My dad called Monday night to tell me an old lady from Kindred phoned him up today. She’d seen my name in the paper, and wanted to know if I was the same one who used to come to the Bookmobile at Northport Shopping Center. She’s 94. He said it was one and the same, and she said she’d always wondered what I got into, since I loved to read. I wonder if she would have been disappointed if I’d grown up drive a Bookmobile.
I still have my library card from childhood. It was the first piece of official ID you got back then, and it was serious, too – not some name typed on a paper card, or a blank card that proclaimed your membership in some comic-book club, with all the rights and privileges granted unto, et cetera. It was the same card grown-ups had. The letters were embossed.
Home all day with a sick child. She insisted she was sick, anyway. Swore. She sounded sick, but it was that theatrical death-croak kids use when there’s still a possibility they could go to school. She swore swore swore it had nothing to do with the Mean Girls. (I did have a talk with one of the moms, incidentally.) Perhaps it was a hangover from the Saturday night sleepover; I asked what time they’d gone to sleep, and she said – with frightening specificity – “2:42 AM.”
The ache abated around the time school let out, wouldn’t you know it, but she swore swore no really Dad that it had nothing to do with school. I think it had become self-perpetuating, in a way – once she forgot about it, it forgot about her.
Here’s why I suspect she wasn’t faking it: she wanted to play some old games she hadn’t booted up for two, three years. It was like comfort food, in a way.
Today’s entry in our festival of Christmas items:
That's not right. To be more accurate: everything about it is wrong. It's like a Santa version of the Bocca della Verita.
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Now, as is usually the case on Tuesdays, it's Black and White Theater.
Standard disclosure: these are not movie reviews, but - oh, I don’t know what they are. A collection of faces and pictures from very stylish movies. Pictures taken out of context. And, of course, the search for a Star Trek connection. Today’s Black and White Theater was a complete surprise. A few nights ago I watched “Fallen Angel” on Netflix, and it was good enough – Linda Darnell as a bad, bad, bad girl, and Dana Andrews as the grim grifter who gets hooked on her. Some gets dead. Lots of guys in hats. If you love noir, it was standard fare, and as such I enjoyed it. I expected the same from . . .
No one wakes up screaming in the movie. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler. The original title was Hot Spot, but it didn’t matter what they called it. The
Butcher Always Phones In the Afternoon. The Painter Stopped Whistling. The Big Thing. I didn’t expect much in the way of noir-flavored cynical grit and sweaty dame-mad guys, since it had Victor Mature and Betty Grable. But it was terrific. Watched it twice, since the commentary track had the invaluable Eddie Muller, whose book – linked over yonder – is the indispensable Film Noir guide. Many movies are tagged as the first Noir (heh: there’s a carol. The First Noir / the roscoes did shoot / at a guy who’s in love with a skirt dissolute) but this one makes a good claim, and they weren’t even trying. All the visual elements are there – high contrast, Venetian blinds, lots of smoke, hats and more hats – and apparently no one involved with the project ever did anything like it again, or was particularly aware they were doing something novel in the first place.
See, if newspapers ran headlines like that, we wouldn’t be in trouble. We should also use urchins to hawk them outside buildings. But no, we had to be respectable. Anyway, this was the model:
Carole Landis. A Wisconsin gal. Birth name: Frances Lillian Mary Ridste. Nicknames: The 'Ping' Girl; The Blonde Bomber; The Chest Since much of the film is in flashback, we got to see her do something more than deploy the strategically buttressed assets, and she was pretty good. I’ve never been a big Grable fan – Landis had more punch and sparkle. But not enough. She made made almost 50 films, then took a pill supper. (Sorry, it’s almost impossible not to write in bad Black Mask style about these movies.)
When we first meet her, she’s working in a Los Angeles cafeteria where they project an out-of-focus picture of New York outside the window:
Rear-projection haunts the entire movie, with one notable exception we’ll get to. Note the restaurant in the back: CHILD’S It was a local NYC chain, the star of its very own entry in the Matchbook Museum. According to this old menu, that’s probably a shot of Broadway.
Anyway: Victor Mature gets collared for the murder, and this shot – from the opening scenes – shows you how perfectly they nailed down the noir style from the get-go.
That’s everything – the lights, the hat, the looming power, the guy on the hot seat, all existing in some sort of Beckett-like netherworld. You can take these pictures out of context, print them off and frame them – on their own, they’re fascinating compositions.
I doubt there's a place on earth where people wouldn't understand the basics of that situation.
More Rear-Projection Follies, and for some reason Victor Mature reminded me of Charles Krauthammer:
The other fellow is a forgotten actor whose career, like Landis’, was cut short. Laird Cregar. Huge guy with a soft voice, almost like Vincent Price, but a bit dreamier. He’s the best thing in the movie, and the movie knows it:
That couldn’t be any decade but the Forties.
Of course, there’s this fellow. There’s always this fellow:
You know that beak, that scowl, that irritable face – Charles Lane. His first movie was in 1931; his last was in 2006. The bird lived to be a 102.
Anyone else we might recognize?
Elisha Cook Jr.! Yes! There’s our Trek connection. It’s always amusing to see him get slapped around in these movies; most people of my generation came to Noir first via the classics, shown in revival houses, and Cook was in “The Maltese Falcon” as the dead-eyed gunsel Bogie bats around. But he’s knuckle-fodder in all these films.
He was 92 when he earned his headstone, and his last credit was "Magnum PI."
As for Grable:
Mueller, in the commentary, advises that this image be frozen and kept for all posterity, as the image of the pre-war American housewife. The kitchen, the hair, the drapes, the apron. It’s a nice place, a woman’s world. Because this is where the men live:
I mentioned the rear-projection problems. This shot is supposedly taken outside the New York Public Library, but you can tell it’s a process shot.
It is New York, though – and they sent a second unit to New York to shoot this shot of 5th Avenue:
Rogers Peet. The name stuck out, because for a year or two construction in Manhattan revealed this ghost:
(More here, if you like those ghost signs.)
The bones of these old films are all around, but we don’t see them; we’ve been cursed with the gift of color.
So rent it, and watch it twice – once for itself, and once for the commentary. It’s a nifty piece of work, and it’s amusing to think that they almost invented a genre without even trying.
New Comic cover, of course - the Great Scott series continues. See you at buzz.mn for the Small Town of the Week, and of course Twitter all day.