Not So Happy Prince

DATELINE: Last Days of Oscar Wilde

Bosie & Oscar Morgan & Everett as Bosie & Oscar.

A movie about the last years of Oscar Wilde will hardly be a witty or charming piece of fluff. It is the stuff of tragedy, and director and star Rupert Everett does a masterful job presenting the sad, horrific last days of the most glorious wit of the 19th century.

The Happy Prince, of the film’s title, is a children’s tale that Wilde recounts several times for his own boys and for waifs he encounters in Paris.

Wilde is brutalized by publicity and a public that turns on him, bashing him as he descends into poverty and pathos.

Wilde’s sudden decline after two years at hard labor for his crime of love without a name is appalling to behold. At first, he is a beaten man of 45, but events turn him into a bloated, aging, suffering man with some kind of encephalitis. Loyal friends try to collect donations to keep him going, and he seems to promise to write again: but has lost his muse and impetus.

If there is a monster here, it is always Bosie, Alfred Lord Douglas, so cruel and so beautiful who abandons Oscar to squalor after a last fling in Capri. In a most unsympathetic role, Colin Morgan seems apt as the capricious flirt. Emily Watson is the beleaguered Constance, Wilde’s wife, who shuts him off ultimately and unwillingly without a farthing.

Edwin Thomas, as Robbie Ross, and Colin Firth, as Reggie Turner, are loyal to the end, as Wilde goes out on his terms of throwing caution and talent to the wind.

Tragic and unhappy though this biopic is, Everett is deft in his portrayal and his direction, making this a tour-de-force of conviction as well as acting. As a cautionary tale, the lessons are hard to face, but brilliantly conceived and played out.

 

 

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ABC Murders Agatha Christie

 DATELINE:  New Version of Classic Tale

old Poirot

Amazon Studio has produced a 2019 remake of the ABC Murders by the foremost crime novelist. Alas, this version of the classic story is libel against the author and defamation against Hercule Poirot.

Go back to watch last century’s episode with David Suchet.

This time we have John Malkovich with shaved head and imperial beard. This is not as offensive as the handlebar mustache of Kenneth Branagh recently in Murder on the Orient Express. It is, however, the victim of Just for Men:  yeah, Hercule colors it, sometimes.

This mystery is in three parts that grow increasingly distant from the Christie canon. You may well ask who is meant to be audience for such a tale:  it offends the millions of diehard fans who know what to expect, and it misleads new younger fans from what Christie is all about.

There is no humor, no clever twists, no plot maneuvers. here. By the third episode, you may well drift away. Worse yet, this is an aging Poirot in 1933 who has no Inspector Japp, no Miss Lemon, and no Captain Hastings, to help him.

Indeed, he must deal with a new Scotland Yard detective who is unsympathetic and hostile. Disrespect of a senior who was once glorified for his achievements may be an interesting idea, but not here.

The cast features Eamon Farren who has impressed us in previous roles as a most peculiar bad guy. Here, he is either suffering a brain tumor, or has played NFL football. It’s the 21st century—and you know what excuses murder nowadays.

We had no idea that there was so much kinky-dinky stuff in Agatha Christie, and neither did she.

Also aboard is Rupert Grint, though he has aged worse than Malkovich’s Poirot.

This Poirot is not fastidious, prissy, or clever. One character notes that he walks like he has sore feet, though we never see that foible.

What a disappointment, or do we mean travesty of the original story?

Million Pound Note, or Man with a Million

DATELINE:  My Fair Laddie?

wilfred & greg

Col. Pickering Meets Atticus Finch.

If you are looking for John Beresford Tipton to be handing out checks for a million smackeroos, this forgotten movie is way beyond your expectation. It’s actually a Mark Twain story written in 1893, one of his last ‘Americans abroad’ tales.

Here the American need not do much to blow away the fawning British aristocracy, in love with American money.

This gem came after Roman Holiday, but before Moby Dick, when Gregory Peck stayed in England to do justice to this low-budget marvel.

Two aristocratic British brothers make a bet that they can pull a Pygmalion and Importance of Being Earnest tale using a vagabond American sailor as their Liza Doolittle.

Enter Peck to do business with, whoa, is that Wilfred Hyde-White doing an audition for Colonel Pickering? You better believe the bettor. It’s like killing two mockingbirds with one million pounds.

We only wish the other brother had been Rex Harrison. Then, we would have had a film premonition of “my fair laddie.”  As it is, we have the formula that George Bernard Shaw would soon adapt to his famous play. He never found the time and the Twain to meet personally. So, he took a notion.

Yet, this makes My Fair Lady a delicious ripoff, especially since Audrey Hepburn had just made a classic movie with Peck before he shot this one.

Twain outdid Oscar Wilde here, as the poor American schmuck must not spend his million-pound note for one month to win the bet. Thank heavens for the fake media that goes on a toot to help Peck.

Because American audiences in the early 1950s wouldn’t know a pound note from a B-flat, this movie had a different American title: Man with a Million, but a million pounds was likely about five million dollars in 1893.

This film is charming, and in Technicolor, and stars Gregory Peck. What more could you ask?

 

 

 

 

Colonel Effingham & Trump Style

DATELINE:  General Nuisance?

patterson Grand Dame Eliz. Patterson!

A long-forgotten movie from 1945 with Charles Coburn is called Colonel Effingham’s Raid. It concerns a retired blowhard army officer who returns to his Georgia boyhood town to learn they are taking down the Confederate monument in the town square.

It seems ripped from today’s headlines, but was a pop novel by Berry Fleming, another forgotten literary dim bulb of ages ago. It is supposed to be whimsical by standards of a century ago. Appalling would be a better word.

The notion that people would fight to keep up a symbol of racism in the Old South is played as a comedy! Indeed, black kids sit around and listen to the old white mayor praise the slave-owning South. Effingham hires black servants and treats them like basic training punching bags. Yikes.

One progressive woman (Joan Bennett) blames the corrupt mayor and his home-grown political party for hiring his “poor white” relations in town patronage jobs.

Effingham is a colonel in the general sense of Trump military leaders. Pompous and patriotic in an old-fashioned way, he will lead a pre-World War II Georgia town to rise in revolt to protect the Confederacy. How quaint, but it made America great back then.

The film is notable for its costars Cora Witherspoon and Elizabeth Patterson, two old biddy character actresses, as grand dames of the South. It also features the fake news media, up to its tricks for Trumpite Effingham.

If you want to see what made America 75 years ago, this hoary movie may be a rattling of your teacups. Ef-ing-ham is a satire, unlike his real-life counterpart in the White House, but both are ridiculous for sure.

 

 

 

 

 

Big Papillon

DATELINE: Renewed Classic

Rami & Charlie.

Perhaps every 50 years or so, a movie needs to be re-made.

This gives a new generation of actors a chance at grand roles, and an audience unfamiliar with the original to see a version that is in tune with the times that half-a-century causes.

Take Papillon, the Devil’s Island classic tale that starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman so many years ago. Those who remember will tell you how great they were.  Those who see Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) in the recent version will not understand how these two could be surpassed.

Yes, this remake is brilliantly done: in ways that the other never touched:  such as the motif of bowels as hiding places. Money pellets are within the mess of diarrhea to be searched. This film is brutal in its sadism and disgusting conditions, perhaps even more appalling than the original.

Henry Charriere’s true story of a man battling the odds of prison condemnation is always a good yarn of hope and hopeless. Director Michael Noer manages to convey the power of a literary classic.

We particularly liked the sequence when the warden has a showing of 1933 King Kong while the repugnant, fat turnkey is in dalliance with a young whelp while Papillon plans his escape.

There is a chemistry between Malek and Hunnam that transcends the original pairing of actors who were stars for more distinctive, discrete audiences. These new young stars have rapport and remain in tune as their relationship blossoms. In a scene Malek plays a mime who performs for Hunnam in a Paris dream sequence.

Hunnam notes it is too soon for a “proposal” in one scene, but the fearless director makes his song of bonds between oddball men quite effective.

Calling All Earthlings

 DATELINE: Post-Tesla Scientist

van tassel Integratron Shell

No, it’s not Ancient Aliens—which leads us to wonder how they could have failed to do a feature on George Van Tassel, the 1950s UFO-logist who held fabulous meetings out in the desert near Twenty-Nine Palms and Big Rock with 10,000 UFO followers.

California koo-koo birds have flocked to the deserts of California for decades. As the movie Calling All Earthlings indicates, many are still there.

Foremost was George Van Tassel, a US Defense Department weapons expert from Lockheed who also worked for Howard Hughes. He became disenchanted with nuclear warfare games—and moved his small family to an underground residence at Big Rock.

In the early 1950s, he began receiving messages and instructions on how to build a time machine, which he called the Integratron. It is still there, a marvel of creation that looks like a work from Frank Lloyd Wright. Made from the best lumber supplied by Howard Hughes.

How he built such an expensive, amazing structure can be explained by the folklore:  Howard Hughes flew in regularly with satchels of cash.

What Van tassel worked on was not a standard time machine. His was a walk-through that would cut 30% off your age.It was not recommended for those under 18. Even as a shell today, its acoustics are oddly perfect.

After 25 years of work, just as Van Tassel was about to start up, he allegedly suffered a major heart attack and died in a motel near Los Angeles. Some thought he was murdered. All his notes and research went missing—and his Integratron (always under FBI surveillance) was looted and rendered useless. Van Tassel wrote a few books, including I Rode in a Flying Saucer.

Director Jonathan Berman’s idiosyncratic documentary is nearly as weird as the inhabitants of Big Rock, but this makes for a fascinating exploration of a man after Tesla’s heart and Howard Hughes’ wallet.

A Grand Lady Passes Away!

DATELINE: Milestone at Mill Circle

po

Virginia and neighbors hold original 1888 signage.

Ironically, during a national day of mourning for President George H.W. Bush with all US Post Offices closed, one of its postmasters—Virginia Hardy—passed after years of declining health. She was 91.

Virginia was the keeper of the Mill Circle flame at Winchendon Springs. Her abiding interest in the most important family of the community—the White family—and its ties to the Titanic disaster—made her a unique historical resource. Her interest in the town Historical Society was special and she donated many artefacts to the town.

She kept abreast of all the developments near the Virtuous Spring of lore, a few yards from her home. Her life spanned the last years of Julia White Castle (born in 1849), one of the original family pioneers, and she lived in the house next to the White mansion until her death. Between Julia White and Virginia Hardy, there was an unbroken chain of nearly 180 years.

Julia lived in Honolulu where a hospital now is named for her at Diamond Head, but always came back to Mill Circle for vacations. Virginia knew all the details.

Virginia’s role as Winchendon Springs postmaster put her in a special role. She was featured prominently in the book Village Post Office at Mill Circle and was present when the office closed in 2012.

Her extraordinary knowledge and insights are now lost to history, but those who knew her are greater for having a chance to bask in her presence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When a Mouse Sees a Ghost

DATELINE: Paranormal Spirit Cat

humane mousetrap Humane mousetrap?

What happens if a mouse meets a ghost?

In our haunted home, psychics who visited this summer told of detecting a spirit cat who prowls the house. He once belonged to a guardian ghost who stays in our home.

We have seen the spirit cat only once in the den. Out of the wall next to a bookcase, the large black shadow cat slowly crawled out.

We watched as he pranced into the kitchen. When wits were gathered, we went to see where he went. It had disappeared.

This week we had another odd experience when at 7am with all lights on and light breaking through the window, we found a single mouse sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor.

Instead of running like a bullet to some portal of entry, he just sat there, moving only a few inches as we stood over him.

He wobbled like a drunk. There are no poisons in the house, so we retrieved a humane mouse trap and put it before him.

Stunned, he stepped part-way into the little cube. We nudged him all the way with a gentle push of the foot. He was taken outside to be released into a field of snow. He ran off with speed, as far from the house as he could.

What had terrorized him and left him in a state of shock?

Well, of course, we thought of our ghost cat. He once belonged (psychics tell us) to a former resident who died on the Titanic. Richard White was only 21 when he perished, but he too guards the house near his birthplace—and final resting spot–here in Winchendon Springs.

Had this mouse seen the spirit cat of my resident ghost? More than a few friends insist it is likely.

William Russo has written several books on paranormal activity in his home, including Chess-mate from Titanic and Living on Mill Circle. Both are available as e-book and paperback works from Amazon.com.

 

Man in the Iron Mask 20 Years Later

DATELINE:  Re-assessment

leon

Twenty years ago (was it really 1998?), we saw the TV movie version of The Man in the Iron Mask—and pronounced it the film in which a generation of venerated actors knelt down before the new god of acting. So we were reminded today by a little magpie.

It now seems a good time to re-assess the movie, now in HD and streaming.

Yes, the passing of the torch literally happened at the end of the film when the Three Musketeers (Jeremy Irons, Gerard Depardieu, and John Malkovitch) dropped to their knees before Leonardo di Caprio as if to pay homage to the new acting marvel. Yes, literally, not figuratively.

The young star was stunning, both in his performances in the dual roles of the man in the mask and his egregious brother.

And, on top of that, he was beautiful beyond words.

Over the years, he has morphed into a character actor and downplayed his looks. If you are not beautiful at 24, you never will be.

As for the film, as period pieces go, the production was quite impressive, with only one matte shot that seemed fake. The most shocking shot was Depardieu naked.

It was a rousing tale of the aging Musketeers, and their swan song too. Each of the principal actors (Gabriel Byrne was D’Artagnan) shone in his place—but all had to play second fiddle to the twice the  Di Caprio that you might expect as both the good boy and bad one.

The film’s actresses fared less well and were less known, as even the minor male stars turned out to be Peter Skarsgaard as Malkovich’s son (looking surprisingly alike) and in a throwaway role, Hugh Laurie, almost comical.

Twenty years did not dampen the film’s high-quality appeal.

Who Killed Dorothy Kilgallen?

DATELINE: The Reporter Who Knew Too Much

Killed Kilgallen? Heroic Woman Ignored Again!

This week is the 55th anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963, which began a cascading of bad events and cultural deterioration in America.

One of the forgotten victims and researchers from the earliest conspiracy days of the Kennedy Assassination was a muckraking journalist named Dorothy Kilgallen. She was a Broadway gossip columnist and star of the TV game show called What’s My Line, which probably contributed to a sexist dismissal of her work.

In November of 1965, she was found dead in her luxury New York apartment—and her ground-breaking research and manuscript was missing. She had interviewed Jack Ruby privately twice and was preparing a second trip to New Orleans

Her death was suspicious, but not investigated by police. Author Mark Shaw’s original book on the subject, The Reporter Who Knew Too Much, spends half the work on her biography—and the second half of the book on lining up suspects and trying to determine what she had uncovered. Many people are still burying her research.

There is no cooperation from Kilgallen’s three children, for some unknown reason. Shaw’s work is thorough and compelling, all the moreso because most “serious” books on the assassination of President Kennedy ignore her mysterious death and hard work.

Kilgallen’s enemies were numerous, as might befit a gossip columnist with a poisonous style of indictment. Frank Sinatra and J. Edgar Hoover loathed her. She knew many of the mobsters who were enemies of the Kennedy family and felt betrayed by patriarch Joe and brother Robert.

Shaw loves Kilgallen even more than her family and is intent on restoring her value and importance in history. If she indeed was a murder victim who came too close to the truth in the early days of conspiracy theory, then she needs to be recognized as a pioneer of the truth-seekers.

It is a fascinating story told by Mark Shaw, though you will suffer the bane of murder mystery: she was not able to identify the culprits before her untimely death–and neither is author Shaw.

 

Scotty’s Secret History of Hollywood

DATELINE: Bowers’ Bow Wow WOW

Cary & Randy

Scotty Bowers wrote a closet-emptying autobiography a few years ago about his career as a gay procurer to the Hollywood elite. Men and women, and the only one left out is Lassie, though he admits to sex with animals too.

He counted Cecil Beaton and Dr. Kinsey as his friends and clients. He offered service for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and he confirms dozens of names of those long-suspected of secret sex lives.

A World War II vet and farm boy, he settled in Hollywood in 1945, glamourous and amorous land of fantasies. He worked in a service station with all pumps flowing. His Richfield gas was really Rich Field Gay, and they all drove over to have their engines inspected by his stable of mechanics.

Once Walter Pidgeon recommended him, he was on his way.

Your litany of stars and their peccadilloes is not totally surprising: Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, and then the off-camera boys, like George Cukor and Cecil Beaton.

Names are dropped in between a smorgasbord of outed dead stars like Spencer Tracy and Rock Hudson.

A few moralists dispute his integrity for outing people with his kiss and tell book, now movie, but as he points out, it is homophobic to think everyday biography is beyond revelation.

If anything, we were impressed that neither the vice squad of Los Angeles, nor STDs, ever caught up with the culprits. Well, no one is telling about that. His Edenic world came crashing down with age and AIDS in the early 1980s.

Now 90, he is spry and in denial about his age, his situation, and his hoarding. He is independently wealthy from beneficiaries and investments. He did not need the money to do this tell-all.

 

 

 

Gods & Monsters: 20 Years Later?

 DATELINE:   Fraser, Olyphant, or Caviezel?

Whale & Monster

As part of our continuing shock at how many years have passed since certain minor classic films have been around, we were stunned to note that it is nearly that long since Ian McKellan played the director of Frankenstein, in 1957, before his suicide.

James Whale was gay, and the Bill Condon film is based on novelized account of his last days in 1957 and is titled Gods and Monsters. Partly owing to John Hurt playing a literary critic stalking a teen heart-throb in Love and Death on Long Island the year before, we had McKellan with a sunset crush on his gardener.

How true is it all?  At least we were not treated to one of those disclaimers, “Based on a true story.”

Whale had long since left the Hollywood sound stage, partly owing to box office poison. He had made some literate and funny horror films that stand the test of time: Frankenstein and Bride thereof.

With his mind slipping away from a stroke or some form of Alzheimer’s Disease, he puts his attention on Brendan Fraser, a most handsome young yardman with a flat top hairdo that is just too preciously reminiscent of the Monster designed by Whale in 1931.

Fraser, at the time, was part of a trio of actors who could have been interchangeable in the role: Timothy Olyphant and Jim Caviezel were the other two. All the same age and style.

McKellan is, as always, brilliant and plays off Lynn Redgrave as his unattractive housekeeper. He puts the moves on the unwilling Fraser, but it is all subterfuge to force the homophobic former Marine into killing him and putting him out of his misery.

A coda to the sensitive, episodic incidents in Whale’s final days, is perhaps the weakest link in the movie as Condon had no idea how to end it, that is otherwise a powerful biographical movie.

Valentino’s The Black Eagle

 DATELINE: Surprisingly Fun Silent

 Valentino Yes, Valentino!

You may well think that we’ve lost what’s left of our wits when we chose to watch a silent movie that is not The Artist of a few years back.

No, we picked one of the lesser well-known works of Rudolph Valentino: it’s called The Eagle, based on an old Russian novel by Pushkin. For those unfamiliar with Russian classics, it’s a Robin Hood tale about a wayward young officer who runs afoul of Czarina Catherine when he rebuffs her advances.

Taking to the hills, the young man becomes an outlaw bent on vengeance for loss of his family estate. It all becomes complicated when he falls for the beautiful daughter of his enemy. All this is done with aplomb and humor, sumptuous sets and delightful underplaying.

Valentino does not dance a tango here, but a minuet. And, the director is one of the greats of Hollywood, Clarence Brown who is best known for The Yearling, twenty years later. He was an actors’ director, especially good with child stars.

Brown could always coax great performances, and Valentino is a surprise with a comedic touch. The ridiculous legend does not do him justice. And, Vilma Banky is the swanky belle with the odd name. She too is perfection. Minor roles, like the Czarina and the chaperone of Vilma, are older women with deft touches in their acting.

A silent of this kind of movie might have failed had we heard Valentino’s accent and voice, but what a shame that we never had the chance.

If a silent film comes your way, this may be the one to sample.

 

 

 

 

Dominic Dunne: Party On

DATELINE: Murder Will Out Gossip

 DD Character Assassin’s Best Friend

His friends always called him Nic, not Dom. And, he was the biggest social climber in Hollywood for a time, and then he was the biggest crime writer in America.

Dominic Dunne: After the Party is an Australian documentary from ten years ago that is making its waves now on streaming video.

Dunne fully cooperated, and he shows no mercy to himself and his youthful flaws. His son, actor Griffin Dunne is first to join the chorus of critical bric-a-bracs.

Not truly a journalist, he was not even a writer until age 50 when he started writing novels about social climbing society types, like the Two Mrs. Glenvilles. Only later, after his daughter’s murder in Hollywood, does he change his metier and go after the bad guys: the rich and pampered who think they were above the law.

Among his famous cases: O.J., the Menendez Brothers, and Phil Spector. He is merciless about their guilt and their unpleasantness. He makes big-time enemies, like Robert Kennedy, Jr.

He knew them all in the 1950s, joining in some monumental parties with names that are unforgettable. Then, he produced a bunch of movies, like gay groundbreaker Boys in the Band and plastic surgery breaker Ash Wednesday with Elizabeth Taylor.

He was married to an heiress for a time, but he never admits much beyond this as his sexploits are concerned. Only in later years, he admits he is celibate and carefree.

Like many social butterflies, he seemed to miss the point that these fests with big names were hollow and as much for their name-dropping as anything else. He is still not above or below the idea of dropping names or embellishing his luxuries. His son disdains this quality, but he is right about his father.

A compelling picture of a Hollywood groupie who found a passport to the inner world, this documentary is gossip on a high-level, high-octane whirlwind.

 

 

 

 

 

The Gardener: Northwest of Eden

DATELINE:  Exquisite Nature Manipulated?

moon bridge Moon Bridge!

Should this exquisite documentary be called The Garden? No, it is named for the man who single-handedly created 20 acres of pure beauty. It’s The Gardener.

Frank Cabot is not your garden variety gardener. His family owned miles of land in Quebec going back to the 1840s. He is a patrician horticulturalist, but he designed his gardens methodically as a labor of love.

He also had the resources and independent wealth to fulfill his creative impulses to build on his mother’s estate. He wanted something with magic, mystery, passion, and surprise.

When you visit his garden, you will be stunned. The private estate is open several weekends each summer for small public tours. No group meets another. Frank Cabot believed the best wanderers in his garden went silently and in a solitary state

His book of the 1990s inspired the film entitled The Gardener.

You will hear his last interview as he explained why he made paths that led to other motifs in his horticultural symphony or sonnet. Having spent time in Japan during World War II, he made several expensive replicas of tea rooms, with staircase waterfalls.

There are bridges of all sorts, like the oriental Moon Bridge that mirrors a circle in the pool it crosses. You will step into intimate little alcoves of flowers and shrubs that open up to vistas that spread for miles.

The film is surely publicity for the actual garden, for who will not want to experience the majesty and philosophical transcending moments in person.

You will whet your appetite for a trip to Eden, called Les Quartes Vents, from a viewing of this magnificent documentary.