Saturday, March 07, 2020

Once Again In The Matter Of The Centennial Of The Birth Of Film Actor, Noir Film Actor, Robert Mitchum (2017)

Once Again In The Matter Of The Centennial Of The Birth Of Film Actor, Noir Film Actor, Robert Mitchum (2017)

By Sandy Salmon  

Film Editor Emeritus Sam Lowell (not Samuel since he was actually named Sam and not as a nickname) is like something out of a film noir which he has always been fascinated by ever since he was a kid down in cranberry bog Carver south of Boston and would catch the Saturday matinee double-headers at the Bijou Theater (now long gone and replaced by a cinematic mega-plex out on Route 28 in one of the long line of strip malls which dot that road). That fascination had a name, The Maltese Falcon, starring rugged chain-smoking tough guy Humphrey Bogart as a no nonsense, well almost no nonsense, private detective, who almost got skirt-crazy, almost got catch off guard by some vagrant jasmine scent from a femme over the matter of an extremely valuable bejeweled bird which the theater owner, Sean Riley, would occasionally play in a retrospective series that he ran to keep expenses down some weeks rather than take in the latest films from the studios.     

The reason that I, Sandy Salmon, current film critic at the American Left History blog and also at the on-line American Film Gazette can call the old curmudgeon Sam Lowell “something out of a film noir” is because once he decided to retire from the day to day hassle of reviewing a wide range of current and past films he contrived to get me to take his place on the blog along with my other by-line. That based on our years together as rivals and friends at the Gazette.  He did this “putting himself out to pasture” as he called it to the blog’s moderator, no, that is not the right title site manager, Allan Jackson, when he mentioned the subject of retirement with the proviso that he could contribute occasional “think” pieces as films or other events came up and curdled his interest. I had no particular objection to that arrangement since it is fairly standard in the media industry and is an arrangement that I would likewise want to take up in my soon to come retirement from the day to day grind. (To that end I am grooming an associate film critic Alden Riley for that eventuality.)

This business all came tumbling down on my head back in 2017 after he had read somewhere, maybe the Boston Globe, yes, I think it was that newspaper  that the centennial of the birth great actor, great film noir actor,  Robert Mitchum, was at hand. Without giving me a heads up he, Sam, decided that he wanted to do a “think” piece on this key noir figure and someone whose performances in things like Out Of The Past, Cape Fear, and The Night Of The Hunter were the stuff of cinematic legend. But you see I wanted, once I became aware of the centennial to write something to honor Mitchum although I have the modesty not to call it a “think” piece. My idea, as was Sam’s in the end, had been to write about that incredible role he played as a low key private eye in Out Of The Past against the dangers of a gun-addled femme. We resolved the dispute if you want to call it resolved by having “dueling” appreciations of that classic film. Sam’s potluck article has already been published and now I get my say. Enough said.          

I will say one thing for Sam although I think I would have noted it myself in any case that both our headlines speaks of a film noir actor although Micthum did many more types of films from goof stuff like the Grass Is Greener where he played some kind of rich oil man adrift in England and infatuated by some nobleman’s wife and Heaven Help Mr. Allison where he got all flirty with a fellow marooned nun to truly scary can’t go to sleep at night without a revolver under the pillow stuff like Cape Fear to the world weary, world wary former standup guy  pasty/fall guy in the film adaptation of  George V. Higgin’s The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. That said to my mind, as to Sam’s his classic statement of his acting persona came in the great performance he did in Out Of The Past where between being in the gun sights of an angry gangster played by Kirk Douglas and the gun sights of a gun crazy femme played by Jane Greer he had more than enough to handle.

Yeah, if you think about it, think about other later non-goof, do it for the don’t go back to the “from hunger” days paycheck vehicles he starred in that film kind of said it all about a big brawny barrel-chested guy who had been around the block awhile, had smoked a few thousand cigarettes while trying to figure out all the angles and still in the end got waylaid right between the eyes by that damn femme. All she had to do was call his name and he wilted like some silly schoolboy. I like a guy who likes to play with fire, likes to live on the edge a little but our boy got caught up badly by whatever that scent, maybe jasmine, maybe spring lilac but poison that he could never get out of his nostrils once she went into over-drive.

Sam in his review went out of his way to make Mitchum’s character, Jeff, let’s just call him Jeff since for safety reasons he had other aliases seem like, well, seem like the typical “from hunger” guy who got wrapped up in a blanket with a dizzy dame and that his whole freaking life led to that fatal shot from that fatal gun from that femme fatale. She had a name, Kathie, nice and fresh and wholesome name but nothing but fire and fiery although Sam insists that it could have been any one of a thousand dames as long as she had long legs, ruby red lips and was willing to mess up the sheets a bit. Yeah, Jeff as just another from nowhere guy who got caught between a rock and a hard place.      

No, a thousand time no. Robert Mitchum, ah, Jeff in those scenes has those big eyes wide open from the minute he hits Mexico, no, the minute he got the particulars from Whit, from his new employer of the moment he was no fall guy but a guy playing out his hand, maybe well, maybe badly but playing the thing out just as he always had done since he was a kid. (Sam, maybe reflecting his own “from hunger” up-bringing in working class cranberry bog Carver if you look at his reviews of those luscious black and white films from the 1940s and 1950s that he feasted on always overplayed that fateful “from hunger” aspect of a male character’s persona, a failing to see beyond his own youth in many cases beyond his fatal error here)

As Sam would say here is the play, the right way to see Mitchum’s cool as ice character. Whit, a shady businessman, hell, call him by his right name, a gangster, a hood, played by cleft-chinned Kirk Douglas wanted to hire Jeff (and by indirection his partner Fisher who will undercut him reminding me of that friction between Sam Spade and Miles Archer although Sam wound up doing right by his old partner Fisher just bought the farm trying to move in on Jeff’s business) to find his girlfriend who left him high and dry minus a cool forty thousand and plus a little bullet hole as a reminder that not all women are on the level. The minute Jeff heard the particulars he was in, not for the dough, although dough is a good reason to take on a job in any profession including his, private detection, but to see what kind of dish ran away from a good-looking, rich guy with plenty of sex appeal and a place to keep her stuck in the good life. Sam missed the whole idea that Jeff already had a head of steam for this elusive Kathie before he went out the door of Whit’s mansion (or whatever her name really was played by sultry sexy, long-legged, ruby red-lipped ready for a few satin sheet tumbles Jane Greer).   

For a professional detective Kathie was not hard to find, maybe intentionally if she had Whit figured out which I think she did, and you could palpably feel the tension as Jeff waited to meet his quarry. If you followed the way he was thinking, if you in this case followed the scent that you would have known that Jeff was no more a victim of some bad childhood that I was. Everything follows from that first prescient presence in that run-down wreak of a cantina and those first drinks between them. The sheets followed as night follows day as did the plans they had to flee from whatever dastardly deeds Whit would do once he knew that a real man had taken his pet away-without flinching. The key was the dodge Jeff, remember it was Jeff who led the misdirection when Whit showed up in sunny Mexico wondering what the fuck was going on. Jeff had them in Frisco town before you say goodbye. Nice work.          

Hey Jeff knew, knew as any man knew who had been wide awake after the age of thirteen knew, that his grip on Kathie unlike the later tryst with good girl Anne once he had to go into exile when Kathie flipped her wig, would only last as long as he could keep her interested. I will grant Sam this that maybe Jeff should have been a little more leery of what crazy moves Kathie could make when she was cornered, maybe should have thought through a little better why she put a slug in Whit just for the hell of it. But in his defense Jeff was playing his hand out and it was just too much bad luck that his old partner Fisher got on his trail. Got on his trail, and hers, which she stopped cold when she put the rooty-toot-toot to Fisher. Then blew town leaving Jeff to pick up her mess.

Did Jeff call copper, did he go crying on his knees to Whit. No he went into exile waiting for the next move, waiting to see what Kathie would come up with next. He may have built him a nice little gas station business in Podunk, have gotten a dewy fresh maiden in Anne but anybody could see once he was exposed by one of Whit’s operatives he played his hand out to the very end. Went to see what was what including learning of Kathie’s opportunistic return to Whit’s embrace. And subsequently her return to his embrace. Of course such a course was bound to not turn out very well for anybody. Whit wasted by Kathie and then Jeff wasted by her as well once he knew the game was up. Don’t make though too much of that play at the very end when Anne asks Jeff’s deaf gas station employee whether he was really ready to leave everything for Kathie and the kid said “yes.” Yes with the implication that Jeff did the whole play to spare Anne. No, that is too pat Jeff wanted to go with Kathie, wanted to play with fire, knew that the game was up and just didn’t care any longer as long as he was with Kathie. Couldn’t Sam see in Jeff’s, in Robert Mitchum’s, eyes that he didn’t care what she did, that was the way it was between them. No fall guy there.

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The “Last Waltz”- The Never-Ending Classic Rock Review Tour

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night-The “Last Waltz”- The Never-Ending Classic Rock Review Tour

From The Archives Of Allan Jackson

[The attentive reader of this series may know already that there was an agreement negotiated by his (and my) old high school friend from their growing up days in the working class Acre section of North Adamsville Sam Lowell and the current site manager Greg Green about publicly acknowledging Allan Jackson, the previous site manager, as the driving force behind this classic days of rock and roll at the creation in the mid-1950s series. The “compromise” (thus far) is that Allan is now amorphously acknowledged to have had the works in his archives without specifying that the whole collection was of his inspiration and perspiration. What even the most attentive reader cannot know is that Sam has been in further negotiations with Greg about giving Allan full public credit with a by-line and including updated introductions by him.

The hook? Here is where politics in the Machiavellian raw, left-wing or not comes into play. Greg owes Sam a “favor.” Essentially Greg owes his job to Sam’s decisive vote in the fall of 2017 when there was a fierce internal struggle at this publication over its future direction and Sam sided with the younger writers to what everybody agrees was a purge of the Jackson leadership after many years of hard copy and on-line publication. To show what kind of guys we are dealing with (who I have been dealing with for fifty years so am not surprised at anything these two do) when Allan found out that Greg had initially rebooted the series using another old friend of ours Frank Jackman as a “front” he went crazy with rage. But also contacted Sam on the sly to get attribution for him on the series.

You have to know that these two had cut their teeth in politics back in their radical past 1960s when nobody thought anything of backstabbing one day and then going out for a long round of drinks the next to understand that even though Sam lost him his job, threw him to the exile woods by-gones were by-gones. Amazing. The hook on Greg’s side was that Sam now knew that Greg had been instrumental in “doing Allan in” in the publishing business after he went into exile. He had put the mark of Cain, had put the kiss of death on Allan telling all who inquired about Allan’s employability that he was “hard to work with.” That would explain as Sam and I found out after we discovered where Allan was hiding out up in old haunt Bar Harbor, Maine the source of a million wild rumors about his fate which will be discussed further below and in a couple more introductions since we, Sam, Allan and I, want the reader to read the sketch more than try to fathom the byzantine politics of the publishing business. In any case Sam and Greg are still negotiating about where Allan will ultimately land in this space.         

One of the most persistent rumors after Allan went “underground” (he, they, we are still addicted to the expressions and attitudes of those by-gone 60’s) was that he was in America Siberia out in Utah sucking up to the Mormons in order to get a by-line, to get work and later after U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch announced his retirement and Mitt Romney declared his candidacy that he attempted to get on the campaign as a press secretary or speechwriter. Sam, Phil, Josh, all the older writer here and some others who don’t but have known Allan for a long time dismissed the whole scheme out of hand especially knowing how he had skewered Mitt as a chameleon, a charlatan who would sell his soul if he had one to the highest bidder to get whatever political office he was looking for in 2008 and 2012 when he ran for the roses. Strangely that rumor proved to be the truest one of all although as usual not exactly as the rumor mill had it. Once Greg put the kiss of death on Allan with that “hard to work with” mantra he was frozen out of the East Coast media hub. Having spent time in California in his younger days he headed out there but also faced a stone wall trying to get a job, any job. Here is where the personal and the political sometimes come into conflict. Allan, despite his age and longtime in the business had over the years accumulated three ex-wives and a parcel of kids, mostly nice and bright and college bound. He is still paying alimony and costs of tuition so he needed, needs money. Hence his bright idea that he would go to out of the way Utah and try to hustle some work.

The basis of that idea that he could get some work from the hard shell Mormons came from a couple of articles he had done during one of the Romney runs for President concerning the ritual of their wearing white underwear and a secret admiration for either Romney’s grandfather or great-grandfather who had five wives at one time and survived tell the tale in the days when the Mormons were seriously polygamous. He did write am OpEd piece for the Salt Lake Star which got printed and some good comments on the sly from a couple of Romney’s aides who thought the polygamy article was “cute.” Of course none of that went anywhere since the secret of Mormonism, of Romney, is that you keep it in the family, hire Mormons. Allan would never have survived a vetting in any case either about his radical past or some other articles about old Mitt which put had put him on the skewer and lit the fire. More later but read this sketch now. Jack Callahan]       
Sam Lowell had several years before, maybe in about the middle of 2010, done an extensive survey of a commercially-produced Oldies But Goodies series (this series had fifteen separate CDs, more about its mass in a minute, in twenty to thirty song compilations and had torn his ear off from the endless listening. He had begged for a little gangsta hip-hop to soothe his ravaged soul although he was strictly a white-bread blues guy around that kind of music, around black-burst out roots is the toots music) and he had selected one song in each CD to highlight the music. He sought to highlight in particular the music that he and his corner boys, Frankie Riley the acknowledged leader, Pete Markin (also known as the “Scribe” for his endless “publicity” for the group, especially the fountain of wisdom put forth by one Frankie Riley, who later when the drug craze hit full blossom in the late 1960s went over the edge down in Mexico trying to rip off a couple of bricks of cocaine from the hard boys and Pete got two slugs and a face down in a dusty Sonora back alley for his efforts), Jimmy Jenkins, Rats McGee, Johnny Callahan, and other guys like Luke the Juke, Stubby Kincaid, and Hawk Healey who walked in and out of the group at various high school points, had grown up with. Better, had come of age with the music in Adamsville, that is in Massachusetts (Sam had been born in Clintondale a few towns over before moving to Adamsville, a similar town, in junior high school and taken under Frankie Riley’s corner boy wing but had decidedly not been corner boy in that town for the simple reason that there were, unlike in Adamsville at Doc’s Drugstore and later Benny’s bowling alleys, no stand-out corner to be a corner boy in, for good or evil). Yeah, the music of the great jail-break rock and roll 1950s and early 1960s when Sam and the guys came of age had driven his memory bank at that time, some of that material had been placed in a blog, Rock and Roll Will Never Die, dedicated to classic rock and roll music (the classic period now being deemed to have been between about the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s although Sam flinched every time he heard some young guy, some guy who might be an aficionado but was nevertheless not splashed by that tide, called his time the “classic age,” yeah, that rubbed him raw).

Sam had received some comments at the time, mostly from his generational brethren inquiring about this or that song, asking about where they could get a copy of the song they were seeking and he would inform them of the monstrous beauties of YouTube if you could stand the damn commercials that notoriously plague that site to get to your selection, especially Elvis and Jerry Lee stuff. Asked about whether he knew where a 45 RPM vinyl copy could be had, had at any price, a tougher task and asked about the fate that had befallen various one hit johnnies and janies whose single song had been played unto death at the local hang-out jukebox or on the family record player thus driving some besotted mother to the edge. Many though, with almost the same “religious” intensity that Sam brought to his efforts, wanted to vividly describe how this or that song had impacted their lives. Sam had presumed then, presumed a passing fancy but a few apparently had been in a time warp and should have sought some medical attention (although Sam was too much the gentleman to openly make that suggestion). A lot of times though it came down purely to letting  Sam know what song did they first dance to, a surprising number listing Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock  and Danny and the Juniors At The Hop as the choice, surprising since that would have meant a very early introduction not only to rock and roll but to the social etiquettes of dancing with the opposite sex, to speak nothing of the sweaty palms, broken nerves and two left feet which blocked the way, which Sam had not done until he was a freshman in high school. Or what song in what situation had they gotten, or given, their first kiss and to whom, not surprisingly in the golden age of the automobile generation that frequently took place in the back seat of some borrowed car (a few over-the-edgers had gone into more graphic detail than necessary for adults to go into about what happened after that kiss in that backseat). Yeah, got in the back seat of some Chevy to go down to the local lovers’ lane (some very unusual places, the lovers’ lanes not the backseats which were one size fits all) Or had their first fight and make-up to, stuff like that.

As the shelf-life these days for all things Internet is short Sam thought no more about that series, the article or the comments until recently when a young guy (he had presumed a young guy since most devotees of classic rock fall into that demographic, although his moniker of Doo-Wop Dee could have signaled a young woman) who had Googled the words “rock and roll will never die” and had come upon the blog and the article. He sent an e-mail which challenged Sam to tell a candid world (Sam’s expression not Doo-Wop Dee’s who probably would not have known the genesis of that word) why the age of the Stones, Beatles, Animals, Yardbirds, etc., the 1960s age of the big bad guitars, heavy metal, and big backbeat did not do more for classic rock than Elvis (Presley), Chuck (Berry), Roy (Orbison), Bo (Diddley), Buddy (Holly), Jerry Lee (Lewis) and the like did all put together.

Well Sam is a mild-mannered guy usually, has mellowed out some since his rock and roll corner boy slam bang jail-break days, his later “on the road” searching for the great blue-pink great American West night hippie days and his later fighting against his demon addictions days (drugs, con artist larceny, cigarettes, whiskey, hell, even sex, no forget that, drop that from the addiction list) and he had decided, not without an inner murmur, to let the comment pass, to move on to new things, to start work on an appreciation of electric blues in his young life. Then one night late one night he and his lady friend, Melinda (and the reason to forget about that sex addiction stuff above), were watching an old re-run on AMC (the old-time movies channel, featuring mostly black and white films also a relic from his youth and his high school time at the retro-Strand Theater that existed solely to present two such beauties every Saturday afternoon, with or without popcorn) and saw as the film started one ghost from the past Jerry Lee Lewis sitting (hell maybe he had been standing, twirling whirling whatever other energy thing he could do back then to add to the fury of his act) on the back of a flat-bed truck, piano at the ready, doing the title song of the movie, High School Confidential, and then and there Sam had decided that he needed to put old Doo-Wop right. The rest of the movie, by the way, a classic 1950s cautionary tale about the pitfalls of dope, you know marijuana automatically leading to heroin, complete with some poor hooked girl strung out by her fiendish dealer/lover, and of leading an unchaste life, you know that sex addiction stuff that Sam had not been addicted to along his life’s way, as a result was actually eminently forgettable but thanks Jerry Lee for the two minute bailout blast. Here is what Sam had to say to his errant young friend and a candid world:       

First off the term “last waltz” used in the headline is used here as a simple expression of the truth. But that expression will also give Doo Wop and anybody else who asks an idea of the huge amount of material from the classic rock period, like I said in my blog sketch from the mid-50s to the mid-60s, which was good enough, had rung our running home after school to check out the latest dance moves and the cute guys and girls American Bandstand hearts enough, to make the cut. (And that really was true, out of over four hundred songs at least one hundred, a very high percentage, could have had a shot at the one hundred best popular songs of all times lists. When I had started that Oldies But Goodies series a few years ago in a fit of nostalgia related to reconnecting with guys like Frankie Riley, Johnny Callahan and Frank Jackman from the old hometown I had assumed that I had completed the series at Volume Ten.  I then found out that this was a fifteen, fifteen count ‘em, volume series. I flipped out.

Thereafter I whipped off those last five CDs in one day, including individual reviews of each CD and a summing up for another blog, and was done with it. Working frantically all the while under this basic idea; how much can we rekindle, endlessly rekindle, memories from a relatively short, if important, part of our lives, even for those who lived and died by the songs (or some of the songs) in those compilations. How many times could one read about wallflowers, sighs, certain shes (or hes), the moonlight of high school dances (if there was any) and hanging around to the bitter end for that last dance of the night to prove... what. Bastante! Enough! Until Doo-Wop decided that my coming of age era paled, paled if you can believe this, in comparison to Johnny-come-lately rockers like Mick and Keith, John and Paul, Jerry, Neil, Roger and the like.

No, a thousand times no, as right this minute I am watching a YouTube film clip of early Elvis performing Good Rockin’ Tonight at what looks like some state fairgrounds down south and the girls are going crazy tearing their hair out and crying like crazy because the new breeze they had been waiting for in the death-dry red scare Cold War 1950s night just came through and not soon enough. If Doo-Wop had paid attention to anything that someone like Mick Jagger said all the over whelming influence, the foundation for their efforts it might have held his tongue, or been a bit more circumspect. Guys like Mick, and they were mainly guys just like their 1950s forebears know that much. Yeah, it was mainly guys since I admit the only serious female rocker that I recall was Wanda Jackson whereas Doo-Wop’s time frame had Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, just to name a few. If he had argued on the basis of female rockers I would have no argument that the 1960s was a golden age for female rockers but his specified only the generic term “rockers.”

Like I said part of what got me going on the re-tread trail had been that nostalgia thing with my old corner boys and all our nights dropping dimes and quarters in Doc’s or Benny’s jukeboxes, listening on our transistors until our ears turned to cauliflower, and swaying at too many last change dance to mention but I also had been doing a series of commentaries elsewhere at the time on another site on my coming of political age in the early 1960s. You know the age of our own Jack Kennedy, the age of the short-lived Camelot when our dreams seemingly were actually within our grasp, and of the time we began realizing the need for serious struggles against all kinds of wars, and all kinds of discriminations, including getting a fair shake for the working people, those who labor, the people who populated our old time neighborhoods, our parents for chrissakes, in this benighted world. But here when I am writing about musical influences I am just speaking of my coming of age, period, which was not necessarily the same thing as the former.

No question that those of us who came of age in the 1950s were truly children of rock and roll. We were there, whether we appreciated it or not at the time, when the first, sputtering, musical moves away from ballady Broadway show tunes from Oklahoma, South Pacific and the like and rhymey Tin Pan Alley pieces hit the transistor radio airwaves. (If you do not know what a transistor radio is then ask your parents or, ouch, grandparents, please. Or look it up on Wikipedia if you are too embarrassed to not know ancient history things. Join the bus.) And, most importantly, we were there when the music moved away from any and all staid arm in arm music that one’s parents might have approved of, or maybe, even liked, or, hopefully, at least left you alone to play in peace up in your room when rock and roll hit post- World War II America teenagers like, well, like an atomic bomb.

Not all of the material put forth was good, nor was all of it destined to be playable fifty or sixty years later on some “greatest hits” compilation but some of songs had enough chordal energy, lyrical sense, and sheer danceability to make any Jack or Jill jump then, or now. Think Elvis almost any place where there were more than five girls, hell more than one girl, or Jerry Lee and that silly film high school cautionary film that got this whole comment started where he stole the show at the beginning from that flatbed throne or Bill Haley just singing Rock Around The Clock in front of the film Blackboard Jungle. Here is the good part, especially for painfully shy guys like me, or those who, like me as well, had two left feet on the dance floor. You didn’t need to dance toe to toe, close to close, with that certain she (or he for shes). Just be alive…uh, hip to the music. Otherwise you might become the dreaded wallflower. But that wallflower fear, the fear of fears that haunted many a teenage dream then, that left many a sad sack teenage boy, girls can speak for themselves, waking up in the middle of the night with cold sweats worrying about sweaty hands, underarms, course breathe, stubble, those damn feet (and her dainty ones mauled), and bravery, bravery to ask that she (or he for shes) for a dance, especially the last dance that you waited all night to have that chance to ask her about, is a story for another day. Let’s just leave it at this for now. Ah, to be very, very young then was very heaven.

So what still sounded good to a current AARPer, and perhaps some of his fellows who comprise the demographic that such 1950s compilation “speak” to (and some early 60s songs as well). Carl Perkins original Blue Suede Shoes (covered by, made famous by, and made millions for, Elvis). Or the Hank William’s outlaw country classic I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. Naturally, in a period of classic rock numbers, Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue (or, like Chuck Berry and Fat Domino from this period, virtually any other of about twenty of his songs).

But what about the now seeming mandatory to ask question the inevitable end of the night high school dance (or maybe even middle school) song that seemed to be included in each of those CD compilations? The song that you, maybe, waited around all night for just to prove that you were not a wallflower, and more importantly, had the moxie to, mumbly-voiced, parched-throated, sweaty-handed, ask a girl to dance (women can relate their own experiences, probably similar). Here Elvis’ One Night With You fills the bill. Hey, I did like this one, especially the soulful, snappy timing and voice intonation. And, yes, I know, this is one of the slow ones that you had to dance close on. And just hope, hope to high heaven, that you didn’t destroy your partner’s shoes and feet. Well, one learns a few social skills in this world if for no other reason than to “impress” that certain she (or he for shes, or nowadays, just mix and match your preferences) mentioned above. I did, didn’t you? Touche Doo-Wop!

Friday, March 06, 2020

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night- Growing Up Absurd In The 1950s- Be-Bop The Adventure Car Hop

The Roots Is The Toots: The Music That Got The Generation Of ’68 Through The 1950s Red Scare Cold War Night- Growing Up Absurd In The 1950s- Be-Bop The Adventure Car Hop

YouTube film clip of Johnny Ace performing his classic Pledging My Love.

From The Archives Of Allan Jackson

[I am sure the attentive reader if he or she has been following this great stone-etched series about one sliver of the 1960s, a time whose demographics component is ebbing more quickly that we would like has noticed the attributions of the past few sketches in the series has shifted from Frank Jackson to the real originator and guiding light of the project the former site manager here Allan Jackson. The resulted from an agreement between the new site manager Greg Green and one of Allan’s oldest friends Sam Lowell after Allan went crazy when he found out that he was effectively a “non-person” around here and Greg was using a replay of the series to pacify the old readership base after a few foolhardy experiments trying to reach the youth panned out miserably. Go back into the archives dated February 10, 2017 to get the whole story on what had happened in the dispute that brought Allan low after years as king pin and cranky muse if a man can be a muse and these days why not.  

What I bring today is news that Allan is still alive and kicking despite a lot of rumors that he had bit the dust and other unsavory things some of which actually were true although distorted a bit as such things will when the rumor mills fly. I, and Sam Lowell as well, traced Allan to Bar Harbor, Maine his old stomping grounds as he got older after contacting his third ex-wife to see if she had gotten a recent alimony check from him. She had and through her we were able to piece together that he was not out West, not then anyway although he had been in the immediate aftermath of the “purge” but in Maine once she mentioned that he had asked her to “come up” to see him. That was all we needed  

Well not quite all since as part of that internal struggle at this publication there might have been some residual bad blood against Sam Lowell on Allan’s part despite Sam’s intervention with Greg to get Allan some recognition on this series. See Sam, who goes all the way back to junior high days with Allan whereas I only met him in high school through the Scribe, had cast the deciding negative vote in that line-up of sides. Had sided with the younger writers under the understanding that the “torch needed to be passed” and that expecting guys and gals who were not born or who were in elementary school to “give a fuck” (Sam’s term) about the 1960s to the exclusion of other interests was bizarre and counter-productive. When we did get to Bar Harbor, to a condo Allan was renting, all that fell away. Allan and Sam, far more than me who married a bit early and got caught up with family life and starting a Toyota dealership, were used to the vagaries of the radical faction fights in the 1960s and he had the good graces to accept his defeat and his “purge.” Everybody, every old writer, agreed that it was a purge and so it will be henceforth recorded that way as we stream through this series.

What Allan did not take with good graces was what Greg did in the aftermath of the internal fight as he told us one night at Dougie’s his, our favorite bar in the town. Greg had come over from American Film Gazette in 2015 to take over the day to day operations and “won” the prize full-time when Allan was defeated. Allan had picked him because he had worked there at one time and was impressed with Greg’s skills as manager. The internal struggle was so fierce, so personal that Greg became a bit unhinged afterward, was bitter. Allan, who still felt he had something left in the publishing world (and still needed checks to ex-wives and tuitions for the last of his brood) went to New York and then California looking for work, basically anything to keep the wolves from the door. No sale. Reason? One Greg Green had put the whammy on him, had put the kiss of death on him in a cutthroat industry, said Allan was “hard to work with” So in a funny way, a funny modern way, Greg did play the old time Stalin role in the Stalin-Trotsky dispute to the death. That is the way we all read the thing after a half dozen high shelf Dougie whiskeys anyway. More later read this sketch now. Jack Callahan]            
No question if you were alive in the 1950s in America, and maybe in other countries too for all I know but I think that this is truly an American phenomenon, alive meaning of course if you were young, say between twelve and twenty- five no older because then you hovered too close to being parents and hence, well hence, square the golden age of the automobile met the golden age of al fresco dining, okay, okay low end pre-Big Mac dining. Sorry, I got carried away. Golden Age eating outdoors, well, not really outdoors but in your Golden Age automobile at the local drive-in restaurant (not drive through like today but that may have been true too).

See the idea was that a young guy, maybe a guy who was a wiz at fixing up cars and who had retro-fitted, dual carb-fitted, low-slung wheels-fitted, amp-fitted some broken down wreak and made it a “boss” car, like a ‘57 Chevy or Dodge or some nerdy young guy who had two left hands and had borrowed his father’s blah-blah family car for the night would bring his date to the drive-in restaurant and did not give a damn about the cuisine or the ambience against sitting in that car all private and all to munch on burgers and fries. And be seen in that “boss” car or in the case of the father-borrowed car just to be seen with his date. Be seen by the million and one young guys, maybe guys who were also wizzes at fixing up cars and who had also retro-fitted, dual carb-fitted, low-slung wheels-fitted, amp-fitted some broken down wreak and made it a “boss” car, like a ‘57 Chevy or ‘59 Dodge or some nerdy young guys who had two left hands and had borrowed their father’s blah-blah family car for the night would bring their dates to the drive-in restaurant and did not give a damn about the cuisine or the ambience against sitting in those cars all private and all to munch on burgers and fries. Also to be seen and to be placed in the high school pecking order accordingly. Or if not in high school (but also not over twenty-five remember) to be paid homage for surviving that chore, and for knowing the ropes, knowing the signposts in the drive-in restaurant night.     

Once my old friend Jack Lowell had put golden age automobile and golden age dining out together one night, really early one morning, when he was feeling a little melancholy for the old days, and when he had had too much whiskey, all that needed to be added was to say that Eddie, Eddie Connell, would have been out, out once again some night, some weekend night more than likely with his everlovin’ Ginny, Virginia Stone, in the Clintondale 1950s be-bop night, having a little something to eat at the Adventure Car Hop, that burgers and fries eternal youth night out dining combo (did I mention a Coke or Pepsi, if I did not then those were the standard drinks to wash those hard-hearted burgers and those fat-saturated fries down) after a hard night of dancing to the local rockers down in Hullsville and afterward a bout down at Adamsville Beach located a couple of towns over and so filled with Clintondale and other young couples seeking some privacy from watchful town eyes, in the “submarine race” watching night.
Jack had good reason to want to talk about his best friend back then Eddie, about his “boss” ’57 two-toned, white and green, Chevy, and especially about his girl, his Ginny, since in the love wars Ginny had thrown him over for Eddie, had chosen Eddie’s souped-up car over Jack’s walking feet when the deal went down. Yeah, Eddie and Jack had still remained friends, had still been simpatico despite the girl mess-up. See just before the Ginny swap Jack had taken Ellen Riley, formerly the head cheer-leader at Clintondale High back in 1955, the year they all, Jack, Eddie, Ginny, and Ellen if you are keeping count, had graduated away from Eddie. So all was fair in love and war.  Although Jack had thought it was just slightly unfair that Ellen had subsequently thrown him over, Jack the struggling college student with no dough and no car just like he had been in high school, for a guy from Hullsville because she did not want to wait to get married until after he graduated and she empathically was tired unto death of walking (or worse, riding that clunky old Eastern Transit bus which was always late and did not run after midnight just in case they had something going down at the beach or after the Hullsville dance got out) when her father handed down car had gone to the graveyard and they had no car between them.      

But maybe Jack had better fill a candid world in on a couple of things to back up why he wanted to talk about Eddie and Ginny that night. Was feeling just a little pang after all those years for having let Ginny go so easily. Jack and Eddie had known each other since the old days at Clintondale North Elementary and had been through thick and thin together (that “thin” usually revolved around girls, starting with Rosalind in the fifth grade who had eventually thrown them both over for a kid, Ricky Kelly, Jesus, wimpy Ricky Kelly, in the sixth grade). In high school they had drifted apart for a while when Eddie decided that since he was no student that he would take up automotive mechanics and Jack with two left hands pursued the college course. Drifted apart until come sixteen Eddie, who proved to be a an ace mechanic, a natural, had fixed up some old Hudson that he found in the junkyard and made it a “boss” (Jack adamantly refused to define that term “boss” for that candid world since some things are, or should be, self-evident). That vehicle had been a “fox” lure (girls, okay) all through high school for both young men, except those times when Eddie wanted to take his girl of the week to Adamsville Beach and wanted to use the back seat alone with said honey.  And then go to the Adventure Car Hop for a little something to eat before taking her home.

That all worked well enough in high school since neither young man had any serious relationships. Then after high school the workaday world hit Eddie and he took a job at Duggan Brothers Garage and Jack went off to the local college, Gloversville State, on a scholarship while continuing to live at home. One night when Jack was a sophomore at Gloversville he and Eddie, Eddie with the ’57 “boss” Chevy then, went to a rock and roll dance down in Hullsville arranged for those still under twenty-one and who could not legally drink (of course there was more booze than you could shake a stick at out in the parking lot which faced Hullsville Beach but that is a another story) and that is where Jack met Ginny, a former classmate whom he had not known in school because, well, because as she told him that night she did not then have anything to do with “corner boys,” so had met her, had talked to her, had danced with her and afterward they and Eddie and a girl he picked up at the dance, not Ellen, had gone to the Adventure Car Hop for the first time together to grab a bite to eat before going home. Strangely Ginny, although she grew up in Clintondale, had never been there before considering it nothing but a male “hang-out” scene (which at some level Jack admitted to her was true).

And so started the love affair between Jack and Ginny, although according to Jack the thing had many rocky moments from the start on the question of Jack, poor boy Jack, not having his own car, having to either double-date with Eddie, whom she did not like then, or worse, walk when Eddie had his back seat wanting habits on. And her carping at Jack for not wanting to quit college to get married and start a family right away (Ginny had not gone on to school after high school and went to work in Boston for John Hancock Insurance where she was moving up in the organization). And that went on for a while. Meanwhile Eddie had taken up with Ellen, whom he had not known in high school either, nor had Jack, because as she told Eddie “she was into football players with a future, not grease monkeys.” She saw the error of her ways when she had brought her car in for repairs and Eddie worked on the car, and on her. She was going to Adamsville Junior College right down the road but she saw something in Eddie, for a while. Then, although they all had double-dated together she “hit” on Sam one night, wound up going to bed with him a few weeks later down in Cape Cod, where she shared a cottage with six other college classmates for the summer, when Eddie had to go out of town for a couple of weeks to a GM training school and that was that.                      

Of course once the news got around, and in small city Clintondale that did not take long, especially with those summer roommates of hers, of Jack and Ellen to reach Ginny, and Eddie all bets were off. Ginny brushed Jack off with a solo telephone call to him in which she terminated their affair after about three sentences with a “I don’t want to discuss it further, I want to end this conversation,” yeah, the big brush-off. Ellen told Eddie that they were done and while he feigned being hurt about it the truth was that he had not been all that happy with her of late, thought she was drifting away from him when she decided against his protests to go in on that summer cottage. And so they parted, although Eddie was a little sore at Jack for a while, as usual when they mixed it up with their women. One day Eddie saw Ginny waiting for the bus, that damn Eastern Transport bus, one afternoon and took her on the “rebound” (although don’t expect him to use that word about or around Ginny, just don’t). Ginny, for her part, decided that Eddie wasn’t so bad after all, and he did have that “boss” car and when they talked about it one night after they had hit the silk sheets was not adverse to the idea of marriage. And so their thing went in the Clintondale night for a while. Let’s hone in on what Eddie and Ginny were up to that long ago night Jack talked about when he got the blues about the old days, okay.  

“Two hamburgers, all the trimmings, two fries, two Cokes, Sissy,” rasped half-whispering Eddie Connell to Adventure Car Hop number one primo car hop Sissy Jordan. Eddie and Sissy had known each other forever. Sissy had been Eddie’s girlfriend back in junior high days, back in eight-grade at Clintondale South Junior High when he learned a thing or two about girls, about girl charms and girl bewilderments. And Sissy had been his instructor, although like all such early bracings with the opposite sex there was as much misinformation and confusion as intimacy since nobody, no parent, no teacher, and no preacher was cluing any kids in, except some lame talk about the birds and the bees, kids’ stuff. Things, as happens all the time in teen love, had not worked out between them. Had not worked out as well because by ninth grade blossoming Sissy was to be found sitting in the front seat of senior football halfback Jimmy Jenkin’s two-toned souped-up Hudson and Sissy had no time for mere boys then. Such is life.   

For those who know not of Adventure Car Hop places or car hops here is a quick primer. These drive-in restaurants in the 1950s were of a piece, all glitter in the night (they lost a lot of allure seen passing by in the day and could have been any diner USA at those hours), all neon lights aglow that could be seen from a mile away as you headed out Route 3 from Clintondale Center, a small shopping area eventually replaced as the place to shop by the Gloversville Mall. The neon lights spelling out Adventure Car Hop super-imposed on an outline of a comely car hop also in neon meant, well, meant adventure, mystery, oh hell, sex. So any given Friday or Saturday night and in summer almost any night you would see the place packed with all kinds of youth cars in each striped slot. In summer the walkers, and almost every kid, girl or boy, had done the walk there before coming of car age could sit and eat their meals on the wooden picnic tables the management provided. In winter they could go inside and sit at the vinyl-cushioned booths and order their meals while listening to the latest hits on the jukebox. Or if single, and that was rare, there were swiveling red vinyl-topped stools to sit at. Sit at and view Mel, Lenny, or Benny (the owner) pulling short order cook duty behind a metallic counter and view as well, get an eyeful if you thought about it, of the really comely car hops doing their frenetic best to keep up with the orders (and since space was at a premium avoid bumping into each other with big orders of drinks on their trays). Really thought if you went from Bangor to LaJolla you would see the same basic set-up so you would never have to worry about a place to go at night at least anywhere in America where ill-disposed parents would not be found in those precincts. 

The Adventure Car Hop, the only such place in town and therefore a magnet for everybody from about twelve to twenty-something was (now long gone and the site of a small office park)  nothing but an old time drive-in restaurant where the car hop personally took your order from you while you were  sitting in your “boss” car. Hopefully boss car, although the lot the night Jack thought about how Eddie and Ginny graced the place had been filled with dads’ borrowed cars, strictly not boss, not boss at all.  Sitting with your “boss” girl (you had better have called her that or the next week she would be somebody else’s “boss” honey). And the place became a rite of passage for Jack’s youngest brother Sam several years later even though the family had moved to Adamsville by then.  That luscious car hop would return to you after, well, it depended on how busy it was, and just then around midnight this was Adventure Car Hop busy time, with your order on a tray which attached to your door. By the way families, parents alone without children, or anybody else over twenty-something either gave the place a wide berth or only went there during the day when no self-respecting young person, with or without a car or a date, would be seen dead there, certainly not to eat the food. Jesus no. 

Now Sissy, a little older then than most Clintondale car hops at twenty-two, had turned into nothing but a career waitress, a foxy one still, but a waitress which was all a car hop really was. Except most car hops at Adventure Car Hop were "slumming” through senior-hood at Clintondale High or were freshman at some local college and were just trying to make some extra money for this and that while being beautiful. Because, and there was no scientific proof for this, but none was needed, at Adventure Car Hop in the year 1959 every car hop had been a fox (that beautiful just mentioned), a double fox on some nights, in their red short shorts, tight white blouses, and funny-shaped red and white box hats. And Sissy topped the list. Here though is where Sissy made a wrong turn, made her a career waitress (and made Eddie feel sorry for her, or at least sorry for losing her instruction back in ninth grade to some damn old football player). She had let Jimmy Jenkins have his way with her too many times, too many unprotected times (again in the ignorance 1950s, in Clintondale at least, the fine points of contraception, or even cautious use of rubbers was a book sealed with seven seals mostly), and when she was a senior at Clintondale High back in 1955 (and Jimmy was up at State U playing football and also having off-hand quite ignorant sex with a few adoring college girlfriends on the side). So that year she had had to drop out of school to have a baby (Jack said they called it “gone to Aunt Ella’s” and once a girl was not seen for a while someone would use that term and that was all that was needed to be said, except the occasional sighing about a good girl gone wrong or scorn from the prissy girls who allegedly were saving “it” for marriage). But see Jimmy, caddish Jimmy, left Sissy in the lurch, would not marry her or provide for the child (what the hell he was a student, he had no dough even if he had been willing to do the honorable thing, which he was not) and so she never went back to finish up after that visit to Aunt Ella. She had latched onto the job at Adventure Car Hop to support her child since Benny could have cared less about her maternal status as long as she showed those long legs, those firm breasts, those ruby-red lips and those dazzling blue eyes to great effect in those shorts and tight blouse that kept the boys coming in, even the boys with dates. Yeah, so he could care less for as long as she could keep eyes turned her way. But the story, an old story in town since there were a couple of “role models,” Jenny and Delores working at Jimmy Jack’s Diner over on East Main who followed this career path after having children out of wedlock. And thus all the signs told that career waitress was to be Sissy’s fate, maybe not at that place but probably she would wind up at Jimmy Jack’s or some truck stop diner on the outside of town with a trying too hard too tight steam-sweated uniform, stubby pencil in her hair, a wad of gum in her mouth, still fending off, mostly fending off except when she got the urge or felt lonely for a man, lonesome trucker advances.          

But back to the 1959 be-bop night, the be-bop Friday or Saturday night when those car hops, those foxes, were magnets for every guy with a car, a boss one or a father’s car it did not matter but without girls filling the seats, especially the front seat, hoping against hope for a moment with one of those car hops. And for car guys with girls in those front seats looking to show off their girls, claiming they were foxier, while sneaking furtive glances toward the bustling car hops, even than the car hops, if that was possible, and it usually wasn’t. Although under no conditions let them know that if you wanted a date next week and not the freeze-out not home treatment. More importantly, to show off their “boss cars.” And playing, playing loudly for all within one hundred yards to hear, their souped-up car radio complexes, turned nightly in rock heaven’s WJDA, the radio station choice of everyone under the age of thirty.

As Jack honed in on that remembrance night on Eddie's super-duplex speaker combo The Dell-Vikings were singing their hit, Black Slacks, and some walkers were crooning along to the tune. Yes, if you can believe this, some guys and girls, some lame guys and girls, not junior high kids who couldn’t drive anyway but over sixteen high school students actually walked to the Adventure Car Hop to grab something to eat after the Clintondale Majestic Theater let out. They, of course, ate at the thoughtfully provided picnic tables although their orders were still taken by Sissy’s leggy brigade. Nicely served by those tip-hungry car hops just like real customers with a glimmer of nighttime social standing, although they were still nothing but lamos in the real night social order.
But, getting back to Eddie and Ginny, see Sissy would have known something that you and I would not have known, could not have known, just by the way Eddie placed his order as The Falcon’s doo wop serenade, Your So Fine, blared away from his radio in the fading night. Sissy knew because, being a fox she had had plenty of experience knowing the drive-in restaurant protocol after the battles had subsided down at Adamsville or Hullsville Beach “submarine watching” night, including with Eddie in the days, the junior high days when she and Eddie were nothing but lamo car-less walkers. And what she knew was that Eddie and Ginny, who had been nothing but a “stick” when Eddie and she were an item, a stick being a girl, a twelve or thirteen year old junior high school girl with no “shape,” unlike Sissy who did have a shape, although no question, no question even to Sissy Ginny had a shape now, not as good as hers but a shape good enough to keep Eddie snagged, had been "doing it” down at Hullsville Beach. Doing “it” after spending the early part of the evening at the Surf, the local rock dance hall for those over twenty-one (and where liquor was served). The tip-off: Eddie’s request for all the trimmings on his hamburgers. All the trimmings in this case being mustard, ketchup, pickles, lettuce, and here is the clincher, onions. Yes, Eddie and Ginny are done with love’s chores for the evening and can now revert to primal culinary needs without rancor, or concern.
Sissy had to laugh at how ritualized, although she would never have used such a word herself, may have not been up on her sociological jargon, to describe what was going on in the youthful night life in Clintondale (including the really just slightly older set like the clients of the Surf rock club, Eddie and Ginny, who had learned the ropes at Adventure Car Hop way back when). If a couple came early, say eight o’clock, they never ordered onions, no way, the night still held too much promise. The walkers, well, the walkers you couldn’t tell, especially the young walkers like she and Eddie in the old days, but usually they didn’t have enough sense to say “no onions.” And then there were the Eddies and Ginnys floating in around two, or three, in the morning, “done” (and the reader knows what “done” is now), starving, maybe a little drunk and ready to devour Benny’s (who was doing short order duty that night since Mel had called in sick, “rum” sick Benny called it) cardboard hamburgers, deep-fried, fat-saturated French fries, and diluted soda (known locally as tonic, go figure) as long as those burgers had onions, many onions on them. And as we turn off this scene to the strains of Johnny Ace crooning Pledging My Love on Eddie’s car radio competing just now with a car further over with The Elegants’ Little Star Sissy had just place the tray on Eddie’s side of the car and had brought his order and placed it on the tray, with all the trimmings.

Elvis Is Not In The House-Nor Is His Kin-Kevin Cosner’s “3000 Miles To Graceland” (2001)-A Film Review

Elvis Is Not In The House-Nor Is His Kin-Kevin Cosner’s “3000 Miles To Graceland” (2001)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Laura Perkins 

3000 Miles From Graceland, starring Kevin Cosner, Kurt Russell, Courtney Cox, 2001

I suppose that it will never happen even beyond the grave that a multitude of sins will not be laid at the door of the “King,” of Elvis, of Elvis Presley (those three designations reflecting the generational divide the first from those washed clean by the rising tide of rock and roll, now called classic rock and roll, lifted high on the Elvis tide by his generally acknowledged kingship of the genre, the second reflecting his latter day career as a garishly costumed Vegas lounge lizard act, sorry, for sweated mothers who never got over those hips swaying to and fro, and the third the clueless who need a last name to place him as some old fogy relic with wickedly silly sideburns and drawl plus swivel hips which their grandmothers still sweated over). When I was growing up, coming of age, meaning unlike for my long-time companion and fellow writer in this space Sam Lowell, not about going out to confront the great big raucous world but the more personal coming into young womanhood, getting “my friend,” my period Elvis meant in my household playing “the devil’s music,” making all the young women sweat, and not so young women too, making them think the “s-x” word (a term never ever expressed in that household. Yes, Elvis and those impossible swaggering hips making a young girl think who knows what thoughts and that hair and those songs which he seemed to be singing directly to me (whoever “me” was) was more than our proper mothers could handle without recourse to some strictures, and it was always mothers in such situations out on the farms in upstate New York where I grew up about twenty miles outside of Albany. Didn’t figure that the King would show up on television, on the freaking bland Ed Sullivan Show, and let the whole world know that Uncle Ed had given his blessing. Then he, the King, moved on to the Army, or died, or something like that and we, we young womanhood, moved on to the next crooner who was singing directly to the “me.”              

That was the King live but today in the film under review, 3000 Miles From Graceland, Graceland signifying the King’s homestead in Memphis and Holy Grail pilgrimage location even to this day for that clueless generation, he has to take the rap for “fronting” for a major armed robbery of one of the casinos in Vegas a town where last he dwelled on stage. The action centers on the seemingly endless fascination with his look, his image and his persona by a coterie of devotees, good and bad, at the annual Elvis impersonation festival which draws fervent crowds to worship once more at the shrine (and spent serious dough at the gambling tables).

So that is the draw that is the effect of the Elvis phenomenon, the storyline, the “skinny” as Sam says when reviewing films and I have picked up the term to announce a summary of the action for the readership to mull over when checking out older films. Before that though, since it struck me as funny, how I got this assignment in the first place. I had been complaining, complaining in the public prints, that I had to deal with current site manager Greg Green’s one time idea to reach a younger audience by reviewing every possible Marvel and DC  comic book super-hero come to the big screen in the universe. Although I was not alone in looking at the whole project with a very jaded eye I was one of the ones who complained in public and thereafter got a few better assignments (like a long sought after go at a Humphrey Bogart starring black and white film to gain some bragging rights with Sam who made a good career out of specializing in such fare).

Then “politics” came into play when Greg asked for a return of the favor asking me to review this film. He did not want Sam, really the natural choice for anything Elvis as far as music and growing up times in his old working class North Adamsville neighborhood went, to do it for he would get a long screed about that growing up scene and about two sentences on the film. Greg wanted a woman’s touch, a woman’s view, but also a woman who had been through the wringer with Elvis in her youth. With that “left-handed” compliment from Greg I agreed to do this one.       

Other than the Elvis/Graceland hook I knew nothing about this film except most of the actors so I was somewhat shocked by the gratuitous and seemingly non-stop violence displayed from almost the beginning of the film which was way over top even in modern day cinematic terms. Greg has made a point of stating publicly that he screens all the films before he makes his assignments (a trait he developed in his long years at American Film Gazette coming here). I am not so sure about that preview here, certainly why I would be picked to do this one which under other circumstances I wouldn’t touch in a million years.

Here goes. Murph, Kevin Cosner’s role, a serious cinematic psychopath if there ever was one and somebody to avoid like the plague on screen or in real life, and Michael, played by Kurt Russell both ex-cons are part of a six man team who are intent on robbing not a bank like the legendary bank robbery Willie Sutton is rumored to have said because “that is where the money is” but a high dollar casino in Vegas where the money also is when you think about it during Elvis Impersonation week. Nice idea, a one of a kind idea unlike that boring bank stuff that every hardened criminal takes a run at, so that the whole armed to the teeth crew has cover as Elvis impersonators like half the guys in town just then. The whole scheme actually works but here is where the over-the-top violence gets its first serious work-out. Unlike such cons as Danny Ocean (either the Frank Sinatra or George Clooney version will do) and his crowd of master criminal technicians worked out this one turned into an old Wild West shoot-out with murder and mayhem as much the loot part of the project. (One gets in the aftermath of the Vegas massacre of 2017 where a lone gunman wreaked havoc on the crowds a gruesome idea about the power of assault weapons to create horrible “killing fields” and I wonder if anybody short of an ardent NRA aficionado had a very queasy feeling like I had after this cinematic shoot-out.)         

The rest of the film essentially aside from the on-going violence at every turn even where it would not make sense except to an American pyscho like Murph (who also thought he was the long lost son of Elvis so you know how scarred he was by whatever life had passed his way) was done under the title of there being “no honor among thieves” (or as Sam would say in one of his reviews of those old time film noirs there is honor more in the breech than the observance). Once it got to be split the dough time Murph got ugly, wasted every one of his confederates (except the pilot who had gotten them out of the hell-hole casino). Or tried to. Michael sensing Murph’s, ah, instability donned a bullet-proof vest which saved him. From that point on it is strictly con against con to see who will get to keep the whole pile (some three million not bad even today for guys who seemed to be otherwise unemployable).        

Well maybe not strictly con against con because apparently even in a blood- bath saga Hollywood cannot resist evoking the “boy meets girl” story in some form. Before going off to battle the casino cash till with his erstwhile confederates Michael had met and bedded a fetching dish, Cybil with a “C,” played by very dishy Courtney Cox, and has tangled with her wayward young wannbe hoodlum son. As a single Mom she has her claws out once she knew that Michael had help pull the biggest heist she had ever heard of. That starts the merry-go-round (and the growing love interest between the bedmates and Michael’s growing paternal feeling toward that sullen youth) where who has the dough, who doesn’t have the dough and how to get it from the other might or main runs the chase (including an independent run by Cybil with a “C”) until the final war zone-like shoot-out (which reminded Sam of the fire-fights in Vietnam) between the coppers and Murph who goes down in a frenzied blaze of glory (with Michael on the side but unhurt by the action again due to that handy bullet-proof vest). A bit strangely since Michael has a fistful of criminal code violation on his own hook the love-bugs survive to live another day. This one may get the NRA’s seal of approval but in the light of the mass shootings since 2001 a thumbs down here. By the way Elvis should sue.     

From The Pages Of The Communist International- In Honor Of The Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Communist International (March 1919) -Desperately Seeking Revolutionary Intellectuals-Now- And Then

From The Pages Of The Communist International- In Honor Of The Anniversary Of The Founding Of The Communist International (March 1919) -Desperately Seeking Revolutionary Intellectuals-Now- And Then

Click below to link to the Communist International Internet Archives"

Frank Jackman comment from the American Left History blog (2007):



An underlying premise of the Lenin-led Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 was that success there would be the first episode in a world-wide socialist revolution. While a specific timetable was not placed on the order of the day the early Bolshevik leaders, principally Lenin and Trotsky, both assumed that those events would occur in the immediate post-World War I period, or shortly thereafter. Alas, such was not the case, although not from lack of trying on the part of an internationalist-minded section of the Bolshevik leadership.

Another underlying premise, developed by the Leninists as part of their opposition to the imperialist First World War, was the need for a new revolutionary labor international to replace the compromised and moribund Socialist International (also known as the Second International) which had turned out to be useless as an instrument for revolution or even of opposition to the European war. The Bolsheviks took that step after seizing power and established the Communist International (also known as the Comintern or Third International) in 1919. As part of the process of arming that international with a revolutionary strategy (and practice) Lenin produced this polemic to address certain confusions, some willful, that had arisen in the European left and also attempted to instill some of the hard-learned lessons of the Russian revolutionary experience in them.

The Russian Revolution, and after it the Comintern in the early heroic days, for the most part, drew the best and most militant layers of the working-class and radical intellectuals to their defense. However, that is not the same as drawing experienced Bolsheviks to that defense. Many militants were anti-parliamentarian or anti-electoral in principle after the sorry experiences with the European social democracy. Others wanted to emulate the old heroic days of the Bolshevik underground party or create a minority, exclusive conspiratorial party.

Still others wanted to abandon the reformist bureaucratically-led trade unions to their then current leaderships, and so on. Lenin’s polemic, and it nothing but a flat-out polemic against all kinds of misconceptions of the Bolshevik experience, cut across these erroneous ideas like a knife. His literary style may not appeal to today’s audience but the political message still has considerable application today. At the time that it was written no less a figure than James P. Cannon, a central leader of the American Communist Party, credited the pamphlet with straightening out that badly confused movement (Indeed, it seems every possible political problem Lenin argued against in that pamphlet had some following in the American Party-in triplicate!). That alone makes it worth a look at.

I would like to highlight one point made by Lenin that has currency for leftists today, particularly American leftists. At the time it was written many (most) of the communist organizations adhering to the Comintern were little more than propaganda groups (including the American party). Lenin suggested one of the ways to break out of that isolation was a tactic of critical support to the still large and influential social-democratic organizations at election time. In his apt expression- to support those organizations "like a rope supports a hanging man".

However, as part of my political experiences in America around election time I have run into any number of ‘socialists’ and ‘communists’ who have turned Lenin’s concept on its head. How? By arguing that militants needed to ‘critically support’ the Democratic Party (who else, right?) as an application of the Leninist criterion for critical support. No, a thousand times no. Lenin’s specific example was the reformist British Labor Party, a party at that time (and to a lesser extent today) solidly based on the trade unions- organizations of the working class and no other. The Democratic Party in America was then, is now, and will always be a capitalist party. Yes, the labor bureaucrats and ordinary workers support it, finance it, drool over it but in no way is it a labor party. That is the class difference which even sincere militants have broken their teeth on for at least the last seventy years. And that, dear reader, is another reason why it worthwhile to take a peek at this book.


Desperately Seeking Revolutionary Intellectuals-Now, And Then


No, this is not a Personals section ad, although it qualifies as a Help Wanted ad in a sense. On a number of occasions over past several years, in reviewing books especially those by James P. Cannon the founder of The Socialist Workers Party in America, I have mentioned that building off of the work of the classical Marxists, including that of Marx and Engels themselves, and later that of Lenin and Trotsky the critical problem before the international working class in the early part of the 20th century was the question of creating a revolutionary leadership to lead imminent uprisings. Armed with Lenin’s work on the theory of the imperialist nature of the epoch and the party question and Trotsky’s on the questions of permanent revolution and revolutionary timing the tasks for revolutionaries were more than adequately defined.

The conclusion that I drew from that observation was that the revolutionary socialist movement was not as desperately in need of theoreticians and intellectuals as previously (although having them is always a good thing). It needed leaders steeped in those theories and with a capacity to lead revolutions. We needed a few good day-to-day practical leaders to lead the fight for state power.

In that regard I have always held up, for the early part of the 20th century, the name Karl Liebknecht the martyred German Communist co-leader (along with Rosa Luxemburg) of the aborted Spartacist uprising of 1919 as such an example. In contrast the subsequent leadership of the German Communists in the 1920’s Paul Levi, Henrich Brandler and Ernest Thaelmann did not meet those qualifications. For later periods I have held up the name James P. Cannon, founder of the American Socialist Workers Party (to name only the organization that he was most closely associated with), as a model. That basically carries us to somewhere around the middle of the 20th century. Since I have spend a fair amount of time lately going back to try to draw the lessons of our movement I have also had occasion to think, or rather to rethink my original argument on the need for revolutionary intellectuals. That position stands in need of some amendment now.

Let’s be clear here about our needs. The traditional Marxist idea that in order to break the logjam impeding humankind’s development the international working class must rule is still on the historic agenda. The Leninist notions that, since the early part of the 20th century, we have been in the imperialist era and that a ‘hard’ cadre revolutionary party is necessary to take state power are also in play. Moreover, the Trotskyist understanding that in countries of belated development the working class is the only agency objectively capable of leading those societies to the tasks traditionally associated with the bourgeois revolution continues to hold true. That said, we are seriously in need of revolutionary intellectuals who can bring these understandings into the 21st century.

It is almost a political truism that each generation will find its own ways to cope with the political tasks that confront it. The international working class movement is no exception in that regard. Moreover, although the general outlines of Marxist theory mentioned above hold true such tasks as the updating of the theory of imperialism to take into account the qualitative leap in its globalization is necessary (as is, as an adjunct to that, the significance of the gigantic increases in the size of the ‘third world’ proletariat). Also in need of freshening up is work on the contours of revolutionary political organization in the age of high speed communications, the increased weight that non-working class specific questions play in world politics (the national question, religion, special racial and gender oppressions) and various other tasks that earlier generations had taken for granted or had not needed to consider. All this moreover has to be done in a political environment that sees Marxism, communism, even garden variety reform socialism as failed experiments. To address all the foregoing issues is where my call for a new crop of revolutionary intellectuals comes from.

Since the mid- 20th century we have had no lack of practical revolutionary leaders of one sort or another - one thinks of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and even Mao in his less rabid moments. We have witnessed any number of national liberation struggles, a few attempts at political revolution against Stalinism, a few military victories against imperialism, notably the Vietnamese struggle. But mainly this has been an epoch of defeats for the international working class. Moreover, we have not even come close to developing theoretical leaders of the statue of Lenin or Trotsky.

As a case in point, recently I made some commentary about the theory of student power in the 1960’s and its eventual refutation by the May 1968 General Strike lead by the working class in France. One of the leading lights for the idea that students were the ‘new’ working class or a ‘new’ vanguard was one Ernest Mandel. Mandel held himself out to be an orthodox Marxist (and Trotskyist, to boot) but that did not stop him from, periodically, perhaps daily, changing the focus of his work away from the idea of the centrality of the working class in social struggle an ideas that goes back to the days of Marx himself.

And Mandel, a brilliant well-spoken erudite scholar probably was not the worst of the lot. The problem is that he was the problem with his impressionistic theories based on , frankly, opportunistic impulses. Another example, from that same period, was the idea of Professor Regis Debray ( in the service of Fidel at the time ) that guerrilla foci out in the hills were the way forward ( a codification of the experience of the Cuban Revolution for which many subjective revolutionary paid dearly with their lives). Or the anti-Marxist Maoist notion that the countryside would defeat the cities that flamed the imagination of many Western radicals in the late 1960’s. I could go on with more examples but they only lead to one conclusion- we are, among other things, in a theoretical trough. This, my friends, is why today I have my Help Wanted sign out. Any takers?