Kremlin Letter: Postage Due

DATELINE: IMF Gone Wrong

  George Sanders Goes Out in Flames! 

In 1970 if you wanted a thinking man’s spy thriller, you went to a film based on John LeCarre, and if you wanted a thriller with twists, you went to Mission: Impossible. If you wanted laughs, you turned to James Bond.

If Huston wanted to do Mission: Impossible,he needed the music. This movie version is rife with sex talk and use of sexual blackmail as part of the work habits of spies.

All these spies are retired and go by weird nicknames or coded identities. No matter.

So, it figures that John Huston would manage to straddle the fence and give us a spy thriller that has all these elements—and the imprimatur of one of the great directors: John Huston.

The Kremlin Letteris sheer, unadulterated  nonsense with twist of logic that defies explanation. Yet, it is glorious in its location settings—and startling cast of giants.

You will see in no particular order: Orson Welles, Max Von Sydow, Raf Vallone, Richard Boone, Dean Jagger, and Patrick O’Neal, and in a career killing performance—George Sanders in drag.

We don’t know if this movie led to Mr. Sanders’ untimely exit in Spain shortly after making this movie. He claimed he was bored. Well, we never saw him offer so much energy than as a piano-playing crossdresser in a gay club.

There is talk about two gay characters hooking up: Welles and Sanders. That would have been worth the price of admission, but the film really devolves into one of those sex-talk double-cross twisters.

What has any of this to do with retrieving a letter that seems worthless (but everyone will kill for it). That’s the old McGuffin of Hitchcock.

And Huston had turned to appearing on camera by then—and again gives himself a role in the picture. No spies come in from the cold, and everyone has a license to kill.

We knew this was going to be a treat from the opening credits. Huston still had the juice in those days—and could deliver a real movie in a world of nouveau auteurs.

 

 

 

PATRIOTS RECEIVE THEIR COME-UPPANCE

DATELINE: Shot Down at the Not-Okay Corral  

Many Patriot haters have waited 20 years for the moment. The parallel in history may be the Fall of the Roman Empire: the barbarians are at the gate, and Belichick and Brady are fleeing the chaos.

The Mighty Patriots have struck out. Cue Jim Morrison to sing “This is the End.”

There is no joy in Mudville or Foxboro. The Pats have lost their bye week—and probably their souls.

If anyone is stunned by the Dolphins beating the Pats, you have not been paying attention. For weeks now Tom Brady has been playing like a man who will be at quarterback until he is 50—in the sandlot league.

Bill Belichick is like one of the magnificent Ambersons: he is receiving his come-uppance.His vaunted defense looked like Swiss cheese and most of his players will leave in free agency. Even Brady is expected to go out with a bang elsewhere.

History runs in cycles, and the Patriots have been top dog for a couple of decades, but now they are heading back to the rubbish pile years of the 1970s. They may spend the next two decades as outliers in the AFC.

We expect that Josh McDaniels and Julian Edelman will jump ship. Already the Florida authorities are emboldened to file new felony charges against owner Robert Kraft for human trafficking, however preposterous that seems.

Now they will feel Miami is on a roll.

On the eve of an ice storm in New England, the New England Pats may be entering a new Ice Age. The berg has hit their flank—and the unsinkable franchise has sprung a leak.

Don’t cry for the Patriots, Argentina. Tom will be playing there next season.

Boston Celtics Dynamic Duo

DATELINE: Young Guns

The Boston Celtics have a problem: it is a nickname to be applied to their young tandem 30-points each in a game stars. We haven’t felt a giddy issue in the Celtic world since we heard Larry Bird isn’t walking through that door.

The Celtics are no longer looking to trade one or both: you can tell that from the new public relations spots in Boston that urge fans to vote them as teammates to the All-Star squad.

The big problem is their nickname: for past vainglorious stars like Bird and McHale or Russell and Heinsohn, nicknames were superfluous. But social media and youth must be served. Young fans want to label their new generation of superstars for the upcoming decade.

Originally Jalen Brown wanted to call themselves 7-11. Open all night, or something, but Jayson immediately changed his number from 11  to 0.  Such are the results of testosterone and competition.

Jayson once said he would be Brown’s trainer for free if he no longer had an NBA career. His pay: a room in Jalen’s big house, which appalled Jalen.

Scary Terry Rozier thought they were simply two annoying youngsters.

They are not your average Batman and Robin.

To their teammates, they are simply JT and JB. And, they are a new version of Bird and McHale, who also never had nicknames, and also had a rather contentious intra-team rivalry: their mutual glue was Danny Ainge, which may be the same factor today.

When McHale scored 50 points one night, Bird said in laconic fashion, “It’s not enough,” and promptly went out and scored  more points a week later, leaving McHale with a record setting for one week.

Some contend they have never seen Jayson pass the ball to Jalen. Perhaps that’s strictly a metaphor. They are two of the most unassuming, quiet, soft-spoken types you would ever meet. They are not flashy or overwhelming in any public way.

It’s difficult to come up with resonating naicknames for two who speak softly and carryi big balls.

We don’t like Triple Double 0-7, and we don’t like Green Jays.

They seem to accept Kid ‘n Play as something workable. They are too accommodating. We still don’t know who’s the kid sidekick.

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Orson Welles Undone

DATELINE:Roots of Career Destruction

  Distraught Orson!

If you want to trace the root of all the problems of the great director Orson Welles, you can go straight to Rio. After the fame and accolades of Citizen Kane, Welles took on two simultaneous projects –Magnificent Ambersons and Journey into Fear. 

They filmed at adjoining sound stages at RKO, and he ran from one to the other in costume, trying to act and/or direct. Both are stunning films, but flawed. If only he had put full attention to each.

That’s when Nelson Rockefeller called and told him he had a duty to build bridges with South America to stop any Nazi foothold from developing. He went there on a good will trip to make a documentary—and the rest is catastrophe.

It’s All True is the name of this doc, and it was to be the name of three films made in Brazil. Alas, he went down there with no specific plan—but to research and film. He decided to make a film about the political and social conditions by showing the history of samba. Welles is quite a sympathetic figure here.

In the middle of trying to put together rushes and a plot, RKO underwent change of ownership—and shelved his project, leaving Welles in the lurch.

As he was about to film a voodoo ceremony, he could not pay the participants. One ringleader visited, quite upset, and put a spike with red ribbon through the script It was a curse of the moviedom and doom.

Welles knew it, and he spent the rest of his career trying to finish films when money ran out. He knew he should have simply moved on, but could not.

This film would have been fascinating if it had focused on the problems of making his movies—but most of the footage he made was found in 1985. It actually comprises (without soundtrack) more than half of this film.

Beautiful footage may well tell us masterpieces were lost. However, we don’t need more than one bite to prove the point. Overlong and overkill marks this 1993 attempt to show the master’s work, rather than the master at work.

 

 

 

 

To Be Taken by Takei

DATELINE: Across Culture and Sexual Stereotypes

George pulls an Errol Flynn Moment on Star Trek!

You have known him as the original Sulu on Star Trek since 1966. George Takei is as familiar as an old shoe. His autobio- documentary is To Be Takei.

Yet, his life is both moving and horrifying. As a child he was sent to several Japanese camps in Arkansas because his family was deemed disloyal and dangerous. He was subjected to an American concentration camp—and though embittered, never let it ruin his life.

Howard Stern’s radio program gave him a voice outside his acting—and made him an activist in the gay rights scene. He was in the closet until 2005 when he charged out and married his 20-year companion Brad Altman.

The little bio is filled with clips of his performances—from Twilight Zone to Rodan (voice-over) to costarring with John Wayne in The Green Berets. His family supported his acting career, but felt he would be typecast and given limited roles. He appears to have transcended the Asian stereotype while becoming the new Franklin Pangborn.

There are surprises, of course: Leonard Nimoy genuinely liked and respected him—and the animosity between Takei and Shatner is beyond uncomfortable. We don’t know what put these two into feud mode, but there it is in this film at every turn.

If the life-story tends to focus considerably on his life partner, it is understandable—as they fought for gay marriage in California. They ran into hostile people like Schwarzenegger, but George also won over Ronald Reagan to win restitution for the Japanese Americans who suffered in camps during World War II.

His busy life continues with no end in sight. To be Takei is to be a show biz dynamo/dreidel. He continues to spin and provide everyone with a big charge.

 

 

 

 

Armstrong: Your Perfect All-American Boy

DATELINE: Perfect Choice

  First Man!

Why watch a docudrama about the life of Neil Armstrong? You can see his home movies and watch him in newsreel footage. The extraordinary documentary called Armstrong presents a most intriguing man you never knew.

In fact, no one seemed to know him. He was quiet as a church-mouse, reclusive amid a social world of military and popular science.  His friends (so labeled) said he was silent and to himself, meaning they did not know him. They knew only that he was a top-notch aviator, smart and talented.

His siblings could tease him about reading an aeronautics, and he’d smile in response. If anything will strike you about how handsome he was, it is that he was also so young-looking, even at 40 when he went to the Moon.

You will also know that Neil Armstrong would never participate in any fraud or coverup. He was mid-Western American honest, like Abe Lincoln. He went to the Moon—and you better believe it.

Harrison Ford, no less, speaks the words of Neil. It is a perfect choice, as we hear from Armstrong’s fellow astronauts. Of all, Frank Borman clearly is the one who likes him and admires him most. Even Neil’s youngest son notes his father was “not verbose.”

No, Buzz Aldrin declined to participate in this documentary.

He was a Korean War hero who saw death up close and remained shaken and stoic to the world. This was a remarkable man. He dismissed comparisons to Columbus with humor: he did not want to end up someplace other than his destrination, as happened to Columbjus.

In one home movie he gives a book by willy Ley to his young son for Christmas. How amusing, as Ley was a friend of Jan Merlin (my frequent coauthor) and cience advisor to  the 1950s science fiction show, Tom Corbett. Ah, connections, third degree.

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Side of DNA Test Kits

DATELINE:  DNA Results You Don’t Want

Brass Spittoon Like Grandpa Used!

For all those dozens of heartwarming stories about family reunions owing to genetic testing, there is a cautionary side that is quite ugly. And, I have found it in my DNA.

Spit in a tube may be the truest metaphor for some genetic results. Before you swab your inside cheek for the holiday result, let me give you some advice.

I have dozens of people now on my “cousin” list, some of whom have asked me what I know about my grandfather on my mother’s side. I tell them nothing. When I do tell them what I know, they never again bother me. They are as horrified as I.

It seems this man who is now my genetic and biological grandfather is an anonymous fiend who raped my grandmother over 90 years ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was one of several victims in North Cambridge.

Dutiful woman, my biological grandmother did not abort the child that was the result of a rape assault. She gave up my mother for adoption instead. She thought she knew who the rapist was because police later arrested a man named Farrell.

Several Cambridge woman identified him, and he went to prison for life. It now appears his life was ruined and reputation in tatters unfairly and unjustly. He was indeed innocent. He fought his conviction for fifty years, but died in a Massachusetts prison, convicted as a rapist.

Now, I am the living DNA  proof this man was innocent.

It is an appalling burden. Names cannot be changed to protect the innocent, but the hundreds of new-found cousins are actually daily reminders that they are living in a fantasy world: one of their blood relatives was a sexual predator who escaped punishment for more than a few rapes.

Oh, like in a good James Cain novel, he went to prison for something else. He was called the Moonlight Bandit, a cretin who police could identify as a robber of small businesses because he was seen in bright moonlight.

Two issues jump out at me every day: the notion of not having an abortion means that generations down the line will now face unpleasant family ancestors. And second, that I am nothing like this man: yet,  how much genetic code is in me?  I think how little I resemble these new “family” members. Thank heavens.

If you want a cautionary tale about illegitimate children being foisted on others as theirs, you will find it sadly enough in your DNA testing kit. Beware.

Boston Before the Tacko Fall

DATELINE: Merry Xmas

 Front & Center!

What’s Christmas in Boston without the Celtics playing on the holiday? Well, what’s Boston without the Boston Pops playing “Sleigh Ride”?

And what do the Celtics and the Boston Pops have in common for the holiday sleigh season?

Well, if you think the season is Fall, you are a true Bostonian. Yes, as the winter solistice dawns on the Hub, the dawn of Fall has come to the Boston Pops.

It isn’t every rookie basketball player who is offered the chance to conduct the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. However, this year, the giant of the Celtics has arrived.

Conductor Keith Lockhardt looks like a pygmy next to the Senegal giant.

Tacko Fall will be in tuxedo with baton on the rostrum.

When offered the chance to conduct the symphony, Tacko had towering twin problems:  could they find a custom made tux for him as he stands, reportedly 7 feet six inches tall, though some downplay this to 7’5”.

Tacko also worried about what movements he sbould make with the baton: they told him to do whatever he wanted. The orchestra would play along.

Up on the stage, Tacko even gave a spin move to show off his new fangled talent to lead a team around the Boston parquet.

This may be only a beginning: Boston and Tacko Fall are ready for bigger things to come.

Darwin, Living in Death Valley!

Darwin: Evolution of Death Valley

 No Services Ahead.

Death Valley is the end of the line. How fitting that Darwinis the end of the road. The subtitle here is “No Services Ahead.” It is meant to discourage people from visiting. You cannot go to a place that is the polar opposite of Downton Abbey—unless it is Darwin.

This film is not a documentary about the collapse of the New England Patriot dynasty and the end of Tom Brady.

The film is nearly ten years old, and we figure half of those in the movie are now buried in the town cemetery. Who could be left?

If your idea of stark beauty with the sty of trashed junk cars and beat-up trailers is a town, you have found your niche.

About 35 souls live there, mostly old and waiting for nothing in particular. It looks like a spot the Grim Reaper might visit when he is not busy. Two residents, the youngest, prepare to leave: they are a transgender couple. One is undergoing testosterone therapy.

The town folk are quite tolerant, despite the history of violence and death for over 100 years. Nowadays, even the graveyard is fading away. Locals bury their own, and many cannot recall who is buried where.

On a short trip outside of town, a couple takes you to the place where Charles Manson lived in the desert with his motley crew of despicable types. One resident described Manson as a piece of human refuse.

The place has been vandalized.

We kept wondering about electricity (there are poles and wires) but no wi-fi reception. There is a post office run by a woman with an attitude, though she hasn’t killed anyone, she boasts.

You may not want to visit, and you may not want to watch this show of reclusiveness. We puzzled over how they were all overweight when there seems only to be a few small vegetable gardens around.

Darwinmay be home to these lost souls, aging hippies, and mentally challenged motley crew. You won’t want to spend the full 90 minutes on this film. It’s more depressing than watching Tom Brady’s deterioration.

 

 

 

Rachel Carson of Silent Spring

DATELINE: DDT & Radiation Conjoin

  Carson Takes Them ON!

American Experience presented another brilliant and important biography a few years ago: on Rachel Louise Carson, who saw the horror and dangers of DDT in the years before World War II.

A reclusivse, scholarly woman years ahead of the curve, she started off by calling herself R.L. Carson because she thought a genderless male would be received better in a science field as writer.

She was unable to complete her Ph.D. in biology, owing to family responsibilities, and also suffered a set-back when Reader’s Digestrejected her warning about the poisonous chemical, DDT. After all, killing mosquitos and ticks was more important than any health issue.

Carson was horrified when the US government sprayed DDT down the pants of Italians after the war to kill lice. Some even sprayed it on their food to prove it could be digested.

She also began to see a parallel to radiation poisoning from fall-out after H-bomb testing. Yet, a better world through chemistry was America’s mantra. You even had Nixon and Kennedy eating tainted cranberries during the 1960 campaign to show how business owned government.

The lonely woman who lived mostly an internal life without close friends, loved the ocean, lived on the shores of Maine and worked at Woods Hole. She managed to place two best-sellers at the same time on theTimes best-seller list.

Silent Spring was not initially well-received: perhaps it was American hubris, or disdain for scholarly women, but Carson was dedicated and knew what she had to warn the world.

In one of the first corporate targets, every major chemical company went after her with one of the earliest attacks by media publicity. Their unfair and bizarre defense of pesticides is today horrifying.

Rachel Carson still is the patron saint of climate abuse—and still is hated by the political money-grubbers.

 

 

 

 

 

Downton Abbey: the Movie!

DATELINE: Moving On Up!

The classic TV series returns with a feature film, and the King and Queen of England are coming to dinner. You too, even a commoner, are invited to be a fly on the wall, which is even lower than the downstairs staff.

If you feel like this was already done, you likely saw Upstairs/Downstairsin some rerun incarnation in which the King came to dinner—and sent the TV show into a tizzy. The Fellowes motion picture of Downton Abbeyis lusher and grander.

The original Downton cast is back and kicking up their idiosyncrasies in the upper and lower chambers.

The man cursed by King Tut, Lord Carnarvan, left his beautiful castle home to serve as a stand-in for noble living, which is still the real star playing the scandal-ridden abbey.

Hugh Bonneville is back—and so are his two rival daughters (Laura Carmichael and Michelle Dockery), but you will be swept back into the luxury by the marvelous suite music that is the theme. The music transports you to another era.

Julian Fellowes, creator, was never totally original, but he manages the materials from dozens of sources to produce an optimistic and pleasant diversion from anything resembling modern life.

All the characters pick right up on the spot: Maggie Smith’s acerbic dowager countess is known even to the Queen for her biting wit. There are polite family feuds brewing beneath the surface of the upper-crust, and sexual peccadilloes are sweating in the downstairs with Barrow (Robert James-Collier)  and his gay feelings for a footman. We see the inside of a 1927 gay bar,

If the entire mess is to be derailed by such shenanigans, it takes Carson the butler(Jim Carter) to come out of retirement to save the day.  The conflicts, as always at Downton, are small and personal. And, we learn in a class society how unimportant we truly are at Downton Abbey.

As expected in British repertory company, the cast is brilliant (even down to American Elizabeth McGovern), but the treat here is the sumptuous production—even grander and more movie-like than the small screen version.

 

 

Bend in Smith’s Cove at Oak Island

DATELINE: New Discovery!

 What is it?

Two searches seem to be reaping rewards for the treasure hunters on Curse of Oak Island as the seventh episode of the seventh season airs. Another search is, as usual, highly speculative and a tease.

We finally receive word after a year that the stone located at a former bookstore from 1919 and thought to be the notorious 90foot stone with hieroglyphs written on it, was some kind of replica.

Once again, interesting info is simply withheld as a story fades away. Now Rick Lagina reveals there was nothing on that bookstore stone found in the old basement.

However, the family that owned the bookstore may have moved it to their ancestral home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. There, buried under a rhododendron bush could be the stone. Why? No one can say, but permits will be gathered to dig.

Back on the island, there is a shortage of appearances by Marty and Alex Lagina. So, Rick has recruited his other nephew Peter Fornetti and Billy Gerhardt to do some travel and research (for no reason except to highlight their appearances).

On the west side of the island, usually not explored, Gary Drayton and Jack Begley start to locate what seems to be an ancient wharf. Spikes, pins, and nails, indicate a structure from pre-1795 to unload or to repair ships was there.

At Smith’s Cove, the new 50 foot bump-out instantly reveals some kind of ancient box of logs (and tar paper) that predates any  record. It is under 10 feet of water usually, but the area may have been flooded since the oceans have risen in the past few hundred years.

It could be a booby trap flood tunnel, or something else. It is intriguing and indicates a growing number of historical possibilities. Something is indeed afoot.

Paint Whose Wagon?

DATELINE: Don’t Fence Clint In!

  A couple of song and dance men?

Back in 1969, Clint Eastwood had just returned from his stint on the spaghetti western circuit. He wanted to break molds—and went on Mr. Ed,then made a musical Western. It’s not easy to turn Clint into Tab.

Paint Your Wagonhad credentials to stagger into a gold-digging mode. Josh Logan directed another 1951 classical musical from Broadway. Paddy Cheyevsky (urban TV legend) wrote the screenplay—another unlikely figure out West.

The only true singer in the cast allegedly was Harve Presnell who stops the movie with his stunning rendition of “They Call the Wind Maria.”  Even Logan in his inepti director style could not screw that up.

As far as Clint singing, we had forgotten that in 1962, on the heels of every TV and movie actor with heart-throb fan clubs made a musical album:  as we recall, Sal Mineo, Richard Chamberlain, Tab Hunter, and even Clint Eastwood sang.

The big difference was that Clint’s album of country-western tunes was actually a hit. You need to hear his version of “Don’t Fence Me in.”

Lee Marvin also sings in the style of Rex Harrison—and he is witty and delightful. He also dances cheek-to-cheek with Ray Walston, which certainly puts Fred and Ginger to the test.

The film is an all-male homoerotic gold rush until Jean Seberg shows up: beautiful and damaged. We cannot imagine what off-screen between-takes conversations went on during this production.

There are enough offensive ethnic stereotypes to make this film about as incorrect as any Western of the 1960s. And, in a true 1960s mode, the film is nearly three hours long—really.

If you like surprises and changes of pace, you cannot go wrong with this Western that seems to be the exclamation point and end punctuation to the era of Hollywood westerns.

 

 

 

 

Mike Wallace Reporting

DATELINE: Titan of TV

Mike Takes on Bette!

Mike Wallace is no longer here with us, but thankfully we have an astounding biographical documentary called Mike Wallace is Here.

He took on all kinds of interviews: politics, show business, crime, and assorted miscreants. He didn’t always as the hard-as-nails interviewer: he started out as a pitchman and game show host. He thought he had a face for radio.

There is some truth that he was more showman than journalist, but he ultimately played a journalist until he lived the part. Many hard-nosed CBS types did not respect him at first, and he suffered an interloper’s reception from them.

Yet, his early black and white smokey interviews on late night raised the bar for insider insights. Whether it was Eleanor Roosevelt, Drew Pearson, or some Mafia thug, he asked the questions you never expected. Perhaps it was the start of rude journalism, but he took umbrage of the Bill O’Reilly school of shout and shake.

It was with 60 Minutes that Wallace will likely be remembered mostly. But interviewers like Barbara Walters and Morley Safer owed their styles to him. When they turn the tables on the old Wallace, he is undaunted. He was shocked when CBS abandoned its muckraker style because of checkbook journalism. Mike was never that.

Questions he might ask Larry King or Barbra Streisand are not in his personal repertoire of response. He suffered personally because he put career ahead of family. He knew it and operated in full cognizance of his luck.

When he became depressed in old age, people were shocked. Didn’t he have ice water in his veins? Johnny Carson said he had that taken out years earlier so he could function in public. Wallace treated Gen. Westmoreland and Putin alike, as he was a democrat of truth.

If you were not interviewed by Mike Wallace, you may have lost something in history. He had a knack of putting celebrities and historical personages like Nixon in their perspective of humanity.

This is Mike Wallace is a stunning, delightful documentary, and we have to miss him. He nailed Trump before he was 40 and showed us what was in store.

 

Brady’s Wind-Mill Tipping Days are Here!

DATELINE: A Weather Balloon, not a Saucer! 

  Your Patriots an Impossible Dream?

Tom Brady must escape from Foxboro now more than ever. He has an impossible dream: to be exonerated from the stinky swamp that his owner and head coach have tarred on his name.

Those four feathers are now making him run out of town on a rail but much worse than being pals to an impeached president.

He may never be able to restore his good name from ties to the Watergate slime of all NFL and pro sports: he cannot strip off the stench of being on the Patriots, once again going down in history books as the most stupid team of all-time.

This is worse than the sequelitis of space war in the Rise of Skywalker, or Rambo’s Last Blood,or Arnold’s tiresome Termination D. Cornpone.

Brady is now unable to wash off the taint, the smell, the curse of Belichick Island. The gold may be buried under the swamp and the body there may belong to Montezuma—or to TB12.

The return of Spygate, the damnation of Deflategate, and the horrors of association are now his Mark of Cain.

Tom Brady is now the Howard Carter of Tut discovery. No mosquito bite needed for sepsis to set in.

Yes, with an owner whose sexual peccadilloes are in the courtroom of limbo, and with a head coach who seems unable to extricate himself from the reputation of cheating his way to over 300 NFL victories, Tom Brady is guilty by association. It is a logical fallacy, perhaps even a tad unfair to Tom’s sense of terrific.

It is now Brady’s legacy.

He needs to extricate himself, if possible, to save what’s left of his tattered reputation as a GOAT, rather than to be the all-time goat of sports cheats.

It may be too late and too little time. Has Tom Brady crashed in Roswell or Foxboro?

Brady can go to Miami or Las Vegas and play with another team for the next five years for millions of dollars. He may even win a championship, but he will be forever linked with the Missing Link of modern sports:  he will search for honor in a league where there is no place for old men.

Tom Brady’s Eden has been filled with serpents for twenty years. He is now snake-bit.