Friday, September 19, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: CODE PINK EDITION

During the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the growing threat of ISIL, Secretary of State John Kerry was repeatedly heckled by the anti-war activist group Code Pink. 

While acknowledging his own peace protests during the Vietnam War era, Mr. Kerry made a point of explaining the atrocities that the terrorists were now engaged in. When asked what the difference was between ISIL and the Vietnamese, Viet Cong and Khmer Rouge, who slaughtered close to a million civilians from 1954 to 1975, Mr. Kerry replied, "When I was protesting, Richard Nixon was president."

                                                           ****************

Thursday, September 18, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: COVER GIRL NFL SPONSORSHIP

Cover Girl Cosmetics is facing criticism for its continued sponsorship of the NFL, despite the league's many domestic violence scandals.

Cover Girl spokesperson Debbie Perfidulo told reporters, "Right now, we're reaching out to the more moderate factions of the NFL in order to supply them with enough lipstick, rouge and foundation to fight against the outside forces that are trying to overthrow them." Moderate factions, she added, included players who don't leave bruises, and those who prefer psychological over physical abuse of family members. "It's our way of telling battered women, 'You are not alone.'"

When asked what cosmetics would do in curbing the NFL's domestic violence problem, Ms. Perfidulo admitted, "Not much, really. But on the other hand, high-quality Cover Girl products go a long way in making women forget how they've been abused by their boyfriends and husbands. Our advice to men is 'Make up with make-up!'"

Responding to another question about how this was going to help children who have been assaulted, Ms. Perfidulo said, "That's a very good question. We're hoping that companies like Toys R Us join us in facing this problem in the same way. Abusive men have been bribing their kids and wives with gifts forever. The business community has an obligation to make these gestures that much more easy. And to those who claim we're just covering up the problem," she concluded, "that's what Cover Girl is for!"

                                             ***************************


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

SKINNED ALIVE

These moles are cuter than mine.
One of the more obvious signs of aging is the gradual occurrence of moles and skin tags -- those little clumps that look like pieces of earwax that appear one day and never go away. 


That's the problem with having grown up in a beach town. It was a time when every kid would return home cherry-red after being outside all day. The mothers would say, "A little sunburn won't kill you!" Ha! Good one, mom!

The only thing more disgusting than these splotches is how you look in the immediate aftermath of getting them removed, when you have to go out in public with your face bandaged like you just got shaved by a blind man with one hand and three fingers.

It was my turn yesterday. Not that I really noticed those little clumps. I mean, I don't have to look at myself. My wife, on the other hand, has no choice. And now that our daughter's away at college, she has one less person to focus on. 

It looks something like this.
But there was one other facial matter that my wife really had enough of, and it had nothing to do with ultraviolet rays. For many years I've had a line -- make that a groove -- no, canal, approximately one-inch long running vertically between my eyebrows. I'm not saying it's deep, but I could use it for a piggy bank. Again, I never thought much of it, but my wife certainly has: "Unless you're smiling, you always look like you're mad at me!" She always sounds mad when she says that.

The only cure for that epidermic aqueduct, she believed, was a shot of Botox. Yes, Botox. You know, short for Botulism Toxic. Right between the eyes. So strongly did my wife feel about this, she was willing to pay for it. This is like covering the jail's electric bill when your husband gets the chair.

Darn! And I could have looked as good as him.
Yesterday, I visited the dermatologist. She sliced off two of the moles -- really, I could have done it myself -- and burned off a third -- which I could have done as well. But I was told that Botox would do nothing for me except prevent me from frowning; the line would remain, albeit not quite as deep. And I would have to return every three or four months for another injection at four C-notes a pop. 

However, there was something else that would plump up the skin and eliminate the line completely. But she wouldn't inject it in that spot due to the possible side effect of blindness. 

I could hear my wife's usual response: Now wait a minute, let's think about this. I knew I was taking a terrible chance, but decided right then and there that continuing to look mad was a price I was happy to pay, if it meant keeping what eyesight I have left.

Unlike the old guys I see on the subway who go through similar procedures, my bandages -- on the neck, face and collarbone -- were small. Even better, my wife was OK with me not risking blindness to make her happy (for now). The little scabs, almost unnoticeable, will heal soon, leaving me looking at least six months younger. 

Now all I need is a couple of pieces of invisible tape to pull back the skin above my eyebrows, and my wife will be able to look at me without confusing me for a running back for the NFL.

                                                         *********************

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

PUBLIC BROADCASTING SPUD

A black TV screen.

ANNOUNCER (VOICE-OVER): Coming soon to PBS, a new series from acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns -- a portrait of a simple man who would go on to become a world icon...

GEORGE WILL: Without a doubt, he is proof, if any is needed, of the flexibility of the American way of life.

SOL ALINKSY:  He's the ultimate symbol of out-of-control capitalism: do as your masters tell you, then get thrown in the trash at the first sign of decay.

STANLEY CROUCH: His skin color, see, means a lot to us as kids -- here's a guy with brown skin who owns a car, a house in the suburbs, and is completely accepted in the white man's world.

Fade up on...

ANNOUNCER (VOICE-OVER): M. Potato Head: the ultimate blank slate. 

CUT TO:



ANNOUNCER (VOICE-OVER): From his humble beginnings in 1952...

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Kids in the '50s who are teased as "dumb as a sack of potatoes" now have a real potato,who's smart, successful, funny and, most important, proud. Mr. Potato Head isn't shy, you know.

DAVID MCCULLOUGH: A reporter asks him, "Mr. Potato Head, are you the new Mickey Mouse?" And he replies, "Hell, no! I'm the new Mr. Potato Head!" (grandfatherly chuckle)

ANNOUNCER (VOICE OVER): ...to an unlikely anchor of stability in the '60s...

(Fast cuts of counter-culture figures)

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY (VOICE-OVER): Everywhere, kids are growing their hair and taking drugs, and anti-war protests are on TV every night. And parents are saying to their kids, "You should be like Mr. Potato Head, he has a job and a home and a family."

ANNOUNCER (VOICE-OVER): ... to the unknown drama at home...

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Can you imagine how distressing it is for his wife, who's just as clever as him, to be dismissed as merely "second potato"?

Cut to:


MERYL STREEP (VOICE-OVER): While I am proud of my husband, I am sometimes tired of seeing the world only from my kitchen window, while his view is from a sporty blue convertible.

Cut to:




EDWARD HERRMAN (VOICE-OVER): October 24, 1961. My dearest Mrs. Potato Head. While I am out here on this seemingly-endless publicity junket, always remember that you are the reason I got to where I am, and that I only have eyes -- several of them, in fact, along with noses, ears and mouths -- for you. Your loving husband, Mr. Potato Head.


DAVID BRINKLEY: Think about it. He goes from organic, to plastic, to digital Disney icon. That's the American dream.

ANNOUNCER: (VOICE-OVER):  Mr. Potato Head: More Than Skin Deep. Another interminable Ken Burns documentary series where the same people you've seen a dozen other times before speak in the present tense about the past, and read someone else's personal correspondence. Coming soon to PBS.

                                                   ****************

Monday, September 15, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: WAR AGAINST ISIS EDITION

Over the weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry told Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, "We are at war with ISIS," after claiming just the opposite only days earlier.

When cornered by reporters at an airport later to explain his reversal of opinion, Kerry said, "The way President Obama has defined it, 'war' means boots on the ground. Our soldiers, on the other hand, are currently wearing vulcanized, thigh-high rubber shoes."

Asked if he was splitting hairs, Kerry replied, "Look, 'war' is one of those words that has lots of meanings. You can have a 'war of words.' The Super Bowl can be considered a war. And speaking as a husband, you guys know what it's like to be 'at war' with your wives, am I right?" he chuckled. 

When none of the reporters replied in the affirmative, Kerry cleared his throat nervously and stated, "We were horrified by the videos of the beheadings of innocent American and British civilians." Asked why American officials have no problem with Saudi Arabia beheading at least 19 people in the past two and a half weeks, Kerry said that he would like to address that issue, but was late for an official tour of oil fields.

                                                        **********************

Thursday, September 11, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: OSCAR PISTORIUS EDITION

Judge Thokozile Masipa found South African athlete Oscar Pistorius not guilty of premeditated murder Thursday in the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, but said the defendant had been "negligent," raising the prospect of a manslaughter conviction.

In her ruling, Judge Masipa said of the disgraced Olympian, "Obviously, it never occurred to Mr. Pistorius that it was vital to keep on his toes at all times. When it came to stating the truth, he found it impossible to step up to the plate. At times, it seemed, he couldn't even put one foot in front of the other."

The judge continued, "His lawyers, too did him no favors during their examination, time and again cutting him off at the knees. And every pathetic attempt to play footsie with the prosecution failed. In short, Mr. Pistorius didn't have a leg to stand on."

                                                ***************************

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: PRESIDENTIAL SPEECH EDITION

Recently admitting on Meet the Press that "political theatre" wasn't something that comes naturally to him, President Barack Obama promised to do a better job at appearing engaged when he talks to the nation this evening regarding the Islamic State.

"The president was right, he's not a natural," an inside source said. "But he's been boning up on political theatre for the last week, and he's come up with a doozy of a speech. First of all, Harvey Fierstein has written a marvelous script for him. A beautiful mixture of drama and genuine emotion, just like his Tony-award winning Kinky Boots. Really heartfelt stuff."

But that wasn't all, the source said. "We asked [Tony Award-winning composer] Stephen Schwartz to come up with some numbers, and he really pulled out all the stops. 'No Imminent Threat' is the president's curtain-raiser, a hopeful yet cautionary song laying out the current situation. We've got a male chorus for 'Boots on the Ground,' an exciting number right up there with 'March of the Witch Hunters' from his classic musical Wicked. But the president wanted the public to understand the more obscure references that he needs to talk about as well. So in no time, Steve whipped up 'While My Qatar Gently Weeps.' If a speech was eligible for a Tony, this would win easily, no question."

"The American public is going to see a side of President Obama they've never seen before," the source concluded. "Kevin Spacey has taken time out from his busy schedule shooting E-Trade commercials in order to coach the president on 'emotion' and 'caring.' You know, the president has always been criticized for being detached. Well tonight, I think people are going to be genuinely surprised just how undetached he's going to seem. Watch out, Ronald Reagan, there's a new actor in the White House!"

                                                             ***************

MOVIE OF THE DAY: "THE SNIPER" (1952)

Long before he was the producer of "message" movies both treacly (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, A Child is Waiting) and self-consciously serious (Ship of Fools, The Defiant Ones), producer Stanley Kramer made a film noir "message" movie, The Sniper. And instead of tackling issues like race, religion or Nazis, The Sniper took on psycho killers. Don't tell me that doesn't sound better. 


"No, I'm not Shepard Smith!"
Terrifically directed by Edward Dmytryk, The Sniper follows a week or so in the life of ex-con Eddie Miller (played with the perfect combination of angst and pathos by Arthur Franz) a guy who's had it with women. I mean really had it, like shooting all brunettes who cross his path. Since this is taking revenge a step too far, the public and the press start pressuring Police Lt. Frank Kafka (what a name) to catch this guy before he starts turning his rifle on blondes. Now that would be a loss.

But this being a Stanley Kramer production, we learn early on that Eddie Miller's problem is a lack of proper psychiatric treatment. Eddie, you see, wants to be locked up. He calls his old prison shrink for help, but the doc's analyzing a nine-iron at the golf course. He even deliberately burns his hand on a stove as a failed signal to the e.r. doctor that there's something wrong with him. What's a rejected guy to do but keep killing women?

Dr. Kent tries to figure out if chopsticks
are phallic symbols.
While the pitchfork crowd readies the hot seat for the still-unknown sniper, police shrink Dr. James Kent has other ideas. What this boy needs, he says, is help. In fact, he insists, that's what all these psychos need before they go shooting women from rooftops. Dr. Kent being played by Richard Kiley, the original star of Man of La Mancha, you expect him to sing "The Impossible Dream" to get the public on his side. 


A fastball thrown by the
screwball.
Lt. Kafka initially doesn't buy into Dr. Kent's theories, but is soon won over when he receives reports of a fellow at a carnival who's a little too eager to throw fastballs at a woman in a dunking cage -- one of The Sniper's many creepy moments. Seems Eddie Miller, who's already a suspect, was known to be fast with the balls in his day. If only he joined the majors -- then he'd be shooting up steroids instead of dames.

"Bet you don't recognize me
without the 'stache, eh, kid?"

Perhaps Stanley Kramer knew that the idea of an almost-sympathetic killer was going to be a tough sell. Why else would the world-weary, seen-it-all Lt. Kafka (I laugh every time I write that name) be portrayed the usually-debonair, audience-friendly Adolphe Menjou? Minus his dashing mustache for the first time since puberty, Menjou can't completely disguise his urbane demeanor -- he speaks too articulately for a cynical cop -- yet is great fun to watch because he's playing against type. You almost expect him to break out a bottle of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, vintage 1889, when he finally captures Miller.

...while the cops say, "We're busy
working, bub."
Kramer, not surprisingly, lays on the "society is to blame" spiel a little thick now and then in The Sniper, starting off with a pre-credit prologue. Dr. Kent gets two soliloquys on the matter, while Lt. Kafka makes with the Freud routine eventually. Yet two women who really tick off Miller -- his harridan of a supervisor at work, and a stranger slapping her young child -- are so hideous that you're sorry that he didn't shoot them instead. Next time, Eddie, choose your targets with better care. 


Edward Dmytryk and cinematographer Burnett Guffey make great use of the San Francisco locations, especially the shadowy nighttime sequences. One of their Hitchcock-worthy visual motifs is Eddie Miller taking aim while normal life continues behind him, whether at a carnival sharpshooting gallery or on an attempted murder from atop a roof. In a particularly startling moment, an elderly woman removing towels from an indoor drying line near a window reveals a police sniper on the next-door roof, but doesn't notice him herself. The madness, Dmytryk seems to be saying, is so prevalent that people don't even see it anymore.

It's always important to keep on the lookout for familiar faces in old movies, and The Sniper is no exception. The legendary Charles Lane (left) appears briefly as a barfly annoying a doomed lounge singer (noir queen Marie Windsor, co-star of Two Dollar Bettor, in a small but important role.) The e.r. intern is Sidney Miller, whom I immediately recognized as Warner Brothers' stock Jewish kid from 20 years earlier. You can see him when he was a teenager in the previously-discussed bootleg-toothpaste drama, The Big Shakedown. (His character names from those Warners' days include Sanford Nussbaum, Issadore Marks, Maurice Levy... and George Washington. That's comedy, folks.) 
 
It's a pity that The Sniper is pretty much ignored these days, especially compared to Kramer and Dmytryk's other 1952 production, the appallingly-overrated High Noon. To my narrow-vision eyes, Kramer in particular never made a better, tighter movie. (His rare venture into comedy, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, crawls 3 hours and 40 minutes.)  If I have to be fed a message, let it be quick and tasty like The Sniper.

                                    ****************************

To read about Two Dollar Bettor, go here.
To read about The Big Shakedown, go here.

 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: RAY RICE EDITION

Ray Rice has been fired from the Baltimore Ravens, and put on indefinite suspension from the NFL, following the release of video footage that showed the former running back knocking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer unconscious in a hotel elevator last July. This comes after NFL Commissioner Ray Goddell's controversial original decision to suspend Rice for only two games.

When asked why the original suspension was relatively light, Goddell told reporters, "If you remember, the first video only showed Rice dragging Janay out of the elevator like a sack of onions. We at the NFL felt it would be wrong to conjecture what happened to cause her condition. You know, she might have been laughing really hard and knocked her head on the wall. I've heard other athletes say the same thing. The wives and girlfriends laughing and laughing -- those guys can say some funny things -- and the next thing you know, they're lying unconscious on the floor. Or Janay might have had a case of undiagnosed epilepsy, and had a really, really violent seizure. Or you know how some women say their boyfriends make them want to bang their head against the wall? She might have taken it literally. There were any number of possibilities."

When asked if he was blaming Ms. Palmer, Goddell replied, "Not at all. I mean, we thought there was a chance that Ray himself might have caused this mistake. Like maybe Janay was disoriented and had intended to walk out of the elevator in the wrong direction, and, in spinning her around to face the door, accidentally smashed her head against the wall. Or he was stretching following a workout, and didn't see where his fist was going. So, yes, we definitely considered the 'mistake' angle." 

Goddell continued, "But in the end, we just didn't have the smoking gun, the final piece of evidence that told us that this was a deliberate act of violence, until the release of that piece of the video. Had I seen it earlier, I would have gone for a three-game suspension, no question." 

                                                 ************************

Friday, September 5, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: AL-ZAWAHIRI EDITION

As ISIS continues its rampage across Iraq and Syria, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri brushed off reports al-Qaeda was starting to lose its luster.


"Nothing could be further from the truth," al-Zawahiri told reporters from his three bedroom cave in Afghanistan. "You want to know how much I care about those upstarts? This much," he laughed, holding apart his forefinger and thumb. "Look, the new guy always catches everybody's attention at first. That's a given. But eventually they remember that it's good to have a steady, reliable hand on the wheel of the suicide-bomb truck."

Sipping from a glass of goat's milk ("Be sure to write 'fresh, not fermented,'" he chuckled), the terrorist CEO continued, "Just the other day, I heard some wiseguy say that ISIS was Facebook while al Qaeda was MySpace. Are you kidding?  People seem to forget a little thing called 9/11. Those Islamic State upstarts are just a bunch of Mohammed-Come-Latelys. Fact is, there wouldn't be an Islamic State without al Qaeda. They don't know a Ramadan from a Ramada Inn."

Pausing to take a call from a mole deep inside the Pakistani government, al-Zawahiri returned to the subject at hand. "All those videos they release -- sure, they've got good production values and fancy-shmancy editing. But people get tired of that stuff eventually. At the end of the day, they want some substance, not headaches from all that fast MTV-style editing. And talk about old-fashioned -- since when has MTV been relevant?"

"They can't even decide what to call themselves," he sneered. "One day they're ISIL, the next day ISIS, then they're IS. What're they going to be next week? I? Aye-yi-yi?" 

"Face it," al-Zawahiri concluded, "al Qaeda is a brand people trust. 'Spreading Terrorism Since 1988.' You can't beat experience, that's for sure."

                                              *****************************

Thursday, September 4, 2014

MOVIE OF THE DAY: "DUEL IN THE SUN" (1946)

Oh my God. Has there ever been a more oversexed, overheated, overproduced, overacted movie than Duel in the Sun? With phantasmagorical three-strip Technicolor and shouting-to-the- rafters dialogue making it look every inch the fever dream of amphetamine-addicted producer David O. Selznick, Duel in the Sun was intended to top his previous epic Gone with the Wind

Instead, the huge, grossly-expensive (almost $100-million when adjusted for inflation), two year-long production is still considered one of the most harebrained movies from Hollywood's "golden age." Director King Vidor handles Selznick's risible script with the same anvil-like touch that he would bring to The Fountainhead three years later. Vidor, by the way, was one of six directors who helmed Duel in the Sun during its lengthy inception -- or is it ejection? -- including Selznick, who, in a rare moment of lucidity, fired himself. As for the acting, there's so much ham on display that it's probably banned in Jewish and Muslim neighborhoods.

The tale of a young, half-breed trollop who causes havoc between two brothers and their racist father, Duel in the Sun intends to be spicy but winds up being tasteless. It would have fared better as a low-budget RKO black & white programmer as originally intended, but once Selznick got his Oscar-winning paws on the project, all bets were off. 

Warning: staring at this sun on a high-def
TV for 10 straight minutes can cause
permanent eye damage.
The movie announces its intentions to epicdom (a word I just made up) with a 10-minute instrumental prelude by Dimitri Tiomkin, which never manages to string together more than three interesting notes at a time. 

The difference between "prelude"
and "overture" is 7 minutes.
Just as it comes to a thudding end, and you're settling in for, you know, a movie, the voice of character actor Reed Hadley announces, "Ladies and gentleman, the overture to Duel in the Sun!" -- followed by three more unmemorable minutes of the Selznick Studio orchestra sawing away while Hadley describes the movie you're about to see. Show, don't tell! 

Then that's followed by the credits, and that's followed by a magniloquent prologue spoken by Orson Welles (presumably to make it sound classy) before the movie finally kicks in. I guess Selznick had to do something to make it seem as long as Gone with the Wind. (Without the music folderol, Duel in the Sun runs only a little over two hours.)

Now we know where Elvis Presley got his sneer.
If Duel in the Sun was Selznick's attempt to turn his then-mistress, Jennifer Jones, into another Vivian Leigh, he should have spent more time on his shrink's couch and less time popping bennies. Wearing dark "Injun" make-up, Jones instead resembles a drunken Emirates Airline stewardess. And rather than being sexy, as was Selznick's intentions, she often appears to be having a seizure. But as she admits, "I'm trash like my maw!" A moment later, upon reflection, she writhes on her bed shouting, "Trash, trash, trash, trash, trash!" Yeah, like the script, script, script, script, script!

"After we do the nasty, I'm going out to kill
a mockingbird."
Anyone familiar with the stolid Gregory Peck of To Kill a Mockingbird will be shocked by the horny, violent sociopath presented here. Unlike Alfred Hitchcock's multidimensional bad guys, Peck's Lewt McCanles is a rotter through-and-through, licking his chops like a hungry wolf eyeing a defenseless lamb -- in this case, Jennifer Jones' Pearl Chavez. As for Pearl, it winds up being one of those I-hate-you-so-much-I-love-you relationships that always work out real well in the end. (Note: that was delivered with a heavy dose of irony.) If nothing else, Peck has the time of his life playing a heel for a change, far looser in Duel in the Sun than anything else he ever made, even if he is more cartoon than human. 


Joseph Cotten is amused by Jennifer Jones'
attempt at catching flies with her mouth.

Jessie McCanles, Lewt's younger brother, hasn't got a chance with Pearl. While having pledged her love to Jessie, she's far more attracted to bad boy Lewt. Just to show you how low Pearl is, she  allows Jessie to enter her room just as Lewt is in there lighting up a post-coital smoke. (What's Apache for "bitch"?) Cotten is saddled with pity-me dialogue, but so underplays his part that he comes off better than most of his co-stars. (The only other actor in Duel in the Sun who avoids histrionics is Herbert Marshall as Pearl's father, and that's because he's killed off after ten minutes.)


The good preacher takes a personal interest in
Pearl's salvation.
Yet despite Jones' and Peck's grandstanding, it's up to the old-timers to really pull out the stops. Walter Huston's brief appearance as a shady preacher proves that the actor knew kitsch when he saw it, and, as with his role as Doc Holliday in The Outlaw, plays it with outsized tongue in cheek. King Vidor probably didn't get the joke.


"I look like Hillary who?"
Nor did Vidor do poor Lillian Gish any favors as Lewt and Jessie's mother Laura Belle McCanles. Perhaps not having seen any Gish performance since The Birth of a Nation, Vidor appeared to have instructed her to telegraph her emotions by opening her eyes like manholes, dropping her jaw to the floor, and placing her hands on her cheeks whenever possible. Her final scene -- crawling from her bed to console her grumpy husband before dropping dead at his feet -- is perhaps the cruelest, most unfortunately-hilarious thing a legend like Gish ever had to suffer. Other than the rest of her scenes in Duel with the Sun.


Lillian Gish wipes away the
spittle from Barrymore's
line-readings.
But nobody -- no body -- overdoes it like Lionel Barrymore as Sen. Jackson McCanles, the family patriarch. Once a wonderfully subtle actor, Barrymore had by now settled comfortably into the wheelchair-bound lovable crank character that defined the latter part of his career. Under Vidor's direction, however, Barrymore crosses the divide between crank and bull undergoing a wide-awake vasectomy. Bellowing, bawling and roaring his dialogue like a one-man zoo, he officially becomes a self-parody in Duel in the Sun the way his brother John did in Playmates. But at least the latter was supposed to be a comedy.

At least you can see the (over)budget on the screen.
An impressive sequence featuring hundreds of cowboys charging down a steep hill and across the plains is still exciting (and today would be recreated with CGI). The psilocybin-like Technicolor is wildly vivid, with fiery red sunsets and gorgeous blue skies popping out of the screen, while Tiomkin's score never, and I mean never, stops. As Bosley Crowther wrote in his New York Times review, "Oh, brother—if only the dramatics were up to the technical style!"

D.W. Griffith visits Huston and Barrymore
on the set of Duel in the Sun, and decides he got
out of pictures at the right time.
Thanks to the lurid promise of SEX SEX SEX, Duel in the Sun actually turned a financial, if not artistic, profit, becoming the second highest-grossing movie of the year. It would go down in history as being the first movie little Martin Scorsese ever saw -- such are legends made.


Love means never having to say you're
sorry after shooting each other to death.
Today, Duel in the Sun divides viewers. Scorsese, still a fan, believes it was ahead of its time. Everybody else thinks it's the work of a madman. But the best part -- the absolute icing on the cake -- follows the climax. Pearl and Lewt shoot each other a dozen or so times before dying lustily in each other's arms in the hot desert sun. Pull back, fade out... to five minutes of Exit music. 

Two hours and 20 minutes of non-stop music -- and I still can't remember a frigging note.



                                              ****************************
The original trailer for Duel in the Sun.



To read about John Barrymore's swansong, Playmates, go here.
To read about King Vidor's The Fountainhead, go here.

 


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: EXTREMIST EDITION

As the Western world recoiled in horror at the death of Steven Sotloff -- the second American journalist beheaded by an unknown member of ISIS -- questions were raised about CNN's persistent use of the relatively bland words "militants" and "extremists" to describe the army that has savagely killed thousands of Iraqis, mostly unarmed men, women and children, in the last few months.

CNN President Jeff Zucker explained his reasoning. "We take great pains to report the news right down the middle, no matter what the circumstances. Words like 'terrorists' or 'psychopaths' offend some people. We don't want to offend anybody. CNN's mission is to inform, yes, but primarily to entertain. You want news with a capitol N, go watch Al-Jazeera America. See how long you last, listening to all those wacky accents. Like the kids say, those people be crazy," he chuckled.

Taking a break from an in-house speech where he instructed employees what 'CNN' stands for, Zucker added, "When you think about it, anybody who slaughters entire villages, often by crucifixion, and makes children watch the murders of their parents, is extreme by any definition of the word. They post beheadings on YouTube. That's some militant stuff going on there. YouTube is supposed to be for videos of dancing cats and kids falling asleep in car seats --  the stuff Chris Cuomo and the girls run on their morning show. You know, their program is called New Day, not News Day. Those ISIS people are ruining it for everybody."

Asked if there was any incident that would change CNN's policy and allow the word "terrorist" to be spoken, Zucker replied, "Yes. If they hack into Anderson Cooper's nude photos."

                                                          *********************

Saturday, August 30, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: BASHAR AL-ASSAD EDITION

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest faced reporters to explain Barack Obama's repeated yet ineffectual assertions over the past three years that Syrian President's Bashar al-Assad's days were numbered.

"President Obama wasn't being feckless, nor did he misspeak," Earnest said. "Al-Assad's days are numbered. We just don't know how many days are left. As you know, times are tough all over, and nobody keeps a job forever. Even when Bill Clinton was president, people died eventually. Look, al-Assad's 48 years old, right? Figure he lives to be, oh, 78. That's 10,950 days he's got left. Because you know he's going to get re-elected every time -- he's really popular, gets, what 97% of the vote. So, yeah, his days are numbered. Ten-thousand nine hundred and fifty."

Continuing on this topic, Earnest added, "He's not the only one. President Obama, his days are numbered. He's got something like 820 days left in the job. That's not something he likes to think about it, but he's facing up to it. My days here are numbered, too, come to think of it. Again, 820 days, give or take." 

Pointing to reporter Chuck Todd, Earnest said, "Your days as host of Meet the Press are numbered, and you haven't even started the job yet. Because someday you'll leave, either by your own accord, keel over like Tim Russert, or get thrown under the bus like David Gregory -- most likely the latter, seeing that you work for NBC. Hey, Lawrence Spivak hosted Meet the Press for 28 years. If you just count the Sundays when it aired, that was 1,344 days. So I don't know what the problem is here."

In unrelated news, American U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power reassured reporters that her recent comments -- "It has manipulated. It has obfuscated. It has outright lied" -- were about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and not about the Administration's roll-out of Obamacare.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

MOVIE OF THE DAY: "AN ACT OF MURDER" (1948)

Anyone who tells you that present-day Hollywood movies are more mature than ever should seek out An Act of Murder. Really, I'd like to see a writer pitch an idea involving a middle-aged couple and euthanasia. "Are you crazy?" would come the reply. "A middle-aged couple?!"

Calvin Cooke is a hanging judge, following the letter of the law like a senator follows a Gallup poll, sentencing criminals to 20 years when 20 days would be more appropriate. His straight-arrow attitude is put to the test when his wife, Catherine Cook, is diagnosed with a fatal disease found exclusively in studio sound stages. Her doctor informs Calvin of her illness, while keeping Catherine in the dark. The Hippocratic Oath, as we know, states, "First, tell no truth."

Unwilling to let his wife suffer as she deteriorates, Calvin makes a split-second decision to kill her and himself in a car crash while returning from vacation. He survives, however, and, rather than taking it on the lam with a cutie-pie half his age like anyone else would, turns himself in for murder. (Remember, this is a movie.) His future son-in-law, David Douglas, whom he loves like a lice-infected cavity, volunteers to take on the case.

In 1948, this was normal. Today, audiences
would throw up.
Other than all those alliterative character names, An Act of Murder is an adult movie that would put most of today's releases to shame. What strikes you almost immediately is that there was a time when mature (i.e., older-looking) actors took the leads in A-pictures. Fredric March and Florence Eldridge look every bit their ages -- 51 and 47 respectively -- and then some. Way then some. (To put it in perspective, Brad Pitt is 51 and Sandra Bullock is 50.) And don't tell me about good genes, unless you're talking about those belonging to their plastic surgeons.

Can you think of any actor, other than George Clooney, who doesn't appear to be in arrested development?  Or an older-looking actress who isn't relegated to character roles? This couple is in love, and you get the feeling they still get it on once in a while. Perhaps that's because March and Eldridge were married in real life, which must have given their on-screen situation a little more charge. Hey honey, I've got a script for us where I kill you. No, really, you'll like it. Let's rehearse.


Judge Cook not only learns that his wife is dying,
the long-distance phone call isn't
considered a deductible, either.
As usual in old movies, the medical stuff is a little sketchy. Catherine's disease is never quite spelled out -- her doctor alludes to a "neuroplastic situation," admitting that any disease with several names is something medical professionals don't know anything about. You can trust this guy, right? Especially when his first bit of advice to Calvin when breaking the news is, "Have a cigarette." His colleagues' bedside manners leave a little to be desired -- like, oh, compassion -- telling Calvin during a conference call, "Surgery is useless" and "Death is indicated at any time." Don't forget to pay the receptionist on the way out! 

Following doctor's orders -- other than smoking cigarettes -- Calvin keeps the diagnosis from Catherine, in order to make her final days that much more peaceful. Like dropping coffee cups, falling into mirrors, and going blind are peaceful. Calvin gets a prescription of Demorine to give Catherine when necessary, with the warning that
"Let me get you a flower for your funeral --
I mean, corsage!"
more than two every 12 hours could be fatal. I Googled "Demorine," and the only thing I found was someone on Facebook, so that must be another of those only-in-Hollywood medical things.



But Calvin can't stand to see his wife suffer. An idea is planted when a medical advertisement reading, none too subtly, KILL THE PAIN catches his eye in a drugstore. A moment later, that idea blooms when a dog who's been hit by a car is put out of his misery by a friendly cop. Muttering, "Well, we can't let him suffer," he pulls out his gun and blows its head off. Paws up, don't shoot!

The Judge is up for murder, but he's just pissed-off
his daughter is sleeping with his lawyer.
Watch enough old movies, and you get to appreciate actors you took for granted on TV in later years. In An Act of Murder, that would be Edmond O'Brien as David Douglas, the lawyer who believes there's more to justice than law. Or the other way around. Only 33 but looking 50, he doesn't quite appear the ideal suitor for Cook's law-studying daughter, Ellie, played by 23 year-old Geraldine Brooks. (Everybody looked older then.) And talk about different times -- Calvin doesn't blink an eye when Ellie casually smokes in front of him, like it was normal.  Which it probably was back then.

It's Ellie who gives David an idea that leads to An Act of Murder's twisty climax, which I won't reveal. However, Fredric March's closing lines still resonate today, if only accidentally. Realizing that intentions can be as important as legalities, he admits that a person must be "judged not just by the law but the heart" -- words similar to those used by Barack Obama when nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. That guy really does have a thing for Hollywood.

Can you imagine a studio today
backing a major movie with this
couple in the lead roles?
Even during a time of grown-up movies, An Act of Murder probably stood out. It was, in fact, nominated for the Cannes Film Festival's Grand Prize. It holds up quite well, still packing several punches, with Fredric March giving his usual classy performance (something else sadly missing from most actors today). Like its leads, An Act of Murder is a mature piece of work -- one that continues to make profound statements on human nature and what really counts when judging a person's actions. Unlike, say, Transformers Part 3.

Pay no attention to the image of
a car driving off a cliff, folks!
But as with Freud 14 years later, Universal-International Pictures got a little skittish about the title, eventually re-releasing it as Live Today for Tomorrow -- what the hell does that even mean? -- which sounds like a homily you'd see hanging in somebody's laundry room. Adding insult to artistic injury, the one-sheet's design makes it look like a love story instead of, uh, an act of murder. For that alone, the head of the marketing department should have been force-fed a bottle of Demorine.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: WAITING FOR ISIS EDITION

As President Obama decides whether to OK an attack on Syria in order to dismantle the ISIS leadership, Congressional leaders assured the public that it was still business as usual in Washington.

Talking to reporters at a whiskey-tasting event in his home state of Ohio, Speaker of the House John Boehner made it clear that terrorist threats weren't going to deter his colleagues. "We're just going to let President Obama twist in the wind for a while. The idea of ending our vacation early in order to come together in the face of an imminent attack on U.S. soil is just plain laughable. I don't know when he's going to get it through his head that we're here to help us get re-elected, not make decisions or, more importantly, help him do his job."
 
Reporters caught up with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at his annual Hug-A-Latino Day Festival in Phoenix, Arizona. When asked if he was inclined to reconvene the Senate early to discuss a possible attack on Syria, Reid demurred. "For once, I'm in agreement with my friend John Boehner. The minute that Democrats make a statement one way or another on such a life-or-death issue, they're putting their jobs in jeopardy. Look at Hillary Clinton. She was yapping non-stop for weeks during that book tour, even raked President Obama over the coals over his dithering. Now that it's time to put up or shut up -- well, you don't hear much out of Chappaqua these days, do you? That gal wants to be president, alright!"

President Barack Obama took a break from his combination golf game/ballet practice to make a statement as well. "I know that many have taken me to task for spending more time pushing a climate change treaty instead of making a decision on what to do about ISIS. But hear me out. Those terrorist folks are going to get us no matter what I do about Syria. And when that dirty bomb goes off in Times Square one Sunday afternoon, New Yorkers are going to want as much temperate air as possible afterwards. Now watch me nail this arabesque!"

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