Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Devil’s Child-With Bette Davis’ “In This Our Lives”(1942)-A Film Review  

DVD Review

By Senior Film Critic Sandy Salmon

In This Our lives, starring Bette Davis, Olivia deHavilland, George Brent, Dennis Morgan, directed by John Huston, 1942  

Some people are born under the sign of the devil, the sign of 666. They may not want to do the devil’s bidding, may want to be as sweet as sweet can be but are organically incapable of doing anything but leaving storm, stress and chaos behind them, And that is just for starters on their “good” days. In the film under review, In This Our Lives, we run up against the devil’s spawn, the devil’s daughter, although born of woman (who might have aided mightily in that daughter’s recklessness come to think of it).

Maybe I am being too harsh, maybe that fallen daughter could not help herself but let’s see how the whole thing played out. One Stanley Timberlake, she of the old-time Timberlake fortune gone bust through a meek father and a scheming uncle’s shady doings, played by Bette Davis, she of the “Bette Davis eyes” and “put her hands in her back pockets Bette Davis style” is engaged to mild-mannered people’s lawyer Craig, played by mild-mannered butter would not melt in his mouth George Brent. One Roy Timberlake Fleming, Stanley’s sister, played by Olivia de Havilland and in possession of no Bette Davis eyes is married to an up and coming surgeon Peter Fleming, played by emotional volatile and morose Dennis Morgan. The sisters and Fleming live in the old Timberlake house along with neurotic, bed-ridden of woman born Ma and sedate Pa Timberlake brewing up a witch’s cauldron in a hothouse atmosphere which may have fatal to some parties in more than one way. (By the way don’t be thrown off by the masculine names, Stanley and Roy in an Elizabeth, Mary, Katherine age these most unlike sisters for they both are seriously into the menfolk. Some serious psychanalysis could be worked through figuring out why those names and the effects of cruelty, of childhood taunt, but that is that is for the secular types to fathom. I’m sticking with the devil’s bargain theme.)                    

Here’s where the devil’s daughter, where the sign of 666 takes off and leads all parties astray. Mantrap Stanley lures Peter away for Roy leaving Craig somewhere short of the altar. One moonless night (it had to be moonless to do such dastardly work) the pair blew town, lived together for a time and then got hitched got married. All while the fickle Stanley decided she was bored and needed some distraction driving the emotional volatile and morose Peter up a wall. Needless to say the jilted Roy and Craig are crestfallen but still for a while carry the torch for their respective jilters. Needless to say already that Stanley-Peter marriage was not made in heaven.

Get this though, follow me please, Roy and Craig have a chance meeting which eventually leads them to tie the knot, get hitched, you know married. Bingo though in the meantime that marriage not made in heaven leads the remorseful Peter to kill himself. Chalk one up for Stanley’s devilish charms. After Stanley cries for about ten minutes she is off again to taunt/lure Craig into going back with her. No dice but not for a lack of trying. He was supposed to meet her at some gin mill but was a no show. She got drunk to contain her rage and then left the joint, got into her car, and sped away. Sped away in a residential area and wound up killing a child and grievously wounding the mother. Then sped away leaving nothing but a hit and run mystery to be solved.

Here is where the devil’s child idea really gets a workout in a sequence of scenes that could have taken place in 1877, 1919, 1942 the year of the film, and today, 2017, as well. See spoiled rotten Stanley was not built for jail cells and to be some hard-ass prisoner’s honey. So she lays the blame on a young up and coming black kid, the son of the Timberlake’s old-time maid, who was studying to be a lawyer under Craig’s tutelage. She claimed on a stack of seven sealed Bibles (like any devil’s disciple would) that she had left the car with the kid to be washed. Claimed she had not been out of the house all evening. The kid like many, too many, generations on young black men sensed his was doomed-his word against a white woman’s in America in 1877, 1919, 1942. 2017.

All her tales were bullshit of course but she had everybody going for a while including lawyer Craig. But she doth protest too much. In her frenzy to get out from under she was ready to sell the black kid, Craig, Roy, her old man, her scheming uncle, anybody to get in the clear. Also no go. See she had left a telltale address on Craig’s calendar where they were to meet at a certain hour at that bar. Craig checked and the bartender vividly remembered her. Expecting to be taken to her well-deserved jail cell she broke from the house and fled by car to parts unknown. The cops in hot pursuit. During the ensuing car chase she made a fatal turn and that was that. A home inside the gates of hell-also well-deserved. Now tell me that she wasn’t born under the 666 sign-huh.                     

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Sex And The Single Sixty-Somethings- Shirley McLaine and Jessica Lange’s “Wild Oats” (2016)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Film Critic Emeritus Sam Lowell

Wild Oats, starring Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Lange, (released by the Weinstein Company which is/was headed by the now rightfully toxic Harvey Weinstein), 2016   

When I first started out reviewing films for a living in the late 1960s Hollywood was just starting to break out of the long time squeaky clean sexual code of conduct and Catholic-etched Legion of Decency ethos which inhibited any genuine look at the evolving sexual and social norms without constantly looking over one’s shoulder. Even worse although I was hardly aware of it at the time and only noticed it later when I started reviewing old-time films were the standards when I was growing up in the 1950s when even married people were shown many times occupying separate beds. Separate bedrooms in some cases. Plus no overt show of affection like a long passionate kiss. And nothing that could be construed as part of any sexual act in or out of the Kama Sutra. All of this to lead into the subject matter of the film under review here, Wild Oats, which in part deals with the sexual activities of, well, older people, Such a subject would not even come up back in the day when it was assumed that older people were beyond sex or at least didn’t talk about the subject in polite society. Ever. Certainly there would be no scenes as here showing the elderly joyfully jumping in bed together. I think that was first done by the late Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway and I was rather shocked at first. Then got defensive when the twenty-somethings in front of me were heard to say that they didn’t want to see old people having sex obviously having come to see young Johnny Depp go through his paces. How the times have changed.    

Here’s the play aside from the sexual intrigues as my old friend Sandy Salmon who has taken over my regular spot here likes to tell people that I like to say when introducing the plotline of a film. Eva, played by Shirley MacLaine, who must be ancient since I first saw here and streetwalker in Irma La Douce is a recently widowed retired schoolteacher who gets a mistaken amount of her late husband’s life insurance five million dollars instead of the entirely inadequate fifty thousand that he was insured for. (You know that the difference in sums here is going to bring in somebody to sort things out-and not in her favor.)  Her best friend Maddie, played by still good-looking for a mature woman Jessica Lange (nice way to put it right) who has lost her philandering husband to a younger woman convinced her to keep the dough. The hell with the insurance company they can write it off. 

Convinced Eva and Maddie head off to a Caribbean island resort to spend their ill-gotten goods. While there they are easy pickings for a con artist who winds up in bed with Eva. Maddie winds up with a young stud who likes older women. That’s the sex and the sixty-something part. The other though is about that insurance company. They want their dough back. They sent out an ace investigator who is on the trail from the minute he landed. After a film hour worth of capers revolving around con artists trying to bilk older women, avoiding that insurance agent and a few other minor details Eva ends up with that insurance guy and heads home. Maddie well she stays on the island with her young stud. A happy ending. That Hollywood has down pat. Of course that happy ending had to be the case for AARP-worthies, the demographic who it was geared to and would watch it without blushing like those twenty-somethings mentioned earlier. The sex stuff well that is an interesting twist, very interesting.          

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Girl With The Gun-Simple Eyes-With Robert Mitchum And Jane Greer’s The Big Steal In Mind

By Zack James

Duke Halliday had a funny feeling that he had seen her before, had seen her maybe one time when he was in Acapulco over by the ocean on other side of Mexico from where he was now landing in Vera Cruz on the eastern side of this benighted sweat-filled dusty road bracero country. Yeah she had come up on he from behind speaking some low-slung Spanish to a bracero that he had pushed aside, pushed aside hard and she had made her apologies for the whole gringo race to that besotted bracero and then levelled off and told Duke what was what in proper schoolteacher or something English. She had not gotten half way through her schoolmarm berating an errant student when he had had that funny feeling that while her hair was darker (the result of some man-made potions that as the old television ad said only her candy man hairdresser would know), she was a little more shapely and had a couple of small crow’s feet showing around the eyes she was the spitting imagine of Kathie, Kathie who had tried to kill him, kill him good as they were heading to Baja California and the good life. Left him on the side of the road after having just crashed through a police blockade and with two big slugs in his almost heart leaving him for dead and for taking the fall, the big step-off fall if it came to that.     

That funny feeling maybe not so funny because when he had seen her the last time she had already broken his spirit so bad that it would have taken emergency surgery, maybe more to put the broken pieces back together. The story flashed through his now fevered brain almost as quickly as it happened. In those days he had been a private eye, a shamus, and a pretty good one with a partner who maybe wasn’t so good but who covered his back, mostly. Yeah Duke had been known for taking no prisoners when he got on a case. Left no untidy pieces and was as anybody could tell from a quick look at him that he was built for heavy lifting, could handle himself in a tight corner, and could give and take a few swift punches. That is what brought him to the attention of Whit Sterling, Whit the big-time mobster out in Reno. Whit had as most guys, guys including big-time mobsters a woman problem, had it bad for a piece of fluff named Kathie. Nothing but a work of art femme fatale and noting but big trouble from the first day she came out of some ditch in some Podunk looking for the next best thing with that come hither look of hers and the guys fell right in line. No heavy lifting for that gal, none. She had for kicks skipped out on Whit with a chunk of dough, about forty thou, not much today, not much then maybe either but being a big-time mobster meant no sweet pussy was going to do a dance of death on him. Not if he expected to stay on top of the totem pole. And so he hired Duke to find her, bring her back if possible, bring back that fucking forty thou though even if he had to waste her. That waste her being perhaps necessary since she carried a very un-ladylike .32 and had used it on some long ago lover whom she shot dead as a doornail, and walked. Walked when the jury believed that she had been raped by that guy. Had clipped Whit too when she was in the process of her escape.

The trail to Kathie naturally led south to warm sunny cheap living Mexico. Duke had had no problem finding her, as if she had left bread crumbs to lead him to her. Once he got a look at her, no, smelled that jasmine something scent she was wearing and which he could smell/feel a block before she entered the café where an informant told him she hung out he was a goner. And she seeing those broad shoulders, that cleft chin, those arms and hands that looked like they could handle just about anything-except a woman’s gun- took dead aim at her new protector. They hit the sheets that first night, she almost raping him before they got to the bed, and they ran around for a while in Mexico before heading north until Whit got nervous and hired another private eye to ferret them out. In that confrontation Kathie killed that trailing shamus after he knocked Duke out. Needless to say Duke was not going to take the fall for her, not on murder one. 

Duke figuring it was his hard luck that he had picked a gun simple gal dropped out of sight, went underground really but he didn’t figure that Whit might have hard feelings about Duke taking his money, and his woman too. But Whit was built that way and one of his minions found Duke doing short order chef duty in a dinky café diner outside of Pacifica. Brought him in to see White, and Kathie. Yeah Whit was a piece of work. But bringing oil and water together was not good this time as Duke and Kathie linked up again to do in Whit (both agreeing for their own reasons that Whit had to be done in or else neither life was worth a penny). Kathie placed two neat slugs into Whit’s heart as they were leaving. Never even looked back.        

As they headed out in Whit’s automobile for freedom in the Baja they ran into that police roadblock which they ramped their way through and Duke sensing he was in for a rough tumble if he ever crossed Kathie decided that he would turn himself in. Needless to say Kathie did not like that idea and placed two neat slugs in what she though was Duke’s heart. Doing this with one hand on the steering wheel the other on bang-bang trigger while she was driving at high speed to boot. Crazy gun-simple bitch. The commotion though caused the car to crash and Duke jumped out trying to get the hell away. Kathie lay with her head over the steering wheel, maybe dead, maybe alive. That was the last he saw of her, the last time he had been in trouble over a woman after he squared himself with the coppers on the Whit and private eye beefs.      

Now that he looked at her a second time Duke could see that although she looked very much like Kathie, and giving a few pounds and years gone by this was not her, although she did have that gun simple look in her eyes that he had come to fear but it may have just been coincidence. As for her, as for Joan, she too had some sneaking feeling that she had met Duke before, had met him up in Reno one night when she was feeling frisky after a few drinks, after winning a few bucks at the gaming tables and feeling like she wanted a man that night had picked a guy with broad shoulders, big hands that knew where to be put them with a willing woman, and the ability to fend off any guy whom she didn’t want to deal with once she gave him her best come hither look. He who called himself Jeff had been built strictly for one night stands which was fine by her that night as they hit the sheets without even knowing last names, also that night okay with her. A second look at this guy said behind those sleepy blue eyes and that granite chin was long-time serious affairs not one night stands. Still given what her predicament was just then trying to get a couple of thou back from the last guy who threw her over for some cheap laughing eyes Spanish whore who probably would give him a sexually transmitted disease those big shoulders, those hands and those fighter’s eyes would come in handy in case she ran into trouble with Jim, Jim Fiske if that was his real name.          

Duke looked her up and down and licked his chops and she took note that he ate her up, a conquest and she wasn’t even wearing her jasmine something scent that was guaranteed to get from a guy whatever she wanted from sex to heavy-lifting. So their dance in a dance began. He asked her if she wanted a drink, she accepted and they went into Senor somebody’s cantina. They drank for a few hours, talked the talk and headed to her place (he didn’t have a place since he was just off the boat) and hit the sheets just the way they both figured when they compared notes in the morning. Here is the funny part, the part that would glue them together for the duration. Joan had a photograph of that last guy she had tangled with, the guy who had run out on her on her bedroom table face down. When Duke turned the frame over and saw one Jim Fiske he flipped out. Pulled out his revolver and carefully aimed it at Joan. She in turn turned around and pulled out her own gun. A draw. That was when upon inquiry Duke found out that Joan and this Fiske had been lovers. Fiske was the guy who had taken a powder on her. More importantly to Duke this Fiske had waylaid him when he worked for Wells Fargo and taken some quarter of a million in cash from the bags strapped to his wrists. Then Joan told her two bit story. Comparing notes they decided to work together, after another run under the sheets to seal the deal, seal the deal by request from Joan on this one (Duke was not sure that he cared for her sexual aggression but she had little tricks that he liked that usually only whorehouse whores knew).    

They gathered information that Fiske had hit the highway for Mexico City where he probably would try to convert the cash he had stolen from Duke which any way one looked at it was hot as a pistol since one did not usually act so foolishly as to rob a Wells Fargo armored truck or its employees. So they rented a car and headed west stopping along the way to give a description of the dapper Fiske who had the look of a solid gringo and not some stinking bracero. They had some trouble in a small town, really just a trading post and a cantina, over cashing a check. That is where Duke started buckling a little once Joan took out her little snub-nosed gun and forced the proprietor to cash the check. Duke just stood there with his jaw hanging until she told him to wise up and that they had better vamoose.       

Having been given a description of Jim’s car they hit a little town and noticed a car fitting Jim’s description being worked on. They waited around for Jim to show to pick up the car and a couple of hours later he did show up. With a look of surprise on his face at seeing Joan he sized Duke up and figured that at best in a mix he would get the worst of it and so he “cut” them in on the robbery dough not knowing that Duke was the guy whom he had robbed. They travelled together uneasily until they hit the outskirts of Mexico where they went up a private road and entered a big hacienda where Senor Blanco was waiting for Jim to deliver the hot money to fence. Jim took a cool one hundred thou in the transfer, and was glad to get it. Duke figured he was a goner, could never work security again. When the trio got outside though before Jim could say to Joan for them to move on together without Duke Joan coolly put two slugs between his eyes. He fell like a tree. Joan just as coolly went over to the fallen Jim and swooped up the dough. Asked if Duke was up for the road ahead. Not sure just then that he had not played out this scene already he walked toward her and took the gun out of her hand. Then took her arm as they walked out into the sunset but the look on his face said he would spent many sleepless nights watching over his shoulder for the other shoe to fall. Jesus these gun simple women would kill him yet.    
Put Out The Fire In Your  Head-With  Patti Griffin's "You Are Not Lone" In Mind   

On Becoming Jane- With “The Jane Austen Book Club” (2007)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Senior Film Critic Sandy Salmon  

The Jane Austen Book Club, starring Kathy Baker , Maria Bello, based on tehe novel of the same name which in turn is loosley based on the characters in Austen's six major novels, 2007  

Recently in reviewing a couple of song and dance films in two separate reviews which I titled “Gene Kelly And Free Astaire Go  Mano a Mano” I led off with a tale of woe story about the strange ways that film critics, hell any critics, any writers if it came to that get their assignments. In that particular case my general editor, the usually genial Pete Markin, had after grabbing Kelly’s An American In Paris and Astaire’s Shall We Dance for the sole purpose of seeing which man was the max daddy male popular music dancer in all recorded history he had waylaid me at the Monday morning water cooler with an explosive confession that he no longer thought durable Fred Astaire deserved the title. My response in short, after all this review is about venerable sweet pea Jane Austen she of the million word romance novels which have gotten umpteen numbers of female generation through the blahs of young maidenhood, was that he perhaps, just perhaps had spent too much time on the hash pipe of late. In any case as those who have read the pieces know that he has paid dearly in taunting words from me for his treason-and error. 

As this duel within a duel unfolded (the duel between Markin and me inside the Kelly-Astaire tiff for the clueless) at least one reader was looking for other examples of the way that poor film critics are abused and forced to write, well, write stuff that assures that they will have a one way ticket to the gates of hell when they leave this mortal coil. I gave her this Markin gem. A few months ago, through a friend, he got all wound up in the celebration of the Summer of Love, 1967 and having himself participated in that wild and wooly drug, sex and rock and roll time ordered me and my esteemed associate film editor Alden Riley to write a stuff about the music (“acid: rock), films and documentaries of the times. After reviewing the famous D.A Pennebaker documentary about the first Monterey International Pops Festival in 1967 also out in California where Janis Joplin among others made their first big splashes I asked the much younger Alden what he thought of Janis Joplin. He responded that he had never heard of her. Somehow the ear to the ground Markin heard about this egregious travesty and ordered Alden, over my serious objections, to review a Joplin documentary Little Girl Blues.So that is another way.

But not everything is odd-ball editorial or putative marching orders on the question of how we reviewers come up with ideas for subjects for review. And that brings us back to Jane Austen world, to the film under review, The Jane Austen Book Club, and how I have started a “run” on reviewing the film adaptations of a number of her novels and other literary pieces. Let me get this clear when I was a kid, when I was young, 1960s young, say in high school back in down in the poor River Bottom section of Riverdale in New Jersey where I grew up I would not have voluntarily touched a Jane Austen book for love nor money. (Well maybe for love as I do now remember that I let one foxy young thing I was pining over talk to me endlessly one afternoon over sodas at Doc’s Drugstore while I was trying to listen to the jukebox as she prattled on about Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.) You see in those days in our neighborhood among the street wise guys those were strictly “girl’s books” and not anything called great literature or anything for rough-hewn larcenous guys to look at. So time passed without having dipped into the Austen well until recently I happened to see this DVD in the local library and thought that it was maybe directly about dear Jane and I could learn something about her on the cheap without having to read all that great literature. Well, as I will discuss below, this film is using Miss Austen as a “cover” to explore and exploit the plots of her novels for today’s still romantically ambiguous world although I am sure she would not mind. What is important is that I have now started that “run” through the film adaptations of her major works (the six major novels which pace the action in this film). That would not have happened I am sure if I had gone to the fiction section of that same library looking for something to read.           

As old friend Sam Lowell liked to change-up say when he tired of saying “here’s the play” in a review here is the “skinny” of this film adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler’s 2004 book of the same name which has added itself to the Jane Austen explosion of the past decade or so when she has become the epitome of the wise woman on all things romantic (and of duplicity, greed, squalor and self-serving place-holding). One of the characters decided she wanted to start a book club based on a reading per month of Jane Austen’s six major novels. She corrals one way or another five others, four women and a man, in various condition or romance or romance-lite (or un-romance in one case) for a monthly take turns swirl through the Austen playlist. As the film unfolds we find that the collective of captive readers in the club have problems or circumstances which parallel the various themes in Austen’s books-infidelity, boredom, ennui, marital neglect, lust, disinterest in sex, philandering and other gems from the pantheon. A nice literary device on author Fowler’s part as the various character try to navigate around their desires and their fates. 

In the end Austen medicine (not applicable to herself I hear since she was unmarried although once briefly engaged) is the balm for all wounds, or most wounds as a neglected housewife school teacher attracted to a young student in her class reconciles with her formerly boorish sports-addicted husband. The leader-founder of the pack trots off to her seventh marriage (wouldn’t just living together be better at least a bevy of lawyers would not get rich off the proceedings). A strictly single gal and a pining for her guy get together after a film-long series of ups and downs, mostly downs. A middle-aged wife with a philandering husband get back together after a cold civil war in the household. The only one not requited, as least not that I could see, was the kind of madcap lesbian daughter of that middle-aged women with the philandering husband problem. Maybe if you follow the staid, proper if comic Austen you could not deal with the “sin that dare not speak its name” in a positive manner in early 19th century England at least in polite society and so that lesbian daughter, madcap or not, could find no trace in an Austen plot.               

T For Texas, Texas Blues-Willie Nelson’s Milk Cow Blues (2000)-A CD Review

CD Review

By Zack James

Milk Cow Blues, Willie Nelson and others, 2000

My old high school friend Greg Garret whom I am still in close touch with reminded me the other day when he was over at my house and I had the CD under review playing in the background, Willie Nelson’s Milk Cow Blues, that back in the early 1980s he recalled that I had had what he called my “outlaw country cowboy moment.” I didn’t recall that I uttered that particular expression although I did recall that I had for a brief period been drawn to the likes of Willie, Waylon Jennings, Townes Van Zandt and a number of other singer-songwriters who broke out of the traditional stylized Nashville formula mold epitomized then by guys like George Jones and gals like Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Just then rock and roll was taking one of its various detours which I could not follow, folk music, the social protest kind anyway that had attracted me in my youth was fading fast even among aficionados and the blues was losing its star performers by the day and the younger crowd was heading to what would become the hip-hop tradition so I was up for listening to something different. Willie, not clean-shaven, pony-tailed, not shining sparkly suit Willie filled the bill.           

Yeah, Willie filled the bill with songs about two-timing men, women too, lost love, the heartache of love relationships, getting out from under some rock that was weighting him down but down in soulful, thoughtful way with a bit of a gravelly voice, a kind of voice that always had the ability to draw me in, to make me stop what I was doing and listen up. Of course I had remembered back then that Willie had written a song that Patsy Cline whom I had always liked had made famous in the late 1950s, Crazy, which I had learned about when I was at Cheapo Records over in Cambridge looking for some bluesy stuff back in the 1960s. 

Fast forward to 2000 and this CD. I had expected that Willie, now ancient Willie if he had written Crazy back in the 1950s, would still be grinding out in his twangy way the old classics which fill out this album. Would put his Texas touch on these standards. Guess what-he switched up on me, made an album of well-known covers made hits by some very famous like Cline, Bessie Smith, B.B. King (who is featured on a couple of songs here), Jerry Lee but changed the tempo. Put everything in a bluesy frame, and let the beat go on. Let the music carry the day with whoever was singing along with him on each cut. Not a recognizable cowboy sound in the house. Now part of that switch-up represented the hard fact that age had like with Bob Dylan rusted up his voice and so he no longer tried, or was capable of , hitting the high white notes. Part of it was to let the other singers or the musicians carry the force of the songs. But guess what if you, and Greg agreed with me on this, need some nice jazzy, bluesy background music this one fills the bill. Yeah, we all have come a long way from that old “outlaw country cowboy moment” Greg claimed I was in thrall to. Enough said.      
Gene Kelly And Fred Astaire Go Mano a Mano, Part 2 - Astaire’s “Shall We Dance” (1937)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Senior Film Critic Sandy Salmon

Shall We Dance, starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rodgers, music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, 1937

Those of you who saw my recent review of song and dance man Gene Kelly’s performance in An American In Paris know that that review had come about after a dispute I had had with the general editor of this space, one Pete Markin, over who was the better popular music male dancer Kelly or Fred Astaire. (Neither party disputes the proposition that nobody today, maybe nobody since their respective times, is even close to this pair so don’t bother to bring up any other contenders if that is what you are thinking about). Markin, after years, decades of honorable service to the memory of Mister Astaire’s talents was swayed by Kelly’s performance in that above-mentioned and corralled me by the water cooler one office morning and laid that dead-ass bombshell on me. Naturally I had to upbraid him for his treason, there is no other way to put it even though I would be hard-pressed to have him prosecuted and tried on the charge since I lack a second witness to the travesty and whether it is wartime, declared by Congress wartime, currently is disputable, and error. Now I am reviewing Mister Astaire’s stellar efforts in a second string song and dance genre classic, Shall We Dance, (the seventh of ten in which he shared the dance floor with Ms. Rogers the earlier ones being usually better so here the dancing really shows his superiority) a vehicle like An American In Paris for the music and lyrics of super talented composer and lyrist George and Ira Gershwin.  

I mentioned in the lead-up to the Kelly review that someday I would give you the long suffering reader the complete story of how a film critic gets his or her assignments from “upstairs,” from the general editor, from a guy just like Markin (unless of course that person is hard road free-lancing and is just submitting pieces to publications “on spec”). I noted then that I should know the ropes of that slippery slope after some thirty plus years of doing this type of work recently here and for many years at the American Film Gazette (where I still do on-line reviews and where I started out as that free-lancer submitting pieces “on spec” when the publication was strictly hard copy before I was taken on as a staff member). A reader, a thoughtful reader I assumed, wrote in to ask for a specific example of such behavior, of an odd-ball experience in assignment world to give her an inside view of the madhouse. I immediately explained the genesis of this current review (and the Kelly review) as nothing but hubris from Markin. I explained that the only reason that I was on a “run” was I got this assignment to review first Gene Kelly’s An American In Paris and now this film because Markin had grabbed these two films via Amazon for one purpose and one purpose only-to see who was the better dancer back in the day -Kelly or Astaire.
Here is another one, another prime example of odd-ball assignments out of the blue. A few months ago Markin was all hopped up on some exhibition out at the de Young Museum in San Francisco that one of his growing up childhood friends had told him about after viewing what was called The Summer Of Love Experience (from 1967 so they were commemorating the 50th anniversary of the events in style) he had me and my associate film critic Alden Riley working like seven whirling dervishes to write up a ton of stuff on the music (deemed “acid” rock for its connection with LSD), films and documentaries of the times. After I had reviewed a break-through documentary by D.A. Pennebaker chronicling the first Monterey International Pops Festival held that same 1967 year where Janis Joplin (and others like Otis Redding and Ravi Shankar) made her big splash in the rock icono-sphere I asked Alden, a much younger man than I, what he thought of Janis Joplin. He stated to me that he had never heard of her. Somehow Markin heard about that remark and being very much connected with that whole Summer of Love, 1967 scene (having actually gone out there from his growing up home in North Adamsville, Massachusetts hitchhiking out with a couple of friends) told Alden, by-passing me, that his next assignment would be a biopic about Janis Joplin titled Little Girl Blues. That will give you just a rather current example of the inside the pressure cooker atmosphere we work under.     
But back to the Astaire-Kelly controversy what I called a tempest in a teapot in that Kelly review. A remark that I now wish to publicly apologize to Mister Markin for making in the heat of a writing a review under deadline. Of course in a world going to hell in a handbasket with rightwing movements sprouting up all over the world, with bare-faced  nuclear war threats on the table, with climate change dramatic weather and natural disasters on the rise and  with the social fabric coming undone in this American society (what the political commentator Frank Jackman has rightly I think called the first stages of a “cold civil war” likely to get hot) there is no question that the presses (or cyberspace) should stop while we haggle over which of two long dead  popular culture dancers was the max daddy of the genre. But to the lists once again to right a minor wrong in this crooked little orb of a planet. 

I noted in that review of An American In Paris with its paper thin plotline that it might not be the best place to critique Mister Kelly’s dancing (or acting efforts which whatever faults I find in his dancing they do not compare to his wooden glad hand acting in that role) but I did not throw down the gauntlet this time. Frankly although Shall We Dance has a plotline a bit superior to the Kelly vehicle it would not be out of place to call that paper thin as well. Apparently in the song and dance genre all the dough goes for staging and about three dollars to screenwriters to come up with a plausible scenario to justify all the sprouting out to sing and dance at the drop of a hat.  

As with An American in Paris I do not utter that term “paper thin” lightly here. Here’s the play as my predecessor and friend in this department Sam Lowell always liked to say in his reviews. Astaire whose character is called Petrov is actually an American ballet dancer working in Paris whose most fervent desire is to blend that youthful ballet training with modern jazz that is running rampart in the land and hence the need for the services of the Gershwin brothers to do the music and lyrics in this film. But I am getting ahead of myself. Petrov spies this dishy tap-dancer, Linda, Ginger Roger’s role, and immediately makes a play for her for love (and maybe, just maybe as a dance partner who might have the moves to jazz dance). She of course gives him the cold shoulder-sees him as some Russian stupe. Naturally there has to be a nefarious plan hatched by others to get them together. Bingo a rumor is started that the “lovebirds” are married, which they are not at first, and to make this thing go away they do get married with Linda intending to get a divorce ASAP.      

Get this though. She starts falling for the big Russian turned American cuckoo until she finds that he is playing footsies with another dame. Then the big freeze is on. But you know the thaw is on the wings and they will be lovebird back together again before twelve more song and dances are completed. Like I said with the Kelly plotline watch the song and dance stuff and go numb in between.      

Of course this whole dispute, this tempest in a teapot, no I already said I apologized for my indiscretion on that score so forget I said that expression, brewed up by Mister Markin is not about the qualities of the storyline but about Kelly’s dancing superiority. I have already conceded that on the question of pure physical energy and verve Kelly is not bad reflecting I think the hopped up (maybe drugged up) post-World War II period when everybody who had slogged through the war was in a rush to get to wherever they thought they should be going. But Fred did the Gershwins proud in all the numbers that he performed with Rogers despite the silly plotline. Catch classic Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off and They Can’t Take That Away From Me and you will get my drift. He had his own sense of controlled athleticism and looking at any one number like his tap dance in the ship’s hull with a black ship’s crew for support shows his physical prowess. But where Astaire had it all over Kelly was his grace, his long reaches and close insteps. Notice in contrast that Kelly never did much pair dancing with Caron and Astaire waltzed and two-stepped Ginger right out of her shoes. Like I said in the Kelly review how the usually level-headed Markin could have turned traitor on a dime tells a lot. Tells me he, he Mister fancy general editor has maybe really has been at the hash pipe too long of late. Touché-again.