Decree, Ripper, & Sherlock Holmes

DATELINE: Solid Sherlock Entry!

Mason & Plummer

Back in 1979, another tandem of Sherlock and Dr. Watson came in the form of Christopher Plummer and James Mason. You certainly could not find a better pedigree. The film is Murder by Decree, one of the lesser entries in the Holmes movies.

The film deserves a better fate than to be forgotten.

Director Bob Clark (of Porky’s and Christmas Story) surrounded them with a stellar cast of actors (Anthony Quayle, John Gielgud, Susan Clark, David Hemmings) and some bad set-up minatures of London.

You can expect superior performances—and the Holmes/Watson team is highly watchable, though we took umbrage with Holmes wearing his deerstalker hat in London and showing tears after interviewing a woman in a mad house.

The idea of Holmes chasing after Jack the Ripper is always a staple notion of Victorian crime, though it is not part of the original Conan Doyle canon. Indeed, it seems as if someone decided to plunk down Holmes in the middle of a serious murder conspiracy theory of 1979.

The idea that the Ripper was a member of the royal family has been floated in various situations, but never played for a fictional interpretation with these results.

Blame seems aimed at the usual suspects of conspiracy theory. The culprits here are, once again, freemasons of the 33rd degree who now seem to be covering up the Ripper (other tales make them complicit in UFOs and the Kennedy assassination). With all the top government officials involved, we wondered where Mycroft might be.

In this incarnation, the Ripper plot goes right to Queen Victoria and her Prime Minister. This story seems to support the notion that the monarchy of England deserves to be dismissed. Of course, it is too radical even for Americans.

The politics of religion dominates the story as Catholics and Jews are also made part of the investigation, albeit as victims of prejudice and hate.

 

Alas, Poor Yorick and Poor Shakespeare

DATELINE:  Heads, You Lose!

cursed

Shakespeare’s Tomb is a marvelous documentary that deals with the case of the headless Bard of Avon.

Back in the 18th and 19th century, they were graverobbers who wanted the heads of famous people and in Yorick fashion, they took the skulls from older graves. Phrenologists were also collectors who were interested in having a genius skull in their study. You could so easily read the bumps in the cranium.

You may be surprised to learn that Shakespeare put a curse on his own grave, which is located in the holy Trinity Church in Avon—not the more protected Westminster Abbey.

You may also be surprised to learn that Shakespeare put a curse on his own grave, which is located in the holy Trinity Church in Avon, as if he had an inkling that someone would want his head on a silver tray.

One of the most fascinating documentaries in a long time takes the opportunity of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death to examine his strange burial—and possible vandalism of his resting place in the late 1790s.

It may well be they took the graverobbers took a wrong turn, and grasped the head of Ann Hathaway, in a shroud only three feet deep, next to Shakespeare.

For unknown reasons, this purloined skull was dumped at another church where it has rested without a body in a charnel spot.

Forensic experts studied the discovery and concluded that it belonged to a woman. The documentary makes little of that wrong head, but she was the right age to be Shakespeare’s late wife who is buried next to him next to him in a shallow grave.

Apparently, Holy Trinity Church tried to cover up the problem by putting a new stone over Shakespeare’s dug  up grave and not telling anyone. Ground penetrating radar allows the film crew to examine Shakespeare’s grave without opening it.

Good detective work and charming hosts of the show make this little hour-long documentary is brilliant and worthy of your attention.

 

Salem’s Lot in Life & Death

DATELINE: Stephen King Meets James Mason

Lance, Mason & Friend Lance,  James Mason, & Friend!

When in 1979 we heard James Mason was doing a Stephen King TV movie, we were appalled. We refused to watch one of our perennial favorites demean his career in its last years by doing something as cheesy as Salem’s Lot.

Today we eagerly watch it and devour his every screen moment.

Who would have guessed that James Mason slumming on TV could be so delightful?  With Tobe Hooper directing like he is doing an imitation of Vera Miles approaching Hitchcock’s Bates mansion, you throw in some performers we always liked: Lance Kerwin, Ed Flanders, Elisha Cook, Lew Ayres, Marie Windsor, Kenneth MacMillan and Fred Willard!! What a juicy little horror—just a tad silly around the edges.

It’s a little perverse too. James Mason is the procurer for some kind of Nosferatu in Maine, finding little boys for him to devour. Lance Kerwin seems ripe, but he has eyes only for David Soul. Their smoldering subtext is off the charts in its own way. Did anyone making the movie understand the word ‘latent’?

James Mason and Lance Kerwin share only a couple of glances in their scenes, but it may be that they saw something utterly disdainful in the other.

With an uncut three-hour version of the old TV miniseries now available on streaming, you can sit back and wallow in low-rent horror that remains top-drawer compared to the junk of today. There is no needless blood and/or off-the-computer special effects. Here actors rely on their wiles, not on the blue screen.

James Mason is the full show here, delivering lines with an inimitable throwaway snobbery. Wait till you hear him pronounce, “expertise.”

Most of the movie he is either entering or exiting doorways and looking askance. He clearly enjoyed making a movie with his wife, Clarissa Kaye, and chewing the scenery. You will enjoy it too.

Shakespeare Undone: Cymbeline

 DATELINE: Clashing Cymbeline

cymbeline

King Cymbeline and Step-son!

Michael Almereyda is known for putting the modern spin on the old stuff. To call Shakespeare’s secondary play, Cymbeline, a lost masterpiece in the trailer is a tad misleading.

We must ask, ‘what have we got here?’

Updates of Shakespeare are always a fad, and Michael Amereyda provides us with a Sons of Anarchy version of Shakespeare’s lesser Brits versus Romans story.

Alas, Shakespeare was already making a parody of his earlier work, Romeo and Juliet, in this late career tale of young love.

Putting a secondary Shakespeare play into an American biker setting is guaranteed to drive biker fans crazy in five minutes, and Shakespearean purists to the remote control in 10 minutes. No one will stick around for the standard blood bath we know is at the end of Shakespeare’s dramas and histories.

Watching this one is like viewing those delinquents in West Side Story as they do ballet down the mean streets of East Harlem in a different Shakespeare update. It is slightly ridiculous.

We are always sympathetic to American actors who try Shakespeare. This film avoids showing you the actual Shakespearean dialogue in the trailer. It may be a rude shock to the unwary fans who tune in.

We commend every American actor in the movie for managing to use their skateboards and smart phones and still spit out the Shakespearean language. The cast is marvelous: Ed Harris plays King Cymbeline, John Leguizamo as an unfortunate aide, Ethan Hawke as a notable enemy, the lead Anton Yelchin is Harris’s step-son.

We suspect there are English majors who have read a dozen Shakespearean plays but never this one. So, we are pleased that Almereyda has made it available and semi-watchable. The plot is incomprehensible, because we can hardly root for drug abusing violent Hell’s Angel bikers versus corrupt and ruthless police.

If done with British actors, the whole thing would look like something out of a gay leather movie, which American boys Anton Yelchin and Penn Badgley have their parts.

We might never see another version of Cymbeline other than this movie. For that we are grateful, even as many other fans head for the exits. We stayed till the end.

 

After the Prejudice and Before the Pride?

DATELINE: Jane Austen Goes Gay!

  chase conner    Chase Conner as Mr. Darcy.

To take the chaste Jane Austen’s comedy of manners, Pride and Prejudice, and turn it into a gay story is an interesting twist. Director and writer Byrum Geisler has entered the brave, new world fearlessly. After gay pride comes the fall?

Before the Fall is tame gay entertainment for an audience with emotional reservations. It will offend gay activists and homophobes alike for being low-key and matter-of-fact.

Ben Bennett is so straight-laced that the only clue we have that he is gay are his professed feelings. He is attracted to a straight alcoholic man Mr. Lee Darcy (Chase Conner). Without overt sex acts and nudity, so often at the heart of gay movie drama, this film’s only sin is to have a couple of queeny friends of Mr. Bennett.

It’s like having Steppin Fetchit and Butterfly McQueen in a civil rights tale. It’s the only false step. Those characters are utterly offensive.

As for the rest of the cast and actors, they are buttoned up and long-suffering.

Indeed, you might think the central casting office found the usual good looking gay actors, but there is here something far more serious and sensitive. We have to laud any so-called gay film that flies in the face of the usual shenanigans.

Filmed in beautiful Virginia, a so-called place for lovers, Ben Bennett hardly puts an overt pick-up on Mr. Lee Darcy. They go hiking, and after some guilty gossip, Bennett works to remove a legal cloud over the other man, perhaps to help him with his alcoholism.

Billed as a comedy drama, which is Austen’s stock-in-trade, the label will confound modern audiences for whom social humor is tied into text messages and Facebook friendships.

If you stick around to the final romanticized happy ending, you may conclude that gay movies are growing up.

 

 

 

Inventor of Xmas? Charles Dickens, Really?

DATELINE:  Ghosts for the Holidays

Dickens with ScroogeDickens with Scrooge!

One presumes Dickens would be appalled that he was given the label as The Man Who Invented Christmas because in 1842 under financial pressure, he wrote a little ghost story in six weeks. We always thought Jesus probably deserved a little credit for inventing Christmas.

Having dozens of movie versions of the famous holiday tale about the reclamation of Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, it seems only fitting that a charming tale, slightly mythological rather than biographical, would be the latest incarnation of the story.

Dan Stevens, hot off Downton Abbey, plays a stylish, boyish Charles Dickens, a man surrounded by his own spendthrift ways and a brood of interruptions in his home, faces a daunting deadline to come up with a novella to make ends meet.

Stories about writers are usually deadly dull and impossible to show creativity, but this film manages to show how the characters, and caricatures, came to life for Dickens.

No small feat is the marvelous performance of the difficult quarry of Scrooge in the person of Christopher Plummer. He argues he wants his point-of-view better expressed, feeling the story is too one-sided!

The cast is up to the weird exaggerations of Dickens, including Jonathan Pryce as the author’s father. Many people in Dickens’ life take a role in his story.

Cute, by some standards, we see snippets of dialogue picked off the streets as Dickens goes on his daily duties. He hears the best lines and incorporates them into his text. But, it is his debates with Scrooge who visits him in his room that is the heart of the film.

Dickens purists might take issue with the pabulum portrait by Stevens, but this is a sentimental story, intelligently told, without profanity, sexual situations, or other unpleasantness, while maintaining dramatic and psychological effectiveness.

This is a film that insists Dickens did more for Christmas than you may want to believe. Yet, this is more than a holiday fest and more than a simple biographical movie. It is charming, an addition to the Christmas canon.

 

LeCarre’s Deadly Affair

DATELINE:  Cold War Spies

Serpentine dinner

When Sydney Lumet could not use the original name of George Smiley for his spy from the famous book, he came up with Dobbs. However, the man playing Dobbs was the always-brilliant James Mason. He was Smiley in any other name in The Deadly Affair.

As a spy mystery, this movie is the epitome of sophisticated and intelligent drama in the 1960s, down to the Astrid Gilberto theme song.

Few movies would feature a background scene of Macbeth as put on by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre as part of the plot. There you’d find a quite young Georgy Girl, Lynn Redgrave, before she teamed up with Mason again in her breakthrough role.

Harry Andrews and Kenneth Haigh provide solid support as allies to Mason’s disgruntled, cold spy who learns a man he interviewed pleasantly as a routine security check was not happy and committed suicide shortly thereafter. He is suspicious, rightfully.

Simone Signoret is right off the boat of Ship of Fools, and Maximilian Schell out of Judgment at Nuremberg. You have here something special in the litany of suspects.

John Dimech, one of the young stars of Lawrence of Arabia, made a small appearance here as a waiter at the Serpentine Restaurant. It was a swan song to a promising movie career.

Back then, this was the antidote to James Bond special effects and glamour. It is full of sound and fury signifying ennui.

The script has a couple of glorious hoots among the angst of the characters. It is, after all, vintage John LeCarre and a dandy spy mystery.

 

 

 

Truman’s Coldest Blood: Infamous & Capote

DATELINE:  Capote’s Clutter Story

Oscar Capote (Hoffman)

With a dozen years passing since Bennett Miller’s brilliant movie called Capote, we chose to look at it again. There were two Truman movies that year: competing for attention.

We felt at the time that Infamous with Toby Jones as Capote writing his non-fictive novel was the better. Phillip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar.

We wished that the two films had mixed casts. It seems each had good points. We remain impressed with Hoffman’s work as Capote. A big man, he managed to convey a sense of the elfin Truman.  Jones was already the right size, being tiny.

Clifton Collins, Jr., remains so impressive in his work as Perry Smith, the sensitive killer with whom Capote seems to have fallen in love. Casting Daniel Craig in the other movie seems an odd choice. He was all wrong.

As in each movie, there is nothing more cold-blooded than a writer and his greatest work of literature. Don’t ever get between them.

Hoffman’s fey Capote has a ruthless, cold, hypocritical soul. He lies repeatedly to the killers of the Clutter family to gain their trust. Perhaps the two brutal murderers did not deserve much more than a lying hypocrite to befriend them.

Capote and his friend Harper Lee (also so well done by Catherine Keener) spend hours in Kansas doing research. Without her, Capote might not have a book—and he was less than supportive of her work, To Kill a Mockingbird, that she wrote even as she gave Truman her assistance.

We preferred Jeff Daniels as the detective on the case, though Chris Cooper is soberly affecting.

In the end, Capote did not want to discuss much with the killers until they gave him his ending and confessed how they did their murders. He also could not publish his book until they were executed. So, he simply stopped helping them find lawyers—and truly wanted them dead.

The flamboyant joke that Truman ultimately became likely came from his work on that book and his self-disgust. He never finished another book during the 20 years he lived after the execution of Perry Smith.

We still prefer the other Capote movie, Infamous, as a total movie experience, we must again give kudos to Capote as a film with impact and lasting emotional pain.

Wry Catcher: Why J.D. Salinger?

DATELINE:   Movie Bio

REAL SALINGER Angry Salinger Wants to be Alone

Director Danny Strong joins a list of people who are violating every standard that J.D. Salinger lived by. He hated publicity and adoration of koo-koo bird fans.

You could say the new movie of Salinger’s life Rebel in the Rye is nothing short of a misnomer, however well-intended and well-done.

We are always impressed with Nicholas Hoult, who again here, gives us an American New Yorker accent and a man who lost his mind in World War II after seeing horror up close. The British actor has turned into a new nationality in his movie roles, and adds brown contact lenses to cover up those startling blue eyes that he is famous for. It is another superior performance in a growing litany of interesting films.

The movie has one big problem: Kevin Spacey. He plays the mentor and admirer of Salinger, editor and discoverer Whit Burnett, who seems almost to have a fetish when it comes to his prize pupil. Alas, Spacey’s personal history almost circumvents the movie and makes us think he was groping Nick Hoult between scenes, or that Burnett was groping Salinger. Yikes.

The producers have left Spacey’s name off the publicity because it’s such a turnoff. Not everyone has Ridley Scott’s money to simply replace Spacey with computer effects.

It’s a shame because Spacey’s presence does distract, though his performance is brilliant—and the movie proceeds on its mission to present us with a writer who loved to write, but hated his readers.

Salinger was no genius, but he had his finger on the pulse of Zen Buddhist seclusion. The attempt to turn him into his own character, Holden Caulfield, seems a bit forced. Boswell was not Sam Johnson, though he wrote about him.

The film is worth it for fans of Salinger, even if they are not wearing red hunting caps and stalking writers who hide out in New Hampshire.

1974’s Murder on the Orient Express

 DATELINE:  Another Christie Version

1974 all-star murder

Before we tackle the newest Orient Express by Branagh, let’s look at the oldest version.

The star-studded Sidney Lumet version took Agatha Christie out of the hands of  1960s-style Margaret Rutherford and Miss Marple.  Murder on the Orient Express is bumpy in the night.

Indeed, the cast is spectacular, one of the last gasps of Old Hollywood gone mad. The suspects are so rococo and bizarre that they make Albert Finney’s weird Poirot look positively like Sam Spade crossed with Richard III.

As the names of stars pass in the opening credits, your jaw may drop. Bacall, Bergman (Bogart’s leading ladies), Perkins, Connery, Gielgud, Redgrave (later to play Christie herself), Widmark, and stellar second bananas too, like Balsam, Bisset, and let’s catch our breaths! Wow.

Lumet is not so much interested in atmosphere as glamour.

If Margaret Rutherford had not died the year before the film, she likely would have been cast in it too. Christie never liked the idea of Miss Marple joining forces with Hercule—but in this sort of movie, you almost expect it.

The new auteur Kenneth Branagh version cannot touch the sheer aristocracy of actors in this film. You have to savor each little gem from Lumet’s cast, as these great stars finally can play it to the hilt one last time and first time as an ensemble.

Agatha Christie was the Shakespeare of crime plots—and so we will have more remakes. After all, we have seen about seven great Hamlet movies. Christie cannot be far behind.

We do condemn the music score that lightly sounds over the credits at the end—which is completely wrong for the mood of the film.

Hardy Boys 2: Ghost Farm Mystery, 1957

DATELINE:  Disney Fails Second Time Around

still wonderful

Tim Considine & Tommy Kirk epitomize sibling rivalry.

In 1957 Disney decided to do a second series of Hardy Boys episodes. With two extremely popular young stars lighting up the big screen (Tommy Kirk and Tim Considine would be in the Absent-Minded Professor, The Shaggy Dog, Old Yeller, Swiss Family Robinson, etc.), the two young stars signed on for another mystery.

They were growing more adolescent (and admitted it in a prologue that was a long preview of the upcoming shows), but that only made them more appealing to young fans. The second series would be called The Mystery of Ghost Farm.  Don’t look for it among the 60 or so stories of the canon of Hardy Boys books because it isn’t there.

Disney was growing as much as its stars—and now they found their own formula for stories was better controlled by something original. As a consequence, the second series borders on the overly cute use of standard Disney tricks (like irksome farm animals) and a completely non-scary ghost.

The boys were catnip to young girls—and Considine was allowed to be the Romeo (even accused of being as much by Kirk as his younger, jealous brother). They even wrestle on the ground after Frank calls Joe “stupid,” once too often.

Disney also brought back a couple of actors from the first year. Florenz Ames, aka crazy old Applegate, returned for a small part as an advisor to the young detectives. They also brought in Andy Clyde as another crazy old man. Sarah Shelby as Auntie Gertrude had a larger role this time around, as did Carol Ann Campbell as Iola, Joe Hardy’s female nemesis (never girlfriend), much to Joe Hardy’s dismay. Russ Conway as the boys’ father found his role much diminished.

The second show had to be the last because the stars were moving on to the bigger careers. Tommy Kirk was especially going big, whereas Considine was settling into a steady hit TV show (My Three Sons and later wound up being slapped silly by George C. Scott in Patton).

The series also went short and cheap on episodes, down to 13, as if the boys had only limited time to film the new season with so many projects beckoning them elsewhere. The writing is slipshod and the mystery is moribund, as if this production couldn’t be done fast enough.

Yet, we are lucky to have them again as perfectly matched brothers, no matter that the story and mystery are less compelling the second time around.

James Baldwin: Nobody’s Negro

DATELINE:  A World Unchanged in 40 Years

 

James Baldwin.jpeg

I Am Not Your Negro is a striking documentary, based on an unfinished manuscript author James Baldwin was writing about Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Medgar Evers, all his friends who were murdered. Yes, he was bitter.

Baldwin never finished his book, but the documentary gives its due to the lives of these men and Lorraine Hansberry too, a tragic loss of a black author to cancer.

Baldwin was articulate, passionate, sensitive, and gentle. That the FBI designated him as dangerous may be more indicative of the racism of the era. He interacted with the most famous and infamous of the black movement of the 1960s, though he was on the periphery of politics.

His insights into what ails America stands as true today as it did when he was dismissed as too radical 40 years ago. He saw America through its movie-history lens—and found that white people (whom he liked and admired) were basically morally apathetic, which was a step away from being a moral monster.

The film’s voice is Samuel L. Jackson, reading Baldwin’s words, but there is also a stunning collection of rare historical TV clips. You see Baldwin on a panel with Marlon Brando, Joseph Mankiewicz, Charlton Heston, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier, discussing black rights. Amazing stuff.

How much would Baldwin be shocked by the insignificant changes in society since his early death in 1979? He scoffed at the notion of a black president, predicted by Robert Kennedy in 1965, in the dim future of 40 years, as being an insult.

Baldwin wanted white America to face its own black people whom he felt they never truly saw: even today, one study proved that racism lives in wedding photos. The number of white brides who had black people in their wedding party was miniscule.

We think James Baldwin would have snickered at such results, then cried.

Alabama: Home of Vixen Lolita Teenagers

DATELINE: Roy Humbert Humbert Moore

Lolita

Actress Sue Lyon as 14-year-old Lolita in 1962

You have to feel sorry for Judge Moore: he was constantly being tempted by a series of Alabama-style Lolita temptresses.

Alabama has once again thrust itself into the laughingstock of the United States. Not since George Wallace tried to block little girls from going to school have we seen such paleo-imbeciles, excepting Jeff Sessions testifying in Congress.

Are they all so backward as Judge Roy Beanbag Moore, the crypto-Nazi who disdains every scandalous sin except his own?

Alabama has thrust itself to the forefront of backward backwoods people—sort of like Afghanistan politics in America.

We knew for sure that you might find someone standing in the doorway, blocking the schools in Alabama, but we never suspected that Judge Moore was sizing up the undergraduate sophomores in the high school as potential “dates.”

Yes, a man who wants to be in the US Senate has a past worthy of a man in the Roman Senate 2000 years ago when emperors and senators could buy teenagers for sex without recrimination.

Alabama might serve as the headquarters for pedophiles in politics. At the least, it is the newly discovered capital of Nabokov’s Lolita-ville.

We did not know it was still possible in Alabama to hold court like a combination of Roman emperors and Ozark hillbillies.

However, Judge Moore has drawn parallels to himself and the Holy Bible. Alas, he missed the point that the man interested in young nubile girls was Herod Antipas—and his intended was step-daughter Salome. Now that might better serve as the metaphor of choice for Moore supporters.

The price this time for victory may be Trump sending Sessions back to the Senate, appointed by the Alabama governor, payment for creating a special prosecutor to investigate and to jail his political enemies. It’s the price of good people doing nothing.

Those paragons of virtue and defenders of morality at Breitbart News have sent undercover operatives to dig up dirt on the accusers, or make up dirt if that is the only other alternative.

We have already recommended Alabama as the Neanderthal’s vision of making America great again. Welcome to the new America that starts to resemble Nazi Germany.

 

 

Shakespeare on Oak Island: Cracking the Code

 DATELINE:  Hooked on Oak Island Treasure?

With the fifth season of The Curse of Oak Island set to be aired with the perennial amateur archeologists, Lagina Brothers, we took in an international documentary that comes in the back door of Oak Island.cracking

A Norwegian-British documentary named Cracking the Shakespeare Code is annotation on the TV series.

Snob PhD, Dr. Robert Crumpton is a skeptic when it comes uncovering a conspiracy theory on authorship of the Shakespeare plays. His counterpart, a Norwegian organist named Petter Amundsen believes he has discovered secret codes in an early complete folio of Shakespeare plays that puts us squarely in the swamp of Oak Island.

Like the Bible Code, this documentary hints of a complex system that ties identity of the Bard to pagination counts and letter counting and geometric designs on the pages of a 400-year-old Folio.

Bizarre numerology shown in the documentary may have you scratching your head. After all, there have been 50 or 60 real authors suggested for the Shakespeare plays.

We are not so far removed from the notion that the name Will Shakespeare was a stage name, a pen name, or nom de plume of some other Elizabethan.

Indeed, most amusing of all is the idea that Queen Elizabeth is the father of the Shakespeare mystery, and true author of Hamlet and other classics of the “Elizabethan stage.”

Back to the documentary so complex and twisted that we wonder why anyone would go to the trouble to hide anything in this manner.  It is an enigma within a cryptographer’s nonsense.

The payoff for unraveling the conundrum may be the core of a peeled onion: nothing ultimately matters, except Shakespeare plays that stand alone and apart from any purported real authors: Francis Bacon and Henry Nevill.

These researchers ultimately end up on Oak Island, ignoring the famous cable TV series of the Laginas, who own most of the real estate on the island. The Laginas are most certainly uninterested in mercury-plated manuscripts written by Shakespeare. Rick Lagina does make a guest appearance here.

We wonder what kind of dimwits would bury documents in a swamp and think they’d be waterproof for a couple of hundred years. Why hide this stuff in the first place? Who knows? Maybe the Curse of Oak Island will tell us this season.

None of this documentary matters, of course, when you combine an authorship mystery with a treasure hunt. You fill two hours tantalizing notions and test our resolve.

To be, or not to be….  Ah, there’s the rub.

Stay Tuned: We plan to review every episode of the Curse of Oak Island this season, starting next week.

Scarecrow Festival for Halloween

 DATELINE:  Jaffrey, NH, the Real Grovers’ Cornersscarecrow2

Around this time each year, small-town Americana in the location of Jaffrey, New Hampshire, holds its Halloween Scarecrow contest.

For one month, residents line up a series of ghoulish scarecrows along the intersection at the center of town, not far from the bandstand and the old White’s Mill that was owned by the famous Massachusetts family that once lived on Old Mill Circle across the state line.

The homemade scarecrows of Jaffrey are judged by a committee during the fall festival, but while they hang on their crosses, it is vaguely reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s horror scene at the end of Spartacus when the road to Rome is lined with crucified slaves.

This mishmash of creatures resembles all kinds of people and are equally distracting and disturbing, but within the fun of the Halloween season.

In our opinion, Jaffrey is the real inspiration for Thornton Wilder’s classic play Our

Town. He called his little NH town on the Massachusetts border, Grovers’ Corners.

Some think it is north of Jaffrey in Peterborough, where Wilder lived his summers. Indeed, arty Peterborough even has a plaque to honor itself, but the more modest Jaffrey better fills the bill.

Wilder makes up some coordinates, longitudes and latitudes are off deliberately as the author tried to obscure his inspiration for the setting of Our Town. And, besides, the railroad of 1910 ran over the border in local Winchendon, not far from Jaffrey, and is featured in the play.

You won’t convince us that the place where the scarecrows roost is not Grovers’ Corners where a gothic cemetery scene highlights the 1938 play. The scarecrows are a recent tradition, but make Jaffrey the best bet as Grovers’ Corners.

 scarecrow4