Wednesday, November 30, 2011

***In The Age Of “The World Turned Upside Down”- D.H. Pennington’s “Europe In The Seventeenth Century”- A Book Review

Book Review

Europe In The Seventeenth Century, Second Edition, D.H. Pennington, Longman,
London, 1970

No question when I think of 17th century European history I am drawn immediately to think about the English bourgeois revolution of the mid-century. That event put paid to the notion that a ruler could rule by divine right and that through various twists and turns, not all of them historically progressive by any means, some rough semblance of democratic rule would work best. Work best then in tandem with an emerging capitalist order (of course the process stretched out for some two centuries but the shell was established then) as the means of creating a stable society.

Aside from kings and queens having to worry, worry to death, about their pretty little necks (ask Charles I and Louis XVI, among others) and having rough-hewn, warts and all, rulers like Oliver Cromwell enter the scene many other things were going on in Europe in the 17th century that would contribute as well to what we would recognize as a modern Europe. What those events were, and their importance, was why when I was first seriously looking at the English Revolution back in the late 1970s I picked up Professor Pennington’s nice little survey (well maybe not so little at six hundred plus pages). And a recent re-reading only confirms (with the obvious acknowledgement of a need for some updating given the immense increase in scholarship in this area since then) its worth as a primer.

Perhaps the most dramatic social change of the 17th century was the long term (very long term globally as it is still working its way through the whole planet) trend toward more efficient agriculture leading to the lessening need for farmer workers (and large farm families as well) freeing up a surplus population to head to the bright lights of the city (maybe) and availability to work in the newly emerging industries that were just beginning to be formed in a way that we would recognize. The old feudal lord-serf relations were beginning to become attenuated, very attenuated with this movement away from the land and its seemingly eternal fixed relationships. Starting with textiles and working through to almost every possible commodity it became easier to buy machine-made products, and usually, except in times of not infrequent economic duress, cheaper.

That little spurt into what we would now call the industrial revolution changed many other aspects of the European outlook as well. Science became a more pressing social concern as the need to understand the physical work and its laws became more pressing. Religion which drove conflicts of the previous century, while still important to the plebeian masses, was lessening its grip on a more urbanized population. And, of course with that change, without becoming enthralled with a “Whig” onward and upward progressive interpretation of history came a dramatic increase in more secular interest for the arts, education, thinking of new ways of governing beyond the old time divine right of kings theories, other more radical political ideas about the family and other social relationships, and the extremely important fact that the a “right to rebellion” if not in official dogma then in practice became a legitimate form of plebeian expression.

Needless to say, as with every century, wars, wars for possession, succession, or just plain hubris, highlighted by the Thirty Years War, get plenty of attention. And, at the governmental level, that way to resolve conflicts not unexpectedly takes up much of the book. But the real importance of Professor Pennington’s survey is that it gives the “losers” in that century, places like Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Denmark their “fifteen minutes of fame,” information that when I first read the book I was not award of since many presentations, including general surveys, are front-loaded toward looking at the “winners” in various periods. England and France get plenty of attention, especially at the end of the book (and the end of the century setting up the big rivalries of the next couple of centuries. I will admit though that trying to keep up with the various partitions, dissections, intersections, and the like would drive me mad-if I was a cartographer. If your grasp of 17th century European history could use a little brushing up this survey is just fine. Then you can use the extensive bibliography and end notes (over one hundred pages between them) and move on to get the inside story of places, people and events that interest you.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

***t In The 1950s Crime Noir Night- If Your Mommie Is A Commie, Turn Her In- “Pick Up On South Street”- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the crime noir ,  Pick Up On South Street

DVD Review

Pick Up South Street, starring Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Richard Kiley, 20th Century-Fox, 1953

I have previously in this space seemingly beaten to death the idea that not all crime noirs are created equal. Here I am again giving a thumbs down to this one based on that elusive standard. And here‘s why. While most of crime noirs , those that have good or bad femme fatales to muddy up the waters or not, have crime, the solving of crime, and the message that crime does not pay built into their plot lines. The film under review here, Pick Up On South Street, however tries to combine crime with a political message, a 1950s Cold War “red scare” political message-don’t mess with the reds or you’ll be dead. Courtesy of one J. Edgar Hoover, and about a million other unnamed, unmourned anti-communists. Moreover, given the year of the film, 1953, it seems to have been specially created to kick dirt on the names of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were being executed for their efforts on behalf of the Soviet Union. But argument over that possible link is for another time.

Here’s the plot line to give you an idea of how the two themes mesh (or don’t mesh) in this film. A woman, Candy (played by Jean Peters), while riding a New York subway has her wallet pick-pocketed by one low-life grafter, Skip (played by Richard Widmark). Not big deal in New York City, except that the wallet contained, unknown to Ms. Candy, secret microfilmed documents headed overseas (to Uncle Joe, okay) through (nefarious, of course) agents working here. Skip is not privy to what he has unleashed until Candy is ordered by one of the agents, someone who has “befriended” her, Joey (played by Richard Kiley), to get the damn thing back. Hence she finally winds up on South Street where in a run-down fishing shack Widmark hangs his hat. Through guile, sexual advance, and anything else she can think of she tries to get the microfilm taking more than her fair share of beatings in the process. No dice, for a while. Of course to tie the red scare theme together agents, and you know what agents, are on the case looking out for the national interest. So the "win" is in the bag. Overall pretty thin gruel, right?

Right, except for Richard Widmark’s self-dramatizing flare as Skip, and his duplicity. See once Skip does become privy to what he has he is ready to sell to the highest bidder, and it takes hell and high water, including some cooing by Ms. Peters to get him on the right side of the angels. And this is where the whole thing falls down a little. No self-respecting criminal (or certified lumpenproletarian to use Marx’s term) is really going to go through hoops out of some patriotic fervor when he has gold right in front of him. Widmark and the cooing been-around-the-block Ms. Peters going off the deep-end for some patriotic reasons just stretches the imagination a little too far. But then you have to reach back to the old stand-by rationale of crime noir-crime, crime crime, or political crime, doesn’t pay to learn the lesson put forth here. Got it.

*** Out In The 1950s Be-Bop Night -The Smells, Ah, The Smells Of Childhood- Ida's Bakery

Click on the headline to link to a website devoted to oatmeal bread recipes. Hey, I never said I wasn't quirky on some of these links.

Peter Paul Markin, North Adamsville High School Class of 1964, comment:

There are many smells, sounds, tastes, sights and touches stirred up on the memory’s eye trail in search of the old days in North Adamsville. Today though I am in thrall to smells. The why of this thralldom is simply put. I had, a short while ago, passed a neighborhood bakery here on the St. Brendan Street that reeked of the smell of sour-dough bread being baked on the premises. The bakery itself, designated as such by a plainly painted sign-Mrs. Kenney’s Bakery- was a simple extension of someone’s house, living quarters above, and that brought me back to the hunger streets of the old home town and Ida’s holy-of-holies bakery over on Sagamore Street.

Of course one could not dismiss, dismiss at one’s peril, that invigorating smell of the salt air blowing in from North Adamsville Bay when the wind was up. A wind that spoke of high-seas adventures, of escape, of jail break-out from landlocked spiritual destitutes, of, well, on some days just having been blown in from somewhere else for those who sought that great eastern other shoreline. Or how could one forget the still nostril-filling pungent fragrant almost sickening smell emanating from the Proctor &Gamble soap factory across the channel down in the old Adamsville Housing Authority project that defined many a muggy childhood summer night air instead of sweet dreams and puffy clouds. Or that never to be forgotten slightly oily, sulfuric smell at low- tide down at North Adamsville Beach, the time of the clam diggers and their accomplices trying to eke a living or a feeding out of that slimy mass. Or evade the fetid smell of marsh weeds steaming up from the disfavored Squaw Rock end of the beach, the adult haunts. (Disfavored, disfavored when it counted in the high teenage dudgeon be-bop 1960s night, post-school dance or drive-in movie love slugfest, for those who took their “submarine races” dead of night viewing seriously. And I do not, or will not spell the significance of that teen lingo race expression even for those who did their teenage “parking” in the throes of the wild high plains Kansas night. You can figure that out yourselves.)

Or the smell sound of the ocean floor (or dawn, if you got lucky) at twilight on those days when the usually tepid waves aimlessly splashed against the shoreline stones, broken clam shells, and other fauna and flora turned around and became a real roaring ocean, acting out Mother Nature’s high life and death drama, and in the process acted to calm a man’s (or a man-child’s) nerves in the frustrating struggle to understand a world not of one’s own making. Moreover, I know I do not have to stop very long to tell this retro crowd, the crowd that will read this piece, about the smell taste of that then just locally famous HoJo’s ice cream back in the days. Jimmied up and frosted to take one’s breath away. Or those char-broiled hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling on your back-yard barbecue pit or, better, from one of the public pits down at the beach. But the smell that I am ghost-smelling today is closer to home as a result of a fellow classmate’s bringing this to my attention awhile back (although, strangely, if the truth be known I was already on the verge of “exploring" this very subject). Today, after passing that home front bakery, as if a portent, I bow down in humble submission to the smells from Ida’s Bakery.

You, if you are of a certain age, at or close to AARP-eligible age, and neighborhood, Irish (or some other ethnic-clinging enclave) filled with those who maybe did not just get off the boat but maybe their parents did, remember Ida’s, right? Even if you have never set foot one in old North Adamsville, or even know where the place is. If you lived within a hair’s breathe of any Irish neighborhood and if you grew up probably any time in the first half of the 20th century you “know” Ida’s. My Ida ran a bakery out of her living room, or maybe it was the downstairs and she lived upstairs, in the 1950s and early 1960s (beyond that period I do not know). An older grandmotherly woman when I knew her who had lost her husband, lost him to drink, or, as was rumored, persistently rumored although to a kid it was only so much adult air talk, to another woman. Probably it was the drink as was usual in our neighborhoods with the always full hang-out Dublin Grille just a couple of blocks up the street. She had, heroically in retrospect, raised a parcel of kids on the basis of her little bakery including some grandchildren that I played ball with over at Welcome Young field also just up the street, and also adjacent to my grandparents’ house on Kendrick Street.

Now I do not remember all the particulars about her beyond the grandmotherly appearance I have just described, except that she still carried that hint of a brogue that told you she was from the “old sod” but that did not mean a thing in that neighborhood because at any give time when the brogues got wagging you could have been in Limerick just as easily as North Adamsville. Also she always, veil of tears hiding maybe, had a smile for one and all coming through her door, and not just a commercial smile either. Nor do I know much about how she ran her operation, except that you could always tell when she was baking something in back because she had a door bell tinkle that alerted her to when someone came in and she would come out from behind a curtained entrance, shaking flour from her hands, maybe, or from her apron-ed dress ready to take your two- cent order-with a smile, and not a commercial smile either but I already told you that.

Nor, just now, do I remember all of what she made or how she made it but I do just now, rekindled by this morning’s sough-dough yeasty smell, remember the smells of fresh oatmeal bread that filtered up to the playing fields just up the street from her store on Fridays when she made that delicacy. Fridays meant oatmeal bread, and, as good practicing Catholics were obliged to not eat red meat on that sacred day, tuna fish. But, and perhaps this is where I started my climb to quarrelsome heathen-dom I balked at such a desecration. See, grandma would spring for a fresh loaf, a fresh right from the oven loaf, cut by a machine that automatically sliced the bread (the first time I had seen such a useful gadget). And I would get to have slathered peanut butter (Skippy, of course) and jelly (Welch’s grape, also of course) and a glass of milk. Ah, heaven.

And just now I memory smell those white-flour dough, deeply- browned Lenten hot-cross buns white frosting dashed that signified that hellish deprived high holy catholic Lent was over, almost. Beyond that I draw blanks. Know this those. All that sweet sainted goddess (or should be) Ida created from flour, eggs, yeast, milk and whatever other secret devil’s ingredient she used to create her other simple baked goods may be unnamed-able but they put my mother, my grandmother, your mother, your grandmother in the shade. And that is at least half the point. You went over to Ida’s to get high on those calorie-loaded goodies. And in those days with youth at your back, and some gnawing hunger that never quite got satisfied, back that was okay. Believe me it was okay. I swear I will never forget those glass-enclosed delights that stared out at me in my sugar hunger. I may not remember much about the woman, her life, where she was from, or any of that. This I do know- in this time of frenzied interest in all things culinary Ida's simple recipes and her kid-maddening bakery smells still hold a place of honor.

Monday, November 28, 2011

***Out In The 1970s Be-Bop Rock ‘N’ Rock Night-When The Music’s Over- “The Last Waltz- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for The Band’s last stand, The Last Waltz.

DVD Review

The Last Waltz, The Band, various rock, folk rock and blues artists, directed by Martin Scorsese, United Artists, 1978

It’s funny sometimes how when you are hooked into certain musical vibes like going back in the day to classic rock ‘n’ roll things, things like remembrances of long lost bands, turn up in odd places. That is the case here with the Martin Scorsese documentary film, The Last Waltz, the filming of The Band’s last concert in 1976.

And here is the sequence of how I got there. I had heard, several years ago, that Bob Dylan was putting out as part of his now seemingly never-ending official boot-leg series, some work that he did with The Band back in the mid-1960s when he was “hiding” out with them after his motorcycle accident out in the Woodstock (ya, that Woodstock) area of upstate New York making all kinds of interesting music from a number of genres. I made a mental note to check it out but did not pursue the thought until recently. Then I headed to a local library to see if they had a CD of the work since they had other in the series (and in fact has a separate Dylan drawer for all of their CD collection of him). They didn’t have it, or rather it was out. So I went to the Dylan drawer to check on some other possibilities and there I found a set of five CD’s entitled the “Real Woodstock Sessions Boot-leg” series (or something like that). And that find contained (along with plenty of odd-ball outtakes and other miscellanea) some incredible versions of famous folk, folk rock, and country songs like Joshua Gone Barbados, Spanish Is The Loving Tongue, I Forgot To Remember To Forget Her, and stuff like that. All done in just kind of off-handedly way, Dylan and The Band off-handedly.

That is a rather circuitous way to explain the why of this review of The Last Waltz that I had seen when it originally came out in 1978 and have now re-viewed. What popped out at me in this second sighting was that these guys displayed in this two hour documentary that same kind of off-handed serious musicianship that I sensed in the boot-leg CD series mentioned above. No only did they rock, when rock was called for, but they could turn around musically (and instrumentally too) and do, well, a waltz. Hell, some of the instruments they were playing, and playing with professional abandon, I am not even sure I know the names of. And that explains Scorsese interest in doing this piece. He sensed a good story behind the rock and roll, a story of a band coming together when it counts-on stage. But also when, as band leader Robbie Robertson put it, it is time to move on after over a decade on the road. The road is a monster only the crazed, and Bob Dylan, can keep rolling along on. The Band got “off the bus” while they still had plenty of music left in them, just not together.

That said, all that is left is to pick out some highlights from some of the performers who showed up to bid adieu. Aside from a couple of numbers of their own The Band’s strength here was as “back-up” for a number of performers, most notably Neil Young on Helpless, Van Morrison on Radio, Joni Mitchell on Coyote, Bob Dylan on I Shall Be Released (along with the entire ensemble), Muddy Waters On Mannish-Child, and going back to their roots, Ronnie Hawkins on Who Do You Love. Nice stuff, nice stuff indeed if you are interested in knowing what it was like when men (and women) played rock and roll for keeps.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

***The Face Of Old Irish Working-Class North Adamsville- Another Moment In History -In Honor Of Kenny, Class Of 1958?

Another Moment In History- A Guest Post, Of Sorts

Kenny Kelly, Class of 1958? comment:

A word. I, Kenneth Francis Xavier Kelly, at work they just call me Kenny, although my friends call me “FX”, am a map of Ireland, or at least I used to be when I was younger and had a full head of very wavy red hair, a mass of freckles instead of a whiskey and beer chaser-driven mass of very high-proof wrinkles, and my own, rather than store-bought, rattlers, teeth I mean. For work, ya, I’m still rolling the barrels uphill, I, well, let’s just say I do a little of this and a little of that for Jimmy the Mutt and leave it at that. I am also the map, the Irish map part anyway, of North Adamsville, from the Class of 1958 at the old high school, or at least I should have been, except for, well, let’s leave that as at a little of this and that, for now, as well. I’ll tell you that story another time, if you want to hear it. Or talk to that old bastard, Headmaster Kerrigan, Black-Jack Kerrigan, and he’ll give you his lying side of the story if he can still talk the bastard.

Let’s also put it that I grew up, rough and tumble, mostly rough, very rough, on the hard drinking-father-sometimes-working, and the plumbing-or-something-don’t-work- and-you-can’t- get- the-tight-fisted-landlord-to- fix-anything-for-love-nor- money walk up triple decker just barely working class, mean streets around Sagamore and Prospect Streets in one –horse Atlantic. At least my dear grandmother, and maybe yours too, called it that because there was nothing there, nothing you needed anyway. You know where I mean, those streets right over by the Welcome Young Field, by Harry the Bookie’s variety store (you knew Harry’s, with the always almost empty shelves except maybe a few dusty cans of soup, a couple of loaves of bread and a refrigerator empty except maybe a quart of milk or two, an also active pin-ball machine, and his “book” right on the counter for all the world, including his cop-customer world, to see), and the never empty, never empty as long as my father was alive, Red Feather (excuse me I forgot it changed names, Dublin Grille) bar room. Now I have your attention, right?

But first let me explain how I wound up as a “guest” on this “Tales of Old North Adamsville” blog. Seems like Peter Paul Markin, that’s the half-assed, oops, half-baked, manager of this site, posted up some story, some weepy cock and bull story, about the Irish-ness of the old town, “A Moment In History… As March 17th Approaches” to the “North Adamsville Graduates Facebook” page and my pride and joy daughter, Clara, North Adamsville Class of 1978 (and she actually graduated), saw it and recognized the names Riley, O’Brian and Welcome Young Field and asked me to read it. I did and sent Peter Paul an e-mail (christ, where does he get off using two names like he was a bloody heathen Boston Brahmin and him without a pot to piss in, as my dear grandmother used to say, growing up on streets on the wrong side of the tracks, over near the marshes for chrissakes, wronger even than the Sagamore streets). (Or my baby Clara did, after I told her what to write. I’m not much of hand at writing or using this hi-tech stuff, if you want to know the truth)

I don’t know what he did with that e-mail, and to be truthful again, I don’t really care, but in that e-mail I told him something that he didn’t know, or rather two things. The first was that I “knew” him, or rather knew his grandmother (on his mother’s side) Anna Riley because her sister, Bernice, and my dear grandmother, Mary, also an O’Brien but with an “e”, who both lived in Southie (South Boston, in those days the Irish Mecca, for the heathens or Protestants that might read this) were as thick as thieves. When I was just a teenager myself I used to drive his grandmother over to her sister’s in Southie so that the three of them, and maybe some other ladies joined them for all I know, could go to one of the Broadway bars (don’t ask me to name which one, I don’t remember) that admitted unescorted ladies in those days and have themselves a drunk. And smoke cigarettes, unfiltered ones no less, Camels I think when I used cadge a few, which his stern grandfather, Dan Riley, refused to allow in the house over on Young Street.

I know, I know this is not the way that blue-grey haired Irish grandmothers are supposed to act, in public or private. And somebody, if I know my old North Adamsville gossips, wags and nose-butters, and my North Adamsville Irish branch of that same clan especially, is going say why am I airing that “dirty linen” in public. That’s a good point that Peter Paul talked in his story about Frank O’Brian and not airing the family business in public (in that post mentioned above). So what am I doing taking potshots as the blessed memories of those sainted ladies. That is where my second thing comes in to set the record straight – Peter Paul, and I told him so in that e-mail (or Clara did) with no beating around the bush, is to me just another one of those misty-eyed, half-breed March 17th Irish that are our curse and who go on and on about the eight hundred years of English tyranny like they lived it, actually lived each day of it. (Yes half-breed, his father, a good guy from what my father told me when they used to drink together, was nothing but a Protestant hillbilly from down in the mountain mists hills and hollows Kentucky)

Now don’t get me wrong. I am as patriotic as the next Irishman in tipping my hat to our Fenian dead, and the boys of ’16, and the lads on the right side in 1922, and the lads fighting in the North now but Peter Paul has got the North Adamsville Irish weepy, blessed “old sod” thing all wrong. No doubt about it. So, if you can believe this, he challenged me, to tell the real story. And I am here as his “guest” to straighten him out, and maybe you too. Sure, he is helping me write this thing. I already told you I’m a low-tech guy. Jesus, do you think I could write stuff like that half-assed, oops, half- baked son of an expletive with his silly, weepy half-Irish arse goings on? I will tell you this though right now if I read this thing and it doesn’t sound right fists are gonna be swinging, old as I am. But let’s get this thing moving for God’s sake.

Let me tell you about the shabeen, I mean, The Red Feather, I mean the Dublin Grille, bar room on Sagamore Street. That’s the one I know, and I am just using that as an example. There were plenty of others in old North Adamsville, maybe not as many as in Southie, but plenty. If you seriously wanted to talk about the “Irish-ness” of North Adamsville that was the place, the community cultural institution if you will, to start your journey. Many a boy, including this boy, got his first drink, legal or illegal, at that, or another like it, watering hole. Hell, the “real” reason they built that softball field at Welcome Young was so the guys, players and spectators alike, had an excuse to stop in for a few (well, maybe more than a few) after a tough battle on base paths. That’s the light-hearted part of the story, in a way. What went on when the “old man”, anybody’s “old man”, got home at the, sometimes, wee hours is not so light-hearted.

See, that is really where the straightening out job on our boy Peter Paul needs to be done. Sure, a lot of Irish fathers didn’t get drunk all the time. Although the deep dark secret was that in almost every family, every shanty family for certain and I know, and many “lace curtain” families they was at least one reprobate drunk. Hell, the local city councilor’s brother, Healy I think it was, was in thrown the drunk tank by the coppers more times than he was out. They could have given him a pass-key and saved time and money on dragging him to the caboose. But the king hell takes-the-cake was old Black-Jack’s Kerrigan’s brother, Boyo (sorry, I forget his real name). Ya, the North Adamsville High headmaster’s brother, the bastard that I had a run-in with and had to hightail it out of school, although it was not over his brother. See Black-Jack’s family though they were the Mayfair swells since Black-Jack had gone to college, one of the first in the old neighborhood, and they had that big single-family house over on Beach Street. But more than one night I found Boyo lying face-down on Billings Road drunk as a skunk and had to carry him home to his wife and family. And then head back to the other side of the tracks, that wrong side I already told you about. Next day, or sometime later, Boyo would give me a dollar. Naturally when I went to school after that I went out of my way to flash the dollar bill at Black-Jack, saying “Look what Boyo gave me for helping him out.” That’s all I had to say. Black-Jack always turned fuming red, maybe flaming red.

A lot of Irish fathers didn’t beat on their wives all the time either. And a lot of Irish fathers didn’t physically beat their kids for no reason. Plenty of kids go the “strap” though when the old man was “feeling his oats.” (I never heard of any sexual abuse, but that was a book sealed with seven seals then.) And more than one wife, more than one son’s mother didn’t show her face to the “shawlie” world due to the simple fact that a black eye, a swollen face, or some other wound disfigured her enough to lay low for a while. I had to stop, or try to stop, my own father one time when I was about twelve and he was on one of his three day Dublin Grille whiskey straight-up, no chaser toots and Ma just got in his way. He swatted me down like a fly and I never tried to go that route again. But he didn’t try to beat my mother again either, at least not when I was a around or I would have heard about it on the shawlie wire.

And a lot of Irish wives didn’t just let their husbands beat on them just because they were the meal ticket, the precious difference between a home and the county farm or, worst, the streets. And a lot of Irish wives didn’t make excuses for dear old dad (or pray) when the paycheck didn’t show up and the creditors were beating down the door. And a lot of Irish wives didn’t let those Irish fathers beat on their kids. And a lot of Irish mothers didn’t tell their kids not to “air the dirty linen in public.” But, don’t let anyone fool you, and maybe I am touching on things too close to home, my home or yours, but that formed part of the scene, the Irish scene.

Maybe, because down at the Atlantic dregs end of North Adamsville the whole place was so desperately lower working-class other ethnic groups, like the Italians, also had those same pathologies. (I am letting Peter Paul use that last word, although I still don’t really know what it means, but it seemed right when he told me what it meant). I don’t know. Figure it out though, plenty of fathers (and it was mainly fathers only in those days who worked, when they could) with not much education and dead-end jobs, plenty of triple decker, no space, no air, no privacy rented housing and plenty of dead time. Ya, sure, I felt the “Irish-ness” of the place sometimes (mainly with the back of the hand), I won’t say I didn’t but when Peter Paul starts running on and on about the “old sod” just remember what I told you. I’ll tell you all the truth, won’t you take a word from me.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

***Out Of The 1940s Crime Noir Night-When Anti-Semitism Rears Its Ugly Head-“Crossfire”- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the crime noir film, Crossfire.

DVD Review

Crossfire, starring Robert Young, Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, RKO Radio Pictures,1947

In a recent review of a 1950s crime noir, Pickup At South Street, a film that combined the ordinary subject matter of this genre, some crime doesn’t pay scam, with a veneer of 1950s political anti-communist “red scare” political conformity I noted that putting the two together weakened the film. That is the case here as well although the combination is somewhat different-a seemingly senseless murder committed under mysterious circumstances in post-World War II New York and with a very heavy dose of plebeian anti-Semitism mixed in. Not that the question of anti-Semitism cannot be properly portrayed in film, witness the same years Oscar film, Gentleman’s Agreement, but under the plot line (and character development) here it just doesn’t jell. It might have worked just as well as a straight police procedural with no particular social message. Here’s why.

This is a tale of the three Roberts. Robert Ryan, a twisted pycho Army NCO lifer-type with a hard anti-Semitic craze, frames one of his men for a foul murder of a “civilian” shirker (said shirker in reality having been discharged as a result of wounds performing his military duty in the war). Needless to say this shirker (aren’t they all) is Jewish (a "Jewboy" in Ryan’s vernacular). And murder brings in Robert Young as a hard-bitten New York detective who is assigned the case and who smells a rat (Ryan) early on but can not quite put his finger on it. And enter too Robert Mitchum as a fellow Army NCO who also smells a rat, although he too is not quite sure who did it.

As the story evolves it is clear that Ryan’s chosen fall guy didn’t do it (although his whereabouts, his actions, and his alcohol-induced “fog” didn’t help his case) and that Ryan did. That part works, works decently enough for a second-rung crime noir, but there is never any strong motivation presented for Ryan’s anti-Semitism other than the plebeian platitudes common to gentile attitudes toward Jews then, and perhaps, now. I know from my own working class background that attitude, and the expression of those attitudes among 1950s Irish Catholic working-class kids (“they killed Christ, see”). They should have left this one to stand on its crime doesn’t pay, especially for pychos theme.

Monday, November 21, 2011

***Out In The 1940s Crime Noir Night- A Twisted Sister- “Possessed”-A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the film noir, Possessed.

DVD Review

Possessed, starring Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Warner Brothers, 1947

Most of the time film noir, especially crime noir out of the 1940s-1950s be-bop night, will get heavily involved in plot, and twists in plots and leave the question of motivation, deep motivation for the “shrinks.” After all if the medium is the message as the communications guru of a long-gone era, Marshall McLuhan, used to argue then the message in these things is nothing but the old saw that crime does not pay, does not pay for anyone if you watch enough of these noirs. So it was kind of refreshing, if somewhat odd, to see a film like the film under review, Possessed, where a deep look at the motivation for a crime, the mental anguish over the act, and the clash over good and evil inside the individual get a work out.

But wait a minute. Don’t get too immersed in the prospects for a deep study of the human psyche under duress because the motivation for a crime here, murder, is nothing other than the reaction of a lovesick, thwarted woman, a woman scorned if you like. This is Hollywood after all. So you can almost see, even before the act, the gun rising steadily in her hand. And that is what the plot-line here revolves around. How that gun got steadily into her hand to kill her blasé ex-lover.

See Louise (played here in a half- glamorous, half-maniacal way via flash backs by Joan Crawford) was hopelessly in love with a returning upwardly-mobile ex- GI, David (played here by a caddish Van Heflin), who was driven more by the prospects of an engineering career than by romance. When he called the whole affair off Louise fell to pieces. Well kind of fell to pieces because in reaction she had only one thing on her mind-get her man back, come hell or high water.

That hell or high water involved marrying the boss, the well-off boss (played by Raymond Massey), once his wife (who Louise had been acting as a nurse for) committed suicide although it was clear from the start that she still carried the torch for David. When David, who in the meantime had been working for her newly-minted husband, fell for his young daughter and planned to marry her Louise went over the edge. And over the edge, as I have already telegraphed, meant that sweet little equalizer, the revolver.

The way that the story unfolds as flash-backs while Louise is in a state of mental deterioration in the psycho ward of a mental hospital is how we get that deep look, using the now crude but then state-of-the-art 1940s psychiatric understanding of mental illness. That is what makes this one a cut above the- run-of-the-mill melodramatic 1940s noir (although there are more that enough melodramatic moments, especially between the relentlessly unhinged Louise and relentlessly heartless David). But when you think about it, even though Louise winds up in a psycho ward rather than the chair, crime still doesn’t pay. Right?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

***Out Of The 1940s Crime Noir Night- Put The Lame Blame Frame On Frankie-I Wake Up Screaming- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the crime noir film, I Wake up Screaming.

DVD Review

I Wake Up Screaming, starring Victor Mature, Betty Grable, Carol Landis,

I have at this point reviewed a fair number of the crime noir films from the 1940s and 1950s. Some are classics like Out Of The Past, some are filled with simple crime doesn’t pay messages, some have femmes fatales that you would gladly commit armed robbery unarmed for just to get a whiff of their perfume. Others you would still be removing the bullets from your body, their bullets. Most, frankly, are just kind of run-of-the-mill like the film under review here, I Wake Up Screaming. Nothing exceptional here but the fact that the film has two, count ‘em two, femme fatales, well kind of, kind of femme fatales. And neither is bad, just misunderstood, but hell you would still give something to catch a whiff of that perfume mentioned above. Although maybe you would think twice about robbing banks unarmed for either.

Here’s the skinny. One wanna-be femme fatale starts out like many another country girl hitting the big city serving them off the arm in some hash house. Ms. Waitress (oops, waitperson, played by Carol Landis) is just waiting around to be “discovered” and plucked away from the eggs over easy. As luck would have it three, although only one counts, Frankie Christopher (played by ruggedly handsome, up-front-the dregs Victor Mature), men-about-town camp on her station and Frankie, a promoter of, well, let’s leave it as promoter, decides to take Ms. Waitperson from rags to riches, on the quick. He can see a meal ticket a mile away. And his preparations for the big strike work, work well, for a while.

What fouls things up is that one fine afternoon Ms. Waitperson is found by Frankie dead, very dead, in her apartment. And who fit the bill for the frame by his various actions toward the deceased is none other than Frankie. In a series of flash-backs the motives, actions, and responses of most of those involved are uncovered. And that is where Sis, femme fatale number two comes in; Ms. Waitperson’s sis (played by World War II soldier boys calendar heartthrob Betty Grable) who is her roommate, her confidante and her scolding younger sister is also in love with our boy Frankie (go figure, right) but is confused by the evidence against him. And Frankie is smitten by Sis as well so no fear things will get worked out. Hovering over the whole scene though are the bizarre actions of a relentless big- city cop trying to send Frankie to the chair for his own motives. Uncovering the cop’s motives is what drives the second half of the film. And that is all you need to know about this one. Oh, except as always the message is crime doesn’t pay, doesn’t pay even for bloody coppers. Got it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

***Writer's Corner-From The Pages Of "Socialism Today (September 2011)"-DASHIELL HAMMETT: HARD-BOILED WRITER, COMMUNIST FIGHTER-A Review

Click on the headline to link to an American Left History post on the crime noir writer, Dashiell Hammett.


EARLIER THIS year it was announced that 15 previously unpublished short stories by the US writer Dashiell Hammett had been discovered in a university archive in Texas, provoking much excitement among fans of the hardboiled detective fiction genre.

Hammett is regarded by many literary critics as one of the most important writers of the 20th century. His most famous book, The Maltese Falcon, featuring the immortal detective, Sam Spade, was made into a film three times in the 1930s and 1940s. The best known version featured Humphrey Bogart, turning him into an international film star. His stories are still used by writers and film-makers today as a source and inspiration. The Coen brothers' film, Miller's Crossing, for example, lifts ideas from both The Glass Key and Red Harvest, books written by Hammett 80 years ago.

Hammett was also an antifascist activist and a member of the Communist Party of America. He went to jail rather than hand over evidence that could have been used against other activists during the anti-communist witch-hunt led by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.

Hammett was born in 1894, growing up in a working-class area of Baltimore. He left school at 13 and had a variety of jobs, including a freight clerk, a newsboy and a messenger for the B&O railroad. It was on the Baltimore waterfront that Hammett first came across socialist ideas, though he did not become active at that time. Instead, he made a contradictory career move when, in 1915, he joined the Pinkerton Private Detective Agency.

The Pinkertons carried out 'traditional' detective work but they were more often used as a private strike-breaking force by bosses. From the 1870s to the 1930s, labour movement activists were beaten up and many killed fighting for their rights. For example, in the 'Homestead' strike in Pittsburgh in 1892 pitched battles were fought between steel strikers and the Pinkertons, leading to 16 deaths.

Hammett worked for the Pinkertons until 1922, interrupted by service in the first world war. In 1920, he was sent to the Anaconda copper strike in Butte, Montana, in which copper workers led by the Industrial Workers of the World were battling for increased wages and the eight-hour day. Hammett revealed much later that he had been offered $5,000 by the mine-owners to murder one of the workers' leaders. In another incident, a striking miner was shot in the back, probably by a Pinkerton agent. The experience at Anaconda, together with his poor health - in 1919 he was a victim of the influenza epidemic that swept the world and was later struck down with bronchial pneumonia -seems to have been decisive in leading Hammett to leave the Pinkertons.

While recovering from illness, Hammett began writing the detective stories that made
his name. In the early 1920s, a key starting point for an aspiring writer was the short
story magazines. Many of these magazines, aimed at a working-class readership, were
printed on cheap pulp-wood paper, hence they became known as 'pulps'. Typically, they cost ten cents and were made to be read and then thrown away. Pulp fiction writers were paid by the word. The more a writer wrote, the more he or she got paid. Not surprisingly, the quality of much of what was produced was questionable.

Hammett's decision to start story writing coincided more or less with the appointment of a new editor at what was to become the most important of the detective pulp magazines, The Black Mask. Joseph Shaw, or Cap Shaw as he became known, transformed The Black Mask magazine into a pulp that featured a new 'hard-boiled' style of writing. Hammett became the master of this style and type of story.

Hardboiled detective fiction differed from earlier 'cosy' detective stories in that they tended to feature a more violent career "criminal than the lords, ladies, retired colonels, vicars and rich aunts who cropped up in stories typified by those written by Agatha Christie. Hardboiled stories tended to be fast paced, often narrated through the first person private investigator.

It was not accidental that the hardboiled detective story developed in the USA in the 1920s. Prohibition (the alcohol ban) had created an opportunity for gangsters to add to the huge profits they were already making from prostitution, protection rackets and gambling. Organised crime would often control or at least have a significant influence over the police and city politics. This was the America of Al Capone and Bugsy Siegel. Violence and corruption were everywhere.

This violent backdrop provided the perfect canvas on which Hammett could write his stories. While the traditional detective fiction featured an eccentric 'thinking machine' like Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, the hard-boiled detective had to be good with his fists and a gun. Hammett's short stories mostly featured an anonymous private detective known as 'the Op'. He is certainly intelligent but not exceptionally so. The people he encountered were often ordinary and spoke with the language of the street. Hammett's brilliance was in capturing the language of ordinary Americans and putting it on the page. This, together with a crisp style of short staccato sentences, gave a pace and authenticity to his stories.

While not politically active during the bulk of his writing career, many of his stories brilliantly expose the link between crime and the nature „ of capitalist society. As Hemet has Sam Spade say in The Maltese Falcon, "most things in San Francisco can be bought, or taken".

In Red Harvest, Hammett's first novel, the Op is sent to Clean up a town called Person-ville. The opening paragraph typifies Hammett's genius: "I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn't think anything of what he'd done to the city's name.

Later I heard men who could manage their r's give it the same pronunciation. I still didn’t see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richard-snary the thieves' word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better".
Personville/Poisonville is loosely based on Anaconda but is a metaphor for America: "Don't kid yourselves that there's any law in Poisonville except what you make for yourself. For Hammett, it was not just a case of cleaning up a town or removing a few bad eggs. Corruption and violence are structural in capitalist society.

In the 1930s, Hammett gave up writing and became more politically active. He joined the Communist Party (CP) although his membership was kept secret because the party leadership thought that he would thereby be able to reach a wider audience. Instead, he was involved in a number of CP front organizations. Hammett wanted to play a more active role and volunteered to fight against the fascists in the Spanish civil war by joining the International Brigade. The CP stopped him, however, preferring to use him as a spokesperson in the USA.

Unfortunately Hammett, like many CP members, loyally followed the 'party line', dictated by the Stalinist bureaucracy that had removed all vestiges of workers' democracy in Russia. He publicly supported the Moscow purge trials that were used by the Stalinists to attack Leon Trotsky and other opponents of Stalinism. He followed the CP line in condemning the second world war up until the Nazi invasion of Russia. Once Russia had been invaded, Hammett was among the first to volunteer for army service.

Hammett was not a 'bohemian communist' who joined the CP because it was trendy. At the height of the cold war, when hundreds of ex-communists and former sympathisers were desperate to distance themselves, he loyally stood by the party and his comrades.

Hammett was a trustee of the New York branch of the Civil Rights Congress, a CP front set up to provide legal and financial assistance for activists. In 1951, the McCarthyite witch-hunt was at its height. Hemet was subpoenaed to appear in court. Asked to name any contributors to the civil rights fund he refused. He was then asked to hand over the records of the fund. This would have meant giving the names of thousands of activists to the state, potentially leaving them vulnerable to the witch-hunt. Again he refused.

The court sentenced him to six months in jail. Hammett offered no defence. After his release, he was blacklisted. His books that had sold in their hundreds of thousands were removed from public libraries. Screenings of film versions stopped. He became a non-person, dependent on the support of a few loyal friends for accommodation and food in his final years, finally dying from lung cancer in January 1961.

Dashiell Hammett was a principled though at times mistaken socialist who believed in a better life for all. We should remember him for his courage in standing up to the American state and going to prison rather than reveal the names of his comrades. However, most of all we should treasure the marvelous legacy of his writing, which is as entertaining today as it was when he wrote it. O

Mick Whale

***On The 40th Anniversary Of The Death Of Jimi Hendrix- From Woodstock Nation (1969)To Class-Struggle Nation (2011)

Click on the headline to link to a YouTube film clip of Jimi Hendrix performing his classic blues rock, Hey, Joe.

Markin comment:

As we gear up for another titantic struggle to bring the American "beast" down it is rather appropriate to remember one of the icons of the 1960s cultural struggles this year.

From the American Left History blog

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

*The Cultural Wars-Part 247- Woodstock 2007


As a political writer who stands well outside the traditional political parties in this country I do not generally comment on specific politicians or candidates, unless they make themselves into moving target. Come on now, this IS politics after all. How can I justify not taking a poke at someone who has a sign on his chest saying –Hit Me? Lately Republican presidential hopeful Arizona Senator John McCain has fallen all over himself to meet that requirement.

And what is the fuss about. Studied differences about how to withdraw from Iraq? No. Finding ways to rein in the out of control budgets deficits? No. A user friendly universal health care program? No. What has sent the good Senator McCain into spasms is a little one million dollar funding proposal (since killed in the Senate) that would have partially funded a museum at Woodstock, site of the famous 1969 counter-cultural festival. His view is that the federal government should not be funding projects that commemorate drug, sex and rock and roll. Well so be it. However, the topper is this. In order to sharply draw the cultural war line in the sand he mentioned (just in passing, I’m sure) to the Republican audience that he was speaking to that he did not attend that event as he was ‘tied up’ elsewhere.

Unlike his draft dodging fellows, like Bush Cheney, Wolfowitz, et. al in the Bush Administration McCain saw action in Vietnam. Of course that action was as a naval pilot whose job it was to attempt to bomb North Vietnam back into the Stone Age, a task in which they very nearly succeeded. Through the fortunes of war he was shot down and spent several years in a POW camp. That comes with the territory. In the summer of 1969 this writer also had other commitments. He was under orders to report to Fort Lewis, Washington in order to head to Vietnam as a foot soldier. That too comes with the territory. The point is why rain on someone else’s parade just because you want to be a hero. Moreover, it is somewhat less than candid to almost forty years later belly ache about it.

A note on Woodstock as an icon of the 1960’s. The slogan- Drugs, sex, and rock and roll. We liked that idea then, even those of us who were rank and file soldiers. Not everyone made it through that experience . Others recoiled in horror later, including some of those today on the right wing of the culture wars. And others who did not 'inhale' or hang around with people who did formed another reaction to those events. Those experiments and others like communal living, alternative lifestyles and ‘dropping out’, however, were part of the price we felt we had to pay if we were going to be free. And creative. Even the most political among us felt those cultural winds and counted those who espoused this vision as part of the chosen. Those who believed that we could have a far-reaching positive cultural change without a fundamental political change in society proved to be wrong long ago. But, these were still our people.

Note this well. Whatever excesses were committed by the generation of ’68, and there were many, were mainly made out of ignorance and foolishness. Our opponents, exemplified by one Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States and common criminal, and today by John McCain spent every day of their lives as a matter of conscious, deliberate policy raining hell down on the peoples of the world, the minorities in this country, and anyone else who got in their way. Forty years of ‘cultural wars’ in revenge by them and their protégés is a heavy price to pay for our youthful errors. Enough.

Monday, November 14, 2011

***Busted Visions Of Adamsville Beach- For Diana N., Class Of 1964

Click on the title to link to a Wikipedia entry for Wollaston Beach, called Adamsville Beach in the sketch, including a picture for those who have moved away from the area. Damn, thanks Internet technology on this one.

Peter Paul Markin, North Adamsville Class Of 1964, comment:

Okay, okay in an earlier sketch entitled "Daydream Visions Of Adamsville Beach," this writer got all misty-eyed, some may say even teary-eyed, about the old days at North Adamsville Beach. I went on and on about things like impatiently waiting to check out the various flavors of ice cream at the now long-departed HoJo's Ice Cream stand across the street from the beach; the vagaries of clam-digging in the jellyfish-infested and slimy oil-drenched mud flats, for young and old, down at the Merrymount end of the beach; and, about the smell of charcoal- broiled hot dogs and other delights at what we then called Treasure Island (and now Cady Park, I think) at that same end.

Furthermore, all be-bop blushing aside I, heroically, allowed us to suffer once against by describing the obligatory teenage longings for companionship and romantic adventure associated with the sea. With the sound of the high tide waves roaring against the sand splashed shore. That last bit, my friends, is shorthand for the "parking" ritual and "submarine races," a localism for activities, automobile activities, going on in the deep night, the deep teen hormonal night that we are sworn to secrecy about while the kids or grand kids are around.

But now I say enough of the "magical realism" that I invoked in that sketch. Today, as we are older and wiser, we will junk that "memory lane" business and take a look at old Adamsville Beach in the clear bright light of day, warts and all. We all must or should respect Mother Nature, or she will beat us, mercilessly beat us down, but let’s at least not mumble gibberish in old age like some star-struck teeny-boppers.

Last year , as part of the ill-advised trip down the memory lane trip that I have been endlessly writing about with these sketches I walked, hard sneaker-driven walked, intrepid observer that I am, the length of Adamsville Beach from the Squaw Rock Causeway (near the ubiquitous "Dunkin Donuts" for the modern reader, I don’t know what frame of reference site would do for the older reader, maybe the old Squaw Rock Elementary School or the long-abandoned Naval Air Base entrance) to the bridge at Adamsville Shore Drive (and the entrance to, the dividing line which should have been etched in high gloss granite stone native to the area stone that separated we pure at heart raider red diehards from the dreaded Adamsville High heathen warriors). At that time the beach area was in the last stages of some reconstruction work. You know, repave the road, re-do the sidewalks, and put in some new streetlights. Fair enough-even the edges of Mother Nature can use a make-over once in a while. The long and short of this little trip though was to make me wonder why I was so enthralled by the lure of Adamsville Beach in my youth.

Oh sure, most of the natural landmarks and outcroppings are still there, as well as some of the structural ones. Those poor, weather-beaten Squaw Rock and Adamsville Heights Yacht Clubs that I spend many a summer gazing on in my fruitless search for teenage companionship (read: girls). And, of course, the tattered "Beachcomber" local beach gin mill drunken throw-up night horrors in much the same condition and with that same rutted unpaved parking lot is still there, just like when we first tried to get into at whatever non-legal age we tried, as are the inevitable non-descript clam shacks with their cholesterol-laden goods. That is not what I mean.

What I noticed were things like the odd sulfuric smell of low-tide when the sea is calm. The tepidness of the water as it splashed almost apologetically to the shore; when a man, no stranger to the sound of crashing waves in almost every conceivable locale on this continent, craved the roar of the ocean. And the annoying gear-grinding noise and fuming smoke caused by the constant vehicular traffic, especially those blasting-engine motorcycles, those Harley hog things and their mad men drivers. Things that, frankly, I was oblivious to back in the days.

There is thus something of a disconnect between the dreaminess and careless abandon of youthful Adamsville as describe in "Visions" and the Adamsville of purposeful old age-the different between eyes and ears observing when the world was young and there were vistas to conquer, and at times we were in, as the poet Wordsworth wrote "very heaven" and now when those sights have been transformed by too many other pictures of a wild and wicked world. The lesson to be learned: beware the perils of "memory lane". But don't ever blame the sea for that, please.

.....and the tin can bended, and the story ended (title from the late folksinger/folk historian Dave Van Ronk's last album in 2001). That seems about right.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

***Out Of The 1940s Crime Noir Night- Drifter’s Farewell- “Moontide”- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the film Moontide.

DVD Review

Moontide, starring Jean Gabon, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell, Claude Rains, 20th Century-Fox, 1942

There are a million ways, a million ways cinematically and maybe in life too, that boy meets girl, crime noir or not. Even if that “boy” is a not so young drifter sailor, Bobo (played by Jean Gabin last seen by this reviewer in the incredible French film, Max Ophuls' Children of Paradise), whose been around, and thinks he wants to stay been around. Except fastened to the California waterfront like glue by his profession he is called upon to save a damsel in distress. A young woman, Anna, who serves them off the arm in some hash house (played here by Ida Lupino last seen by this reviewer in High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart and Pard) who was, at wits end for some unknown reason, sets out to drown herself. Naturally sea-worthy Gabin saves her, and the romance is on.

But wait a minute this is a crime noir as well as a boy meets girl story. And Bobo is set up to fit the frame while he was drunk by his friend Tiny, a serious ne’er do well and slightly psycho, after Tiny has killed a denizen of the waterfront over some trivial matter. So the boy meets girls setting up house (on a barge of course out on the breakwater) part keeps on getting set back by the Bobo frame-up part. All, by the way, done in high 1940s melodramatic style.

But there is more. This film’s script is filled with little philosophical reflections by one and all, Bobo most of all. For Bobo about leaving the high seas adventure life and its down time waterfront dive existence and settling down. By Anna about whether she is “worthy” to be Bobo bride and find happiness in their cozy little barge by the breakwater. And by other characters, as well, like Doc (a boat owner) and the night watchman, Nutsy (played by Claude Rains). Hell, even Tiny makes a pitch that he just needs a new life up north to break out of his psycho ways. Like I said very melodramatic but as always with Gabin you get some incredibly expressive acting and Ms. Lupino does her misspent working class unworthiness existence whine to a tee.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

***Out In the 1950s Crime Noir Night- A Grifter’s Farewell- “Dark City- A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Wikipedia entry for the crime noir, Dark City.

DVD Review

Dark City, starring Charleston Heston, Lizabeth Scott, Dean Jagger, Jack Webb, Harry Morgan, Paramount Pictures, 1950

No question after running through a seemingly endless run of crime noir films that not all the films in the genre are equal. The classics like The Big Sleep, Maltese Falcon, Gilda, and Out Of The Past speak for themselves with fine plot lines and slightly awry femme fatales to brighten things up. The film under review, although not in that category, could have been better had it not gotten caught up in some melodramatic flim-flam and stayed the hard-boiled, gritty classic grifter story that it set out to be. The outlines of the plot surely gave more promise that was delivered.

Down in those post-World War II means streets out West a lot of war-weary, war-tousled, war-scarred guys tried to do, well, the best they could. And the best they could usually was some grifter scheme to make a score off some bozo mark and hit the road, hit the road fast, and leave no forwarding address. That is the substance of the plot here. Ex-soldier (World War II just in case you might have forgotten, or were not sure what war I was talking about since there are many to choose from these days) Dan Healy (played in an understated, post-war alienated, existential man kind of way by Charleston Heston before he became Moses or Ben Hur or whatever big screen techno-color champ he became later) make his downwardly mobile way to grifter-dom in some seedy skid row town.

Dan's thing is gambling and, of course, for such an endeavor you need suckers with dough, easily parted with dough. And, as well, some confederates in on the scam. That is the case here as Dan and two fellow grifters (one played by Jack Webb before he got “religion” and became Sergeant Friday on the 1950s television show, Dragnet) rope in the sucker, a guy holding a five thousand dollar check (serious money, serious money down on mean street then) although the money is not actually his. Needless to say a fool and his dough are soon parted.

And that is where things start to go wrong with this film (as well as in the lives of our three gamblers). Filled with remorse the mark (played by Don DeFore) can’t face the horror of going back and confessing to his employers that he blew the dough on gambling, and instead hanged himself in his lonely room. Not for him the easy road of blowing town and changing his name, toughing it out, or even filing a court claim against the miscreant gamblers. In short, nobody, nobody this side of Hollywood takes the rope on the facts presented here. And then it gets worst. See the mark has an older dominating brother who watches out for him. Now this suicide business once he finds out the cause gets him a little exercised. See the brother is a stone-cold psycho and he is out to even the score-three dead, very dead gamblers.

Well, if you have been paying attention you know that Charleston Heston, the star and therefore kill-proof, is one of those marked for extinction so the other two get their just desserts and old Heston squeaks by after some close moments. The problem is when we see finally see who the killer-brother is there is no way that anyone could believe, or at least I could believe, that this gorilla was anybody’s brother. Come on.

The other place where the film goes wrong is on the inevitable love interest angle. Now Danny boy, who spends a good part of the film moodily cutting up old torches from back in the day, has a sort of girlfriend. A very fetching smoky-voiced chanteuse, Fran, (played by Lizabeth Scott) girlfriend who wears her heart on her sleeve for him, although he is mostly indifferent to her. No femme fatale here-just a what you see is what you get gal who can sing the blues, while having them over her man who done her wrong. The problem is that the chemistry between Danny and Fran is all wrong, all wrong alls ways. Fran is the girl next door and Danny, is well Danny, a grifter and the two don’t mix. And the plot gets further muddied when Dan, trying to get a lead of where the mark’s brother is, starts to play footsie with the dead mark's non-grieving widow. So you see now what I mean when I say that not all crime noirs are created equal.

***Looking For A Few Good Men…And Women For Peace- A Stroll In The Boston Common On Veterans Day, Circa 2011- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S. Troops From Afghanistan! Hands Off Iran!-Hands Off The World!

Click on the headline to link to the Veterans For Peace website for the latest news.

Looking For A Few Good Men…And Women For Peace- A Stroll In The Boston Common On Veterans Day, Circa 2011- Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S. Troops From Afghanistan! Hands Off Iran!-Hands Off The World!

Markin comment:

Last year when I wrote what amounted to a paean to the Veterans For Peace and their Boston Common anti-war activities on Veterans Day 2010 in the entry, A Stroll In The Park On Veterans Day, where I said the following:

“Listen, I have been to many marches and demonstrations for democratic, progressive, socialist and communist causes in my long political life. However, of all those events none, by far, has been more satisfying that to march alongside my fellow ex-soldiers who have “switched” over to the other side and are now part of the struggle against war, the hard, hard struggle against the permanent war machine that this imperial system has embarked upon. From as far back as in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) days I have always felt that ex-soldiers (hell, active soldiers too, if you can get them) have had just a little bit more “street cred” on the war issue than the professors, pacifists and little old ladies in tennis sneakers who have traditionally led the anti-war movements. Maybe those brothers (and in my generation it was mainly only brothers) and now sisters may not quite pose the questions of war and peace the way I do, or the way that I would like them to do, but they are kindred spirits.

Now normally in Boston, and in most places, a Veterans Day parade means a bunch of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) or American Legion-types taking time off from drinking at their post bars (“the battle of the barstool”) and donning the old overstuffed uniform and heading out on to Main Street to be waved at, and cheered on, by like-minded, thankful citizens. And of course that happened this time as well. What also happened in Boston this year (and other years but I have not been involved in previous marches) was that the Veterans For Peace (VFP) organized an anti-war march as part of their “Veterans Day” program. Said march to be held at the same place and time as the official one.”

And this year I expected to say roughly the same thing, except now that I have worked with them in some actions here in Boston, down in Washington D.C. in front of the Winter Palace (oops, the White House) in some civil disobedience actions, and in front of the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia in defense of the heroic Army private, Bradley Manning, that copy-cat approach doesn’t seem adequate. And here is why.

For an anti-war war veteran there are two kinds of ways to call oneself a veteran. The obvious one is to have “gone into the service,” as my grandmother (and probably many, too many, other grandmothers as well) used to say. The other is to be a veteran of the kind of anti-war actions described above. And, in the old days (the VVAW days) we used to say that kind of veteran service with a certain knowing snicker. A snicker like it was good to know, know finally, that you were on the side of the angels. And so to put paid to this piece let me finish with a story, a story about how a few god men and women kept on the right side of those angels just recently here in Boston.

Everybody with a pulse knows that there is a populist movement that has swept part of America (and the world) this fall looking for a little social justice and an end to the 1% takes all system we have lived under all our lives, the Occupy movement. An attentive news reader also knows that part of the publicity generated around the movement centers on establishing encampments in cities, large and small, in order to dramatize the pressing needs of the great majority of people. Here in Boston that started on September 31, 2011 with successful occupation of a section of the Rose Kennedy Greenway at Dewey Square near South Station. On October 10th elements within the movement attempted to expand the encampment another block and pitched tents accordingly. This “affrontery” set Boston Mayor Thomas Menino into spasms and he ordered out his Cossacks (a. k. a. cops) to disband the rabble, forthwith. At a General Assembly (the decision-making body that drives the camp and the political perspectives) that evening the overwhelming majority of those present and voting voted to defend the second site. As result in the dead of night (about 2:00 AM) the Mayor’s horde descended on the campsite in full combat regalia to arrest the peaceful assembly waiting to defend the site. Some one hundred and forty people were arrested that early morning.

That is the back story, and is more or less widely known by now. What is less well known is that a contingent of veterans, almost all veterans of previous civil disobediences actions, had determined one more time to defend something. This time not the mythical home and country but “family,” a family of mainly younger people who were not as well- versed in cop madness, or the niceties of the nightstick as these veterans. And so as is called for when an encampment is set up in enemy territory that contingent set up a perimeter on the pathway in front of the camp in the direction from which the attack was expected. And it came. The veterans, some of who were arrested and others who were merely pushed aside, or to the ground, “defended” the camp, honorably . And you now know why anything I expected to say about this years Veterans Day anti-war gathering on November 11th pales in comparison. A few good women and men, indeed. And I say that without a snicker today.

Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal Of All U.S. Troops From Afghanistan! Hands Off Iran!-Hands Off The World!

Friday, November 11, 2011

***Out In The 1950s Crime Night-The Rich, The Very Rich Are Different From You And Me-“Blackout”-A Film Review

Click on the headline to link to a Turner Classic Movies entry for the 1954 film, Blackout.

Blackout, starring Dane Clark, Belinda Lee, Hammer Film Productions, 1954

There is a fall guy born every minute, especially fall guys who will jump through hoops when they are down on their luck. Especially when said hoops are held by foxy-looking young blonde dames (although they do not have to be blonde, okay). That is the premise that drives much of the film under review, Blackout. That boy meets girl story and the hard fact of life that the just rich, very rich, and super-rich are different, and in this case, very different from you and I.

Now here is the “skinny.” Casey (played by Dane Clark) is a down and out American looking, well, looking for something in the post-World War II and he figures London is just as good a place as any to land. Naturally a down and out guy has to figure things out and what better place to do so than at a bar, a bar that just happens to have a fetching and rich blonde damsel in distress, Phyllis (played by Belinda Lee), looking to get married and willing to pay for that status for her own reasons. He accepts, although as fate would have it he winds up with a case of blackout (hence the title of the film) dumped in some doorway groggy for his efforts (and befriended by a very independent starving woman artist who lives on the other side of that door, who is only tangentially connected with the nefarious doings going on). And the chase is on. Why? Phyllis’ rich, very rich, father has been murdered that very marriage night and guess who the prime suspect, the numero uno fall guy, is?

Needless to say, patsy or not, this calls for drastic action to recoup his honor (and to stay out of the slammer) by our boy Casey. But, as usual, everybody and their brother (or sister) has a motive, and an ax to grind including that fetching blonde who lured him in. Who to trust (or not trust) while evading the coppers in the black and white dreary streets and cooped-up apartments of 1950s London drives the plot. And what drives the main villain, by the way not the blonde beauty no way although she makes Casey think twice about it a couple of times, is the need to have plenty of dough. That is where that point about the rich being different, very different, comes in and you can watch the film to figure the why of that out.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

***From The #Occupied Boston (#TomemonosBoston) Archives -Day Forty-Two- An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!-Defend All The Occupation Sites And All The Occupiers!–No Mas- The Class-War Lines Are Being Drawn-There Is A Need To Unite And Fight-Random Sights From Life At Dewey Square

Fight-Don’t Starve-We Created The Wealth, Let's Take It Back! Labor And The Oppressed Must Rule!

Somos la Sociedad conformando el 99% -Dewey Square, Cercerde South Station

#Tomemonos Boston se reuniarin en el Dewey Square en Downtown Boston a discutir cambios que la ciudadania puede hacer en el gobierno que afecte un cambio social positivo.
Markin comment November 9, 2011:

“Hey brother, can you help me put this tarp over my tent? It got cold as hell last night and the winds were blowing fierce,” yelled a youthfully-faced male, but now a few weeks-seasoned Occupy Boston grizzly veteran resident to a middle-aged man casually walking by. “Sure thing, let’s get to it” replied that passer-by.

“Can you bring this hot pot of soup to the kitchen? Some lady, a lady who would not give her name and would not acknowledge anything but thanks, drove up on the Atlantic Avenue side and asked me to unload some stuff for her,” said one young woman in shorts to another young woman dressed for colder climates.

“If you want a meal, a nice hot meal, could you wash some dishes to help us out,” barked, barked above the din in front of him, a man who had daily volunteered to help out in the makeshift kitchen. And a couple of older guys, older guys who knew the streets and the lore of the streets backward and forward, stepped behind the tent and got to work while another passed on the request.

“Man, play us a Hendrix tune on that thing, ‘cause you are smokin’, man” earnestly requested a young bearded man, obviously a student, an ardent musical student from the look of him. “Okay man, if you play a little drum behind me.” came the reply from the reincarnation of Jimi, complete with tie-dyed headband to hold his head together.

“Say, can I have cigarette, man, I’m out?” said another older man weary, street weary, getting ready to enter a tent to catch a few winks. “I’m rolling Bull, okay?,” answered a red-headed dread-locked young man.

Such were, are, the random sights and sounds of the Occupy Boston encampment on any given day, or any given minute if you can be in seven places at one time, as the camp continues to organize itself in the tradition of the old westward pioneers seeking that great American west night, and still are seeking it generations later.

“Hey man, don’t be cheap give me a fucking cigarette, I’m all shaky,” shouted out a razor- edged guy, obviously working off some hang-over, although not necessarily an alcoholic or drug one. “I’m down to my last one, what the fuck do you want from me,” came the surly reply. And the tension passed away in the midday air.

“This place is neat, three squares and a cot, and nobody hassles you and you don’t have to work for your grub, or nothing,” murmured a street veteran to no one in particular in a crowd of suburban tourists who have made the site at Dewey Square a place on their “must see” map.

“You had better stay the fuck away from my woman, and stay way away,” threatened a young guy, a young white guy, not a street guy, not a student but just the kind of guy who drifts in and out of things. “Fuck you and your woman,” came the reply from a young Spanish-looking dude who had daggers in his eyes as the two nearly came to blows. Just then someone yelled “rainbow” and several people appeared to calm the situation down.

This too is a part of the “new world a-borning” as not everybody is quite ready yet to shift gears, or just has too much, much too much, baggage from old bourgeois society to make the leap of faith just yet.

Five minutes ago the sidewalk along the Atlantic Avenue side of the encampment was deserted, a lonely yellow-jacketed cop shifting back and forth on his heels to make his duty time pass more quickly. Now the first sign of the day, “Tax The Rich,” along with it human holder, here a well-dressed, well-reserved older woman, a woman who looks like she has seen many battles for social justice in her time hits the sidewalk. And her action acts as a catalyst because now here come a couple of young students carrying a banner-“Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” one of the anthems of the Occupy movement, to stand beside her. They smile, she smiles, nothing more is needed they understand each other completely.

Then a convoy of about twelve middle-aged and older Universalist-Unitarians from out in some suburban town, who have rented a bus for the occasion, begin filling in the sidewalk with their “peace, this,” “peace, that,” “good will toward all” signs. Upon investigation this group had made a solemn decision to come weekly to Boston to stand in solidarity with the efforts in Dewey Square.

A few minutes later, from out of nowhere, came a nomadic resident of the “village” with a plateful of cookies, chocolate chip perhaps, and offers them to those “working the line” on Atlantic Avenue.

An older model automobile, frankly a heap, driven by a menacing-looking man in lumberjack jacket with fierce eyes stopped just in front of the entrance to the encampment and yells out, “Hey, when do I put these sleeping bags, tarps, shovels, and pots? I can’t stay but I am with you, with you all the way.” Of such acts by such desperate looking men, revolutions are made, big-time revolutions.

Toward late afternoon the Atlantic Avenue traffic gets heavier, bumper to bumper, as people try to leave the city, and city cares behind. A guy in a big dump truck, a flat-top hair cut showing yells out, “Get a job” at a group of street people standing on the avenue. Later a pedestrian muttered to that cop on duty, who was still rocking his heel, about how he payed taxes and isn’t it a shame what these people are up to. The call of the day though goes to a guy, a light-skinned Cuban-looking guy in a late model sports car driving on the far right lane away from the encampment, who yells out, “Commies, go back to where you came from.” Ya, I know not everybody got the news, not everybody gets what is going on, and not everybody, despite the sleek street slogan of ninety-nine percent is with us. But just remember that guy, that lumberjack jacket guy who gave what he had, and gave all the way.

***Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- When The Music’s Over-On The 41st Anniversary Of Janis Joplin’s Death

A YouTube film clip of Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company performing the bluesy classic, Piece Of My Heart.

Classic Rock : 1968: Shakin’ All Over, various artists, Time-Life Music, 1989

Scene: Brought to mind by a the cover art on this CD of a Janis Joplin-like female performer belting out some serious blues rock in the heat of the “Generation of ‘68” night.

Josh Breslin (a. k. a. the Prince of Love, although some yellow bus wit made a joke of that moniker calling him the Prince of Lvov, some Podunk town in Poland, or some place like that) was weary, weary as hell, road- weary, drug-weary, Captain Crunch’s now Big Sur–based magical mystery tour, merry prankster, yellow brick road bus-weary, even hanging around with his “papa,” “Far-Out” Phil Larkin who had gotten him through some pretty rough spots weary. Hell, he was girl-weary too, girl weary ever since his latest girlfriend, Gypsy Lady (nee Phyllis McBride), decided that she just had to go back to her junior year of college at Berkeley in order to finish some paper on the zodiac signs and their meaning for the new age rising. Ya, okay Gypsy, do what you have to do. Moreover this summer of 1968, June to be exact, after a year bouncing between summers of love, autumns of drugs, winters of discontent, and springs of political madness what with Johnson’s resignation, Robert Kennedy’s assassination piled on to that of King’s had taken a lot out of him, including his weight, weight loss that his already slim runner’s frame could not afford.

Moreover, now the chickens were coming home to roost. Before he had joined Captain Crunch’s merry prankster crew in San Francisco, got “on the bus,” in the youth nation tribal parlance, last summer he had assumed that he would enter State U in the fall (University of Maine, for those who did not know). After a summer of love with Butterfly Swirl though (his temperature rose every time he thought about her and her cute little tricks to get him going sexually even now) and then a keen interest in a couple of other young women before Gypsy Lady landed on him, some heavy drug experiences that he was still trying to figure out, his start–up friendship with Phil, and the hard fact that he just did not want to go home now that he had found “family” he decided that he needed to “see the world” for a while instead. And he had, at least enough to weary him.

What he did not figure on, or what got blasted into the deep recesses of his brain just a couple of days ago, was a letter from his parents with a draft notice from his local board enclosed. Hell’s bells he had better get back, weary or not, and get some school stuff going real fast, right now fast. There was one thing for sure, one nineteen-year old Joshua Peter Breslin, Olde Saco, Maine High School Class of 1967, was not going with some other class of young men to ‘Nam to be shot at, or to shoot.

Funny, Josh thought, as he mentally prepared himself for the road back to Olde Saco, how the past couple of months had just kind of drifted by and that he really was ready to get serious. The only thing that had kind of perked him up lately was Ruby Red Lips (nee Sandra Kelly), who had just got “on the bus” from someplace down South like Georgia, or Alabama and who had a great collection of blues records that he was seriously getting into (as well as seriously into Ruby although she seemed slow, very slow, to get his message). Josh, throughout high school and even on the bus, was driven by rock ‘n’ roll. Period. He got surprised one day when he heard Ruby playing Shake, Rattle, and Roll. He asked, “Is that Carl Perkins?” Ruby laughed, laughed a laugh that he found appealing and said, “No silly, that's the king of be-bop blues, Big Joe Turner. Want to hear more stuff?” And that was that. Names like Skip James, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters and Little Walter started to fill his musical universe.

What got him really going though were the women singers, Sippie Wallace, mad Bessie Smith, a whole bunch of other barrelhouse blues-singers named Smith, Memphis Minnie and the one that really, really got to him, “Big Mama” Thornton. The latter belting out a bluesy rendition of Hound Dog that made Elvis' seem kind of punk, and best of all Piece Of My Heart.

Then one night Ruby took him to club over in Monterrey, the Blue Note, a club for young blues talent, mainly, that was a stepping-stone to getting work at the Monterrey Pop Festival each year. There he heard, heard if you can believe this, some freckled, red-headed whiskey-drinking off the hip girl, ya just a wisp of a girl, from Podunk, Texas, or maybe Oklahoma who was singing Big Mama’s Piece of My Heart. And then Ball and Chain, Little School Girl, and Little Red Rooster. Hell, she had the joint jumping until the early hours for just as long as guys kept putting drinks in front of her. What a night, what a blues singer.

Just now though Ruby Red Lips came over to him, kind of perky and kind of with that look in her that he was getting to catch on to when a girl was interested in him and said, “Hey, Janis, that singer from the Blue Note, is going to be at Monterrey Pops next month with a band to back her up, want to go? And, do you want to go to the Blue Note with me tonight?” After answering, yes, yes, to both those questions the Prince of Love (and not some dinky Lvov either) figured he could go back to old life Olde Saco by late August and still be okay but he had better grab Ruby now while he could.