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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

Danny Amendola on MVP Julian Edelman

 DATELINE: Demon & Pythiass

Danny & Julie Danny with Jules.

One of the guests to watch the Patriots win yet again another Super Bowl, number VI out of LIII, was a man who chose to leave the team to sign a contract with rival Miami before this season.

Aspiring model and wide receiver for the Dolphins, Danny Amendola, was there as a close friend to videographer and now Super MVP Julian Edelman and supporter of his former teammate.When asked one of the more personally interesting questions as he arrived in Atlanta, he said he did not like Edelman’s beard. “It’s smelly,” he told reporters on the fly.

If any man has been up close to the challenge of finding food particles in Julian’s fur-based face, it is the always adorable Danny.

No man is closer to Edelman and as familiar with his workout partner’s habits, Amendola starred in many of Edelman’s videos and antics. Amendola surely knows the intricacies of Julie’s bushy follicles.

He, like the rest of us, may be perplexed at the ugliness of his facial hair—and how he now waxes and wanes his entire body below the neck.

If Edleman likes to take fur off his buff bod, you may wonder why he leaves the au naturel look on his chinny-chin-chin. He surely has bone structure as sharp as Tom Brady, even without Botox, which leads us to note that our most blockbuster blog is the one in which we discussed the “work” Brady has done to maintain his youthful looks.

It’s important when you plan to play a game in the public eye until decrepitude and the Grim Reaper darken your door to stay youthful.

As for Danny, who had his own oddball hopes of becoming a supermodel, he can only second-guess whether he regrets his decision to leave the big stage of the Julie and Tom show, Super Bowl perennials, to play with the fishes in Miami.

 

Whose Favorite Wife?

 DATELINE: Cary Grant & Reel History

twototango Cary & Randy.

Let’s dig into the vault of RKO movies from 1940 and pull out a plum. Yep, it’s Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in My Favorite Wife, directed by Garson Kanin.

We presume this was quite the sophisticated, if not racy, comedy of its era. And, it does have a few eyebrow lifting moments!

Grant is a Harvard lawyer whose wife was presumed drowned on a voyage to a South Sea island. He is about to remarry when she shows up with more wackiness than you’d usually find in an I Love Lucy episode.

It’s all rather slow for the first half of the movie. Actually it only comes to life when Grant discovers that his wife (known as Eve) spent seven years alone on an island with her Adam. It turns out that Adam is acrobatic hunk Randolph Scott.

Rumors about the two stars were in high fettle even back in those days—and the interplay between them is priceless. If you like in-jokes, this one lets everyone in on it. A passerby finds Grant ogling Randy and mopping his brow in distress when a middle-aged woman asks him if that is Johnny Tarzan Weissmuller.

Grant notes he wishes he were.

Once again Cary is caught modeling women’s clothing by a psychiatrist with a knowing smile. It’s all a great misunderstanding, of course. It’s Enoch Arden by ways of Shakespeare and writer Leo McCarey.

As sophisticated comedy, this has more subtext than anyone ever suspected. It may not be a great Grant film, but it belongs in the canon, but the powder puff is never quite dry as screwball comedy or comedy of manners.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Black Camel: Chuck Chan in 1931!

DATELINE: Lost Gem

actor legends

 Lugosi with Oland.

One of the first of the Warner Oland Charlie Chan movies is a beautifully restored print from 1931. It has other surprises too. It was filmed on location in Charlie Chan’s home base of Honolulu and uses the scenery to great effect. It is cryptically called The Black Camel.

Fresh off the horror of the year, Dracula, you have two cast members in fine fettle:  Dwight Frye and Bela Lugosi. They play a respective butler and a questionable psychic, all too willing to help Chan.

Lugosi and Frye were scheduled to make James Whale’s Frankenstein after this picture, but when Whale saw this, he thought Bela Lugosi would be too scary for the monster. The part went to Karloff instead.

The film does not hide some white tourist prejudice, compounded because the detective is both Chinese and a policeman. And, the cast of extras includes many Hawaiians.

The dark metaphor of the Black Camel has something to do with kneeling Death coming a-calling. It is one of many little aphorisms that Charlie Chan spouts dryly.

Instead of an irritating older son, this film features an inept young assistant to Chan. We do see Charlie’s family at a large dinner table in one scene, but the cheap sets and low budget formula would come in the next few films.

Warner Oland is masterful, as always, and it is quite a mangled English that we hear from both Oland and Lugosi in their conversations, that are quite witty and delightful.

There are a half-dozen quite credible suspects, and they are indeed all gathered in the drawing room (and dining room) for the big reveal.

This wonderful early mystery is a surprise and delight on every level.

 

 

 

Windy Conditions for Orson Welles

DATELINE: Citizen Kane’s Bookend

Orson's Last

It’s disorienting to see a new movie that is 35-years old with stars long dead: John Huston, Mercedes McCambridge, Edmond O’Brien, Paul Stewart, and all the usual Orson Welles friends. He also included new discoveries in his films like Bob Random and Rich Little. Orson called it The Other Side of the Wind.

The movie is a mockumentary of a movie made on the last day of the life of a legendary film director named Jack Hannaford.

Huston is Hannaford, playing God again, or the devil to Welles as observed by Susan Strasberg (daughter of James Dean’s acting tutor Lee Strasberg) as she plays a carbon copy of film maven Pauline Kael.

As the insider look at Hollywood develops, those in the know will begin to recognize that Johnny Dale is Jimmy Dean, and that the director appears to be a combo of Nick Ray and George Stevens, the men behind the films Rebel Without a Cause and Giant.

Indeed, two of Dean’s co-stars have roles in the film: Dennis Hopper and Mercedes McCambridge. Our money is on Nick Ray—whose ambiguous sexual relationship with stars seems to be at the heart of the Welles picture. He is giving us the ultimate insider look.

Welles never used nudity in his films until this final movie: he plays to the times, psychedelic sex, which now seems dated. The film made by Johnny Dale is sandwiched within and around the life of Hannaford who dies in Dale’s Porsche Spyder, a copy of Dean’s death car.

All the usual Orson touches and themes are present: betrayal of people, rather than principle. There are no principles in Hollywood. He also has a field day ridiculing all those New Wave European directors.

Movie magic is everywhere because Welles could do so much with so little—and scenes seem seamless, even if shot with body doubles three years later.

Critics claimed he never wanted to finish the picture because it was his raison d’etre. It was also his Swan Song and his testament to Hollywood. It’s brilliant and fascinating with every step of the much-sought divine accident that Welles believed essential to film inspiration. Highly recommended.

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.

 

 

 

 

Good/Bad &/or Ugly

DATELINE: Leone’s 50-Year Old Masterpiece

Ugly or Bad? Ugly or Bad?

Apart from the title being incorrectly punctuated, the Sergio Leone classic western cannot be judged by any normal standard of movie-making.

It is singular, both hilarious and horse opera bouffe. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is amazing, now restored and digitally remastered. It never looked better. It is 3 hours of utter charm.

The film starred Clint Eastwood, but he was outshone in every moment by Eli Wallach’s Tuco the Rat. It is a performance that comes once in a lifetime of great acting. It is so over-the-top and looney that it works as perfection. There is some question as to which is the Ugly one. In trailers, it is Lee Van Cleef, and in the movie the word is placed over Wallach’s image.

Scenes are historically inaccurate, overlong, and seem to be in some fantasy world that is not the real west. It does not matter one whit.

If the scenes were not epic enough (Tuco in a bubble bath with guns) or Lee Van Cleef’s Angel Eyes shooting kids, you do have Clint’s nameless character with a nickname of “Blondie,” which Eli Wallach seems to relish.

Scene-stealing should be added to the list of crimes that Tuco commits (the litany includes murder, rape, and cheating at cards).

We have not even touched on the iconic music that dots every panorama and desert viewpoint. The plot has something to do with three mercenaries with no morality and ethics seeking a gold treasure in someone’s grave.

The climax may be the longest stand-off shoot-out in the history of movies with three gunslingers facing off for six minutes.

There may well be deep messages conveyed here, but all that is secondary to the delight and mirth of showing the American Civil War as a dirty business. Indeed, all the major actors have flies on them.  We do learn how Clint took that iconic serape off a dying young blond man who looks like a younger version of him.

This film is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

Casey & AC at the Bat: Managers in World Series

DATELINE: Field of Dreams at Fenway Again

casey Casey, not AC?

If you were to ask, we doubt we’d have said we would return to watching the Red Sox again. Our last blog on them was several years ago, but it is the World Series in Boston, again.

If you were to ask if writing about the managers might be a possibility,we might shrug. However, we realized that two former Sox players were now in back in Boston as managers:  Yes, there was an aging star Dave Roberts, now with the Dodgers, and his counterpart Alex Cora.

Might we say there is Magic in the Moonlight at Fenway? Well, only because we saw Magic Johnson there in the stands, as an executive braintrust with the Los Angeles baseball team. Wasn’t he part of the Bird-Magic story in Boston?

No, wait, we were thinking of Moonlight Graham playing in Field of Dreams when Kevin Costner was sitting in the stands with James Earl Jones who played Terence Mann, the writer who wanted to play with these same Dodgers.

No, we were shocked to see Alex Cora, or AC as his players call him in the modern familiarity with supervisors and managers. He was running a talent-laden team that had replaced the previous manager for not winning a World Series.

When AC pulled the hot rookie Devers and replaced him with a pitch hitter named Nunez, we were more in marvel at the assortment of beards on the players. Yet, suddenly, AC became a genius before a national audience.

The last time we saw that it was someone in another era by the name of Casey Stengel. He managed the New York Yankees, another talent-laden team that kept winning. Stengel would pick a pinch-hitter out of a hat who would win the game.

Suddenly there was AC channeling Casey. How appropriate, if not poetic. AC picked the man to win the game with a homer to the Monster Seats. It was a ghost movie for baseball once again.

 

 

 

Coffee Date: Tea for Two

DATELINE: Two Lumps?

check please  Check Please.

You have here a comedy of manners about the hellish life of a man whom everyone presumes is gay. This includes his mother and brother, and sundry supporting characters in the tale entitled Coffee Date.

You have here the classic misunderstanding and crossed identity.

Jonathan Bray certainly is an actor one might presume is gay. We know that his costar, Wilson Cruz, is a well-known gay actor who specializes in playing gay characters anywhere called upon. Here, he is a well-heeled owner of a beauty salon—and an excellent catch for anyone looking for a boyfriend.

Bray grows increasingly indignant and strident that no one will listen to his shrill protests too much and too often that he is straight (including to his ex-wife who insists she had nothing to do with his apparent conversion therapy).

Shirley Kirkland (coproducer and playing the smother) becomes increasingly unsympathetic. Bray’s slob brother (Jonathan Silverman fallen onto hard times) sets him up with an Internet date with unknown sex identity named “Kelly.”  Silverman’s role grows more and more unbelievable.

NO pictures are exchanged on a truly blind online date, as if to heighten the preposterous nature of the film. When Bray meets Cruz, it is amusingly homophobic, but shrill as it continues.

There is some subtext about how a friendship can occur between a straight man and an adoring gay one. If the audience accepts the premise, you have low-brow Oscar Wilde and the importance of being earnest if not disingenuous.

A plethora of cheesy gay films has hit the streaming lists, leading one to wonder how and why they are made: usually about teenagers and first gay love & death. We are spared that tripe here.

We have steered clear of those irksome tales and sampled more mature characters in search of a purpose. This trifle boasts more staying power than most. It is more than tolerable. However, as per usual, we give our caution…

View at your own risk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DNA Politics

DATELINE: Not Pocahontas

Pocahontas? Apologies Required?

Nothing can be more dangerous than the latest wave of people and their push to learn about their “roots.”

Roots was a television event in the 1970s that sparked a furor among black American youth who were shocked at the depiction of their past. Many said they had no idea.

Now, we have Sen. Elizabeth Warren, goaded by Trump insults, trying to prove she has Native American blood. It appears, begrudgingly, she may have 1/1000th segment of Indian DNA. That’s about ten generations back—from the 1600s.

She provided no names of these people, no family trees, no paperwork to indicate the actual, physical evidence.

We did our own Ancestry and 23&Me skidoo tests last year, and we discovered that we had 0.02% Native American blood. Who knew? We immediately went to family trees—and started pulling on the genetic strings.

Sure enough, we traced back those with shared DNA whom we did not know, never heard of, and will never meet, to learn that Massasoit was in the mix.

That’s no ordinary run-of-the-mill Indian, but the man for whom Massachusetts is named! How likely is that? We questioned the tree and who falls out when you shake it up. We call this phenomenon “Sitting Bull.”

We also learned we were related to Plymouth/Mayflower names like John Alden and Priscilla Mullens, who were the subjects of a Longfellow poem called “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” Another Pocahontas moment for the family.

We were reminded that movies have been all over the subject of DNA for years. Back in the 1940s, there was a movie called Pinky, about a white girl who learned she was an octoroon. No, that’s not a cookie, but means you had distant black ancestors.

In 1960, Audrey Hepburn appeared in a movie called The Unforgiven, in which she played a girl raised as Audie Murphy’s sister, who was a stolen Indian baby. Her racist family was shocked, but she looked just like the non-Native Americans playing the Indians in the movie.

The Nazis in Germany were big on sniffing out who had Jewish ancestors—and liquidating them. Family trees were the way to root out the condition, as there was no DNA back then.

Mr. Trump should be aware that he could be related to Hitler himself, based on his behavior, and that he may be 1/2000th of a relative to Genghis Khan.

Time for another DNA test.

 

 

 

 

The Man Who Murdered Sherlock?

 DATELINE:  Well, Attempted Murder…

 Watson, We Have a Problem Watson, We Have a Problem!

 

Well, you have a trollish documentary here: The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes turns out to be a misnomer, if not a distortion of logic. It’s elementary to point out this is a headline grabber, not a fact.

Actually, the man attempted murder—and had regrets about it. That man is, as everyone knows, the author Arthur Conan Doyle, who was a doctor in the vein of Watson.

This presentation tries to make a mountain out of a molehill of money. If Doyle chose not to ultimately murder his creation, the fictional detective, the motive was cash. Doyle was offered more moolah than Moriarty had in his crime network.

The film tries to do a hatchet psychology profile on the author, suggesting he had deep-rooted emotional problems: and he took it out on his punching bag, Sherlock.

We all have heard that Dr. Joseph Bell was the model for Sherlock—that medical professor that Doyle studied with. However, this film hints there was a second model for Sherlock, far more nefarious.

It sounds like they film producers can’t tell Moriarty from Mycroft. Dr. Bryan Waller was the other role model: an arrogant and brilliant man who called himself a “Consulting Pathologist.”  Now you’re cooking.

 

Waller was not someone Doyle liked. It seems he was Doyle’s mother’s lover! Yikes. No wonder she loved Sherlock and was dismayed when Conan Doyle killed him off in 1891.

Waller and Mother Doyle were neighbors on his estate where he set her up in a cottage. Now this is the kind of sleazy detail we love to report. TMZ clearly fell down on the job of reporting this.

However, the false charges against the author seem trumped up at best. There never was murder, only mysterious death that was explained years later when Sherlock showed up to collect his royalties.

Of the spate of Holmes documentaries, this one still managed to bemuse us and hold us rapt, no matter what its shortcomings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lindsay Graham: “I’m not gay!” with Qualification

DATELINE: The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

Graham Demonstrates Technique It’s All in the Wrist!

Not two weeks after we postulated that Trump is blackmailing Senator Lindsay Graham for his support, Mr. Graham, the Cracker from Carolina, the recently emboldened supporter of Bone Spurs Trump, protested weakly,  “As far as it matters, I’m not gay.”

Whatever does that mean?

Let us try to clarify: in a nutshell, what it means, “As far as it does not matter, I am gay.”

That is Republican-speak for “I am in the closet, and don’t try to drag me out.” It also means he is worried that Trump will out him.

Graham may not be actively pursuing his interests or engaged in any relationship right now. That means it as far as it matters. We cannot imagine a threesome of Rudi Guiliani in drag, Bone Spurs Trump, and Graham Cracker. Well, we don’t like to picture it.

He is not marching in gay pride parades, beating a drum at the Stonewall, or supporting gay legislation, as far as it matters. We have seen Republicans in the past who were exposed for the same stance, or worse, or is that less?

What is Lindsay Graham so nervous about? Well, how about them voters in his home state? He also shared his view that calling someone gay, or outing them, is “belittling people” and he does not think it “funny as it used to be.”

As they say in England, don’t laugh at the Queen.

TMZ is not known for its frivolous exposes. Nor is the National Enquirer. They are sites that reveal sordid and salacious details that some want kept in the closet. Like Lindsay Graham.

Calling Graham gay is like beating a dead horse. Outing Lindsay Graham is like putting jimmies on your ice cream cone. You still have to do the licking.