Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Goodbye Mr. Chips" with Robert Donat and Greer Garson (1939)

I have to confess that this has always been one of my favorite films, mainly due to the personality of Mr. Chips. He reflects my own lack of confidence and shyness when I was younger. And, just like Mr. Chips, I required time and patience to overcome those obstacles. Even today;to some extent; I still identify with his character.

This movie; like so many others; begins at the end. It is 1937, and Mr. Chips is instructed by his physician not to attend Graduation ceremonies at Brookfield; an upper crust English boarding school; for the first time in 57 years, due to his health. Naturally he attends at the last possible moment before retiring to his cottage, where he falls asleep in front of the fire, reminiscing about his life as a teacher; and later as Headmaster of Brookfield. The rest of the movie is a flashback of his life there; from his first days as a novice teacher until his final ones as the most beloved and respected of both his students and his peers.

When “Chips”; as everyone called him; first arrives at Brookfield he is unsure of how to proceed. For a while it looks as though he has chosen the wrong profession for a shy and gentle man. His first days as a new Master are an exercise in futility. But time wills out and he slowly becomes an object of affection to his students.

When a German colleague takes him home for the holidays, Mr. Chips is transformed in many ways. He goes hiking in the mountains and gets stuck in the fog, forcing him to wait it out alone. Hearing a woman's voice calling out, he begins a perilous climb in search of the woman he assumes to be stranded. The woman turns out to be Katherine; an Englishwoman played by Greer Garson in her first screen role, for which she received an Oscar Nomination. She is the exact opposite of Chips; modern and outgoing. She even rides a bicycle! They spend the evening together on the mountain waiting for the fog to lift.

They become close quite quickly due to the anonymity provided by the fog and being so far away from the real world down below. Their affection for one another is palpable, but Chips dares not act upon his feelings, fearing rejection and humiliation. Actually, until he meets Katherine he is called by his surname of Mr. Chippings. It is actually Katherine who renames him "Chips."

When he and his German colleague Max; played by Paul Henreid; continue on their walking tour of the mountains they encounter Katherine and her lady companion once again. They become inseparable for the remainder of the trip, although Chips is still too "proper" to make his feelings known to this forward thinking woman. Indeed, it is she who engineers his asking her to dance on their last night together. And at the train station, while saying goodbye, she kisses him goodbye. To his way of thinking he is now engaged! Katherine has successfully maneuvered him into a de-facto proposal of marriage.

When Chips arrives back at Brookfield with his new bride, she quickly becomes the object of curiosity and attention at the all-male school. His students are simply shocked that he has a wife at all, while his bachelor peers are in awe at the beauty she brings to the school. They cannot understand how the shy and uncertain Chips could have managed to acquire such a lovely and beautiful woman for a wife.

His marriage marks a wonderful change in Chippings life. Katherine has the boys over for tea and becomes a part of the school. She helps Chips bring a new way of thinking and teaching to the institution. When she passes away during childbirth; on April Fool’s day; Mr. Chips is left alone once again. It is almost as if fate is mocking him. Surely he was a fool to believe that lasting happiness could be his. But the lessons he has learned from Katherine about taking chances and looking at things in a different light never leave him, and serve to endear him to both students and faculty.

When the First World War breaks out he watches as several of his students and colleagues march off to war, some never to return. When he reads out the name of Max, the German Professor; who had returned to his country at the outbreak of the war; along with the names of the English dead, the students; and the viewer; cannot escape the message.  ALL lives hold value, even the lives of "so-called" enemies like Max.

As a result of the shortage of manpower due to the war Chips is finally made Headmaster, a position he has dreamt about for the last 50 years. And when he does eventually retire; and subsequently passes away; it is with contentment. He has tasted of love and left his mark on several generations of young men, who are better off for his having taught them.

This movie is a gem. A more poignant film would be hard to come by. The book which sparked this film was written by James Hilton. Carefully directed and performed, this was a wonderful viewing experience which you will not want to end.

Friday, February 27, 2015

"Stealing Lincoln's Body" - History Channel (2009)

I’d always heard about the attempted abduction of President Lincoln’s body in 1876, but I have never found a book; or a film; which told the story behind it. It was; in effect; relegated to the back of my memory with the rest of the trivia. Then I saw this film.

Abraham Lincoln was the first President who dealt with the problem of counterfeiting currency in a meaningful way. Before the War Between the States; which was anything but “civil”; paper money was a convenience and minted by banks. If you lived near one of those banks; say in the same city; it was no problem to authenticate the bills. But for travelers it was a nightmare. Lincoln set up the Secret Service to combat this crime. His was also the first Presidency to have the motto “In God We Trust” appears on American currency; hard coin or paper.

The reason I mention the counterfeiters is that it was a group of such men who set about; in 1876; to steal Lincoln’s body from its tomb in Springfield, Illinois. The film traces the journey of Lincoln’s body from the moment he is shot at Ford’s theater in 1865 until he was finally permanently entombed in Springfield in 1901.

You read that right. While John Brown’s body was a Moldering in its Grave, Lincolns was stuck in an odyssey which could never have been invented; for the antics of man are greater than any fiction.  James Brown’s body has been in limbo since his death in 2006; but even his 8 year ordeal pales in comparison to what happened with Lincoln. Not wishing to ruin the film for you I will just give you a brief outline of what the film covers, leaving out the best parts.

Mary Todd Lincoln was too grief stricken to make the journey to the President’s funeral. She was actually holed up in the White House for about a month after her husband’s death, unable to leave.

Meantime the largest funeral procession ever undertaken in perhaps the history of the world was unfolding, with the Presidents funeral train traveling from Washington to New York. From there it would take a long route back to Illinois through just about every major stop on the line.
Each town had its own funeral procession; requiring that the coffin be removed from the train and paraded through streets and even exhibited in City Halls. New York was one of those places, where the body lay in state indoors at City Hall for 8 hours as almost half a million people attempted to pay their respects. Some towns actually held the ceremonies outdoors to accommodate the crowds.  There were 25 such stops made before the train arrived in Springfield.

It almost didn’t make it that far. Mrs. Lincoln, back in Washington, heard that the plans were for her husband to be buried in town when it arrived in Springfield. She wanted him buried at Oak Lawn Cemetery and if that was unacceptable to the “committee” which had decided upon this, then she would have the President buried in Chicago. The President was buried at Oak Lawn.

That should have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t. In 1876, amid the most contested election in the history of our country; 82% of Americans eligible to vote, did so. This was deemed by the conspirators as the perfect time to snatch the body; election night 1876. The hullabaloo surrounding the election results; which would not be resolved for weeks; pushed the story of the attempted abduction to the back pages of most newspapers; if they were reporting it at all.

One of the conspirators was an informer for the Secret Service and due to his presence in the gang the Service was alerted and arrived at the tomb earlier than the robbers themselves. They would wait for a signal from the informant before making the arrest. The local police were kept out of the affair altogether. When the signal was given there was a terrific gun fight and a chase through the woods, leading to the capture of some of the men. They were later tried for tampering with a body and sentenced to 1 year in prison. And that should have been the end of the story; but again, it wasn’t.

That was in 1876. For what happened over the next 25 years you will need to see the film or look it up. Suffice to say that Lincoln was disinterred 10 more times before he was finally allowed to sleep undisturbed. And when he was finally buried his pallbearers were 6 workmen, and the only witness present was a 13 year old boy.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"The Appointment in Samarra" from "Targets" with Boris Karloff - (1968)

In his last film, “Targets”, Boris Karloff gives a chilling rendition of the classic story about Death by Somerset Maugham. It was later used by John O’Hara to pen his 1934 novel “The Appointment in Sammara.”

“DEATH SPEAKS" by Somerset Maugham

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, “Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and find my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.”

The Merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop, he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”

“That was not a threatening gesture”, I said, “it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

George Harrison - Happy Birthday!

Today is George Harrison's birthday. The "quiet Beatle" was one of the most unusual musician/singer/songwriters to come out of the 1960's. After having propelled Indian Music, along with Transcendental Meditation to the forefront of the era, he went on to invent the rock and roll benefit concert when he did the Concert for Bangla Desh in 1971.

He had a spotty solo career post Beatles, until the late 1980's when he fronted the Traveling Wilburys. They went on to become one of the most beloved bands since the Beatles. With different names to identify them all as brothers, they all wrote, sang and played guitars. In a way that was funny, because the Beatles had first been turned down for a record contract themselves in 1962 because "groups of guitars were on the way out."

The group began almost as an accident, with Harrison doing some recording and inviting a friend, who invited a friend etc. And when one of them talked Roy Orbison into coming along, well, that was the moment they became the Traveling Wilburys. Along with fictitious names as a band of brothers, they also listed all the songs as having been co-written by the entire group.

Their first album relaunched Roy Orbison's career and gave him his first #1 record in years, just before he passed away. He was slated to make the second Wilburys album, but fate had other plans. And the group was a gift to Harrison as well; he would now not be remembered solely as a member of the Beatles; but as a wonderful singer, songwriter with some very cool friends and a band of his own.

Married for decades to his second wife Olivia; whom he met on his first solo tour of the US in 1974 when she worked at Capitol Records; she went on to save his life when an emotionally disturbed man broke into Friar Park and stabbed Harrison. Olivia knocked him cold with a table lamp. A devotee of Krishna and no-violence she has said that it was a conflicting moment for her; as her husband chanted to Krishna for deliverance, she was engaged in an act of aggression. She has no regrets.

It should be noted that Olivia Harrison; along with the other Beatle wives; organized the Romanian Angels Appeal; formed to combat the neglect of the thousands of orphanages created by the abuses of Nicolae Ceaucescu, and were rampant in the country after the fall of the Communists. They are still doing good work there today. The Traveling Wilburys gave them the recording "Nobody'd Child" as a gift to help them get started.

Still remembered with affection today, almost 14 years after his death from cancer in 2001, we wish him a Happy Birthday and Hare Krishna!

This is the new biography of George Harrison by Graeme Thomson. In my opinion, this is the best and most accurate biography of George Harrison and particularly his life post-Beatles.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"The Very Best of Freddy King" - (2005)

If you are an Eric Clapton fan then you are a Freddy King fan. You just might not know it. Quickly scanning the first 3 decades of Eric Clapton’s career will give you some proof of that. From “Hideaway” with John Mayall in the 1960’s; to “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” in the 1970’s; and even on into the late 1980’s cover version of “Tore Down” on his “Journeyman” album; Clapton has never been shy in giving credit to those who came before him.

All of the songs represented here were recorded between August 1960 and July 1961 in King’s own studio in Cincinnati, Ohio. He used a house band instead of his usual working band based in Chicago. I don’t know why he did this. But the result is a collection of some of his all-time best work done in a clear and sharp style.

A native of Texas, King was born in 1934 in Gilmer. At 16 he moved to Chicago and worked in a saw mill. He spent nights working in the nightclubs, at first playing with 2 harmonica players; Little Sonny Cooper and Earl Payton. He cut his first record at age 22 in 1956. By 1958 he kissed the saw mill goodbye and began working full time as a musician.

At about the same time as this he was introduced to Sonny Thompson, a piano player who would go on to co-write most of King’s hits with him. 11 of the 25 songs on this CD were co-authored by King-Thompson. And, with the exception of 3 tracks his name appears in some capacity; even solo; as the composer of all the rest.

Peter Green of the original Fleetwood Mac was another huge fan of Freddy King and he recorded many of the same songs as Clapton did. The two were both products of the John Mayall music machine which seemed to spout great guitarists non-stop throughout the 1960’s. And while they all had somewhat different styles; they all had one big thing in common; they were all influenced by Freddy King.

Monday, February 23, 2015

"Jerry Lee Lewis" by Rick Bragg (2014)

The first time I ever saw Jerry Lee Lewis was in Virginia Beach. It was about 1980; just after the “Killer” had been stricken with bleeding ulcers. It was at a small venue; a place with tables. I had one only a few feet from the small stage. He did a short set with the band and then dismissed them from the stage and offered to take requests.

I was quick to call out for some Webb Pierce. Just as quickly he looked at me and said, “You’re too young to know Webb Pierce!” It was like an accusation on his part, but then he grew thoughtful; fingers roaming the keys of the piano; and said, “I can’t drink anymore, but I sure do love to sing about it!” Then he launched into a wonderful barrel house piano version of “There Stands the Glass.” When he was through playing it he looked at me and asked, “How’d I do, son?” I do not recall my reply; probably because I was speechless.

Now, author Rick Bragg has written a biography of Mr. Lewis which most likely will serve as his oral autobiography; much in the same way that Merle Miller’s “Plain Speaking” serves as Harry Truman’s. Mr. Bragg spent 2 years with Mr. Lewis while writing this book; sometimes in the entertainer’s bedroom; which is equipped with a locking metal gate. The author doesn’t tell us whether or not the gate is there to keep the imaginary demons out; or the real ones inside. At any rate, this is where Mr. Lewis spends some of his time when not touring. (He was still performing on a limited basis until a year or so ago.)

Along with Jerry Lee’s own story; and the demons which haunt him; Mr. Bragg has given a good history of Ferriday and Louisiana in general. He describes it as a hard place; and as a southern boy himself he recognizes the dichotomy between religion and reality. He understands why Jerry Lee worries that playing rock and roll may exclude him from Heaven. It is only through his strong belief in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ that he manages to hold on these days.  He is; after all is said and done; the cousin of Jimmy Swaggart; an evangelist of note, if not an entertainer in his own right.

The book has a surprising humanity to it, given all that one associates with Jerry Lee Lewis and the Devil’s music. And Rick Bragg is just the right person to put it all done on paper. The conflict he feels with the talent God gave him to play rock and roll; or what just may be “the devils music” after all; worries him. It is plainly apparent that he comes from a place of ghosts, some of which haunt him. But at the same time he makes no apologies for who he has been and what he has done. He would; he believes; have done it differently now, but acknowledges freely that he probably wouldn’t. He’s a walking contradiction.

Rick Bragg does an excellent job in conveying the true essence of Jerry Lee Lewis; the original “bad boy” of rock and roll. He was there at the beginning and is still around today; at a time when most of his colleagues, and rivals, are gone. He is; as they say; the last man standing. He’s had health troubles; women troubles; financial troubles; you name it. He’s buried wives and children; been to the top of the pops and then down to playing cheap bars and clubs; then back up again, several times.

He’s been counted out as many times as Keith Richards; yet he’s always bounced back.  At 79 years of age; his body is ravaged by pain and he can only sit or stand in any one position for a few minutes at a time. But, recently married in 2012 to his longtime friend and recent caregiver; Judith Ann Coghlan; 14 years his junior, he is still rocking his life away.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ranch Party - Patsy Cline (1957-58)

Regional television shows have always fascinated me. Ever since my family took a trip to Washington, DC in the early 1960’s when I became aware that TV was different when you went elsewhere. The simple explanation is that television transmissions are short in length and so don’t travel very far. But as a kid I just thought of it as a kind of magic which took place when you were transported out of town.

Of course that regional type of thing is all but dead. Shows like “Ranch Party”; which featured the latest and greatest in country entertainment at the time; are gone forever. They don’t make enough money to compete with the networks; let alone the cable channels. But you can still catch up on the ones you missed via You Tube.

“Ranch Party” began as a show called “Town Hall Party”, which was on radio and television in Los Angeles. In 1953 Tex Ritter; John Ritter’s dad for you young folks; appeared on it and later in 1957 he made it his own, renaming it “Ranch Party.” He had already achieved some success with a show called Ozark Jubilee on ABC in 1955. In some ways, these shows were the inspiration for Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand.” He just “fine-tuned” the idea at a time when antennas were still being “fine-tuned” themselves.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Andrews Sisters - The V Discs (1943-49)

Among the many records which I heard as a kid; and I mean like 3 and 4 years old; one of my favorites was “Rum and Coca-Cola” by the Andrews Sisters. This was another of the piles of 78 RPM’s which my mother had. They covered everything from opera to society bands. I think the tight harmonies of the Andrews Sisters drew me in because I had not heard anything like them on the other recordings; things like Frankie Laine’s “Lucky Old Sun”, or Theresa Brewer’s barrel house “The Nickelodeon Song”. These were some of the first records I ever heard, and I still listen to them today.
This collection of songs by the Andrews Sisters was released as “V” discs during the Second World War. The V stood for Victory and the recordings were made for free by the artists involved. The record companies even distributed the finished products to the various USO canteens and Armed Forces broadcasting stations throughout Europe and the Pacific from about 1943 through 1949.

Squeezing in time to make the recordings proved to be a problem in scheduling.  As a result many of the selections here were recorded in the wee hours after the clubs had closed and the performers were free to record.

“V” kits were shipped with about 20 recordings and 100 needles for the phonographs. Another thing to come out of the V disc program was the development of the vinyl record. Due to the high volume of breakage with the 78 RPM’s it was decided that another medium was needed.

Vinyl was in scarce supply; being used for life rafts and other war related items. But a Canadian laboratory had developed a composite they called Formvar. It had all the properties of the vinyl recordings which would replace the 78’s within the next decade, and it also had a superior sound.

On this disc the Andrews Sisters perform many of their greatest hits in a medley after doing some wonderful versions of 15 standards such as; “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby”; “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”; “Lullaby of Broadway”; “Don’t Blame Me”; and a couple of western numbers like “Down in the Valley” and “Down in the Valley” for the guys from Texas.

Great little collection of songs from one of the best moral boosters we had during the Second World War. Only compliant is that they did not do “'Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen”. It was dropped from their act right after Pearl Harbor as being too German; much in the same way that sauerkraut became “Liberty cabbage” in World War One.

Friday, February 20, 2015

"Johnny Belinda" with Jane Wyman and Lew Ayres (1948)

I hadn’t seen this film in over 30 years; until I watched it again last night. It still retains the ability to unsettle the viewer. Jane Wyman; who plays the role of Belinda; won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of a young woman whose mother died during her birth and was also left “deaf and dumb”; which was the term at the time for being born with the inability to speak or hear.

The film was originally a Broadway play of the same name in 1940 by Elmer Blaney Harris. It was rewritten; though not too much; for the screen by Allen Vincent and Irma von CubeIn addition to the Ocsar for Best Actress Award in the film version for Ms. Wyman, this film garnered 11 other Academy nominations; including Best Actor and Actress Awards for all 3 of the co-stars, as well as one for the Director Jean Negulesco.

The film was a groundbreaking one; one of the first to call attention to not only rape, but to people born with disabilities and the misunderstanding of those afflictions. Prior to this film these subjects had been off limits to film makers since the 1930’s and the advent of the Motion Picture Production Code, started by the industry to police itself in the wake of the Fatty Arbuckle scandal.

The film stars Jane Wyman as Belinda McDonald; Charles Bickford as her father, Black MacDonald, and Agnes Moorehead   as his sister, Aggie MacDonald. Lew Ayres plays Dr. Robert Richardson, a kindly physician who has had some heartbreak in his life and comes to a small fishing village on Cape Breton Island off the east coast of Canada to reassess his own life.

There he meets Black McDonald when he is summoned to the farm to help with the birth of a calf. While there he meets Belinda and sees that she is deaf and unable to speak. He approached her father about trying to teach her but the old man can’t really see any purpose to it. But he does get the old man’s permission to use the pond on the farm to fish as payment for delivering the calf. This brings him into further contact with Belinda; whom everyone calls “The Dummy.” He is determined to change that. Introducing Belinda to sign language she is able to learn how to lip read. Her father is so astonished that he agrees to let the Doctor continue with his efforts.

The doctor has an assistant in his office, Stella, who is in love with the doctor, who is not interested in anything but being a doctor. She is engaged to the town’s braggart, Locky McCormick; played by Stephen McNally. When he sees the doctor teaching Belinda to dance he is aroused by her beauty; which he has never noticed before. When the dance is over he sneaks back and rapes her. She tells no one of the attack.

As her condition becomes obvious the townsfolk begin to talk. When Belinda gives birth to a healthy boy she names Johnny, the town begins to act on their suspicions and shun the doctor, who they believe to be the father. The Doctor realizes the shame which will forever surround the girl and her child and so he offers to marry her. Her father, thinking the offer is made out of pity, declines to let him.

Locky goes to the farm to make a purchase of some grain and Blacky hears him talking to the baby and admitting that he is the father. The old man follows Locky off the farm with the intent of conflict and is killed by the other man to hide the secret.

Shortly after the murder of Blacky; as the 2 women struggle to keep the farm solvent; the local Morals Committee decides that Belinda and Aggie are not fit to care for the child without Blacky around. Further, they decide that the baby must be taken from Belinda, and then she is to be driven from the town she has shamed. Stella and Locky; who have by this time married; offer to adopt the baby and the Committee agree s to this.

It is while attempting to take the baby away from Belinda that Stella realizes the immorality of separating a mother from her child. When she tells Locky of her change of heart he admits to her that the child is his. She is horrified but remains silent. When Locky goes back inside to take the baby Belinda is waiting with a shotgun and kills him.

The ensuing trial pits the morality of the town against the reality of the actions of Locky. When he attacked and raped Belinda he relinquished the bonds which bound him to civilized society. The jury finds Belinda innocent and she is given back her child.

One of the more interesting things about the film is that is based on an actual case which took place by the author’s summer home in Fortune Bridge, Prince Edward Island. The real life Belinda was a woman named life Lydia Dingwell of Dingwells Mills, Prince Edward Island.

Whether your tastes run to drama, history, fiction, religion or law; this film will rivet you to the screen as you watch it unfold. More than that, you will find yourself thinking about Belinda; and the plight of those like her; long after the last frame has shown on your screen. I think that was the intent. This is a film with much to say.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"God's Pocket" with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro (2014)

In his directorial debut, actor John Slattery has done a very competent job of conveying the lives of some very incompetent people living in the town of God’s Pocket, Pa. Perhaps incompetent is too harsh a word to describe the characters in this novel by Pete Dexter; and a screenplay by John Slattery. It’s more as if the people in this story are victims of the world around them; as well as themselves.

Mickey Scarpato; played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman; is a man who dwells on the outskirts of the legitimate world. He has a legitimate business, but he is also willing to deal in stolen property; he respects his marriage, but realizes that the love he and his wife once felt is a thing of the past; and while he tries to look towards tomorrow, he is haunted by the events of yesterday and today. He is a walking contradiction.

His closest friend is an inveterate gambler named Arthur the “Bird” Capezio ,; played by John Turturro . His gambling debts are almost as bad as Mickeys, although he does hit a win for $15,000 at a time when Mickey could really have used the money. If only he had listened to Arthur on his “tip.”

As if his life were not in enough of a downward spiral his stepson Leon Hubbard; played by Caleb Landry Jones; is killed by another “day worker” at the construction site where Leon was working. He was a drug addicted bully who was known to break into homes and steal to support his habit. Mickey has spent years trying to ignore the boy’s shortcomings in deference to his wife Jeanie; played by Christina Hendricks; who adores the boy. 

But this time Leon has picked on an elderly African-American man who kills him; in front of the whole construction crew; after the young man tried to cut his throat with a knife. When the police arrive, no one tells the truth about how his head got caved in. They all swear it was an accident with a piece of equipment which caused the fatal head injury.

Jeanie is utterly destroyed; the people at the local bar all swear it’s a tragedy; but Mickey knows better. Meantime, while arranging the funeral for Leon he manages to lose his money on a race and can’t pay the undertaker. He bullies the man into providing the service on credit.

But the real corker in this film is the relationship which Jeanie forms with a local news reporter named Richard Shellburn; played by Richard Jenkins. He is an alcoholic; washed out and prone to having affairs with young interns with whom he cannot perform well.

When he is told by his editor to find a good story or a new job he quickly jumps on the local rumor of Leon’s death as being of a suspicious nature. This puts him into close and intimate contact with Jeanie as she struggles with the death of her son, as well as the failure of her own marriage, and it isn’t too long before they each find comfort with the other.

The reviewers all hailed this as a “dark, brash, black comedy”, but I see it in a much different light. This is a sad, but unfortunately somewhat true story; more so than most of us would care to admit. Many people struggle to find their place in society; through school, work, and raising families. Those are the lucky ones. They get to play the game. 

This story concerns itself with the ones who don’t quite fit in and how they attempt to get along in a game they either don’t understand; or would rather not play, but have no other options available. What do you do when it’s the only game in town?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Just a Closer Walk with Thee" - Patsy Cline (Live)

For a Jewish kid I sure love gospel. There is nothing like careening down the road; or up one for that matter; on a blind curve singing about Jesus and just feeling good. Like I said, for a Jewish kid this is probably not quite kosher; or normal.

My love for the music comes from 2 places; the transistor radio I constantly had at my side; especially at night; and the history I read about slavery and the Negro Spirituals. Those 2 things are the most to blame for my passion for gospel music. Plus it just makes you feel really good.

Hank Williams took gospel to a whole different level; as did James Brown and Jerry Lee Lewis. It morphed into rhythm and blues and then rock and roll. But it all began with the gospel music. And gospel music came from the African-American Diaspora; which began in Africa when the first slave was either abducted or sold into slavery.

The ancient rhythms and chants of the slaves became the field hollers and spirituals of the Caribbean plantations, and later the pre-Civil War Era. During Reconstruction the music spread up the Mississippi River; with each port adding its own flavor.

But all that has little to do with this song and Patsy Cline. Not sure what year this is from, but it is obviously the audio from a radio show in the late 1950’S. Patsy Cline performed this song a score of times on the radio; and even on television. There was just one hitch; she did it differently each time. Sometimes slow; sometimes fast. Blues; or up tempo. This was her true artistry as an interpreter of songs. And this version is one of my favorite gospel songs.

Just a Closer Walk with Thee

I am weak but Thou art strong
Jesus keep me from all wrong
I'll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee

Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it Jesus, is my plea
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be dear Lord, let it be

When my feeble life is over
Time for me will be no more
Guide me gently, safely over
To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore

Just a closer walk with Thee
Grant it Jesus, is my plea
Daily walking close to Thee
Let it be dear Lord, let it be

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Wanda Jackson - Hard Headed Woman (1957)

I love “discovering” new artists from 50 years ago. What’s not to like? They are playing the type of music which I enjoy; or can relate to; but which I have never heard before. Sometimes I have a brief familiarity with the name, or maybe one particular song; but this time I have made a true “discovery.” Her name is Wanda Jackson; though you all probably know that. Remember; I may have said I discovered her, but I didn't say that I was the first.

Wanda Jackson had a growl to her voice before it was considered “ladylike”. Maybe some of the blues greats; such as Bessie Smith, Willie Mae Thornton, and even Memphis Minnie, had already growled, but nice girls; and nice white girls in particular; did not growl at all. (Peggy Lee was one of the few exceptions to this.)

Wanda Jackson came by her growling sound at the behest of her father.  That’s the truth. One day she was singing but “holding back” when her Dad told her to just let it all out. So she did, and that was the birth of her sound.

And the way she walked and entranced the miners and factory workers wherever she played; sauntering on stage in everything from a simple dress to a full evening gown; or even slacks; she didn’t hide her figure, she used it.

The video above is from an early TV appearance and she sings; what for her is; a sort of ballad. But in the second video shown here she appears on Town Hall Party in 1957 singing a rockabilly version of Hard Headed Woman, which became kind of a signature song for her to perform; showing off her vocals and her figure.

With her short skirts, hoop earrings and shoes; all designed by her mother; she was one of the first female country stars to bring sex appeal and a sense of fashion to the country music scene. And did I mention that she could sing, too?

Monday, February 16, 2015

"Eliot Ness" by Douglas Perry (2014)

Everyone is familiar with the story of the St. Valentine Day Massacre of 1929 in Chicago, as well as Eliot Ness; the iconic leader of the “Untouchables.” And even if you are too young to have watched the TV show “The Untouchables” with Robert Stack you are probably familiar with the movie of the same name, starring Kevin Costner and Sean Connery. But that story is just a small slice of who Eliot Ness was.

 Though he is chiefly remembered for bringing Al Capone to justice in Chicago, his story didn’t end there. He did a whole lot more in the 1930’s when Ohio was still in the grips of the bootleggers even after Prohibition had been repealed. In addition there was a huge illegal gambling syndicate run by the organized crime gangs, which bought violence and degradation to the city on a scale with the 1920’s in Chicago.

The author has done a superb job in bringing the story of the Eliot Ness;  as well as the story of Prohibition and the gangs who ran the bootlegging and the speakeasies; to life. But since we all know most of the Chicago story I will be concentrating more on the Cleveland part of the story. But first there are some misconceptions to clear up.

Eliot Ness’ time in Chicago was at the tail end of the roaring twenties; he actually took command of the Untouchables about a year after the St. Valentine Day Massacre in 1929. He was not a teetotaler by any means; and even delivered confiscated cases of booze to his old fraternity house. He was a good dancer and a constant flirt who enjoyed the attention of women. He was married twice. In short; he was an average sort of guy.

In Chicago he became the legend we know him as; he battled the biggest gangster and bought him down through a series of daring raids and economic cunning. But the troubles he would face in Cleveland were far more entrenched with the Police Department and the Mayor’s office both on the take. It’s hard to dislodge corruption when the very leaders you report to are part of the problem.

In Cleveland Ness honed his social skills; battling crime with psychology rather than battering rams. Working with Boy’s Town he was able to turn over several unused police barracks which were made into homes and schools for the boys. He also pressured the older gangs to saty away from the kids or risk the consequences.

Forming a squad of obscure police officers from the suburbs, and recruiting new police cadets, Ness formed a squad known not as the Untouchables; as was the case in Chicago; but rather the “Unknowable’s”; as they were virtually unknown to the criminals or their fellow officers who were on the take. This put them in a unique position for gathering information on the gangs operating the bootlegging and numbers rackets.

Most people think that illegal whiskey went out with Prohibition; but it didn’t. Not just a backwoods, mountain type of thing; the mob made millions off of moonshine whiskey in the decades after Repeal. Some moon shining still goes on today, but not to the extent that it did then.

This is a book which will fill you in on the real Eliot Ness and what he was really like. The author obviously spent considerable time unearthing just about every article written about Ness and culled the memoirs of the people who were involved with him on both sides of the law.  A new look into an old subject can be very enlightening. And so it goes with this book.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Beatles Meet Cassius Clay - Miami February 18, 1964

This was the Beatles last appearance of their first 3 on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. It was broadcast from the Deauville Hotel in Miami because Ed Sullivan wanted to see the fight between Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay; soon to become Muhammad Ali.

One of the highlights of the visit to Miami was the introduction of the Beatles to Cassius Clay for some publicity shots. That was on February 18th. Ali remembers wondering who the hell they were. His world and theirs were; well; worlds apart! But the funny thing is that the Champ later became a fan of the Fab Four. He once opined that while he was the greatest; they were the most beautiful.

Later on he even challenged them to re-form the band in 1970 for a concert to help fight hunger in Africa. This was 15 years before “We are the World” became the accepted concept for rock and roll benefit concerts. This was just after George Harrison had set the template for such concerts with his Concert for Bangla Desh in August of 1970.

The Beatles never did get together again; either for themselves or charity. But, tomorrow never knows and maybe someone else will come along and change the music scene again in the same way that they did. They still have a way of getting under your skin; making you want to grab a ticket to ride and sail across the universe. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

This live version of "Sad and Blue" is one of my favorite Valentine's Day songs. It always evokes images in my head of dining along the banks of the Seine, with Notre Dame in the background and a bottle of wine on the table.

February 14th is a very special day at my house. Not only is it Valentine's Day, but it's also my daughter Sarah's 28th Birthday!

This is me holding Sarah about 2 days after she was born. She was a handful!

Friday, February 13, 2015

"Good Morning, Good Morning!" - The Beatles (1968)

It's Friday the 13th so I thought you might appreciate something a bit upbeat for the morning; especially if you have to go to work. I'm lucky- I get to stay home. I'm not superstitious; I just don't like to take chances!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Contemporary Grammar- The Elusive Semi-Colon

If you ain't got no use for good grammar; or speaking good; then this won't be of no interest to you, so skip it.

One of the hardest parts of reviewing books is avoiding nitpicking about meaningless stuff; and for the most part I think I do a good job in that respect. But I have held my piece for 6 long years now concerning the disappearance of the semi-colon from our language. It’s a kind of “endangered species” in the world of grammar. And, even when one is used, it is often used incorrectly.

Let me be up front about this; I never went to college. Actually, I went for 2 days. Took a look around and realized that I was only there for other people and their expectations of me. So, I stopped going. Maybe not the brightest decision; but it’s the path I chose. But that doesn't mean I don’t know my grammar. I learned it in grammar school; of all places. And the lessons stuck.

See what I have done in the last two paragraphs? I have used a semi-colon to extend sentences beyond simple statements and add nuance to the writing. In the first sentence I used one to judge my own statement, while still keeping the integrity of the first part. And I did that 3 times in the second paragraph. That’s one use for the semi-colon.

The other great thing about semi-colons is that they can be used as a sort of parentheses to insert an idea in the middle of a statement. This allows for more complex sentences and the insertion of a different thought, which may not be directly related to the one at hand; but adds to the sentence nevertheless.

Here’s an example from a book I am in the process of reading right now. As a matter of fact, this is the sentence which broke this “camels’ back”; resulting in this silly little article.

“Eliot personally convinced Vernon Stoufffer of the popular Stouffer’s restaurant to cooperate, even though the restaurateur, worried about the impact on his business, had refused to help Cullitan four years earlier.”

Remember the first rule about a comma? It’s used to separate something from the main body of a sentence. Moreover, it is supposed to leave intact the words on either end of the commas as a complete sentence. Read that one above again and see if it meets these criteria. Clearly this sentence is crying out for a breath; which can be supplied by my old friend the semi-colon. Let’s try it on for size.

Eliot personally convinced Vernon Stoufffer of the popular Stouffer’s restaurant to cooperate, even though the restaurateur; worried about the impact on his business; had refused to help Cullitan four years earlier.

Still doesn’t satisfy the rule about the two ends of the sentence making sense while standing alone. So, let’s try and break it up into two sentences for the sake of clarity.

Eliot personally convinced Vernon Stoufffer, of the popular Stouffer’s restaurant, to cooperate. The restaurateur; worried about the impact on his business; had refused to help Cullitan four years earlier.

That’s much better. It even provides proof of the rule concerning the joining of the two ends of the sentences as one coherent thought. It also shows very clearly the difference between the use of a comma; as shown in the first sentence; and the use of a semi-colon in the second sentence. Where the first sentence needed a breath; the second one needed a pause.

This is just me finally getting something off my chest which has been bothering me for some time now. It’s no big deal; my chest or the something I just got off of it. But I do feel better. And, by the way, if you go back about 4 years or more on this blog, you will find me guilty of everything I am complaining about here today.

  1. com·ma
    noun: comma; plural noun: commas; noun: comma butterfly; plural noun: comma butterflies
    1. 1.
      a punctuation mark (,) indicating a pause between parts of a sentence. It is also used to separate items in a list and to mark the place of thousands in a large numeral.

  1. sem·i·co·lon
    noun: semicolon; plural noun: semicolons; noun: semi-colon; plural noun: semi-colons
    1. a punctuation mark (;) indicating a pause, typically between two main clauses, that is more pronounced than that indicated by a comma.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Greg Hardy - Buying Justice

The Appeals trial of Greg Hardy; football player for the Carolina Panthers; was terminated in a dismissal Monday when his accuser; the elusive Nicole Holder; did not appear. Nothing sinister going on; she has been sighted skiing and partying elsewhere in the country in recent days; leaving many with the impression that she’s spending the money which Hardy provided her with to not appear at the trial. Indeed the media have confirmed that a deal for an undisclosed sum has taken place.

It seems odd that the Prosecutor’s office in Mecklenburg County; which is where the offense and original trial took place; sees nothing wrong with this. On the surface many will agree. But examine this a bit more closely and see if it passes the smell test, or if it smacks of a double standard.

First you have to forget the victim in this case; as she has seemingly done herself. That leaves Justice as the defendant; an ironic twist considering that the victim was the original Plaintiff. Her actions; or should I say inactions, along with the acquiescence of the Mecklenburg County Prosecutor’s office; have turned justice on its head by allowing Ms. Holder to walk away from the Appeals portion of the trial she initiated.

That’s right; the victim here has now become the person obstructing justice in her own case; in which she alleged she was beaten and threatened with physical violence at the hands of Greg Hardy. She has; of her own volition, and for profit; sold her status as a victim and become the criminal. She has done irreparable damage to the claims of women everywhere who have been legitimately assaulted.

As for the Prosecutor’s Office I have but one question; what is the difference between offering someone money to withdraw testimony, and intimidation of a witness? Surely there is an element of intimidation involved in this. If someone is willing to give you $100,000 to go away quietly, then I must assume they would pay $50,000 for you to disappear if you refused the offer. And the recipient of that $100,000 knows this is true to a certain degree. And that constitutes intimidation, even if she accepts the money which should never have been offered.

When someone files charges with the Court there is a perceived bond between the two. The victim has asked for the court’s help in resolving a problem which is beyond the Plaintiff’s ability to solve on their own. When that person then walks away from the Court; in this case by not showing up for the trial; they sever that bond and the expectation of protection that it offered. And when money changes hands that victim becomes a criminal.

But the real victims in this travesty of our Justice system are the thousands of people who will not be taken seriously when they file domestic abuse claims. Then there are the rest of us; we have all been robbed collectively of our faith in the Justice system to go beyond the money and deliver real justice.

The Prosecutor has said that this is just a misdemeanor case and not worth pursuing; but it seemed to be worth a lot more to Greg Hardy; underscoring just how wrong the Prosecutor is, as well as undermining the credibility of Ms. Holder’s original charges in the first place. As I said, the real losers here are you and I.

Note: The Prosecutor’s Office was unable to answer my questions concerning why they did not seek a subpoena for Ms. Holder to appear; citing only that the judge would have had to sign off on one if it were issued. In this case it appears that the Prosecutor’s office did not consider it to be worthwhile according to District Attorney Andrew Murray.
Mr. Murray’s office has not been able to locate Ms. Holder since November, in spite of her numerous appearances on social media. If this assertion is true; that the DA’s office has not been able to locate their star witness since November; in spite of what Mr. Murray describes as “extraordinary efforts”; then it smacks of gross indifference of the well-being of Ms. Holder by the DA’s office.That in itself will serve as a deterrent for other victims to come forward.

You can contact the District Attorney’s office directly at 704-686-0700. Tell them Rooftop sent you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"The Catered Affair" with Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine (1956)

How could I not review this film after Saturday's post? The two films are among the best of Bette Davis’ long and storied career; both being outside of her usual comfort zone. There is more of the stage in these two films than there is of Hollywood.

In this wonderful film adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky teleplay, Gore Vidal has created a concise version of a common problem; where do we fit in as individuals when compared to the happiness of those around us? Director Richard Brooks did a superb job with this movie; but then again, look at the talent he had to work with!

Bette Davis plays Agnes Hurley; a woman who is a romantic at heart yet faced with the reality of her life married to Tom Hurley; played by Ernest Borgnine; fresh from his Academy Award winning performance as “Marty” in the film of the same name; which was also written by Paddy Chayefsky. Tom drives a taxi cab, and with a little bit of luck; and some time; he hopes to own his own taxi someday soon.

But fate has a way of working its own way with things and accordingly, Agnes and Tom’s daughter Jane; played by Debbie Reynolds in her screen debut; has planned to be married to her boyfriend Ralph; played by Rod Taylor. When she tells her parents of her plans at breakfast a chain of events ensues which expose not only the shortcomings felt by Agnes in her own life; but the desperation Tom feels when he thinks that his dream of owning his own cab may be threatened by the expense of a lavish wedding for his daughter.

On the one hand Agnes feels cheated at never having had a real wedding of her own; while Tom feels trapped by an expectation that will derail his dreams; as well as making him aware of just how unhappy his wife may be over events of the past. Complicating matters is the presence of Uncle Jack Conlon; played with the usual brilliance of Barry Fitzgerald.

This film is one of those gems that seem to get lost in the greater array of older “classical” films. It’s more cerebral than the usual fare offered up by the gangster films of the 1930’s; or the romances and war films of the 1940’s and 1950’s. This type of film is timeless in its subject matter. People dealing with their own emotions, while trying to understand the emotional needs of those around them, is a subject which will never grow old. This is an excellent film.

Here's one of my trophies - it hangs on the wall of my TV room. He read the draft off a review I did of his book and actually sent this back to me! It is one of my treasured possessions

Monday, February 9, 2015

"The Day Lincoln Was Shot" by Jim Bishop (1955)

Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. My reading of this book, and the resultant review you see here, are both coincidental to the occasion. But it does lend more of a relevance to the narrative when reading it.

I chose this book from the “stacks” in the library precisely because it is an older book, and as such it was written in closer proximity to the event. The author was writing at a time when these events were less than a century past, and there were a few people still living that had been alive when it occurred. They may have just been children at the time, but they would have remembered the events and the stories told by their parents and relatives.

Over the years the stories have changed. Prior to about 1970 most accounts agreed that Booth uttered his famous “Sic Semper Tyrannus!” as he leapt to the stage from the private box where he had just shot the President and stabbed Major Rathbone. But the contemporary accounts of the time tell a different story. That is, the individual eyewitness accounts. But history on this night would be written by one man; Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War.

Booth said two things after shooting Lincoln. The first was “Sic Semper Tyrannus!”; which was the motto of the State of Virginia, and also “The South has been avenged!” It was after saying these two things that he hung from the ledge of the box and dropped to the stage, breaking his ankle when his foot caught on the bunting draping the President’s box. But, I have to admit, the leap is a great flourish and Booth would no doubt be proud of this added highlight; true or false.

In 1954 and 1955 Mr. Bishop spent 6 months retracing the steps of the assassin and his co-conspirators, traveling from Maine and Canada to Virginia, reading all the old newspaper articles he could find and visiting the locations which were involved.

One of the strangest aspects of his research was in finding that news of the Presidents assassination was on the street the day of the assassination; as far away as Maine and almost 10 hours before he was killed. Even at a time when telegraph was the quickest means of communication, this still does not explain how the reports were so accurate as to name the theater, when at the time the President was himself still unsure of his plans. Remember that Mrs. Surratt’s son John was just then shuttling papers back and forth between Canada and the Confederate government in Virginia.

But this book is not given over to conspiracy theories. Rather, it is more concerned with an hour by hour description of what each of the participants were doing from about 7 AM on Friday April 14, 1865 until the President succumbed to his wound at 22 minutes past 7 AM the following morning. It is of interest to note that had Booth not killed Lincoln on Good Friday the late President might not have gained such stature as a martyr. In a way Booth helped bestow that honor on the man he claimed to loathe.

Each chapter of the book explores not only the events of that hour, but also the prior history of how the events led there. This is as an exciting account of the night Lincoln was shot as you will find. Robert Redford’s film; “The Conspirators”; was a fine film, but it relied on the “smooth” version of events. There is something lacking in the film which Mr. Bishop has captured so well within these pages; the confusion of the night as Booth was getting away.

One example of the contemporary inaccuracies which found it's way into the movie is the scene in Secretary of State Seward's room. The room was in complete darkness. Due to extreme amount of noise made by Lewis Paine as he attempted to shoot, and finally stab the Secretary's son at the top of the stairs, his daughter had extinguished all the lights in the room at the time and even tried to hold the door back when Paine attempted to enter. As a matter of fact he wound up struggling in the dark with two persons, one of whom was the daughter. 

As the streets of Washington filled with throngs of people on foot; and some in carriages; Booth stuck fairly to the script he had planned to make his escape over the bridge at the Navy Yard. That bridge was closed to traffic at 9PM nightly; and so no one really thought that Booth had gone that way. After all, the sentries were there to stop anyone trying to leave or enter the city. But, with the war just about over; General Johnston’s troops had not yet surrendered; the sentries were lax and allowed two of the assassins to pass over the bridge and on toward Surrattsville and the Surratt Tavern where there were guns and binoculars awaiting them.

The book has a sense of immediacy about it which can only come from the careful pacing of the author, as he lets you in on each piece of information as it happens over the course of the night. And even though you know the story; indeed the author references the outcome in several places; the reader is still held captive to the narrative.

Jim Bishop wrote a syndicated column for about 6 years between 1957 and 1963. In 1964 he released ''A Day in the Life of President Kennedy,'' which he had just finished 10 days before the assassination in Dallas. The book had been approved by JFK without revisions. However, Jackie Kennedy asked for 60 minor changes after his death and prior to publication; all of which the author acceded to. 

Mr. Bishop later wrote “The Day Kennedy Was Shot”, which was first released in 1968. TV personality Bill O’Reilly has had a successful run of books about the Lincoln and JFK assassinations, and I’ve even read them. They add nothing to the stories and in some places are very reminiscent of the style which Jim Bishop used in writing his books on the same subjects; only several decades earlier than Mr. O’Reilly. That’s why I like to roam “the stacks” at the library. A lot of “new” things can be found there.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Understanding the Difference - ISIS vs. ISIL

Talking about ISIS always ends up with a joke or two aimed at either the Islamic extremists who make up ISIS/ISIL; or an assertion that President Obama is pandering somehow to the terrorist group by calling them ISIL instead of ISIS; as if that makes a difference. So, what is the difference? It’s a pretty large one; involving what is known as the Levantine Basin at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

The Levantine Sea is at the water’s edge of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and even part of Libya. So why does this matter? Because it encompasses not only a huge oil reserve but also the islands of Cyprus and Crete, which were once stepping stones to Europe during the Crusades;  and can be likened to our own island hopping to Japan in World War Two. So, the designation ISIL more accurately reflects the wider goal of the terror group to conquer territories beyond the Middle Eastern battleground of Syria and Iraq. The entire area encompasses over 320,000 square km. (That’s about 123,000 square miles.)

The northern part of this sea between Turkey and Cyprus is called the Cilician Sea. The main port there is Iskenderun, which sits just above the border to Syria. I spent a hundred years there one summer.

The real prize for the ones who wind up controlling this area will be the Leviathan gas field which lies beneath the ocean floor. The possibility of the revenue from that resource finding its way into the hands of a militant and radical group such as ISIS/ISIL is frightening. And make no mistake about it, this is their goal.

This is actually the reason the group calls itself ISIL rather than ISIS, and it clearly demonstrates their intention to control not only the territory on which they are currently fighting, but also the entire Levantine Basin. So, the next time you laugh at the media sparring over the name of the group, try and remember that this is no joking matter. 

While ISIS stands for an Islamic State in Syria; ISIL is the more accurate moniker and stands for an Islamic State in Levantine. The former sounds almost like a small regional conflict, while the latter is more emblematic of the long term danger posed by this group; whatever you choose to call them. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

"Pocketful of Miracles" with Bette Davis and Glenn Ford (1961)

Here’s a movie which captured my attention; as well as my heart; back when I was about 7 years old. As I grew up I was only ever to catch this one on late night TV reruns; and later on when it was released on VCR I was probably the only one to borrow it from the library. And that’s a shame because this is one fine movie.

From the original story by Damon Runyon (“Guys and Dolls”) to the direction by Frank Capra (too many films to mention) this movie has everything going for it. The acting is excellent, with none of the cast playing their roles “over the top” and chewing up the scenery. Even Peter Falk; who is known for being a bit too much like Peter Falk in all his roles; manages to pull off his role as Joy Boy with just the right mixture of comedy and pathos.

The story centers on the relationship between Apple Annie; played by Bette Davis in one of her finer roles; who is a poor street peddler selling apples on the corner during the Depression. Her best customer is Dave the Dude; a successful gambler played by Glenn Ford in one his most memorable roles; who is superstitious and never does anything without buying an apple from Annie before he does it. He believes in the power of luck, and that luck; as far as he is concerned; comes only from Annie’s apples.

Annie has a secret. The old woman has a daughter, Louise; played by Ann Margret; who lives out of town, where she attended a very prestigious school. Now grown, she is returning to New York City to see her mother, who she has not seen since she was a little girl. She believes her mother to a wealthy socialite named Mrs. E. Worthington Manville. She believes this because her mother has been writing her letters to this effect for many years. So, while Louise is excited, Annie is completely unhinged. Her daughter knows nothing about her mother’s real circumstances in general; let alone that she has been reduced to peddling apples in the street.

Annie has been conducting this ruse by obtaining stationary from the fancy hotel where she claims to be living. She uses that stationary to write the letters to her daughter and reinforce the fantasy of her life as a rich woman. But now that the gig is up Annie is terrified that her lies are about to be revealed. This is more than she can bear.

When Dave the Dude becomes aware of the problem he does what he does best. He’s a gambler after all; so he takes the long odds and with the urging of his girlfriend Queenie Martin; played by Hope Lang; he decides to help Annie. With Queenie coaching Annie on the refinements of being a socialite, Dave arranges for all their other friends to pitch in on the effort to save Annie’s reputation.

Pool hustler "Judge" Henry G. Blake ; played by Thomas Mitchell;  poses as Annie's husband. Dave also arranges for Annie and the Judge to occupy an out-of-town friend's hotel suite. Even the man’s butler, Hudgins; played by veteran character actor Edward Everett Horton; gets involved.

Dave, meanwhile, is having his own problems postponing a very important “meeting” with some very important “people”.  The whole film is pure Frank Capra as the two plots unfold and you are left wondering how all this will work itself out in the end. But it’s a Frank Capra film and everybody winds up being exactly where they should be. And along the way Dave the Dude learns that true luck; and love; don’t necessarily come from apples.

Friday, February 6, 2015

"You Got Trouble!" - Selling Fear

With only about 22 months left before the next Presidential election, the fear mongers are already out in full force, selling their two most potent products; the twin politics of fear and division. And the demand is great; with consumption by the masses at an all-time fever pitch. How else to explain the leading news stories of the day?

First though, let’s take a look at the science and art behind fear mongering. And what better example of this than Professor Harold Hill as he ramps up the fear in River City, Iowa against the latest unknown demon in the town. In his case it was a pool table. Watch the clip and see how the good Professor is desperate for an issue to arouse the town into needing his help. They don’t even know they have a problem until he seizes on an offhand comment by Buddy Hackett and then invents one for them; after which the townsfolk quickly fall in line to save their “culture”; in this case embodied by a billiard table.

It’s kind of like that in America today; with politicians casting about for anything that will arouse the concern of the public and create a demon for the people to unite against; all behind a politician as a leader of course.

Take the measles thing; it has been laid largely at the door of the illegal immigrants, who often do not have the required immunizations when they arrive here in the U.S. It’s a very easy thing to get the people riled up against that portion of the population. Very simple; illegals arrive without the shots required to attend school; and are allowed to go anyway and they get our kids sick. Pretty plain until you scratch the surface a bit.

I live in North Carolina, where we require immunization against the measles and several other diseases to attend public school. But we have a lot of kids here who are not immunized. They must be getting a waiver based upon their status as illegals, right? Wrong. They are allowed to attend school because the law allows an exemption for RELIGIOUS reasons. No proof required; just write a letter stating that you do not believe in immunizations and you can enroll your child in school.

So, what we have are people on the right complaining about illegal immigrants going to school and infecting their children with a disease that was all but eradicated until the right came along and got an exemption for the vaccine under the guise of religious freedom and smaller government. And the liberals even joined in with the flawed claim about the vaccines causing autism; which was proven to be false about 3 years ago.

Fear rules the day if you let it. And there is always somebody willing to don that nice looking Music Man costume; ready to lead the band and incite the fear which will keep everything static.

Here are the applicable portions of the NC statute concerning vaccinations required to attend Public School;

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-152. Immunization required

(a) Every child present in this State shall be immunized against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, poliomyelitis, red measles (rubeola) and rubella. In addition, every child present in this State shall be immunized against any other disease upon a determination by the Commission that the immunization is in the interest of the public health. Every parent, guardian, person in loco parentis and person or agency, whether governmental or private, with legal custody of a child shall have the responsibility to ensure that the child has received the required immunization at the age required by the Commission. If a child has not received the required immunizations by the specified age, the responsible person shall obtain the required immunization.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-157. Religious exemption

If the bona fide religious beliefs of an adult or the parent, guardian or person in loco parentis of a child are contrary to the immunization requirements contained in this Chapter, the adult or the child shall be exempt from the requirements. Upon submission of a written statement of the bona fide religious beliefs and opposition to the immunization requirements, the person may attend the college, university, school or facility without presenting a certificate of immunization.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Advertisements - Windows Into the Past

Advertisements reflect the culture of the times in which we live. In this case we are looking at past representations of American life. Take this ad for contraception. Undoubtedly from the World War Two era this ad places all of the responsibility for disease upon the woman. Still, she is kind of pretty.... I wonder if this ad was very effective at the "moment of truth." They say that "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush." I doubt it.

Here's an interesting ad promoting the "bulking up" of America. In the days after World War Two had ended and rationing came to a halt, we were apparently a nation hungering for the things we had forsaken during the war. Still, I never recall my family eating lard after dinner. We usually had chocolate cake from Ebinger's, a local bakery that specialized in disguising lard as cakes. Contrasted with today's trend vilifying any weight gain at all, I find that I am hungering for a big slice of that nicely disguised lard cake.

Ads can be funny when viewed from the distance of many decades. Things change rapidly in the world of health and food sciences. You can't ignore the varying effects which some products have upon different people. Take this next advertisement for tobacco.

Whenever I went to see our family Physician I received confirmation of this ad. Dr. Frieri smoked like a chimney - even while eating his dinner simultaneously. He vehemently advised my Dad to quit smoking. My Dad did and gained 50 pounds and was dead at 71. The good Doctor, by comparison, continued to smoke until the end of his life. He died in his sleep at age 87. As I said, different things affect different people in different ways. Besides, I always thought the M&M's did my Dad more harm than the cigarettes. After all, Dr. Frieri never ate M&M's. He must have been wise to the lard thing.

Now here's a brilliant ad for marital bliss. The ad is for women and advises them to pour Lysol into their vagina's as a way to please their spouses and engender good female hygiene. Now I don't know about you but I can't stand the smell of cleaning products in general, let alone during intimate moments.

And a quick look at the label tells you this product is "Hazardous to Humans and Domestic Animals." Really-read the label. Besides which, I cannot even imagine me having this conversation with my wife, Sue, who provided me with these ads. I would rather drink the Lysol first. It would be a quicker demise.

Finally, a sensible ad we can all live with. After watching an Uncle of mine almost chop his hand off trying to open a beer can with a hatchet, this innovation was a relief to every member of our family back in the late 1950's. The Uncle in question went on to lead a long and productive life, eventually extolling the virtues of the "pop top" can in his later years.

Old advertisements are like works of art. They open windows into the past and offer reflection upon where we stand today. Looking at some of these ads makes me think "We've come a long way baby!"