Saturday, March 31, 2012

'The Head of the House" - The Honeymooners March 31st, 1956

This episode, titled "Head of the House", from "The Honeymooners" was first aired 56 years ago today. A lot of things have changed since then, but the silent battle of wits between men and women still rages. In this episode, Ralph, who has answered a question for the Inquiring Photographer in the daily paper about who is the "head of his house", sets out to prove that he is, indeed, "master of his own domain." What the boys don't know is that Alice has replaced the wine with grape juice. But that doesn't stop Ralph and Ed from getting drunk.

And, even as a kid, I was cognizant of the similarities between "The Honeymooners" and "The Flintstones." Both shows were about two working class guys, married to their sweethearts, and always in trouble with them nonetheless. In this "Flintsones" clip from 1961, Fred and Barney skirt their chores, only to be discoverd by their hardworking wives, Wilma and Betty. This was actually a private film made for Winston-Salem rather than for the show. The legendary team of Hanna-Barbera knew how to satirize, and in "The Finstones" they created a whole parallel world in fictional Bedrock, to that of Ralph and Ed in "real Life" Brooklyn.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Ockham's (Occam's) Razor and the Chimney Story - A Study in Opposites?

I had an e-mail the other day about a post I did, over a year ago, concerning the old Talmudic story about 2 men coming down the same chimney, and which one needed to wash his face. I will reprise it here for those who missed it. But first, an overview of the comment and another theory; which may, or may not, be in opposition to the Talmudic tale. We shall see.

First, the comment received was in question form; asking whether or not there was a fire in the fireplace; which of course, is irrelevant to the question at hand concerning who came down the chimney and washed his face, or not. Since the fire would have precluded any descent down the chimney, it is of no consequence.

Briefly the Chimney story involves 2 men who come down the same chimney for unstated purposes. The question is which one will wash his face first. The one with the dirty face, or the one with the clean face? After many permutations, it is decided that the question is a foolish one to begin with, and thus unworthy of the time spent in attempting to solve it. Adding the aforementioned fire to the story only serves to obfuscate the matter.

And this brings us to Ockham's razor, which assumes what Ptolemy had already considered when he first said, "We consider it a good principle to explain the phenomena by the simplest hypothesis possible." What he meant was made even clearer by Franciscan friar Father William of Ockham (1285-1349), who further opined that, in essence, by shaving down the argument to its simplest point, ensured the quickest, and most logical answer. Hopefully, it would also be the right one.

On the other hand, Lord Edward Charlton,(1370-1421) the 5th and last Lord of Powys, proposed that since the world was too complex, and contained too many variables, it would be impossible to arrive at the truth using Ockham's theory. I tend to agree. Even the exact meanings of the simpler forms of an explanation can be nuanced, and therefore refutes Ockham's own theory. Both of these points of view were used in vain attempts to prove the existence of God, or not. Both theories are prone to failure simply because a belief in God is rooted in faith, rather than ascertainable "facts." Draw your own conclusions; as the English say, "Horses for Courses."

Here is the story, from Talmud, of the 2 men coming down the same chimney;

A young man in his mid-twenties knocks on the door of the noted scholar Rabbi Schwartz. “My name is Sean Goldstein,” he says. “I’ve come to you because I wish to study Talmud.”

“Do you know Aramaic?” the rabbi asks.

“No,” replies the young man.

“Hebrew?” asks the Rabbi.

“No,” replies the young man again.

“Have you studied Torah?” asks the Rabbi, growing a bit irritated.

“No, Rabbi. But don’t worry. I graduated Berkeley summa cum laude in philosophy, and just finished my doctoral dissertation at Harvard on Socratic logic. So now, I would just like to round out my education with a little study of the Talmud.”

“I seriously doubt,” the rabbi says, “that you are ready to study Talmud. It is the deepest book of our people. If you wish, however, I am willing to examine you in logic, and if you pass that test I will teach you Talmud.”

The young man agrees.

Rabbi Schwartz holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face; the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

The young man stares at the rabbi. “Is that the test in logic?”

The rabbi nods.

”The one with the dirty face washes his face,“ he answers wearily.

“Wrong. The one with the clean face washes his face. Examine the simple logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So, the one with the clean face washes his face.”

“Very clever,” Goldstein says. “Give me another test.”

The rabbi again holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“We have already established that. The one with the clean face washes his face.”

“Wrong. Each one washes his face. Examine the simple logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. So, the one with the clean face washes his face. When the one with the dirty face sees the one with the clean face wash his face, he also washes his face. So, each one washes his face.”

“I didn’t think of that,” says Goldstein. It’s shocking to me that I could make an error in logic. Test me again.”

The rabbi holds up two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face, the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“Each one washes his face.”

“Wrong. Neither one washes his face. Examine the simple logic. The one with the dirty face looks at the one with the clean face and thinks his face is clean. The one with the clean face looks at the one with the dirty face and thinks his face is dirty. But when the one with the clean face sees the one with the dirty face doesn’t wash his face, he also doesn’t wash his face. So, neither one washes his face.”

Goldstein is desperate. “I am qualified to study Talmud. Please give me one more test.”

He groans, though, when the rabbi lifts two fingers. “Two men come down a chimney. One comes out with a clean face; the other comes out with a dirty face. Which one washes his face?”

“Neither one washes his face.”

“Wrong. Do you now see, Sean, why Socratic logic is an insufficient basis for studying Talmud? Tell me, how is it possible for two men to come down the same chimney, and for one to come out with a clean face and the other with a dirty face? Don’t you see? The whole question is "narishkeit", foolishness, and if you spend your whole life trying to answer foolish questions, all your answers will be foolish, too.”

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Happy Anniversary Rooftop Reviews!

Today marks the beginning of the 4th year for Rooftop Reviews. It sounds so much more established to say it that way, rather than this is our 3rd Anniversary. At first I began with 1 post per week, reviewing whatever book I had read during the past 7 days. From there I began to add little posts about what I was doing, then a poem here and there, and before long I was posting on a daily basis. From July through November of 2009 I even posted a 30 chapter mini autobiography which spans the years between when I was born and the birth of my daughter Sarah in 1987. I need to go back and correct some spelling (this was before I used spell check)as well as re-scan some of the photos. But, all in all, it was a worthwhile endeavor, and with one, or maybe two exceptions, it was well received.

I began the blog as a way of leaving something of myself for my children and grandchildren. They only ever get to know you as a parent, or grandparent, so I thought it would be nice for them to have some way of seeing me in a different light. I hope that someday they will read it. And, of course, I hope that they will like the person they meet in those pages.

I constructed the site so that it would give the reader 7 posts per hit to choose from. I had to learn how to scan photos and book covers, not a hard thing to do, but to a dinosaur such as myself, these were major achievements. Then I learned that I could "embed" clips from You Tube in my posts, which lent a whole new dimension to the blog; Music.

I am sometimes asked what my favorite book is, and people are surprised when I answer "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn". Since most of my posts on books are about non-fiction, I can easily understand the surprise. In non-fiction I would have to say that one of my favorite books is Merle Miller's superb oral autobiography of Harry Truman, "Plain Speaking". Within those pages are the answers to most of the questions we all have about American history, as well as our role in the world post World War Two. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite quotes comes from that book. Dean Acheson, Secretary of State under President Truman, once said, "I incline to go along with Winston Churchill, who said that among the deficiencies of hindsight is that while we know the consequences of what was done, we do not know the consequences of some other course that was not followed."

Two of my biggest surprises have been an e-mail from Olivia De Havilland, and a note, sent "snail-mail" by Ernest Borgnine, almost two years after I reviewed his book "Ernie". That note hangs on my wall. There have been many authors who have graciously answered e-mails, and even more astonishing to me have been the unsolicited notes from other authors that I have written about.

Another unexpected surprise for me is that I now find myself cited as a source in certain articles as I browse the internet. I will look up something on the Civil War, for instance, and while reading think, "this sounds a bit familiar", and then find that the author of that article has cited me as a reference. At first I was a bit taken aback; after all, I am only an armchair historian at best; but I do have to say that in 3 years there have only been about 3 factual mistakes in my posts. I'm a bit proud of that, considering my level of formal education.

I try to do a mix each week of movie reviews, at least one book, something historical and something musical. Occasionally I have been known to go off on a political subject, but I try to keep that down to a minimum, as there is already enough noise out there without my adding to the overall cacophony of differing opinions.

By far the most satisfying of things to happen with this blog is becoming friends with the irrepressible Eddie Ray, who heads the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame, located in Kannapolis, North Carolina, about 18 minutes from my home. Our age difference notwithstanding, a mutual love of music and poetry; along with a respect for one another; has forged a lasting friendship. He is, quite simply put, a remarkable person.

And of course, there is my wife Sue to thank; she listens to all my posts as I read them aloud for clarity and errors. That can't be an easy task, but she endures it all the same. Also, thanks to all of you who drop in here regularly, you know who you are, and the 17 brave souls who have actually posted as "members". By the way, I have tried to get in touch with several of you over the past couple of years, but I simply cannot make the thing work out. I always end up by joining my own site! As a matter of fact, one of the 17 "members" is me. I just can't figure out how to get it down! A dinosaur in the digital age am I…

It also amazes me that Rooftop Reviews is read in 89 different languages and 59 countries each day. With an average daily circulation of about 250 "hits", this is hardly going viral, but I am still in awe of the reach of this simple blog.

Please don't forget that almost all of my books and videos come from the local libraries in the Town of Mooresville, and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Libraries. Both of these institutions allow me to use their services for free, although I do not reside in either Mooresville, or Mecklenburg County. These pages would be barren without them.

But most of all, and by far the most wonderful part of this blog has been in getting to know myself a bit more. With each book I read, song I hear, or movie I watch, I discover another piece of who I am. So, you might say that, this blog, along with myself, are both works in progress.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"You Can't Get a Man With a Gun" - Betty Hutton (1950)

This scene, from the film version of "Annie Get Your Gun", is a wonderful example of the exuberance with which Betty Hutton performed. Her facial expressions, as well as her over exaggerated moves, both served to bring across; with verve; whatever musical number she ever performed. I have featured Ms. Hutton on here before, and was surprised at the amount of interest she still generates. Though she passed away in 2007; her videos and recordings will allow her to live forever in the hearts of her fans. And, in case you haven't guessed, I'm one.

The video below, which I have posted before, is of Ms. Hutton performing one of my favorite songs of all time; Hoagy Carmichael's buoyant, "Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief." This was also one of the very first records I actually remember playing on a phonograph. It was one of my Mom's 78 RPM acetates, and I was about 3 years old at the time. I suppose my attraction to the record was due to the war whoops employed by Ms. Hutton as she sang her heart out while putting across the vivid lyrics written by Mr. Carmichael. I'm not sure if the song is "politically correct" any longer, but then again, I really don't care.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Death in the City of Light" by David King (2011)

This is the true, and bizarre, tale of a serial killer in occupied Paris during World War Two. It is bizarre in more ways than one, the first being the most obvious. Imagine the Nazi's looking for a serial killer, even while they are, arguably, the cream of the crop when it comes to mass murder. Seemingly, things couldn't get much stranger; but they do.

On March 11th, 1944 Jacques Marcais and his wife awoke to a smoke filled apartment. Not ordinary chimney smoke, but a foul, noxious odor often associated with death itself. What made this even more disturbing was the fact that the couple had lived in the apartment for the past 5 days, in order to quench the foul odor emanating from the courtyard outside their windows. The odor seemed to be coming from the vacant building next door, a 2-1/2 story town house. This building, at 21 Rue Le Sueur, would become the focal point of an investigation leading to 27 murders. The real number of victims is said to be as high as 150 persons in total.

Adding to this mystery is the location of the grisly murder scene, located, as it was, in the midst of the Nazi bureaucracy, and around the corner from Gestapo headquarters itself. Who owned the building? And who were the victims? Was this the work of a Nazi death squad? Or was it associated with the French Resistance? Were the victims collaborators with the Nazi's, or were they members of the French Underground? These are the questions which confronted Frech Commissaire Georges-Victor Massu, the Chief Inspector of the Brigade Criminelle. But, in the end, the real reason behind these murders will leave you aghast at the ability of man to exploit his fellow creatures.

Ascertaining the owner of the building makes the chief suspect a Doctor Marcel Petiot, a well-liked physician who treats the poor and also helps people kick their morphine habits. He was known locally as the "People's Doctor" for all of his generosity. But there are some things in his past which shed new light on this man's love of his fellow man.

In this Poe-like tale of murder in Paris, Inspector Massu must navigate a broken system of justice under the waning days of the Nazi occupation, he must wade through the cast of prostitutes and drug addicts who inhabited the world of the Doctor in order to arrive at the truth. And when he finally does charge his suspect, the trial takes place in a courtroom which quickly becomes a sort of black comedy of its own.

The Doctor is tried for all 27 murders at once, a feat which would tax the resources of any municipality today, let alone a city torn by war and partisanship. The case is not cut and dry, and the Doctor's defense is the up and coming criminal defense attorney Rene Floriot, who gives the prosecution a run for its money in a case which reads like a top notch thriller.

With some background involving the last days of the First World War, and the subsequent decades of the 20's and 30's, with their divergent economic differences, the author, David King, manages to cover all the bases in this complicated who-dun-it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Virgin of Charity of El Cobre

When the Pope visits Cuba this week he will be stopping by the Iglesia El Cobre Santiago de Cuba, pictured here, where the Virgin of Charity has a shrine. This shrine has a long history in Cuba, dating back over 400 years. The story is quite simple; the Virgin of Charity is a statue of the Virgin Mary (La Virgen de la Caridad) located in the town of El Cobre, just outside the mining town of Santiago. This shrine is probably the single most important religious place in all of Cuba. Our Lady of Charity is also called by the name of Our Lady of Cobre, and is the patroness of Cuba. Reading of the Pope's visit to Cuba this week and of his planned visit to this site sent me looking for more information about it.

The basilica, where the shrine is housed, is known as the National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Charity, or Basílica Santuario Nacional de Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre in Spanish. It was built in 1926 and is located in El Cobre, where a feast is held in the Virgins honor each September 8th. Although the history behind the Virgin of Charity goes back over 4 centuries, she was first declared the Patron Saint of Cuba in 1916 by the Pope.

In 1550 El Cobre was a Spanish copper mine. It was manned by native Indians and slaves, whom the Spanish had brought with them. 58 years later, in 1608, around the same time as we were establishing the first colonies in America, 2 Indian children, Rodrigo and Juan de Hoyos, and their slave, Juan Moreno, set out to the Bay of Nipe for salt. It was there that they saw a small statue of the Virgin Mary floating in the water near the mine. She was carrying a gold cross along with the Baby Jesus. Both the statue and the cross were attached to a board which was inscribed "Yo soy la Virgen de la Caridad", or, "I am the Virgin of Charity", in English.

Since the church in El Cobre at the time was dedicated to St. James, the patron of the Conquest, the statue was stored in a thatched hut, not in the church. It was perceived by the Spanish as a threat capable of inspiring faith in the slaves. It had the potential of making them feel as if better days were coming. But something strange happened to the Virgin in exile from the church.

For three nights in a row the statue vanished from the hut, always to be found atop the hill which overlooks El Cobre. For the next 22 years she would be housed in a series of small shrines made by the local inhabitants of the town in order to protect her. Many people believe that the Virgin actually chose the spot atop the hill in Oriente where the Cubans first began their revolt against their Spanish conquerors.

In 1630 the mines were closed and the slaves were freed. The Virgin then took its place above the statue of St. James in the church, a fitting tribute of hope to the victims of the Spanish conquerors. The Cuban people believe that the Virgin has interceded on their behalf many times since then, most notably in 1731; the year before our own George Washington was even born; as a symbol of emancipation at a time when slavery was being re-introduced to the island. Her intervention, and success, in preventing the practice of slavery in Cuba spread her reputation, and devotion, from one end of the island to the other. It is a fact that in this place, Oriente, the first settlement in Cuba was made; the town of Baracoa; and it was also in Oriente where the slaves were set free for good in 1868. Pretty big accomplishments for such a small statue.

Finally, in 1916, at the behest of the Veterans of the Cuban War for Independence, Our Lady of Charity was made the patroness of Cuba by Pope Benedict XV in 1916. Pope Paul VI elevated her sanctuary to the status of a Basilica in 1977. Each year, in September, a procession is held honoring the Virgin. The statue is carefully removed from the sanctuary and paraded through the streets, much as the Feast of St. Gennaro is celebrated in New York's Little Italy, as well as in Naples, Italy. Whether you believe in these things, or not, they provide hope to oppressed peoples all around the world. And sometimes, hope is all that we, and they, have.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Day in the Life

We began the afternoon, Sue and I, with nothing to do. So we went to the hardware store, where I got the most beautifully landscaped parking space that I have ever seen. As a matter of fact, until I saw this spot at Ace Hardware; in Corneilus, North Carolina; I had no idea that there was such a thing as a landscaped parking spot. It made the old station wagon look like a young girl on her first date. She glowed.

From there we went across the street to take a look at Legion Park, where some sort of festival was said to be going on. We were pretty late, it was about 3:30 or so, but we did find this group of Sue's family who were holding their annual family reunion. We marveled at the co-incidence. Sue is, of course, a Daughter of the American Revolution, her great grandfather, several times removed, having served in the Continental Army. Obtaining any news of his current whereabouts was especially gratifying. I should mention that there were still several Redcoat stragglers in the area.

Generally, things went so well; meeting as were all were for the first time; that the family kind of got carried away and decided to blow off a cannon to celebrate this chance meeting of two generations, so far removed from one another. With thunder rolling in the distance; coming off the lake in the background, and under the threat of imminent rain; the cannon was set off twice, its roar seeming to dwarf the thunder of the God's themselves. And that was also the last we saw of the Redcoat stragglers!

And what better way to end such a day but to grab some quick Italian food at Romanello's, in Huntersville, where we were joined for part of our meal by the owner's daughter Pari. We were kind of reluctant to let her go home with her father. All in all, it was a perfect day; considering we set out with nothing to do.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Carrot Blanca" with Bugs Bunny (1945)

This Warner Brothers cartoon from 1945 is a comedic send-up of the 1943 film "Casablanca". The plot is pretty much true to the movie, with a little bit of fun thrown in. With Bugs Bunny playing Rick; Daffy Duck as Sam the piano player; Tweety taking on the Peter Lorre role as Ugarte, and Sylvester Cat as Victor Lazlo, this is a very clever satire of the film. Even Dooley Wilson singing "Knock on Wood" is covered in this 8 minute cartoon.

Rounding out the cast of characters is Porky Pig as Signor Ferrari; the owner of Rick's rival cafe, The Blue Parrot; along with Pepe Le Pew as the suave Captain Renault. And, of course, Yosemite Sam plays Major Strasser, the Nazi in search of "stolen documents." It's amazing at how much of the movie is captured in this cartoon, which is actually featured with the bonus materials on the DVD of the original film.

There are many of these classic cartoon send-ups of some very famous movies. The studios, like Warners, who originally released the films, also owned the rights to them, and were determined to make every last buck off of them. Hence the cartoon versions. Amazingly, they are all equally good, and entertaining as well. Below is the trailer for the original film, just for a little comparison.

Friday, March 23, 2012

"Imitation of Life" with Claudette Colbert, Louise Beavers, and Ned Sparks (1934)

When Bea Pullman is widowed, she and her 8 year old daughter Jessie are hard-pressed to make ends meet. At this crucial moment of Bea's life Delilah Johnson shows up on her doorstep, looking for work. It's the middle of the Great Depression and Delilah, played by Louise Beavers, is willing to work as a maid for Bea and her daughter. Delilah has a daughter of her own, named Peola, played by Fredi Washington. She is the same age as Jessie, and though her mother is as black as can be, Peola is light skinned and easily mistaken for white. At first this causes no trouble, but as she gets older, things change. Meantime, the two women need one another; Bea needs the help in order to find work, while Delilah needs the job to feed herself and Peola.

Delilah makes the most wonderful pancakes in the world, and the two women set out to open a pancake house. Alan Hale plays the store fixture salesman, Marvin, who is outwitted by Bea when the two negotiate the refurbishing of the store which Bea has selected to open her pancake house. With no money down Bea must convince Marvin to let her have the furnishings and make payments.

The business is doing well and all problems seem to have vanished when Elmer Smith; played with his usual aplomb by Ned Sparks; an out of work victim of the Depression, comes loitering outside the shop on the boardwalk. He is broke, and hungry. He offers to give Bea a million dollar idea for a "stack of those wheat cakes". His idea is simply put; "Why not box it?" And they do, with Aunt Delilah's picture on the cover. The gamble is a huge success, making the women wealthy in a short time. He also becomes their business partner, always looking out for Bea.

As all of this is taking place, the two daughters, Jessie and Peola grow up. And, as they do, Peola realizes that in spite of her light skin, she is black. When her mother inadvertently "blows her cover", the child is mortified and rejects her in order to lead a life "passing" as white. This, of course breaks her mother’s heart, and Delilah is taken ill from the stress and pain of having "lost" her daughter.

Meanwhile, Jessie has grown into a beautiful young woman, just as her mother has fallen in love with Stephen Archer, played by Warren William. He is an expert entomologist, that is, he studies insects. When Peola goes missing, both Bea and Delilah go in search of her, leaving Jessie alone with Steve for a few days. During this time she falls in love with him, in spite of the difference in their ages. Although he finds her to be a delightful young woman, he is truly in love with Bea.

By this time, Delilah has passed away, and Peola has returned home, mortified at the way she treated her mother. Jessie, on the other hand, has decided that her mother's happiness is more important than her own, and plans to go to Europe for a few years and complete her schooling, thus removing herself from the situation between her mother and Steve. But Bea will have none of it, and though it breaks her heart to do so, she calls off her impending marriage to Steve, realizing that their union would always represent a division between herself and her daughter.

This is one of the best films of the 1930's. It is also one of Ms. Colbert's best performances, encompassing drama, tinged with a bit of humor thrown in. Fans of "It Happened One Night" will enjoy this movie immensely. Though “Imitation of Life” was remade in the 1950's with Lana Turner, the original is still the benchmark for this wonderful film. Taken from the novel by Fannie Hurst, and with a screenplay by William Hurlbut, you simply can't go wrong with this one.

Trayvon Martin - RIP

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Scopes Trial - Two Views

This is an actual photo of the closing arguments in the Scopes Monkey Trial which tackled the issue of Evolution in 1925. The story is familiar to almost all Americans; and still rages today; Creationism versus Evolution. We will leave that argument for another time. I will only quote the late John Paul II, who said, "Science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes." I tend to believe that there is much truth in that statement.

The focus of this post is the difference between the movie "Inherit the Wind" with Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow, facing off with Fredric March as William Jennings Bryan. I have never understood the need to turn the real life trial into fiction. Don't get me wrong, it's one of my favorite films. Although it takes a bit of license with some of the characters, the courtroom dialogue is almost verbatim with the words spoken during the trial. Except for one little difference; the summation; which was actually held outdoors, just across from the courthouse. The trial had engendered so much interest that there was simply not enough room for all of the interested spectators and press attending the proceedings.

Another great difference is that although lawyers are actors to some extent, the trial was recorded audibly, and listening to the same summations by the actors versus the lawyers is a “no win” for the lawyers. They have the words, but the actors have the greater ability to deliver them with the passion they deserve.

The photo above is of the actual summation; note that William Jennings Bryan (seated) is snapping his suspenders, just as Fredric March did in the film. The man in the foreground, and speaking, is Clarence Darrow. There are radio broadcasts of the trial available on line so that you can compare the two different deliveries for yourself. A scene from the movie is posted below with the link provided. The You Tube embeds from the film have been disabled by request, hence the link, rather than the actual film. By the way; note the resemblance between William Jennings Bryan and Fredric March; in the photograph above, as well as the film, it's positively uncanny.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"A Line In the Sand" by James Barr (2012)

The Middle East is a puzzle of contemporary history, with a cast of governments, and officials, who have managed to turn the entire area into a global disaster waiting to happen. We often look back only as far as the late 1940's and the rise of Israel to statehood as the root of the problems there. This is a very short sighted outlook.

While the conflicts in the Middle East can be traced as far back as biblical times, the most influential events which have ravaged the region occurred in the years during the First World War. It was during this time, when T.E. Lawrence, under orders from General Allenby, united the Arab tribes in order to break the back of the Ottoman Empire. Even as the fighting was raging, a secret agreement; which came to be known as the Sykes-Picot agreement; drew a line in the sand from the Mediterranean Sea to the foothills of Persia. The land north of the line would go to France, while the lands south of the line would belong to the British. Nobody consulted the Arabs.

The British quickly took possession of the Eastern side of the Suez Canal and began their tepid backing of a Jewish state. The French, looking to maintain control in Lebanon and Syria, exploited the political chasm between the Zionists and the British. This was the true beginning of the conflict which rages in the Middle East to this very day, and as such it bears close examination. Mr. Barr, with this book, has done just that.

At the time, the French were very much concerned that the British were undermining their rule in the area, and the British were of the same opinion of the French. So, through a series of what can only be described as "political blundering", based largely upon a struggle between the two colonial powers in the area, the stage was set for the struggles which began almost immediately after the end of the First World War.

The French, of course, gained Lebanon and Syria; while the British retained control of Palestine, portions of Egypt and Transjordan, as well as Iraq. The British then created Kuwait as a way of cutting Iraq off from the sea, requiring Iraq to ship its oil through Kuwait, as well as paying a tax for doing so. Of course, this became the basis for the "First Gulf War" in 1991, when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

The book also explores the role of Germany during the Second World War, and her efforts to seize Iraq from British control. The RAF, in support of this effort, bombed the Syrian airfields which were being used by the Germans to re-fuel their planes.

Mr. Barr has done an excellent job of tracing the conflict in the Mid-East to several pivotal events, most going back to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the First World War. Peopled with such luminary figures as Sir Mark Sykes, and his French counterpart Francois Georges-Picot, along with David Lloyd George, T.E. Lawrence, and Winston Churchill, this book will provide the reader with excellent background in helping to understand the present day Middle East and just how it got so fouled up.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"The Story of Qiu Ju" with Li Gong and Kesheng Lei (1992) Subtitled

This film, based on the novel "The Wans Family Lawsuit" by Chen Yuan Bin, is the story of Qiu Ju, a pregnant Chinese woman, played by Li Gong, whose husband, Qinglai, is kicked and humiliated by the local Village Chief Wang Shantang, played by Kesheng Lei. In actuality, Qinglai really started the fight when he ridiculed Wang for only having 4 girls and no sons. This questions Wang’s virility, and so he responds with a resounding kick to Quiling's groin. When confronted by Qiu Ju over this assault, Wang ridicules her for having to come to the aid of her husband.

Qiu Ju then takes her case to a local party Official, Officer Li, who suggests a monetary settlement to cover Qinglai's medical expenses. Wang then throws some cash at her, telling her that for every piece of cash she picks up, she bows to his superiority. Incensed, she begins her quest for justice.

The film is set in China, just on the verge of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Seeking re-dress for her husband’s humiliation, she takes her case from court to court, appealing each verdict of Not Guilty against Wang. As the appeals mount, taking Qiu Ju from her small country village to larger and larger cities for the trials, the penalty for the loser mounts in severity, until an ultimate climax occurs, one with swift and irrevocable consequences for all involved.

During the time in which these trials are taking place, China is rocked by Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution. All public institutions are closed, or overtaken by youth cadres of the Red Guard, who systematically destroy everything they are in disagreement with. This solidifies Mao's hold on the country, as purge after purge dislodges all semblance of order. Wang, although a gruff and uneducated man, is not without compassion. In one of the most telling scenes in the movie he is called upon to use the only motorized vehicle in the village in order to save the life of Qiu Ju's baby. The viewer begins to see beyond his outward gruffness, as does Qiu Ju, but the wheels of justice are in motion and nothing will stop the case against the Village Chief.

One of the finer aspects of this film is that it takes place right at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, giving the viewer a lesson in Chinese history that will linger on long after the film has ended. The lesson imparted by this film is one about compromise. When both sides refuse to back down, tragedy can be the only outcome.

Filmmaker Zhang Yimou really outdid himself on this epic film. He is the Chinese born director who supposedly sold his own blood to buy his first camera. With this film he created a statement about compromise, and the consequences of refusing to meet one another somewhere in the middle.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Turtles In the Park, with Birds.

There's a new park near us with a lake and a nature trail, so naturally, no pun intended, Sue and I took a ride over to look around a bit. The new park is called North Cabarrus Park and is located just off of Orphanage Road in the Northern part of the County, which is where we live. It was great. There were turtles everywhere. And I love turtles, just as much as my friend Iona does. We both shared a love of the docile little creatures when we were younger. As a matter of fact, it was she who inspired me to begin this blog 3 years ago this month. So, I couldn't help but think of her as we looked at the turtles, wandering and swimming on a beautiful day.

There were scores of them. As development has encroached on their natural environment, they have sought out the ponds and nature areas in order to survive. When Sue and I first moved to North Carolina in 1998, there were turtles everywhere. Frequently, I was forced to stop the car and rescue one that had become stuck on the centerline, head and legs in its shell, afraid to move either way. Those days are gone, and it has been about 3 years since I have even seen a turtle attempting to cross the road.

The turtles aren't alone in the pond and on the grassy areas of the park. They are accompanied by several families of swans and ducks, who wander freely about, unperturbed by the humans meandering in their midst. This preening bird was only too happy to pose for the camera. He looks a bit like George Clooney from a certain angle, particularly when he holds his head in a particular way.(That's a private joke.) But catching him at just the right moment proved a bit tricky, as he was very busy picking at his feathers with his bill.

And he has plenty of company; hanging out with the ducks can be fun. These two birds were together the entire time we were at the park. They even went swimming together at the same time, returning to shore later, as a team. I think there is something going on between them, though I'm not quite certain what it is. But they were awfully close, proving that "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime", just as Dean Martin sang so many years ago. Somethings, especially in nature, never really change.

Nature Preserves, and Wetland Areas, though scorned by some, are a necessary part of preserving our environment for the future. Without these parks the turtles, and the other inhabitants of our streams and ponds, would be hard pressed to remain a part of the eco-system which we all depend upon. And that's something we just can't afford to lose.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Golden Salamander" with Trevor Howard, Anouk Aimee and Herbert Lom (1949)

Directed by Ronald Neame from a novel by Victor Canning, this screen adaptation by Lesley Storm is the crème de la crème of British film noire from the late 1940's. In my own opinion it ranks right up there with "The Third Man" starring Orson Welles. The plot is deceptively simple, insurance investigator David Redfern, played by Trevor Howard, is faced with busting an antique theft ring in Tunisia, or going after the woman he falls in love with, Anna, played by screen legend Anouk Aimée. If you have never seen her on screen before, this is the movie to start with. It is also one of my all-time favorite films from the J. Arthur Rank Organisation. I always loved the way they began the films with that traditional gong. It really set the tone for the intrigue to come.

With a Mid-Eastern flavor evoking strains of "Casablanca", this is a very cleverly written film. I could tell you more about it, or you can just watch it above. I love You Tube. For some good synopsis' of the film go to;

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

In this holiday feautre from Warner brothers, "The Wearing of the Grin", Porky Pig gets stranded in the rain, and then takes refuge in a castle said to be inhabited by leprechauns. This is a funny cartoon, which still makes me laugh each time I see it. As usual, Mel Blanc does all the voices, showcasing once again his genius at inhabiting multiple characters. He must have been a scream to hang around with. And probably a lot of fun if you were one of his kids!

Take a few minutes and watch this cartoon. Let the leprechauns work some magic on you and make you laugh. You will feel the luck of the Irish if you do. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, and may all your leprechauns bring you luck!

And for the older folks looking at this site today; here are The Irish Rovers singing their famous hit song, "The Unicorn", from 1967. The Rovers perform the song here live at Waterfront Hall in Belfast in 2010. By the way; Canada has been their home since they were little kids; their mother and father, who were themselves musical, emigrated to Canada from Ireland in the late 1950's. The children had already been performing in Ireland.

The original recording, released in late 1967, worked its way up the charts to number 7 in early 1968. It was written by Shel Silverstein, the iconic cartoonist and writer for Playboy magazine, who gave us such treasures as "The Giving Tree", "A Boy Named Sue", and a host of other hit songs and children's books of poetry.

The band was named after a traditional Irish song, "The Irish Rover". George and Will Millar were the two brothers, both born in Ballymena, in the North of Ireland, near Belfast, who founded the band. Their mother and father were both musically inclined, with their father, Bob Millar, playing a "button-key" accordion in several bands even before settling in Toronto. A cousin, Joe Millar, sang along with Bob in the family kitchen, adding his harmonica to the mix. George and Will sang with their sister, Sandra, under the name "The Millar Kids" before the family moved to Canada.

The unicorn is of course, a mythical beast. Still, this song does offer a sentimental reason for why we never see one anymore. You know, free spirits often pay a high price for their freedom...

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Sky King" with Kirby Roberts and Gloria Winters (1951)

I don't know whose idea it was to re-release this old staple of early television, but I'm glad they did! I haven't seen an episode of “Sky King” since I was about 5 years old in 1959. The shows were originally filmed in the early 1950's; these 4 episodes are amongst the earliest.

For those unfamiliar with, or deprived of the pleasure, “Sky” King was the nickname of Schuyler "Sky" King, played by Kirby Grant. Along with his ponytailed niece Penny, played by Gloria Winters, and their plane "Songbird", a Cessna 310-B, the duo patrol their vast ranch in Arizona, as well as help out the local sheriff when he is attempting to catch one of the "bad guys". Nothing beats a car like a plane, and the two are continually swooping down to rope one in. When not catching bad guys, the duo are helping to rescue people lost in the desert or in need of quick transfer to medical facilities located faraway.

So, last night I took a trip back in time; 52 years in fact; to when I was 5 years old, the good guys wore white hats, and always won. My only regret at seeing this show re-released is that I will never win at Trivia again when the question comes up concerning the name of “Sky King's” plane! It seems that I was the only one who remembered it. I once actually won $10 bucks in a "bar bet" concerning that very question.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"My Own Love Song" with Renee Zellweger, Forest Whitaker and Nick Nolte (2011)

This is a very unusual film which explores the walls and boundaries, largely of our own creation, that divide us, and how we imprison ourselves within those walls. It's also about what it takes to break free of them.

When Jane, a wheelchair bound former country singer, played by Renee Zellweger, receives a letter from her son, whom she gave up as an infant, the only one who can help her in achieving her goal is Joey, played with brilliance by Forest Whitaker. He speaks to angels, and they speak to him. He has been in, and out, of mental hospitals, where he is drugged to the point at which he can no longer feel. He longs for the day when he can live alone again, just as Jane longs to see the son she gave up. With the obstacles facing this unlikely duo, it's a long shot at best that they will achieve their goals.

When Joey has a breakdown and destroys Jane's home, she is furious. When he sneaks back in the middle of the night to clean up the mess, she isn't any happier. But the incident serves as the catalyst for the two to undertake the seemingly impossible journeys, or achieve the seemingly impossible goals which they have set out upon. But through an unusual set of circumstances, and an equally number of unusual people whom they meet along the way, the two "cripples" wind up doing all they set out to do, and more. They learn that everybody, in their own unique way, is crippled, too. And that knowledge frees them from feeling that they are somehow different, or less capable than anyone else.

An outstanding performance by Nick Nolte, as a washed up guitar player, and a soundtrack featuring original music written and performed by Bob Dylan, help to make this is a somewhat "off beat" film. But that's only at first glance. Just scratch the surface and you will see a little bit of yourself somewhere in this film.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Two Dick Powells - From Musicals to Mystery

There are two Dick Powells; the one who, along with Ruby Keeler, sang and danced his way into the hearts of America in all the great musicals of the 1930's; with films such as "42nd Street", which is still somewhat of a staple for me on New Years Eve. His charm and vocal abilities, along with his dancing skills, made him what was then referred to as a "heart throb" for millions of his fans. But, after awhile, dancing was the last thing which he wanted to do. He longed for a serious lead, even in a "B" movie. It took awhile, but in 1944 he got his chance to reinvent himself in a serious movie, as the leading character in the film "Murder My Sweet", and it wouldn't be his last.

In this wonderful piece of film noire, directed by Edward Dmytryk, Mr. Powell hangs up his hat and cane to play gumshoe Philip Marlowe in the film version of Raymond Chandler's famed private eye. As a matter of fact, Mr. Chandler once referred to Dick Powell as having come the closest to the author's own vision of Philip Marlowe. That's high praise, considering that Marlowe has been played by everybody, from Humphrey Bogart in the early 1940's, to Robert Mitchum in the mid 1970's.

One of the more remarkable aspects of this film is the use; by the bad guys; of mind altering drugs, or truth serums, on Marlowe as he is "pumped" for information leading to the recovery of some very valuable jade; which may, or may not, be missing. What makes it so remarkable is that most of us associate these types of drugs with the early CIA experiments of the 1950's. Of course, it is well known that the Nazis had developed some very powerful hallucinogenic drugs during the war, so maybe it's not so remarkable at all. But the special effects; limited as they were to the technology of the times; are mind bending of their own accord. A great thanks is due director Edward Dmytryk for these innovative concepts, which would later be imitated by Alfred Hitchcock in several of his own films.

Thrown into the mix, in this film adaptation of the novel, are some unusual characters, all equally unforgettable. From the broken down jazz singer to the hulking presence of "Moose" Malloy; an ex-con who is looking for his girl Velma, who; just as with the jade, may, or may not be waiting for him; all the actors play an integral part in the mystery. This is one of those movies that plays out on screen as well as it reads, in spite of a few minor changes by screenwriter John Paxton.

The big surprise in this film is the unique adaptability of Dick Powell, from a song and dance man, to a serious actor. And playing opposite veterans such as Claire Trevor and Anne Shirley really gives the viewer a chance to see Mr. Powell as a leading man in a straight role, which is in itself, a treat.

Monday, March 12, 2012

"Poisioning the Press" by Mark Feldstein

During the late 1960's, and the early 1970's, a sea change occurred in America regarding the relationship between the press and the reigning politicians. It would be easy to just blame the politicians, who, of course, usually have something to hide, hence their resentment of the press. But when politics begins to motivate the reporters as well; who are supposed to be the guardians of the so-called "Fourth Estate"; the combination of these two entities in competition for control of the truth only bodes trouble for the very institutions, and people, whom both entities are supposedly protecting. The war between Jack Anderson and Richard Nixon is a perfect example of this.

Two men could not have been more alike in their origins than Jack Anderson, the future newspaper columnist, and Richard Nixon, the future President of the United States. Both were born to hard working middle class families in Southern California, and both were brought up as fundamentalist Christians; Nixon, as a Quaker; Anderson, as a Mormon. Both served in the Pacific during the Second World War, defending their country. Even after the war, their separate career paths took both to Washington, where they would spend the next 30 years battling with one another. Mostly it was a contest of words. But in the early spring of 1972, before the Watergate burglaries even took place, this rivalry was turning deadly, as the Nixon Administration, utilizing the skills of G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, plotted the death of the President's main nemesis, which had by this point, become an obsession.

Chronicling the rivalry between these two men, the author draws on an extensive bibliography of news articles and government documents to illustrate his coverage of the veritable war between America's news media and the Government, a war which continues to affect how we choose our elected officials today.

Beginning with the Alger Hiss "Pumpkin Papers" case, the author chronicles all of the negative coverage heaped upon Nixon, including the well-known "Checkers" speech in 1952, as well as Nixon's "last" press conference in 1962, when he lost the race for Governor, declaring that "the press won't have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore." Jack Anderson, along with his mentor Drew Pearson, remained steadfastly on Nixon's tail all during the McCarthy hearings and the Roy Cohn scandal, during which Anderson fired the first shot concerning the sexual orientation of both McCarthy and Cohn. He would later use this same tactic against Nixon's White House aides, H.R.Haldeman and John Ehrlichman.

Unsurprisingly, Nixon attempted to do the same thing to Jack Anderson in order to discredit him. (That was right before he decided to have him killed.) And, while all of this was going on, J. Edgar Hoover was the one verifying the sexual orientation of the White House employees, via the use of polygraph tests. One would assume he would have known the right questions to ask. Knowing what we know about Mr. Hoover and his companion Clyde Tolson at this point, makes this scenario almost laughable, were it not true.

This is a fascinating book, which takes a hard look at both the press and the government, as they each attempt to manipulate elections, secure jobs for friends, and cover up mistakes and scandals, until the public has no idea of what is really going on. It is hard to imagine, that with all of the power, and the responsibility which goes along with it, that so much time is wasted, by both parties, in witch hunts designed to bring the other side down, not with facts and reasoning; but instead with innuendo and false accusations, character assassination, and in the extreme case, actual murder plots.

Scandal has always been a part of politics, dating back to the earliest of times. But during the 3 decades in which Richard Nixon and Jack Anderson fought their protracted, personal battle in the press, something was lost. That something was the civility of political discourse, which was the foundation of our Democracy. Sadly, going down that slippery slope has proven far easier than regaining the high ground. Just look at the 24/7 news media today, and the fatally divided nation which we now inhabit. And when you do, remember, the blame for that division falls on both sides of the aisle.

This is an entertaining and informative book, which recounts an era that changed America forever, and not necessarily for the better.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Midnight - The Community Cat

We have grown accustomed to feeding the community cat, "Midnight", aka "Meow", and have reported here on his wanderings before. Along with Sue and I, our neighbors have been pretty good at letting Midnight come and go wherever, and whenever, it pleases him. He just doesn't get to live indoors. C'est la vie. In return though, he has a sense of independence which is unknown to all of the other "house cats" in the neighborhood; you know the type; the ones with the cute little "cat" doors on the back porch. They don't have to worry about where their next meal is coming from. They have it made, and they know it, too.

Midnight, on the other hand, has no escape door, no refuge; save for the few wits he does seem to possess; and yet he has managed to survive the winter relatively unscathed. He has left our garage now, with its heating pad and blanket, opting instead for our neighbor Linda's wicker front porch sofa. And now, he has stumped us all by taking his afternoon "cat naps" in her earth filled pot, which sits next to the sofa. We can only surmise that after watching the birds nesting, his paternal instincts have kicked in, and he is patiently "nesting" on his own, just as they do. They sit for a few days, and when they get up, little birds fly out, so why not kittens? It sounds stupid, I know. But, absent any other explanation I'm going with this one for now. I'll let you know what happens, or not, as soon as it does, or doesn't.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Betty Boop in "Halloween Party" by Max and Dave Fleischer (1933)

Even though this cartoon is in black and white, you can tell by the fluidity of motion that this is a Max and Dave Fleischer production. This is one of the many Betty Boop cartoons which were banned for a time, due to perceived racial streotypes, as well as drug abuse. I don't really see it in this one, so maybe someone can point it out to me.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Moment with Jupiter and Venus

I have always loved the stars and planets. To me, they represent the divine, the unattainable, and the mystery of life. I don't worship them, rather, I admire them. They do exactly as they are supposed to do without question, or complaint. They are the time clock of our existence.

Looking at a star that is no longer there; the light having taken so long to reach us that the star has long since burned out; always reminds me of the fleeting moments of time which we call our lives. Those years represent only a "needle in a haystack"; or, a lone grain of sand in a desert.

I took this picture last night in front of our house in Concord, North Carolina. There is a street light behind me, and several more down the road. But still, the majesty of these two planets remained visible, even through the clouds. The larger of the two is Jupiter, which is the largest object in the sky, at 9 times the size of our own planet. The shot is of the two planets setting in the western night time sky. For me, this was a huge reminder of just how small we all are.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Purim is one of the happiest of all the Jewish holidays in that it is an observance of a victory, rather than one of sorrow. Basically, as I am no Biblical scholar, the story, as I understand it, celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from the wrath of Haman in the book of Esther. One of my friend’s mothers had that name, and she carried herself with all of the elegance one would associate with the good Queen, who helped the Jewish people in their time of need.

In the Book of Esther, in the so-called "Old" Testament, the story begins when King Ahasuerus tells his wife, Queen Vashti, to come to him and his friends at a party and display her charms; which she refuses to do, as she is not sure of his intentions. Accordingly, he finds a new Queen; they were apparently readily available in the old days; and he does this by holding a beauty contest. Think of it as the Miss America pageant, about 3,000 years removed. Esther, a Jewish girl; presumably from Brooklyn; is selected to be his wife. She does not tell him that she is Jewish; only that she is orphaned. In reality she lives with her cousin Mordechai, with the tribe of Benjamin in Persia. Back then they still had Jews there.

Soon after she becomes Queen, Esther's cousin Mordechai angers one of the King's friends, Grand Vizier Haman, by refusing to bow before him. Why, I do not know. But Haman was somewhat taken aback, and in an act of retribution decides to punish him by convincing the King to kill all of the Jews, who have clearly gotten out of hand. The King assents to this plan, ordering the destruction of the Jews, "young and old, women and children", on the 13th day of the month of Adar. See Esther 3:13.

When Mordechai hears of this monstrous punishment he rends his clothes in mourning and sits by the city gate, awaiting the inevitable. Esther, hearing of her cousin’s state of mind, sends her servants to find out what is bothering him so. When the servant returns with a copy of the King's edict she is horrified, and at a loss as to what she should do. The Queen only appeared before the King at his pleasure, and it had been some time since they had last met. To demand an audience with him was punishable by death. This is a woman who clearly needed a pre-nup!

Her cousin Mordechai convinces her that she was made Queen by God in order to be there and save His Chosen People. Esther reacts by demanding that all her fellow Jews fast while she decides what to do. After 3 days everybody got hungry, and Queen Esther had hatched a plan.

She gets all dressed up in her finest robes and goes to see the King. Surprisingly, he is happy to see her and asks what it is that she desires. She asks that the King allow her to attend a banquet with him and Haman.

Haman is furious, and his family urges him to kill Mordechai by impaling him on a pole. Haman sets the pole up but has to stop short of killing Mordechai because the King has heard that it was Mordechai who had stopped a rebellion some time earlier, thus saving the King's life. In a show of gratitude, the King places his own royal robes about Mordechai, and then has Haman lead him, by foot, through the city, astride the King's own horse. In addition he is instructed to call out as he walks, for all to hear, "This is what is done for the man the King delights to honor!" See Esther 6:11.

Later on, at the banquet, King Ahasuerus asks Esther once again, what is it that she desires? Her answer is one of the most plaintive, and beautiful, quotes from the Bible; "If I have found favor with you; Your Majesty; and if it pleases you, grant me my life. This is my petition. And spare my people. This is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated." See Esther 7.

The King, realizing that Haman has tricked him into ordering the death of his own wife, Queen Esther, is rightfully outraged. When he finds out; from the maid by the way, just like in an old movie; that Haman has erected a pole to impale Mordechai upon, he is apoplectic! He then orders that Haman be impaled instead. He also awards Mordechai all of Haman's lands, as well as the signet ring which he is wearing at the moment. The King strips it from him on the spot, awarding it to Mordechai right in front of the stricken Haman. In addition he gives Queen Esther the power to overturn his orders concerning the destruction of the Jews.

In addition, she gives the orders necessary for the Jews to congregate and arm themselves against their oppressors. On the 13th day of Adar they were attacked and defeated their foes. The next day was a day of rest, and became known as Purim due to the meaning of the word "pur", which means "the lot", as in “all of them”, against the Jews, who emerged as the victors. And that is the story of Purim as I remember it. But, as I was very young at the time, I may have gotten some of it wrong.

The painting above is "The Triumph of Mordechai", painted by Pieter Pietersz Lastman.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"The Bridge Over the River Kwai" by Pierre Boulle

I have been on somewhat of an Alec Guinness kick lately. Last night I watched the film version of this extraordinary book for about the hundredth time in my life. Last week I re-read the book. Although the two versions differ from one another, as well as reality, they both never fail to disappoint me. But, when I went to do a review of the book, and movie, I found that I have already reviewed them here in tandem about 2 years ago! So, I simply decided to post a reprise of that review. Funny thing is, that after all these years, I just realized the book is titled "The Bridge OVER the River Kwai", while the film is called "The Bridge ON the River Kwai." Now there's a puzzle to look into...

As a young boy I saw the film version of this book with Alec Guinness playing the part of the British Colonel Nicholson. It was an exciting movie but I was a little bit puzzled at the time as to why a British soldier would so eagerly build a bridge for the Japanese. As I said, I was a young boy and my understanding of some things was not yet well formed.

The book, written by Pierre Boulle; who by the way also wrote "Planet of the Apes”; sets the record straight on the first page. He describes the mentality of the Japanese Colonel Saito as being the same as that of British Colonel Nicholson. They are both obsessed with "saving face". Having "spilled the beans" of the message on the first page does nothing to detract from the book. Rather it compels you to keep reading in order to justify this assertion.

The story is of two men and their clash of wills, even as they begin to realize that the gulf that separates them only underscores their similarities. They are both the end products of false pride. They are both stubbornly rooted in their own beliefs of superiority over the other.

The main thrust of the plot concerns the building of a bridge over the River Kwai. This bridge will carry trainloads of war materials to the Japanese in the isolated areas of Burma. Colonel Saito is under tremendous pressure to get the job completed. Construction on the bridge has begun with almost no progress being made as the prisoners do everything in their power to sabotage the project. It appears that they are happily succeeding in their efforts.

At this point Colonel Nicholson and his men are taken prisoner and marched into camp. They are then tasked with completion of the bridge. The Japanese Colonel, Saito is determined to bend the prisoners to his will and get the bridge built. To do less would be a loss of face. Colonel Nicholson, on the other hand, is hell bent on showing Colonel Saito that the Japanese are not capable of building a bridge without the British engineering and supervising the work. And although it is against the Geneva Convention to have prisoners work on military projects, Colonel Nicholson’s' pride makes him an unwitting accomplice to the Japanese goal. His men are less than pleased. Some think him outright insane.

Unknown to Colonel Nicholson is that word has reached the British Command of his actions. A Commando team is dispatched to destroy the bridge. By this time construction is going well and the bridge is almost complete. The first train is headed towards the River Kwai and Colonel Nicholson is ready to celebrate his "victory" over the Japanese with the successful opening of the bridge. He is flush with pride over this accomplishment.

While all this has been going on, the Commandos have infiltrated the area and have wired the bridge, planning to destroy it even as the first train crosses. As Colonel Nicholson inspects the bridge he notices the wire and races to save his beloved bridge. In a gripping climax the Commandos are forced to kill some of the prisoners as one of the Commandos races to stop Colonel Nicholson from disarming the explosives. When the Commando is killed Colonel Nicholson returns to reality and with the sounds of the locomotive crossing the bridge overhead he sets off the charge himself while exclaiming, "What have I done?"

A pulse pounding story based on fact, both the book and the movie keep you on the edge of your seat. The book underscores one of the worst of the Seven Deadly Sins- Pride.

An interesting after note to this book is the historical aspect. In real life this story actually happened- with one notable exception. The British never did destroy the bridge and it not only served the Japanese for the duration of the war, but parts of it are still in use today.

The movie was released in 1957 and garnered 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture. With flawless direction by David Lean and a cast including Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Saito and Alec Guinness as Colonel Nicholson, the movie, as well as the book, are both excellent and have long been favorites of mine.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Abbott and Costello - Stimulus Plan

I was looking to post something silly today and take the morning off. So, I typed in You Tube Abbott and Costello Double Talk, and came up with this one on the first shot. I can't claim the tie-in to the stimulus plan, that's the work of bluestarchronicles, where it was posted on April 25, 2011. But it is about as direct a rap as you can expect from anyone in, or out of, Washington these days. I kind of wish Abbott and Costello were running for something; they'd get my vote. At least they'd make me laugh while they screwed me!

And here's a great example of the "trickle down" effect, Abbott and Costello style;

Monday, March 5, 2012

"Chasing Churchill" by Celia Sanders (2003)

This little book, penned by Winston Churchill's granddaughter, Celia Sandys, is a wonderfully candid look at one of the most powerful, and quirky, leaders of the 20th century. It is also the story of a changing world, going from aristocracy to a nascent middle class; under the careful tutelage of both Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt; as the two battle in unison for victory over the Nazi's during World War Two.

All of the stories which you have heard about Churchill are true. He liked to dictate his letters in a flowered dressing gown, often finding it hard to keep a stenographer for very long. At the beginning of the Second World War he is assigned a young woman who managed to "stay the course", and when she was unavailable Sir Winston sometimes used his daughter Mary, who was serving in the British Armed Forces at the time.

From his earliest years traveling as a correspondent in the Boer Wars, and later as a soldier and statesman, there is not much missing from this surprisingly brief, 260 page book. His famous car accident in New York, in which he was struck by an automobile, while looking the wrong way before crossing the street, is recounted here in a more accurate way than I had previously read. And Ms. Sandys' accounts of being a passenger aboard Aristotle Onassis’s' yacht in the late 1950's and early '60's, are a rare look into the world of the rich and powerful people who control the commodities, and the cartels, which rule our lives.

The World War Two years are of great interest. At the age of 66 in 1940, Sir Winston logged more than 112,000 nautical miles, in addition to an almost equal number of air miles in the prosecution of the war. He was very much present at the front, even having to be recalled at the demand of the King when he attempted to land at Normandy on the first day of D-Day in June 1944.

His wit and wisdom are on full display, as in the time he returned to Canada after 50 years, and was asked if Niagara Falls looked any different to him after so many years; his reply was a succinct "Well, the principle seems to be the same. The water keeps falling over."

From his many foibles, to his passion for painting, Ms. Sandys' has done a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of Winston Churchill, as well as the indomitable strength of the British people, in facing the ravages of the Great Depression and the Second World War. It is hard to imagine that success without his presence and direction.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"Gun Crazy" with Peggy Cummins and John Dall (1949)

No film noir collection could be complete without this one in it. It's as cheezy as the cover looks, and maybe a bit more. The film starts out okay, a boyhood Bart Tare breaks into a gun shop and steals a pistol. He is immediately caught and sent to reform school, from which he graduates into the Army. After he gets out he returns to his hometown, now played by John Dall.

After meeting his two oldest friends, they agree to attend the local carnival. It's there where Bart meets Annie Laurie Starr, played by Peggy Cummins, a sharp shorter in a sideshow act. She shares Bart's fascination with guns. When he accepts a challenge, at 10 to 1 odds, he wins her instantly when he defeats her. After an argument with her manager concerning Bart, the two quit the sideshow and embark begin a crime spree, which is exactly what Bart would never have done on his own. He has clearly fallen victim to Annie, who now directs all their movements as they rob banks, gas stations and stores in a crime spree which is sure to end in disaster.

When Bart has an epiphany and wants to quit, Annie persuades him to take on just "one more job", which will set them up for life. Bart, thinking this is the quickest way out of the life he has fallen into, does what he did that night when he met her at the sideshow; he accepts her challenge to do "just one more job"; with predictable results.

Cool movie, if you're into a Mickey Spillane/Mike Hammer like type of scenario. Shot in black and white, in and around what seems to be Los Angeles in the late 1940's, the film is remarkably well preserved.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Sinbad the Sailor" with Popeye - (1936)

This is the 16 minute and 39 second Max Fleischer classic from 1936. In addition to the dialogue, the songs are pretty funny. And Popeye has never been in better form than he is here when vanquishing the two headed giant. My daughter Sarah and I used to watch this one on VCR, and it was always funny. It also features Popeye singing the entire theme song somewhere in the later part of the first half. This is a great cartoon, so enjoy it; with or without a child.

Friday, March 2, 2012

"Boys Town" with Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney and Henry Hull (1938)

Spencer Tracy became the first actor to win 2 consecutive Academy Awards for Best Actor when he mouthed the line, "There is no bad boy", in this moving, and somewhat rose colored account of the founding of Boys Town, just outside of Omaha, Nebraska.

When Father Flanagan, played by Tracy, visits a death row inmate he is told that if the man had only been befriended as a child, mentored in some way, his life would have turned out differently. His only concern now is for his kid brother, "Whitey" Marsh, played by Mickey Rooney. He wants Father Flanagan to go and see him, to take him under his wing and save him from a life of crime. This is a burden which he readily accepts.

Father Flanagan also has his hands full in his local Parish, where the children are largely neglected and left to their own devices. Most are poor, working class kids with severe family problems at home. Some are abused, some merely neglected. He has a dream to someday build a home for these boys, removing them from the temptations of the street, and a life of crime.

Beginning with a rundown rented house, the Father manages to obtain much of what he needs from the local town store manager, Dave Morris, played by Henry Hull. Although it is not specifically mentioned, Mr. Morris seems to be Jewish. How Father Flanagan gets him to become involved in the eventual financing of Boy's Town makes the story that much better. Though skeptical at the beginning, Mr. Morris backs Father Flanagan all the way, eventually securing 3 mortgages for the construction of the actual Boy's Town, on 200 acres of land, just outside of Omaha. The boys actually help to build the school and dormitories, each one learning a trade as the construction progresses.

When "Whitey" Marsh arrives at Boy's Town, he has nothing on his mind except escape. But with no prison walls, or fences, to keep him in, he is confused. He begins to come around to a new way of thinking. But, after bonding with the school's mascot, a little boy named Pee Wee, played by Bobs Watson, he runs away. When he becomes involved with his older brother, and a foiled bank robbery, his actions place Boy's Town in jeopardy. Through the guidance of Father Flanagan, Whitey is able to see reason and returns to Boy's Town, where he is elected Mayor by the other boys and becomes a mentor to little Pee Wee.

So many of these older films espouse a message of tolerance and religious diversity which is lacking today; even while portraying the Jewish pawnbroker, Henry Hull does so in a way that lends dignity to his faith. And as Father Flanagan, Spencer Tracy is the penultimate Priest, the one who understands that our differences unite, rather than divide us as individuals. The mess hall scene, in which all the boys of different faiths say grace in their own way, is, for me, one of the highlights of the film. Based loosely on the actual story of Boys Town, this is a real "feel good" movie for these troubled times.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Monkees - Daydream Believers

This was originally posted yesterday afternoon, but I wanted to give Mr. Jones his own day in the light;

Davy Jones, the innocent, boyish faced singer for the Monkees, one of the iconic "bubble gum" rock groups of the 1960's, has died. I titled this piece Daydream Believer(s) after one of their many hit records, "Daydream Believer", which was written for the group by John Stewart just before he left the Kingston Trio. The top notch songwriters who wrote for the Monkees included; Neil Diamond, Burt Bacharach, Hal David, and Carol King, who wrote "Pleasant Valley Sunday". I was one of those kids who watched the record as it spun on the turntable, and actually used to read the names beneath the titles of the songs.

Years after the fact, I realized that Davy Jones had played the Artful Dodger in the Broadway version of "Oliver", which I had seen for my birthday in 1963. As a matter of fact, on the night the Beatles first performed on the Ed Sullivan show; February 9th, 1964; the entire cast of "Oliver" appeared. Davy Jones reaction was immediate, he was later quoted as stating, "I watched the Beatles from the side of the stage, I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, this is it, I want a piece of that."

The Monkees were thrown together as a group for a TV series which would try to capture the daily adventures of a madcap rock band; kind of like an American version of the Beatles in "Help." They were actually assembled, by chance, through a process of individual auditions. This was, after all, a "make believe" group. Well, nobody took the "make believe" part seriously, the songs coming from the radio and TV were bouncy and, like the times themselves, were catching. From one end of the country to the other, kids were wearing black ski caps with a pom-pom at the end, in imitation of Mike Nesmith. They also resurrected the old Navy Pea Coat, which became a staple of fashion for quite a few years. I know I had one, long before I joined the Navy, and even then, the real one was never quite as "cool" as that first one.

And, in the end, along with the help of some wonderful songwriters, they made "Daydream Believers" of us all.