Appalling Holmes & Watson

 DATELINE: Elementary, School That is.

elementary school.jpeg 

We were warned, and now you are warned.

The Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly remake of a comic Conan Doyle couple is not exactly a blue-plate special. It is going for .99 cents on Amazon streaming video. You know that price is rock bottom for rock bottom quality. This is a step down for the Step Brothers.

The film is horrific in terms of anachronisms. There are references to killer bees, protein shakes, and headlines that smell of National Enquirer in the 1950s.

Worse yet are the fake British accents on our traditional heroes, showing that they cherish good acting as much as a paycheck. The actors playing them as children speak with American accents (as do all the kids in London).

Mrs. Hudson is a trollop—and not from the British pages of classic literature.

We almost expected Judi Dench was likely offered the role as Queen Victoria—and that would have set us off on a tangent. Instead, we have Ralph Fiennes acting in a separate movie as Moriarty.

He has no flair for comedy.

Perhaps the most surprising couple in the film are the Road Trip movie stars: Rob Brydon as Lestrade and Steve Coogan as the one-armed tattooist.

We almost wish they had played Holmes and Watson. Of course, this may be the only version in which Lestrade is smarter than Holmes.

The movie moribundly moves from one witless encounter and set-up to another. Killer bees are inexplicably in a glass case at 221b Baker Street, allowing for a madcap moment without suspense.

Another stupid setup is Holmes surprise birthday party thrown by the Queen.  Who wrote this drivel? Mindless is the Zeitgeist of the age: and if this is you, you will be in your element.

Yes, it’s elementary.  Elementary school.

Brooklyn Bridge Revisited

 DATELINE: Ken Burns Classic

great art Amazing!

In 1982 Ken Burns made a name for himself with this small, unassuming and brilliant documentary about the fifteen-year process to build the iconic, magical Brooklyn Bridge.

The film made his reputation and sent him on a career as a ground-breaking documentarian. What’s left nearly forty years later is the masterpiece of film on the masterpiece of engineering.

To take it in again after so many decades and find it as fresh and charming as when first seen is like the chance to walk across the East River like one of those who saw it like the first man to walk on the Moon.

John Roebling came from Germany as Hegel’s favorite student and a brilliant bridge maker. He designed the way to cross the river between New York and Brooklyn in three months. Then, fate intervened, giving him tetanus and killing him. It left the job then to his 30-year old son and Civil War hero Col. Washington Roebling.

David McCollough lends his narrative presence, but familiar voices dot the film: Julie Harris, Kurt Vonnegut, and others.

The dangerous caissons gave Roebling the bends, and he recovered but never fully. He managed to oversee the bridge construction from his third-floor bedroom with binoculars. His wife supervised and learned engineering to carry out on-site work.

Great Lewis Mumford lends his presence here to the cultural viewpoint with a poetic expression of his walk across the bridge as a young man. There are clips of Frank Sinatra in a movie in love with the Bridge, and even Bugs Bunny puts in an appearance.

The Bridge is monumental, inspirational, beautiful, and a cathedral of the national pride.

This is definitely American pie.

 

 

 

 

Posse: Political Western by Kirk Douglas

DATELINE: Anti-Western from 1975

Posse

When star Kirk Douglas went all out to become the Orson Welles of Westerns, he chose a highly political topic in the age of Nixon and corrupt politics in 1975. It’s called Posse.

In this sagebrush tale, Douglas is Howard Nightingale, a marshal running for U.S. Senator in Texas. He will be elected over the dead body of a notorious outlaw he chases and catches straw man named Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern).

Therein is the rub.

Douglas knew how to make action movies. After all, he worked with some of the great directors—and he decided to produce and direct as well as star as the anti-hero, or outright villain of hypocrisy. He is pure Kirk and that is highly watchable.

Traveling with a photographer taking shots of his great moments, the marshal hopes to run for President of the United States down the road. He even has an affable relationship with the bad guy.

It’s his posse that is the Achilles heel.

Like all political leaders, he relies on his staff (underpaid, less than scrupulous, and even corrupt). The marshal treats his men worse than the outlaw treats his. There’s a message in there about your politicians.

As the bad guy Dern states, there are enough types like the marshal already in Washington. They don’t need another.

The cast is right out of 1970s supporting actors. David Canary doesn’t last long, but Bo Hopkins is there—and James Stacy, after losing an arm and leg in a motorcycle accident, and later jailed as a pedophile, plays a newspaperman who contends that Kirk Douglas is in the bag for the railroads.

 

This is a violent and cynical Western, likely meant as an antidote to Clint and Duke. However, its politics is so negative that we blanch at its modern attitude. It is also clean and well-produced, like a classic 1950s movie, which is also out-of-date for the era in which Douglas made this movie.

 

Strange and idiosyncratic, this film is as watchable as well as execrable.

Hostile Witness: Not Agatha Christie

DATELINE: Good Intentions Not Well Done

ray Milland, director and star.

Alas, Oscar winner Ray Milland loved movies and he directed several feature films and a dozen TV anthology episodes during the 1950s and 1960s. He was not box-office, except as a character actor—and movies had changed.

So, the Welsh actor returned to England to film his final director effort in 1968 in which he also starred as a barrister whose mental breakdown makes him a prime murder suspect.  It’s a second-rate court-room murder mystery on the lines of Agatha Christie, called Hostile Witness.

Milland is juicy with those eyes and old Hollywood’s courtly gestures. However, the material (a Broadway murder mystery, no less) lets him down. All the actors are superior Brits like Felix Aylmer as the court justice.  Sylvia Syms plays a surprisingly modern career woman working in Milland’s office, removed when Milland arrogantly decides to defend himself in court.

The barrister cracks when his daughter is killed by a hit-and-run driver. It elicits little sympathy from fellow lawyers whom he regularly embarrassed in his court-room victories. His professional colleagues let him stew in his own juices.

The film means to be another Witness for the Prosecution, but even with intelligent actors and directors, they cannot overcome a wild script that uses color-blindness as a red herring and a frame-up as the plot devices.

It just simply isn’t clever enough than to be an overblown film that would soon become a staple of TV made for movies in 1968. It might have made a passable anthology court drama. Within a few years, he gave up all pretense of being a leading man, removed his toupee, and played it as an old reprobate usually.

As it is, with nicely appointed sets, the main action is the second-half in the courtroom with testimony and outrageous and unlikely court etiquette.

We stuck with dapper and aging Ray Milland to see what he tried to do with no budget, no script, and relying on his talents. As he said in an interview, “The problem with being a director is that you also have to eat.” We admire his attempt to make movies no matter what.

Happiness is a Protective Cup

DATELINE: Chernobyl Goes to Dogs

up on the roof Suicide by Radiation?

Young conscripts sent to the Chernobyl disaster are given crude and useless cups for their scrota. It won’t help. They are not told the truth of the dangers of their mission, though it may not be hard to figure out.

The despondent faces of the young men ordered to commit suicide is quite evident.

Yet, critics of this series noted that the Russians in the series use the wrong type of drinking glass for vodka. Yikes! your world is ending! The type of glassware you select seems a minor consideration.

Episode 4 of Chernobyl reaches an apex of appalling. Cheap and homemade lead cups are tied loosely around the underside of young soldiers as they walk around camp.

Soviet bureaucrats begin to rebel against a mentality of their leaders to hide the notion that the Soviet empire can do anything wrong. It may be the last straw that will lead to the fall of the Communist rule.

One group’s job is to go into deserted and evacuated towns and shoot the stray dogs and cats that are dangerously radioactive. It is part of the mental strain that can break men.

In the meantime, Stellan Skarsgard and Jared Harris want to use lunar robots to push graphite off the roof of the power plant. However, the Soviet leadership will not accept American help (only West German)—and they provide false information to the Germans, who make a rover that cannot withstand radiation.

It leads to the most horrific of all concepts: bio-robots. Men will go into the roof area to sweep up the most radioactive debris. They will likely be dead in a short time, especially figuring on the thin lead aprons and headcovers.

If you fall during the job, you are likely to be dead before the sun sets.

A Russian general gives each man his pay at day’s end and wishes them “good health and long life,” knowing full well that neither will be available after their work.

 

 

Say Ahhh, Chernobyl

DATELINE:  HBO Series, Episode 3

stellan Stellan Skarsgard as Boris.

Episode 3 of the HBO series about the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl continues to depress and to create outrage. Though the Soviet regime handles it with usual ant colony efficiency, there is something horrifying about people being “asked” to commit suicide to save humanity.

One wonders how different it would have been if Three Mile Island were on a par with Chernobyl.

Perhaps there will always be those who will involuntarily volunteer, their bravery is inexplicable. The drab veneer of communist life hardly inspires sacrifice.

Smoking cigarettes for everyday Soviets appears nearly as deadly and commonplace as radiation poisoning.

Jared Harris, son of movie star Richard Harris as the nuclear physicist closest to the crisis, looks like he has already been exposed to some deadly radiation. His growing irritation with non-experts making decisions about life and death may be the biggest surprise in Soviet life.

Challenges openly to Gorbachev in front of the head of KGB is considered fair play as Stellan Skarsgad notes that the scientist is regarded as a harmless fool. Otherwise, he would be in big trouble.

The performers cannot be faulted for presenting dire nausea as the bottom line of their performances as they watch people rot away—and know their own deaths will be delayed, as they have kept a slight distance from the worst.

To say you need to evacuate millions of people from radiation poisoning makes Jared Harris ridiculous and dismissed. The fictional woman played by Emily Watson is arrested by KGB. Coverup is a hard game to play.

Ignorance is bliss, for many think they have superficial burns. Yet, others know there is some kind of death sentence coming instantly after exposure for a short time. One young woman won’t leave her fireman husband, touching and hugging him despite pregnancy and sure devastation to come.

The meltdown is coming—and conscripts of young men, dour and worried, are the front line of defense for the world.

The proximity to doomsday permeates this little miniseries. It is a cautionary tale that helps no one.

 

X-Ray Milland with X-Ray Vision

DATELINE: See-Through?

Rickles Stares Down Milland Stare down between Rickles & Milland!

One of the first major box-office-poison stars who won an Oscar was also one of the first to go to American International’s low-budget junk division to continue his career when others simply faded away.

Man with X-Ray Eyes is a sight to see.

We think of Ray Milland as a man with an expensive toupee and a weary face.  His career as actor and director fell into the skids after playing the lush DT-suffering alcoholic in the film The Lost Weekend. His Oscar led to a lost career. In this movie, he makes an equally ludicrous choice when he character decides to cheat at cards in a Las Vegas casino.

Milland liked to work, and he was not about to let trashy scripts and bad TV stop him. Here, he plays Xavier, or X-Ray Milland, the savior of mankind gone all wrong.

Milland often transcended much bad material by finding something a cut above:  such was the case with Roger Corman’s delightful X-Man with the X-Ray Eyes.

Oh, it is filmed in lurid, eye-popping color, with boiling hard-boiled eggs standing in for bloody eyeballs in a glass specimen jar.

The film is actually quite modern and quite intelligent, dealing yet again with a researcher (Milland) who uses himself as the guinea pig—despite friend’s (familiar costar Harold J. Stone) objections.

Don Rickles is also around for the cynical laugh part as a carnival barker, perfectly cast as an unlikeable, greedy insulter.

The doctor starts off by seeing through paper folders to read messages or seeing through some clothes to see a missing button. Then, it becomes more sinister and more licentious. Yup, the thrill of voyeurism gives way to seeing bare bones beneath the sexuality.

There is a sense of medical come-uppance in Corman’s morality film that manages to hit on all the sensational aspects but presents them with a sensibility of political rightness. (Our woman doctor colleague demands respect—before the women’s movement in 1963).

You may be surprised that the exploitation elements are actually intriguing issues of ethics. Milland’s performance was regarded as scraping the barnacles off his once-high-toned acting, but in retrospect, he is professional and classy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stagecoach to Lordsburg, Re-Take Three or So

DATELINE: Where’s Bing?

merritt  Merritt Shortly Before his Untimely Death.

 You may think you already saw a great, classic western with John Wayne as Ringo and directed by his mentor and most brilliant collaborator, John Ford.

Actually, you haven’t if you tune into the color, 1986 version that manages to remake the film. Unlike most revisions of the better original, this film is truly a curio, interesting on its own level.

If the first great Western had not been made with Duke Wayne, and you never heard of it, this little film might actually have been an amusing vanity project by well-known performers.

Actually, Stagecoach of 1986 is a television movie and could be better called a Country-Western. Yes, pardner, the stars apparently felt the story held its own without Wayne and Ford. So, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson, take on the key roles. No, they do not sing. Nelson did the title tune over the credits, but we guess they might have hummed a few notes between takes. That might have been more interesting.

Since singers were the motif, they also brought in Anthony Newley—and Bing Crosby’s daughter, Mary.

The cast is not bad—and you can throw in John Schneider with a perfectly coiffured beard. Anthony Franciosa plays a corrupt banker, and Elizabeth Ashley sounding like a ghetto girl, and even the under-rated Merrit Buttrick as a cavalry officer.

The story has something to do with a stagecoach making a desperate and dangerous trip with Geronimo on the warpath.

Kristofferson takes on the thankless role played by John Wayne as the Ringo Kid. Cash is some kind of marshall, and Willie Nelson is Doc Holliday.

These guys are pros—and their fans will hoot and love every scene, but we kept thinking: wait a second, wasn’t there another remake—with Bing Crosby??? It also starred Ann-Margaret, Mike Connors, Red Buttons, Van Heflin, Robert Cummings, Keenan Wynn, and Slim Pickens.

We don’t think Bing was the Duke, but we had to go to IMDb as our memory banks are corrupt lately. And, yes, there was such a film in 1966—made with old TV stars in the key roles! It is not generally available, but we will search hither and yon to find it.

 

Cybill’s Defining Role: Daisy Miller

DATELINE: Top-Notch Henry James

cybill Perfectly Cybill!

As mentor to the star, director, creative  force, and whiz kid, young Peter Bogdonavich took dry Henry James and made a fast-moving, emotionally-moving film of a famous novella, Daisy Miller.

You could not find a more perfect American girl than Cybill Shepherd as Daisy: unspoiled, direct, and completely at odds with social conventions in 19th century Europe.

Caught between women like her scatter-brained mother (Cloris Leachman) and an American social doyen Mrs. Walker (Eileen Brennan), Daisy does not stand a chance if she ignores or simply teases Frederick Winterbourne (brilliant young Barry Brown, too soon gone to a premature grave), an American who is a permanent resident of Europe.

Whether it’s going on a tourist trip to Byron’s famous castle without chaperone, or worse, going to the place of the viral Roman fever at the Colosseum, Daisy is hell-bent on living her way. Extraordinary location filming makes this a treat.

Winterbourne resists the notion that her scandalous behavior is anything bad. Yet, he cannot convince others in his social set—and crumbles in their heavy pressure.

Rich Americans policed themselves to try to avoid any ugly American image. Fast-talking Daisy, flirtatious and coy, breaks all the rules in her nouveau riche niche.

If Daisy learns there is a social convention, she is hell-bent on testing its merits. What she does not expect is that she will be shunned by the Americans living abroad. To a social butterfly, as Cybill Shepherd delineates to a T, this is far more damaging than she expects.

Perhaps this quintessential American girl could bear all if only Winterbourne remained on her side. He is sorely tested, and ultimately as the laconic Barry Brown narrates, he has lived too long in foreign places.

Alas, it is Brown, the actor, who is gone too soon, based on the promise of this extraordinary film performance.

 

 

 

Slaughter-House 5: Major Disappointment

 DATELINE: So it goes!

michael sacks    Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim. 

It sounds like a sequel to itself, and that’s how it goes. Billy Pilgrim of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novella is a man unstuck in time.

Slaughter-House 5 goes nowhere repeatedly and quickly.

It might have been a traditional sci-fi fantasy, but author Vonnegut achieved some kind of immortality by dealing with timeless repetitive living by a man abducted by aliens—and “forced” to randomly re-live his hideous life, from surviving plane crashes to surviving the horror of Dresden’s bombing in 1945.

Michael Sacks plays Billy Pilgrim, an all-seeing optometrist and is the epitome of what you’d want in the actor: he is timeless and can play callow youth, and middle-aged crazy. Yet, Sacks provided mostly promise unfulfilled. He never rose above this, his greatest role. He became stuck in the mud as much as anything else.

Other names in the 1972 film became more household:  Valerie Perrine, Perry King, Eugene Roche, Sorrell Booke, Ron Liebman, John Dehner, and on and on. The film is a litany of familiar faces of the age.

Music provided by Glenn Gould is Bach on harpsichord and limited to the alien scenes, which seems par for the course of the universe.

This was meant to be a great film based on a great book, but it’s not.

You might forget the movie if you don’t realize what the stakes were:  Michael Sacks borders and teeters in his lead role from wide-eyed innocent to bewildered twit. He seems perfect for abduction and living in a zoo on another planet.

Billy goes from hapless POW to hapless toy for creatures from a fourth dimension. He slips from a Lion’s Club speech to a POW camp assembly in a blink. He goes from here to there in a hop of time travel that Einstein would envy.

“So it goes” was the existential motto and motif for the book Slaughter House 5, but you will never hear it once in this film. That may tell you the failings and inadequacies of the movie. So it goes, indeed.

Khartoum: Muslim Conundrum

DATELINE:  Not Much Has Changed Since 1880 or 1966

Stars Apart

Be warned: this movie starts its streaming with a four-minute overture over black screen, as if to prove its pedigree as an epic.

Then, it contains a four minute entr’acte from the old Cinerama days when they had reserved seat showings of the feature—and needed a popcorn break to make more money from the viewers.

Laurence Olivier in 1966 darkened his face and played the Mahdi, the Muslim leader who nearly conquered Europe. He took on General Charles Gordon, as his match, along the banks of the Nile, much to his doomsday fate.

His nemesis in this film is Charlton Heston, playing a stalwart hero with barely a sign of being British. The film was a Cinerama extravaganza called Khartoum, about a British version of the Alamo.

Or, perhaps Lawrence of Arabia: several scenes of camels riding in the desert are echoes of the greater film of 1962.

You might wonder how the greatest English actor wound up playing a leader relying on the Koran for inspiration and how an American wound up playing a British general. So do we.

They could have switched roles. Both the Mahdi and Gordon were religious fanatics: they never met, but in this movie there is one scene in which the stars spend a few moments in banter.

The film has another question: do you portray the Muslim warriors as fanatics and proto-typical terrorists?

Olivier is utterly overwhelming in black/brown face. It was the second role in which he smeared greasepaint on his pale skin. Today this activity wins him condemnation, for tackling roles like Othello and the Mahdi as a white man playing color. His accent is nearly as over-the-top as Heston’s chopped Brit accent.

We were also puzzled as to whose mellifluous tones served as narrator. It sounded like Sir Cedric Hardwicke, but rather, un-billed, the voice turns out to be Leo Genn, another of those Brits in Hollywood.

Ralph Richardson is Gladstone in several scenes, and he practically steals the movie with his wry and comic snide turn.

The film hints that the Mahdi would have preferred that Gordon escape and that death to a world-hero of myth was an unfortunate emblem of doom. He was right, and the movie is overblown at making the point.

 

Life After Death Project, Volume 2

 DATELINE: More Forry, 4-E from Beyond!

paul davidsFilm Auteur et Artiste Paul Jeffrey Davids

Paul Davids is an interesting associate of the film business—from his days as a whiz kid for the American Film Institute and writing a documentary titled, She Dances Alone, about Kyra Nijinsky. He has also written a book called An Atheist in Heaven.

Lately, a self-professed disbeliever, he has become overwhelmed with messages from a dead friend, film aficionado Forrest J. Ackerman. The man who coined sci-fi befriended Davids—and won’t let go since his death in 2008.

Indeed, many friends of Ackerman have experienced great beyond moments that Harry Houdini promised but never delivered.

So enchanted with life after death, Paul Davids has directed a second film on the topic, Life After Death Project 2. It features selective interviews, with highly credible witnesses, and few of those “evil” demonic ghost stories. These are benign spirits who often visit family or friends.

It is our own experience with the ghosts who continue to populate our home on the property of the former owners who died on Titanic.

Davids interviews doctors, nurses, and some Hollywood people whom he obviously trusts. It is also spiced with experts grounded in science, not your local ghost hunters with empirical info.

The film is compelling, if only because of its preponderance of evidence. And, the director goes before the camera in the final sequences to follow up on his after death experiences with old friend F-4 Ackerman, noted sci-fi figure.

Of course, vanity knows no expense. Calling up expensive scientific tests likely was held under budget when friends in academia were summoned.  Several tests required high tech and hours of lab time—to prove there is unknown out there.

The odd experiences are not frightening, but compelling and beyond coincidental, as we can testify in our own experience. If you are a disbeliever in contact from beyond, you may not be convinced. If you have an open mind that dimensions exist at the tip of your nose, you may find this film more than haunting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Man in Havana: Cuba Before Fall

DATELINE:  Greene for Thrills

ready for bed Guinness Doth Make Coward!

Would lightning strike twice? Throw in a Graham Greene novella, director Carol Reed, and a hotbed of political activity in the 1950s, and voila, you have an instant spy thriller, called Our Man in Havana.

The novella and screenplay were written by Greene himself, which may or may not be good, considering his lofty and singular opinion of what a good film should be. He respected Carol Reed enough to trust him again after The Third Man. And, with his lukewarm anti-American streak, the pre-Communist Castro lent his blessing to the project.

The result is a last-ditch look at the charm of old Havana before it underwent a lifetime of rot. To see it like this may sadden any self-respecting tourista.

Add in a delicious cast:  Alec Guinness as a would-be spy, Ernie Kovacs as a Cuban military leader, Maureen O’Hara as an officious colleague, Noel Coward as a Home Office Boy, with Ralph Richardson as his boss, and Burl Ives, hot off his Oscar, as a German expatriate, and something’s gotta give. The story concerns a British vacuum salesman who gives off airs of an obsequious secret agent who riles up the Cuban dictatorship before Castro. You mean there was no role for Errol Flynn who was there for the Cuban rebel girls?

At one point, Guinness notes that his daughter has an American accent for some reason. We suspect it has to do with the producer hiring his girlfriend, but we may be too harsh.

Burl Ives advises Guiness to take a job as a secret agent for Noel Coward and send it fake secret reports by fake secret agents. Alas, reality bites: everything he makes up is actually true.

The humor is so dry in this film that it almost seems arid. Greene rakes the James Bond ilk over the coals, with its bird-dropping invisible ink and codes taken out of a Dickensian book of Lamb to the slaughter sayings.

Kovacs and Guinness play a game of drinking checkers as a mental match.

Today’s audiences may be more befuddled by the intelligence of yore. Some of the actors are clearly in a straitjacket with not much ado. Yet, the overall effect is high-dudgeon Cold War spy thrills.

Our Man in Havana is simply amazing when not overwrought with super-suction.

Terminator: Not a Dead End

DATELINE: More Arnold Around Corner!

Arnold No Spring Chicken, He’s Back in 2019!

If they ever make a musical version, it will feature the tune, “the Cyborg Couldn’t Say NO.”  The first Terminator movie is now 35 years old, and it’s holding up well enough that Arnold is returning this year to reprise his role in a new 2019 movie, reunited with his waitress target, Sarah (Linda Hamilton).

In the original, Ahhnold was catapulted to fame beyond his wildest hopes. In a monosyllabic role that gave him a range up to 3 monosyllables, he simply snarled his way through James Cameron script as the bad robot.

Interestingly, Michael Biehn had second billing. He was one of those good-looking cookie-cutter actors of the 1980s. He belongs in a new movie, but where is he now?

The film starts with a bang: beautiful naked men come raining down out of lightning bolts. It was dishy to see Arnold naked, though he later claimed it was not he. What a pity. He is young and quite attractive here.

As for the 35-year old movie: it features phone books, phone booths, and wide-open gun shops where you can pick up assault rifles of your choice.

There are no PCs, let alone GPS.

Police in Los Angeles are dumbfounded, if not struck dumb, when a woman named Sarah Connor is repeatedly murdered. Well, every Sarah in the book. They missed the unlisted ones.

It seems the cyborgs from the future (like all AI to follow) believe it’s time to rid the world of that problem: human beings. The future in this movie is 2029, and we better start counting our blessings.

The movie features a shoot-out in a disco nightclub, which is quite contemporary, and it features too an office massacre when the Terminator goes into a police station and kills 20 to 30 policemen.

Of all the distinctive qualities, it most resembles a film made a decade earlier called Westworld, wherein the cyborg goes on a rampage, is burned to a cast- iron skeleton and still keeps going.

It also features a female hero survivor in the person of the director’s ex-wife, Linda Hamilton.

 

 

 

 

Edith Wharton: Harmonic Pretense

DATELINE: America’s Great Woman Writer

edith & dogs

Wharton also Wrote about Ghostly Dogs!

Like Henry James, one of the great American writers is a person who lived too long in foreign places.

Edith Wharton is presented in a documentary called The Sense of Harmony, which presents in somewhat disjointed form, her odd life. She was from the New York self-ordained aristocracy, socializing with a world alien from the real America of the 19th century. She is certainly at the polar opposite of Calamity Jane.

Wharton crossed the Atlantic on steamship 66 times in her life. Though she never gave up her American citizenship, and her greatest fictions were set in the United States, she lived mostly abroad in France.

You likely know her from the stories made into movies over decades:  Ethan Frome, Age of Innocence, The Old Maid, House of Mirth, all presenting scandal under the veneer of well-appointed homes.

Indeed, she began writing with an architect about interior design of houses. Though her novels sold and made money, she really had no need of it—except to live the way she wanted.

There was only a hint of scandal in her own life, though she often wrote about its corrosive secrets. She divorced and had one affair with a protégé of Henry James.

She also was the first woman to go to the front at Verdun in World War I and write about it. France considered her a war hero for tireless volunteering to help refugees and children.

Wharton famously has a haunted mansion in Lenox, Massachusetts, where she spent surprisingly little time. Perhaps ghosts frightened her, though she wrote many short stories about the paranormal. Her most famous tale, “Roman Fever,” again focused on upper-crust society.

She loved a good tale, well-told, and was planning a short story on a horror anecdote about the Titanic she had learned, but never actually finished. You might be driven to check out her less well-known tales from watching this documentary.