Monday, January 30, 2017

Science Or….?-Spenser Tracy and Frederic March’s “Inherit The Wind” (1960)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

Inherit The Wind, starring Spenser Tracy, Frederic March, 1960
Science in any age, even today in the 21st century witness the climate change deniers against the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, has had a tough road to hoe what with all kinds of special interests to bat it away from whatever was inconvenient. A lot of the fight has been against religious obscurantism and that challenge was not backdated to some long ago idea when let’s say like when they forced Galileo to recant under penalty of the rack or some such torturous expedient but as the film under review, Inherit The Wind, based the Scope trial in Tennessee in the 1920s within memory. Of course the prerequisite for scientific inquiry is an open mind, a thoughtful mind and so defending that strand of human experience rather than an all-out assault on an individual’s religious convictions is what drives the film (and what drove the writers as well who were writing at the edges of the McCarthy era in American life, a trend not dissimilar to the fury around Scopes case or today for that matter).     

Here’s how the film played out (and be aware that although based on the 1925 case it is a fictionized work not an historical drama and so not all the story line adheres to that case). Cates (Scopes), a high school biology teacher in small town Tennessee, taught, contrary to enacted state law if you can believe this, Darwin’s theory of evolution which might just upset any firm belief in Genesis as the mainline story of how we got to today. He was going to trial for this transgression no question since the townspeople, like many small towns and some big ones too, don’t like to have their apple carts upended. What took this from an isolated small town incident though was the cast of “outsiders” who were coming in to do battle-for or against the Lord if that was to be the way things worked out. Matthew Brady (William Jennings Bryan), played by Frederic March, was to enter the lists for the creationists, Henry Drummond (Charles Darrow), played by Spencer Tracy, to defend Scopes and his right to differ, and E.K Hornbeck (H.L. Menckin), played by Gene Kelly, the famous newspaperman to report the whole story to a candid world (and whose Baltimore newspaper was picking up the tab for Drummond’s services).

The clash was on as the film then turned into a battle of wits between the religiously driven Brady who spoke with some eloquence to the fears of the townspeople and their deeply held religious convictions and the cool, rational and thoughtful Drummond with various snipes and witty comments by the admittedly cynical Hornbeck. There was plenty of dramatic tension between the sides with a couple of outstanding examples being the tension between Cates’ fiancée and her fundamentalist minister father and between her and Cates when the whole trial was becoming to her eyes a circus and an bad example to set if they were married and expected to live in the town. Of course going along with the true story this fictionalized version was based on Cates was duly found guilty by twelve of his peers. A temporary defeat for the forces of scientific inquiry no doubt but also a temporary defeat for allowing a thinking person to differ from his brethren in matters of conscience. Certainly a cautionary tale for today.               

Sunday, January 29, 2017

In Film Noir Dreamland-With The Black And White 1940s Film World In 

By Lance Lawrence 

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

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

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

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

The next afternoon he went on to his computer to Google any reviews of Allied. Most of them were laudatory which would be his own estimate if for no other reason that the feel of the film as a 1940s period piece, including a party hosted by Max and Marianne in bombed-out London with Benny Goodman, the king of swing, holding forth in the background as the partiers jitterbugged away the night (before being curtailed by the inevitable German bombing raids) but one stuck out which caught the feeling that he was having about the town of Casablanca as backdrop for romances. 

Sam Lowell, one of the fairly well-known reviewers for the American Film History blog whom Steve had read reviews by before although usually not current films but classics where they had a mutual interest, had mentioned that Casablanca was a tough town to have a romance blossom in. Maybe something about the desert air, maybe the decadent of the Casbah, hell, maybe the colonial atmosphere of the place in those days. That phrase that idea got Steve thinking back to the film Casablanca and how thwarted love was a big theme there when it came right down to it. Maybe the fate of three high-strung people didn’t mean much against all the craziness of the world at war, didn’t as Bogie said mean a hill of beans but he had let her go because a guy like Victor Lazlo whatever personal bravery he had could not face the nights alone and because Ilsa was made to keep such men intact.

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

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

Okay here’s the play, take a hustling insurance salesman Walter, played by Fred McMurray, out in the sunny slumming streets of pre-war Los Angeles before the hordes came out to infest the land looking for defense jobs, sunny weather, the end of the frontier and to get the damn dust out of their throats from the Okie dust storms (by the way the war is World War II again), looking to close an insurance deal walked right into lonely housewife man-trap Phyllis, played by alluring Barbara Stanwyck, with his eyes wide open, very wide. Wide open from that first moment he took his hat off as he feasted his eyes on her after sunbathing and moments later as she came walking down the stairs all sexy and swagger with an ankle bracelet he would not soon forget. And the smell of jasmine, honeysuckle, something like that which goes deep into a man’s sexual instincts honed over a millions years or however a man has hungered at the sight of good-looking if dangerous women.

Almost immediately they did the dance around each other for who knows what purpose she all coy and he all resistance, fast fading resistance. (There was great foreplay with her talking about the speed limit in the state as he rushed her and he countered with, well, false contriteness.) The unbridled passion took hold of each of them (at least he thought so and he after all is telling the story into that damn jittery Dictaphone) so quickly that they lost their moorings, or at least he did. She, a classic femme fatale to rival Jane Greer in Out Of The Past although not as handy with a gun when it came right down to it, as will be found out by Walter later had the morals of a great white shark. That is to say none but she kept him driving her chariot anyway.                

So Walter, egged on by that jasmine, hell, maybe the ankle bracelet, maybe frontier fever, or strictly lust, in any case being led by the nose, or some such organ, with his great insurance man instincts for the main chance put together a “fool-proof” plan to murder her husband after getting him to unknowingly sign an accident policy with the fatal double indemnity clause of the title. Fatal for hubby  meaning if he died of an accident the claimant would double up, or double down maybe a better way to put this delicate matter. He was a goner any way you cut it once that signature got inked on that contract (and the payment check handed over). Beautiful. Walter’s plan was simplicity itself, although it required too many moving parts in the end. Get her subsequently injured boorish stingy husband (the original plan had assumed that he would be healthy) to board the train to Palo Alto for his class reunion-or to appear like he was on the train and due to his injury had fallen off the back of the train. Accident-go straight to the cashier’s desk.

The real deal was that Walter was going to be in the back seat of their sedan when Phyllis drove her husband to the station for his well-deserved rest at his reunion, Walter would kill him there, dump the body and crutches along the railroad track after he had replaced the husband as the man with crutches on the train. Hey, I like it in theory, a little off-beat, shows a nice knowledge of the inside of the insurance scam. Our Walter on his good days with that scent driving him crazy was still a pretty smart guy. What Steve and his boys in the old hang-out days called “street smart,” which were the only kind of smarts that mattered around his way. Book smart got you pushed around and punched out for simply reading some freaking book (Steve something of a bookworm survived by doing the other guys’ homework and besides he had had an older tough guy brother who looked after him.) Probably in Walter’s neighborhood too.          

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

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

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

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

Of course if Steve was a little cuckoo about old time movies his pal, his drinking partner of late, Jack Davis who has so far been a passive listener to everything Steve had to say while he was throwing down a few glasses of high-end whiskey (unlike the old days when he South Boston-born had to suffer through some terrible stuff that had probably been bonded the day before yesterday) was deep into such talk as well. Jack, although a contemporary of Steve’s who had logged in own his many Saturday matinee double-features at The Strand Theater, had been a late coming to an appreciation of the material he had seen when he was a kid. That say, when Steve made that remark about Los Angeles being as tough a town as Casablanca on frayed romances Jack automatically thought about another L.A. -based classic, another Billy Wilder-directed film which tells you how good he was, the classic jaded-eye view of Hollywood when that was the capital of the prime entertainment of the plebian masses, Sunset Boulevard.         

Steve smiled a knowing smile, a smile to acknowledge that Jack was onto something, on to thwarted love, murder, murder my sweet and everything else you could find hidden in the slumming streets of L.A.  Where he disagreed with Jack was in rating the pair of films against each other. Steve gave the nod by a hair to Double Indemnity. Steve also smiled because he knew that Jack was ready to spin his take on Sunset. Both men knew enough to keep silent when the play was on.

Jack who with his movie star good looks when he was younger (and was pretty well preserved even now although he had lost a step or two in the never-ending fight against a few extra pounds) had always been puzzled by the Bill Holden figure, by Joe Gillis, a budding screenwriter who was going down the wrong street in his career. Here was a guy that both Jack and Steve could relate to. A working class guy, a working stiff from Ohio who after serving in the Army during World War II (both Steve and Jack were veterans as well just a different war-Vietnam) grabbed a job as a journalist on the hometown newspaper. Probably like them had used the G.I. Bill to get ahead. But see a guy like Joe, maybe an average guy, but footloose after seeing his fill of war was dazed by the bright lights of Hollywood. Wanted to head west to the ocean, to the last frontier like a lot of people them who collectively changed L.A. from a small friendly insider town to what it is today-a megapolis. So that wanderlust got under his skin, got him shot six ways to Sunday when the deal went down and he wound up face down in some old has-been actress’ swimming pool.       

Maybe Joe should have talked to his friend, his buddy Arnie, played by a young Jack Webb, who was happy as a clam to be an assistant director, had known that he would always have steady paydays. Had a great gal too-Betty, played by Nancy Olson, who Joe filched from him (and then threw back when she found out some seedy stuff about him-about him and that has-been actress). What Arnie could have told him, at least warned him about was to keep the hell away from the high numbers on Sunset Boulevard. Maybe it would have sunk in but probably not because by the time he hit that neighborhood he was strictly from hunger-strictly one bus ticket from heading back to the Buckeye state.

But as a later real journalist, the late and missed Hunter Thompson, Doctor Gonzo, said when things got a little crazy, or a little interesting-buy the ticket, take the ride. Joe, poor clueless Joe, landed up on the high numbers in Sunset and wound up knee-deep with the old time silent film star Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson. Yeah, Norma knew a guy who was from hunger, a guy who could re-write some film scripts she had been working on since who knows when, her last silent film probably getting ready to make her comeback (sorry Norma, “return”). So she snagged the boy, snagged him good despite their age differences. And despite the worshipful jaded eye of her man servant, Max, played by Erich von Stroheim, who turned out have been both her old time director and an ex-husband. WTF was Joe thinking when he got into that mess.              

So Joe, come hell or high water turned from failed screenwriter to, well, take your choice, gigolo or “kept man” (more like kept pet like the monkey she had buried out in the back yard as Joe enters this new world). Norma came to rely on him in the process of falling hard for him-and preparing for her “return” to the bright klieg lights of Hollywood. Joe played along for a while but guys who have been around, seen time in war, had been in the glare of the bright lights needed some room. So he would sneak out and go to a studio and in the dead of night work with Arnie’s sweetie pie, Betty who was a screenwriter. One thing led to another and by that close proximity they fell in love.         

Mistake Joe, bad mistake because an over the hill “boss” like Norma was not going  to let things go-she wanted her man and no pretty young thing was going  to deny her that. So she snitched on Joe, had Betty come to the high numbers on Sunset to see what her lover-boy was really all about. That frosted it for Joe and Betty. But Joe reared up and told Norma he was leaving. Another mistake. A woman like Norma, a bit unhinged probably since “talkies” came in was not likely to take well to the woman scorned. Bang! Bang! In the end there was Joe face down in that foolish swimming pool. Tough luck, brother, tough luck.    

When Jack finished his take on the film even before he could say it Steve blurred out –“Yeah, L.A. was a tough town too on the love racket.”

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Reflections On Inauguration Day, 2017-The First Days Of The Resistance-Down With The Trump Government! Build The Resistance! 

By Fritz Taylor

Frank Jackman, the old time 1960s radical, sometimes writer and a guy who thought he knew a few things about the world, about the American world anyway was as bowled over as anybody on the morning after. No, not the morning after some drunken carouse or tome virtuous sexual escapade as had happened many a time although the latter not much of late but The morning after the 2016 election to wake up his Internet server homepage announcing that one Donald J. Trump had been a surprise victor in the American presidential race against one Hillary Rodham Clinton, heiress of the Clinton high-flying, well-financed and organized political dynasty soon to turn to dust (or had already turned to dust and we just catch up with the fact the morning after). 

It wasn’t like Frank had not seen certain signs that there was an uprising going on down at the base of society, the base of society that he was very familiar with since that stratum was where had had come from, come from the Riverdale “projects,” had come of age there. So he knew of hunger, of being hungry for the main chance, of not getting the fucking brass ring, of being left behind although truth to tell he had survived and not badly so he was little rusty in the hunger department. Yeah, Frank knew that there were a lot of frustrated angry people out in the vast American dark night, some who loathed the idea that a black man had been President of the United States for not one but two terms. Loathed the idea that a well-educated articulate woman might just take over the reins of power right after him, who loathed the idea that their cities and towns were looking a lot more like a world-wide melting pot than the old stand-by white European melting pot they had grown up with whether or not they had read old Professor Moynihan on the subject, who loathed that everybody but them and theirs was getting ahead in the globalization race to the bottom, and who loathed the whole political correctness thing that one Donald J. Trump was saying was fucked up.

He knew all that by heart but Frank had more current experiences going through the saw mill of the discontents down at the base that should have tipped him off more decisively to avoid that morning surprise. He and his golfing buddies, Sid, Kaz, Keith and Pat had during the whole previous year been around golf courses, public golf courses not Trump venues where older white guys go to die-or pass away the time until then. (The standing joke among that golfing brethren was that if Trump won he would privatize those public courses or burn them down-take your pick).They had run into serious Trump supporters along the way from guys who said they had voted for Obama or had not voted for a long while but had sent money to the billionaire Trump and wished him god speed. But Frank had been carried away just as much as the whole traditional and social media networks being way off the mark (except followers of the trollers who were wreaking havoc on the planet for kicks-and the “fake news” in favor of Trump) by the improbability of a political novice who was not a general like Grant or Eisenhower beating a seasoned political operative and her vaunted organization like a gong.

Shame on him for believing anything the paid pundits, commentators, bloggers, gurus and their tenacious hangers-on had to say about anything, anytime on any subject. That was then though, the morning after blues. By that late afternoon Frank had regrouped himself and began to understand what he needed to do to project his new political profile. He had been rather neutral about the outcome of the election prior to that morning since for a variety of other reasons he would be opposing Mrs. Clinton and her very upfront and frankly scary war policies which she intended to thrust on the country when she was sworn in (and he had taken much flak from friends and loved ones for not believing that there was a qualitative difference between this pair of rogues). But the reality of the Trump triumph and the accompanying sweep of everything in sight by the ghoulish Republicans, those who favored him or not, who had their own reactionary agenda to push through had placed him on immediate war footing.                      

That “war footing” idea was no literary flourish although those same friends and loved one would tell you that Frank was entirely capable of such flourishes but an understanding that it would be necessary to begin the resistance to Trump and his government whatever it looked like (and in the end it looked very much like a rogue’s gallery of the 1% that he had been campaigning against for the previous decade or so-in who were being tagged by Trump in person in some cases to put their grimy fingers on the affairs of state). That afternoon he wrote a blog for a website, American Politics, that he wrote for occasionally arguing that the election results along with the general dead-end trend of American politics and the extreme divisiveness pulling society apart, putting it into two distinct and visible camps had confirmed against his better hopes from the evidence of the past year that the country was in a state of cold civil war (with the unstated implication going back to ante-bellum times that the nation was on the cusp of that turning into a “hot” one).         

From that afternoon on he would when making commentary use that slogan or mantra if you will-“the cold civil war has started” whenever he posted anything politically relevant on his various sites (although a strong argument could be made that it had only come into the open and that had started years before-at the very beginning of the Obama era-maybe earlier on the economic side with the tremendous loss of decent jobs). Frank though is, has been an activist, a left-wing of some sort of activist since he was a kid. Since back in 1960 when he was a slip of a teenage boy hanging out with Quakers and pacifists publicly protesting against the escalation of nuclear weaponry in favor of disarmament. So the axis of his slogan was not to make abstract and academic political points, he would leave that to the egg-on-face pundits and bull-shitters but to help prepare for the social struggles ahead once old Trump was sworn in. To get people prepared to go into the streets since the electoral process had proven bankrupt. He argued and would continue to argue that unlike the died-in-the-wool Democrats who were miffed about how unfair things had turned out and looked forward to some future utopian electoral victory with a “better” candidate that the resistance needed to be organized on the streets-and maybe given the way the political deck was stacked the only place that mattered for the duration.            

Of course you can only effectively argue about what needs to be done when something happens-something like the inauguration of one Donald J. Trump and so Frank would point out that from day one, from noontime come January 20th the resistance needed to be publicly organized. What Frank meant, what he  determined was necessary to show his new state of mind was that he decided he would go down to Washington on Inauguration Day and protest the swearing in of the next President of the United States. This was no mean task since Frank had purposefully avoided going to that event for all of his long political life seeing the event as a waste of time (and in recent years worthless as a place to protest since there were so many restrictions placed on protestors as to defeat the purpose). Helping him in his decision to go down the few hundred miles from his home in Dalton about forty miles west of Boston was that the next day there was to be a Women’s March on Washington and so the weekend would be one of activity and struggle.    

Frank had over the previous several years since he had slowed down his professional activities as a lawyer been to Washington on a number of occasions to protest the Obama war policies in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, and wherever else that administration was bloodying its hands and also in defense of the heroic Wiki-leaks whistle-blower Chelsea Manning when his trial was going on at Fort Meade just outside Washington. (As one of his last acts in office Obama would commute Chelsea’s horrendous thirty-five year sentence for essentially telling the truth about American atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq via his Wiki-Leaks revelations to his thankful credit from supporters and opponents like Frank alike).

Of late Frank usually would fly to Washington but this time he decided to drive the four hundred or so miles in order to take three young passengers with him who had no resources to go otherwise. He would foot the travel bill since the cost of travel by car would be about the same as a flight for himself. (One an Iraq War veteran who was trying to stabilize his life after a serious bout with drugs and two graduate students who by definition are poverty-stricken)  He had also decided to use his hotel loyalty points in Baltimore order to have lodging for all four since anyplace closer would have been over-the-top expensive and given the lateness of his decision to go most protester-friendly places like U/U churches were filled up and or spoken for.  On the 19th of January having picked up the three guys in Cambridge they headed south to Washington to do political battle the next day.

The next day after spending a restless and talkative night at that Baltimore hotel location the four men headed by car to the nearest Metro station at Glenmont on the Redline to get to downtown Washington. The train was not crowded (as opposed to the next day’s efforts, the gigantic Women’s March, where they would have to wait for a long time both to get into that same station and to board the train) and they made downtown in good time (and didn’t have to worry about where to park amid all the restrictions on the streets that day). They got off at Judiciary and proceeded to head toward the security checkpoint on Fourth near the National Gallery of Art so they could get a spot on the parade route to give Trump the old raspberry on opening day. (One of the reasons that Frank in recent years had decided not to go to any Inaugurations to protest was the whole security apparatus set-up, the “running of the gauntlet,” which effectively acted to tamp down any serious in-your-face protest so he knew that they would be limited in what they could carry for signs, etc.)           

That day it never got to the raspberry on the parade route point though. As Frank and his companions were standing in the slow-moving security check-point line a group of young people who later identified themselves to Frank as part of Surge Washington which had been formed mostly by young people who were students or who worked in Washington to protest in a peaceful but forceful way the impeding coronation of Trump sat down in front of the security tent and blocked the entrance. Classic tried and true honored civil disobedience. Naturally that event stopped Frank and his companions in their tracks since unlike others trying to get through the checkpoint they would not cross the line set up by their fellow protesters. This action, part of several around city, were acts of   symbolic speech and while later he and his companions would discuss the value of the particular action they were all under the bane of “picket lines mean don’t cross” an old labor slogan honored many times more in the breech than the observance.
This action which was intended to shut down the checkpoint for a couple of hours and then move on to other such locales wound up being Frank and his companions’ activities for the day and they never did get to the parade route to protest. So they moved with the protesters whenever they moved. 

Not only were they acting in political solidarity with the protesters but Frank was there to defend them against the sometimes angry spectators who could not get through whatever he thought of the tactic. (There were several testy situations when some Bikers for Trump tried to break the line at Fourth Street but were dissuaded by the Secret Service agents who had closed the checkpoint tight so nobody was getting through anyway). Their mostly young faces had heartened him that there would be another generation to pass the protest torch on to. Moreover since he was admitted as a lawyer in D.C. he could represent them if they were arrested. Throughout the day there were arrests around the city, a couple of hundred according to news sources, but no at any of the actions that Frank’s groupings were at. So that is how Frank (and his companions) spent his first day of resistance, his first day as a “soldier” in the brewing cold civil war which has been unleashed in the American dark night. 

[Frank and his friends would attend the Women’s March on Washington the next day which was spectacular but really uneventful except as a wonderful realization that there were plenty of people, plenty of women who had joined, or were ready to join the resistance. Yes, they came to Washington half a million strong to make a first full day point.]

Join the resistance! 
Doll’s Story-With The Film Adaptation Of W.R. Burnett’s “The Asphalt Jungle” In Mind

By Si Landon

“I never had a man who drew an even break, never had a man who drew an honest breathe, never had a man who could go all the way, could take me out of the B-girl tinsel town racket. Dix tried, Dix from back about twenty years ago now tried, tried like hell but he was just a hooligan and how could a girl pin her hopes on such a guy,” pined Doll Savoy, but any surname would do she sure had used enough of them, as a tear formed under her mascara eyes thinking about that big lug who went down in a blaze of nothingness twenty years to the day.

No matter where she was, what guy was paying her bills, who she was fucking or taking around the world she would always shed a tear thinking about Dix, Dix Dixon if you needed a last name and how he came to that terrible end in some horseshit meadow in blue mountain Kentucky where he hailed from, where they were supposed to get a fresh start. Fresh start she said with a shrug and a wicked-edged laugh at the irony of Dix pushing up daisies and leaving her alone to fend for herself back at Tilly’s the biggest “clip joint” west of the Mississippi. Left alone to let some guy pick up her bills for a few months before he blew town, went back to his wife or something. Or she got tired of him, tired of the cheap cons, tired of the tired sex, tired of looney guys and their blow-job desires.

Tonight thought Doll would have no truck with guys paying her bills, guys looking to go around the world, guys looking for a quick blow-job behind the alley to Tilly’s (and the bitch of it was if she wanted to keep her job, wanted to be a Tilly’s B-girl, wanted “the life” at her age then she had better be ready to suck cock as Eddie G., Tilly’s night manager made very clear one night when some jerk complained that she didn’t want to go under the table on him. Yeah, where was a real man like Dix when a girl needed a safe harbor and maybe no loving, a guy like Dix had had all loving bled out of him by the time he was about thirteen, but also no bullshit either. The straightest shooter she had ever known. Hell she had enough love to carry the two of them. Didn’t she prove it riding with him through cop roadblocks and blood so he could get back to that fucking hayseed farm he kept dreaming about going back to, going back to get washed clean like in some old time Bible story. And she didn’t say word one when the coppers came to that bloody horseshit meadow about who he was and where he had been so his kin, that was Dix’s word for his folks could cash in some jewels he had in his pocket and reclaim the old farm lost in some Depression wildness. (She had never taken diamond one from his pocket when he went down to that blaze of nothingness. Yeah she had her own straight-shooter code too.)

Dix’s anniversary always made Doll think about how close they had come to happiness, happiness for her anyway since Dix probably was clear out of happiness as much as he was out of loving. She would have created enough happiness for the two of them. Then as the night got darker and she sat in a push-broom hotel room thinking about her own  place, a flop really with that fucking roll-up bed and that never working stove, drinking her Thompson’s blended. Dix’s drink that was how they got started the night he had come into Benny’s, the clip joint she was working at then, and he noticed that she was drinking the same low blend drink that he was looking to buy.  (When she had her Dix “wanting habits” on she wanted no truck with her place over on Kendall Street that Sal was paying the bills on who knows for how long, probably not long as he kept talking about his wife and how maybe if she would just give him a blow-job now and again they might work things out-never a good sign when a man was talking about some other dame, wife or not, giving him head). So this night she was sitting in this cheap Paradise Hotel broom closet, some name for the hour tricks that kept the place going, drinking her Thompson’s blended and working her way back to those final few days when if things had gone according to plan, according to Doc’s big ass fucking fool-proof plan, she and Dix might have gotten off cheap street. Who knows she might have grown to like that horseshit meadow although she had not lived away from the city for more than three days, the one time when she was a kid and a kindly aunt took her to the mountains outside of Denver where she had grown up.             

Her thoughts always went back to the night when Louie Lomax came into Benny’s looking for Dix. It was early and Dix was sitting at the bar drinking his maybe third shot of Thompson’s and she was getting ready down the other end of the bar for her B-girl chores for the night. She had hoped that she would not have to go out into some guy’s car or to some motel since earlier in the afternoon she and Dix had had a great bout of sex, he seemed to relax for once and seemed to enjoy the sex, liked when she took his cock in her mouth and did him until he cried   “uncle” when after he cummed she kept her mouth on that big thing until he really did cry uncle. That was the first time he said she was alright, was a fit woman for him and she blushed with joy when he uttered those few words. She would omit that afternoon tryst with Dix part when she retailed the story of her lost love to her girlfriends like Dottie although Dottie could probably figure out what kept Dix on her leash even if only for a few days.     

Louie went straight to where Dix was sitting and asked him if he wanted a drink something Louie would not spring for if he wasn’t looking for something. Dix, after Louie left, had told her when she wasn’t hustling some guy for a drink (so-called drink-it was nothing but Lipton’s tea for her at ten bucks a pop-a “clip” no question) that he was going out, going to a meeting with some guy named Doc who was looking for a guy who could throw his weight around (a “hooligan” is what they called them but she didn’t know the term until the coppers ran down his felony sheet and one cop said he was nothing but a hooligan and she asked him what was that-and that was exactly what her big man, six two, two hundred pounds was built for-pushing his weight around).The next morning when Dix woke up he told he in vague terms whether she liked the idea of heading to easy street. She had thought nothing of it, had heard that from a million guys before-usually looking for some quick sex in the meantime, except she privately thrilled that Dix had said “we” would be on easy street. Told her too that Doc had a plan so that the whole crew (Doc, a box man, a wheel, a hooligan-and then a fence) would be on easy street from here on in. (She did not find out who the others were until after the caper had been completed-and Dix was on the run.)      

After that morning she had not seen Dix for several days until one late night she heard a rapping on her door and there was Dix with a small, wiry foreign looking guy bleeding, Doc. The plan had been to rob Kaye’s Jewelry Store, the high-end jewelers, from the inside out. Doc had had it all figured. Had it figured right, they had grabbed half a million, maybe more in precious stones-except he, Doc, had forgotten about the accidental which can monkey up any perfect plan. First “forgot” was that the box man, the guy who blew the safe got shot accidently when he had tumbled to guys inside the building after the safe explosion had set off every alarm system in the area-bringing in every copper. Dix had tried to stop the copper and his gun dropped to the ground shooting both the box man in the stomach and grazing Dix. He had shrugged off the wound as nothing at the time-just like Dix. Then the coppers having sensed that the job, the plan for the job, could only have been hatched by Doc who had just been released from prison started their full-court press. Got to Louie first. Cheapjack stoolie no heart feet of clay Louie turned over Jimmy the wheelman.      

That wasn’t all that went wrong on the caper once the script went awry. A big job like this jewelry caper needed plenty of front money to get the crew gathered and so Doc had turned to Allan Ladd, the big well-known crooked lawyer who fronted for half the mob in town, was their mouthpiece when they got to court (and he got them off a lot-the fix was usually in). Ladd was going to front the dough but it turned out he was keeping half the whores in town under his wings and was broke. He was looking to “steal” the stones by a sleigh of hand and get himself out of hock. What were Doc and his boys going to do-go to the cops and complain. What a laugh. He was working with his own guy who was going to be the stick-up man for Ladd. No go-Dix might have been behind the eight-ball but he was a good hooligan-took his job seriously and he wasted Ladd’s confederate. Another guy gone when Ladd put him in the river face down and with as much remorse as he would have a killing a flea.

Then the coppers came for Ladd, knowing that such a caper could not have been greased without a guy who get the stuff fenced on the quiet-and fast. He bought his own life, bought it cheap when all things were considered, wasn’t built for tough guy prisons anyway. Everybody was out of the paly except Dix and Doc. Some cop had ruffled Doc and that was how Dix and Doc had gotten to Doll’s place. Doc decided to head out of town and try to sell the stuff. Dix, bleeding still from that wound at the jewelry store decided he would blow for home. Without me. I talked him out of that with a quick roll in the hay. Then we were off to hayseed Kentucky. You know the rest as Dix bled away in that horseshit Kentucky meadow. Yeah, Dix never drew an even break. And neither did Doll Savoy.         

Friday, January 27, 2017

Walter Mitty Goes Noir-John Beal’s “Key Witness” (1947)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

Key Witness, starring John Beal, Trudy Marshall, Jimmy Lloyd, 1947        
Recently in reviewing a lesser Humphrey Bogart noir vehicle, In A Lonely Place which for my money was didn’t click, I mentioned in passing that not all noir was created equal. By that reference I had absent-mindedly assumed that there were certain parameters below which the genre would not fall. That “would not fall” being somewhere in the sphere of the low budget, low rent, low star power, B-film which strangely enough back in the day the Hollywood studios depended on to keep the audiences coming to their theaters (they conveniently owned the whole line of distribution). However the film under review, Key Witness, the 1947 use of the title not the 1960s film starring Jeffrey Hunter, no way, seemed determined to go below the low bar radar even greedy Hollywood should have left on the cutting room floor.           

I also mentioned in that Bogart review that he had performed more noteworthy iconic roles earlier in his career which gave rise to the world-weary, world-wary male actors in noir set films. This film is driven by the “exploits” of a more Walter Mitty-type persona named if you can believe this-Milton Higby (played by no name John Beal). Milton is a nine to five draftsman who moreover is henpecked by his every loving wife for almost everything from not asking for a raise to not cleaning the dishes and whatever else in between. Cleary we will be treated to no second coming of Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe. And we aren’t

The most decisive thing Milton can do is tell his every loving wife that she should go on a trip to some forlorn aunt. That decision cleared the way for the craziness to come as Milton under the influence of a fellow draftsman co-worker goes to the track where he hits it big and inside of staying at home goes partying with his buddy and his girl-and her girlfriend. A girlfriend who before long is found on her living room floor very dead by Milton after he came to from some alcoholic stupor. A fall guy waiting to fall-no question. He goes on the lam though while every police agency in the country is looking for him for murder most foul, murder one.       

For an innocent guy he makes all the wrong decisions as he hits the hobo/tramp/bum highway picking up a fellow tramp along the way. They stumble into a dead guy and Milton decides that the best way out is to assume the dead man’s identity. Nice move. Except that somewhere in nowhere Arizona he got hit by a car and wound up in a hospital which assumed he was the dead man. More importantly the dead man was the missing scion to some serious fortune and so Milton accepted that role when a lawyer and then his “father” came to claim him. Whee.

Things go along swell for several months including his “father’s” backing for some novelty inventions that he had worked on. The stuff flew out of the factory doors. But this is where things got dicey. His work buddy (played by no name Jimmy Lloyd) and his every loving wife (played by no name Trudy Marshall were trying to clear his name and glammed onto his new life. No problem. No problem when the dead woman’s estranged husband had confessed to the murder most foul, murder one. Except now Milton was on the spot for the killing of his “father’s” real son. Yeah, they had the gallows ready to hang him high, hang him real high. Except just before midnight his old tramp buddy came in and cleared him. And the whole crew lived happily ever after one big happy family including the tramp –literally. My reaction after watching this vehicle was WTF. That says it all.        

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Bogie On The Edge- Humphrey Bogart’s “In A Lonely Place” (1950)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell  

In a Lonely Place, starring Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, directed by Nicolas Ray, 1950    

Not all noir is created equal and not all Bogie films (Humphrey Bogart of “don’t Bogart that joint” of blessed memory) are either. Although the film under review, In A Lonely Place,  an off-hand look at the frills and foibles of Hollywood back in the day when the studio bosses ran the show and ran everybody ragged is an acknowledged respectable example of the noir it does not pack the wallop of such vehicles as Sunset Boulevard and Out Of The Past. Moreover although some critics have claimed that Bogart’s acting as the troubled screenwriter Dixon Steele is among his best work for me the character of Steele does not hold a candle to his iconic roles as Captain Morgan in To Have And Have Not, Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep and Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.             

Here is what makes this a very good film and Bogie’s performance if not great then a good secondary effort. Dix Steele like a lot of guys went off to war during World War II which may have contributed to his lack of success as a screenwriter working the Hollywood rackets after the war. May have also contributed to his erratic and combustible behavior (maybe some heavy boozing too). Looking for some worthwhile project to write up his agent convinces him to do an screen adaptation of a book. He is skeptical, an attitude which is confirmed when a wannabe starlet cum hat check girl at his local gin mill hangout reads the book and tells him the outline of the plot. A stinker-no question (although the hat check girl was all dreamy-eyed about it). The problem is that the hat check girl told him the story line after he had cajoled her into telling him about the plot in his apartment (after declaring no romantic intension). Well that is not really the problem if you thing about it but the fact that after Dix gave her cab fare home she wound up very dead in some canyon ditch the next morning.             

Enter prime suspect Dix. It all adds up. His violent behavior shown a couple of times at the gin mill and out on the mean Hollywood streets , far-fetched story of the girl in his place just to recite a plotline, and his ungentlemanly conduct of not seeing her to the cab after midnight. Even I had him figured for the fall-for a while. To the rescue though comes one B-film starlet, Lauren, played by real life B-movie queen Gloria Grahame (and really a very good actor who never got the juicy roles she deserved) who lived in an adjacent apartment and who claimed she had seen Dix at his place at the time of the murder. Thanks, babe. Naturally besides the thanks Dix figured to make a big play for the good-looking Lauren who seemed interested in return. They start up what became a tempestuous love affair which on the positive end has Dix working like seven banshees on some real writing.

On the negative side though the coppers, including a guy who served under Dix in the war, have him targeted as the fall guy for all the obvious reasons mentioned before. Dix falls down though, can’t take the pressure, had recurring bouts of violent behavior which only added fuel to the fire of the coppers’ suspicion of his involvement in the hat check girl murder. That affected Lauren who became rightfully afraid of Dix and in the end ran out on him after he puts his hands on her. Too late, the “in a lonely place” too late Dix and Lauren find out from the coppers that the hat check girl’s jealous boyfriend had confessed to the murder. So it goes.     

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Decline And Fall-F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is The Night”(1934)-A Book Review

Book Review

By Lance Lawrence

Tender Is The Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1934

Every amateur writer, every young writer looking to make a breakthrough, and every avid reader always is confronted when reading the novels of famous authors like the one under review here F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night with wonder about how much of a story’s plotline is based on the author’s vivid imagination and how much on autobiographical or self-reference. As for the subject matter-mental illness, alcoholism, financial independence and the decline of one’s professional energies- in Fitzgerald’s book for once there is no need for such guesswork because during the period just before sitting down to write this well-written and vividly described book his wife had been hospitalized for some mental disorder, he was hustling like seven dervishes to raise cash, and was letting booze get the best of him (which in the end would contribute mightily to his early death a few years later). This in any case is his last completed novel (The Last Tycoon was unfinished) and while I personally rank The Great Gatsby as his greatest novel this one ranks just a step or two below that classic. (Fitzgerald himself ranked this one as his greatest effort although I don’t what he based that ranking on).             

As already noted above this story line, set up as a series of flashbacks and flash forwards over “three books,” is the story of the rise and fall of one Dick Diver from the heights of his profession as a up and coming young psychiatrist to, not surprisingly, a middle aged man sunk in a downward rut and sunk in the depths of booze before the end when he winds up in some upstate backwater doing yeoman’s work as a country doctor. It is also the story, maybe better a cautionary tale, about the pitfalls of bedding and marrying one of your patients because that is what he does with the other main character his initially mentally fragile wife, Nicole Diver nee Warren (that nee is important since she came from serious robber baron money and Dick was lucky to have carfare on his own hook).            

Dick and Nicole “meet” in a European sanatorium where Nicole has been deposited by her father after many unsuccessful attempts to cure her affliction elsewhere (there is a strong suggestion of incest as the cause). In the process of “curing” Nicole they fall in love and are married. This gives Dick for a time anyway room to pursue his budding career as a psychiatrist dealing with obscure mental illnesses. But it also creates tensions when it came to financial matters as Dick wanted some independence and of course Nicole was used to having plenty of dough. Created tensions as well when Nicole would for a long while during their marriage and parenthood have periodic relapses.

Most of the story takes place in European settings, mainly France, since as was the vogue in the Jazz Age by the alienated post-World War I intelligentsia that is where they went to get away from low-rent grasping America. A lot of the power of this novel is centered on the isolated existence that these ex-pats’ live as they hunker down amount themselves with romances, liaisons and wasted time. Dick’s life though as he approaches middle age is spiced up by an interest in a young starlet, Rosemary, who has come to Europe with her mother for the grand tour. This affair will end badly as the pair part after a long cat and mouse playing and as Rosemary rises in the film world and Dick succumbs to his own hubris (and alcohol, okay). Worse this affair affected Nicole, led to a few of her relapses.  In the end as Dick declined Nicole got stronger, got strong enough to have an affair with one of the men in their circle and eventually divorced Dick as he stumbles downhill and married him (reminding me of the flow of Gide’s The Immoralist where the wife declines after saving the getting stronger life of her self-absorbed husband).          

The beauty of this novel is not so much in the now fairly conventional story line but in the vivid descriptions of the characters, of the landscape, hell, like his friend Hemingway, of the food and of his use of metaphor that is nothing less than astounding. Not Gatsby, no question, since that literary effort summed up an age in one person is but a very good description of the rise and fall of a man of that same Jazz Age. Read this one, heck, read all of Fitzgerald.             

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

How The West Was Won-Michael Cimino’s  “Heaven’s Gate”(1980)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

Heavens’ Gate, starring Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walkens, Isabelle Huppert, John Hurt and many other now well-known actors, directed by “The Deer Hunter’s Michael Cimino, 1980

Almost everybody is, and should be, fascinated by how the West, the  part of the United States west of the Mississippi as a convenient if not totally accurate landmark was settled, how in my terms the West was “won.” The cinematic view of that process has changed dramatically over the years reflecting changing sensibilities and an attempt at a true depiction of what was going on back then. Taking my own life cycle as a benchmark there was quite a changeover from the 1950s television and film versions when the good guys wore white and the black guys black and the “only good injun was a dead one (except maybe the Lone Ranger’s companion Tonto).” Later during the 1970s there was a drastic turnaround in order to show that there were all kinds of people who fled to the west after striking out in the East and that not all of them were all good-or all bad. Showed that the rough and tumble overall lawlessness of the places staked out were peopled by those who shunned white. One of the most important although damned at the time for being overlong, over budget, over-scripted and under-acted was Michael Cimino’s tale Heaven’s Gate  which after a recent viewing of four hours I am ready to declare  one of the great Westerns of all time, maybe one of the great films too. So the screw turns.           

The basic plotline which was loosely, very loosely, based on what in Western history has been called the Johnson County War (in fair Wyoming). Some of the story is overblown but the tensions between the various interests in the West-say cattle raising versus small truck farming were real and documented. Naturally as well there is love story (or maybe better a thwarted love story) to spice up the four hours when the gunfights and doings in town get overwrought.         

Here’s the play. After a long scene at a Harvard graduation where two of the main characters, Jim, played by ruggedly handsome Kris Kristofferson and Billy, played by John Hurt, are part of the class the film cuts to the heart of the matter some twenty years later. By then Jim is a Marshall up in rugged Wyoming country, Johnson County, and Billy is in the entourage of a cattle baron. In between is Nate, played by Christopher Walken, who is an enforcer for the cattlemen. The controversy involved what a hoard of immigrants were doing by stealing cattle that offended the cattlemen enough to put out a hit list of the leading immigrants and hire men to do the job in the “killing fields”. That information given to them by then non-committal Jimled the immigrants to fight what essentially was a range war. The end result was many deaths on both sides and eventually intervention by the U.S. Army to stop the fighting.

Interspersed along the way was the love story-the love both Nate and Jim had for Ella, a bordello Madame, and a beauty played by Isabelle Huppert. She goes back and forth between the two-Nate wants to marry her and Jim wants her to leave with him since there was nothing left for her there. See she was on that cattlemen’s list. In the end everybody loses. Nate is killed in a raging inferno at his cabin after taking vengeance on the leading cattlemen’s crew who had raped Ella. Jim, after deciding to side with the immigrants and lead them against the cattlemen’s mercenaries, persuaded Ella to leave but before they could do so she was killed by some mercenaries. Jim is shown some years’ later Newport wealthy but seemingly cast adrift after Ella had passed away.

Along with way are some great scenes starting with a grand ballroom dance on the lawn at Harvard on graduation day, the rough and tumble of a new town being created, and the fighting between the two uneven forces. Yeah, whatever the critics thought in 1980 they missed out on watching one of the great Western film masterpieces.            

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Con Man Cometh-David Mamet’s “The House Of Games” ( )-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell 

The House Of Games, starring Lindsay Crouse, Joe   ,directed by David Mamet

A while back in reviewing the first film of the Ocean trilogy (you know 11, 12, 13 and then they ran out of legitimate cons and so mercifully closed down the film caper) I noted something that I believe applies in duplicate to the film under review David Manet’s The House Of Games. Here is what I said there: 

“Let’s face it everybody loves a con, loves a con artist at least since old Herman Melville made a big literary deal out of such characters in his 19th century novel The Confidence Man . Well everybody loves a con, a con artist as long as that personage is conning somebody else and not one’s good self. Better if the con is on some super-rich guy who made his dough by walking over a pile of people, hell, maybe a pile of corpses. And that latter premise is what makes George Clooney’s remake of the 1960s Frank Sinatra-led classic con story Ocean’s Eleven go the distance.”

Well we have no superrich personage here but rather a best-selling psychiatrist who specializes in addictions, Doctor Margaret Ford played by Lindsay Crouse, and we have a con that beats whatever Danny and Rusty in Ocean’s could come up with-almost.

Here’s the skinny. One of the good Doctor’s clients had a gambling addiction and was ready to commit suicide over the huge deal he owns to a gambler, Mike, played by Joe Mantegna, but she is able to dissuade him from that drastic action. She in turn goes to Mike to try to persuade him to forget the debt. To “rope” her in he makes a deal with her to play his girlfriend while playing poker against a Las Vegas big wheel. Her role is to see what quirk belies his hand. When the gambling gets going Margaret noticed the tell-tale jerk of his ring that Mike had been looking for which told him the other guy was bluffing. Mike made bets based on that quirk. And lost, lost big. Trouble was he was betting on credit. No go. The Vegas wheel wanted his dough and produced a gun. Margaret feeling responsible agreed to write a check for the money owed. Beautiful, almost. She noticed that the gun was a water pistol. No sale but she was hooked even though she was to be the victim.

Her own life is a drag despite her latest best-selling so she gravitates toward Mike and his very upfront con artist ways. Gravitates to his bed as well. The next caper is a beauty. The found money gag which has been around since Adam and Eve and the serpent gag, maybe before. She wants in on the caper at least to see the play. Mike, his roper, and the “mark” “find” a suitcase with eighty thousand big ones in it. They “squabble” over what to do with it but it winds up that the “mark” is going to take custody of the dough until the split by giving Mike a check for thirty thou (no way they were returning the dough). Like finding money, finding a real thirty thou on the ground. Except the “mark” is a cop pulling a sting operation. Mike had to kill the cop in a melee and the three have to flee with Mike implicating Margaret in the scheme to get away. Oops, they “lose” the suitcase with the dough in it in the rush to get away. The dough had been borrowed by the mob-ouch. Then Margaret offered to pay the lost dough. Bingo. Eighty large and no heavy lifting. Almost.

See something wasn’t right when Margaret saw that client of hers’ at Mike’s hang-out and so she slipped in and overheard how they had, Mike, the client, the “dead” cop and the roper, pulled this bigger caper on her. Well she had played with fire so she should have expected to get burned. She had a better idea though. Pretending she thought they were still on the lam she told Mike that she had been freaked out by the caper and had taken all her money out of the bank and they should go away together. That dough was catnip to Mike but in a final confrontation once Mike knew she knew about the scam that had been pulled on her she wanted him to repent. No go. A con is a con and that was that. She killed Mike on the spot without remorse. Sorry.

Like I said everybody likes a con as long as it is not directed against them. Ask Mike if you don’t believe me.              

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

He’s In The Jailhouse Now-Jack Nicholson’s “The Last Detail” (1973)-A Film Review    

DVD Review

By Sam Lowell

The Last Detail, starring Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, Randy Quaid, 1973     

Jack Nicholson early in his acting career put together that wise guy, wise to the world, don’t take any guff and take a hit or two if necessary to prove the point persona that has endured for decades whatever his particular role. The film under review, the early in his career The Last Detail is a case in point where Jack play a world wise lifer sailor who is dragooned for special duty (temporary duty) along with another lifer sailor to bring a fellow sailor prisoner up to the Marine-run Portsmouth Naval Prison from the naval base down in Norfolk (Portsmouth now closed I believe and the reason that the Marines were running the place was that when the deal goes down the Marines are just soldiers for the Navy in those circumstances and hence fit for landlubber duty). 

Here is the way this one played out. Meadows, played by Randy Quaid, a dumb no nothing young sailor who joined the Navy basically to keep out of civilian jail had pulled a lame caper, had “stolen” the dough from the jar that contained charity donations (he revealed that he never even got the dough, forty bucks, which have even the two cynical lifers shaking their heads). This charity was the favorite of the commandant’s wife so they threw the book at him at the court-martial-eight years (maybe six with good behavior) and a DD (dishonorable discharge-the kiss of death then and now too). The two lifers, Bad Ass, played by Nicholson, and Mule, played by Otis Young, were assigned to bring Meadows to Portsmouth given a few days to do so. (They wound up taking various means of transportation which made me wonder why they didn’t just fly to Logan Airport in Boston and take the bus from there but that would have shorten the trip and film considerably)       

The trip up to Portsmouth is the heart of the story line as the two lifers began as seeing the whole affair as a burdensome lark and along the way became sympathetic to the poor goof Meadows plight. So given the time they had to get to the prison feted him with liquor, booze, and the whorehouse (he was so raw that he was a virgin) and a fateful picnic. All the things he had missed and would missed when in Portsmouth. Of course the taste of the good life got even the cluck Meadows thinking that freedom was better that what was ahead as they got to Portsmouth where they had one last request picnic-so he broke for it. The lifers grabbed him and the rest of the trip was by the book. After turning Meadows over the pair when back to Norfolk bitched out about the terrible duty. Jack Nicholson, nominated for the Best Male Oscar (as Quaid was for Supporting Oscar) showed plenty of his stuff here including going off on a bartender who would not serve Meadows.