Throwback Thursday – The Fighting Lady (1944)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

What with all of the back-and-forth lately between the U.S., Russia, China, North Korea, an other nation-states, there’s been a lot of talk about what constitutes sabotage, how powerful some of these entities really are, and what constitutes propaganda and where the line is between that and actual traitorous talk and actions. Thus, it seemed to me that this might be a good time to take a look back at some actual propaganda films from World War II and how the government enlisted the help of Hollywood during that war. So, for this week’s Throwback Thursday, I thought I’d share this post from Professor Damian which first appeared on the Public Domain Treasure Chest on June 17, 2010.

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The Fighting Lady (1944) – World War II Propaganda

fightinglady1Today we shift focus to a different, though no less fascinating, type of feature: the propaganda film. Governments, and especially the military have used various forms of propaganda probably ever since Kulano of the Shell Tribe called the inland tribe they were fighting “squirrelly little tree climbers who are afraid of the water” and said therefore that they would be easy to defeat.

So what exactly is “propaganda”? Well, in his book Film Propaganda and American Politics, author James Combs describes propaganda as material produced by governments or political groups designed to “sway relevant groups of people in order to accommodate their [the government’s] agendas”. In other words, propaganda, and specifically for our discussion propaganda films, are movies, either documentary or fictional, which are designed not only to present a particular point of view, but to persuade the viewer of the rightness of tht point of view or outlook. For a current example, one could point, say, to the films of Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock or Al Gore as propaganda. No, they are not produced by the government, but they definitely have a particular point of view, and though the use of select footage and interviews, are designed to persuade the viewer that that point of view is the only “correct” or “intelligent” one.

nips1A couple of weeks ago, in an article I wrote for Blogcritics.org, I discussed the use of characters from popular fiction to promote the war effort during World War II. Characters as diverse as Bugs Bunny, Tarzan, Superman, and even Sherlock Holmes were all used to promote different aspects of the war against the Axis powers, whether it was conservation/recycling, the need for vigilance on the homefront, the superiority and fighting capability of the Allied forces, or even the dehumanization of the enemy. (The last being an especially popular tactic in cartoons of the day as animation made it easy to over-exaggerate certain physical or stereotypical qualities of the enemy, thereby making them seem less like “us” and even more alien and therefore easier to kill in battle. For an actually fairly restrained example, see the picture at the left.)

Famous characters were not the only ones called upon to contribute their talents to the government’s propaganda efforts during the great war. On both sides of the conflict, all-star directors were also expected to bring their expertise to bear in the creation of films designed either to convince viewers of the rightness of the cause and the superior military might of their respective countries. In Germany, Leni Riefenstahl was busy creating Triumph of the Will, long considered one of the greatest propaganda films of all time, while in America Frank Capra (with the aid of the Disney studios) was making his seven-part propagandistic blockbuster Why We Fight which was first commissioned to show to U.S. soldiers to explain the necessity of going to war against the axis, but was later also used to convince the American people not only of the rightness and validity of the U.S. joining the fray but early intervention was the only way to keep the war from coming to America’s shores. As a matter of fact, the last film in the series is titled “War Comes to America”, and spells out in dire terms the consequences to America of an Axis victory:

German conquest of Europe and Africa would bring all their raw materials, plus their entire industrial development, under one control. Of the 2 billion people in the world, the Nazis would rule roughly one quarter, the 500 million people of Europe and Africa, forced into slavery to labor for Germany. German conquest of Russia would add the vast raw materials and the production facilities of another of the world’s industrial areas, and of the world’s people, another 200 million would be added to the Nazi labor pile.

whywefight1Japanese conquest of the Orient would pour into their factory the almost unlimited resources of that area, and of the peoples of the earth, a thousand million would come under their rule, slaves for their industrial machine.
We in North and South America would be left with the raw materials of three-tenths of the earth’s surface, against the Axis with the resources of seven-tenths. We would have one industrial region against their three industrial regions. We would have one-eighth of the world’s population against their seven-eighths. If we together, along with the other nations of North and South America, could mobilize 30 million fully equipped men, the Axis could mobilize 200 million.

Thus, an Axis victory in Europe and Asia would leave us alone and virtually surrounded facing enemies ten times stronger than ourselves.

The film then ends with images of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, showing that even as the U.S was honorably negotiating with them, the “treacherous Japs” were plotting to attack us on our own soil. Of course, this idea is the same that fueled the propaganda of a more recent administration who more simply put it “We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” Let’s face it, kiddies, good propaganda never dies.

Capra was not the only filmmaker called into the service of his country at the time, of course. Other notable directors who lent their talents were John Ford, John Houston, William Wyler, and the director of today’s feature, noted photographer and Director of the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit Edward Steichen who spent months aboard the USS Yorktown documenting the lives and heroic deeds of the brave men who manned this great ship.(The ship, and most of her crewmen, are never actually identified by name, due to wartime security restrictions, thus, she is simply called The Fighting Lady. It was only after the end of the war that the ship in question was officially identified as the Yorktown.)

fightinglady3The film opens slowly, exploring the lives of these men as they go about their day-to-day duties as the ship sails through the Panama Canal and on into the Pacific Ocean. The emphasis here is on the mundanity of the shipboard life, and quite often we are reminded (in a voice-over by narrator Robert Taylor) of the saying that 99% of war is waiting. The waiting does not last forever, however, and it is not long before we get to see the ship and her crew in action at Marcus Island. This, and the subsequent battle scenes (especially those filmed at what was to become known as the “Marianas turkey shoot”) is where the film truly begins to take off, as the Technicolor photography brings the dogfights and ship-to-air fighting a spectacular brilliance. It’s easy to see why the government wanted the most skilled directors and photographers (many of them enlisted men who went uncredited for their part in the filming for years afterward) involved in a project like this. The battle raging all around them, these men, just like their comrades manning the guns or working the take-offs and landings of the airplanes, stood their ground and provided a document of the war like few others, including some truly spectacular footage taken by cameras actually mounted on the cockpits of fighter planes in the air. There is even footage of some spectacular crashes as the planes try to return to the ship once the fighting has ended.

Nor does the film forget to remind the viewer of the cost of war even as it celebrates the victory at the Turkey shoot” and shows the sailors and airmen painting battle flags and war markings on the ship and planes, counting the number of enemies downed, it also shows us the flag-draped bodies of those lost by our side, letting the viewer know the fates of some of the ones met earlier, and even giving us a glimpse of a twenty-one gun salute and burial at sea.

Here’s a section from the middle of the film showing some of the fighting and its aftermath:

And the skinny:
Title: The Fighting Lady
Release Date: 1944
Running Time: 61min
Color

The Fighting Lady and many other World War II propaganda films including Capra’s Why We Fight are available to watch or download for free here.

 

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday – Horse Feathers (1932)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

As we approach the end of football season – the college bowls have been played an the pro playoffs are pretty well set – I thought this might be a good time to take a look back at a truly historic football game – the one between Huxley College and their rivals at Darwin College. So here, from February 2014, is my reporting on that game:

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Looking For Real Football Excitement Today? Look No Further Than Horse Feathers (1932)

HorseFeaSo yeah, there’s that Big Important Football Game on TV today. And yeah, like most of America, I’ll be tuned in, mostly because it’s a good chance to get together with some friends that I rarely get to spend much time with. Well, that, and, of course, to check out whatever movie trailers make their premiers during the festivities.

And yeah, we’ll be watching the game, too, of course, but let’s all be honest: how often does it really live up to the hype? Sure there’s always the chance that it’ll turn into a nail-biter, and with the promised inclement weather, things could get interesting, but… somehow I doubt that there’s much chance that you’re going to see anything akin to the hijinx that took place in the fourth quarter of the 1932 game between Huxley College and their rivals at Darwin College. Here, let’s take a look at how that game ended:

Yep, that was, of course, the Marx Brothers from their 1932 film Horse Feathers, where Groucho plays Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the new president of Huxley College, and Zeppo is his son Frank. Harpo and Chico play characters named Pinky and Bravelli, who are recruited to play for the Huxley team, and of course, the usual chaos ensues, climaxing with the above football game.

I do have to admit, though. that I’d be much more excited about today’s game if I thought there was any chance of the Seahawks pulling out a chariot and steamrolling it over Peyton Manning. Sigh… they just don’t play the game like they used to, do they?

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday – The Outlaw (1943)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

Since the big movie opening this past weekend was the remake of The Magnificent Seven, I thought it might be appropriate to take a look back at one of the most notorious westerns of it’s time. Thus this post from The Professor’s page from 2010. I should note that the original post had a different clip, and I’ve edited the text slightly in introducing the new one. Other than that, it remains as written then.

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Monday Oaters – The Outlaw (1943) – Starring Jane Russell

out1bHiya, kiddies! Your ol’ host with the most Professor Damian here. Y’know, when you’ve got a western that features Billy the Kid, Doc Holliday and Pat Garrett, you’ve most likely got a winner. But, when you’ve got a western where all three of those gunslingers are overshadowed by their love interest’s outrageous endowments well, then you’ve not only got a winner, but you’ve got a lot of controversy. And that’s the story of today’s feature.

Produced in 1941 by famed recluse Howard Hughes, on paper, The Outlaw is actually a fairly typical B-grade western. In the movie, Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell) is the newly appointed sheriff of the town of Lincoln, New Mexico. One day he is visited by his old friend Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) who is tracking down a stolen horse. It turns out that the horse was stolen by none other than Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel). When they meet up, the two become fast friends, and when Billy is subsequently shot Doc decides to take him to recover at the home of his (Doc’s) girlfriend Rio (Jane Russell). Unfortunately, that’s where the real trouble begins, both for the characters and for the production itself.

Rio, you see, is played by Jane Russell. Now, Hughes, realising where the real draw of the picture was, decided not only to feature Ms Russell, but to do so in the most provocative ways that he thought he could at the time. Therefore we see the definitely full-figured Ms. Russell in a number of low-cut or open-necked blouses. and in a number of “damsel in distress” type situations, including at one point being bound between two trees.

out1aUnfortunately, this envelope-pushing by Hughes and Russell was more than those in charge of enforcing the Hays Code could tolerate. They insisted on Hughes cutting at a number of scenes, most of which featured Ms. Russell’s bosom. Even with the cuts, however, Hughes had trouble finding distributors willing to handle the film. Finally Hughes decided to stoke the flames of controversy himself, and the resultant outcry caused the film to finally be booked in New York. It only played for one week, however, before the censorship board exerted more pressure on the theaters and it was withdrawn. Finally given a wide release in 1946, the film, likely due in large part to its scandalous reputation, went on to be a box-office success.

For viewers today, of course, considering some of the images that are projected onto the silver screen in our local multiplexes, it may be hard to see what all the fuss was about. However, there is one thing that definitely stands the test of time in this film, and that is Ms. Russell’s beauty.

Once again, I wasn’t able to track down a proper trailer for the movie online, but here’s a series of clips that… well, I suppose you could substitute the word “bust” for “best” and it would work just as well. Anyway, it should give you a pretty good feel for the flick:

Ok, I guess it’s time for the skinny:
Title: The Outlaw
Release Date: 1943
Running Time: 116 min.
Black and White
Stars: Jane Russell
Directors: Howard Hughes, Howard Hawks (uncredited)
Producer: Howard Hughes

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday – More Nero Wolfe

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

A while back I started writing about my favorite detective, but for various reasons I never got around to posting part two of this, something I intend to correct soon. Last week for Throwback Thursday I reposted that original post, so I thought this week I’d use this space to post my original follow-up to that, dealing with one of the novels that I had just finished reading.

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My Favorite Detective: A Novel Interlude – A Family Affair

nero208Back before Christmas I posted an article about Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe introducing the character and talking about the concept of the armchair detective. In that article (which focused mostly on the radio adventures of the character) I noted that while I could probably find all of the original novels and short stories online either through Amazon or Ebay or downloading them as e-books or whatever, I’m just old school enough that I enjoy having the print editions (yep, there are some things that I just enjoy having hands-on copies of) and tracking them down individually either through going to old booksellers or getting them as gifts. Well, thanks to my mom, I received a 1st edition hardback copy of Stout’s last Wolfe book, A Family Affair.

One of the things that I noted about Stout’s Wolfe stories that I really like is that though he first introduced Wolfe and his associates and various supporting characters in 1934 in a novel entitled Fer-de-Lance, and wrote them to be contemporaneous with society then. as the years passed, though the characters never actually aged and their basic relationships didn’t change, the world around them did, and that was something that Stout acknowledged in his stories. For instance, when America entered World War II, Wolfe became an occasional consultant for the War Department. During the 50s and 60s, Wolfe noted and commented upon the civil rights movement, and some of his cases sprang from that, and so on. As a matte of fact, Stout stated to his biographer John McAleer

“Those stories have ignored time for thirty-nine years. Any reader who can’t or won’t do the same should skip them. I didn’t age the characters because I didn’t want to. That would have made it cumbersome and would seem to have centered attention on the characters rather than the stories.”

That particular aspect of the stories was never more in evidence than they are in A Family Affair which was first published in 1974 and deals heavily with Wolfe’s reaction to the Watergate scandal which was engulfing the nation at the time. As a matter of fact, a central part of the mystery has to do with if, and if so how, the events that take place might be related to that ongoing scandal.

nero201Another theme of the novel, and the part that gives it its title, has to do with just who constitutes one’s “family”. Is family merely a relationship of blood, or are there other relationships that can also be considered family? This is especially called into question when a character who has been peripherally seen before in the Wolfe stories is killed in a rather gruesome manner under Wolfe’s own roof, which is the event which sets the rest of the story in motion.

I’m not going to give much more of the plot away here, as to do so would deprive the potential reader the fun of following the twists and turns which it takes, except to say that for those who have read previous stories and have come to know and love these characters over the years, the climax does come as something of a gut-punch.

fa1A Family Affair is also one of those stories in which Wolfe breaks, as happens from time to time, some of the established rules that he has set up for himself, and which define him as unique from other characters in the genre, but there is always a good reason for that when it occurs, and that is true here.

I have to say that I don’t recommend A Family Affair as an introduction to Wolfe’s world. There are many other stories and books that would serve that purpose better. On the other hand, though I wish that Stout, who passed away in 1975, not long after the publication of the novel, had been able to write many more stories, if there does have to be a last Wolfe novel it is fitting that this is it.

And fortunately for me, since I’ve made no strict rules about the order I’m reading the stories in, simply devouring each one as I find it, there are still some new adventures out there for me to find, and that is something that makes me very happy. And anxious to head out and see if I can find any more today.

(I’ll also be back soon with the “official” part two of this series, in which I’ll write more about Wolfe himself, and my favorite television adaptation of the character.)

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday – Nero Wolfe Part One

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

A while back I started writing about my favorite detective, but for various reasons I never got around to posting part two of this, something I intend to correct in the next few days, so I figured that rather than just referring readers of that part back to this I’d take the opportunity of Throwback Thursday to just go ahead and repost part one.

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My Favorite Detective (Part One) – The New Adventures Of Nero Wolfe (1950 – 1951)

nero1Though I am, like most mystery lovers, a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, there has always been one character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories who has actually fascinated me more than the famed detective himself. No, I’m not talking about his famed arch-rival Moriarty, though he is also a very intriguing figure, especially when one considers his actual “screen time” in the canon stories is so short.

No, the actual character I’m talking about is Sherlock’s “smarter brother”, Mycroft.

The main reason that I find Mycroft intriguing is that he is, at least in the Conan Doyle stories, a sedentary figure who appears to be even smarter than his more famous younger sibling, but who, as Sherlock describes him in “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter”

…has no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right. Again and again I have taken a problem to him, and have received an explanation which has afterwards proved to be the correct one. And yet he was absolutely incapable of working out the practical points…

Mycroft, therefore, is a perfect example of what is known as the “armchair detective”. At least he is in the Holmes canon. For those of you who mostly know Mycroft from his portrayal in either the BBC’s Sherlock or CBS’s Elementary, Mycroft, probably to disguise his identity from viewers who know the canon and add their own “twist” or “surprise reveal” is portrayed as a much more active figure.

nero2Of course, Mycroft is not the first armchair detective in mystery fiction. That distinction probably goes to C. Auguste Dupin who was the creation of the man who is responsible for innovating so much of what are now considered standard detective mystery tropes, Edgar Allan Poe.

Neither of these two men, however, is ny personal favorite character in the genre of the armchair detective. No, that distinction goes to a man who unfortunately goes largely unknown to today’s audiences, even, I would say, to many of those who consider themselves fans of mysteries stories.

His name is Nero Wolfe.

Wolfe is the creation of mystery writer Rex Stout who not only created the character, but wrote 33 novels and about 40 novellas and short stories featuring the character. (The reason for the “about” there is because there are a few stories which Stout wrote for magazines or other venues and then either revised or otherwise changed and which were then printed in the new version or even, depending on the extent of the changes, as new stories.)

Wolfe first appeared in the 1934 novel Fer-de-Lance, and the last Wolfe story written by Stout was A Family Affair, published in 1975. One of the most interesting aspects of Wolfe’s adventures is that while Stout’s stories were written over a period of more than forty years, and they quite often reflected what was going on in the world around them – for example, during the years of World War Two Wolfe was quite often consulted by the War Department for aid in tracking spies, and during the 60s Wolfe’s adventures took place amidst the civil rights movement – the characters of Nero and his assistant Archie Goodwin never aged or really changed.

nero4Ah, yes, Archie Goodwin. Some people would likely say that Archie is the true protagonist of Stout’s stories, and while I won’t go that far, I will say that it is Archie’s unique voice which truly brings Wolfe to life. Goodwin acts as the narrator of Wolfe’s adventures, acting in much the same role that Dr. Watson plays in the Sherlock Holmes stories. He is the person who acts as the reader’s stand-in in the stories, though considering the sedentary nature of Wolfe – remember, he is an armchair detective – Archie is arguably more valuable to Wolfe than Watson is to Holmes. As a matter of fact, in their preface to a reprint of Stout’s book Too Many Cooks, mystery scholars Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor describe the relationship between Nero and Archie thusly:

First, Archie is not a friend but a paid employee, who acts as secretary, chauffeur, and legman to the mountainous and sedentary Wolfe. Then they differ in all important respects—age, background, physique, and education. Finally, it is impossible to say which is the more interesting and admirable of the two. They are complementary in the unheard-of ratio of 50-50. … Archie has talents without which Wolfe would be lost: his remarkable memory, trained physical power, brash American humor, attractiveness to women, and ability to execute the most difficult errand virtually without instructions. Minus Archie, Wolfe would be a feckless recluse puttering in an old house on West 35th Street, New York.

Personally, I think that Archie’s voice is the thing that makes the Wolfe stories stand out from most other detective fiction, even Stout’s own attempts at creating other detectives and characters. I’ve tried reading some of those other stories and have inevitably found them wanting, and in analyzing my reaction to them, I’ve become convinced that the reason for that is that they are missing the unique voice that Goodwin brings to Wolfe’s adventures. Archie, in his role as narrator, seems to be one of those “lightning in a bottle” creations that sets Stout’s Wolfe stories apart from his rivals.

nero3Okay, for now I’m going to stop there, before actually getting into the character of Nero Wolfe and the things that make him a truly unique character even when compared to other armchair detectives. Instead, I want to take a moment to focus on one of my favorite adaptations of Rex Stout’s stories.

As indicated by the word “New” in the title, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe was not the first series to bring the detective to radio. That distinction goes instead to the 1943-44 series The Adventures of Nero Wolfe which first aired on the on the regional New England Network before being picked up for national broadcast by ABC. Next came 1945’s The Amazing Nero Wolfe, which featured Francis X. Bushman as the titular character.

By far, however, in my mind the best characterization of Wolfe on the radio came from the aforementioned NBC series The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, which aired on the network from 1950-51 and starred Sydney Greenstreet as Nero. Yes, that Sydney Greenstreet. The man who played Kasper Gutman (otherwise known as “The Fat Man”) in The Maltese Falcon and Signor Ferrari in Casablanca along with many many other roles.

As a matter of fact, Greenstreet’s portrayal of Wolfe is so strong that when I am reading Stout’s Wolfe stories it is his voice that I hear in my head as Wolfe. Who do I hear as Archie? Ah, we’ll get to the answer to that question in the second part.

nero5There are only two problems that I have with this series, and they are easily overcome by the love that I have for Greenstreet’s Wolfe. The first is that the series had no consistent actor to play the part of Archie Goodwin. Over the course of the twenty-six episodes which make up the series, the voice of Archie was played by actors such as Gerald Mohr, Herb Ellis, Lawrence Dobkin, Harry Bartell, Lamont Johnson, and Wally Maher. The other problem is that the series consisted of original stories rather than adaptations of Stout’s writings, though that’s actually understandable and forgivable considering the complexity of Stout’s plots. They would have been nearly impossible to shoehorn into an thirty minute radio time slot, so it’s for the best that the producers didn’t even try. Instead, the producers opted to emphasize characterization over plot, and while one could perhaps nitpick bits of that, the truth is they did a pretty good job. Again, I’d say as well as could be done in a 30 minute time slot.

The other bit of good news about this series is that out of those twenty-six episodes, twenty five are known to survive and are available to collectors as opposed to the two earlier series of which only one episode each is known to have made it intact to the current day.

So I think it’s time to quit talking about the series and give you a chance to give it a listen.

Next up: Part Two where we take a look at the character of Nero Wolfe himself, my favorite television adaptation of the character, and my favorite portrayal of Archie Goodwin.

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday – So Pretty (2012) and So Dark (2013)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

I love well done short films and these are two of the best that I’ve covered in the time that I’ve been writing this blog, so I thought they’d be good fodder for a Throwback Thursday.

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Two Short Films Show Vampires Can Still Be Pretty Dark – So Pretty (2012) and So Dark (2013)

Short independent films can be extremely tricky things. Not only do you usually have to deal with the usual budgetary limitations of an independent movie, but you also have to have a strong enough screenplay, actors, and director to get in, establish your setting and characters, tell your story, and get out. It’s the failure of any one of those things that can make the difference between a good idea and a good movie.

sp2Of course, the same can really be said of any movie, I suppose, but with the kind of films I’m talking about, the pressure on these factors is even greater, because most of the time, you can’t rely on CGI wizardry to “fix it in post” or on drawing things out to the point that plot, characterization, motivation, etc. simply get lost in the shuffle.

So how does the independent film maker deal with these things? There are a number of ways, of course, but one of them is to use a limited number of locations.. If you’re doing all of your shooting in one or two places, then you don’t have to worry as much about finding a variety of locations, figuring out how to dress them, light them, place your camera in each of them, etc. etc. Instead, the time and money that all of that can take up can be used to better effect making the most of the space that you do have. This is also true when you have to limit the number of actors you can afford to use. When you can’t simply fill up the screen with hundreds of extras – either real or computer generated – who can walk through a scene to distract from the main performance or run screaming in terror to show the audience that there’s something to be scared of, or even just to provide “atmosphere”. then you have to be absolutely sure that the performances you are getting from them are top-notch.

sp1What’s all of that got to do with the two films we’re looking at today? That’s simple. In both of them, writer James Williams and director Al Lougher have succeeded on all counts. They’ve taken their obviously very limited budgets and used them to turn what could have been real disadvantages into true advantages.

This is especially obvious in the first film, So Pretty. Obviously conceived as a response to and commentary on the current Twilight-esque take on vampires as creatures of seduction to be loved instead of feared, So Pretty uses it’s short (8:39) running time to actually tell a story with a concrete beginning, middle, and end. It also takes advantage of its single setting (one almost-deserted subway car) to create a sense of claustrophobia and entrapment that could not have been at all helped by moving outside its confines. Yet it also gives one the sense that there is definitely more going on than at first meets the eye. Here go ahead and have a look:

Pretty intense, and as I said, a film that definitely stands on its own while giving a sense of being a part of a larger picture. Which is where the sequel, So Dark comes in. Following directly from the events of the first film, So Dark actually picks up later the same night, after Sean has been captured (or rather allowed himself to be captured) by the police. Again, So Dark is largely concentrated in a couple of different rooms in the same building, and only moves outside of them at the end, when the plot necessitates it. And, again, the characters are mostly limited to those that are necessary to telling the story at hand. Yes, it’s longer running time (So Dark clocks in at 21:15) allows it to be more expansive, but again, it is a full story rather than simply a part of one, and can very well stand on its own. Certainly having seen the earlier film helps, and there is definitely room for more follow up, but even if you only saw this one film, you would come away satisfied, and that is a large part of what makes it a success, and in a lot of ways could and perhaps should be taken as a challenge to many a much more celebrated film maker today, many of whom seem to think that if their movie doesn’t run at least two hours, it’s not worth making.

548944_496005023794768_242547859_nAs for the film itself, well, it has enough twists that I don’t want to give too much away, but it definitely also follows in tone from the first. Sean is not the kind of vampire teenage girls are going to want to cuddle up with, but in my mind, that’s a good thing. These are movies that harken back to a time when vampires were creatures of darkness and blood and remembers that there is a reason their stories should be filed in the “horror” section as opposed to “romance”. At the same time, they don’t cross over into the graphic gore territory that so many so-called “horror” films seem to want to wallow in today. As a matter of fact, despite the picture I posted above, there’s relatively little blood in either of these films, and when it is there, its there for a reason.

Ok, that’s enough from me. Just take the time and watch the film for yourself. If you’re a horror fan, especially one like me who is just kind of dissatisfied with much of what’s hitting the big screen in the guise of the genre I think you’ll definitely find that it’s time well spent.

Until next time, happy viewing.

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

Throwback Thursday – The Parallax View (1974)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

As we approach what seems like it will surely be at the least a – shall we say “interesting” – political convention season it seems like a good time to go ahead and take a look back at one of my favorite political conspiracy thrillers from the early 70s. No it may not be the best – there are plenty of contenders for that spot, but 1974’s The Parallax View still holds a special place in my own heart. Here’s what I had to say about it back in July of 2013.

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Conspiracy Theorists Need To Apply – The Parallax View (1974)

pvcI’m not sure exactly why I decided last night’s movie would be 1974’s The Parallax View, or even when I put it in my Netflix queue. Still, there it was, and since I was in a kind of “what the heck” mood, I decided to give it a go.

Coming out at a time when political corruption, conspiracy theories, and political assassinations were all at the forefront of the American psyche, The Parallax View is according to Wikipedia, the middle film in director Alan J. Pakula‘s so-called “Political Paranoia Trilogy” which also includes 1971’s Klute, which I haven’t yet seen, and 1976’s All The President’s Men, which I have. (Though it has been awhile, and I probably should revisit it sometime soon.) This is not to say that the film relies on any knowledge of, or even directly relates to either of those films, as the link between them is one of theme more than plot.

The Parallax view stars Warren Beatty as Joseph Frady, a somewhat naive reporter who finds himself drawn unwillingly into a world of political intrigue and, yes. conspiratorial assassination. The guiding force behind these assassinations turns out to be the titular Parallax Corporation which actively recruits people like Frady, people who seem to be on the edge, to become assassins.

Or do they?

The movie is very much one of its time, making use of then-popular pop-culture tropes such as personality testing and visual brain washing. There is even a scene which echoes the forced retraining scene in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, with a very interesting video montage, though the scene itself is much less disturbing and intense than that of the Kubrick film.

pvbAnd perhaps that’s the problem with the entire film, and why it was less well received and remains much less well remembered than Pakula’s two other films in this “trilogy”. It simply never manages to convey any real sense of intensity or immediacy. Under Pakula’s direction, scenes such as the opening fight on the top of Seattle’s Space Needle, which could have provided great tension seem much too removed and foreshortened to truly give it any sense of what is at stake, and that is something that carries through the length of the movie, making it seem rather disjointed and – while it’s not particularly hard to follow – jumpy, as Frady moves from point to point in following the conspiracy depending far too much on what seems coincidence.

Of course, it could be argued that these coincidences are not what they seem, but that is not a point that the movie really addresses, so the viewer is left at times having to play catch up just a bit too much.

pvaAs far as the acting goes, Beatty, whose talent onscreen was unfortunately for most of his career overshadowed by his offscreen reputation turns in his usual engaging performance. He is very ably backed by a supporting cast which includes Hume Cronyn, William Daniels and Paula Prentiss, all of whom are good here, but never seem as engaged as they would be in other roles.

In the end, The Parallax View is a pretty typical 70s conspiracy thriller, complete with a relatively nihilistic ending which was the going trend at the time. It is certainly worth the time if you have nothing better to do with an evening and are a fan of this kind of film, but at the same time, I can’t consider putting it in the category of a “must see”.

(The preceding review was, by the way, paid for by the Parallax Corporation, but you should not take that as any indication that it was designed to throw you off the scent of any ongoing assassination conspiracies or other ongoing schemes. Probably.)

 

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.