Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Sex Lives Of Physicists-Steven J. Hawking’s The Theory Of Everything

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman


The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, 2014     

No question one the striking and permanent questions that humankind has ponders since the beginning of existence, put many different ways depending of what is known, is how the universe was formed. In the old days that was a “no-brainer” because of course God did the deed and that ended the question, perhaps. But when humankind put aside that part of the question the guys and gals who were still interested in how it was formed had a field day, and are still doing so waiting for the next big idea to take root. For now though people, or rather professional observers, physicists and astronomers, are hovering around the black hole theory and the rest of us are going along. And the film under review, The Theory of Everything, the bio-pic rather semi-bio-pic of the extraordinary physicist Steven J. Hawking based on a memoir by his ex-wife Jane goes a long way to acknowledging his efforts at pitching that theory to the scientific community.    

Of course that is not the only part the story that gets played out here since, except for nerds and geeks and their hangers-on, a story about a guy and a scientific theory would be a “snorer.” What makes this film’s plotline extraordinary is that Hawking (played by Eddie Redmayne) plugged on while suffering the debilitating effects of motor neuron disease which almost took his life and did take his voice and some other functions. So even if you are a little weak on your late unlamented attempts at understanding high school physics you can still appreciate the human struggle against all odds to survive that this ordeal thrown his way. (He was not expected to live more than a couple of years back in the 1960s when he developed the disease but as of 2015 he is still with us, hats off.)  

Better yet this film avoids the “snorer” problem that Hollywood dreads and which follows films about science guys by putting plenty of romance, even if awkward and geeky romance, in the story-line. Everybody can get into the boy-girl thing (or all the contemporary other relationship combinations which produce a romance) and wonder, star-gazing wonder if you like, how Hawking and his wife, Jane (played by Felicity Jones) got through the whole thing as well as they did, and for as long as they did. Wonder too if we are missing something in that star-gazing when we undercover stuff about the sex lives of those geeky physicists in this film. See this one.


Friday, June 26, 2015

You’re Innocent When You Dream-Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole’s How To Steal A Million

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

How To Steal A Million, starring Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole, Eli Wallach, 1966

I have often commented on the fact that no question the late 1930s, early 1940s were the golden age of screwball romantic comedies with such treats as It Happened One Night and Sullivan’s Travels just to name a couple. And I stand by that proposition as I review another screwball romantic comedy from the 1960s, How To Steal A Million. Maybe during the 1930s it was because movie audiences desperately needed a few hours off from the class struggle or just the struggle to get by day to day but this fatted calf 1960s effort lacks that pulling power despite the fine cast.

Here’s the story line and maybe you can figure out why the thing fell a little flat. Bonnet, a high end French art forger (although art forgers are not always French), is a little bored with ripping off the culturati with his fake paintings and decides to show the world a sculpture, a fake by his father of Cellini’s Venus in public in a well-known Paris museum. Daughter Nicole (played by fetching there is no other word for her, Audrey Hepburn) flips out at the idea since this stunt will get his a long stretch in the infamous French prisons, maybe Devil’s Island if that was the throw of the dice, but someplace harsh. The good Bonnet proceeds anyway despite Nicole’s trepidations. As it turned out various law enforcement officials and reputable art dealers are on his trail, especially one Simon Dermott (played by he of the Lawrence of Arabia blue eyes, Peter O’Toole). He is out to stop Bonnet in his tracks, and clean up the art world a little. And that was an admirable ambition until he saw the fetching Nicole and was, well, smitten right off (and nobody on this good green earth could blame him taking the fall).                    

Here’s the tricky part though, an American art collector Davis Leland (played by versatile actor Eli Wallach) is crazy to have that Cellini for his vaults and is bound and determined to get the object by fair means or foul. Along the way Leland plays with Nicole to use her to get what he wants. Nicole though is worried, worried to perdition, that dear old Dad is a goner so she tries, tries not very hard as the case turned out to have the dashing blue-eyed Simon cook up a plot to steal the statute from the museum and keep Dad out of the Bastille. And, well, smitten Simon takes the leap, falls for those brown moon-glow eyes.

The rest of film is filled with little off-hand capers (and kisses) as Simon goes low tech, very low tech by today’s security standards in order to steal the thing. And as such things go, cinematically anyway, Simon pulls the caper off. And guess who gets the fake Cellini. And guess who gets Nicole. And guess who is not going to be having a diet of bread and water. Sure there were some madcap moments but the tension that held the 1930s romantic comedies audience in thrall even though they too knew the boy was going to get the girl or vice-versa is lacking here. Still I wouldn’t mind having been in Simon’s shoes, wouldn’t have minded at all.           

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

For Father's Day-Semper Fidelis, Yeah, Always Faithful-For Lawrence James Jackman


From The Pen Of Bart Webber

Frank Jackman freaked out as he jogged that early pre-dawn morning along the previously untrodden pavement before him, “freaked out” a term not now currently in use but an old expression picked up in the 1960s counter-cultural night out in the West, probably San Francisco, where many such terms were coined in the drug-filled blue-pink night. After the freak-out subsided, and still jogging to clear his thoughts, he began flash-thinking back to the long ago events that had caused this particular freak-out, that unfinished family business that never got resolved and for a long time now had been placed on hold in the deep recesses of his mind since he could no longer do anything about making things right.  Making things right like he had done with lots of other bad situations that he tried to make amends for as he got older, getting on an even keel after decades of statutory neglect with his old growing up town days, his old high school feeling left out and aliened days, his old corner boys petty crime and midnight shifter days, a few old flames that he had abandoned days, a few whom he had left high and dry, very high and dry days, a couple of ex-wives left in the lurch when he headed wherever he was heading and with who days, and a couple of his siblings short-changed days, and then honed in on the thought of that unresolved business that very well could have been resolved or at least put on an even keel too.

Then head down in thought still moving along out of some unconscious impulse he shed a tear in the darkest hour before the dawn on that unfamiliar roadway, a tear not learned in the West but learned in his po’ boy growing up in the East, shed a tear stumbling in the dark to find the sidewalk in front of him like some night-hunter before him for all that he had not done or said, not done or said to his father, Lawrence Jackman, in the long ago when he had the chance. Strange, freaking out, shedding that tear just that early morning since in the past he seldom thought of his father long gone to a sad unacknowledged grave thirty years before.

Once you hear the circumstances, once you hear what happened that morning as Frank related it to over drinks one night in Boston few days later, then you will probably agree that the freak-out and that shed tear were not out of order. Agree with me too since I knew his father, not well as in those days fathers were distant figures, when we were growing together in Carver, a town about thirty miles south of Boston.

This is the back story of how that freak-out spilled out of Frank’s inner workings and why that tear had been shed. Frank had, as he had for many years now, ever since his military service during the Vietnam War, been active one way or another in the anti-war movements against the hubris of American governmental foreign policy that crisscrossed his life. Been active as kind of a penance, an act of atonement for what he had had to do then, had to do because he got caught up in lots of things he did not understand, did not inquire about even as he had feelings deep down that the thing was wrong, that he was not built to be a killing machine against people who had done him no harm. But he had nothing in his life, schooling, way of living that would have directed the better instincts of his nature to another course then (and he was not alone once you hear the stories of the guys who got caught up in that war machine without really knowing how to resist the damn thing then, or wanting to in their patriotic working-class neighborhoods). He was damn well sure that he would get the message out loud and clear to forewarn new generations about the nefarious doings of the American government whenever he could. Other governments too but as the old Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che” Guevara, a hero of the Cuban Revolution and periodically an iconic hero to the young desperately in need of self-less heroic figures in their fights against a world they did not create, said of those radicals and revolutionaries who work in the States that they were in the “belly of the beast” and needed to slay that dragon first and foremost to insure the safety of the rest of the world.

Frank had paid attention to a call from various peace and social justice groups who set up a Facebook page for the event and who were sponsoring an anti-war rally in front of the White House on March 21st to coincide with the 12th anniversary of the start of the second Iraq War in 2003 in Washington, D.C. (he would let ride his feeling that the whole Iraq quagmire really had been a continuously on-going war since the first days of 1991 and let the “official” twelve years stand in mute commemoration). So he had once against travelled the well-worn road from his home in York, Maine to D.C. in order to participate once again, to “show the colors” as an old biker friend who had saved his bacon and that of others in ‘Nam, Jeff Crawford, who did not make it back to the “real world” after that experience winding up face down on a bloody road just south of Carlsbad, California after a botched liquor store robbery in 1976 always used to say while they were on guard duty about the biker gang that he hung with around in Ellsworth up by Bar Harbor. You just had to let people know you were even if small in number alive and well, and ready to raise in-you-face hell about the matter.

Of course in order to “show the colors” these days unlike in the old days when for a number of years after he had been discharged from the Army in order to show he had gotten “religion” on the issues of war and peace Frank would sojourn down to D.C. at the drop of a hat hitchhiking when that mode of transportation was less of a hassle, when you could thumb without being either picked up by the cops as a “vag” or in fear of getting pick up by weirdos and psychos. Later when the open roads were not save by some rickety long ass ride siting inevitably beside a snorer, a huge guy, or some mother with a kid on her lap bus. Now by plane though. And, truth too, he no longer slept on some young local D.C. volunteer’s living room floor in his old army sleeping bag (not from ‘Nam” days but of World War II vintage bought at an Army-Navy store in Cambridge when he knew he was going to be on many living room floors, or in the anteroom of some welcoming church, some Quaker meeting house or some Universalist or Unitarian church before they joined forces, or in Rock Creek Park if nothing was available but now a cheap but clean motel. This motel was locate just over the Potomac River from D.C. in Arlington, Virginia, one that he had not used previously.

Frank had since his retirement from a government job in the Boston area a couple of years before taken up again his old-time habit of running, really jogging to put a proper name to what it felt like to him as the youngsters passed him by with ease, even chucky kids, which he had started as a kid to get out of the house and to get out some of his home-life teenage angst and alienation frustrations but had not done so for a number of years before starting up again for the same reasons except put oldster in front of the reasons rather than teenager. He had jogged in D.C. previously but in a different location so as he left his motel that dark morning he was trending new ground although he had an idea that he wanted to head toward the Potomac to try and catch the running trails that he knew dotted the river.  

He had gotten up before six in the morning on the Saturday of the day of the protest, his usually tried to do his running when he his wobbly legs had some spring in them, and figured that he would head to the Memorial Bridge and into DC for a bit having seen a sign on a street close to the motel the afternoon before saying that the bridge was about a mile or so away. So he had started in that direction in the very dark before the dawn. As he picked his way through what seemed like a park he noticed to his left a strong white light illuminating something and as he approached his heart sank for the white light was jumping off of the famous iconic Iwo Jima Memorial to the fallen Marines of World War II (and other wars, excursions, interventions, invasions, and occupations) and that is when he freaked out.

At first Frank thought about how he had never been this close to the monument, had considered that he had not had previous occasion, and no desire, to see the sight (and seeing the monument up close made him cringe since this outfit had been involved in every nefarious war and skirmish since back in American revolution times as inscribed for all to see at the base). Frank knew it represented a big moment in the last stages of the Pacific War Theater of World War II and that it had ever since been forever etched in every schoolboy’s mind (now schoolgirls too, he figured) as a sign of gritty determination, and of another way of “showing the colors” since the whole point had been to capture the hill and plant the flag and thus show the Japanese who were kings of the hill. He also had previously only known the story of one of the soldiers planting the flag, a Puma Indian from out in Arizona, a Native American who was treated just like every other “injun” when he got back and wound up just another dead drunk in some stinking sullen arroyo out in the low desert.

Moving past that monument Frank began to well up thinking about his father, his poor bedraggled father, who had been a Marine too during World War II just like the guys in the white-lighted group statute, who had fought and survived in Guadalcanal in 1942. Had taken his fair share of hardships in other Pacific battles (as also separately noted on the base of that statute) and did his duty as he saw it. Did his duty as he saw it and like a lot of other fathers from World War II, hell, like Frank in ‘Nam, didn’t want to talk about it, said they did what they had to do and that was that.

Thought too about when his poor father told him a story from before the war when Frank was young and inquisitive and wanted to know how he got into the Marines and why he wound up in Boston. See his father was not from Boston, not from the North at all, he had been born and raised in coal country, born down in Hazard in Kentucky, Hazard of famous labor struggles and folksong. He had been working in the coal mines when Pearl Harbor happened. Lawrence Jackman had not thought twice about joining the Marines when the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor rather than continue in the deadly coal fields, said he would rather take his chances against the Japanese than against the coal dust, and he never looked back. Toward the end of the war he had been assigned to a naval depot at Portsmouth, New Hampshire and one weekend had travelled to Boston where he attended a USO dance and met Laura Riley, Frank’s mother who was from Carver, about thirty miles south of Boston. So yeah, he never looked back. 

Although Frank though that morning something that he had never thought before, maybe Lawrence Jackman, his long underrated father, should have looked back since he never drew a break in this this wicked old world once he decided to stay in the North after the war at Laura’s insistence. Never got in on that golden age of American labor that a lot of families bought into, and were rewarded with a few of life’s goods like a private home, a decent automobile and some nice vacations and entertainments. See Lawrence was uneducated, barely finishing elementary school before he hit the mines to help his struggling nine children motherless family. The hard luck push was that the Boston labor market was in no need of very good coalminers, and so he was always shuffled off into some last hired, first fired unskilled jobs making no money, forced to live in public housing for long enough for the culture of poverty, for the never-ending “wanting habits” that accumulate down at the base of society to grip his kids. See he and Laura produced four close-in-age fast-growing sons who made one Lawrence Jackman continuously fret about feeding and housing his own. Add to that a deeply disappointed Laura Jackman who expected to rise when all the boats were rising in the 1950s and you had some explosive situations, you had some very tense times around the Jackman household. And as those four sons came of age they created endless heartaches for their father, a couple going to jail, another put in a mental hospital after too much craziness on the outside and Frank, well Frank was nothing but a corner boy and just smart enough to stay out of the state’s institutions but not smart enough to see that his actions were killing his father since his father had pinned his hopes on him.  Although Lawrence Jackman never wavered as a family man, took whatever life’s bitches had to offer him in sullen distant silence.     

Several years before, back in 2009 after Frank had received news from a family member that his estranged mother had passed away and thereafter he had taken a trip down to the Carver Heights cemetery to pay his last respects to her if not in life then in death. While there noticed that on his father’s adjacent grave site somebody, or rather some organization as he found out later, had placed an additional stone beside the traditional headstone denoting his service as a Marine in World War II. (He on a return trip would place a Marine Corps flag next to that stone as a physical token that Lawrence James Jackman had done his duty as he saw it and that someone beside the Marine Corps Association recognized that fact.) Reflecting the sadness of the moment Frank had shortly thereafter written a post hoc letter to his mother to be sent to family members in an attempt to finally reconcile with his mother, even if from beyond the grave. Filled with emotion during that period about what had gone awry in the nuclear Jackman family Frank had also written a belated obituary for his father to be passed around to those who knew him and to the family around Father’s Day trying to put paid to the grief he had caused that worthy man. This is what Frank had to say:

In honor of Lawrence James Jackman, 1920-1990, Sergeant, United States Marine Corps, World War II, Pacific Theater and, perhaps, for other Carver World War II veteran   fathers too.

I have always turned red, turned bluster, fluster, embarrassed, internal red, red with shame, red at this time of the year, this father’s day time of the year, when I have thought about my own father, the late Lawrence James Jackman. And through those shades of red I have thought, sometimes hard, sometimes just a flicker thought passing, too close, too red close to continue on, to think about the things that I never said to my father, about what never could be said to him, and above all, because when it came right down to it since we might as well have been on different planets, what could not be comprehended when said. But although death has now separated us by some twenty years I still turn red, more internal red these days, when I think about the slivers of talk that could have been talked, usefully said. And I, Francis Mark Jackman, will go to my own grave having that hang over my father’s day thoughts.

But just this minute, just this pre-Father’s Day minute, I want to call a truce to my red-faced shame, internal or otherwise, and pay public tribute, pay belated public tribute to Lawrence James Jackman, and maybe it will rub off on others too. And just maybe cut the pain of the thought of having those unsaid things hang over me until the grave.

See, here’s the funny part, the funny part now, about speaking, publicly or privately, about my father, at least when I think  about the millions of children around who are, warm-heartedly, preparing to put some little gift together for the “greatest dad in the world.” And of other millions, who are preparing, or better, fortifying themselves in preparation for that same task for dear old dad, although with their teeth grinding. I cannot remember, or refuse to remember, a time for eons when I, warm-heartedly or grinding my teeth, prepared anything for my father’s Father’s Day, except occasional grief that might have coincided with that day’s celebration. No preparation was necessary for that. That was all in a Frank’s day’s work, my hellish corner boy day’s work or, rather, night’s work, the sneak thief in the night work, later turned into more serious criminal enterprises. But the really funny part, ironic maybe, is grief-giving, hellish corner boy sneak thief, or not, one Lawrence James Jackman, deserves honor, no, requires honor today because by some mysterious process, by some mysterious transference I, in the end, was deeply formed, formed for the better by that man.

And you see, and it will perhaps come as no surprise that I was estranged from my family for many years, many teenage to adult years and so that my father’s influence, the “better angel of his nature,” influence had to have come very early on. I, even now, maybe especially now, since I have climbed a few mountains of pain, of hard-wall time served, and addictions to get here, do not want to go into the details of that fact, just call them ugly, as this memorial is not about Frank Jackman and his tribulations in the world, but Lawrence Jackman’s.

Here is what needs to be told though because something in that mix, that Lawrence Jackman gene mix, is where the earth’s salts mingled to spine me against my own follies when things turned ugly later in my life. Lawrence James Jackman, that moniker almost declaring that here was a southern man, as my name was a declaration that I was a son of a southern man, came out of the foothills of Kentucky, Appalachian Kentucky. The hills and hollows of Hazard, Kentucky to be exact, in the next county over from famed, bloody coal wars, class struggle, which-side-are-you-on Harlan County, but still all hard-scrabble coal-mining country famous in story and song- the poorest of the poor of white Appalachia-the “hillbillies.” And the poorest of the poor there, or very close to it, was my father’s family, his four brothers and four sisters, his elderly father and his too young step-mother. Needless to say, but needing to be said anyway, my father went to the mines early, had little formal schooling and was slated, like generations of the Jackman clan before him, to live a short, brutish, and nasty life, scrabbling hard, hard for the coal, hard for the table food, hard for the roof over his head, hard to keep the black lung away, and harder still to keep the company wolves away from his shack door. And then the Great Depression came and things got harder still, harder than younger ears could understand today, or need to hear just now.

At the start of World War II my father jumped, jumped with both feet running once he landed, at the opportunity to join the Marines in the wake of Pearl Harbor, had fought his fair share of battles in the Pacific Theater, including Guadalcanal, although he, like many men of his generation, was extremely reticent to talk about his war experiences. By the vagaries of fate in those up-ending times my father eventually was stationed at the huge Portsmouth Naval Depot up in New Hampshire before being discharged at the end of the war, a make-shift transport naval base about one hundred miles from Carver.

I have to interrupt my train of thought for a minute as I just chuckled to myself when I think about my father’s military service, thought about one of the few times when my father and I had had a laugh together. My father often recounted that things were so tough in Hazard, in the mines of Hazard, in the slag heap existence of Hazard, that in a “choice” between continuing in the mines and daily facing death at Tojo’s or Hitler’s hands that he picked the latter, gladly, and never looked back. Part of that never looking back, of course, was the attraction of Laura Riley (Carver High School Class of 1941), my mother whom my father met while stationed at Portsmouth after meeting at a USO dance in Boston. They married shortly thereafter, had four sons, my late brother, Jubal, killed many years ago while engaged in an attempted armed robbery, me, ex-sneak thief, ex-dope-dealer, ex-addict, ex-Vietnam wounded soldier, ex-, well, enough of ex’s, a younger brother, Prescott, now serving time at one of the Massachusetts state correctional institutions as a repeat offender, and Kenneth who drifted off one day at sixteen and never came back. Not a pretty picture but over for him now. Well, not quite, whatever my father might have later thought about his decision to leave the hellhole of the Appalachian hills. He was also a man, as that just mentioned family resume hints at, who never drew a break, not at work, not through his sons, not in anything.

I am not quite sure how to put it in words that are anything but spilled ashes since it would be put differently, much differently in this year of 2009 than in, let’s say, 1971, or 1961 but I have thought of it this way when I tried to write the sentiment I want to express here several years ago and could not quite it in words then:

“My father was a good man, he was a hard- working man when he had work, and he was a devoted family man. But go back to the point about where he was from, from down in Appalachia. He was also an uneducated man with no skills for the Boston labor market. There was no call for a coal miner's skills in Boston after World War II so he was reduced to unskilled, last hired, first fired jobs. This was, and is, not a pretty fate for a man with hungry mouths to feed. And stuck in the old Carver Housing Authority apartments, come on now let’s call a thing by its real name, real recognizable name, “the projects,” the place for the poorest of the poor, Carver version, to boot.

“To get out from under a little and to share in the dream, the high heaven dream, working poor post-World War II dream, of a little house, no matter how little, of one’s own if only to keep the neighbor’s loud business from one’s door Laura,  proud, stiffly Irish 1930s Depression stable working-class proud Laura, worked. Laura worked mother’s night shifts at one of the first Carver Dunkin’ Donuts filling jelly donuts for hungry travelers in order to scrap a few pennies together to buy an old, small, rundown house, on the wrong side of the tracks, on Maple Street for those who remember that locale, literally right next to the old Bay Lines railroad tracks. So the circle turned and the Jackman family returned back to the Carver of Laura’s youth.”

“I grow pensive when I think, or rather re-think, about the toll that the inability to be the sole breadwinner (no big deal now with an almost mandatory two working-parents existence- but important for a man of his generation) took on the man's pride. A wife filling damn jelly donuts, Jesus.

 “And it never really got better for my father from there as his four boys grew to manhood, got into more trouble, got involved with more shady deals, acquired more addictions, and showered more shame on the Lawrence Jackman name than needs to be detailed here. Let’s just say it had to have caused him more than his fair share of heartache. He never said much about it though, in the days when we were still in touch. Never much about why four boys who had more food, more shelter, more education, more prospects, more everything that a Hazard po’ boy couldn’t see straight if their lives depended on it, who led the corner boy life for all it was worth and in the end had nothing but ashes, and a father’s broken heart to show for it. No, he never said much, and I haven’t heard from other sources that he ever said much (Laura was a different story, but this is my father’s story so enough of that). Why? Damn, they were his boys and although they broke his heart they were his boys. That is all that mattered to him and so that, in the end, is how I know, whatever I will carry to my own grave, my father must have forgiven me.

“I am getting internal red again so I have decided that it is time to close this tribute. To go on in this vain would be rather maudlin. Although the old man was unlike me with the Army, he was always a Marine, and he was always closer to the old Marine Corps slogan than I could ever be - Semper Fi- "always faithful." Yes, I think some historic justice had finally been done, that expression is a good way to end this. Except to say something that should have been shouted from the Carver rooftops long ago- “Thanks Dad, you did the best you could.”

Now you know why Frank Jackman shed that tear, that tear for his lost youth, for all the things he did not do, did not say when he had the chance and so maybe you should shed a tear for Semper Fi Lawrence Jackman too.


Monday, June 15, 2015

In The Golden Age Of Screw-Ball Comedies-Carole Lombard’s Nothing Sacred

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Nothing Sacred, starring Carole Lombard, Fredric March, directed by William Wellman, 1937  

No question the laugh-hungry 1930s Great Depression audiences were entertained by films which represented the golden age of classic screw-ball comedies from the likes of directors Preston Sturgis, Frank Capra and William Wellman the director of the film under review Nothing Sacred, done in early Technicolor (the first such screwball comedy). No question as well that the subject of the media and its foibles, excesses and dishonesties, then and now, are a fit subject for screwball comedy in any age (although one has to go some to be Cary Grant’s The Front Page from that same period). And no question no screw-ball comedy is worth a damn if there isn’t a little romance thrown in to insure a happy ending for those laugh-hungry Great Depression audiences. That my friends is the trifecta.     

Here’s the scoop. Wally Cook (played here rather stiffly by Fredric March who usually played characters with a certain gravitas) a from hunger no-hold-barred field reporter for any newspaper USA in any town USA (although the actual setting in the film is New York City) got burned, got burned badly trying to stage a society charity hoax to run a story to the ground and make a name for himself in the big city. As a result he was relegated to the obits, literally the kiss-of-death for any hot-shot reporter on the make. By hook or by crook he inveigled the big boss to let him run with a story about a woman in Vermont, Hazel Flagg, (played by Carol Lombard also somewhat stiffly since she was known as a comedy star of sorts) who was allegedly dying of incurable radium poisoning (yeah this is before the atom bomb and all that). Wally swears he will have them (those city fervent newspaper readers) crying for more once he sets the story up, and jump the newspaper’s circulation up to boot. The boss buys into that proposition and Wally is on his way to the sticks.       

Things as they always do in screw-ball comedies, get tricky, get complicated once he gets to Podunk though. See Hazel has been misdiagnosed by her, well, stew-ball doctor and she is not dying. Thus she will miss that trip to New York City with all the trimming that she had dreamed about as a farewell to this world (NYC then, and now too although perhaps less so, a Mecca for those who have not been there before, especially small-town types). No problem though as Hazel decided to play “sick” and take Wally up on that trip offer. And off they go.    

Well New York City and its’ attentions to her are everything she expected, and more. But then things got sticky again. She fell for Wally, fell hard and didn’t know how to tell him she was not going to die. He has fallen for her too so that got things all mixed up until she hit on the “bright” idea of committing suicide, of fading from view before every New Yorker who could read found out she was a hoax. Eventually Wally found out about her real state, found out he has no problem with her “suicide” solution and they go off into the sunset to marital bliss. Sure the plot line had been done before, and since, but here it is all wrapped up in bows for you, wrapped up in good feelings if you were in that Great Depression audience needing a little escape from your own woes.      

Friday, June 12, 2015

Someday We’ll Meet Again In Sunnier Times- Leslie Bank’s Cottage To Let

DVD Review

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Cottage To Let, starring Leslie Banks, Alistair Sims, John Mills, 1941 

No question the Nazi advances on Europe and England during the late 1930s and onward provoked many dreams of far off sunnier days as again the men, mainly, went off to war again for the second time in a generation, and the womenfolk were left behind to fret and help do war preparation work wishing to high heaven that they would indeed meet again some sunnier day as the old Vera Lynn standard had it. And those sunnier days, as this year’s commemoration ceremonies of the Allied victories over the Nazis and their followers, including trained spies and fifth columnists, did come. But it was a near thing as the Nazis tried to move might and main to even up the score in areas where they were deficient. Those attempts to short-cut their way to victory by espionage and fifth columnist work is the subject of the somewhat tongue in cheek and stiff upper lip film under review Cottage To Let.

Here is how the thing played out. Barrington (played by an eccentric Leslie Bank) a great inventor of militarily useful gadgets who insisted on working at home on his Scottish estate had some of his inventions copied, copied quickly by the Nazis. That raised a “red flag” in English military intelligence circles, especially when they got wind that the Germans had sent a spy in to do some nefarious work. That spy (played by John Mills) posing as a wounded English fly boy Lieutenant Perry had a mission to grab Barrington and scoot him out to Berlin or some such cozy place.

But of course a British war film in released in 1941 is not going to let any nasty Nazis take away one of England’s own and so military intelligence sends in a counter-spy Dimble (played simpleton smart by Alastair Sims) to foil their plans. Perry does grab Barrington but by Dimble’s nifty infiltration work they find out where Barrington is being hidden and the gig was up. Impostor Perry in the end went to his just rewards. And that was one little step to those sunnier days Ms. Lynn sang about. The plot line has been done before, and since, and the antics were a little over the top for such a serious subject so it is hard to recommend anybody seeing this one except to see how the British made such films work for the war efforts in those benighted days.                

Monday, June 8, 2015

"America, Where Are You Now...."- Steppenwolf’s The Monster-Take Three



A YouTube Film Clip Of Steppenwolf Performing Monster. Ah, Those Were The Days

From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

Steppenwolf: 16 Greatest Hits, Steppenwolf, Digital Sound, 1990

America where are you now?

Don't you care about your sons and daughters?

Don't you know we need you now

We can't fight alone against the monster

Chorus Line From The Monster

The heavy rock band Steppenwolf (maybe acid rock is better signifying that the band started in the American dream gone awry 1960s night when the likes of the Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, The Byrds and groups like the transformed from muppet Beatles and Stones held forth, rather than in the ebb-tide 1970s when the harder sounds of groups like Aerosmith and Black Sabbath were  needed to drown out the fact that  we were in decisive retreat),  one of many that was thrown up by the musical counter-culture of the mid to late 1960's was a cut above and apart from some of the others due to their scorching lyrics provided mainly, but not solely, by gravelly-voiced lead singer John Kay. That musical counter-culture not only put a premium on band-written materials, as against the old Tin Pan Alley somebody wrote the lyrics, somebody else sang the song division before Bob Dylan and the Beatles made singer-songwriters fashionable) but also was a serious reaction to the vanilla-ization of rock and popular music in the earlier part of the decade that drove many of us from the AM radio dials and into “exotic” stuff like electric blues (country too, come to think of it) and the various strands of folk music.    

Some bands played, consciously played, to the “drop out” notion popular at the times. “Drop out” of rat-race bourgeois society and its money imperative, its “white picket fence with little white house attached” visions. That is the place where many of the young, the post-World War II baby-boomer young, now sadly older, had grown up and were in the process of repudiating for a grander vision of the world, the “world turned upside down” as an old time British folk tune had it. Drop out and create a niche somewhere (a commune maybe out away from the rat-race places which did spring up in the likes of Taos, Oregon, and the hills of old Vermont which if you care to see what hellish thing happened to that old vision once the seers got older you can go to and witness first hand these days), so some physical somewhere perhaps but certainly some other mental somewhere and the music reflected that disenchantment. That mental somewhere involved liberal use of drugs to induce, well, who knows what it induced but it felt like a new state of consciousness so make of that what you will. The drugs used, in retrospect, to make you less “uptight” not a bad thing then, or today. The whole underlying premise though whether well thought out or not was that music, the music of the shamans of the youth tribe, was the revolution. An idea that for a short while before all hell broke loose with the criminal antics of Lyndon Johnson and one Richard M. Nixon, all hell broke loose with Tet, with May 1968, with Chicago 1968, with the “days of rage,” with Altamont and with a hundred other lesser downers I subscribed to. Before those events and a draft notice made me get “religion” on the need for “in-their-face” political struggle.        

Musically much of that stuff was ephemeral, merely background music, and has not survived (except in lonely YouTube cyberspace). Yeah, Neal Young, the Airplane, the Doors, the Byrds still sound good but a lot of it is wha-wha music now you know Ten Years After, a lot of Rod Stewart, even the acid-etched albums by the Beatles and Stones, it is no wonder that the latter do not have any tunes from Their Satanic Majesties on their playlists).   Others, flash pan “music is the revolution,” period exclamation point, end of conversation bands assumed a few pithy lyrics would carry the day and dirty old bourgeois society would run and hide in horror leaving the field open, open for, uh, us. That music too, except for gems like The Ballad Of Easy Rider, is safely ensconced in vast cyberspace.

Steppenwolf was different, was political from the get-go taking on the deadliness of bourgeois culture, worse the chewing up of their young in unwinnable wars with no apologies or second thoughts, the pusher man, the draft resister and lots of other subjects (and a few traditional songs too about the love that got away, things like that).  Not all the lyrics worked, then or now. (See below for some that do). Not all the words are now some forty plus years later memorable. After all every song is written with some current audience in mind, and notions of immortality as the fate of most songs are displaced. Certainly some of the less political lyrics seem entirely forgettable. As does some of the heavy decibel rock sound that seems to wander at times like, as was the case more often than not, and more often that we, deep in some a then hermetic drug thrall, would have acknowledged, or worried about. But know this- when you think today about trying to escape from the rat-race of daily living then you have an enduring anthem Born To Be Wild that still stirs the young (and not so young). If Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone was one musical pillar of the youth revolt of the 1960's then Born To Be Wild was the other.

And if you needed (or need) a quick history lesson about the nature of American society in the 1960's, what it was doing to its young, where it had been and where it was heading (and seemingly still is as we finish up the Afghan wars and the war signals for deep intervention into the Syria civil war or another war in Iraq get louder, or both are beating the war drums fiercely) then the trilogy under the title "The Monster" (the chorus which I have posted above and lyrics below) said it all.

Then there were songs like The Pusher Man a song that could be usefully used as an argument in favor of decriminalization of drugs today and get our people the hell out of jail and moving on with their lives and others then more topical songs like Draft Resister to fill out their playlist. The group did not have the staying power of others like The Rolling Stones but if you want to know, approximately, what it was like for rock groups to seriously put rock and roll and a hard political edge together give a listen to the group sometime.

Words and music by John Kay, Jerry Edmonton, Nick St. Nicholas and Larry Byrom


Once the religious, the hunted and weary

Chasing the promise of freedom and hope

Came to this country to build a new vision

Far from the reaches of kingdom and pope

Like good Christians, some would burn the witches

Later some got slaves to gather riches

But still from near and far to seek America

They came by thousands to court the wild

And she just patiently smiled and bore a child

To be their spirit and guiding light

And once the ties with the crown had been broken

Westward in saddle and wagon it went

And 'til the railroad linked ocean to ocean

Many the lives which had come to an end

While we bullied, stole and bought our a homeland

We began the slaughter of the red man

But still from near and far to seek America

They came by thousands to court the wild

And she just patiently smiled and bore a child

To be their spirit and guiding light

The blue and grey they stomped it

They kicked it just like a dog

And when the war over
They stuffed it just like a hog
And though the past has it's share of injustice
Kind was the spirit in many a way
But it's protectors and friends have been sleeping
Now it's a monster and will not obey
The spirit was freedom and justice
And it's keepers seem generous and kind
It's leaders were supposed to serve the country
But now they won't pay it no mind
'Cause the people grew fat and got lazy
And now their vote is a meaningless joke
They babble about law and order
But it's all just an echo of what they've been told
Yeah, there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into a noose
And it just sits there watchin'
Our cities have turned into jungles
And corruption is stranglin' the land
The police force is watching the people
And the people just can't understand
We don't know how to mind our own business
'Cause the whole worlds got to be just like us
Now we are fighting a war over there
No matter who's the winner
We can't pay the cost
'Cause there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into a noose
And it just sits there watching
America where are you now?
Don't you care about your sons and daughters?
Don't you know we need you now
We can't fight alone against the monster
© Copyright MCA Music (BMI)
All rights for the USA controlled and administered by
MCA Corporation of America, INC

--Used with permission--
Born To Be Wild

Words and music by Mars Bonfire
Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Yeah Darlin' go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space
I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin' with the wind
And the feelin' that I'm under
Yeah Darlin' go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space
Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die
Born to be wild
Born to be wild
© MCA Music (BMI)
All rights for the USA controlled and administered by
MCA Corporation of America, INC

--Used with permission--
From the 1968 release "Steppenwolf"
Words and music by Hoyt Axton
You know I've smoked a lot of grass
O' Lord, I've popped a lot of pills
But I never touched nothin'
That my spirit could kill
You know, I've seen a lot of people walkin' 'round
With tombstones in their eyes
But the pusher don't care
Ah, if you live or if you die
God damn, The Pusher
God damn, I say The Pusher
I said God damn, God damn The Pusher man
You know the dealer, the dealer is a man
With the love grass in his hand
Oh but the pusher is a monster
Good God, he's not a natural man
The dealer for a nickel
Lord, will sell you lots of sweet dreams
Ah, but the pusher ruin your body
Lord, he'll leave your, he'll leave your mind to scream
God damn, The Pusher
God damn, God damn the Pusher
I said God damn, God, God damn The Pusher man
Well, now if I were the president of this land
You know, I'd declare total war on The Pusher man
I'd cut him if he stands, and I'd shoot him if he'd run
Yes I'd kill him with my Bible and my razor and my gun
God damn The Pusher
Gad damn The Pusher
I said God damn, God damn The Pusher man\
© Irving Music Inc. (BMI)
--Used with permission--