Wednesday, March 25, 2020

From The 1930s-1940s Golden Age Of Screwball Comedy-Rosalind Russell’s My Sister Eileen” (1942)- A Film Review

From The 1930s-1940s Golden Age Of Screwball Comedy-Rosalind Russell’s My Sister Eileen” (1942)- A Film Review

DVD Review

By Laura Perkins

My Sister Eileen, starring Rosalind Russell, Janet Blair, 1942

I like to listen to my own drummer when I am thinking through “the hook” for any film review I do (probably with any piece of public writing come to think of it). But once in a while some advice my long-time companion and now occasional writer since his retirement in this publication Sam Lowell filters through. Sam who over a long career made something of a specialty out of reviewing black and white films from the 1930s and 1940s (as a result of a youth spent watching this fare in a local retrospective theater in his hometown on angry Saturday afternoons) has always worked under the principal that even the flimsiest production from this era can produce at least a “slice of life” highlighting the times angle when all else fails. Good advice even for the better productions as here with this film under review directed by Alexander Hall and starring Rosalind Russell as Ruth one of the two leading characters in this classic golden age screwball comedy My Sister Eileen.     

So here’s the slice of life of the times angle. Two sisters, the aforementioned Ruth and the Eileen of the title, played by Janet Blair, are for their own reasons ready to break out of some Podunk small town a too small for big dreams town out in the heartland, out in Ohio. The first “hook” is that we are dealing with two women seeking professional careers the former as a writer the later as stage actress. That in itself is worthy of comment in marriage and little white house with picket fence women big dreams times (and maybe a fair part of the female audiences which Sam told me one time made up the majority of the movie population especially during World War II).

The more interesting part though is a look at the dynamics between the two sisters, especially how they will navigate in the world. Ruth, although hardly an ugly duckling is the serious intellectual type (if ironically funny as befits a screwball comedy) is not the kind of gal a whole bunch of guys then, maybe now too, would do a double take over. Eileen is the flirtatious, naïve, beauty of the family who guys will trip over themselves to check out and give it a shot. My wonder is off of this form beyond the entertainment value of the screwball comedy aspect whether such a film could be produced with that stark contrast and feminine competition in mind.

The two sisters in any case see eye to eye that they need to blow that small town and head well where else would budding writers and actresses head but New York City then and still the cultural heart and soul of America. While Ruth may be a step-up over Sis in the naïveté contest and more of a pure go-getting on the merits of her skills she has plenty of hayseed around the edges. The whole caper depends on the place in the big city given their cash flow where they land an apartment, which turns out to be a basement apartment which today might be seen as a golden dream but then was strictly from nowhere which a holy goof of a landlord cons them into renting (“holy goof” Frank Jackman’s term via Jack Kerouac which I feel free to steal every once in a while where it applies). The place winds up being a waystation for a rogue’s gallery of guys and other strays (the guys mostly courtesy of Eileen and her beauty/gullibility) with a whole rafter of slapstick some of it still funny but the rest a relic of the period.

Not to worry, remember this is a comedy, a slightly romantic comedy where even Ruth catches a guy, a magazine editor to boot, as the pair of sisters go through their paces adjusting to New York and working their ways up their respective food chains. But the whole caper was a close thing since their father rushing to the city to save his woe begotten daughters almost forces them to go back to small dream Ohio. The saving grace is that Ruth gets her short stories published in that magazine the editor works for and Eileen well she will work her charms with the publisher of that magazine who has a ton of contacts on old Broadway. Yeah, now that I think about it they couldn’t make one like this now but that’s my “hook” anyway.      

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

We’ve Got To Get Back To The Garden-Serpents And All-Dennis Covington’s ‘Salvation On Sand Mountain: Snake Handling And Redemption In Southern Appalachia” (1995)-A Book Review-Of Sorts

We’ve Got To Get Back To The Garden-Serpents And All-Dennis Covington’s ‘Salvation On Sand Mountain: Snake Handling And Redemption In Southern Appalachia” (1995)-A Book Review-Of Sorts

Book Review

By Bart Webber

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handing and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, Dennis Covington, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1995 
Josh Breslin had always been the running kind. Not the running kind in the famous country song by the late Merle Haggard The Running Kind where the unnamed narrator is ready to hightail it out some forlorn lonesome door at the first sign that he might have to settle down to some nine to five straitjacket life. Not for him. Nor is it that great American restlessness that physically drove plenty of forebears to run from the “civilized” East to seek fame and fortune or beat the law out to the great American blue-pink night West in the 19th century before Professor Turner’s frontier hit its limits, closed down on some Pacific Ocean splash. Josh Breslin until very recently had been running away from his past, from his heritage, from his what shall we call them-roots. From what made him tick for good or bad when the deal went down.         

Josh had for most of his life after he actually escaped his growing up home (the word he used when talking about this subject to his friend Lenny Lynch one night over drinks at Fisherman’s Wharf in York, Maine), house in the working class Five Corners section, the mill town factory section, of Olde Saco further up the road in Maine hard by the Sacco River maintained a studied ignorance of his roots, of where his people had come from. Really his father Prescott’s people since he could have hardly missed the French-Canadian roots on his mother’s nee LeBlanc side (and that of half the town) since she had come down from Quebec with his maternal grandparents and a whole shew of relatives from grand aunts and uncles on down.

Yes that father’s people question was buried deep in Josh’s  psyche to remained undisturbed until his was in his early 60s  when maybe taking some early accounting of his life he felt that he had a corner or two of his heart missing. Not that the taciturn Prescott ever really broached the subject, never brought in up at least in his presence that he recalled. (As it turned out when he did begin to research his roots his oldest brother Paul was a fountain of information since Prescott in the few times he felt expansive would confide in the eldest son.)

A few things kind of pushed Josh in that direction beyond that summing up process. He had gone back to the old town after an absence of many years when he had reconnected with an old high school friend Rene Dubois on Facebook and Rene had invited him up for a few days. During that stay Rene’s wife, Anne, had mentioned over dinner something about his father that stopped him in his tracks a bit when the subject came up about the fates of various relatives. His father had passed away in the mid-1980s after spending most of his adult life in Olde Saco, working in the mills before they headed South (and then off-shore) in search of cheaper labor and then whatever jobs an uneducated man could scrape up from what was left.

What Anne had mentioned that night at dinner was that Prescott had never really been accepted by the Five Corners people, by the hordes of French-Canadian transplants who worked the mills with him including Josh’s mother’s relatives. His father had been shunned and made fun of for his soft Southern accent (which Josh never really noticed). Apparently, later confirmed by Paul, his Kentucky birth, his not being a Roman Catholic in the days when that counted in the Five Corners section, and most of all not being French-Canadian (Quebecois now) were held against him. Josh was shocked since he believed that Prescott whatever else he was had been respected as a hard worker and under the circumstances a good provider for his family given what he had to offer.

That started Josh in a tailspin, started him thinking more seriously about what the hell he had grown up in, what his poor benighted father had to endure and maybe explain a little why he had never been interested before in his roots. Not so unnaturally, given that Josh has spent almost all his adult life writing for various publications small and large, mostly specialty journals and small press publications, his other impetuses were from books. One from re-reading a book by Michael Harrington written in the early 1960s and said to be a book that President Kennedy had taken as a signpost for eliminating poverty in America, The Other America. Re-reading that book brought back a painful memory from high school which Josh had also kind of suppressed since then.

The Harrington book centered on rural poverty among whites (what were called “white trash” in some quarters) in the hills and hollows of Appalachia. Mentioned by name the town in Kentucky, Hazard, that his father had been born and grew up in and that was one of the most severely depressed and forsaken areas in the region with all the pathologies inherent in poverty running full force. That brought on a remembrance of the time in high school that the headmaster around Thanksgiving time had come on the P.A and announced that the school was sponsoring a food and clothing drive for the impoverished citizens of Hazard. He had turned about twenty shades of red because the whole class knew that his father was from that town. He had left school early that day he was so embarrassed.                   

The other book that got him thinking about his father’s roots, his roots and how they had affected the course of his life was a strange book about fundamentalist religious people down in the rural South, down in Appalachia who practiced snake-handling as part of their religious observance-as part of their acceptance of the strange ways of their savior Jesus Christ. (They also practiced speaking in tongues and the laying on of hands.) The book Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handing and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by writer Dennis Covington hit a nerve in a couple of ways. Mr. Covington too was, as a result of his exposure to snake-handling when he was on an assignment, thinking hard about his roots, about his own people’s from Appalachia’s relationship to these exotic practices.

The other was a direct reference in the book to Hazard, to people in that area into religious snake-handling as part of their bid for salvation, his people, his father’s people who knows. That really hit home when Josh’s brother Paul mentioned that before Josh was born Prescott and their mother Delores had taken him down to Hazard to see if things could work out there, see if there was work for uneducated ex-soldier. Paul wasn’t sure of the reasons but things didn’t work out, their mother either didn’t like the set-up or was homesick. This was the kicker though when Paul and Josh worked the numbers. The numbers worked out that Josh had been conceived down in Hazard. The both laughed when Paul mentioned that Josh has those hills and hollows in his DNA.     

The book made him wonder though, wonder without any proof one way or the other, whether Prescott had known or delved into the practice of snake-handling as part of his growing up religious practice. But that was sort of secondary since his father (or Paul when he asked) never mentioned anything like that when he was growing up. Mainly Josh knew that Prescott was not a Roman Catholic and not much else. Had agreed to raise his kids in the Roman religion (there would have been hell to pay if he had not in Catholic-dominated Five Corners). Knew now that Prescott had paid a price for being different, for being from a very different people and that got Josh speculating on what those people were like-and how they had marked him. Had marked him without his every having met any of his father’s people. None from grandparents down to siblings.                     

Mr. Covington was much closer to getting some concrete results in seeking his roots having grown up in the South, having been able to trace certain parts of the family, or at least family residences which coincided with “burnt over” snake-handling observance territory at some point in the 20th century. Got so involved in the people that he was covering, his “people” despite his very different professional path and despite his academic writing background, that he took the leap and did some snake handling himself. But Josh thought that was very different from what he wanted to think through since part of Mr. Covington’s search involved a quest for spiritual, if not religious, meaning in his own life. Josh just wanted to know if those traits, those staying very close to his recent roots inherited from his father (which he never acknowledged when Prescott was alive) were in his DNA.          
He wondered what isolated in the boondocks existence led people to carve out a very precise way in which they took their religion, took their Jesus Christ as their exemplar. Didn’t know much of the outside world but knew their Bible front and back. Knew enough that they would be tempted by the serpents (those snakes anyway) in order to get back to the Garden, get out of exile East of Eden. What degree of faith permitted snake-bitten men and women to trust in something enough that they would not seek medical help but “trust in the Lord.” They might not if met be his people, people he could talk to but they certainly were his “people.” He would have to thank Mr. Covington for pushing him on some unknown path back to those etched roots.

March Is Women’s History Month-Honor Communist Leader Rosa Luxemburg- The Rose Of The Revolution

Click on the headline to link to the Rosa Luxemburg Internet Archives.

March Is Women’s History Month

Markin comment:

Usually I place the name of the martyred Polish communist revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg, in her correct place of honor along with Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht when we of the leftist international working class movement honor our historic leaders each January. This year I have decided to, additionally, honor the Rose of the Revolution during Women’s History Month because, although in life she never fought on any woman-limited basis in the class struggle, right this minute we are in need, desperate need of models for today’s women and men to look to. Can there be any better choice? To ask the question is to give the answer. All honor to the memory of the Rose of the Revolution- Rosa Luxemburg.
Honor The Three L's-From The Pen Of Rosa Luxemburg -A Call to the Workers of the World (November 1919)

Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht,
Klara Zetkin and Franz Mehring
A Call to the Workers of the World
(November 1919)

Written: Late November, 1918.
First Published: Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag), November 25, 1918.
Translated: (from the German) by A. Lehrer.
Transcription/Markup: A. Lehrer/Brian Baggins.
Copyleft: Luxemburg Internet Archive ( 2002, 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

PROLETARIANS! Men and Women of Labor! Comrades!

The revolution in Germany has come! The masses of the soldiers who for years were driven to slaughter for the sake of capitalistic profits; the masses of workers, who for four years were exploited, crushed, and starved, have revolted. Prussian militarism, that fearful tool of oppression, that scourge of humanity – lies broken on the ground. Its most noticeable representatives, and therewith the most noticeable of those guilty of this war, the Kaiser and the Crown Prince, have fled from the country. Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils have been formed everywhere.

Workers of all countries, we do not say that in Germany all power actually lies in the hands of the working people, that the complete triumph of the proletarian revolution has already been attained. There still sit in the government all those Socialists who in August, 1914, abandoned our most precious possession, the International, who for four years betrayed the German working class and the International.

But, workers of all countries, now the German proletarian himself speaks to you. We believe we have the right to appear before your forum in his name. From the first day of this war we endeavored to do our international duty by fighting that criminal government with all our power and branding it as the one really guilty of the war.

Now at this moment we are justified before history, before the International and before the German proletariat. The masses agree with us enthusiastically, constantly widening circles of the proletariat share the conviction that the hour has struck for a settlement with capitalistic class rule.

But this great task cannot be accomplished by the German proletariat alone; it can only fight and triumph by appealing to the solidarity of the proletarians of the whole world.

Comrades of the belligerent countries, we are aware of your situation. We know full well that your governments, now that they have won the victory, are dazzling the eyes of many strata of the people with the external brilliancy of their triumph. We know that they thus succeed through the success of the murdering in making its causes and aims forgotten.

But we also know that in your countries the proletariat made the most fearful sacrifices of flesh and blood, that it is weary of the dreadful butchery, that the proletarian is now returning to his home, and is finding want and misery there, while fortunes amounting to billions are heaped up in the hands of a few capitalists. He has recognized, and will continue to recognize, that your governments, too, have carried on the war for the sake of the big money bags. And he will further perceive that your governments, when they spoke of “justice and civilization” and of the “protection of small nations,” meant capitalist profits as surely as did ours when it talked about the “defence of home”; and that the peace of “justice” and of the “League of Nations” are but a part of the same base brigand that produced the peace of Brest-Litovsk. Here as well as there the same shameless lust for booty, the same desire for oppression, the same determination to exploit to the limit the brutal preponderance of murderous steel.

The Imperialism of all countries knows no “understanding,” it knows only one right – capital’s profits: it knows only one language – the sword: it knows only one method – violence. And if it is now talking in all countries, in yours as well ours, about the “League of Nations,” “disarmament,” “rights of small nations,” “self-determination of the peoples,” it is merely using the customary lying phrases of the rulers for the purpose of lulling to sleep the watchfulness of the proletariat.

Proletarians of all countries! This must be the last war! We owe that to the twelve million murdered victims, we owe that to our children, we owe that to humanity.

Europe has been ruined by this damnable slaughter. Twelve million bodies cover the grewsome scenes of this imperialistic crime. The flower of youth and the best man power of the peoples have been mowed down. Uncounted productive forces have been annihilated. Humanity is almost ready to bleed to death from the unexampled blood-letting of history. Victors and vanquished stand at the edge of the abyss. Humanity is threatened with famine, a stoppage of the entire mechanism of production, plagues, and degeneration.

The great criminals of this fearful anarchy, of this unchained chaos – the ruling classes – are not able to control their own creation. The beast of capital that conjured up the hell of the world war is incapable of banishing it, of restoring real order, of insuring bread and work, peace and civilization, justice and liberty, to tortured humanity.

What is being prepared by the ruling classes as peace and justice is only a new work of brutal force from which the hydra of oppression, hatred and fresh bloody wars raises its thousand heads.

Socialism alone is in a position to complete the great work of permanent peace, to heal the thousand wounds from which humanity is bleeding, to transform the plains of Europe, trampled down by the passage of the apocryphal horseman of war, into blossoming gardens, to conjure up ten productive forces for every one destroyed, to awaken all the physical and moral energies of humanity, and to replace hatred and dissension with internal solidarity, harmony, and respect for every human being.

If representatives of the proletarians of all countries could but clasp hands under the banner of Socialism for the purpose of making peace, then peace would be concluded in a few hours. Then there will be no disputed questions about the left bank of the Rhine, Mesopotamia, Egypt or colonies. Then there will be only one people: the toiling human beings of all races and tongues. Then there will be only one right: the equality of all men. Then there will be only one aim: prosperity and progress for everybody.

Humanity is facing the alternative: Dissolution and downfall in capitalist anarchy, or regeneration through the social revolution. The hour of fate has struck. If you believe in Socialism, it is now time to show it by deeds. If you are Socialists, now is the time to act.

Proletarians of all countries, if we now summon you for a common struggle it is not done for the sake of the German capitalists who, under the label of “German nation,” are trying to escape the consequences of their own crimes: it is being done for your sake as well as for ours. Remember that your victorious capitalists stand ready to suppress in blood our revolution, which they fear as they do their own. You yourselves have not become any freer through the “victory,” you have only become still more enslaved. If your ruling classes succeed in throttling the proletarian revolution in Germany, and in Russia, then they will turn against you with redoubled violence. Your capitalists hope that victory over us and over revolutionary Russia will give them the power to scourge you with a whip of scorpions.

Therefore the proletariat of Germany looks toward you in this hour. Germany is pregnant with the social revolution, but Socialism can only be realized by the proletariat of the world.

And therefore, we call to you: “Arise for the struggle! Arise for action! The time for empty manifestos, platonic resolutions, and high-sounding words is gone! The hour of action has struck for the International!” We ask you to elect Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils everywhere that will seize political power, and together with us, will restore peace.

Not Lloyd George and Poincare, not Sonnino, Wilson, and Ersberger or Scheidemann, must be allowed to make peace. Peace most he concluded under the waving banner of the Socialist world revolution.

Proletarians of all countries! We call upon you to complete the work of Socialist liberation, to give a human aspect to the disfigured world and to make true those words with which we often greeted each other in the old days and which we sang as we parted: “And the Internationale shall be the human race”.

Monday, March 23, 2020

I Accuse-Unmasking The Sherlock Holmes Legend, Part VIII-“Bumbling Down The Primrose Lane”-Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s “The Woman In Green” (1945)-A Film Review

I Accuse-Unmasking The Sherlock Holmes Legend, Part VIII-“Bumbling Down The Primrose Lane”-Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s “The Woman In Green” (1945)-A Film Review

DVD Review 

By Bruce Conan

The Woman In Green, starring Lanny Lamont (aka Basil Rathbone aka Sherlock Holmes, aka a million other aliases to be discussed below), the Fixer man (aka John Watson, MD, aka John Watkins, aka Nigel Bruce also to be discussed below), 1945   

Okay no more Mister Nice Guy, no more trying to be reasonable with these felons, miscreants, dopesters, grifters, grafters, con men, whores, pimps and murderers of the nefarious group the Baker Street Irregulars who work out of London town as far as I know but who seemingly have tentacles all over the world, or at least to the United States where they have attempted to hunt me down. Apparently they have something of a central committee, or organizing center, the notorious Kit Kat Club a known hang-out for degenerates and riff-raff of all sorts who people the tables at the place and have ever since King George III’s day. Now that my family is finally safe and beyond the reach of these craven fiends I can take off the kid gloves, can reveal what everybody knows by now and which these Irregulars fear to become public knowledge. Their idol Lanny Lamont (really their idle if you think about how little detective work he actually did once he turned over the hard dirty work to the real if corrupt coppers at Scotland Yard) aka Basil Rathbone aka Sherlock Holmes is an impostor, nothing but a parlor pink amateur sleuth that even Agatha Christie laughed at without embarrassment. Him and his buddy Doc Watson aka Doc Fixer Man were a great deal more than roommates, were the stately queens of England if you get my drift.

I have been chastised, berated, called a political Neanderthal, a homophobe and that is just the nice things by what I can only consider is a slander/libel campaign run by the Irregulars to dismiss me and my fact-driven contentions. That alone tells me I am on to something since this Irregular cohort is made up of those who are the most degenerate devotees of the Lamont legend, those who are into unspeakable blood rituals in order to sate their unholy desires (as is standard operating procedure now that I have uncovered his real identity after great efforts refuse to call him anything but his given name Lanny Lamont born in the West End slums of London to an unwed mother who attempted to abandon him at birth).

I have decided in any case to take on the legend hereafter strictly on the basis of competence, of ability to do private detection and will leave out further reference to the unholy and then scandalous relationship, the “sin that dare not speak its name” between these two, ah, roommates. That means that I will give up all the proof I directly gathered from the archival journals of the Kit Kat Club that they were members in good standing of that hell-hole nefarious operation and almost bankrupted the place with their fiendish opium habits and their unbridled unnatural lusts. So be it.   

Finding the real name, that Lanny Lamont name on the birth certificate though I cannot give up since that really is the initial lynchpin for what seemed totally wrong from the beginning about this brittle character who went by a million names (Basil Rathbone, like that moniker could be a real name be serious, Lytton Strachey, Sailor Jack when he was plying the trade among the rough waterfront sailors, Benny Worth, Harry Smyth, not Smith, and a half dozen others). Claimed to be a private detective. I looked up the International Private Detection Association membership lists and the London private detective licensing lists from the 1920s to the 1950s. No Lanny Lamont or any of the other aliases, nothing. I did find a Lanny Lamont who served time in Dartmoor Prison in the 1930s for drug trafficking, assault, carrying a concealed weapon and a raft of other minor charges. (Also made the connection of how Lanny and Fixer Man met, by the way the only other name I found on him was John Watkins, having met in Dartmoor when he was serving a long stretch for practicing medicine without a license, performing illegal abortions, selling illegal drugs, and sodomy.) The clincher though was a thorough run through all the London telephone directories for those years (a task that will be harder to do with all the singular cellphone use now and in the future).Yeah you guessed it no Lanny or any other name. Nowhere. And certainly not on Baker Street his, their last known address. An old lady had lived in his claimed residence by herself since her husband died during most of that time.                

I could go on with all the lies and deceit but I said that I would take Lanny on his own ground, take him apart as a parlor pink amateur detective that a kid like Jimmy Olson who is just starting could beat six ways to Sunday on a case and have time for lunch and a nap. Take this Women in Green case where this fraud tried to take down heroic Professor Moriarty, tried to pin the so-called ‘finger” murders on that much maligned man. First off Lanny and Fixer Man were so stoned out of their gourds for weeks at a time that they did not know thing number one about the “finger” murder spree until it had grabbed four young innocent random women in its net. Sat around swilling booze when he could have nailed somebody for the job pretty quickly even if he had to fake the evidence. Pin it naturally on a woman and just as naturally a good looking blonde who looked like she liked to get under the silky sheets without too much effort. Of course Lanny could have cared less about running that route but he just let the bodies pile up like a cord of wood until he got done with his high.

While every detective private or public, was on this case to protect womanhood if nothing else Lanny waited for the daughter of one of the guys who thought he had murdered a young woman to show up at his door. Had the tell-tale surgically sawed off finger in a box in his pocket. Five down, make it six when that guy took the fall. That woke Lanny up a little, not Fixer Man though he persisted on a landudum high until Lanny was in danger of falling of a roof and then he started crying for his man. After what seemed like six months Lanny finally had an idea-finally figured that somebody was manipulating the killers somehow-although how was a book sealed with seven seals. Then one of the guys who was sent to kill Fixer Man (it was probably a busted drug deal but the case went into cold case history and was never solved) screwed up and Lanny finally caught on. The guys were hypnotized and the “finger” in the box in their pockets was to blackmail them when they couldn’t figure out whether they had killed the young woman that belonged to the finger or not.

Naturally Lanny’s number one suspect was much put upon Professor Moriarty since they were sworn enemies since Kit Kat Club days when the good Professor “took” some guy away from Lanny according to an old-time reprobate member who remembers those battles for the young guys which were fierce. Lanny confronted the Professor but he blew Lanny off with the suggestion that he will take the Fixer Man away from him. Lanny in terror backs off. The long and short of it is that Lanny never really was able to pin the murders on the Professor who had an alibi any way that he had been in Scotland. Here is what Lanny never figured, never thought through. What about the blonde dish, what about maybe she had something to do with it. She had after all been seen right in the Pembroke Club with the last murderer where he was sucking up scotches. Not until the bodies were sky high did he take a run in that direction. And didn’t, I repeat didn’t, like any red-blooded private detective from the 1940s take a run at her under the sheets before turning her over. Let Scotland Yard take the tough collar while he pranced around in exotic drug high. Yeah, a fake and fraud. Where is Sam Spade when you need him.       

The So-Called Unmasking Of The Sherlock Holmes Legend, Part IX-Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s “Dressed To Kill” (1946)-A Film Review

The So-Called Unmasking Of The Sherlock Holmes Legend, Part IX-Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce’s “Dressed To Kill” (1946)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Seth Garth

Sherlock Holmes: Dressed To Kill, starring Basil Rathbone which is the well-known screen name for the actor who played Holmes in this British series, Nigel Bruce who did have his medical license suspended for a time for prescribing too many opium-laced drugs but who was given a suspended sentence and never saw the inside of Dartmoor Prison unlike the congenital thief in this film, 1946   

[I have mentioned more times than I care to remember that not everybody who starts out in the film review, film criticism if you have an academic bent and want to upscale the profession, makes it to the end. The profession eats its own, has more treachery per square inch that the denizens of academy with all their conferences and learned papers and incessant back-biting ever thought off. A professor, let’s say a professor of cinematic studies, would last about two minutes in this dog eat dog business. That is why a lot of them spent their two minutes and then headed fast to the groves of academia.

Like I was telling somebody recently in dealing with a bunch of fellow reviewers who work at this publication it was a lot easier in the old days when the studios would pass out their so-called press releases. You just rewrote from there or if you were drunk and hungover just signed your name on top either way mercifully you did not have to actually watch the stinker. Which many of them, too many to count, were. (My estimate of the ratio is that about one in ten even rates a review and that might be too high of late.)  

All this intro talk to say that something has happened to Bruce Conan, or whatever name he was using in this Sherlock Holmes debunking mania he got himself caught up in. The last review of his I had seen maybe Part Four (I think I saw that his last one was Part VIII Greg Green supplied the Part IX in the title so assume I was correct) he was using the name Danny Moriarty so it could have been any name-except his real one which I will not divulge out of fear for his safety or his wrath if he resurfaces anytime soon.    

When I say the vague “something has happened to Bruce” that is exactly what I mean. He did not show up at the Ed Board meeting last week to turn in and have his latest review worked over. Greg Green asked me to pinch-hit for him. All I know is that Bruce was setting himself a very tall task trying to bump old Sherlock Holmes down a peg or two. How many times have I, you, we uttered “elementary, my dear Watson” to some rattled-brained holy goof who was clueless about everything including which was his or her left hand. Yes, a tough task indeed. I think the job might very well have driven him over the edge, he was certainly kind of paranoid when I would ask him how his crusade was going. Didn’t want to talk about it much and although he said he trusted me what about the “others” they could be working for those “damn Irregulars” (his term). 

Before the reader goes off the deep end along with Bruce in conspiracy theory speculation I very much doubt that the crew known as the Baker Street Irregulars according to him but who I found out after a little investigation is actually called the Sherlock Holmes Preservation Society (SHPS) had anything to do with his disappearance. The SHPS is NOT a group of nefarious criminals, pimps, whores and dope fiends but well-respected Holmes (and Conan Doyle) scholars. They are very perturbed I guess would be the word that Bruce has denigrated Holmes and Watson as bullshit amateur parlor pink private detectives. Incensed that he had “outed” them from their homosexual closets, something that a spokesperson told me the Society was well aware of but was keeping private out of respect for their respective relatives and for the hard fact that it was irrelevant to their adventures in sleuthing. But that spokesperson also assured me that they would take care of Bruce in the public prints not in some dark alley like they were agents of the dastardly Professor Moriarty or like in the old days a group of Stalinist thugs. I believe them because I think now that I am armed with that information poor Bruce got caught up in something that was too big for him, something that drove him over the edge.    
That is where the treachery of the business comes into play. As some readers may know there was a big internal power struggle inside this publication last year which resulted in a dramatic change of site leadership and the addition of a watchdog Editorial Board. The new leadership wanted livelier coverage of, well, of everything from politics, culture to reviews and that after the rather lax atmosphere toward the end of the last regime’s time meant to get a bit more edgy. One form of that edgy feel I am very familiar with and may be the reason that I was assigned this review is a continuing “battle” between two reviewers here over who is more representative of the 007 James Bond cinematic character Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan. Another manifestation is old time reviewer Sam Lowell’s reported change of heart about the virtues of Bette Davis as an actress from Oscar-worthy to nothing but a repetitive same old untamed shrew and hack actress.

I think fellow film reviewer Laura Perkins was on to something when she mentioned in that Bette Davis business that the “boys” were trying to one up each other like in the old neighborhood where some of them grew up (even if not the same neighborhood the same ethos, mostly working class). What I called, not her, please, a “pissing contest.” Bruce a less stable character than the ones that I have mentioned got himself up in lather as well when he decided to pick on poor misbegotten Holmes. That unseen pressure and the yardstick that he used to declare who was a real private detective from the 1930s and 1940s got him in too deep. His standard, a good one but hardly universal, for a private eye were guys like Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe two tough as nails guys who weren’t afraid to throw a punch, take a slug, take a few whiskey shots from the bottom of a hacked up desk drawer and bed an off-hand dangerous femme before hand-delivering the villains personally to the clueless public coppers. Of course the bloodless Holmes and the hapless and laughable Watson pale by comparison but that was hardly after all this time a reason to go on the warpath.          

A few examples should close this introduction out until we find out the fate of insecure and frantic Mr. Conan. He was on fairly safe grounds when he left his “critique” of Sherlock (whom he called Lanny Lamont after a while which I will get to in a minute) when he noted that the guy couldn’t hit the side of a barn with a gun, let the bodies pile up sky high before his vaunted deductive reasoning kicked in and when he let the public coppers grab the bad guys instead of handling the task himself. (Bruce went crazy and maybe rightly so when Holmes let some innocent fourteen year old girl get wasted for no reason except his own sloth.) Where he went off the track was when he started “investigating” Holmes’ background, started looking at records and such which led him into that Baker Street Irregular trap.         

First off was the not really surprising fact that Sherlock Holmes was not his real name, nor was Basil Rathbone a name he used on occasion to keep the bad guys guessing. Bruce claimed to uncover proof that the guy’s real name was Lanny Lamont who was born in the slums of the West End of London of an unwed mother who shunted him off to a charity orphanage. This is where Bruce really started breaking down. The first crack may have been his “discovery” that nobody named Holmes had ever lived on Baker Street in London. That suspicious fact led him astray though. See everybody in London knew that Holmes was an alias but also knew that his real name was Lytton Strachey, a gentleman born and bred. Bruce was so crazed to “get the goods” that he traced the trail the wrong way working on that Rathbone lead. Tough break.        

The worst thing though and here I agree with the Sherlock Holmes Preservation Society’s take on the matter even if as was obvious to even the most naïve Holmes and Watson were more than just roommates, were homosexual lovers, today gay, in a time that was socially and legally dangerous what of it. Pulling this rather cold and unattractive pair out of the closet just because they didn’t take a run as Sam did with Brigid or Phillip with some thumb-sucking Candy and a few other dishes in their professional work. Strangely as well since he admitted openly that if this was the situation today nobody, including him, would think anything of it. Would yawn it off. I know Greg Green and a couple of others were concerned with the allegations and worried about law suits from their respective estates. Worried too about image having taken early stands in favor of gay rights and self-sex marriage. Bruce can sort it out if and when he surfaces. For now here is a straight review of Sherlock Holmes: Dress to Kill without conspiracy theories and Irregular goblins.  

Willie Sutton the legendary bank robbery cowboy angel rides was often quoted as having been asked by the coppers after he was caught why he robbed banks. Easy answer when you think about it-that’s where the money is, or was before all sorts of things made bank robbing kind of old-fashioned in the brave new world of white collar fingerless crime. That same premise at one remove is where this Holmes adventure leads. Why steal bank note plates from the Chancellery of the Exchequer (Treasury in America)-that’s how to make the money. That is the logic behind a congenital thief in Dartmoor prison. (Remember neither Holmes nor Watson spent time there unlike Bruce’s contention that that was where the pair met and became lovers and partners in crime solutions.)  

That thief got them out of the jail via some three music boxes-not a bad decoy but the damn things wound up in an auction and sold to highest bidders. The race then becomes between the clueless Sherlock and the brains of the criminal enterprise that wants those boxes to unlock a secret code necessary to go into the printing business in a very profitable way with very low overhead and that criminal . Of course the idea that the villain, the brains of the operation, is a female would have had   Bruce apoplectic, would have had him beside himself when Sherlock didn’t make play number one for her before he sent her over. Like I said a private detective’s love life, of whatever preference, is not germane to the solution of the crimes. Now this Hilda who ran the operation, played by Patricia Morison really was a 1940s-style femme and Sam and Phillip would have a field day with her but she still had to go down, had to take the big step for her actions, including a fistful of murders along the. Sherlock was able to snag the last music box and keep the Bank of England from going under in a bale of counterfeit pounds. The only knock I have on Sherlock’s efforts is that as Bruce pointed out he lets the bodies pile up before he can figure stuff out. That and why the hell he has a holy goof like Watson dragging him down.