Saturday, October 17, 2020

On The 150th Anniversary Of The Publication Of "Das Capital" (1867)-Karl Marx Was Right!-World Economic Crisis—Workers Must Fight for Power

On The 150th Anniversary Of  The Publication Of "Das Capital" (1867)-Karl Marx Was Right!-World Economic Crisis—Workers Must Fight for Power

Markin comment:

This is a very good, very nicely pedagogic introduction to basic Marxist economics for today's younger readers not versed in the old time (ouch!)1960s studies of his economic theories that were de riguer for leftists then.
Workers Vanguard No. 997
2 March 2012

Karl Marx Was Right!

World Economic Crisis—Workers Must Fight for Power

(Young Spartacus pages)

We reprint below a presentation on Marxist economics given by Tynan Maddalena, editor of Spartacist Canada’s Young Spartacus pages. The presentation was originally given to a 24 September 2011 Trotskyist League of Canada/Spartacus Youth Club day school in Toronto and published in Spartacist Canada No. 171 (Winter 2011/2012).

As the economic crisis that began in 2007-2008 continues around the globe, the post-Cold War myth that capitalism is the final stage in human progress and can continue to grow without limit is shattering before our eyes. In the United States, millions of workers have been thrown into the ranks of the unemployed, millions have lost their homes, hundreds of thousands of immigrants are deported every year, and youth are burdened with huge student debt with dwindling prospects of getting a job. For those who see no future under capitalism, Marx’s analysis is an essential tool to understand the world we live in today—and change it.

Since this presentation was given, populist Occupy Wall Street protests against inequality and austerity spread further around the country. The Occupy organizers have argued that they have no clear political agenda, affiliation or even a fixed set of demands, but in fact they do have a program: liberal reform, especially of the financial sector, and “democratization” of capitalism. But capitalism cannot be fundamentally reformed. There is a fundamental class divide in society between the capitalists—the tiny number of families that own industry and the banks—and the working class, whose labor is the source of the capitalists’ profits.

In this election year, Occupy protesters and others will be told to swallow the poison pill of “lesser evilism,” as attempts will be made to corral them into support for Obama and the capitalist Democratic Party. Posturing as the “friends” of labor and the oppressed, the Democrats are in reality no less committed than the Republicans to the maintenance of capitalist exploitation and pursuit of bloody imperialist wars.

To students and young workers seeking a revolutionary program for the destruction of capitalism, as opposed to seeking only liberal reform, Young Spartacus offers Marxism. The Spartacus Youth Clubs train the next generation of revolutionary socialists—the future cadre of a multiracial workers party built in opposition to all capitalist parties and their sycophants. Led by such a party and armed with a revolutionary program, the working class can vanquish this system of exploitation and war, laying the basis for a global communist society of abundance and human freedom.

*   *    *

As stock markets crash and the world economy stands on the precipice of a second “Great Recession,” consider that the collapse of 2008-09, the worst global economic crisis since the 1930s, added 130 million people to the ranks of the chronically malnourished and hungry. That brings the total number to over one billion. In so many words, one-seventh of the human race is starving. One-seventh and counting.

Across the European Union, 23 million workers are out of work. In Spain, which was recently rocked by general strikes and enormous protest movements, youth unemployment is over 44 percent. In Greece, hundreds of thousands of jobs are gone, homelessness is through the roof, and many people, especially pensioners, line up at soup kitchens in order to survive.

Every so-called bailout for every financial crisis across the eurozone—from Greece to Ireland to Portugal—brings with it unrelenting attacks on the living standards of the masses, who seethe with discontent. The IMF, the European Central Bank, the governments of Germany, France and the United States all chauvinistically chastise the peoples of these countries in crisis as living beyond their means or lazy. In reality, the financial powers are only bailing out themselves—their own failed banking systems—on the backs of workers and the poor.

Here in North America, we hear a lot of talk about an economic recovery. It is a jobless recovery, a wageless recovery, a fragile recovery, a “still nascent” recovery. At the end of July, the American government revised its statistics: the 2008 recession was deeper than reported, and the “recovery” was even more dubious than reported. As for the Canadian economy, we recently learned that it shrank by 0.4 percent in the second quarter of this year. Scotiabank released a report two weeks ago forecasting another drop in the third quarter which could be as great as 2.5 percent. “Canada could be among the first of the world’s advanced economies to fall into a technical recession,” warned the CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]. That’s rich. We’ve had a jobless, wageless, fragile, still nascent recovery, but don’t worry, the coming recession is going to be only a “technical” one!

In human terms, one in six Americans is now unemployed, with the average time out of work close to ten months. Forty-five million people are on food stamps, and that has increased more than 30 percent during the two years of this specious recovery. Since the housing bubble burst in the U.S., there have been over seven million home foreclosures. Enforcing them is a brutal act of state repression: the police come to a home, haul the furniture and other possessions onto the street and lock the family out. The bourgeois media would have you believe that the worst was over by 2008. The truth is that 932,000 of those foreclosures came in the first quarter of 2010, and that was an increase of 16 percent over the previous year. And under racist American capitalism, blacks and Latinos, one-third of whose households have no net worth, always suffer disproportionately. In some largely black and Latino neighbourhoods of South Chicago, as well as across the Detroit metropolitan area, one of every 20 households was in foreclosure.

In Canada, well over a quarter million manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2002. This underscores the decades-long deindustrialization of North America, represented in the rusted wreckage of steel mills and the shells of auto plants. As Karl Marx put it: “Thus the forest of uplifted arms demanding work becomes ever thicker, while the arms themselves become ever thinner.”

At the same time, corporate profits have reached record levels. Ed Clark, chief executive officer of the Toronto-Dominion Bank, whose profits recently rose to a staggering $1.45 billion, recently joined billionaire capitalist parasites Warren Buffett and George Soros in advocating higher taxes for the rich. Their only concern, of course, is to better preserve the capitalist system, including by giving it a facelift—though that did not prevent right-wing demagogues from labeling Buffett and Soros “socialists.” As they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

It should come as no surprise that the Conservatives, now with a majority government, are moving rapidly against the unions. The government ended a lockout by Canada Post [the postal service] this spring by legislating wage levels that were even lower than the employer’s final offer. Recently, two different unions at Air Canada were threatened with strikebreaking legislation.

The bailouts of the banks—in some cases to the tune of trillions of dollars—were enacted uniformly by every government in the imperialist West and Japan at the expense of the working class. These measures point to an elementary truth of Marxism-Leninism: that the executive of the modern state is but a committee for deciding the common affairs of the ruling class as a whole. Or look at Export Development Canada’s agreement to lend $1 billion to the Vale mining conglomerate. This came after a year-long strike at Vale’s Sudbury nickel mines, during which the company claimed that funds simply weren’t available to meet the union’s modest demands.

Various reformists and even self-professed Marxists claim that the way forward is to look for “concrete” solutions “in the here and now,” i.e., liberal palliatives. The problem is that any reform wrested from the capitalists today will only be taken away tomorrow—and today the rulers aren’t even offering the pretense of reform. The reformists especially drag out their cant about “real world” solutions when they want to express disdain for the theory and program of revolutionary Marxism, which they dismiss as “abstract.”

In fact, the reformists’ perspective is counterposed to the only road that can end the hunger, poverty and social degradation that are intrinsic to capitalism. Vladimir Lenin, who along with Leon Trotsky led the October Revolution of 1917, warned: “Champions of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realise that every old institution, however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is kept going by the forces of certain ruling classes” (“The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism,” 1913). Lenin stressed that “there is only one way of smashing the resistance of those classes, and that is to find, in the very society which surrounds us, the forces which can—and, owing to their social position, must—constitute the power capable of sweeping away the old and creating the new, and to enlighten and organise those forces for the struggle.” As scientific socialists, we fight for workers revolution to establish an international, centrally planned economy based on satisfying human want.

Marxist Theory and the Class Struggle

Lenin called Marxist theory the “granite foundation” of the Bolshevik Party. Without revolutionary theory, he explained, there can be no revolutionary movement. The core of Marxism is the labour theory of value, elaborated by Marx in the first volume of Capital. Not a breeze to read. But when it comes to the theory that all value in a capitalist economy derives solely from, or is indeed synonymous with, labour, whether or not someone wants to learn this hinges to a great extent on their sympathies for the working class. It was Marx’s commitment to the modern industrial proletariat that allowed him to unlock the secret of value that underlies commodity circulation. As we Spartacists say, program generates theory.

Capitalist production developed from commodity circulation. People have always had to come together to produce for their needs. However, as the techniques of production developed and diversified, people no longer produced goods solely for their own groups, but for trade with others through the medium of exchange. Thus Marx called commodities a relationship between people expressed as a relationship between things.

Obviously, there would be no need for someone to trade their product for something they already had. In order to be exchanged, two commodities must have different uses to satisfy different wants. At the same time, they must on some level be equivalent: they must possess equal value, otherwise there would be no basis for each person to voluntarily give up their product for someone else’s. The great discovery of Karl Marx was that the basis for this equivalence is that all commodities are the product of labour, labour in the most abstract and general sense.

Go to an economics lecture at a university and you may learn that people exchange things solely because they have different uses. But why not just get it yourself? The answer is that it has to be produced: it takes work to acquire it. A slightly more sophisticated version of the same bourgeois argument is that you can’t get it yourself because it is scarce. That reflects a certain truth. However, it is a rigid, static view of the truth that is conditioned by the values of the bourgeoisie, which is an idle class. Anyone who works readily understands that all commodities are scarce until they are brought into existence by labour.

It has never been the case that people have produced commodities on a level playing field. Capitalism did not begin with a clean slate, but was built up on the previously existing systems of feudalism and slavery. Large sections of the ruling classes of these societies capitalized their wealth, whereas the slaves remained dispossessed and the peasants were often brutally robbed of what little they had. Through market competition, the larger, more efficient producers drove the smaller, weaker ones out of business, bought out their capital and conquered their share of the market. Those who were amassing the wealth became capitalists—the bourgeoisie. Those who had nothing left to sell but their own sweat and blood were the workers—the proletariat.

It’s often said that workers sell their labour. In fact, they are not permitted to do even that. The prerequisites for labour in an industrial society—machines and factories, the core of which can be scientifically termed the means of production—belong to the capitalist. The worker cannot work without first receiving permission from the capitalist. What the worker actually sells is therefore not his labour, but rather his potential to labour. That is what Marxists call labour power.

Labour power is bought, sold and consumed. It is a commodity, but there is something peculiar about it. The price of any commodity is based roughly on its value, or the amount of labour necessary for its reproduction. What is the value of labour power? The cost of reproducing the ability of the worker to perform his labour. That consists of food, shelter, clothing, some means of relaxation and of acquiring the skills necessary for doing the job. And finally, enough to support a family so that the working class can continue to exist from one generation to the next.

Taken together, the labour required for these measures constitutes the value of labour power. The gist of capitalist exploitation is that the proletariat generates far more value than is required for the production and reproduction of its labour power. In other words, the peculiarity of the commodity of labour power, its unique attribute, is that it is a source of value. The difference between the total value the worker adds to the product and the value of labour power is called surplus value. Exactly how much of the total value goes to the capitalist and how much goes back to the labourer? This is determined by living factors, by a contest of forces—in other words, by the class struggle.

Take Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold. Their operation in Indonesia faced a strike last July. Reuters news agency, which is anything but Marxist, made the following calculation: the workers’ wages were $1.50 an hour, the price of gold, $1,500 an ounce; therefore, the gold output lost during the eight-day strike could have covered three times the workers’ annual wages.

To begin to determine the rate of exploitation of these miners—otherwise known as the rate of surplus value—you would need to know the value of the machinery and fuel used up during production and subtract it from the total product. Otherwise, you could not verify the total amount of value the workers add to the product through their labour. However, the fact stands that these gold mines yield 137 times the workers’ annual wages each year, and Indonesian mines are not famous for being high-tech. Since based on our present knowledge we are confined to being somewhat less than scientific, let’s just say that someone is being taken advantage of here, and it’s not the capitalist.

There can be no fair division of the social product between the worker and the capitalist. As Trotsky explained: “The class struggle is nothing else than the struggle for surplus-product. He who owns surplus-product is master of the situation—owns wealth, owns the state, has the key to the church, to the courts, to the sciences and to the arts” (“Marxism in Our Time,” 1939). There can be no such thing as equality, fairness, freedom or democracy between the slaves and the slave masters.

Exploitation and Capitalist Crisis

So what are social classes? Lenin defined them as “large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation (in most cases fixed and formulated in law) to the means of production, by their role in the social organisation of labour, and, consequently”—only consequently—“by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it” (“A Great Beginning,” 1919).

Social class does not derive from a state of mind, nor is it even fundamentally a question of the rich and the poor. For example, a skilled unionized worker in a modern factory in an imperialist country may under exceptional cases make over $100,000 per year. Yet because labour productivity is so high, his or her rate of exploitation is likely much higher than that of far more oppressed and impoverished labourers in a semicolonial country. Moreover, a unionized worker in the trades may make as much as or more than a yuppie supervisor in an office. Nevertheless, the worker still has an economic interest in overthrowing his capitalist exploiter, while the supervisor is an accessory to capitalist production and thus bound to it materially and, you could say, spiritually.

Just about anyone can criticize capitalism from the standpoint of reason or morality. Yet Marx criticized capitalism from the standpoint of maximizing labour productivity, which is generally promoted by capitalism’s ideological defenders as its strong point. Marx proved that capitalist production increasingly puts the brakes on historical development, at the same time as it creates its own gravedigger, the proletariat.

Day in and day out, the proletariat continues to produce. It cannot use its own labour to get ahead as a class, because it is only paid what is necessary to allow it to continue producing. Everything necessary to get ahead goes to the capitalists. As Marx put it: “If the silk worm were to spin in order to continue its existence as a caterpillar, it would be a complete wage-worker.”

As capitalism develops, the bourgeoisie amasses more and more capital. Technology advances. Machinery becomes more and more sophisticated and extensive and labour productivity rises. The capitalist devotes an increasingly large ratio of his wealth toward acquiring machinery, and a correspondingly declining ratio toward employing workers. In Marx’s words, the organic composition of capital increases. The effect of this is contradictory. On one hand, the rate of exploitation increases. On the other hand, the rate of profit decreases. That’s the dilemma the capitalist faces. Even if he ratchets up the rate of exploitation, the rate of profit still tends to go down. That is why the capitalist has no future. Let’s take a closer look.

Say you’ve got your engineering degree and you’re looking for a job in your field. Off you go to the Celestica factory at Don Mills and Eglinton to pave the information superhighway, one transistor at a time, for $11.75 an hour on six-month contracts with no benefits. (And your boss can call you a few hours before your shift starts to tell you to stay home without pay.)

So there you are with your co-workers paving the information superhighway with these transistors; array enough together in the right way and you get a flip-flop, an edifice of the binary logic used on a grand scale in computers. It’s nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds in Wired magazine or those trendy post-Marxist academic seminars. Away you work. Eventually, the company replaces the soldering irons that each of you uses with a wave solder machine. A chunk of your co-workers gets laid off. You’re producing way more circuit boards than before, only your wage is the same. Since most of your friends were laid off, the company’s spending on wages has gone way down. The rate of exploitation overall has increased astronomically. Good times for the capitalist, right? Not so fast.

At first, the company will have an advantage over its competitors. Soon, however, that new machinery will become the standard across the industry. Even though the rate of exploitation has gone up, the rate of profit will go down. It all comes back to labour being the sole source of value. One capitalist can sell another capitalist a machine, but that exchange does not increase the total amount of value in the economy. The value just changes hands. It’s only once the capitalist purchases labour power, and consumes it by having the worker do his job, that any new value is added to the economy. The lower the ratio of the capitalist’s wealth that is spent on wage labour, the lower is the ratio of surplus value to his total expenses. More and more of his wealth gets tied up in replacing and maintaining machinery—what Marx evocatively termed “dead labour.”

As I said, the rate of exploitation is going up, but the rate of profit is going down. The capitalist does not resign himself to that fate peacefully, however. He panics and slashes wages like a madman, doing whatever he can to transfer the burden of his decaying system onto the backs of the people he exploits. When that capitalist can no longer produce at a competitive rate of profit, he simply ceases to produce. He throws his workers onto the street. Like Malcolm X said of the slave master, he worked them like dogs and dropped them in the mud. Production is in chaos. The empty factories rust.

Once the slave escapes his master, he is no longer a slave; once the serf gets his plot of land, he is no longer a serf. But even after the proletarian punches his time card for the final time and quits (or loses) his job, he remains a proletarian. The modern slave, the wage slave, is slave to the entire capitalist class. The proletariat cannot escape this exploiting class but must overthrow it in its entirety, worldwide, and in so doing liberate everyone who is oppressed by capitalism.

For a Revolutionary Workers Party!

What has been placed on the agenda is proletarian revolution, even if this seems far off today. We look above all to the legacy of the Russian Revolution. As Trotsky noted about the early years of the Soviet Union:

“Socialism has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but in an industrial arena comprising a sixth part of the earth’s surface—not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and electricity. Even if the Soviet Union, as a result of internal difficulties, external blows and the mistakes of its leadership, were to collapse—which we firmly hope will not happen—there would remain as an earnest of the future this indestructible fact, that thanks solely to a proletarian revolution a backward country has achieved in less than ten years successes unexampled in history.”

—The Revolution Betrayed (1936)

We Trotskyists fought against the Stalinist degeneration of the USSR, and against its final counterrevolutionary collapse in 1991-92. Nevertheless, that collapse did occur, and the ideologues of the bourgeoisie have done everything they can to bury the lessons of the October Revolution, which remains our model.

The key political instrument for victory is the revolutionary vanguard party as developed by Lenin. Trotsky explained: “The class, taken by itself, is only material for exploitation. The proletariat assumes an independent role only at that moment when from a social class in itself it becomes a political class for itself. This cannot take place otherwise than through the medium of a party. The party is that historical organ by means of which the class becomes class conscious” (“What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat,” 1932). We seek to win the working class, starting with its most advanced layers, to understand the necessity of sweeping away capitalist rule and establishing what Marx called the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is the only road to communism, a global high-tech society of material abundance where classes, the state and family no longer exist, and where thereby social inequality based on sex is eradicated and the social significance of race, nation and ethnicity abolished.

Where to get started? We come full circle to the question of what to do concretely in the here and now. We can now approach that question scientifically, from the standpoint of the historic interest of the proletariat as a class. We can avoid the pitfall of do-gooder moralism, of becoming, as Lenin warned, “the foolish victims of deception and self-deception in politics,” whether in the form of right-wing religious demagogy or social-democratic opportunism.

The class consciousness of the proletariat and its will to struggle have been greatly undermined by the social-democratic misleadership of the labour movement, exemplified by the New Democratic Party. Three years ago, the now-deceased NDP leader Jack Layton—who, unlike the reformist left, we do not eulogize—called on workers to have the “courage” to “take a pay cut so your friends at the plant can keep their job.” This is one of many reasons why we said “No vote to the NDP” in the May federal election, and we say so again for the upcoming Ontario election.

The NDP is based not merely on a bad set of ideas. It is rooted materially in the trade-union bureaucracy of English Canada. That bureaucracy expresses the interests of a stratum of the working class that Marxists term the labour aristocracy. Where does the labour aristocracy come from? It lives off scraps from the superprofits the capitalists in imperialist countries tear out of the semicolonial countries. Thus, to Marxists, it was no surprise that the NDP voted with both hands for NATO’s war on Libya. The NDP is what Marx’s close collaborator Friedrich Engels called a bourgeois workers party: it may be linked to the organizations of the working class, but it is thoroughly pro-capitalist in its leadership and outlook.

What is needed is something completely different: a class-struggle workers party that understands that the interests of the capitalists and the workers have nothing in common. Such a party would be, in Lenin’s words, a tribune of the people, which understands that the working class can only emancipate itself by ultimately abolishing all forms of oppression.

A revolutionary workers party would intervene into the class struggle as the most historically conscious and advanced element of the proletariat. It would advocate Quebec independence to oppose the dominant Anglo chauvinism and get the stifling national question off the agenda, making way for a higher level of class struggle. It would champion free abortion on demand and fight for the perspective of women’s liberation through socialist revolution, including among the more backward layers of the proletariat. To combat mass unemployment, it would demand the sharing of available work, with no loss of pay, and a massive program of public works.

To unmask the exploitation, robbery and fraud of the capitalist owners and the swindles of the banks, a class-struggle workers party would demand that the capitalists open their books. Raising the call for the expropriation of branches of industry vital for national existence, it would explain that this must be linked to the fight for the seizure of power by the working class, as against the reformist misleaders for whom the call for nationalization is merely a prescription for bailing out bankrupt capitalist enterprises. As Trotsky argued in opposition to the capitalists and their reformist agents in the Transitional Program (1938):

“If capitalism is incapable of satisfying the demands inevitably arising from the calamities generated by itself, then let it perish. ‘Realizability’ or ‘unrealizability’ is in the given instance a question of the relationship of forces, which can be decided only by the struggle. By means of this struggle, no matter what its immediate practical successes may be, the workers will best come to understand the necessity of liquidating capitalist slavery.”

That is the task to which we of the Trotskyist League and the Spartacus Youth Clubs are dedicated. In the trough of the reactionary political period following the destruction of the Soviet Union, it’s a task with few immediate rewards. But let’s be sober and scientific about this—there is an overhead to historical progress. And on the grounds of that necessity, we urge you to join us in that struggle.

Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain-Watch Your Back, Sister, Watch Your Back-Humphrey Bogart’s “The Enforcer” (1951)-A Film Review

Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain-Watch Your Back, Sister, Watch Your Back-Humphrey Bogart’s “The Enforcer” (1951)-A Film Review

DVD Review
By Jack Callahan
The Enforcer, starring Humphrey Bogart, Everett Sloane, 1951  

[Although Jack Callahan very infrequently writes for this publication I feel it is necessary in the now seemingly obligatory interest of transparency to note that Jack has been a major financial supporter of this publication both in the days when it was in hard copy and now on-line. That said it is no accident that Jack is writing this film review since he along with a cohort, a word by-line writer Seth Garth has been falling in love with of late and which some of us have picked up on until some other fall in love expression moves in, of guys like Allan Jackson, Si Lannon, Sam Lowell, and Phil Larkin who all grew up together in the “Acre” section of North Adamsville south of Boston and who spent many an ill-spent Saturday afternoon feasting on such films at the Strand Theater. (This well before Jack took up with his ever-loving high school sweetheart Chrissie McNamara, now his wife, at which time they were balcony-bound and I bet hard-pressed to give detail number one about any film allegedly seen. How they met and became a high school item is a story in itself which I believe Allan Jackson has written about in these pages.)
Since Jack is not a regular writer like those listed above from the Acre a few details are in order-this beyond the need for transparency but maybe gives the reader an idea of why he has been a fervent supporter of this publication. Jack, unlike all the others mentioned and lets’ include the late Peter Paul Markin who has something like legendary status among this crowd reflected in the inordinate amount of stories about him in this space and in others, did not serve in the military during the 1960s, during the time of the hellish Vietnam War. Didn’t serve for the simple reason that he was 4-F which meant physically unable to serve. That disability the result of a severe football injury sustained when he went to State U on a football scholarship and got injured in his sophomore year when his team played Boston College.
Jack, in any case, was not a natural fit for the crowd he hung around with since he was the high school football hero as once could imagine. Except he was very shy despite all the attention every male in the school, and most females, gave him. (He only had eyes for Chrissie and she for him I really ought to have Allan or Seth revive that romance story about this pair). These guys provided cover for him since he was an Acre guy, one of them, one of the poor as sin Catholic boys. Still after high school and college with one short exception when he went West for a while with this crew of ex-G.I.s who turned against the war of their generation after having all the fill they wanted of killing and death Jack was the shoulder to the wheel guy among the cohort. With Chrissie and later four fine daughters Jack became Mr. Toyota of Eastern Massachusetts and therefore of all the guys was the one who made a ton of money. Money which he used partially to help finance a million Acre boy schemes and this publication. That said lets’ let Jack go through his paces doing this film review which he begged me, no, asked me to let him do. Greg Green]

Seth Garth said it best, or the character in the film Key Largo ex-World War II officer Frank McCloud played by Humphrey Bogart the lead actor in the film under review The Enforcer did, “one more Johnny Rocco, more or less, is not worth dying for.” Meaning in that case that one Chi town gangster was not worth death when some other Johnny Rocco was waiting in the wings to move up the food chain. That did stop McCloud from bang-bang shooting old Rocco  when he messed with his woman and it will not stop ADA Ferguson, Bogie’s role here, from putting a gangster underground, sending him to the big step off- letting a few volts do him in. For a while Ferguson was on hard times, looked defeated against the scumbag was trying to send to the chair but whether there was one more Mendoza, the arch-criminal here played by Everett Sloane, or not this one is going down, going down hard.   
The reason that Ferguson was on the ropes for a while in this police procedural, a kind of film noir that we didn’t necessarily like all that much because in the end the story-line was always “crime doesn’t pay” and we didn’t like cops very much in the Acre and had our own reasons for looking kindly on “crime paying” without penalty which I will leave to the reader’s imagination just in case, was that his key witness, his only witness against the kingpin was Mendoza’s “dispatcher.” This stoolie, a guy named Joe, Joe Rico started folding like a hand of cards once the deal was ready to go down, when he was supposed to go to the witness stand and finger his boss for a murder when they first started out together. Fearing the long arm of Mendoza the sappy bleeding all over the place Rico tried to escape and fell down, fell down hard when he slipped off the ledge of the building from which he was attempting to flee. Sorry, Fergie, but those are the breaks when you depend on a rat, a stoolie, a fink, whatever you want to call such a guy. 
But here is where Ferguson got wise, figured he had nothing to lose by reviewing the case from day one via a bunch of flashbacks (and then some back flashbacks on those which sounds menacing to follow but was not, not at all). Wait a minute, maybe I better lay out Mendoza’s racket first, and why Ferguson was desperate to get him to the chair. (This “lay out” veteran reviewer Seth’s suggestion). Why Rico would rather have fallen down than get the big kiss-off from one of Mendoza’s killer boys. This wily Mendoza must had had some time on his hands and furthermore have been tired of living on cheap street because he figured out a racket a that a few guys in the Acre would have loved to have thought of, the perfect crime. Murder for hire, murder without any apparent motive for the coppers to pin something on somebody who knew the deceased on. Beautiful in its way.  Mendoza puts the word out that he has an operation to take care of some unwanted person for somebody didn’t matter the reason or non-reason. Rico, away from Mendoza for plausible deniability purposes, “dispatches” the “hit” man, pays him off and that is that. Clean hands, clean as a whistle, perfect crime. Except there was one little misstep right at the beginning of Mendoza and Rico’s beautiful friendship. The first murder for hire killing of a restaurant owner ordered up by parties unknown was witnessed by a guy and his daughter who walked in while Mendoza did his dirty deed.            
That of course meant that there were two witnesses to what happened and while they were left alone for whatever reason Mendoza left them alone for that would be Fergie’s edge if he could find either one. Assuming that he knew there were witnesses which he did once he dug the dirt up which started him on his long road investigation. The rest of the story line depends on those flashbacks mentioned above. After going for years working the murder for hire racket Mendoza stepped into a cab which was being driven by the guy who saw him murder the restaurant owner.  One cabbie gone to cabbie heaven if there is such a place for the over-charging bastards. Of course if you kill Papa then you need to waste the daughter since you needed to tidy things up. And that was done too, or it sure looked like it was done.
The “hit” man on the daughter job nothing but a stone- cold killer though screwed up, made the cardinal error of hits. Got to know the young woman and so was ready to back her out, flee with her. But you don’t do that to a guy like Mendoza and so he ordered the weak-kneed hit man to kill her under penalty of being killed himself. That is when things really unraveled. See Mister bad-ass hitman had moral qualms about killing his girl and went to the coppers who though he was screwy. Then Ferguson got into the act, especially when that stone-cold killer committed suicide. Fergusson conducted a thorough investigation (which is how he got Rico and how he had Mendoza in the slammer ready for the big step-off) including talking to the slain girl’s roommate after her mutilated body was found. No help. But Ferguson was intrepid working on every angle and not quitting, not falling down himself. The pieces start coming together though once the racket’s aims were exposed when Ferguson was able to ride the train up to Rico’s part in the whole caper.
You know though that no way was Mendoza was going to get sprung, although not for lack of trying. Not by his lawyers but by his gallery of hit men two of who he dispatched to kill that loose end roommate once he got wise to something. That wise to something is the beauty of the whole film although we knew what had happened long before Ferguson and his coppers knew what hit them. See that hit man who killed his girl, murdered her under duress, killed the wrong girl-she had brown eyes but eye witness to that restaurant murder Rico who almost spilled his guts out distinctly remembered the girl’s eyes were blue. Bingo roommate and double bingo Ferguson who wasted one of the two hit man sent to kill her under jail cell Mendoza’s orders. Nice, still though thinking back on it I wish every police procedural didn’t “prove” crime doesn’t pay. Okay that is the Acre in me speaking.                        

Sex And The Single Sixty-Somethings- Shirley McLaine and Jessica Lange’s “Wild Oats” (2016)-A Film Review

Sex And The Single Sixty-Somethings- Shirley McLaine and Jessica Lange’s “Wild Oats” (2016)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Film Critic Emeritus Sam Lowell

Wild Oats, starring Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Lange, (released by the Weinstein Company which is/was headed by the now rightfully toxic Harvey Weinstein), 2016   

When I first started out reviewing films for a living in the late 1960s Hollywood was just starting to break out of the long time squeaky clean sexual code of conduct and Catholic-etched Legion of Decency ethos which inhibited any genuine look at the evolving sexual and social norms without constantly looking over one’s shoulder. Even worse although I was hardly aware of it at the time and only noticed it later when I started reviewing old-time films were the standards when I was growing up in the 1950s when even married people were shown many times occupying separate beds. Separate bedrooms in some cases. Plus no overt show of affection like a long passionate kiss. And nothing that could be construed as part of any sexual act in or out of the Kama Sutra. All of this to lead into the subject matter of the film under review here, Wild Oats, which in part deals with the sexual activities of, well, older people, Such a subject would not even come up back in the day when it was assumed that older people were beyond sex or at least didn’t talk about the subject in polite society. Ever. Certainly there would be no scenes as here showing the elderly joyfully jumping in bed together. I think that was first done by the late Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway and I was rather shocked at first. Then got defensive when the twenty-somethings in front of me were heard to say that they didn’t want to see old people having sex obviously having come to see young Johnny Depp go through his paces. How the times have changed.    

Here’s the play aside from the sexual intrigues as my old friend Sandy Salmon who has taken over my regular spot here likes to tell people that I like to say when introducing the plotline of a film. Eva, played by Shirley MacLaine, who must be ancient since I first saw here and streetwalker in Irma La Douce is a recently widowed retired schoolteacher who gets a mistaken amount of her late husband’s life insurance five million dollars instead of the entirely inadequate fifty thousand that he was insured for. (You know that the difference in sums here is going to bring in somebody to sort things out-and not in her favor.)  Her best friend Maddie, played by still good-looking for a mature woman Jessica Lange (nice way to put it right) who has lost her philandering husband to a younger woman convinced her to keep the dough. The hell with the insurance company they can write it off. 

Convinced Eva and Maddie head off to a Caribbean island resort to spend their ill-gotten goods. While there they are easy pickings for a con artist who winds up in bed with Eva. Maddie winds up with a young stud who likes older women. That’s the sex and the sixty-something part. The other though is about that insurance company. They want their dough back. They sent out an ace investigator who is on the trail from the minute he landed. After a film hour worth of capers revolving around con artists trying to bilk older women, avoiding that insurance agent and a few other minor details Eva ends up with that insurance guy and heads home. Maddie well she stays on the island with her young stud. A happy ending. That Hollywood has down pat. Of course that happy ending had to be the case for AARP-worthies, the demographic who it was geared to and would watch it without blushing like those twenty-somethings mentioned earlier. The sex stuff well that is an interesting twist, very interesting.          

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Girl With The Gun-Simple Eyes-With Robert Mitchum And Jane Greer’s The Big Steal In Mind

The Girl With The Gun-Simple Eyes-With Robert Mitchum And Jane Greer’s The Big Steal In Mind

By Zack James

Duke Halliday had a funny feeling that he had seen her before, had seen her maybe one time when he was in Acapulco over by the ocean on other side of Mexico from where he was now landing in Vera Cruz on the eastern side of this benighted sweat-filled dusty road bracero country. Yeah she had come up on he from behind speaking some low-slung Spanish to a bracero that he had pushed aside, pushed aside hard and she had made her apologies for the whole gringo race to that besotted bracero and then levelled off and told Duke what was what in proper schoolteacher or something English. She had not gotten half way through her schoolmarm berating an errant student when he had had that funny feeling that while her hair was darker (the result of some man-made potions that as the old television ad said only her candy man hairdresser would know), she was a little more shapely and had a couple of small crow’s feet showing around the eyes she was the spitting imagine of Kathie, Kathie who had tried to kill him, kill him good as they were heading to Baja California and the good life. Left him on the side of the road after having just crashed through a police blockade and with two big slugs in his almost heart leaving him for dead and for taking the fall, the big step-off fall if it came to that.     

That funny feeling maybe not so funny because when he had seen her the last time she had already broken his spirit so bad that it would have taken emergency surgery, maybe more to put the broken pieces back together. The story flashed through his now fevered brain almost as quickly as it happened. In those days he had been a private eye, a shamus, and a pretty good one with a partner who maybe wasn’t so good but who covered his back, mostly. Yeah Duke had been known for taking no prisoners when he got on a case. Left no untidy pieces and was as anybody could tell from a quick look at him that he was built for heavy lifting, could handle himself in a tight corner, and could give and take a few swift punches. That is what brought him to the attention of Whit Sterling, Whit the big-time mobster out in Reno. Whit had as most guys, guys including big-time mobsters a woman problem, had it bad for a piece of fluff named Kathie. Nothing but a work of art femme fatale and noting but big trouble from the first day she came out of some ditch in some Podunk looking for the next best thing with that come hither look of hers and the guys fell right in line. No heavy lifting for that gal, none. She had for kicks skipped out on Whit with a chunk of dough, about forty thou, not much today, not much then maybe either but being a big-time mobster meant no sweet pussy was going to do a dance of death on him. Not if he expected to stay on top of the totem pole. And so he hired Duke to find her, bring her back if possible, bring back that fucking forty thou though even if he had to waste her. That waste her being perhaps necessary since she carried a very un-ladylike .32 and had used it on some long ago lover whom she shot dead as a doornail, and walked. Walked when the jury believed that she had been raped by that guy. Had clipped Whit too when she was in the process of her escape.

The trail to Kathie naturally led south to warm sunny cheap living Mexico. Duke had had no problem finding her, as if she had left bread crumbs to lead him to her. Once he got a look at her, no, smelled that jasmine something scent she was wearing and which he could smell/feel a block before she entered the café where an informant told him she hung out he was a goner. And she seeing those broad shoulders, that cleft chin, those arms and hands that looked like they could handle just about anything-except a woman’s gun- took dead aim at her new protector. They hit the sheets that first night, she almost raping him before they got to the bed, and they ran around for a while in Mexico before heading north until Whit got nervous and hired another private eye to ferret them out. In that confrontation Kathie killed that trailing shamus after he knocked Duke out. Needless to say Duke was not going to take the fall for her, not on murder one. 

Duke figuring it was his hard luck that he had picked a gun simple gal dropped out of sight, went underground really but he didn’t figure that Whit might have hard feelings about Duke taking his money, and his woman too. But Whit was built that way and one of his minions found Duke doing short order chef duty in a dinky café diner outside of Pacifica. Brought him in to see White, and Kathie. Yeah Whit was a piece of work. But bringing oil and water together was not good this time as Duke and Kathie linked up again to do in Whit (both agreeing for their own reasons that Whit had to be done in or else neither life was worth a penny). Kathie placed two neat slugs into Whit’s heart as they were leaving. Never even looked back.        

As they headed out in Whit’s automobile for freedom in the Baja they ran into that police roadblock which they ramped their way through and Duke sensing he was in for a rough tumble if he ever crossed Kathie decided that he would turn himself in. Needless to say Kathie did not like that idea and placed two neat slugs in what she though was Duke’s heart. Doing this with one hand on the steering wheel the other on bang-bang trigger while she was driving at high speed to boot. Crazy gun-simple bitch. The commotion though caused the car to crash and Duke jumped out trying to get the hell away. Kathie lay with her head over the steering wheel, maybe dead, maybe alive. That was the last he saw of her, the last time he had been in trouble over a woman after he squared himself with the coppers on the Whit and private eye beefs.      

Now that he looked at her a second time Duke could see that although she looked very much like Kathie, and giving a few pounds and years gone by this was not her, although she did have that gun simple look in her eyes that he had come to fear but it may have just been coincidence. As for her, as for Joan, she too had some sneaking feeling that she had met Duke before, had met him up in Reno one night when she was feeling frisky after a few drinks, after winning a few bucks at the gaming tables and feeling like she wanted a man that night had picked a guy with broad shoulders, big hands that knew where to be put them with a willing woman, and the ability to fend off any guy whom she didn’t want to deal with once she gave him her best come hither look. He who called himself Jeff had been built strictly for one night stands which was fine by her that night as they hit the sheets without even knowing last names, also that night okay with her. A second look at this guy said behind those sleepy blue eyes and that granite chin was long-time serious affairs not one night stands. Still given what her predicament was just then trying to get a couple of thou back from the last guy who threw her over for some cheap laughing eyes Spanish whore who probably would give him a sexually transmitted disease those big shoulders, those hands and those fighter’s eyes would come in handy in case she ran into trouble with Jim, Jim Fiske if that was his real name.          

Duke looked her up and down and licked his chops and she took note that he ate her up, a conquest and she wasn’t even wearing her jasmine something scent that was guaranteed to get from a guy whatever she wanted from sex to heavy-lifting. So their dance in a dance began. He asked her if she wanted a drink, she accepted and they went into Senor somebody’s cantina. They drank for a few hours, talked the talk and headed to her place (he didn’t have a place since he was just off the boat) and hit the sheets just the way they both figured when they compared notes in the morning. Here is the funny part, the part that would glue them together for the duration. Joan had a photograph of that last guy she had tangled with, the guy who had run out on her on her bedroom table face down. When Duke turned the frame over and saw one Jim Fiske he flipped out. Pulled out his revolver and carefully aimed it at Joan. She in turn turned around and pulled out her own gun. A draw. That was when upon inquiry Duke found out that Joan and this Fiske had been lovers. Fiske was the guy who had taken a powder on her. More importantly to Duke this Fiske had waylaid him when he worked for Wells Fargo and taken some quarter of a million in cash from the bags strapped to his wrists. Then Joan told her two bit story. Comparing notes they decided to work together, after another run under the sheets to seal the deal, seal the deal by request from Joan on this one (Duke was not sure that he cared for her sexual aggression but she had little tricks that he liked that usually only whorehouse whores knew).    

They gathered information that Fiske had hit the highway for Mexico City where he probably would try to convert the cash he had stolen from Duke which any way one looked at it was hot as a pistol since one did not usually act so foolishly as to rob a Wells Fargo armored truck or its employees. So they rented a car and headed west stopping along the way to give a description of the dapper Fiske who had the look of a solid gringo and not some stinking bracero. They had some trouble in a small town, really just a trading post and a cantina, over cashing a check. That is where Duke started buckling a little once Joan took out her little snub-nosed gun and forced the proprietor to cash the check. Duke just stood there with his jaw hanging until she told him to wise up and that they had better vamoose.       

Having been given a description of Jim’s car they hit a little town and noticed a car fitting Jim’s description being worked on. They waited around for Jim to show to pick up the car and a couple of hours later he did show up. With a look of surprise on his face at seeing Joan he sized Duke up and figured that at best in a mix he would get the worst of it and so he “cut” them in on the robbery dough not knowing that Duke was the guy whom he had robbed. They travelled together uneasily until they hit the outskirts of Mexico where they went up a private road and entered a big hacienda where Senor Blanco was waiting for Jim to deliver the hot money to fence. Jim took a cool one hundred thou in the transfer, and was glad to get it. Duke figured he was a goner, could never work security again. When the trio got outside though before Jim could say to Joan for them to move on together without Duke Joan coolly put two slugs between his eyes. He fell like a tree. Joan just as coolly went over to the fallen Jim and swooped up the dough. Asked if Duke was up for the road ahead. Not sure just then that he had not played out this scene already he walked toward her and took the gun out of her hand. Then took her arm as they walked out into the sunset but the look on his face said he would spent many sleepless nights watching over his shoulder for the other shoe to fall. Jesus these gun simple women would kill him yet.    

In Honor Of John Brown Late Of Harpers Ferry-1859- *Poet's Corner- Edwin Arlington Robinson's "John Brown"- On The Anniversary Of Harper's Ferry

Click on the title to link to "Wikipedia"'s entry for the 19th American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson.

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869–1935). Collected Poems. 1921.

VII. The Three Taverns

11. John Brown

THOUGH for your sake I would not have you now
So near to me tonight as now you are,
God knows how much a stranger to my heart
Was any cold word that I may have written;
And you, poor woman that I made my wife, 5
You have had more of loneliness, I fear,
Than I—though I have been the most alone,
Even when the most attended. So it was
God set the mark of his inscrutable
Necessity on one that was to grope, 10
And serve, and suffer, and withal be glad
For what was his, and is, and is to be,
When his old bones, that are a burden now,
Are saying what the man who carried them
Had not the power to say. Bones in a grave, 15
Cover them as they will with choking earth,
May shout the truth to men who put them there,
More than all orators. And so, my dear,
Since you have cheated wisdom for the sake
Of sorrow, let your sorrow be for you, 20
This last of nights before the last of days,
The lying ghost of what there is of me
That is the most alive. There is no death
For me in what they do. Their death it is
They should heed most when the sun comes again 25
To make them solemn. There are some I know
Whose eyes will hardly see their occupation,
For tears in them—and all for one old man;
For some of them will pity this old man,
Who took upon himself the work of God 30
Because he pitied millions. That will be
For them, I fancy, their compassionate
Best way of saying what is best in them
To say; for they can say no more than that,
And they can do no more than what the dawn 35
Of one more day shall give them light enough
To do. But there are many days to be,
And there are many men to give their blood,
As I gave mine for them. May they come soon!

May they come soon, I say. And when they come, 40
May all that I have said unheard be heard,
Proving at last, or maybe not—no matter—
What sort of madness was the part of me
That made me strike, whether I found the mark
Or missed it. Meanwhile, I’ve a strange content, 45
A patience, and a vast indifference
To what men say of me and what men fear
To say. There was a work to be begun,
And when the Voice, that I have heard so long,
Announced as in a thousand silences 50
An end of preparation, I began
The coming work of death which is to be,
That life may be. There is no other way
Than the old way of war for a new land
That will not know itself and is tonight 55
A stranger to itself, and to the world
A more prodigious upstart among states
Than I was among men, and so shall be
Till they are told and told, and told again;
For men are children, waiting to be told, 60
And most of them are children all their lives.
The good God in his wisdom had them so,
That now and then a madman or a seer
May shake them out of their complacency
And shame them into deeds. The major file 65
See only what their fathers may have seen,
Or may have said they saw when they saw nothing.
I do not say it matters what they saw.
Now and again to some lone soul or other
God speaks, and there is hanging to be done,— 70
As once there was a burning of our bodies
Alive, albeit our souls were sorry fuel.
But now the fires are few, and we are poised
Accordingly, for the state’s benefit,
A few still minutes between heaven and earth. 75
The purpose is, when they have seen enough
Of what it is that they are not to see,
To pluck me as an unripe fruit of treason,
And then to fling me back to the same earth
Of which they are, as I suppose, the flower— 80
Not given to know the riper fruit that waits
For a more comprehensive harvesting.

Yes, may they come, and soon. Again I say,
May they come soon!—before too many of them
Shall be the bloody cost of our defection. 85
When hell waits on the dawn of a new state,
Better it were that hell should not wait long,—
Or so it is I see it who should see
As far or farther into time tonight
Than they who talk and tremble for me now, 90
Or wish me to those everlasting fires
That are for me no fear. Too many fires
Have sought me out and seared me to the bone—
Thereby, for all I know, to temper me
For what was mine to do. If I did ill 95
What I did well, let men say I was mad;
Or let my name for ever be a question
That will not sleep in history. What men say
I was will cool no cannon, dull no sword,
Invalidate no truth. Meanwhile, I was; 100
And the long train is lighted that shall burn,
Though floods of wrath may drench it, and hot feet
May stamp it for a slight time into smoke
That shall blaze up again with growing speed,
Until at last a fiery crash will come 105
To cleanse and shake a wounded hemisphere,
And heal it of a long malignity
That angry time discredits and disowns.

Tonight there are men saying many things;
And some who see life in the last of me 110
Will answer first the coming call to death;
For death is what is coming, and then life.
I do not say again for the dull sake
Of speech what you have heard me say before,
But rather for the sake of all I am, 115
And all God made of me. A man to die
As I do must have done some other work
Than man’s alone. I was not after glory,
But there was glory with me, like a friend,
Throughout those crippling years when friends were few, 120
And fearful to be known by their own names
When mine was vilified for their approval.
Yet friends they are, and they did what was given
Their will to do; they could have done no more.
I was the one man mad enough, it seems, 125
To do my work; and now my work is over.
And you, my dear, are not to mourn for me,
Or for your sons, more than a soul should mourn
In Paradise, done with evil and with earth.
There is not much of earth in what remains 130
For you; and what there may be left of it
For your endurance you shall have at last
In peace, without the twinge of any fear
For my condition; for I shall be done
With plans and actions that have heretofore 135
Made your days long and your nights ominous
With darkness and the many distances
That were between us. When the silence comes,
I shall in faith be nearer to you then
Than I am now in fact. What you see now 140
Is only the outside of an old man,
Older than years have made him. Let him die,
And let him be a thing for little grief.
There was a time for service and he served;
And there is no more time for anything 145
But a short gratefulness to those who gave
Their scared allegiance to an enterprise
That has the name of treason—which will serve
As well as any other for the present.
There are some deeds of men that have no names, 150
And mine may like as not be one of them.
I am not looking far for names tonight.
The King of Glory was without a name
Until men gave Him one; yet there He was,
Before we found Him and affronted Him 155
With numerous ingenuities of evil,
Of which one, with His aid, is to be swept
And washed out of the world with fire and blood.

Once I believed it might have come to pass
With a small cost of blood; but I was dreaming— 160
Dreaming that I believed. The Voice I heard
When I left you behind me in the north,—
To wait there and to wonder and grow old
Of loneliness,—told only what was best,
And with a saving vagueness, I should know 165
Till I knew more. And had I known even then—
After grim years of search and suffering,
So many of them to end as they began—
After my sickening doubts and estimations
Of plans abandoned and of new plans vain— 170
After a weary delving everywhere
For men with every virtue but the Vision—
Could I have known, I say, before I left you
That summer morning, all there was to know—
Even unto the last consuming word 175
That would have blasted every mortal answer
As lightning would annihilate a leaf,
I might have trembled on that summer morning;
I might have wavered; and I might have failed.

And there are many among men today 180
To say of me that I had best have wavered.
So has it been, so shall it always be,
For those of us who give ourselves to die
Before we are so parcelled and approved
As to be slaughtered by authority. 185
We do not make so much of what they say
As they of what our folly says of us;
They give us hardly time enough for that,
And thereby we gain much by losing little.
Few are alive to-day with less to lose. 190
Than I who tell you this, or more to gain;
And whether I speak as one to be destroyed
For no good end outside his own destruction,
Time shall have more to say than men shall hear
Between now and the coming of that harvest 195
Which is to come. Before it comes, I go—
By the short road that mystery makes long
For man’s endurance of accomplishment.
I shall have more to say when I am dead.

Put Out The Fire In Your Head-With Patti Griffin's "You Are Not Lone" In Mind

Put Out The Fire In Your  Head-With  Patti Griffin's "You Are Not Lone" In Mind   

On Becoming Jane- With “The Jane Austen Book Club” (2007)-A Film Review

On Becoming Jane- With “The Jane Austen Book Club” (2007)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Senior Film Critic Sandy Salmon  

The Jane Austen Book Club, starring Kathy Baker , Maria Bello, based on tehe novel of the same name which in turn is loosley based on the characters in Austen's six major novels, 2007  

Recently in reviewing a couple of song and dance films in two separate reviews which I titled “Gene Kelly And Free Astaire Go  Mano a Mano” I led off with a tale of woe story about the strange ways that film critics, hell any critics, any writers if it came to that get their assignments. In that particular case my general editor, the usually genial Pete Markin, had after grabbing Kelly’s An American In Paris and Astaire’s Shall We Dance for the sole purpose of seeing which man was the max daddy male popular music dancer in all recorded history he had waylaid me at the Monday morning water cooler with an explosive confession that he no longer thought durable Fred Astaire deserved the title. My response in short, after all this review is about venerable sweet pea Jane Austen she of the million word romance novels which have gotten umpteen numbers of female generation through the blahs of young maidenhood, was that he perhaps, just perhaps had spent too much time on the hash pipe of late. In any case as those who have read the pieces know that he has paid dearly in taunting words from me for his treason-and error. 

As this duel within a duel unfolded (the duel between Markin and me inside the Kelly-Astaire tiff for the clueless) at least one reader was looking for other examples of the way that poor film critics are abused and forced to write, well, write stuff that assures that they will have a one way ticket to the gates of hell when they leave this mortal coil. I gave her this Markin gem. A few months ago, through a friend, he got all wound up in the celebration of the Summer of Love, 1967 and having himself participated in that wild and wooly drug, sex and rock and roll time ordered me and my esteemed associate film editor Alden Riley to write a stuff about the music (“acid: rock), films and documentaries of the times. After reviewing the famous D.A Pennebaker documentary about the first Monterey International Pops Festival in 1967 also out in California where Janis Joplin among others made their first big splashes I asked the much younger Alden what he thought of Janis Joplin. He responded that he had never heard of her. Somehow the ear to the ground Markin heard about this egregious travesty and ordered Alden, over my serious objections, to review a Joplin documentary Little Girl Blues.So that is another way.

But not everything is odd-ball editorial or putative marching orders on the question of how we reviewers come up with ideas for subjects for review. And that brings us back to Jane Austen world, to the film under review, The Jane Austen Book Club, and how I have started a “run” on reviewing the film adaptations of a number of her novels and other literary pieces. Let me get this clear when I was a kid, when I was young, 1960s young, say in high school back in down in the poor River Bottom section of Riverdale in New Jersey where I grew up I would not have voluntarily touched a Jane Austen book for love nor money. (Well maybe for love as I do now remember that I let one foxy young thing I was pining over talk to me endlessly one afternoon over sodas at Doc’s Drugstore while I was trying to listen to the jukebox as she prattled on about Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.) You see in those days in our neighborhood among the street wise guys those were strictly “girl’s books” and not anything called great literature or anything for rough-hewn larcenous guys to look at. So time passed without having dipped into the Austen well until recently I happened to see this DVD in the local library and thought that it was maybe directly about dear Jane and I could learn something about her on the cheap without having to read all that great literature. Well, as I will discuss below, this film is using Miss Austen as a “cover” to explore and exploit the plots of her novels for today’s still romantically ambiguous world although I am sure she would not mind. What is important is that I have now started that “run” through the film adaptations of her major works (the six major novels which pace the action in this film). That would not have happened I am sure if I had gone to the fiction section of that same library looking for something to read.           

As old friend Sam Lowell liked to change-up say when he tired of saying “here’s the play” in a review here is the “skinny” of this film adaptation of Karen Joy Fowler’s 2004 book of the same name which has added itself to the Jane Austen explosion of the past decade or so when she has become the epitome of the wise woman on all things romantic (and of duplicity, greed, squalor and self-serving place-holding). One of the characters decided she wanted to start a book club based on a reading per month of Jane Austen’s six major novels. She corrals one way or another five others, four women and a man, in various condition or romance or romance-lite (or un-romance in one case) for a monthly take turns swirl through the Austen playlist. As the film unfolds we find that the collective of captive readers in the club have problems or circumstances which parallel the various themes in Austen’s books-infidelity, boredom, ennui, marital neglect, lust, disinterest in sex, philandering and other gems from the pantheon. A nice literary device on author Fowler’s part as the various character try to navigate around their desires and their fates. 

In the end Austen medicine (not applicable to herself I hear since she was unmarried although once briefly engaged) is the balm for all wounds, or most wounds as a neglected housewife school teacher attracted to a young student in her class reconciles with her formerly boorish sports-addicted husband. The leader-founder of the pack trots off to her seventh marriage (wouldn’t just living together be better at least a bevy of lawyers would not get rich off the proceedings). A strictly single gal and a pining for her guy get together after a film-long series of ups and downs, mostly downs. A middle-aged wife with a philandering husband get back together after a cold civil war in the household. The only one not requited, as least not that I could see, was the kind of madcap lesbian daughter of that middle-aged women with the philandering husband problem. Maybe if you follow the staid, proper if comic Austen you could not deal with the “sin that dare not speak its name” in a positive manner in early 19th century England at least in polite society and so that lesbian daughter, madcap or not, could find no trace in an Austen plot.