose. The event had gone as well as could be expected on a political prisoner case that was three years removed from the serious public eye. The usual small coterie of “peace activists” had shown up and a few who were supporting Chelsea as a fellow transgender and there had been the usual speeches and pleas to sign the on-line petition to the White House to trigger a response from the President on the question of a pardon (see link above). (That lack of response by the greater LGBTQ community to Chelsea’s desperate plight all through the case had had Ralph and Bart shaking their heads in disgust as the usual reason given was that all energies had to be expended on getting gay marriage recognized. The twice divorced Ralph and three times divorced mumbled to themselves over that one). 
Ralph and Bart were in melancholy mood no question since they had long ago given up any illusion that the struggle against war and for some kind of social justice was going to be easy but the prospects ahead, what Ralph had called the coming “cold civil war” under the tutelage of one Donald Trump had them reeling as it related to Chelsea’s case. They bantered back and forth about how many actions they had participated in since they got the news of the case that a young whistle-blower was being held for telling the world about the cover-up of countless atrocities committed by American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan (via Wiki-leaks, not the mainstream media who would not touch making the information that Chelsea had gleaned for love or money). 

There were the trips to Quantico down in hostile Virginia in order to get Chelsea out of the “hole,” get her out of Marine base solitary (and where they faced an incredible array of cops and military personnel all to “monitor” a few hundred supporters). The trips to the White House to proclaim their message. The several trips during the trial down at Fort Meade in Maryland where they had to laugh about being on a military base for the first time in decades (they had been barred many years back for demonstrations on a military base against the Reagan administrations war against Central America). The weekly vigils before the case went to trial and over the previous three years the fight to keep the case in the public eye.          

As they finished up their last shots of whiskey against the cold night both agreed though that come May they would be out commemorating Chelsea’s seventh year in the jug if Obama did not do the right thing beforehand. They both yelled as they went their separate ways (Ralph was staying with his daughter in Arlington) old Frank Jackman’s coined phrase-“we will not leave our sister behind.” No way.    

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Blood Is Blood-Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream (2007) -A Film Review

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

Cassandra’s Dream, Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor, written and directed by Woody Allen (2007)  

Over a long career Woody Allen had acted in, written and directed many films, mostly playing to his ironic twist of fate sense of humor or as spoof. Occasionally, and the film under review, Cassandra’s Dream, is a recent example, he has stretched out a bit and tried his hand at other types of material. Here he tries to work through a complicated tale of the fate of two brothers who due to their own hubris came to a bad end, tried to tempt the gods just a little too closely. (That Cassandra of the title by the way if you remember your Greek mythology, remember that bloody Trojan war, portended nothing but doom and gloom so beware of her curse as she works her way to modern times under Woody’s pen.)       

Here is where the fates played our boys false. Ian and Terry two Brit working stuff brothers with the usual big dreams about breaking out of the working world and hitting the big time seem to be bogged down in the humdrum life-Terry working in a garage and Ian working in the family restaurant. Yeah, these guys are ready to break out and make a first tentative move by buying a boat to satisfy some boyhood dreams from part of Terry’s winning via his momentary winning gambling ways. Pay attention to that “momentary” because his gambling problems will along with Ian’s big break dreams of hitting it big in the hotel business lead them to some odd behavior for two reasonably well brought up boys.      

Naturally a woman enters into the story, a great looking young actress with lots of promise and who has Ian going through hoops to make like he is a big-time operator. Put that big lust together with Terry’s gambling woes and you have two guys who might very well be ready to do anything to get out from under. And they get their opportunity to test the limits of that proposition. Enter rich Uncle Tom, the guys’ mother’s brother who has plenty of dough and has bailed out the family in various ways in the past. But just then Uncle Tom had a problem that might upset the whole works. Somebody in his organization was ready to blow the whistle on him and he faces nothing but hard time in some stinking jail if he can’t get out from under. The guy has to be gotten rid of somehow if everybody in the family is to get well again. So murder is in the air, murder most foul.     

Of course the nicely brought up boys balked at first but when the deal went down they were ready to take the leap, Ian more fully than Terry. But these guys are strictly out of the gang that couldn’t shot straight and make a mess of the thing before doing the deed. Now there are reasons why every “civilized” society puts the murder, the homicide, of a fellow human being beyond the pale and so Terry begins to crack up almost immediately after the successful caper. Can’t be brought to get over his guilt and move on despite Ian’s constant entreaties. This calls for serious drastic action on the part of Ian and Uncle Tom. This weak link has to be gotten rid of, yes, murdered, murdered most foul-by Ian. The plan worked out was that Ian would administer heavy doses of drugs which Terry had been taking, over-taking to assuage his guilt, and dump his body in the sea. 

So the last we see of the guys, the nicely brought up guys, was them heading out to sea on that little dream boat, that Cassandra’s Dream that had lighted the flame of their hunger for serious dough. In the end Ian couldn’t do it, Terry wanted to turn the pair in, they fight and in the melee Terry killed Ian. Then himself. Yeah they should have had sense enough to listen to Cassandra and her warnings of doom and gloom. Nice change of pace Woody.          

Monday, December 5, 2016

Down In Old Casablanca-With Brad Pitt’s “Allied” In Mind   

By Seth Garth 

“Nobody ever said I didn’t have a sense of irony,” blurred out Steve Roberts to his friend Jack Davis as they both sat at Molly’s Diner in Riverdale, a town about fifty miles to the west of Boston for their usual weekly Saturday morning breakfast get-together to catch up on each other’s week (by the way breakfast not brunch despite the eleven in the morning meeting time they are not those kind of guys). The point of the comment about Steve’s sense of irony had been around a film that he had seen the previous night with his wife Lana at the Majestic Theater. The film the favorable reviewed latest Brad Pitt’s effort Allied which had its initial scenes set in Casablanca out in the deserts of Morocco. 

Now the main reason that Lana wanted to go, was bugging him to go to a World War II romance was to see the female co-star, Marion Cotillard, who was rumored to have been the reason that Brad and Angelina Jolie had busted up. Steve had had his own reasons for wanting to see the film once he knew the story-line involved wartime Casablanca. He had Googled the film’s title to see what reviewers were saying about the film and had come across a review by the fairly well-known movie critic Sam Lowell on the blog American Film History. The gist of Sam’s mostly favorable review was that Casablanca was a tough town to keep up a romance in, at least in the movies. Sam had given the example of the fate of Rick of Rick’s Café in the actual wartime classic Casablanca, actual meaning here that it was produced in1942 at the height of the war,  din   who got short-changed in his rekindled love affair with Ilsa whom he had met in Paris before the Germans came crashing down on the town. Yeah, Rick, played almost perfectly by rugged no non-sense tough guy Humphrey Bogart at the height of his acting career, took it on the chin for the cause so that his Ilsa (played by fetching Ingrid Bergman) could go away from Casablanca with her husband the Resistance leader Victor Lazlo (played by Paul Henreid) to fight the bad guys another day.         

After reading Sam Lowell’s review Steve sat in his chair in the den where he had his computer set up and thought for a while about that old time film and about how no matter how many times he had seen it, he had lost count but it must have been over ten, that classic would always remain the definitive wartime romance film despite the build-up over the Pitt’s vehicle. He wondered to himself (he didn’t dare tell Lana that he was already predisposed to Casablanca when she would ask him the inevitable question about where he would rate Allied in the film universe) that night how this new film also centered in Casablanca would hold up. Casablanca would be a tough act to follow between the acting, the story-line and the flat out appeal of the film during a period when people were being asked, and in many cases not asked but told, to sacrifice more than an affair with an errant lover.   

As Steve attempted to sleep that night he started going through the story-line of Casablanca. Rick, beautifully roughed Rick of Rick’s Café was just sitting around his joint piling up dough from his casino and booze action in Vichy-held French Morocco during the early part of World War II , paying off the local Vichy cops and trading with a Moslem middleman in the notorious Casbah to get whatever pain-killers his clientele desired. (That middleman, always known then as the Fat Man, by the way was a guy he had worked with before in the States before the war when he for a short while ran a detective agency in Frisco town under an alias, Miles Archer, with a guy named Sam Spade, when the Fat man was working some rare bird scam with some frill Rick had to send over. The Fat man got out of town faster than the cops could grab him and when Rick landed in the Casbah there was the Fat Man working this commission trade for everything from heroin to stolen merchandise to women, any kind of women from Amazons to pygmies and everything who knew very love trick including some that dare not speak their name. There were profits aplenty for everybody how do you think Rick got the damn café-a beautiful front for every kind of illegal activity as long as you paid Louie off-or some Vichy official)

But from the get go you knew, knew as sure as anything that here was a man with a past-maybe killed somebody for love or vengeance who knows. Maybe on the run like half the emigres in the town, maybe ran afoul of somebody who it was not good to run afoul of but whatever reason there he was tough guying it all the way. Then the letters of transit, the damn letters of transit worth their weight in gold for anybody, any desperate anybody needing to get the hell out of Africa to anyplace. The beauty of the letters was that the holder had free passage out-no questions asked. Men have killed, as the courier running the letters had found out, for less and have been killed as well. They say life was cheap in Casablanca in those days and maybe they were right, and maybe life was cheap all over the world just then.        

Then she came in and you might have known that Rick’s dour countenance was not over having killed a man, or men, had not been on the run from some failed scheme, maybe some betrayed scheme but that since Adam’s time, maybe before, no, surely before it had to be about a woman. Yeah, there she was all dewy-like just like in Paris before the fucking Nazis decided Germany was just too small for the German race, yeah, we have heard that one before, have heard it chimed out many times since. As it turned out she left without a word, no good-bye, nothing just Rick with his nose bent out of joint in the rain in the Paris train station looking stupid.    
She would have her reasons, they always have their reasons is what Rick came to finally figure out, maybe just to keep a guy guessing, maybe just to satisfy some feminine whim. There she was though and whatever hard-boiled Rick (honed from the times when Brigid O’Shaunessey ran him a merry chase back in Frisco town before the war, and before Ilsa’s Paris, over some freaking bird, some stuff of dreams bird that men were also willing to kill for, kill for since life was cheap in Frisco town just then. That was the caper that the Fat Man got out of town just in a nick of time leaving the murderous femme fatale to find her pretty little head in a noose before it was all over) had done to put up a shield around himself that was melting pretty damn fast. So fast that Louie the local pay-off gendarme working hand-in-glove with the Nazi scum noticed it, noticed that that hard-boiled don’t give a damn about the world let it go to hell in a handbasket (hell he had even cracked a lot of wisecracker jokes with some Nazi high muck who was asking about his allegiances-told him that where he came the Nazis might want to take a pass on trying to overrun) had made an exception once she came through that front door of his gin mill.       

Yeah, she had her reason. See she was married to Victor Lazlo, yeah, that Victor Lazlo, the great Eastern European resistance leader whom the Nazis were salivating to get their hands on-put out of commission even though they knew, knew for certain and for public consumption in their greedy little small minds that such figures were like so much wind against the power of the German juggernaut. Yeah the great Victor Lazlo whom she had thought dead, erroneous thought dead since every other day there were report s that he had been captured and executed only to be found in some other country being hidden by the local resistance fighters and the Germans would again put out the lie that he was a goner. So Ilsa had latched onto in all sincerity Rick on the rebound, on the lonely rebound in romantic Paris (she would later agree to the sentiment that they, she and Rick, would whatever happened later would always have Paris). Here is what you have to know though, know about a guy like Victor Lazlo. Guys like him will stand alone if necessary against a whole array of Nazi-infested tanks but in the quiet night they need a woman, need a woman’s sexual allure to make them whole, to make them able to go out the next day and face what tanks have to be faced. And women like Ilsa, farm-fresh younger women need a guy who is ready to face that day but in the quiet of the night succumb to their allure. If you want to know the truth of that think about Rick on that last day in Paris when he had to get out or his was going to be facing some serious hell from the encroaching Nazis who had a price on his head. He could have forgone the lovely Ilsa if he had only been worried about his own skin at that moment. Don’t forget too despite his don’t give a damn manner in Casablanca before Ilsa arrived that our dear Rick had a past, had smuggled guns to the Ethiopians when Mussolini decided to pick on somebody not his own size and fought beside the International Brigades as a “pre-mature anti-Fascist when that designation meant something in world politics. So Ilsa was like catnip to a guy like Rick. And he to her.          

Reasons enough I guess. In any case that is all stuff from the past, water over the dam or under the bridge take your choice. What was important now were those damn letters of transit-the free ticket to wherever no questions asked. Documents Victor Lazlo could have surely used as the Nazis and their Vichy henchmen (sweet corrupt Louie too he was cutting corners to save anybody’s just then but only his own) started putting the head on to get him under their wing. Documents too that Rick-with luscious dreams of Ilsa in tow could use to get out of the stinking Casbah and back with regular civilized types in whatever country he decided to de-plane.       

This is where a guy like Rick, busted up in love, cynical almost by profession (and culture having grown up in Hell’s Kitchen in hard-knocks New York so that trait needed to survive in one piece) and anxious to move on trips you up though. He will make that fateful gesture to love and pull a switch-will let Victor and Ilsa slip out of Casablanca and do whatever do-gooders do when they are not on the run. Nice. And Rick, well, Rick will always have that smell of her perfume to think about on lonely nights out on whatever front he finds himself. The last thing he said to Louie who turned traitor cold to the Vichy-Nazi machine when he let the airplane fly out unhindered was that Casablanca was tough on the love nerves (for public consumption they say he said that he and Lou were starting a beautiful friendship but that was all bullshit if you knew Rick in those days out in the heat of the stinking desert).   

Yeah, a tough act to follow no doubt. Here is how times have change though, or maybe not change as far as wartime Casablanca was concerned. Casablanca this time as the 1942 wartime backdrop to the action in Brad Pitt’s Allied. A resourceful highly skilled British Intelligence Officer Max, the role that the pretty boy handsome Pitt plays, is sent to that stinking town on a mission to take out the German ambassador to the Vichy-regime there. His local contact was a much valued French woman Resistance fighter, Marianne. (No more passive Ilsa companions edging on their man to greater exploits by day and using their sexual allure by night to get their guys back in one piece to face the next day. Now they are fighting side by side with the men on the dangerous missions-and doing okay at that). The ploy they are to use to gain the confidence of the local Nazi establishment in order to get an invite to an embassy gala is to act as a romantic married couple. All the signs of a happy couple are played out and they gain entrée to the event after some close call stuff about getting the tickets. During the course of “playing house” they actually do fall madly in love, an act consummated in a tiny car out in a desert whirling dervish of a wind storm, an act in a film which would not have passed the Hollywood censors back in that day as such things were only implied at best by a fade-out.    

Of course after the assassination of the German ambassador they had to flee town he to head back to England and she, well, she was going to London too since our dear Max asked her to marry him. Once she arrived in England they were dutifully married and had a child (born during a German bombing raid over London) and then things got dicey. There were serious allegations that sweet quick on the trigger Marianne was actually a German spy. Max refused to believe that hard fact, hell, hadn’t they pulled off that caper in Casablanca. But the evidence began to pile up, seriously pile up that she was not who she seemed to be. She was in the thick of the espionage ring the Germans were running. In the end maybe she did love Max, did love her infant daughter so when the deal went down she committed suicide. Hard-bitten storyline, very hard.  But you know that reviewer Sam Lowell from the American Film History blog was right was right Casablanca was a tough dollar, a tough place for love to blossom.          

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Once Again On Howard Hughes-Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply (2016)- A Film Review 

DVD Review 

By Sam Lowell

Rules Don’t Apply, starring Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, and a cast of many familiar faces from by-gone days, 2016     

Billionaires these days are a dime a dozen, well maybe not that cheap but they are relatively more common than fifty or sixty years ago when a billion dollars was more than just walking around money. And like today most of the serious billionaires kept a low profile. But a guy like Howard Hughes (and today a guy President-elect Trump) liked to keep his name before the public if not his face. That simply premise is what drives this Warren Beatty-directed and written story line in the film under review, Rules Don’t Apply, although one could argue that the presence of the huge figure of Hughes was just a cover for a classic romantic comedy about the on and off again romance of a couple of underlings in his organization with a little bit of drama about Hughes’ various financial doings and exploits thrown in. (By the way it had been a while since Beatty strutted his stuff in front of and behind the camera making himself AARP-worthy in the meantime-including the cover of their monthly magazine.)        

Let’s run out the string. In 1964 (who knows maybe earlier as well) there were serious rumors about Howard Hughes’ mental stability and his physical whereabouts (and of course if the former were true the fate of his companies whose stock prices would be seriously affected would come into play). The then notorious recluse was nowhere to be found and there was all kinds of speculation centered on a tell-all book published about Hughes, played by Warren Beatty himself here, and his condition. That is merely backdrop though to a flashback to 1958 and the start of his relationship with two underlings Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) who started out as a driver for his various “starlets” and who eventually became a trusted advisor and Maria (Lily Collins) a farm fresh beauty looking to make it in the bright lights of Hollywood and who had caught Hughes’ attention. 

Naturally Maria is bound and determined to meet Mister Hughes and become a star-if she had the metal. Of course Howard is mostly unavailable and hiding from something (maybe the ghost of his father who left him the original fortune that he built on). But Frank as driver and Maria as passenger are thrown together and everything point to some satin sheet time. Except the Hughes rule which did apply that no employees were to mingle with his “starlets.” Except that Frank was “married” to some hometown sweetie he grew up with. Except as well that Maria was a virgin incarnate. So for a while they played cat and mouse and finally when they do try to consummate their love there was some interference.  

That virgin status didn’t stop Maria from driving for the main chance-old Howard who really was at least in the film going off the deep end. The long and short of it was she and Howard had a one night stand- a one night stand that had Maria getting pregnant. And had her tearfully leaving Hollywood to go back to her normal life, maybe back to college. Meanwhile Frank, having brushed off his hometown sweetie also had been brushed off by Maria, and so he dedicated himself to moving up the food chain in the Hughes organization (an organization where you never knew from one moment to the next where you stood and so not for the faint-hearted dealing with the fickle Hughes). And trying to get Hughes interested in a middle income housing project he had dreams of putting together to make his own fortune.  

Then we flip back to 1964 and the mystery of where Hughes was and what his mental capacity was. He would pass that test with flying colors. But here is where the real deal comes in, the old boy meets girl story that had been thwarted for a while. Maria shows up, son in tow, to confront Howard with his progeny. But really to take up with Frank again if you ask me. Warren, nice use of the Howard Hughes legend to make your little romantic comedy. Yeah, he was a big figure and you were right to glide off of his charisma and mystery all boxed in a classic Hollywood boy meets girl go round. Worth watching-no question.         

Thursday, December 1, 2016

War Makes Strange Bedfellows- Literally-Brad Pitts’ Allied (2016)- A Film Review  

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell 

Allied, starring Brad Pitts, Marion Cotillard, 2016   

No question Casablanca out in Morocco is a tough place, a tough dollar on wartime romances. Way back when we had Rick (Humphrey Bogart for those hopefully three people who have not seen the film) of Rick’s Café in that town when it was under Vichy control turning down his Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) just so Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid) could have company doing his Nazi resistance work. And Rick left with nothing but a beautiful friendship with a corrupt gendarme (Claude Rains). Talking about how the problems of three humans didn’t match up to the big historic struggle going on in the world then. Now we have this Brad Pitts vehicle, Allied, where the romance between a British Empire commando (hey he was Canadian) and a French Resistance (yes capital R when you put that big movement together that harassed the Germans maybe not until they cried “uncle” but enough to warrant an “R”) heats up while doing their respective jobs. But Casablanca is only the jump off connecting point between the two films since the current film is a lot less patriotically-driven and in the end there will be no beautiful friendships but only sorrow and grief. 

Here is the way this saga played out.  Max (Brad Pitts) a British Empire intelligence officer is sent to Casablanca in 1942 to assassinate the German ambassador to Vichy-controlled French Morocco. His cover is as a French civilian mining businessman who is supposed to married to a French National and underground Resistance fighter, Marianne (Marion Cotillard). They pull the kill off convincing everybody that they were deeply in love and by getting into an exclusive reception for the German ambassador through Marianne’s good offices. Along the way they really did fall in love (consummated in a torrid love scene in a car out in a desert violet wind sandstorm, nice touch) and after the success of the caper Max asked Marianne to go back to London with him and get married.         

Fair enough. The annals of commando/spy work have had any number of such outcomes when two people are working closely together. Marianne eventually get clearance to entry England, they marry and have a child (delivered during one of the German bombings of London). Then the wheels begin to fall off. Marianne through interrogation of a German prisoner is exposed by British intelligence be a German double agent despite her previous heroic actions. Naturally Max refuses to believe that information about his wife. Just as naturally he is warned off the investigation by his superiors. And just as naturally he goes out to prove the authorities wrong. But as an intelligence officer he does have his moments of doubt. In the end he gathers enough information to find that Marianne was indeed a double agent. At that point though he is ready to give up everything for love (and seemingly she him). She saves him the trouble though and does the honorable thing and commits suicide leaving their daughter to be raised by Max. 

Yeah, no question stay the hell away from Casablanca if you are looking for a little romance. Maybe try Paris, okay. Not the greatest epic wartime romance (it would take a lot to beat out Casablanca for one thing) but very good and very evocative of the period (including Benny Goodman as background for the dancing at a party in London).