Saturday, November 21, 2020

When Your Rooster Crows At The Break Of Dawn-Hold On To Your Wallet-Or Shallow And Swallow Down Your Love

When Your Rooster Crows At The Break Of Dawn-Hold On To Your Wallet-Or Shallow And Swallow Down Your Love

By Ronan Saint James

That goddam rooster down the road, I am not sure how far down that road but this the fourth day running the sleepy bastard has broken the hell out of my sleep, thought Jack Dolan as he once again, for the fourth time running tried to shake off the tepid sleep of the weary. Yeah, like the song said, Dylan wasn’t it, always that gravelly-throated bugger has an apt phrase to speak to what wearied a man, probably reflecting his own weariness, yeah, his own woman trouble what else would drive a man to write prose or lyric about his malaise blame farmyard animal for his discontents -“when your rooster crows at the break of dawn look out your window and I’ll be gone.” That is what had been keeping one John Dolan weary and wary four days running and not some fucking stone cold-eyed rooster yelling his brains out for whatever he yelled his brains out for at dawn. That Jack weariness wariness too had a name. Lucinda, Lucinda Jolly, the so-called love of his life who had walked out that door four days before without not so much as a by your leave. Left him high and dry in not to be alone Naples, down in Florida, broke and broken-hearted.

He should have seen it coming should have seen that Lucinda had been distracted by something. When they had argued, screamed really, that last night before she took a powder something they generally did not do since both had come up in households where the screaming and disorder had made them very reticent to argue, to yell at each other and maybe that was the problem, maybe what called the day done, she had mentioned that he seemed to be “distant, “ seemed to have been off his “meds” his drugs that kept him on keel. He denied it as usual and maybe that was the day done deal that finally broke things in her overheated head.

Hell that was all bullshit, all crap, what it was she had found another guy, a guy he did not see coming either although he should have since lately she had been going out by herself and coming in late. Didn’t make any excuses, lame excuses anyway, about being over at some girlfriend’s house but that she needed to be alone. That was when they decided to take whatever money they had and head to Naples, not a natural place like Big Sur out in the California coast where they could wish the Japan seas would solve whatever ailed their relationship and be washed clean by the fresh air and dreams of Jack Kerouac. dreams she had been spoon-fed on growing up in the French-Canadian Acre section of Lowell, Jack’s hometown, but what they could afford and had been a place to head for in fast sunnier days. Now she was gone, left him with no dough in godforsaken Naples of all places.

Maybe Jack should have taken those rooster crows for a sign, better should have listened to the whole Dylan lyric where he talks about it not being him (her) he (she) was looking for-after having given their, her, his bet shot, best shot maybe not up to some abstract standard they could never reach and a while back had both agreed could never reach that the whole thing had been a house of cards, had been a waystation for both after divorces, his three her pair and after those deep unhappy childhoods that seemed to glue them for a while. The whole thing had been so freaking fragile from the night they met in The Garden of Eden bar in downtown Albany near Russell Sage College when he had had plenty of dough and a full to the brim credit card that got them within a couple of days out to Big Sur, out to where he believed he had been washed clean and wanted her to see life through the prism of Pfieffer State Park complete with stone ass totems once she mentioned Jack Kerouac and that Lowell Jack park set in stone too with some his words, especially about looking for some dead-beat father they never knew. Hit right home with that one.             

In his mind, in his rooster-disturbed mind as Jack started to meditate, real meditation, and not just dwell on her being gone, who the hell that other guy was that he had not seen coming but should have when they were in their down in the mud days who maybe had not been divorced a million times, maybe didn’t drink, didn’t need “meds” and even need to meditate to keep an even keel, him with no dough and Albany many miles north but some old-time Allan Ginsberg in lieu of his now depleted “meds” he unwound the whole affair. Saw for the first time that what they had had was made of more smoke and mirrors than he could have figured when she was like a breath of fresh air coming through the fields after that first date to Saratoga field the day after they first spent the night together (he still had a hard time around “sleeping together, damn, sex so spent is what anybody would get who asked when they “did it”). She had been staying with her sister, a Russell Sage graduate and former denizen of “the Garden,  over in Ballston Spa, a sleepy little town that suited her just then but she was restless, needed to see some city lights and so the Garden of Eden had been her stopping place since Guy Williams, an old favorite, was playing a few sets there and her sister assured her that no guys would hit on her. Before she got out the door that sister Kate would amend her statement given what a breath of fresh air beauty he emitted even if she thought herself not particularly pretty, at least not too hard. Guys hitting on her. And hence Jack and his credit card and shy manner around her. (Lucinda was always amazed that he was ready to shake her hand, which he did, softly that first night and leave it at that he was so shy around women even after three marriages and a bunch of affairs. She had been the one who mentioned taking a walk along the Mohawk River to “talk” although that was not the only thing on her mind that night.) 

Jack hoped that tomorrow, tomorrow the fifth day running that rooster would lay off so he could gather himself to hit the road back to Albany and pick up the pieces of his now shattered life. The meditation, a new routine, which she had introduced him to calm him down when he was wired, when he was distant too but that was probably too little, too late.   

The next morning Jack did hit the road, well, not really hit the road like he was some second coming of Jack Kerouac or his buddies Allan Ginsberg and Neal Cassidy ready to throw caution to the wind and put his thumb out but go on his computer to look on-line for some ride-sharing opportunity. After setting up a meet with a guy going to New York City he sat around for a couple of hours in the place they had rented through Air B&B and which needed to be vacated by noon and rewound the spool of their two- year relationship now in tatters wishing all the time that he thought about it that morning that she had given a better signal, better signals that he was not what she was looking for, not the one she wanted and Dylan came lyrically back into view with his phrase from some forgotten 1960s song about “leaving at your own chosen speed.”        

Funny she had actually “discussed” with him several times her feeling she had to leave, no, that is not right, feeling that they could not go the distance, that they were too similar in their quiet desperations to stick and that whether he was expecting too much from her or she had too many non-negotiable demands the thing had not been despite Kerouac, despite being washed clean at Big Sur and a few times in Naples as well built to last. She never got to the door then, they would patch things up by having sex, or doing some dope or something to keep the embers alive. But he knew deep down that she was looking at that door and that a time would come, a time would come. 

Maybe a couple of months before when he mentioned that he had after several months had been diagnosed with bladder cancer and he begged her to leave and find her path since the treatment procedure, damn, maybe his whole life said he had to face this alone had triggered something. Or maybe so gallant had seen her and taken his best shot. Who knows. Just as he was to run a new train of thought he heard the honking of the car that would take him North-north and aloneness. He put the key in the mailbox as requested, picked up his suitcase and headed out the door to the waiting automobile. 

As he entered the vehicle and said hello to his new-found friend driver and savior Jack got pensive for a while after throwing his knapsack in the backseat and adjusting his seat-belt. Started recounting, no, re-living all the steps he and she should have taken to bring them to some understanding, if possible. He was not naïve enough after three marriages, a million affairs and his stint with her to think that it would have been a done deal but maybe. How many times had she made it plain that it was him, him and his mercurial ways that would drive her from his door, their door when they decided to move in together. How many times had he had the words in his stinking overactive head that would not come out, would not come out making any sense.

And about the night when both high but still in contact with their emotions they talked the whole night away about his “problem” of not being able to say the words she wanted to hear, that maybe they would make it with a little more communication. About too how that mother constant brow-beating made it very reticent to express any emotions, about the child being future to the man. About how in the end, she must have taken a hint from her ever practical side and realized that continuing would not work out, that the percentages were too low for her own fragile existence to count on.         

As Jack started to talk to that driver he thought  well at least he wouldn’t haven’t to listen to that cocksure rooster and his king kong king of the hill crowing … 

Murder Anyway You Cut It- With The French Film Tell No One In Mind

Murder Anyway You Cut It- With The French Film Tell No One In Mind

By Zack James

Phil Larkin, the locally well-known private investigator from Gloversville about sixty miles west of Boston, loved to go to the National Private Investigators Association (NPIA) annual conventions not so much to inspect the inevitable new technological gizmos which were touted as the P.I.s next best friend by their producers but to gather up old acquaintances and over a few whiskies to find out about some new interesting case one or more of them might be working on. They are not all interesting by any means whatever the individual P.I. might be hyping about by virtue of his or her prowess in solving the riddle of the age –usually some missing husband who was ready to go home after a couple of months with some floozy who spent all his dough and blew for places unknown, a guy who fled town for some reason and wants to remain missing but something got him up from the underground, some scared kid who blew home and is out in Topeka somewhere and can’t get out of the caboose until some adult accompanies him or her home, or a skipper you would be amazed at how much P.I. work is “repo” stuff which keeps many guys in clover and a full scotch bottle in that bottom desk drawer for those long stretches between jobs. Or about a case they might have heard about. That is how he heard from his old friend Artie Shaw about the Beck case, the case that had half the public coppers, gendarmes they call them there, in France baffled and Artie too until things fell into place by virtue of that over-rated prowess that every P.I. hung out like single in front of his or her shabby sixth floor office in some seen its day office building filled with failed dentists, cheapjack insurance agents, seedy repo men (guys who do it full-time) and discount wholesale jewelers.

[By the way for those who are confused, or only know of the more famous American Forensic Investigators Organization (AFIO), the one the famous detectives Jack Dolan, Robert Parker, and Shane Chandler, the latter a distant relative of the crime writer Raymond who practically invented the hard-boiled detective genre that has misled several generations of readers and average citizens about the real lives of P.I.s, belong to, the NPIA and AFIO work two very different tracks. The AFIO had split, an acrimoniously split, from the NPIA over the issue of working with the public coppers. The NPIA historically had deferred, meaning “butted out on,” once a case went onto the police blotter. The AFIO made up of a bunch of “hot-doggers” who spit on the public coppers and their half-ass work went on the premise that all cases were better done through private hands. Phil an old time public cop himself would have been railroaded out of business in Gloversville if he had made step one to mess with the open police cases in that town. Would have been run out of town on a rail if not put under some very loose ground especially when Nick Devine was chief copper in that burg and was so “connected” to the boys with grunts and funny noses that he well might have done it himself-or had it done.]     

Every NPIA member in attendance could hardly wait for the banquet that closed each convention to hear the words, to hear the deep dark secret of the profession that the difference between the actual numbers of cases between the two organizations was minuscule or NPIA’s were better. The reality was that despite the few headline cases like the Galton kidnaping and ransom case which some guy, some almost amateur sleuth named Ross MacDonald solved there was as much co-operation between AFIO and public coppers as the NPIA.             

Artie, originally from Boston, had worked with Phil when he had started out on a couple of cases, key-hole peeping cases which in the 1950s was bread and butter work for most private detectives in the days when getting a divorce was heavy lifting without an army of reasons adultery being the primo reason a court would accept. Phil eventually moved on from that work saying to anybody who would listen that he would rather try to solve mass murder cases, solve serial murder stuff than have to swallow the lies associated with guys and gals shacking up once they got to court and practically accused him of breaking up happy homes or being the fall guy for some kind of abuse.  Less strain on the nerves. Artie, knowing his limitations, always stuck with key-hole peeping which is how in a roundabout way he got the Beck case.

The wife of a big Boston international banker had hired him to get the goods on her husband and his French mistress whom said banker had established, had set up in a Paris apartment for when he travelled there on business. Artie, really a pro then at getting the dope, getting the photos necessary to close a divorce case in court, rapped that one up tight, no problem. What Artie had found out in Paris as the 1950s turned into the 1960s was that there was still much key-hole peeping work to found there through the still pretty much intact cumbersome French Napoleonic civil code and so he stayed around there to pick up the pieces, especially when that Boston banker’s divorcee set up herself in Montmatre.      

That banker’s ex-wife connection got him the Beck case, got it to him at least indirectly through her lawyer in Paris who was also the lawyer that this Doctor Beck had retained once he got into serious trouble, or rather he and his sister, Anne, a devotee of the horsey set, but loaded with dough from her husband’s fortune had retained. The case would have seemed to be on the face of it way over Artie’s head as it involved a “cold case,” a case that the French gendarmes had closed up tight. But the ex-banker’s wife and Beck’s lawyer both agreed that a non-French P.I. would have less hurdles to cross than some Parisian private dick who was bound by law to turn everything over to the coppers under penalty of losing his or her license. (Artie was working off his U.S. permit courtesy of influence with the public coppers by a friend of that banker’s ex-wife).

Artie had moreover gotten on the case after the thing had been dead for about seven, eight years. Years after this Doctor Beck was cleared as far as could be of his wife’s murder out in the country while they were out for a swim on the lake. The doctor’s story then had been that he had been knocked unconscious by a party unknown and dumped into the lake when he heard his wife’s screams. Except he was found on the dock. As such things went the public coppers had to let it go when they couldn’t shake his story and his wife’s father, a public copper himself, identified his daughter’s body and vouched for his son-in-law.           

Then a couple of bodies surfaced in that same area and a couple of cops from the old case started to put two and two together and come up with the doctor. The frame was on but the point was how was Artie to get enough evidence to get the doctor off the hook. As it turned out a couple of pieces of evidence surfaced that got the ball rolling. The doctor’s wife, who along with his sister were seriously into steeplechase horse shows, had been beaten badly by someone a few weeks prior to her death. The coppers figured that Doc Beck did the deed, a wife-beater not uncommon among certain high profile types. As it turned out the wife, Margot was her name, had had his sister take photographs of the wounds but had also swore her to secrecy that this horse set guy, this Phillip Neuville, the son of Baron Neuville, a guy with a pile of money as well had done the beating when she confronted him with evidence of child sexual abuse of a bunch of kids who worked the stables as a part of program she was involved with.     

That confrontation as it turned out resulted in the death of young Philip. The photographs were taken after the Doc’s wife had killed the bastard.  

Switch up to the film made of the Beck case minus, at his request since it might be bad for his business in America do, Artie….

Nowadays in order for a thriller to pass muster there have to be many little twists and turns or else the film get very tedious, get very boring, never gets, as a friend of mine who is into both written and cinematic thrillers has suggested, off the slow-moving track which spells death to the film, makes one reach for the remote very quickly. That is not the case with the thriller under review, the French film, Tell No One, although frankly I thought that the film would in its opening scenes succumb to that slow-moving death every thriller has to dodge.

Here are the twists in this “cold file” case. Doctor Beck’s wife, Margot, had been killed, senselessly killed by a serial killer, several years earlier and he was just beginning to put his life back together when a whole ton of hell started coming down on his head. Reason: a couple of male bodies filled with bullets had been found out in the country where his wife had been killed. Beck had just barely gotten out of the clutches of the law back then since the law thought under the odd-ball evidence in the case that he was the mastermind behind the deed. He had been mysteriously found unconscious on the dock despite his assertions that he had been hit and fallen into the water by the killer being a chief reason that he had been suspected by the cops.    

Lots of things begin to pop up that had the cops interested in reopening the case, hoping to see the big frame placed around his head. Unaccounted for bruises to his wife’s face on photos that survived, a gun found in secret place in his house, the murder most foul of his wife’s best friend are just some of the examples that dog him. Put those together with Beck’s taking it on the lam to figure out what the hell was going on and for the average cop never mind what country he or she works in and you have an “open and shut” case of consciousness of guilt and an easy and early wrap-up to the cases.

But hold on. This Doctor Beck actually loved his wife, was not faking the trouble he had trying to put his life back together. Something else was going on, some nefarious plot to get him to take the big step-off and let him rot in prison forgotten after a while. Not only was something going on in the frame department but the good doctor was getting information via his e-mail that his wife was still alive. So two trails of events were going on at the same time (always a good sign in a thriller): the net tightening over his head by the coppers and his frenzy to find his wife knowing now that she is not dead. That’s all I will tell you because I have been asked to “tell no one” in order not to spoil the ending, okay. Except old Doc Beck was not crazy, was not wrong in assuming that nefarious forces were out to get him although it would take a while before he learned that it was because of something that Margot had knowledge about shortly before her “death” which had people in high places ready, willing and able to do her in. Watch this award-winning film.    

Releasing Your Inner Michael Feinstein-Amy Adams and Alec Newman’s “Moonlight Serenade” (2009)-A Film Review

Releasing Your Inner Michael Feinstein-Amy Adams and Alec Newman’s “Moonlight Serenade” (2009)-A Film Review

[Occasionally a reader will write in asking how a particular staff member gets an assignment for a particular film. In short has an interest in learning about the inner working of an on-line operation where most of us are not in the same room together making decisions. Most of the time it is pretty straight forward. Films get handled by Sandy Salmon and Alden Riley with Sandy taking the older films that he would have maybe watched when he was younger and Alden the more current films. Although one time earlier this year I overrode Sandy and “forced” Alden to watch and write a review on a documentary about the first Monterey Pops Festival in 1967, the year of the Summer of Love out in San Francisco which we promoted the 50th anniversary of heavily this year, when he told Sandy that he did not know who Janis Joplin was. I still bristle at that since Monterey in 1967 was where the ill-fated snake-bitten Janis made her smash break-through. But that is the exception.

Another exception is the reviewer of the film here Moonlight Serenade where Seth Garth who usually handles music reviews got the nod from Sandy since neither he, a child of rock and rock in his youth, nor Alden much more attuned to hip-hop and techno-rock had a clue about the American Songbook Tin Pan Alley style. Knowledge of that genre for this film is critical and so Seth drew the assignment. Pete Markin]    


DVD Review 

By Seth Garth

Moonlight Serenade, starring Amy Adams, Alec Newman, Harriet Samson Harris, 2009   

My old high school friend and fellow corner boy down in Carver, down in cranberry country in Southeastern Massachusetts, Gilbert Rowland used to kid me mercilessly about my knowing more of the American Songbook than he could ever dream of. He did not know that term “American Songbook” but what he meant was clear. Although I, he, we were indeed children of rock and roll (and it off-shoot the blues a little later and still later folk music during that folk minute in the early 1960s) I knew, would hum or sing what were essentially show tunes, tunes created by those who inhabited mythical Tin Pan Alley like the Gershwin Brothers, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein and the like to the jeers of the corner boys who only cared about what the latest Chuck Berry composition was about, whether Jerry Lee’s High School Confidential was youth nation of the time’s national anthem or whether Bill Haley and the Comets still jumped after Rock Around The Clock. Stuff like that not “sissy” (he, they used a more derogatory word than that but you get the drift) music like our parents might like-or even know about since the heyday for most of that was in their 1930s and 1940s growing up times.  Don’t ask me how I came by it, maybe hearing it on a vagrant radio station sometime up in my room listening to music on my transistor radio and it stuck, but it was surely not around the house much since I was after certain young age not around the house much.

But enough of genesis and get to the why of this assignment since I don’t usually do film reviews. This Moonlight Serenade (title from an old Glen Miller smash hit back in the long ago day) is a quirky little movie that is both a romantic comedy of sorts and a semi-musical since the three main characters are ready to sing at the drop of a hat (and maybe with less prompting). Nate, played by Alec Newman, is nothing but an up and coming Wall Street money manager who has along with his associate Angelica, played by Harriet Samson Harris been selling “short” as a strategy for making tons of money for their clients and plenty of commissions for themselves. Not a strange phenomenon in 2000s New York City. What is slightly, no more than slightly, askew is that Nate is a denizen of a jazz club and also a more that fair piano player which is how he gets his relaxation after those hard-boiled hours hustling stocks around the clock. What Nate plays is not some Jerry Lee made rock and roll piano and not even Fat Domino since no way was he a child of rock and roll, way too young, but the old Broadway and cabaret show tunes made famous by the likes of Billie Holiday and Mabel Mercer and written by Tin Pan Alley legends like Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, the Gershwins and the like.             

That high strung money manager versus his inner Michael Feinstein, the fairly recent famous cabaret performer of this kind of music, is what drives the Nate end of the plotline. Enter Chloe, played by fetching Amy Adams, a hat-checker (formerly hat check girl but that is passé now) at that jazz club Nate frequents and who turns out to be a struggling torch-singer in the mold of Peggy Lee it appears whose paramour and piano player is some strung out junkie. They “meet” while he is singing a song in his open window apartment and she is walking along the sidewalk below and begins a duet (the drop of a hat phenomenon). When they actually do meet though they are frosty, or rather she in the throes of what to do about that junkie boyfriend is, and standoffish although you could tell from minute one that they would hit the satin sheets before long-and they did.

What Chloe needed was a big change and eventually got it at that jazz club when Nate who has been providing the owner with good stock tips for this portfolio gave her a break. Smash home run hit. Except two things are amiss. Nate is torn about taking stab at making a musical career and tearing up Wall Street with his expertise and Chloe has to confront what to do about that junkie boyfriend. In the end you know what happened-or can guess. Here is the big problem for me though having first seen Ms. Adams doing her torch-singer thing in Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day burning up the screen with her version of the old Inkspots’ tune If I Didn’t Care which even I recognized was one of the best versions ever done on that number. Either the song selection here was wrong although there were plenty of can-do Cole Porter tunes which Billie Holiday hit out of the park or Chloe’s jaunty way of performing them was off but except for one torch she didn’t ready hit the mark in the music department. He was off as well although Nate never claimed to be the cat’s meow as a singer. Maybe having imbibed this stuff third-hand (at least given their ages that seems right) their New York 2000s sensibilities saw the tunes differently. Still a good film to hear those old classics getting a workout and seeing the chemistry develop between Nate and Chloe.            

Friday, November 20, 2020

All That Glitters Is Not Gold-The Latest Find From The Crime Novelist Raymond Chandler’s Trove

All That Glitters Is Not Gold-The Latest Find From The Crime Novelist Raymond Chandler’s Trove 

By Book Critic Josh Breslin

A link to an NPR Morning Edition interview in 2017 with the editor of the Strand magazine on his find in the Raymond Chandler trove.

Reader in this space know of my great respect for the pioneer work of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler in bringing hard-boiled no nonsense basically anti-heroic private detective novels to the fore against the plethora of prissy parlor pink amateur detectives previously dominant in the genre. Guys, okay private eyes,  like grizzly street wise Sam Spade who was ready, willing and able to go the distance with the likes of Briget O’Shaunessey and the “Fat Man” Gutman until the bodies started piling up and he had to send darling Briget over, sent her to the big step-off to clear his own path over some fucking silly bird in The Maltese Falcon or, for example, wily gin-stained Phillip Marlowe skewering one Eddie Mars just to save an old man from believing that he had sired the devil’s own spawn in his wild and wayward daughters in The Big Sleep. Those characters will endure as long as people, young people, young men in particular seek adventurous tales. Hell even Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles in the seemingly endless The Thin Man film series when they have to go mano a mano with some nefarious foes was like a breath of fresh air in its day.         

Of course both men have now long gone beyond the pale and no one would have assumed any and all of their work product, finished, scraps, letters, etc. would not have already gone under the microscope of the Dashiell/Raymond academy with nothing left to find. Apparently that is not the case for Chandler. A recent discovery of a short story, a very short story found in the Bodleian Library in England (Chandler was born there) has now been published in the Strand magazine. From what I understand from the interview on NPR with the editor this is a complete story unlike the unfinished Phillip Marlowe Poodle Spring story which the Chandler Estate commissioned crime novelist Robert Parker to complete many years ago.            

The question for me, and the question posed by the interviewer to the Strand editor, was whether he thought that Chandler would have approved of the publication of this little piece at this late date. The editor gave his reasons for saying yes based on what he knew of Chandler’s thoughts about his works and of his literary perspective. I am not so sure. There is an on-going argument among scholars of writers that not every piece of possible scrap written under who knows what conditions and expectations is either worthy of publication or was meant for publication. In the case of Poodle Spring Chandler died before he could complete the novel which showed Marlowe after he had been house-broken, after he had lost some speed or so the nefarious foes there thought, and it can safety be assumed that it would have seen the light of day if Chandler had been able to finish it on his own. This short story was written in the early 1950s, so perhaps he was “doodling” given its brevity and its quick look at the fate of a hapless homeless man spit out by the system. In any case, for good or evil, it is out in the public prints. Still I wish it had been an undiscovered Phillip Marlowe story-finished or not.  

Thursday, November 19, 2020

One Less Johnny Rocco, Uh, Johnny Vanning Is Not Worth Dying Over-Bette Davis And Humphrey Bogart’s “Marked Woman” (1937)-A Film Review

One Less Johnny Rocco, Uh, Johnny Vanning Is Not Worth Dying Over-Bette Davis And Humphrey Bogart’s “Marked Woman” (1937)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Leslie Dumont

Marked Women, Bette Davis the girl with the Bette Davis eyes who put her hips in her back pocket Bette Davis style, Humphrey Bogart last seen uttering those prophetic words about the Johnny Roccos of the world, 1937

Yeah, Humphrey Bogart, a guy who knew a thing or two and a guy who my old flame Josh Breslin who works at this publication still and Sam Lowell the acknowledged king of film noir and black and white films in his salad days idolized had it right, had it figured exactly right when he was down in Key Largo, down in the Keys sweating like a pig and he had to tell some luscious but dizzy dame what was what about guys like Johnny Rocco being always with us, always wanted more, always wanted to run the easy street rackets just like in the old days. (By the way, as an aside, water cooler rumors that Josh and I are an “item” to use an old-time high school term are just that-rumors. After Josh’s three divorces and my two we are in no rush to jump into anything so things are murky. At this time by mutual agreement murky is good, very good.)

Of course, that didn’t stop old Bogie from bang-bang dead Johnny, made Johnny sleep with the fishes when he tried to mess with his woman, with that luscious if dizzy dame. Get this though Mary, what the hell, Mary Smith since these kinds of women have a million aliases, played by the girl with the Bette Davis eyes, was way ahead of him, ahead of Bogie when she cut the deal of deals with another Johnny, Johnny Vanning who wanted what all such Johnnies wanted-more. Had it figured to make herself the best of it as detailed in the film under review, Marked Woman. Had to do what a girl had to do no fooling around.

Of course in post-Code 1937 Hollywood Mary’s profession had to be dolled up, hostesses they called that sort, B-girls, whores really if you want the unvarnished truth working not the streets but the night club expensive booze, some gambling then hit the sheets and make the bastards, the Johns pay through the nose. Yes, a girl has got to do what a girl has to do. Mary had all the angles, had guys like gangster king Johnny Vanning figured as nothing but trouble in a girl’s life if she didn’t work an alliance. So Mary, what are we calling her, oh yeah, Smith went along and got along. What people didn’t know, what her roommate so-called fellow hostesses didn’t know was she was hustling drinks and guys in order to put her sister, her babe in the woods sister through some swanky elite college.     

That little sidebar would change things for Mary in a big way once little sister got into the act, came to visit her not knowing that she was really a call girl, whore, oh well let’s go with the fantasy night club hostess laugh. Yeah a real babe in the woods who would get more, very much more than she bargained for when she saw the glitter of the big city, when she saw that she couldn’t go back to that swanky college once the kids there knew what older sister was doing with her silky sheets nights. Little sister, Bette I think her name was but who knows, got tangled up with the wrong gees, got tangled up with one Johnny Vanning. Took a funny little fall down the staircase at one of Johnny’s swank parties. So Bette too slept with the fishes in some East River dumping ground courtesy of thoughtful Johnny Vanning.

Whore or not if your sister gets wasted you have to do something about it, have to change modes of operation so Mary became a snitch, a stoolie for the Assistant D.A, a guy named of all things Humphrey Bogart in the days before he wised-up, before he knew that one Johnny more or less was not worth dying for. Funny Mary in her salad days had played Bogie for the fool in his attempts to bring Johnny, Johnny Vanning to some rough justice, but it could have been Johnny Everyman for all that mattered when Bogie thought Mary was on the level but who was working for Johnny’s lawyer to foul up Bogie’s case. Nice moves. The little sister thing though choked things off. It didn’t help when Mary decided after finding out what happened to sis to because a snitch that Johnny, sweet as pie Johnny, had one of his boys work her over to make her less talkative.

See even if guys like Johnny Vanning, Johnny Rocco, Johnny Blade from my old neighborhood up in Olde Saco, Maine before that town took a nose-dive after the mills started shutting down and heading first to the South and then off-shore didn’t want to rule the world on the cheap a gal like Mary once the sister thing became known was a loose cannon and Bogie played on that assumption. Brought her around to see that she was going nowhere except maybe hustling on the means streets giving head, blow jobs, in some back alley for dimes and doughnuts (left unspoken in coded Hollywood okay but that was the reality). So Mary talked, talked loud and clear, brought her “hostess” roommates along, and one Johnny Vanning was toast was doing some serious time for the death of little sister. Here is the funny thing as rough justice is done for a minute when Johnny V. tags a few nickels in the big house but somewhere in the big city another Johnny will be working his way up the food chain, will have his “wanting habits” on. In some odd way one more Johnny or one less is not worth dying for-still it was nice to watch Johnny Rocco sleeping with the fishes and Johnny V. heading to the big house for some rest.        

The Theft That Made The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Theft Look Like Child’s Play-Burt Lancaster’s “The Train” (1965)-A Film Review

The Theft That Made The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Theft Look Like Child’s Play-Burt Lancaster’s “The Train” (1965)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Leslie Dumont

The Train, starring Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau, 1965

The world, or at least the art world, those interested in art anyway is still in wonder, dismay, confusion about how the robbery of a bunch of extremely valuable paintings including work by Rembrandt and other masters from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston which after all these years still have not resurfaced in public. Wonder how what is something like a half a billion dollars’ worth of art has never seen the light of day. In some quarters, and not just among the street junkies and hipsters you can make serious money betting on who ordered the heist, who carried it out and who has kept the lid on this mystery for so long. Maybe Whitey Bulger went to his recent merciless grave with the secrets intact, maybe Myles Connors who I interviewed one night when he was in one of his short time out of jail moments in the role of President of Rock and Roll when I was a stringer at this publication although that night was about music not artworks, stolen or not, maybe Sid Larry, who is my personal chose if for no other reason that he was one of the great night crawlers of all time and never saw a jail cell. (In the interest of today’s necessary notice of transparency I have a one thousand dollar bet riding on him as the villain with his brother Ned, who I dated for a while after Josh Breslin and I split up.)   

(By the way every time patrons goes to the Gardner they are reminded of the theft by the empty framed spaces where the artwork had been prior to the theft. The interest in what happened that night and how is still high as a local Boston NPR continuing series has yet again explored what happened.) 

After viewing the film under review, The Train, which is based on a French non-fictional book which has documented the thefts by the German Army and other allied forces of major artworks from museums and private collections in France (needless to say and sadly from Jewish art collectors with a vengeance) as they roamed stealing everything not nailed down, and some stuff that was, throughout Europe, roamed particularly through Paris when that city was the epicenter of the art world before World War II that Gardner heist seems like small potatoes. Moreover, the Germans thought that their mere possession of the confiscated property meant that they were entitled to ship the entire looted works back to Germany as the Allies started their serious counter-offensive in 1944 to take back the night from the night-takers. This film details ficticously efforts by the French Resistance to stop the train from leaving the country playing off the real situation where a Free French officer Rosenberg actually did stop a train leaving for Germany with a lot of his art dealer and collector father’s artworks. The real story seems more intriguing in some ways especially since it has taken the equivalent of a legal civil war to get even some of the art works back to their rightful owners.

But the storyline here has its own intrigue and its own sense of logic at a time when the world had gone mad, a time not so very different than our times, or what could be our times if some social tinder gets stoked with the current madness afoot in the land. The whole expedition was planned by one German officer, Waldheim played by Paul Scofield, an art aficionado who apparently did not care that in Germany most works of modern art, meaning art by guys like Otto Dix, George Groz, Picasso, Matisse, damn, even innocuous guys like Degas and Cezanne were “degenerate.” Many a German smoke-filled night saw such works put to the torch. This mad man German officer was a walking bundle of contradictions since on the one hand he had something of a snobbish elitist concept of art and culture as being exclusively the domain of cultured gentlemen like him. On the other he had no problem killing every opponent who tried to stop the shipment’s passage to speak nothing of wasting everybody who got in the way of the German advances to the West, to blood stained Paris earlier in the war when the Germans seemed invincible. He was more than willing, thought it was clever, maybe even a brilliant advance for humankind to have civilian hostages on the locomotive of the train to avoid the damn thing being blown up. Shed not one tear when he ordered the hostages machine-gunned when he plans went awry, when he couldn’t get the art out of the country.    

Of course such a man needed an adversary, a worthy opponent to check his every move. A man or a group, here agents of the French Resistance, who while not having a refined sense of art, maybe even sense that with the world going to hell in a handbasket that some baubles were not worth the effort but who nevertheless made the call to arms when some who saw art, great art or small, an accrual in humankind’s struggle to emerge from the mud took matters into their own hands to stop the looting of French national treasures. That man, Lebite, played by ruggedly handsome Burt Lancaster last seen in this space according to Sam Lowell taking a few unaccounted for slugs over some wayward dame in the film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, no man of culture, a man who could have given a damn about this load of art. Except somebody, some comrades, went back down into the mud on Waldheim’s watch for trying to stop, excuse my English, but my French heritage, my Quebecois heritage is showing, his fucking train full of loot.

So the chase was on between these two uneven forces. Naturally once the line-up was set up, and knowing the outcome of World War II, Waldheim would not be successful in his thefts, although it really was a close thing. In the end nobody could, or should have, shed tear number one when our French Resistance fighter took one glance at those machine-gunned civilians and wasted Waldheim without remorse, walked away. Yeah, that Gardner Museum heist was peanuts when you think about it-and that is the unvarnished truth.       

The Harder They Fall, Indeed-Humphrey Bogart’s “The Harder They Fall” (1956)-A Film Review

The Harder They Fall, Indeed-Humphrey Bogart’s “The Harder They Fall” (1956)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By “Sports Columnist” Fritz Taylor 

The Harder They Fall, starring Humphrey Bogart, Rod Stieger, based on a story of the same name by Budd Schulberg, Columbia Pictures, 1956    

[The film under review Humphrey Bogart’s The Harder They Fall is one DVD in a five DVD package of his lesser films from his Columbia Pictures days mostly in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Not all of the films do credit to Bogie’s major talent and drawing power despite what one female character in Sirocco, another film in this Columbia collection, and I quote, being the ugliest man in town and the most handsome. That estimation seems about right. 

I drafted Frank Jackman, the political reporter in this space (and at the on-line Progressive America site) to do the review of Bogie’s Sirocco since it marginally had to do with the results of World War I and the division of the spoils by the victors a subject Frank has been writing on for a couple of years now as we commemorate the 100th anniversary years of that bloody fruitless conflict. I have drafted Fritz Taylor, normally a guy who writes about music, veterans’ affairs, and culture to review the film under review here The Harder They Fail a fascinating look at the seamy side of the professional boxing game, circa the “golden age” in the 1950s when the sport hooked up with television to create a mass audience among the plebeians. A look that aside from details about money and the nature of the presentation is probably not far off the mark today as well.     

As I have mentioned earlier this year when Si Lannon talked me into letting him do a couple of pieces on an amateur golf tournament at his golf course in which his friends were competing the American Left History site very seldom treads on the major media of sports reporting or commentary so I had to “draft” Fritz Taylor to do this piece. His “credentials”? Well Fritz, a pretty tough guy in his youth down in Georgia from what I have heard and he has told us, while he was in Vietnam in the late 1960s before he got what he called “religion” on the question of war and peace had been a regimental boxing champion in his 4th Division. His reason for getting involved in this business was strictly to get out of guard duty, KP, endless patrols and the like for what proved to be little effort on his part. It also however did not save him from a couple of purple heart wounds during his tour of duty. Pete Markin]               


Although I never pursued the manly art of boxing, you know pugilism, hell, fighting and beating a guy’s brains out with your fists beyond teenage Golden Gloves work down in home country Georgia and a purely opportunistic time in the Army in Vietnam as regimental champ in the 4th Division to get out of bullshit duty I think I know what makes a guy, makes certain guys jump at the change to get out from under. That “getting out from under,” a process still going on in the professional boxing ranks is something guys, tough guys mostly, have been doing in one way or another since Roman gladiator times if not before. You can trace in this country an almost perfect trail of what recent ethnic/racial group is down at the bottom of the heap by who is fighting other guys for a living to grab the brass ring, to avoid having to go down in the factories and sweatshops to earn their livelihood.      

But enough of the amateur sociology and on to the film here which gives a pretty good view of what the sport was like in the 1950s “golden age” of boxing in America. A time when with the advent of television guys like my father, Hugh Taylor, fresh from World War II service in the Pacific and bogged down in a job he did not like in a textile mill that had moved from Nashua, New Hampshire to Athens, Georgia for the cheaper labor costs they say, was able to sit at home on a Friday night and watch, beer in hand, maybe better beers in hand, and see serious fights from places like New York’s Madison Square Garden. I think he may have gone, with his work buddies, a few times to Atlanta to see the fights in person as well but don’t hold me to that. The main thing is that working class guys mainly, although there was a certain celebrity tinge as well when guys like Ernest Hemingway or Norman Mailer would attend such fisticuffs, formed the audience for these bouts.          

As the old-time film critic in this space, now emeritus, Sam Lowell, was fond of saying when he wanted to give a summary of a film here is the “skinny” on this one. Humphrey Bogart, Bogie, last seen in this space according to what Frank Jackman said in his review of another film in this Columbia Pictures package Sirocco as the leading character in Zack James’s commemoration series of the 75th anniversary of the opening of the classic film Casablanca , plays Eddie Willis a has-been sports writer thrown on the scrap heap from a newspaper that had gone under in the shrinking newspaper wars world who “from hunger” takes a job as publicist from the long-pursuing shady boxing promoter and fixer man Nick Benko,  played a little over the top but with some credible flair by Rod Steiger. (Bogie seems to have alternated in his career between serious shoot ‘em up and ask questions later bad guys like Duke Mantee in Petrified Forest to tough nut Phillip Marlowe trying to save an old man’s dignity and keep his wild side daughters in check in The Big Sleep to under the rug rat Eddie here working for his dally wages anyway he could.)

Nick was well known in New York and elsewhere for having a stable of run of the mill boxers who kept him and his in clover, kept him and his organization in business by knocking other guys on the noggin and keeping him in high end suits, swank apartments, and easy party women on the side. Like a lot of guys who are stuck in the pile he wanted a champion, wanted to have a shot at the brass ring one of his guys could bring him. Nick’s play, his proposition to Eddie was simply, simply for the talented if balky Eddie, play up, Toro, this giant, this glass-jawed and fragile boxer from down in South America he had discovered to the hilt to draw crowds and draw a chance at the heavyweight championship of the world.  No mean task even for the adroit for Eddie with an ungainly giant on his hands who couldn’t bat a fly without knocking himself out. After balking at first Eddie buys into the deal though so he can keep himself and his fetching wife in clover. That first compromise leads to a million others and as the film progresses he goes down Nick’s slippery slope with only a few swallows. 

Of course Nick has no scruples, wouldn’t know what the word meant, didn’t give a fuck about whether this sunny senor could box or not it is all theater anyway, just entertainment for the sit on your ass masses and no skin off of his nose. Still to get to the top you have to get pass step one. That glass jaw and sissy punch would get him knocked out in minute one of round one except for one little handy trick. Get the opponent to take a dive, go in the tank, play dead fast for quick dough and no questions asked. And Eddie was there pushing the bullshit, rolling that stone up the hill. Making this guy the greatest thing since old Prometheus started his trek. Not without qualms, not without balking, but still going for the clover for him and the wife off this gaucho’s back.          

A big stretch of the film is the rise of this holy goof, as Seth Garth would call him reminding him of some junkie has-been out of Kerouac when he asked me what I was writing about, from nobody from nowhere to contender all courtesy of Nick   the friendly fixer man (and as with all such schemes with willing tank town managers, where do you think they got the expression from beyond that railroad watering spot origin, getting their nowhere boys to take the “tank’ for this monster). Finally as they head East to Chi town Senor Toro gets a crack at an over the hill, taken one or more too many punches, ex-champ which will pave the way to the big payoff championship fight in the Garden. (One too many hits which makes you wonder what their concussion brains looked like at the end of their careers now that professional football players have been found to have taken some horrible beatings over the head during their playing careers and suffered horrible damage and shortened lives because of it.) Except this ex-champ, this guy who took one too many punches couldn’t take one more, couldn’t take a Toro tap even while taking the dive. DOA.

In Nick’s scheming though this has-been boxer’s death would only made Toro a bigger draw when he hit the big time in New York against the champ. Nick tried to “negotiate” with the champ but the champ wouldn’t bite, wouldn’t make the dance of the ring go round. He wanted to murder this Toro, put him under, let him kiss the canvas floor for a while. No problem, no problem for Nick just bet against his glass-jaw sissy punch fighter and clean up. The kid took it on the chin, looked like holy hell when the champ went into overdrive, got his jaw busted up good and got less, much less than chump change for his efforts so he could finally get home and take care of his family.        
This bastard Nick though was a beau, had sold his contract on Toro to some tank town manager who after the kid proved to have no talent, none, would be fodder for the locals out in Podunk to begin their own career rises on. This is where Eddie finally balked, finally gets “religion” about how bad the fight game was just like I did with fucking war and got the kid the hell out of New York and home with, guess what, his, Eddie’s, share of the dough that Nick skimmed from the kid’s purses. Ugly. Of course that sets up Saint Eddie of the dreams for Nick’s hatchet. Or it seemed so but when as I can tell you a guy gets religion on something nobody can destroy him. Can’t buy, steal or put him under. Eddie in the last scene is ready to do battle to get the murderous sport of guys beating guys senseless for dough for fixers like Nick banned one way or another. Nice work if Eddie survives some back alley assault. 

[Fritz balked at saying anything about the author of the book The Harder They Fall by Hollywood “prince” Budd Schulberg (his father ran Paramount Studios) from which the screenplay of this film was taken but candor and a rather innocuous short statement in his bio in Wikipedia requires that I say something about this snitch. Snitch before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) when after he had been “outed” as an ex-Communist Party member by a fellow screenwriter he sang like a canary to save his own miserable ass by naming names of others he knew back in the day, back in the Popular Front and World War II days when such a thing as party membership was okay but in the dead of night, red scare Cold War 1950s could get you jail time witness the Hollywood Ten, witness Dashiell Hammett and others who didn’t know how to sing. Bogie for that matter telling the committee to go to hell. It must have been old home week when Schulberg, and fellow snitches Lee J. Cobb and Elia Kazan got together on the On The Waterfront film. They could have formed a singing trio. Jesus their names should live in infamy when the word cowards hits the page. Sorry Fritz it had to be said as an act of elementary hygiene. Frank Jackman]   

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

After The Fall-Humphrey Bogart’s “Sirocco” (1951)-A Film Review

After The Fall-Humphrey Bogart’s “Sirocco” (1951)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Special Guest Commentator Frank Jackman

Sirocco, starring Humphrey Bogart, Lee J. Cobb, Columbia Pictures, 1951

[This review to the extent that it is a film review is based on a five DVD package of films that the legendary craggy-faced actor Humphrey Bogart did for Columbia Pictures mainly in the late 1940s and early 1950s-Frank Jackman]

I do not normally do film reviews in this space but recently Pete Markin, the administrator on this site, asked me if I would be interested in reviewing Humphrey Bogart’s Sirocco since it involved two things that he knew I was interested in-Bogart and the in many ways decisive results of World War I for today’s world troubles, the ‘war to end all wars” which I/we are in the midst of commemorating the final bloody 100th anniversary year of here and elsewhere. I accepted mainly on the latter premise but as it turned out also because although I have seen a ton of Bogart films this 1951 effort for Columbia Pictures had escaped my attention and while I am bound to do the review for other reasons I don’t think this one measures up as a prime Bogie flick.      

As to the other reasons as just mentioned we are in the midst of the 100th anniversary of the bloody seemingly endless butchery of World War I. As I have pointed out elsewhere some of the results of that war were the various stages of the Russian Revolution which brought down the Czarist regime, the defeat of German and its lesser ally Austria bringing down two more empires and most importantly for us here also the fall of the German-allied Ottoman Empire. I have described the first three falls in great detail as to the their contribution to the world we face today elsewhere but the fall of the Ottoman Empire and its aftermath are still very much with us as even slight perusal of the daily news will confirm in places like Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and Syria all lands formerly part of that decayed empire.          
Of course we all know, or should know, that ever since wars have been started that “to the victor belongs the spoils” and that was exactly the situation after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The British and French decided to carve up the old territories of the Middle East to suit their conveniences, or the conveniences of their emissaries. Maybe conveniences is too strong a word and whim would be more appropriate. During this time we have the Balfour Declaration proclaiming British commitment to creating a Jewish state in that area, the division, the quite arbitrary decision, to carve up the area not by traditional boundaries or allegiances but colonial convenience under the well-trodden colonialist “divide and conquer” stratagem. Those conveniences (whims) which would come back to haunt them especially after World War II when the colonial masses were struggling for liberation from their respective colonial powers after World War I included giving the French a mandate in what was then and now Syria. Today just to mention the name of that benighted country tells much about how little has changed in the post-colonial period.               

What does all this have to do with Bogie and this film. Well the story line here is set in Damascus in 1926 when the French Army was in deep trying to put down a national liberation struggle by the indigenous people led by an Emir who was ready, win or lose, to get the French all the grief they could handle. Bogie, last seen in this space I believe as one of the lead actors in the classic film Casablanca which is commemorating the 75th anniversary of its opening this year as well, is nothing but an opportunist businessman of sorts selling guns and ammo to the colonials, to the liberation fighters for a pretty profit. (I am willing to bet as will be detailed a bit below that Bogie, or rather Bogie’s character here Harry Smith, wished as Rick of Rick’s Café Americian he had never left old Casablanca where running a gin joint and being the conduit for some letters of transport which helped one Victor Lazlo, the famous Czech liberation fighter against the Nazi night-takers, get out of that stinking hole and on to fight another day. Even though that meant giving up lovely Ilsa, his “we will always have Paris” flame. There is a lot in this film which has the feel of the earlier film but lacks energy, plotline and even scenes to match that epic.)

Naturally the French Army commander General LaSalle, played by Everett Sloane, wants this traffic stopped and the uprising suppressed by any means necessary. His strong inclination is to level Damascus to the ground and execute everyone that his troops can round up if necessary to suppress the rebels. Periodically though he gives into the ideas of his chief of intelligence Colonel Feroud, played by Lee J. Cobb, last seen in this space playing the corrupt union leader in On The Waterfront and snitching on every fellow actor he could before the 1950s red scare House Un-American Activities Committee, who thinks that he can buy time and maybe peace by negotiating with that Emir and his underlings.      

The story line goes back and forth based on that idea. Where things get dicey for Bogie, like I said the Harry Smith in this film, is when the good Colonel through snitches is able to grab Bogie before he can leave town. Ready to face the firing squad he makes a deal with Harry to get him out of town if he can lead him to the Emir rather than face a messy death. Done. Done except in trying to save the Colonel’s life by coming up with the idea to the General of paying ransom he forfeits his own since the rebels no longer trust him. So all Harry gets for his troubles is a big step-off, a summary execution.  

[A little romance on the side is always the order of the day in these type films. Here there is an underlying tension between the good Colonel and Harry over the Colonel’s bored and flirty mistress, Violette, whom the Colonel loves to distraction. Nothing comes of her using Harry to get out of town and Feroud’s life since he bought the big step-off by trying to do right once in his ruthless life.]

You Don’t Need An Easter Bonnet To Know Which Way The Wind Blew-And It Ain’t Toward Fifth Avenue-Judy Garland And Fred Astaire’s “Easter Parade” (1948)-A Film Review

You Don’t Need An Easter Bonnet To Know Which Way The Wind Blew-And It Ain’t Toward Fifth Avenue-Judy Garland And Fred Astaire’s “Easter Parade” (1948)-A Film Review  

DVD Review

By Lance Lawrence

Easter Parade, starring Judy Garland the envy of every drag queen in the world including writer Seth Garth’s old neighborhood corner boy Timmy Riley who perfected his Judy Garland act into the biggest draw in North Beach once he got out of the closet of the Acre in North Adamsville, Fred Astaire, and assorted dancers and hoofers to make a man weep, with Peter Lawford before his stint as Nick Charles in the television version of the Thin Man and male escort to one of the Kennedy fortune women, the Jack Kennedy generation women so there is no confusion, 1948     

Easter, Easter parades via the television with the Mayfair swells, a term totally unknown to me at the time, strutting up and down Fifth Avenue in the heart of Manhattan, meant nothing to me, nothing at all. The simple fact was from an early age I, my family, and especially my four older brothers shunned that so-called holiday since rather than a time to strut our stuff I, we tried to bury the occasion. (I won’t go into the meaning of the holiday to us then, the Christian holiday, where Jesus arose from the dead and went heaven-bound since this screed is about more earthly, plebian and mundane things, rough-hewed sociology if you like not theology.) Bury it for the simple reason that the day represented one of the two times in the year that we received new clothes via my hard-pressed father’s always inadequate paychecks (that “inadequate” something I also didn’t know at the time but probably would not have mattered in the social sense which is what this is all about). The other time of course the start of the school year.         

What is the big deal lots of people, working people, back in the 1970s were hard -pressed to provide their kids and themselves adequate and varied clothing. Half the writers at this publication, for instance, faced the same situation or something roughly approximate which is probably why these many years they are still writing stuff about those times in this space. The big deal is what those clothes were like, what made other kids laugh at me, us when we went to Easter Mass or the next day when we went to school an occasion when everybody, everybody who celebrated Easter which meant just about everybody in the Heights section of Troy in upstate New York. 
See, my, our mother, besides being a bad cook which led me more times than I can count over to my grandmother’s house where she always had something on the old-time cast iron stove that in itself made the food that much tastier, had no taste in clothes. No sense of what growing young boys would want to wear. To emulate whoever were the male fashion-plates or just cool.

Part of her lacks was the lack of money to clothe five strapping boys but part of it was where she shopped. These were the days before Wal-Mart expanded a lot from the South and so what she went to shop was the local equivalent of that type of store called the Bargain Center. The place, a one store operation, was the graveyard for last year’s or maybe the year before’s styles which in the fast changing fashion world of youth meant not cool, not cool at all. Moreover, if it wasn’t outdated fashion it was overstocked or unsaleable goods. I will give my forever classic example. One year, a year when pin-striped shirts were out of fashion and the color purple never in fashion she bought each of us matching shirts like that. I could hear the titter in the pews as the five of us cam marching down the church aisle. The next day was worse, much worse. Thinking back on it I would have had no trouble with one of the lines that I believe the late rapper Biggie Small put out-“birthdays were the worse days, Christmas kind of missed us.” Easter, sad sack Easter too, brother. But enough. 

Now onto a review of high society Fifth Avenue Easter Parade which has nothing to do with what I just mentioned above but which new site manager Greg Green has encouraged us to mention as we go about our reviewing chores to let the reader know more about us and here why Easter stuff makes me blue even now. Of course, it may be a good luck sign, despite the blues, that this musical hit of 1948 is only marginally about Easter, or Easter Parades. Rather the film as to be expected when names like Judy Garland and Fred Astaire are atop the marque is about song and dance. Here is the play by play or rather the Irving Berlin playlist which is really what every musical is about. Well that and the inevitable happy ending to the eternal boy meets girl trope that has not only saved many a Hollywood film, not necessary on this one, but has been the bane of the Western literary canon and hard to topple as mightily as we have tried to wean the damn idea from the list of story-line idea.          

Fred, let’s use their real names since nobody cares about the various stage names because the music and dance are their real calling cards, had been partnered up with Nadine in a dance team around 1912. Did pretty well, career-wise and between themselves, maybe even lovers. But Nadine wanted to go solo, go to the “bigs” alone making me, and maybe others, wonder about that love stuff between them. After pouting for a while, really after being in his cups Fred figures he can make a star out of any hoofer and to experiment he picks up Judy out of nowhere. Teaches her plenty, makes her okay, just okay because what he did was teach her to be a Nadine wannabe. No good.  

Once he lets Judy go through her paces though they also are ready for the “bigs” figure to be in one of Nadine’s shows. Not a good idea because if Nadine does not want Fred she also does not want what she sees as rival Judy’s growing love for Fred. Wants him pining for his thwarted love. Figures. Not to worry though before this thing is over, before Judy and Fred promenade down, or is it up, Fifth Avenue in their beautiful clothes (not a pin-stripe or purple shirt in sight) to not give lie to the title of the film Fred realizes that he is not pounding his heart for bitch Nadine but love for Miss Judy Garland. Some great but probably now not well-known songs except by serious American songbook aficionados from Irving Berlin. Except as well you can bet your Easter bonnet or top hat people still know Easter Parade. Still doesn’t take that childhood sting away, probably never will.