Jack the Tailor of Beverly Hills

 DATELINE: You Are What You Call Yourself!

 Clothes Make the Man!

Upon first coming across a one-hour documentary on a fashion store in Beverly Hills, we thought it was one of those vanity documentaries, produced by its subject. Jack Taylor was a 90-year old high fashion artist from old Hollywood days.

The film is a tad old, with Taylor gone in 2016 and his main supporter, Mike Douglas, a decade before that. Yet, we are always eager to catch up on our past misgivings.

Jack Taylor hardly needs publicity, and business is dying out as his A-list celebrity patrons pass away. He would soon follow and take an era with him. He was the man who tailored all those magnificent suits worn by Cary Grant from the 1930s till his death. Grant would order a dozen suits at time.

We wondered if there were any celebs who’d go on camera for a commercial appearance—and there were plenty of men: Mike Douglas, Hal Linden, swore by Jack Taylor. Monty Hall wore a different outfit every show on Let’s Make a Deal, all created by Taylor.

He made clothes for Elvis, Sinatra, Charles Bronson, and so many men. He was not easy either. He would tell them not to eat or put on weight. His suits were meant to show them off at their best shape. His most obstreperous client was Jackie Gleason who needed 3 sizes, because of his weight changes over weeks and months.

Taylor would tell them to eat only half the plate at the restaurant. He did not do alterations, or sew the suits. He has a 60-year tailor for that: he has worked for Taylor for sixty years. He’s in his 80s. But both lament there are no tailors any longer.

We are looking at the extinction of men’s fashion. There was no endangered species list: men’s suits and ties were dinosaurs when the political landscape changed its pants.

Clothes for men nowadays are off the rack at best, and China imports at worst. Jack Taylor knows his world of well-dressed men is fading away. He thinks the 1940s were the last gasp, but the war killed it at that point. And, the 1970s turned into a fashion death knell for men’s clothing with jeans and t-shirts as the extent of wardrobe.

We never expected to be fascinated at expensive clothes, being a recluse who never makes public appearances. However, celebrities still know a good suit is essential, but they are going to have a hard time finding anyone to replace jack Taylor.

Hey, Jude! Sherlock Holmes 1991!

DATELINE: Teenage Jude Law

When picking a random episode to view (and rev-view many years after first seeing it), we settled on Jeremy Brett’s definitive performance in Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. The episode is titled Shoshcombe Old Place.

Back then there was an attempt to film every short story faithfully. It was something they fell short of accomplishing when Brett died with about six stories left to produce.

The 1991 episode is about a stable of racehorses on an estate. Almost immediately in the opening, we were struck by a young actor, likely about 18, very pretty indeed. He wanted to be a jockey and approached the crusty middle-aged bachelor whose sister owned the estate. The horse master was cool to the young man who looked at him with more than yearning for a job.

Later, one of the caretakers went to Holmes and Watson with a distressing story of something not quite right at Shoshcombe. The sister was very ill, and strange events troubled the caretaker. Holmes chose to dig into it.

With a staccato delivery of lines that is nothing short of breathtaking and hambone, Brett manages to steal every scene he is in as he figures out the mystery.

Jude Law sealed his fame 20 years later as Dr. Watson in a series of bad movies, but here he is most amusingly in drag most of the show—and even shows some homoerotic interest in his boss. Interesting to say the least.

Our ends never know our beginnings. How fortuitous to have picked this marvelous episode for a peek.

Oldie Noir: Killers

DATELINE: Hemingway Classic

Burt Lancaster Awaits the Grim Reapers.

 

A late 1940s film noir version of “The Killers” made author Ernest Hemingway wince. He was hypercritical of the Hollywood versions of his novels and stories.

Yet, the star vehicle for Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster used the first twenty-minutes to tell the short story. The rest is Hollywood explanations that have nothing to do with Hemingway except to build off his message.

The original dark opening seems to tell an inexplicable tale of a gas station attendant who is hunted down by two hired gunmen. Instead of running when he is warned, he simply waits for the inevitable killing.

When asked why he won’t flee, he gives the ultimate Hemingway man’s answer. There comes a time when you stop running because it doesn’t matter in the end.

The moody and eerie tale is brilliantly directed by Robert Siodmak and were it a short subject could have been a masterpiece after the killers climb the boarding house stairs and let their bullets fly.

Young Burt Lancaster is suitably tough and handsome, as you’d want you hero, but he is antiheroic in not fighting. The rest of the movie is a pathetic attempt to flashback to his roots and how he upset the mobsters.

Quiet nighttime moments in an old-fashioned diner and the ominous sense the Swede’s friends have about the mystery visitors is all part of the philosophical insight of the author.

Many questions about the Swede are raised and there are no answers. It was always the style of Hemingway to omit key information: you fill in the blanks. Sometimes if you have enough questions, they provide an answer. The central mystery of the Swede is explained in banal terms during the remainder of the movie.

Heminway gives you suspense in the anticipation of answers, but you will be thwarted and left to your own devices to figure out the moral of the story.

 

 

Caricature King

DATELINE:  The Line King

Hitch by Hirsch: we couldn’t find Nina.

 Al Hirschfeld likely hated being considered an artist who was a cartoon caricaturist. He was much more, and only in recent years after a 70-year career is he receiving his due.

Hirschfeld is the titled The Line King  in this fascinating and surprising documentary. It divides his life and career into decades from the start of the 20thcentury. He lived well past 90 and was active until the end.

Hia works are notable for the gimmick “Nina” name of his daughter that need to be located—and in multitudes, counted. It was another device that seemed to lessen his artistic reputation, though it is a clever indication of how bright his mind always was.

He started out sculpting and doing watercolors, but those did not sell. He worked in early movie studios, under Selznick and Mayer, sketching all the great comedians. He knew them all, too, including Chaplin who rescued him from poverty when he was in Bali without funds.

The Line King learned about people daily, and his wisdom emanates in every segment that relies on interviews he gave.

What a brilliant man—and many stars, like Katharine Hepburn, bought his works and offer glowing testimonials to his insight.

He never tried to be cruel. When he did his most nasty version of David Merrick, the Broadway producer bought the original and put it on his annual Christmas card.

Hirschfeld did all his work in his little office sitting in a barber’s chair, his idea of comfort, and worked seven days a week. He never had a contract with the New York Times until his last years—and he was more important to Broadway and film than the critics.

If you wanted a seminal insight into every great performer and his work, you need only consult a Hirschfeld sketch. Absolutely brilliant and the film is too.

 

Apt Pupil Outruns Mentor

DATELINE: Crypto Nazis in Suburbia

Bryan Singer, director of Apt Pupil,first ran into hot water, not because of the subject matter that indicated Nazi youth were living in American suburbs, but because he filmed teenage boys in the high school shower after gym class.

This 1998 film should not be forgotten for more important reasons.

High crimes differ in every culture. Singer’s point made Stephen King’s novella more horrific than the original story where the FBI could identify your garden variety mass killer with a profile. In this film version an All-American boy on a bicycle discovers the old man in his neighborhood is no innocent immigrant, but a fugitive Nazi killer from Auschwitz.

It was an era when immigrants were welcomed into the United States at the border, no matter how dubious their credentials. After all, safe haven is often de rigueur for evil-doers.

Instead of turning the reprobate into authorities, the kid wants to be tutored in the fine art of Nazi supremacy. It was a wild idea twenty years ago, but today with neo and crypto Nazi supporters all over the landscape, we might discover this budding monster wins some sympathy. How many shooters in recent years were teenagers with MAGA caps?

Performances make this essential two-character drama into something special. Ian McKellan plays an older Nazi and Brad Refro is the innocent-looking teen. The sophistication of Refro’s work makes his early death a far greater loss to acting. Each star is brilliant as we watch their subtle sexually charged father-son jamboree.

At one point, Refro as Todd buys a Nazi uniform for his pal to see him march around. McKellan dryly announces, “I see I have been promoted.”

The revelation that Refro’s youth may be worse than the Master comes at different points for some audience members. You could think that the kid is a victim of a powerful influence, but his treatment of his high school teacher Mr. French who discovers the ugly secret is far more stinging than the headlines of today’s child abuse cases.

Who can you trust in this world? Everyone uses a façade to shield their hideous criminal intentsions.

Up to the ending, McKellan’s Nazi thinks he can outsmart the American Nazi, but the freedom of choice in the United States makes for a far more dangerous brand of Fascism, as we now know from Trump’s campaign for a second term.

This is a chilling look at Nazis, homegrown and imported.

Oh, My Gog! Not to Mention Magog!

DATELINE: Forgotten Classic? 

 Infamous Gog and Herbert Marshall.

Back in the early 1950s, one of the way-ahead-of-its-time movies was something called Gog (out of your Bible as a nasty evil force). The movie turned Gog into a “brain machine,” because no one dared to call it a computer back then.

Gog and Magog are robots with independent thinking skills. The computers must deal with out of control nuclear power where no man can go. Without much overt horror, this thinking man’s vision of the future went down the tubes with nary a fly-by.

More than a decade before Kubrick unleashed the HAL computer as villain on A Space Odyssey,Ivan Tors of Flipper fame turned his vision loose in a desert military base, top secret, a few years before the government created Area 51.

No wonder this movie in 3-D was a bomb. No one in the days of flying saucer mania believed in this stuff really would take over TV in the 21stcentury. The movie plot was years ahead of crypto-zoology and Artificial Intelligence with evil intent.

The movie starred Richard Egan, or is that Richard Carlson? You know any good sci-fi/horror effort in those years had to star one of them.

And, as the distinguished scientist, you had Herbert Marshall heading down the road that Vincent Price would later own.  This is a few years before Marshall had a big hit with an original shocker, The Fly. Marshall is also long-past the razor’s edge here.

Apart from the high-tech predictions, you have a great many silly low-tech, insipid notions, like a windshield wiper on the glass of a lab window—and steam radiation heat out of pipes.

Gog was a big disappointment to the drive-in audiences of the age, and its lost color and 3-D view on TV never helped it achieve any kind of post-release respect.

 

 

Humming a Tune

DATELINE: Tiny Speedster

 

The littlest birdie in the world is the hummingbird, and you have David Attenborough ready to spill the beans in the heartbeat in this documentary from 2012 called, Hummingbirds.

When in flight, their hearts beat around 1200 beats per minute. When they sleep at night, they go into a suspended animation that leaves their hearts beating 40 times per minute. It takes them half an hour in morning to wake up—and they are prime choice for predators in this condition.

They must eat every fifteen minutes to keep their prodigious lifestyle. Besides flower nectar, they go after little bugs. They avoid bees whose sting could kill them.

These remarkable mammals are the fastest, smallest, and most amazing of creatures: they came about ten million years after flowers and adapted to become the cold morning pollinator. Insects could not do the job.

The hummingbird also is the most acrobatic flier in the world: he can fly backwards and upside down, unlike any other bird. Though they seemed to be most closely tied to South America and Brazil, they moved into the Andes Mountains soon thereafter—and a micro-version went to North America.

They must eat every 15 minutes to keep up their energy, but there are so many mysteries about how they live, no scientist can say for sure.

They migrate thousands of miles to Texas each year—and then must fatten up to make a flight across the Gulf of Mexico where there is no rest, no food, and no information on how they do it.

But this film is stunning for the beauty of the birds that have iridescent feathers that explode in color when they are combative. Slow motion photography grants an opportunity to see what is too fast for the human eye normally.

 

 

 

 

 

 Fright Night Revisited

DATELINE:  Vampire Classic from ’80s

Sarandon & Jeffreys

Has it really been 35 years since Fright Night rejuvenated modern vampires?

It was Tom Holland who wrote and directed it, looking like a B-movie for TV show of the week, apart from the nudity now and then. By today’s cable movie standards, this is rough, however still holds up as entertainment with a modern twist.

Two points of amusement remain unflappable: Roddy MacDowell and Stephen Jeffreys. They survive in name for sheer wacky performances. MacDowell plays an aging movie star who used to play vampire hunters in his heyday, and Jeffreys plays a teenage Jack Nicholson on uppers. He later reneged Hollywood to do gay adult films for a while, though that is now denied with a half-baked story that it was his evil twin brother.

The vampire is demure and stately Chris Sarandon, looking like he wandered into the wrong California suburb. Yes, the vampire has taken a house in a Leave It to Beaverpart of town where you can peer into the next-door windows. It seems like he’s asking for teenage trouble.

Stephen Jeffreys steals the big scenes: he becomes clearly the gay victim of Sarandon’s vampire. His two delicious scenes are with Roddy as they battle.

For MacDowell with his hair fake-frosted, this was a last grand role, and he makes the most of it. Director Holland was lucky to have the veteran star in his movie.

There is no scrimping on special effects at the finish, and you have a sunny California vampire tale.

The film was originally set to star Vincent Price, not McDowall, and Anthony Michael Hall, not Jeffreys. And, we still haven’t figured out what Sarandon’s boyfriend is supposed to be.

In the whatever happened mode, William Ragsdale is the star juvenile lead. He’s cookie-cutter good enough. Yet, he is thrown up against two scene-stealing actors who rob him of the movie. The film is considered a classic nowadays.

Current War: All-Star Bio-Bash

DATELINE: Threesome of Stars!

         Hoult, Cumberbatch, Shannon: Currency

 

The Current War  was withheld from release and largely ignored because it was produced by pariah and sex abuser Harvey Weinstein.

The shame is that the movie is actually extremely good with remarkable performances. All for naught, thanks to Weinstein’s behavior.

In case you missed it, like most movie viewers, it is the story of Thomas Edison and his nasty rivalry with George Westinghouse over the burgeoning electricity industry and light bulbs. Yes, it is quite a topic for an intelligent and well-directed film. The production is positively incandescent.

This is not dry history, but crackles when Benedict Cumberbatch tosses Sherlock under the bus and adopts a middle American accent of a low-brow creepy Edison. Forget the grand dignity of Spencer Tracy in the role way back when light biopics were the rage.

 

Cumberbatch plays Edison as a lying media hound in Trump proportions and the semi-great man stole many of his ideas whilst in his tyrannical Menlo Park lab from workers like Nikola Tesla who is called here a “futurist,” played by Nicholas Hoult (who has given us J.D. Sailnger and Tolkien performances in recent years). Hoult may be the new Paul Muni.

At the other end of the electric feud is George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) as the dignified and aristocratic rich inventor who wanted DC electricity—and between the insults with Edison, the two men play backlit characters to the real star of the movie, Tesla in the person of Hoult.

You won’t be shocked to hear that this film is an actors’ dream showcase. We will resist calling the performers electrifying or even working in deep undercurrent.

It’s reasonably accurate in its history too, which is a plus. We have always had a soft spot for those classic matchup of actors playing off and against each other. This time we have a trio to add to the mix of Burton and O’Toole, Heston and Olivier, and Lancaster and Douglas, all in historical feud movies.

This film is the first to try the rivalry with three historical figures and three grand performers. Marvelous.

 

 

 

On the Offence with Sean Connery

 DATELINE: Endeavour Predecessor!

Back in 1972, Sean Connery did not want to play James Bond: to arrange for him to do another film on 007 romp, Connery insisted he be allowed to play a disturbed police detective based on a dark and depressing play called The Offence.

The movie showed off Connery as a powerful actor, but was a box-office fizzle. Audiences were not ready to see James Bond in a dubious psychologically damaged role. The film remains topical and fascinating: it deals with a police sergeant detective in London who cracks up while investigating another hideous child molester case (shades of Jeffrey Epstein).

With its disturbing lead character finally at wit’s end, his response is police brutality and murder that is ripped out of the headlines of 2020 without the racial angle. It’s directed by Sydney Lumet, no less.

The film mirrors Endeavour, the PBS series, set at the same time of early 1970s, now dealing with police like Fred Thursday at the end of their rope, having to face brutality and violence day-after-day. Endeavouris accurate for the feeling and style of police work in those days.

One may have sympathy for these benighted knights of crime, but they have lost the ability to make good decisions.

Trevor Howard shows up to match Connery in an interrogation scene as the chief constable of Scotland Yard. Their acting in tandem is remarkable, but the film is depressing and unpleasant as it details the reasons why the police sergeant kills a child molester while he is in police custody.

If this is to be recommended for its relevance, it is to be watched with a barf bag handy. You will likely be unhappy to see Connery’s license to kill, in this role, is not for espionage fun. This is a dark, stark, cruel movie.

 

 

Franchise Detectives: Blanc and Poirot

 

DATELINE: TV or Not TV

As if one fiasco performance was not enough in Murder on the Orient Express,Kenneth Branagh has pasted on his giant fake mustache for a second Poirot adventure based on Agatha Christie.

Yes, he is sailing down and down: Death on the Nile. will render another horrible remake of the murder mystery. Put aside the diminutive expert work of David Suchet a few years ago, Branagh is a behemoth in the role (too big for his tiny mincing steps).

Why would Branagh chose to do a franchise murder mystery series on the bigger screen after doing every Shakespearean play that fit his mood on film?

Likely it is the same reason that Daniel Craig has given up James Bond’s franchise to play a cornpone detective named Benoit Blanc from New Orleans. As one character noted, it was CSI by ways of KFC. Knives Out  will be followed by Knives In and Out.

Craig’s character is not even clever, except as the writer lets him solve the crime. Bombast seems to highlight these new detectives who’d never cut it on TV weekly in the old heyday of McCloud and  Rockford.

All-star supporting casts seem to be a draw for these films now: you find faces (some old TV stars) that yearn to be back in the public favor, and you have a cast of suspects that is often highly amusing. Their biggest crime is wanting a comeback role.

So, we will have more of these franchise detectives. The roles are not exactly Prince Hamlet, but great roles often have been reprised by different actors. For almost a century Basil Rathbone was considered the be-all, end-all Sherlock until Jeremy Brett gave him a run.

Now we have new actors (well, very old actors) in new versions of old wine. We toast their hubris.

Endeavour’s Seventh: Crime Goes On!

DATELINE: Night at the Opera

 Shaun Evans, not Groucho.

To kick off the seventh season of egghead murder mystery, Endeavour once again turns to star hotshot, Shaun Evans, to direct the first episode of Endeavour.

He is even better the second time around: with aplomb when it comes to set-ups, color, and the new modern police office settings. He seems to have wasted time filming in Venice for a few scenes that could have been faked without much notice in a studio. Producers even created an opera for the clueless.

The series has grown darker, starting with Endeavour’s heavy narrative opening about the comedy and tragedy he is about to face. Even his boss, Thursday, is now fed up with grisly killings and his humor is turning sour while Morse goes on vacation to Venice.

The episode is over-wroughtly titled “Oracle” when “Psychic” would have done well.

It’s 1970 now, and a waitress at the New Year’s bash is killed walking home from work. It is the heavy-handed start of women’s equal rights—and it is played historically nasty. Most men of the era saw it as a fad and did not take it seriously. If you use this show as history, you see something far more sinister.

Crime goes on, even at Oxford’s new fangled psychic research center where remote viewing experiments are in their infancy.

The red herrings, as usual, pile up in this show, which now have caught Roger Allam’s Thursday short-tempered.

Endeavour (Evans) remains the kiss of death, or so we suspect, as he succumbs to an operatic affair in Venice that is over before vacation ends.

There are a few intrigues that may trip you up: an old former classmate, a millionaire bon vivant seems gay and has an interest in Endeavour, and who could blame him? However, it is the petty jealousy of fellow detective Jim Strange (Sean Rigby) that is most amusing.

Psychic research is given a once-over effectively here and respectfully. If you don’t have it, you can’t fake it—and the ending is going to be a surprise for most.

The series is now in serial form, not self-contained mystery. The three-parts will meld into one.

 

 

 

 

 

Ancient Aliens Shows Up on UnXplained!

DATELINE: Cross Pollination of 2 Shows

 Son of Hynek.

 MUFON’s son of BLUE BOOK.

Leave it to History Channel to follow up the best episode in Shatner’s paranormal series with the worst episode, this about UFOs.

Once again we have History shilling its own various series, this time providing a boost for the next in line series,Unidentified, yet another variation on confirming the existence of flying saucers, or tick tacks as they are now called.

Shatner no longer seems quite as mobile, and he is all done up in his black leather suitjacket, but sits for the entire show. Well, it is understandable.

What’s inexcusable is to have him sit there and provide sound bites from the other hit series, Ancient Aliens. And, make no mistake, the experts of that show make a litany of appeances here, like Nick Pope, Richard Dolan, and the ubiquitous Giorgio. You throw in Erich van Daniken, and they are all spouting words they already spouted on the other series.

This cross-pollination continues, but there are some newer bits, like an examination of the 1953 UFO crash (these aliens seem to be bad drivers). It outdoes AATIP’s hosts when Shatner smiles when he talks about visitors from “where no one has gone before.”

One interesting detail is that the son of Project Blue Book chief, Dr. J. Allan Hynek’s son is now in charge of MUFON, the private investigative society of UFOs, and he appears here as one of the experts. We learn on the Unidentified show that he may be a bigwig spy.

Yes, they even force Shatner to use that old chestnut expression from Ancient Aliens several times: he refers to “ancient alien theorists.”  Whoever they are.

We did encounter the expression “superulminal velocity,” which was a new one for us. That must be warp speed.

 

 

 

 

  Jack Arnold: Swiss Cheese at Last

DATELINE: Forgotten Co-Star?

John Saxon, d. 2020.

 One of the great 1950s sci-fi directors was Jack Arnold who gave us Creature from the Black Lagoon, It Came from Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and a western No Name on the Bullet,that were astounding movies.

Alas, not every great director has the freedom to be an auteur. Arnold wound up in TV, directing some of the big TV shows from 1960 to 1990. It was all trash in the end.  Even directors have to eat.

One of his final theatrical movies was from 1976 in which he received a nice vacation to Zurich and Switzerland where he filmed The Swiss Conspiracy.  It has so many plot holes that even literate Jack Arnold could only give the stolen ice an ending on the ice of the Alps He was witty to the end.

The film is about blackmail over Swiss bank accounts. And, the cast is fairly stellar: Ray Milland as president of the bank, Anton Diffring as his vice president, John Ireland and John Saxon as assorted blackmail victims. It also happens to be a rare movie in which both Elke Sommer and Senta Berger appear.

If you have trouble telling them apart, this movie will help.

The star is benighted David Janssen, already looking worn out. He would die a few years later from his profligate living, but he was always busy in a role, mostly TV movies like SOS Titanic as John Jacob Astor.

Here he is some kind of retired federal agent who takes on a job to uncover a conspiracy of Swiss banking fraud. It’s a conspiracy because you will never figure out who was doing it and why everyone is murdered.

Perhaps the ultimate humor was to have as many plot holes as Swiss cheese. Jack Arnold does his best on this movie. He usually wrangles top drawer performances and makes the script literate, but even he had his limits. No wonder he turned to TV after this movie trifle.

As we watched this film, word came to us that John Saxon had passed away at his home at age 83. He was in seminal form for this movie, and gave many supporting performances of high quality. He was one of those patented movie/TV villlains of the 1960s. His death was forgotten, occurring between Olivia De Havilland and Regis Philbin in a 24-hour period.

Farewell, Marie Antoinette

DATELINE: Odd Sex Life of a Queen

Off with her reader’s head.

If you rely on the trailer for Farewell, My Queen,a French historical drama about the week the Bastille was attacked and started the French Revolution, you will think you are looking at some kind of Lesbian revisionist history.

Before rolling your eyes, you should give this film a view.

Of course, some believe the real Marie Antoinette was bisexual, and others think she was accused of this in an effort to try to denigrate her character. It was, after all, considered a moral leprosy to be gay a hundred years ago.

In fact, if you stick around for this film, you will be hooked into an intriguing study of the people who worked at Versailles, the underlings and minor functionaries, who received word their lives and livelihood were now in jeopardy with a list of beheadings of those associated with the monarchs.

By staying outside the riots and beheadings, this drama shows how people in the court were horrified and terrified of their own fates. Those who worked in person with Marie Antoinette are the truly endangered. One such girl is her librarian reader, a plain-looking young girl who finds herself devoted to the Queen to her ever-lasting detriment.

The depiction of a strata not usually seen is fascinating, but shows too how deadly it could be merely to be a servant of the King and Queen. Marie Antoinette’s haughty love interest is a woman of great beauty—and the ultimate order of the Queen to her reader is to be bait to help the royal mistress escape France.

You may find yourself riveted to mad decisions of Louis and Marie Antoinette to endanger themselves by refusing to flee when they had the chance. Others desert Versailles, and some commit suicide rather than be sent to sure death by the mobs. If you are intrigued by side stories of history, this film will be fully satisfying. In subtitles that caused us to miss the Austrian accent on the French-speaking Queen (Diane Kruger).