Friday, July 17, 2020

A Writer’s Tale-Vincente Minnelli’s Film Adaptation Of James Jones’ “Some Came Running” (1958)-A Film Review

A Writer’s Tale-Vincente Minnelli’s Film Adaptation Of James Jones’ “Some Came Running” (1958)-A Film Review

DVD Review

By Fritz Taylor    

Some Came Running, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine, Martha Hyer, directed by Vincente Minelli, adapted from the novel by James Jones, 1958  

No question I was first drawn to Some Came Running, a film based on the novel of the same name by James Jones whose more famous novel Here To Eternity also was adapted to the screen and stands as one of the great classic films of the modern cinema, by the ex-soldier’s story and then by his plight as a blocked writer. The draw of the ex-soldier’s story reflected something that had been in my own experience about coming back to the “real” world after the military. That seems to be the character played by Frank Sinatra Dave Hirsh’s situation. That inability to go to the nine to five routine, to settle down after military service had shaken him out of his routine rang a bell. In my own military service generation, in my own service, I ran across plenty of guys who couldn’t deal with the “real” world coming back from Vietnam and who tried to hide from that fact as “brothers under the bridges” alternate communities out in places like Southern California. I spent time in such places myself. I see and hear about young Iraq and Afghanistan War service personnel having the same woes and worse, having incredibly high suicide rates. So yeah, I was drawn to Dave’s sulky, moody, misshapen view of the world.           

The story line is a beauty. Dave, after a drunken spree, finds he was shipped by bus back in that state by some guys in Chicago to his Podunk hometown in Parkman, Indiana, a town he had fled with all deliberate speed when he was a kid orphaned out by his social-climbing older brother Frank because, well, because he was in the way of that social-climb after their parents die. Dave was not alone in his travels though since he had picked up, or had been attached to, a floozy named Ginny, played by Shirley MacLaine, who will make life hell for him in the end. As he became accustomed to his old hometown and while deciding whether to stay or pick up stakes (the preferred fate of his brother and his also social-climbing wife) he was introduced to a local school teacher Gwen, played by Martha Hyer, who will also make hell for him in the end since he was quickly and madly in love with her but she was seriously stand-offish almost old maid stand-offish since she had had a few tastes of his rough-hewn low life doings. Doings which were encouraged by a gambler, Bama, played by Dean Martin who became his sidekick.        

But here is the hook that almost saved Dave and almost lit a spark under dear Gwen. Dave was a blocked writer, had some time before written a couple of books that were published and had gathered some acclaim, were well written. Gwen attempted to act as his muse, and did prove instrumental in getting a work of his published. To no avail since Dave was not looking for a muse, well, not a muse who wasn’t thinking about getting under the silky sheets. No go, no go despite Dave’s ardent efforts. Frustrated Dave turned to Ginny and whatever charms she had-and the fact that she loved him unconditionally despite their social and intellectual differences. In the end Dave in a fit of hubris decided to marry Ginny after being rebuffed by Gwen enough times. The problem though was that Ginny had a hang on gangster guy trailing her who was making threatening noises about putting Dave, and/or Ginny, underground. In the end they were not just threatening noises as he wounded Dave and killed poor bedraggled Ginny. Watch this one-more than once and read James Jones’ book too which includes additional chapters about those soldiers who could not relate to the “real” world after their military experiences. This guy Jones could write, sure could write about that milieu based on his own military service. (There is a famous photograph of Jones, Norman Mailer, and William Styron, the three great soldier boy American literary lights of the immediate post-World War II war period with Jones in uniform if I recall.)                

Welcome Young-With Remembrances Of Golden Age Fourth Of July’s In Mind (2017)

Welcome Young-With Remembrances Of Golden Age Fourth Of July’s In Mind (2017)

By Prescott Blaine

Si Lannon had always been a man of unmitigated memories. Had always been the guy, the kid when that term was appropriate, who kept vigil over what had occurred and when from the surprise of the first conscious Christmas (and thereafter the unscrambling of the Santa question) to the scent of Laura Perkin’s perfume (or when she was a kid herself the smell, the intoxicating smell, of that bath soap that drove him crazy when they danced close in that first school days dance meant to keep unruly thoughts in check. He would, such was his memory drive, often later wonder whether she had used that article for a certain effect that far back in the boy-girl tango. He knew later she would do such things consciously and he was glad of it). Si, now having lived long enough to have a treasure trove of memories, had of late been drawn to the faraway events that made up his early childhood in the old neighborhood where he grew up, came of age (along with that Laura Perkins with whom he was an item all through high school but when he went off to college they broke up since she did not want to wait four years or more to get married-such were the times and expectations back then). Since it was that time of year he had been musing over the old days when the Fourth of July was something of a watershed in the summer.      

This series of recollections back in time to those particular times were no mere happenstances and it was a question in Si’s mind whether he would have been dwelling on this seasonal event if it had not been for the fact that he had recently moved back into the old neighborhood. As Si would say “to make a long story short” so we can get to the heart of what has possessed the man of late his marriage, his long-time marriage, to Lana Shea had ended when she decided that she had to go “find herself” and that adventure was not to include Si who she considered part of the problem for not having been able to “find herself” in some earlier time. (Admittedly Si did not, does not, understand how all they had together could blow away like some mistral wind since he believed, believes, that he never stood in her way to do whatever finding was to be found). He had spent some time up in Maine after the break-up in order to see if distance would help heal some wounds. They didn’t and one night, maybe less, he decided that he was not cut out for the isolation of the wilds of Maine and that he needed to get back around cities and some sense of rootedness. So back to the much changed old neighborhood-and memories.   

Si had adjusted pretty well to his return, knew some things like the change in the ethnic composition of his old working class neighborhood from overwhelming Irish to mostly Asian was a fact of life in mobile America. He could understand the Chinese exodus from Boston’s Chinatown and environs since the Irish and Italians had respectively exited the North End and South Boston in search of fresher air in his grandparents’ time but the Vietnamese migration had him baffled since there had been no previous indigenous grouping in the Greater Boston area. Moreover, Si, a Vietnam veteran himself although he had long ago made his peace with the Vietnamese if not his own government wondered how Jimmy Jenkins and Vince Riley two neighborhood guys who had laid down their heads in Vietnam would have reacted to the fact that right there on Kenny Street which he passed almost every day Vietnamese families were living in their respective growing up houses. Probably not any better than when they joined up to kill commies.

But Si also knew some things had been lost although he could not put his finger on exactly what that was until the Fourth of July. And then only by becoming aware of the absence of any celebration, a hallmark of the old neighborhood come America’s birthday. Such celebrations having gone the way of the horse and buggy it seemed in an age when people flee their neighborhoods on the holidays to vacation or “to summer” elsewhere, anyway perhaps. In the old days “to summer” was to hike the mile to Adamsville Beach to roast in the sun and roast weenies. Then people stayed put either because they had no car to flee with (Si’s family situation until he was a late teenager) and no additional funds beyond the weekly white envelopes to fend off the bill collectors-for a while.    

So much for the sociology and cultural aspects which really was not what was driving Si’s memory bank on reflection. All he could think about were those maybe half a dozen maybe eight years when his (and that of his four other brothers) Fourth of July centered on events not one hundred yards away from his family’s house. Si grew up and lived across from the Welcome Young ballfield (still there although shortened up with the addition of some tennis courts). Welcome Young an apt name and which was actually the name of the person who gave the town the property to be used for the young.  This Welcome Young field most of the summer was a hot, dusty usually during the day vacant lot (at night the local fathers and older brothers played softball there as an excuse  to have a few beers at the three barrooms located directly across from the field and those institutions collectively sponsored some of the teams in the makeshift league). But on the Fourth it was turned into something like a carnival. 

What would happen every year is that some of the guys who frequented the barrooms (and their owners’), including Si’s father, formed what was called the North Adamsville Associates whose members would comb the neighborhood in search of donations from residents and local businesses in order to put on “a time” (an old expression from the Irish diaspora not heard expressed in many a moon). That “time” included everything from food, drink, and prizes to paying for the band at the night’s end dance (mostly for adults and older kids). Si claims he never attended one but could hear the music from across the way as he drifted off to sleep after a hard day’s work at having fun.   

Si had to laugh to himself as he thought about the various silly kid escapades he had partaken in. The first in time was early on exploiting the fact that for once the tumbledown house where he and his siblings grew up actually proved of strategic importance. One of the highlights of the day was that twice, at ten and at one, members of the Associates would put up makeshift tables and distribute tonic (an old New England term for soda also not heard in many a moon) and ice cream to the throngs of kids milling about nervously waiting for the distribution. All well and good. The cause of Si’s laughter though was that he and his brothers would form a relay from those tables to their house. Or rather the refrigerator in the back hall of that house which before the day ended would be filled with enough tonic (remember soda) and ice cream to last the whole summer (or that was the idea). Kids holy goof stuff.             

Of course there were rides, baby carriage contests, singing contests, pie-eating contests, beauty contests and the like although Si never got a prize for anything like that. What Si remember though were the foot races (including the silly three-legged ones), the fifty yard dashes. He never won any of those either. But the last year that he attended the festivities, the summer of the year that he entered the ninth grade he did win a race. The vaunted, locally vaunted, six hundred yard race around several of the neighboring streets. This was for the older boys, boys and young men a lot older than him. He would always remember that race since he made a cardinal mistake of running too fast (out of fear of the older guys) at the beginning and running into oxygen debt toward the end. He won though, barely, and would wear the jacket that was the prize seemingly forever before it bit the dust.

Ah, such is memory…maybe next year he will check out and see if anybody wants to “put on a time” for the kids. Payback-okay.            

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time- Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”(1956)-A Film Review

The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time- Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”(1956)-A Film Review 

DVD Review

By Sandy Salmon

The Man Who Knew Too Much, starring James Stewart, Doris Day, directed again (first time 1934) by Sir Alfred Hitchcock, 1956   

People, historians, especially counter-historians, often speculate if one little fact was changed then history would have taken a decisive turn the other way. You know stuff like if Hitler had been killed at the beer garden in Munich in 1923 or if Lenin could not have gotten back to Russia in the spring of 1917. That idea runs to the personal side of life as well, sometimes with strange results like being in the wrong place at the wrong time like the protagonists in the late Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s off-beat remake of his 1934 classic The Man Who Knew Too Much. So just like with great historical figures and events we can play the same game here what if Ben, played by Jimmy Stewart, Jo played by Doris Day and their young son had not been  heading from Casablanca to Marrakesh on some dusty woe begotten bus and run into a French intelligence agent whose dying words talked of an assassination plot against a big shot foreign dignity in bloody England.      

But, of course, they were and the chase was on from there ruining a perfectly respectable little family vacation and putting Ben and Jo on the edge-to speak nothing of their son who will eventually be kidnapped just because Ma and Pa knew too freaking much. Once the conspirators know they know that young son’s life isn’t worth much, maybe. He is kidnapped to insure Ben and Jo’s silence. But they trace the party to London where the action gets hot and heavy and the conspiracy to kill the foreign big wigs in is full gear. Except through keen analysis and some luck Ben and Jo figure out that the plot is going to be hatched, that dignitary is going to be killed while attending a symphony concert at Royal Albert Hall (where else). The long and short of it is that Ben and Jo discover where the kidnappers have taken their son, they struggle to get to him and eventually find out about the Royal Albert caper. They are able to foil the plot by a timely scream from Jo who sights the paid assassin as he attempts his dastardly work. After much ado their son is recovered and they can go on about their average American family life.

But let’s say that big wig was killed maybe there would have been another Sarajevo, 1914. There’s a little history in the conditional for you. See this one it is better that the 1934 version which as Hitchcock himself is quoted as saying was the work of an inspired amateur and the 1956 was done by a master artist, a pro. And that is right.   

In Honor Of The Late Rocker Chuck Berry Who Helped Make It All Possible-*Coming Of Age, Period- '50s Style-An Encore

In Honor Of The Late Rocker Chuck Berry Who Helped Make It All Possible-*Coming Of Age, Period- '50s Style-An Encore

In Honor Of The Late Rocker Chuck Berry Who Helped Make It All Possible-Coming Of Age, Period- '50s Style-An Encore

CD Review

Oldies But Goodies, Volume One, Original Sound Record Co., 1986

I have been doing a series of commentaries elsewhere on another site on my coming of political age in the early 1960s, but here when I am writing about musical influences I am just speaking of my coming of age, period, which was not necessarily the same thing. No question that those of us who came of age in the 1950s are truly children of rock and roll. We were there, whether we appreciated it or not at the time, when the first, sputtering, musical moves away from ballady Broadway show tunes and rhymey Tin Pan Alley pieces hit the radio airwaves. (If you do not know what a radio is then ask your parents or, ouch, grandparents, please.) And, most importantly, we were there when the music moved away from any and all music that your parents might have approved of, or maybe, even liked, or, hopefully, at least left you alone to play in peace up in your room when rock and roll hit post- World War II America teenagers like, well, like an atomic bomb.

Not all of the material put forth was good, nor was all of it destined to be playable fifty or sixty years later on some “greatest hits” compilation but some of songs had enough chordal energy, lyrical sense, and sheer danceability to make any Jack or Jill jump then, or now. And, here is the good part, especially for painfully shy guys like me, or those who, like me as well, had two left feet on the dance floor. You didn’t need to dance toe to toe, close to close, with that certain she (or he for shes). Just be alive…uh, hip to the music. Otherwise you might become the dreaded wallflower. But that fear, the fear of fears that haunted many a teenage dream then, is a story for another day. Let’s just leave it at this for now. Ah, to be very, very young then was very heaven.

So what still sounds good on this CD compilation to a current AARPer and, and perhaps some of his fellows who comprise the demographic that such a 1950s compilation “speak” to. This volume is, more than some of the other volumes in this series (fifteen in all), loaded up with classics. Of course, Earth Angel, the 50s seemed to be a time for “angel’ laments from the classic Teen Angel on, the theme being irrevocable lost and learning about such heartbreak at an early age. Eddie My Love, a tale of longing from the female side that I nevertheless even today still find myself singing in the shower. And, on that same line Confidential the lyrics and theme hit a chord. Naturally, in a period of classic rock numbers, Chuck Berry’s Maybellene (or, virtually any other of about twenty of his songs from that period).

But what about the now inevitable end of the night high school dance song (or maybe even middle school) that seems to be included in each CD compilation? The song that you, maybe, waited around all night for just to prove that you were not a wallflower, and more importantly, had the moxie to , mumbly-voice, parched-throated, sweaty-handed, asked a girl to dance (women can relate their own experiences, probably similar). Here the classic Paul Anka hit, Put Your Head On My Shoulder fills the bill. Hey, I didn’t even like the song, or the singer, but she said yes and this was what you waited for so don’t be so choosey. And, yes, I know, this is one of the slow ones that you had to dance close on. And just hope, hope to high heaven that you didn’t destroy your partner’s shoes and feet. Well, one learns a few social skills in this world for no other reason that to “impress” that certain she (or he for shes) mentioned above. I did, didn’t you?


THE FONTANE SISTERS lyrics - Eddie My Love

Eddie my love, I love you so-o
How I've waited for you you'll never know-o
Please Eddie, don't make me wait too long

Eddie please write me one li-ine
Tell me your love is still only mi-ine
Please Eddie, don't make me wait too long

You left me last September
To return to me before long
But all I do is cry myself to sleep
Eddie since you've been gone

Eddie my love where can you be-ee
I pray the angels find you for me-ee
Please Eddie, don't make me wait too long

Please Eddie, don't make me wait too long

Once Again -Down At Duke’s Place-With Duke Ellington In Mind

Once Again -Down At Duke’s Place-With Duke Ellington In Mind

From The Pen Of Bart Webber  

One night Sam Eaton was talking on his cellphone to his old friend from high school (Carver High, Class of 1967), Jack Callahan about how his grandson, Brandon, the oldest grandson of his daughter Janice from his first marriage (first of three all ending in divorce but that is merely a figure for the Census Bureau and not germane to what follows so enough) had beguiled him recently with his arcane knowledge of classical jazz (the jazz from the age of King Oliver say until the death of the big bad swings bands which died in the late 1940s for the most part giving way to cool ass be-bop and what followed).

Jack braced himself for the deluge, got very quiet and did not say word one, since lately the minute Sam mentioned, maybe even thought about mentioning the slightest thing connected with jazz he knew he was in for it, in for a harangue of unknown duration on the subject. Sam, recently more conscious that Jack, who hated jazz, hated it worse when as a child of rock and roll as Sam was, his father would endlessly play Count this, King that, Duke the other thing and not allow the family record player centered in the family living room to be sullied (his father’s word) by heathen stuff like Roll Over Beethoven or One Night With You, would go silent at the word “jazz” said not to worry he would only say a few words from his conversation with Brandon:        

No, Jack, my man, this will not be a screed about how back in the day, back in the 1950s the time of our complete absorption into rock and roll, when be-bop jazz was the cat’s meow, when cool was listening to the Monk trip up a note, consciously trip up a note to see if anybody caught it and then took that note to heaven and back, and worked it out from there or Dizzy burping then hitting the high white note all those guys were struggling against the limits of the instruments to get, high as hell on tea, you know what we called ganja, herb, stuff like that.

Frankly I was too young, you too but I knew how you felt since I couldn’t listen to rock in my house either as the 1940s Andrews Sisters/Perry Como/Frank Sinatra/Peggy Lee cabal were front and center in our living room and I was reduced to listening on my transistor radio, way too young to appreciate such work then and I only got the tail end, you know when Hollywood or the popular prints messed the whole be-bop jazz “beat” thing up and we got spoon-fed Maynard G. Krebs faux black and white television beatnik selling hair cream oil or something like that, and ten thousand guys hanging around the Village on Saturday night in full beret and whatever they could put together for a beard from the outreaches of Tenafly, New Jersey (sorry but Fort Lee was out) and another ten thousand gals, all in black from head to toe, maybe black underwear too so something to imagine at least from Norwalk, Connecticut milling around as well. Square, square cubed.

No, this will not be some screed going back further in the hard times of the Great Depression and the slogging through World War II when “it did not mean a thing, if you ain’t got that swing” when our parents, the parents of the kids who caught the end of be-bop “swang,” did dips and twirls to counts, dukes, earls, princes, marquises even leading big band splashes to wash that generation clean. Come on now that was our parents and I wasn’t even born so no way I can “screed” about that. And, no, no, big time no, this will not be about some solitary figure in some dank, dusty, smoke-filled café, the booze flowing, the dope in the back alleys inflaming the night while some guy, probably a sexy sax player, blows some eternal high white note out against some bay, maybe Frisco Bay, and I was hooked, hooked for life on the be-bop jazz scene.

No, it never even came close to starting out like that, never even dreamed such scenes. Unlike rock and roll, the classic kind that was produced in our 1950s growing up time and which we have had a life-long devotion to or folk music which I came of age, political and social age to, later in the early 1960s, jazz was a late, a very late acquisition to my understanding of the American songbook. Oh sure I would hear a phrase, a few bing, bang, bong notes blowing out the window, out the door, sitting in some bar over drinks with some hot date, maybe hear it as backdrop in some Harvard Square bookstore when I went looking for books (and, once somebody hipped me to the scene, looking for bright young women who also were in the bookstore looking for books, and bright young men were looking for them but that scene is best left for another time), or at some party when the host tired of playing old-time folk music had decided to kick out the jams and let the jazz boys wreak their havoc. But jazz was, and to a great extent still is, a side bar of my musical tastes.          

About a decade ago, a little more, I got seriously into jazz for a while. The reason: the centennial of the birth of Duke Ellington being celebrated when I was listening to some radio show which was commemorating that fact and I heard a few faint bars which required me to both turn up the volume and to listen to the rest of the one hour tribute. The show played a lot of Duke’s stuff from the early 1940s when he had Ben Webster, Harry Carney, and Johnny Hodges on board. The stuff blew me away and as is my wont when I get my enthusiasms up, when something blows me away, I grabbed everything by the Duke and his various groupings and marveled at how very good his work was, how his tonal poems reached deep, deep down and caught something in me that responded in kind. Especially when those sexy saxs, when Johnny or Cootie blew me away if they let it all hang out.

Funny though I thought at the time that I hadn’t picked up on this sound before, this reaching for the soul, for the essence of the matter, since there are very definitely elements of the blues in Brother Duke’s work. And I have been nothing but a stone blown blues freak since the early 1960s when I first heard Howlin’ Wolf hold forth practically eating that harmonica of his on Little Red Rooster and Smokestack Lightnin’. Moreover I had always been a Billie Holiday fan although I never drew the connection to the jazz in the background since it usually was muted to let her rip with that throaty sultry voice, the voice that chased the blues, my blues, away.

So, yes, count me among the guys who are searching for the guys who are searching for the great big cloud puff high white note, guys who have been searching for a long time as the notes waft out into the deep blue sea night. Check this out. Blowing that high white note out into the surly choppy Japan deep blue seas foaming and slashing out into the bay the one time I was sitting in fog-bound Frisco town, sitting around a North Beach bar, the High Hat maybe, back when Jimmy La Croix ran the place and a guy with a story, or a guy he knew could run a tab, for a while, and then settle up or let the hammer fall and you would wind up cadging swigs from flea-bitten raggedy- assed winos and sterno bums.

On Monday nights, a slow night in every venue you can name except maybe whorehouses and even then the business would  fall off only a little since guys had to see their wives or girlfriends or both sometime, Jimmy would hold what is now called an “open mic” but then, I forget, maybe talent search something like that but the same thing. The “Hat” as everybody called it was known far and wide by ex hep-cats, aging beats, and faded flower child ex-hippies who had not yet got back to the “real” world once those trends petered out but were still looking, as I was, looking for something and got a little solace from the bottle and a dark place to nurse the damn thing where you could be social or just hang out was the place around North Beach where young talent took to the boards. Played, played for the “basket” just like the folkies used to do back in the 1960s when that genre had its heyday, and probably get a few dollars from the mostly regular heavy drinker crowd that populate any gin mill on Monday, whether they have seen their loved ones or not.

Jimmy would have Max Jenny on drums and Milt Bogan on that big old bass that took up half the stage, if you remember those guys when West Coast jazz was big, to back-up the talent so this was serious stuff, at least Jimmy played it that way.

Most of the stuff early on that night was so-so some riffs stolen from more famous guys like Miles Davis, Dizzie, Coltrane, the cool ass jazz from the fifties that young bud talent imitates starting out, maybe gets stuck on those covers and wind up, addled by some sister habit, down by the trolley trains on Market Street hustling dollars from weary tourists waiting to get up the damn hill. So nothing that would keep a steady drinker, me, from steady drinking in those days when I lifted low-shelf whiskeys with abandon. Maybe half a dozen other guys spread out around bar to prove they were there strictly for the drinking and chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes to fill up Jimmy’s ashtrays and give Red the bartender something to do between pouring shots (otherwise the guys hungry for women company would be bunched near the dance floor but they must have had it bad since Monday night the serious honeys were not at the “Hat” but home getting rested up for the long week ahead of fending guys off).

Then I turned around toward the stage, turned around for no particular reason, certainly not to pay attention to the talent, when this young guy, young black guy, barely out of his teens, maybe sixteen for all I know and snuck out of the house to play, Jimmy wasn’t taking ID cards in those days and if the kid wasn’t drinking then what did it matter, to get play to reach the stars if that is what he wanted, slim a reed, dressed kind of haphazardly with a shiny suit that he probably wore to church with grandmother, string tie, clean shirt, couldn’t see his feet so can’t comment on that, maybe a little from hunger, or had the hunger eating him up. Kind of an unusual sight for ‘90s Frisco outside of the missions. But figure this, figure his eyes, eyes that I know about from my own bouts with sister, with the just forming sad sack yellow eyes of high king hell dope-dom and it all fit.

The kid was ready though to blow a big sexy tenor sax, a sax as big as he was, certainly fatter, blew the hell out of one note after another once he got his bearings, then paused, paused to suck up the universe of the smoke filled air in the place (a whiff of ganja from the back somewhere from some guy Jimmy must have known since usually dope in the place was a no-no), and went over to the river Jordan for a minute, rested, came back with a big blow that would get at least to Hawaii, rested again, maybe just a little uncertain where to go like kids always are, copy some somebody and let it go at that for the Monday crowd or blast away, but even I sensed that he had something going, so blew up a big cloud puff riff alternating with pauses hard to do, went at it again this time to the corner of paradise.

Stopped then, I thought he was done, he looked to hell like he was done, done in eyes almost closed, and then onward, a big beautiful dah, dee, dah, dee, dah, dee, blow, a “max daddy” blow then even an old chattering wino in a booth stopped to wonder at, and that big high white note went ripping down Bay Street, I swear I could see it, on into the fog-bound bay and on its way, not stopping until Edo, hell maybe back to Mother Africa where it all started.  He had it, that it means only “it” and if he never blew again he had that “it” moment. He left out the back door and I never saw him at the “Hat” again so maybe he was down on Mission or maybe he went somewhere, got some steady work. All I know was that I was there when a guy blew that high white note, yeah, that high white note. So yeah count me too among Duke’s boys, down at Duke’s place where he eternally searched for that elusive high white note.

See I didn’t take too long, right.             

Psycho Alley-Ida Lupino’s “Roadhouse”( 1948)-A Film Review

Psycho Alley-Ida Lupino’s “Roadhouse”( 1948)-A Film Review   

DVD Review

By Film Critic Sandy Salmon

Roadhouse, starring Ida Lupino, Cornel Wilde, Richard Widmark, 1948

There are a lot of whackos in the world, have been for a long time and are not some modern contrivance. Take the bad guy Jefty in this film under review, Roadhouse, a film released in 1948 long before Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s psycho Norman Bates made half of my growing up generation afraid to take showers without an armed guard in the bathroom. This Jefty, played by Richard Widmark who had recently had an Oscar nomination for his role as the sicko hitman gangster who you also would be in need armed guard, but everywhere, in Kiss Of Death so he was primed for the part, is kindred although no one from my parents’ generation would have needed an armed guard after viewing this production-although wise advise to stay far away from this guy was in order.

Here’s the play as my old friend Sam Lowell from this site now out to pasture as that feisty film critic emeritus would say. Jefty ran an aptly enough named roadhouse out in Podunk inherited from his father so he never had to spent much time working hard labor to get where he was-that fact if one checked with a psychiatrist would yield some interesting results. This roadhouse complete with bar, club, bowling alleys and who knows what else was going on in those little side rooms where lots of deep moans were often heard made Jefty the cat’s meow around town although he was nothing but a wanderlust playboy if left to his own devices. The real work, the heavy lifting, the day to day management of the operations was Pete, played by dashing Cornel Wilde, a 1940s heart throb according to my late mother, at least to her. But Jefty made it clear Pete was nothing but indispensable hired help.

On a trip to the Windy City, to Chi town, Jefty picked up Lily, played by doe-eyed Ida Lupino last seen in this space when Sam Lowell reviewed her as gangster Roy Earle’s doll in High Sierra uttering the word breakout when they finally wasted the guy out in the hills, a third-rate singer, maybe had been a B-girl, done a little off-hand whoring she never let on much except what she wanted anybody to know. That kind of dame. (These post-Code films for a long time left the professional attributes of women with a past rather vague by current standards.) A warbler, and as it turned out one with not much left of a voice but they was she dug down deep into some Johnny Mercer (One More For My Baby) and Cochran-Newman tunes it didn’t really matter whether she could hold the high white note or not. One of the characters in the film, Susie, Pete’s soon to be ex-girlfriend noted maybe enviously that she got a lot of mileage out of that ragtag voice and even Pete who initially was skeptical, saw her as just another one of Jefty’s wayward tramps, saw how she held an audience and brought in dough. A keeper.

But let’s back up to that Susie the soon to be ex-girlfriend statement because that will tell the tale. See Jefty’s idea in bringing Lily back from Chi town was to marry her, marry this dame unlike any other dame he had run around with. Problem, no, two problems. Lily obviously could care less about Jefty except as a high-end meal ticket. What would make that a problem was that Jefty did not like his well-laid plans to be busted up by a simple thing like a dame giving him the dust-off. Next, from the get-go, from about scene number one in the club while Lily was singing and Pete was watching with his tongue hung out you know that they will dance around each other, will be getting under the, unseen, silky sheets before long.

Jefty will definitely not like that scenario. And has the evil genius and half-crazed social pathology to screw things up. Simple, our boy Jefty framed Pete for grand larceny, for grabbing the daily take rather than putting it in the night deposit box. Yeah, get rid of Pete for say two to ten in the state pen and he was home free with the now free Lily. As an old corner used to say-nice moves. But remember this Jefty was a long gone daddy, had the weirdest psycho chuckle seen on screen until that time. He was going to bait the bait but good. He got Pete paroled to him, an outstanding citizen in many small town eyes so he could taunt Pete enough to maybe attempt to murder him and face the big step-off. Well you know as well as I do that if you play with fire like our man Jefty you are going to be burned and one of the characters in the end does kill the bastard. See the film to see which one. But also see it to see Ida Lupino hold your attention with her sad weary eyes and croaky voice despite yourself when she is at the cigarette scarred, hers, piano. Just like she did to me. Enough said.                             

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Films to While Away The Class Struggle By-"Incident At Ogala: The Leonard Peltier Story"- Leonard Peltier Must Not Die In Jail

Films to While Away The Class Struggle By-"Incident At Ogala: The Leonard Peltier Story"- Leonard Peltier Must Not Die In Jail

Recently I have begun to post entries under the headline- “Songs To While Away The Class Struggle By”-that will include progressive and labor-oriented songs that might be of general interest to the radical public. I have decided to do the same for some films that may perk that same interest under the title in this entry’s headline. In the future I expect to do the same for books under a similar heading.-Markin

DVD Review

Incident At Ogala: The Leonard Peltier Story, Leonard Peltier, various leaders of the American Indian Movement (AIM), defense attorneys, prosecuting attorneys, witnesses and by-standers, directed by Michael Apted, 1991

Let’s start this review of this documentary of the incidents surrounding the case of Leonard Peltier at the end. Or at least the end of this documentary, 1991. Leonard Peltier, a well-known leader of the Native American movement, convicted of the 1975 murder, execution-style, of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota after he had been extradited from Canada in the wake of the acquittal of two other Pine Ridge residents. In an interview from federal prison in that period the then still relatively young Peltier related that after receiving his life sentences and being told by prison officials that that meant his release date would be in 2035 he stated that he hoped not, for he would then be an old, old man. Here is what should make everyone interested in the case, and everyone interested in the least sense of justice, even just bourgeois justice, blood boil, he is now an old sick man and he is still in jail for a crime that he did not commit, and certainly one that was not proven beyond that cherished “reasonable doubt”

This documentary, narrated by Robert Redford in his younger days as well, goes step by step through the case from the pre-murder period when Native Americans, catching the political consciousness crest begun in the 1960s by the black civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement, started organizing, mainly through the American Indian Movement (AIM), on the Indian reservations of the West, some of the most impoverished areas in all the Americas. The focal point of this militant organizing effort came in the war zone-showdown, the siege at Wounded Knee in 1973. The tension that hovered in the air in the aftermath of that war between the American government and its Indian agent supporters on one side, and the AIM-led “warrior nation” on the other is the setting for this incident at Ogala.

Through reenactment of the crime scene; eye witnesses, interested and disinterested, voluntary or coerced; defense strategies at both trials from self-defense to lack of physical evidence, and on appeal; the prosecution's case, its insufficient evidence, and it various maneuvers to inflame white juries against unpopular or misunderstood Native Americans in order to get someone convicted for the murders of one of their own; the devastating, but expected effect of the trials on the political organizing by AIM; and the stalwart and defiant demeanor of one Leonard Peltier all come though in this presentation. As a long time supporter of organizations that defend class-war prisoners, like Leonard Peltier, this film only makes that commitment even firmer. With that in mind- Free Leonard Peltier-He Must Not Die In Jail!

Films To While Away The Time By- Humphrey Bogart’s “In A Lonely Place”

Films To While Away The Time By- Humphrey Bogart’s “In A Lonely Place”

DVD Review

In A Lonely Place, starring Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Columbia Pictures, 1950

I admit, admit up front, that I am partial to rugged windmill-chasing Humphrey Bogart roles like him as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon trying to get a little rough justice in this wicked old world and not afraid to take a beating for the cause, or bust up some wrong gee dreams in the process (although admittedly getting a little thrown off the tracks by a whiff of Mary Astor’s perfume, but that is to be expected). Or another windmill-chaser, Rick, in Casablanca when he knows, knows deep in his soul that the troubles of three love-stuck people in that wicked old World War II Nazi world didn’t amount to a “hill of beans” against the darkening night (although there too he was thrown off by that damn dame perfume). And what about his role in To Have And Have Not when he is again forced, as Captain Harry Morgan, to step it up a notch in that still wicked old World War II world (that time, come to think of it, he too got thrown off the tracks by a woman, by a whistler of all things).

After that big manly, windmill-chasing build-up, complete with cigarette, unfiltered, of course, Luckies probably, in hand it is hard to see old Bogie as kind of troubled, well, dope. A guy who can’t handle his emotions, or his fists, when some little breeze problem come s through the door. Against friend of foe, against some Johnny Rico or some frail. However that is exactly the problem before us as Bogie plays a troubled screen writer (aren’t they all, troubled that is, having to write some pretty tough stuff to earn their dollar a word).

Maybe I had better give you the “skinny” here so you’ll get my drift. Dix (Bogie) is a maybe “has been” writer who is in a dry spell. He invites a hat- check girl from the club home (what club? any club, any gin joint in the world) to give him the story line of a book that he is supposed to do the screenplay for. And that is all he wants. (Ya, I know that “come on” is weak but there it is). The problem: early next morning she is found dead, very dead, in some arroyo road side ditch. And Dix is primo suspect numero uno. Enter one lovely blond alibi, Lauren (played by Gloria Grahame), who had seen Dix sent the hat check girl off alone. Dix is still not off the hook though since downtown (the cops, okay) are not convinced that Dix didn’t do it. This unlikely pair begins an affair. The story then gets tense as Lauren (and others) begin to believe Dix did do it after he exhibited extreme anger (and violent acts) at the accusations. Well, Dix didn’t do it but he lost Laurel by his mad man American Psych 101 demeanor. And so he walks alone at the end, a contrite but broken man.

See, no foggy airfield sent-offs amid the clamor of war next fights, no fast boat get-aways to Free French territory and the fight continues, and no wacko stuff of dreams busted wiser man here, just alone. Bogie alone. Jesus.

For The Late Rosalie Sorrels-To An Old Unrepetant Wobblie- Rosalie Sorrels' Farewell To Utah Phillips

For The Late Rosalie Sorrels-To An Old Unrepetant Wobblie- Rosalie Sorrels' Farewell To Utah Phillips

If I Could Be The Rain I Would Be Rosalie Sorrels-The Legendary Folksinger-Songwriter Has Her Last Go Round At 83

By Music Critic Bart Webber

Back the day, back in the emerging folk minute of the 1960s that guys like Sam Lowell, Si Lannon, Josh Breslin, the late Peter Paul Markin and others were deeply immersed in all roads seemed to lead to Harvard Square with the big names, some small too which one time I made the subject of a series, or rather two series entitled respectively Not Bob Dylan and Not Joan Baez about those who for whatever reason did not make the show over the long haul, passing through the Club 47 Mecca and later the Café Nana and Club Blue, the Village down in NYC, North Beach out in San Francisco, and maybe Old Town in Chicago. Those are the places where names like Baez, Dylan, Paxton, Ochs, Collins and a whole crew of younger folksingers, some who made it like Tom Rush and Joni Mitchell and others like Eric Saint Jean and Minnie Murphy who didn’t, like  who all sat at the feet of guys like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger got their first taste of the fresh breeze of the folk minute, that expression courtesy of the late Markin, who was among the first around to sample the breeze.

(I should tell you here in parentheses so you will keep it to yourselves that the former three mentioned above never got over that folk minute since they will still tell a tale or two about the times, about how Dave Van Ronk came in all drunk one night at the Café Nana and still blew everybody away, about catching Paxton changing out of his Army uniform when he was stationed down at Fort Dix  right before a performance at the Gaslight, about walking down the street Cambridge with Tom Rush just after he put out No Regrets/Rockport Sunday, and about affairs with certain up and coming female folkies like the previously mentioned Minnie Murphy at the Club Nana when that was the spot of spots. Strictly aficionado stuff if you dare go anywhere within ten miles of the subject with any of them -I will take my chances here because this notice, this passing of legendary Rosalie Sorrels a decade after her dear friend Utah Phillips is important.)

Those urban locales were certainly the high white note spots but there was another important strand that hovered around Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, up around Skidmore and some of the other upstate colleges. That was Caffe Lena’s, run by the late Lena Spenser, a true folk legend and a folkie character in her own right, where some of those names played previously mentioned but also where some upstarts from the West got a chance to play the small crowds who gathered at that famed (and still existing) coffeehouse. Upstarts like the late Bruce “Utah” Phillips (although he could call several places home Utah was key to what he would sing about and rounded out his personality). And out of Idaho one Rosalie Sorrels who just joined her long-time friend Utah in that last go-round at the age of 83.

Yeah, came barreling like seven demons out there in the West, not the West Coast west that is a different proposition. The West I am talking about is where what the novelist Thomas Wolfe called the place where the states were square and you had better be as well if you didn’t want to starve or be found in some empty arroyo un-mourned and unloved. A tough life when the original pioneers drifted westward from Eastern nowhere looking for that pot of gold or at least some fresh air and a new start away from crowded cities and sweet breathe vices. A tough life worthy of song and homage. Tough going too for guys like Joe Hill who tried to organize the working people against the sweated robber barons of his day (they are still with us as we are all now very painfully and maybe more vicious than their in your face forbear)Struggles, fierce down at the bone struggles also worthy of song and homage. Tough too when your people landed in rugged beautiful two-hearted river Idaho, tried to make a go of it in Boise, maybe stopped short in Helena but you get the drift. A different place and a different type of subject matter for your themes than lost loves and longings.  

Rosalie Sorrels could write those songs as well, as well as anybody but she was as interested in the social struggles of her time (one of the links that united her with Utah) and gave no quarter when she turned the screw on a lyric. The last time I saw Rosalie perform in person was back in 2002 when she performed at the majestic Saunders Theater at Harvard University out in Cambridge America at what was billed as her last go-round, her hanging up her shoes from the dusty travel road. (That theater complex contained within the Memorial Hall dedicated to the memory of the gallants from the college who laid down their heads in that great civil war that sundered the country. The Harvards did themselves proud at collectively laying down their heads at seemingly every key battle that I am aware of when I look up at the names and places. A deep pride runs through me at those moments)

Rosalie Sorrels as one would expect on such an occasion was on fire that night except the then recent death of another folk legend, Dave Von Ronk, who was supposed to be on the bill (and who was replaced by David Bromberg who did a great job banging out the blues unto the heavens) cast a pall over the proceedings. I will always remember the crystal clarity and irony of her cover of her classic Old Devil Time that night -yeah, give me one more chance, one more breathe. But I will always think of If I Could Be The Rain and thoughst of washing herself down to the sea whenever I hear her name. RIP Rosalie Sorrels 


Farewell To An Unrepentant Wobblie

Strangers In Another Country, Rosalie Sorrels and various artists, Red Barn records, 2008

The first paragraph here has been used in reviewing other Rosalie Sorrels CDs in this space.

“My first association of the name Rosalie Sorrels with folk music came, many years ago now, from hearing the recently departed folk singer/storyteller/ songwriter and unrepentant Wobblie (IWW) Utah Phillips mention his long time friendship with her going back before he became known as a folksinger. I also recall that combination of Sorrels and Phillips as he performed his classic “Starlight On The Rails” and she his also classic “If I Could Be The Rain” on a PBS documentary honoring the Café Lena in Saratoga, New York, a place that I am also very familiar with for many personal and musical reasons. Of note here: it should be remembered that Rosalie saved, literally, many of the compositions that Utah left helter-skelter around the country in his “bumming” days.”

That said, what could be better than to have Rosalie pay musical tribute to one of her longest and dearest folk friends, her old comrade Utah Phillips, someone who it is apparent from this beautiful little CD was on the same wavelength as that old unrepentant Wobblie. Here Rosalie takes a wide scattering of Utah’s work from various times and places and gives his songs and storytelling her own distinctive twist.

For example? Well, right from the first song “Starlight On The Trail” about being adrift in America in the later part of the 20th century with its prologue taken from some thoughts on the writings of author Thomas Wolfe (of “You Can’t Go Home Again” fame). Or the stirring “He Comes Like The Rain” a fair description of Utah himself if one thinks about it. Or to get political (and worry about the next generations) “Enola Gay”. And political memory about the forgotten “pre-mature anti-fascist” heroes of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion of the International Brigades that fought in Spain when it counted in “Eddie’s Song”. Finally, how about the appropriate ‘Ashes On The Sea” complete with Kate Wolf/Woody Guthrie story. If there were more than a five star spot here I would click it. Utah, rest easy, Rosalie did good, she did very good by you here. Adieu, old working class warrior.

If I Could Be The Rain-"Utah Phillips"

Everybody I know sings this song their own way, and they arrive at their own understanding of it. Guy Carawan does it as a sing along. I guess he thinks it must have some kind of universal appeal. To me, it's a very personal song. It's about events in my life that have to do with being in love. I very seldom sing it myself for those reasons.

If I could be the rain, I'd wash down to the sea;
If I could be the wind, there'd be no more of me;
If I could be the sunlight, and all the days were mine,
I would find some special place to shine.

But all the rain I'll ever be is locked up in my eyes,
When I hear the wind it only whispers sad goodbyes.
If I could hide the way I feel I'd never sing again;
Sometimes I wish that I could be the rain.

If I could be the rain, I'd wash down to the sea;
If I could be the wind, there'd be no more of me;
If I could hide the way I feel I'd never sing again;
Sometimes I wish that I could be the rain.

Copyright ©1973, 2000 Bruce Phillips

(Bruce Phillips)

Let me sing to you all those songs I know
Of the wild, windy places locked in timeless snow,
And the wide, crimson deserts where the muddy rivers flow.
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

Come along with me to some places that I've been
Where people all look back and they still remember when,
And the quicksilver legends, like sunlight, turn and bend
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

Walk along some wagon road, down the iron rail,
Past the rusty Cadillacs that mark the boom town trail,
Where dreamers never win and doers never fail,
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

I'll sing of my amigos, come from down below,
Whisper in their loving tongue the songs of Mexico.
They work their stolen Eden, lost so long ago.
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

I'll tell you all some lies, just made up for fun,
And the loudest, meanest brag, it can beat the fastest gun.
I'll show you all some graves that tell where the West was won.
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

And I'll sing about an emptiness the East has never known,
Where coyotes don't pay taxes and a man can live alone,
And you've got to walk forever just to find a telephone.
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

Let me sing to you all those songs I know
Of the wild, windy places locked in timeless snow,
And the wide, crimson deserts where the muddy rivers flow.
It's sad, but the telling takes me home.

(Bruce Phillips)

I can hear the whistle blowing
High and lonesome as can be
Outside the rain is softly falling
Tonight its falling just for me

Looking back along the road I've traveled
The miles can tell a million tales
Each year is like some rolling freight train
And cold as starlight on the rails

I think about a wife and family
My home and all the things it means
The black smoke trailing out behind me
Is like a string of broken dreams

A man who lives out on the highway
Is like a clock that can't tell time
A man who spends his life just rambling
Is like a song without a rhyme

Memories of North Adamsville-With The 250th Anniversary Of The Birth Of John Quincy Adams In Mind (2017)

Memories of North Adamsville-With The 250th Anniversary Of The Birth Of John Quincy Adams In Mind (2017)

By Jack Callahan 

WTF. Normally I could give, as we used to say in the old Acre neighborhood of North Adamsville, a rat’s ass about the birth of a long gone President of the United States (POTUS in the new newspeak of early 21st century America just to show I am not out of the loop on some things). Even a President, John Quincy Adams, number six, who the town where I grew up was named after, or at least he was a member of the family the town was named after. Maybe it was his father also a President, John, number two or some other damn Puritan brethren even before him. I could care less about old time Puritans who gave my forebears, the Irish who came over on the “famine ships” a hard time when they moved from Boston, South Boston really, to the Acre as a way of creating their upwardly mobile version of the pot of gold after they landed here back in the day.               

Like I said if left to my own devises I would have ignored as I have for my whole existence I think the celebration JQ’s 250th birthday except for one reason, for one thing, for one person if you need to know. That person my old long gone friend and a guy who I first met in Miss (Ms.) Sullivan’s third grade class Pete Markin (whose mother always called him Peter Paul which he hated and who was known from junior high school on as “the Scribe” after our acknowledged leader Frankie Riley dubbed him that one night after he had written a glowing article in the school newspaper, The Magnet, laying it on about some Frankie exploit).

The Scribe you see was a history nut, or maybe better to call him a guy who needed, and I mean this, needed to know about then thousand facts or he could not operate in the world. He was crazy to know about guys like JQ, about his father and about his mother Abigail. One time in sixth grade I think it was he told me that he needed to know all that information in case some girl wanted to know something and that would give him his lead-in but I think it was deeper than that silly idea. I think he really was a curious guy, was really full of wonder about where the next fact might lead him. 

The Scribe was a funny mix in a way. He was almost a chemically pure corner boy, a guy like me and Frankie and a bunch of other guys who were too poor to do much else except hang around Harry’s Variety Store and plot ways to get dough any way we could up to and including various forms of larceny. The Scribe was the guy who would think up the schemes but after one night when we almost got thrown in the slammer because Pete didn’t remember to put a look-out in front of the house Frankie Riley ran the operations.

But the Scribe was also a book crazy guy as you could imagine of a guy who needed to have plenty of facts in his arsenal and spent a lot of time at the library. The summer between sixth and seventh grade we didn’t see much of the Scribe because he had decided after getting into all kinds of trouble at school and having a couple of bouts in juvenile court that he would lay low. That is when he started reading if you can believe this biographies about various members of the Adams family. And at night when we were hanging out later in the school year he would bore us to tears with all kinds of stuff especially I remember about mother Abigail (John’s wife) who he thought was the smartest and most interesting one of the lot. From now on though whenever I think about my old lost comrade I will also think about one John Quincy Adams and how the Scribe loved to talk about him and his crowd as well. Happy birthday JQ.