Friday, November 21, 2014

FFB: SILVER MEADOW (2002) by Barry Maitland

Four years ago, a vicious, methamphetamine-laced armed robber named Gregory North (known as 'Upper North') killed two guards in a bank robbery and got away. But Chief Inspector David Brock has never stopped looking for him even as other cases intervene and the trail has all but disappeared. Now, at the site of a more recent and very grisly murder, a witness claims to have spotted North in a crowd of shoppers.

This is my second favorite Barry Maitland book (after THE VERGE PRACTICE which I waxed rhapsodic about a few weeks ago) and here are the reasons why:

1) The setting: the ostentatiously huge and often mind boggling Silver Meadow Mall in Essex, scene of the crime. The modern retail mall as refuge for disaffected teenagers and petty crime is no stranger to modern fiction, but Silver Meadow is beyond anything ever experienced by modern day shoppers or, for that matter, modern day readers. This is mall as nightmare destination. In fact, after reading this book you might not ever look at your local mall in quite the same way again. I know I won't.

With it's ever-present uniformed security team and the constant monitoring of cameras round the clock, one wonders how a teenage girl could be murdered at Silver Meadow and no one have noticed anything. But the sprawling mall has hidden depths (literally) of dark cavernous byways, having been built on an old and mostly forgotten archaeological site. It is this sort of unexpected detail which adds an eerie aura to this tale of violent crime set among the forced gaiety of shoppers and workers at a retail palace of glitz - a place with a Vegas-like working volcano which spews lava every hour on the hour accompanied by flashing lights special effects.

2) The protagonists: Chief Inspector David Brock sends ever intrepid Sergeant Kathy Kolla to investigate the murder of a 14 year old whose body has turned up in a trash compactor at Silver Meadow, while he investigates the possible return of the murderous villain Gregory North - at first seen as a separate investigation despite the possible mall sighting.

As usual with a Barry Maitland book, you get a variety of colorful side characters who turn up to obfuscate and/or add their own brand of special 'charm' to what is a dark tale of murder at the hands of a cunning killer and his witting and/or unwitting cronies.

This is pretty gritty stuff, so not light reading at all. Still, it's the sort of book I wouldn't mind rereading and probably will. I was simply fascinated by the bone-chilling behind the scenes at this sinister mall. Most especially with Christmas shopping season just at hand.

It's Friday, so don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books other bloggers are talking about today.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Seen and Appreciated at BRAIN PICKING

THE LION AND THE BIRD by French Canadian graphic designer and illustrator Marianne Dubuc.

"I don't write for children," Maurice Sendak scoffed in his final interview. " I write - and somebody says, 'That's for children!' "


The Graphic Canon Books edited by Russ Kick

THE GRAPHIC CANON OF CHILDREN'S LITERATURE: Comic Artist Reimagine Beloved Childhood Classics from Tolstoy's Fairy Tales to Harry Potter - edited by Russ Kick:

"Part of the appeal is my belief that 'children's literature' can be great literature, period. Works meant primarily for children or teens are usually ghettoized, considered unworthy of serious treatment and study. But the best of it achieves a greatness through heightened use of language, through examination of universal themes and human dilemmas, and through nuance and layers of meaning. 

One sign of a great work of literature or art is that it can be interpreted multiple ways, that it remains ambiguous, refusing to provide clear-cut answers."

I couldn't agree more. Take a moment to check out these thought-provoking featured adaptations of tales we might have thought we knew.

Brain Picking link - Graphic Canon 

There are three other Graphic Canon volumes edited by Russ Kick in which various graphic artists take on the work of  authors such as Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Bronte, James Joyce and the like.

Russ Kick at Seven Stories Press - info re: the Graphic Canon books.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films, Television and/or Other Audio/Visuals: 7 Movie Posters

Mary Englebreit source

It's movie poster day! (You know how I love great film posters.) I found the following (except for the last one) at the excellent film blog, WHERE DANGER LIVES, where the best film posters are regularly, gorgeously on view. The place is a feast for the eyes, minds and hearts of vintage movie mavens. 


Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in later at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films, Television or other Audio/Visuals, other bloggers are talking about today. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Salon: A Painting I Love

Click on the painting to see a larger view. Source.

A painting I came across on my internet 'travels'. I'd never heard of the artist, Evelyn Dunbar until recently, and as you know, I'm always on the look-out for little known artists whose work needs another good look. I am especially fond of British war time paintings. This is one I'd definitely love to own.

A 1944 Pastoral - Land Girls Pruning in East Malling is such an evocative work, saying so much about the time in England's past when women had to step in and do 'men's work' while the men were off fighting WWII.  They all saw their duty and they did it. I love the women's singular purpose, the painting's border, the clothing - especially the head gear, the tools, the idea of readying an orchard for the next year's harvest in the midst of war. Sanguinity.

Read more about this painting, here at this Fruit Forum link which usually, I suppose, has more to do with fruit than painting, but Ian Harrison does a wonderful job of examining the work and the artist.

Also discovered this dedicated blog, Evelyn Dunbar, A Series of Commentaries on Her Paintings by Christopher Campbell-Howes, which has many details about Dunbar's work and life.


More about the Women's Land Army.

Friday, November 14, 2014

FFB: EARLY AUTUMN (1980) by Robert B. Parker

This is a readjustment of a post from November, 2010. I thought it was time to talk about my favorite Robert Parker book once again. 

EARLY AUTUMN is an early Spenser book by Parker (the seventh in the series), published in 1980. It is also my favorite. Though I've enjoyed most of the Spenser books, this one remains at the top of the heap for me. I'm also extremely fond of its sequel PAST TIME, written several years and many other Spenser adventures later. But that's a talk for another day. Today I'm, once again, sharing my enthusiasm for EARLY AUTUMN and hoping to get you to read it if you haven't.

The urban renewers had struck again. They'd evicted me, a fortune teller, and a bookie from the corner of Mass. Ave. and Boylston, moved in with sandblasters and bleached oak and plant hangers, and last I looked appeared to be turning the place into a Marin County whorehouse. I moved down Boylston Street to the corner of Berkeley, second floor. I was half a block from Brooks Brothers and right over a bank. I felt at home. In the bank they did the same kind of stuff the fortune-teller and the bookie had done. But they dressed better.

From this beginning, you know what you're in for. The kind of hip, wise-ass detective story where a client sashays into Spenser's office, they trade a few quips and within a few pages you're off and running on another tale of Boston murder and tough guy aphorisms - and you'd be right.

Except it turns out that, as the paperback blurb for Early Autumn says, "Spenser's most personal case begins here..." Oh, the case starts out with a dishy blonde hiring Spenser to do a job - no problem, but then the job turns into something Spenser and possibly, the reader, could never have anticipated.

I like this summary from my Dell paperback: A bitter divorce is only the beginning. First the father hires thugs to kidnap his son. Then the mother hires Spenser to get the boy back. But as soon as Spenser senses the lay of the land, he decides to do some kidnapping of his own. With a contract out on his life, he heads for the Maine woods, determined to give a puny fifteen-year-old a crash course in survival and to beat his dangerous opponents at their own brutal game.

The lay of the land is this: Neither the mother nor the father have any time or affection for this unhappy kid. He is merely a pawn in their divorce battles. The boy, Paul Giacomin, is withdrawn and uncommunicative, a geek in the worse sense of the word - a boy who, at fifteen, seems destined to be cast aside by life.

Against his self-centered girlfriend (and you know how we don't like her even one little bit) Susan Silverman's wishes, Spenser decides to do something about Paul before it's too late. (And by the way, this is one of the Spenser books which shows us why very few people like the character of Susan Silverman and only put up with her because Spenser, for whatever reason, loves her.) Her behavior is kind of odd really because Susan is a psychologist, you'd think someone in that profession would be eager to help a kid in obvious trouble. But I digress...

The point is: Spenser steps in and saves the day. But it's how he actually goes about it that makes this book so damned entertaining, enlightening and even moving. In a way that's hard to define, EARLY AUTUMN is more than a mere detective story, it's a primer on how to turn a troubled teenager into a good and reasonable young man.

Of course, there's violence and brutality and a murder or two, but this is to be expected in a Spenser tale. It's the other story going on, the saving of Paul Giacomin that makes this book so special. This is a book to be read in one evening if you like since it's the sort of thing that's hard to put down until the finale which is both satisfying and brilliantly realized.

In certain ways, (I'm sure you'll recognize what I mean) it wouldn't hurt for any adult with a teenage boy in his or her life, to read Early Autumn and perhaps learn a thing or two from, yes, an action-filled private eye book in a genre not known for its child-rearing wisdom.

It's hard not to love this book (and Spenser) and I recommend it even if you are still not a serious fan of the mystery/thriller persuasion.

Robert B. Parker's Fantastic Fiction page has all the titles of all the books in all the series.

And since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films: LA GRANDE ILLUSION starring Pierre Fresnay, Erich Von Stroheim, Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo and Marcel Dalio

A short post today, feeling a bit wonky:

THE GRAND ILLUSION (1937) aka La Grande Illusion, a French film directed by Jean Renoir based on a screenplay by Charles Spaak and Jean Renoir and starring Pierre Fresnay, Erich Von Stroheim, Jean Gabin, Dita Parlo and Marcel Dalio.

A superb film which, without much fuss or film-making shock and awe, reveals the emptiness of war and the valor and humanity of men. 

After many trials and tribulations, two WWI French soldiers, Lieutenant Marechal (Jean Gabin), a working class officer and Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay), an officer and aristocrat, are captured and sent to an impregnable German fortress/POW camp from which no one has ever escaped. The camp is run by the gentlemanly Captaine Von Ruffenstein, a stoic in body, mind and manners (Erich Von Stroheim), who forms an unlikely friendship based on class and mutual friends, with Captain de Boeldieu, fellow aristocrat.

It is this friendship which in the end speaks volumes, historically and otherwise, about the futility of war, the end of chivalry and worse, the death of illusion. A very human and approachable film, even these many years later. 

THE GRAND ILLUSION is listed as one of the greatest films ever made by just about everyone, including me. 

To read the entire plot, please go to the film's Wikipedia page, here

To read a Roger Ebert review, please check this link.

P.S. Of course, Jean Renoir's imaginative concepts influenced later war films. Example: The scene in which the POW prisoners dig the tunnel and funnel the earth through their pants in THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963) is taken, almost literally, from GRAND ILLUSION.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Have a good Veteran's Day.

A soldier celebrates Thanksgiving. J.C. Leyendecker, 1917.

On Veteran's Day please take a moment to remember the brave men and women to whom we owe so much.

A fascinating look at WWI history and how the utterly tragic 'war to end all wars' influenced the shape of our world today - from the NY TIMES.

Friday, November 7, 2014

FFB: I AM THE ONLY RUNNING FOOTMAN (1986) by Martha Grimes - A Richard Jury mystery.

Some of you may know that I am a big fan of Martha Grimes' Richard Jury books - in fact, I've read them all. But most of you know that I'm an old lady with miles of baggage on her chassis, the result being that many of these books have disappeared into the tomb of time that is my memory.

Ergo, I'm beginning again with Martha Grimes, rereading all the Jury books I have in the house while I wait for the new Bryant and May book by Christopher Fowler, due out next month. (I drop everything for Bryant and May).

I AM THE ONLY RUNNING FOOTMAN is the eighth Jury book, the title of which is based on an existing pub in Great Britain - all the Jury books are titled after pubs and lately, restaurants.

I've written about Grimes' unique style and quirks before, so today I'm quoting an example and hope it captures your imagination. See, here's the thing with Grimes - you have to use your imagination to 'get' what she's doing. If you don't, you won't. Simple as that.

There is a killer on the loose who has strangled a couple of young women - one in Devon and one closer to home in Mayfair. Jury is called in on the Mayfair murder and then must coordinate with Brian Macalvie of the Devon constabulary, a rather parochial but brilliant cop he met in a previous book. In the meantime, Melrose Plant, Jury's aristocratic friend must put on (no matter how unwillingly) his amateur detective guise and head out to Devon to help a nice young woman in trouble.

Martha Grimes is devilishly good at combing aspects of 'the cozy' with the more bizarre and violent nature of modern day crime. It's what throws some people off - but it's the part of her writing that I love most. No one else does it as successfully, though many have tried. Grimes is unique in her handling of the crime novel, she doesn't stint on the grisly activities of human beings and their beastly natures yet her books do contain cozy elements though they are definitely not cozies. It can strike some as odd, it never did me.

And now to the section that had me laughing last night, even though I knew we were on the hunt for a probable serial killer. The setting: Melrose Plant has arrived in Devon and is staying at a black and white Tudor timbered country inn called the Mortal Man. It is owned and operated by a family with the odd last name of Warboys (or maybe in England that's a common name), innkeepers who will test Plant's mettle to the fullest.

Breakfast was an occasion involving the usual hazards. He should have known that the juice would spill, the porridge tilt, and the mackerel slide and taken the precaution of wearing a bib.

As Melrose ate the mackerel he had rescued from his lap, he listened to the keening sound coming from the kitchen. It increased and diminished each time Sally Warboys slapped open the door to bring him another dish. It might have been the screech of a kettle forgotten on the hob or the youngest Warboys (there was a baby, too) with some intractable demand. There had already come from the kitchen the clatter of breaking crockery and the usual assortment of angry voices as the Warboyses took their battle stations.

Sally Warboys, in washboard gray, came out of the kitchen in her half-run, half-walk, to deposit Merlrose's pot of tea, which struck the table edge and sent hot water splashing down the cloth, just missing his hand by an inch. To call the Warboyses accident-prone would have been to do them an injustice, he thought; there was something here that smacked of deeply rooted tribal behavior.

As he blotted a bit of grease from his cuff, he noticed that the lad who done porter duty and dropped his bag had come into the dining room. This room was undergoing a Warboysian transformation, with Bobby [Warboys] up on his ladder swinging his hammer.

William sat at the table across the room. In another this might have been called a 'respectful distance,' but in a Warboys it looked like the first step in a campaign from which Melrose doubted he would emerge the victor. The boy sat stiff and staring, with a gaze so intent it pried Melrose's eyes up like a lever. 

He was assisted in this scrutiny by Osmond, who lay on the floor with his head on his paws, eyes unflinching. Melrose assumed this was tactical necessity on the dog's part, like a falling back of troops readying for a surprise attack. He wondered if there had ever been guests at the Mortal Man before he happened along, for none there seemed to know what to make of one - whether to hold him hostage or kill him outright.

"Good morning," said Melrose cheerily. "It's William, isn't it?"

The boy responded swiftly and came over to the table. He sat down and placed a small notebook and pencil, or the stub of a pencil, beside the plate of buttered crumpet that Melrose had not ordered. When Melrose invited him to have one, he pulled the plate and marmalade pot over with an alacrity that would have made one think he'd been on prison rations up to now.

The Warboyses will be mentioned now and again in future Jury books. Martha Grimes has a habit of investing even minor side characters (and their pets, usually dogs, though occasionally cats) with memorable quirks too colorful to be completely forgotten, even by me.

Simply put: I love the Richard Jury series and if a couple of the later ones are not Grimes' best work, the remainder are definitely worth looking for. Martha Grimes' Fantastic Fiction page has a handy list of all her books.

NOTE: Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Books other bloggers are talking about today. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten Television: ACTION IN THE AFTERNOON - From the action-packed days of yesteryear and the warped annals of television history!

Gil Thompson and Horse in ACTION IN THE AFTERNOON

The other day a friend and I were talking ancient television shows and suddenly ACTION IN THE AFTERNOON jumped into my brain. Unfortunately no one else seems to have heard of this, much less watched it - or maybe it's that no one wants to admit to having watched it.

ACTION IN THE AFTERNOON ran for a year - 1953 - 1954 - and I rushed home religiously every day after school to watch it. (This was before AMERICAN BANDSTAND with Dick Clark caught on big time and rock and roll changed the world forever. Hyperbole? I think not.)

A live-action western - the only live western without inserted film clips - ever broadcast on CBS or elsewhere, for that matter, and I seem to be the only one who ever watched it. Tell me this isn't so. Disabuse me of the notion. Tell me there were others out there enthralled by the whole idea of horses and 'colorful' town folk, schoolmarms, bank robbers, sheriffs, grizzled cowpokes and fist fights, moving about in real time, mistakes, missed cues, odd background noises, recalcitrant and/or jumpy horses and all. (Actually, the horses were the best part.)

I loved it.

I can trace my eternal affection for cowboy movies and such to Roy Rogers, Red Ryder, Lash LaRue, The Lone Ranger et al  keeping me company Saturday afternoons at the movies, and of course, ACTION IN THE AFTERNOON every day after school. Hey, I lived in Manhattan - this was the wild west to me. Even if it originated in Pennsylvania.

Since it's Tuesday once again, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films, Television and/or Other Audio/Visuals other bloggers are talking about today. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Saturday Salon: Contemporary painter James Aponovich

James Aponovich is a contemporary American painter born in Nashua, New Hampshire. He still lives and works in New Hampshire, though his work is widely exhibited and is in the collections of several museums. Aponovich is best know for his controlled and wonderfully detailed still life visions. My favorites are what I call his 'balcony' paintings which combine the still life imperative with intriguing glimpses of faraway places.

To learn more about the painter and his work, please check out his blog and also the Clark Gallery page (among several gallery pages) and the blog, Aponovich and Johansson at Home and Away.

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Quick Review: DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY - PBS Masterpiece Mystery

Just finished watching Episode One on the PBS (available until Nov. 2nd, I think) website. DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY is based on the book by mystery great P.D. James. A book I'd very eagerly looked forward to because, after all, P.D. James created the Commander Adam Dalgliesh books, ipso-facto, this Jane Austen pastiche had to be good.

Boy was I wrong. The book is dreadful.So bad I couldn't even finish it. But I won't go into details here. I wrote about my disappointment earlier this year and that's enough.

Somehow I though the television film would have to be better than the book. Right? PBS. Masterpiece Mystery. Matthew Rhys. Need I say more?

Gee whiz, I was wrong again.

If this first episode is anything to go by, I won't be watching the second or the third. This is dreary stuff, limp and uninspired, even hard to understand. The production is abysmally cast with people whose accents don't seem to be quite the proper thing. Several of them sound almost American in tone and we know they are Brits. The dialogue has no crispness, no Austen tone at all. This is Regency England or at least, a few years past the Regency - mid-19th century. So what gives?

The casting is so entirely wrong. Even Matthew Rhys seems not able to live up to Pemberley, that glorious house. Actually, the house itself is the best thing about the production. The camera-work is wonderful too and the scenery. But ladies and gents, that's not enough.

In comparison to the superb PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1995) starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle and an incredibly fine cast, this production is just lame. There I've said it. Lame and boring.

Anna Maxwell Martin (who is wonderful in THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE) is entirely miscast, lost in the part of Elizabeth Bennett Darcy. She looks haggard, not at all lovely, her costumes so ill-fitted they make her look less like the lady of the manor and more like a downstairs servant. In one scene she is wearing this dreary hat that any housemaid might wear and wearing it askew - didn't someone notice? She looks NOTHING like the Elizabeth Bennett so wonderfully played by Jennifer Ehle. I'm talking about the character's style and zest. In comparison, this Elizabeth Bennett looks like a washerwoman.

But the rest of the lackluster cast including the Bennett mother, father and sisters are no better. Who are these people? You'll note that I don't bother to name names. One is hard put to differentiate between them.

Matthew Rhys as Darcy is nice to look at but a bit too rugged in my opinion, not refined enough, and hardly seems in command of his surroundings.

What ever happened to the delightful Miss Bennett? Has marriage to Darcy turned her into a drudge?  From the first she appears to be wearing the same ugly green dress for an entire day - morning to night, even though company is expected - a ball is planned at Pemberley.

 Later, sister Jane shows up in an outfit almost the same color as Liz's - they blend into each other - something that I would have thought was a costume design no-no. The men's neckcloths and linen appear damp and soiled and not at all the sort of thing that would have been worn by people of this social class. Yes, it's the country, but really, would they have all looked so sloppy?

What the heck happened here? Did they run out of money? Attention to detail, the niceties of costume and language are the main reasons we love these sorts of things. When all that is missing all that's left is soap opera  - and not very good soap opera at that. Oh yeah and there's a murder. But the guy who's killed is no one we have any emotional interest in. So from the first we're hampered by lack of connection.

I simply had to write this tonight. I'm sorry to be so harsh, but I was SO disappointed. I hate when that happens.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) starring James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, George C. Scott

Hadn't seen this in many years and the truth is I remembered it as being better than it is. But still, it's what we used to call, 'a pretty good flick'.

ANATOMY OF A MURDER is a film directed by Otto Preminger, from a script by Wendell Mayes based on the novel by Robert Traver and starring James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazarra, Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden and George C. Scott.

Watched it last night on Netflix streaming and thought I'd jot down a few of my impressions:

Here, in my view, is one instance where the Saul Bass credits don't work as well as they might. Bass, as everyone knows was a brilliant graphic artist and designer, creator of many iconic film opening credits. Among my favorites: THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM, WALK ON THE WILD SIDE, WEST SIDE STORY, THE BIG COUNTRY and so on and so on - fabulous stuff. Actually, in some cases, the credits themselves were better than the movie, as in the remarkable credits for WALK ON THE WILD SIDE which was an abysmal flopperoo.

Well, my reasoning for not liking the fit of Bass's modernistic credits for ANATOMY OF A MURDER is that the movie is not especially 'modernistic' in tone or subject or even in point of view - though of course there is all that talk about a woman's panties and even, dare I say it, the mention of sperm.Shocking, I suppose, in its time.

The credits are done in a very graphic style which is jarring in the sense that they mislead. But in this view I am probably in the minority and really, the credits are intriguing enough to capture the attention. Mustn't nitpick.

The low-key soundtrack is by Duke Ellington who rarely fails (he even has a small part as - what else? - a jazz musician), the music is alluring if maybe slightly too modern in feel. But it captures the 'sleaze' quotient of the crime.

The bare-bones plot:

Lt. Frederick Manion (the very intense Ben Gazarra) has been arrested for the murder of a local bar-tender named Barney Quill. Manion claims he shot Quill (five times) because the man raped and beat his wife, Laura (the beautiful and always vulnerable Lee Remick). From behind bars, Manion hires lawyer Paul Biegler (the laconic James Stewart) to defend him. Biegler has, as his 'crew' a hard-drinking, older 'law-clerk' Parnell McCarthy (the irascible Arthur O'Connell) and a wise-cracking secretary, Maida Rutledge (the always wonderful Eve Arden who made a career of wise-cracking).

Lt. Manion will plead guilty due to temporary insanity, a defense which the wily Biegler nudges him into.

Though most of the film takes place inside a courtroom, the setting is a bland, run-of-the-mill Michigan town near the Canadian border - try as I might, I never did catch the name. The film is shot in a slightly clunky way in black and white by Sam Leavitt. There are unaccountable moments in the beginning of the film when the camera-work seems almost amateurish, but it may just be that the version Netlix is streaming is not the best available. There are also some very claustrophobic scenes in Paul Biegler's small ugly house in which James Steward just seems too tall and too big for the rooms. (Actually, even Eve Arden looks odd inside that house.) But maybe that's intentional, at any rate, I couldn't wait to leave and head for the courthouse.

The lurid courtroom dramatics are powerful. The details of the sordid crime are gone into with a stoic 1959 relish which is at times appalling and at other times grimly laughable.

James Stewart shines as a lawyer outraged by the violence done to the wife of his client and eager to keep the prosecutors from glossing over the motive for hubby's extreme retribution. There is no 'crime passionel' aspect to the murder, since the Lt. waited an hour before heading out to kill the man who'd attacked his wife.

Inside that courtroom are two scene-stealers who manage to steal the show right out from under Stewart's nose: George C. Scott as a state attorney brought in to bolster the prosecution and best of all, Joseph N. Welch as the Judge.

Joseph N. Welch, James Stewart, Brooks West, George C. Scott

Joseph N. Welch was a curious bit of casting. He was a hero, a real lawyer, the head counsel for the U.S. Army while it was being investigated (in 1954) by the nefarious Senator Joseph McCarthy's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations which was on the hunt for communist activity therein. The investigation came to be known as the Army-McCarthy hearings.

Welch uttered the famous words: "Senator you've done enough. Have you no decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

As Judge Weaver, Welch gently wrestles the picture from the rest of the more seasoned cast and is a delight to behold. I would watch this film again purely for his performance.

George C. Scott as Assistant State Attorney General Claude Dancer is so intense in his role that he out-inteses Ben Gazzara which is no small feat let me tell you. In his powerful scenes with Lee Remick he seems to abuse her physically while never coming in contact with her. I thought for a moment he was going to jump out of his skin. He is as repellent as a cobra. That battered profile of his works a treat in close-ups.

But the rest of the cast is almost as good:

Lee Remick as Laura Manion is heart-breaking in her courtroom scenes, most of all because she seems so puzzled by it all. She plays a woman used to being oggled by men and not averse to drawing attention to herself by her 'jiggly' style of dress (she doesn't even wear a girdle for God's sake!). She sends out lures consciously or unconsciously that most men would have to be dead not to notice - even that old sweetheart, James Stewart, looks as if he'd like nothing more than to spend the night up at the trailer-park. Oh yes, Laura and her hubby live in a trailer - within walking distance of the local bar and grill and pinball machine emporium. (Well, one pinball machine does not an emporium make, but you know what I mean.)

James Stewart can't help looking like a sheepdog in his scenes with Lee Remick.

Despite her womanly wiles, Laura has a kind of naive quality which makes her seem less like a femme fatale and more like a lost innocent. In a way, she is the enigma at the heart of the film. She never seems outraged by the attack on her person or the fact that she has been raped. Rather she seems almost accepting of it. As she is accepting of the fact that no one thought to call the police and report the attack until after her hubby had killed the perp.

So strange to see a U.S. Army soldier sporting a cigarette holder. Kind of takes away from Ben Gazzara's intenseness. But I'm sure there was a very definite reason.

Ben Gazzara as Lt. Manion is another enigma. He is unlikable, not averse to slapping his wife around and basically unrepentant. Gazzara plays the part not in any way meant to make us feel sorry for his predicament which, in a way, is a weakness in the story.

There seems to be a heartbreaking futility in the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Manion.

James Stewart is wonderful as a guy with an obviously huge ego and a brilliant canny mind - a guy who, for whatever reason, is a lifelong bachelor seemingly devoid of ambition and apparently satisfied to wile away the days barely making a living and fishing for trout. We learn little of his background - except that he likes to fish and play or listen to jazz - but maybe that's okay. Still, I did wonder at his oddly uncomfortable way of living. Wondered too, why he'd need a secretary if his client list was so paltry. Still, I wouldn't have missed Eve Arden for the world.

Though ANATOMY OF A MURDER is a terrific courtroom drama not to be missed, it is not a great film. And here the blame goes to Otto Preminger who's directing wizardry isn't enough to quite hold the thing together.

Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten (or Overlooked) Films, Television and/or Other Audio/Visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Gothic Imagination - Part Two: Books to be Read on any Chilly October Eve

It's that spooky time of year when our thoughts turn to ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. I'm not a real reader of horror (DRACULA being the rare exception), so a few ghoulishly good atmospheric reads are as far as I go. Where I've reviewed the book in the past, I've linked the review - where I haven't, I haven't.

I've recommended DRACULA before but, I'm unrepentant, and will probably recommend it again. I waited years to read this because I thought it would be hokie and scary and full of over-the-top 'ugh!' stuff. Silly me.

This is the perfect horror tale. It is gloomy, eerie, creepy, dark, frightening and yes, over-the-top - but in a good way. My innermost feeling is that having read this one, I probably don't need to read any other vampire or horror book - nothing could top this. And since that coincides with the recognition that I am a reader who does not like to be scared, well, there you have it. This scared me enough for a hundred books.

My review of DRACULA.

Free download of DRACULA at Project Guttenberg.

Another book I keep recommending year in and year out, another book I had put off reading because I thought oh, well, the hero seems inert and the story sounds too soporific, too utterly Victorian. Count Fosco, really, he must be a buffoon - no one's afraid of a buffoon. Well, I was wrong, the book is an atmospheric delight of shivery goodness. Told from the point of view of various different characters with different axes to grind, it all makes for the sort of story you think you've tired of hearing but come to find out, you haven't.

My review of THE WOMAN IN WHITE - Part One. Part Two.

Haven't read this, but was intrigued by the cover art and let's face it, I've heard of this author for years  - who could forget that oddly dramatic name? The synopsis does sound as if this would make for a terrific chilly October read.

I'm not big on the supernatural when it comes to things jumping out of the woodwork and attaching themselves to our psyches but maybe I'm not getting what Le Fanu is all about - the Wikipedia page says this is not a novel of the supernatural. So I'm of two minds about it all. Truth is, I might not read this anytime soon but if you have or you will, I'd appreciate a 'heads-up'.

UNCLE SILAS - the plot.

Free downloads of a bunch of Sheridan Le Fanu stories at Project Guttenberg.

The perfect gothic novel as far as I'm concerned. Also the perfect feminist novel. Jane Eyre is the original romantic heroine with an iron backbone - a woman completely self-aware - a woman with a deeply rooted sense of morality and self-worth. All heroines of all gothic romance novels which came afterwards are based on Jane, pure and simple.

Mr. Rochester, of course,  is the dark and sinister hero upon which all dark and sinister heroes are based from then on as well.

As for why this makes for a great chilly October read, well, there is that mad woman in the attic. And the setting, my friends, the setting.

Project Guttenberg free download of JANE EYRE.

I'll bet every high school girl has read this, but that doesn't cancel its allure. This is classic chilly October reading in my book. Who doesn't know the first lines? "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..." The perfect opening for the sort of book which can be read in one sitting, especially if it's dark and cold outside and you're tucked under a warm blanket with a cup of tea and a sleepy dog. A little lightning and thunder for sound effects wouldn't hurt.

Our poor unnamed heroine has a lot to contend with: an impulse marriage, an imperiously handsome and secretive hero (who can occasionally be a block-head), a malevolent housekeeper devoted to the memory of a dead first wife, and another large estate with a very nice name.

Every library in the world should have a copy.

Even people who haven't actually read the Conan Doyle story still claim to know it. Those that have seen the various movies based on the book will feel they know it as well. We, of course, being Conan Doyle aficionados, smile indulgently. The written story - which can also be read in one fell swoop on one chilly October eve - is so much better than any of the film versions. Why that should be, I don't know, but in my opinion none of the film versions have ever done real justice to the actual tale.

I've lost count of how many times I've read THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and each and every time I am drawn in once again by its mysterious spell. It is Victorian England, we're tramping along on the dark and forbidding Yorkshire moors, and the game is afoot. What could be better?

"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound."

The audio books I've listened to over the years weave their own kind of spell, I never tire of listening. Lately it is the Simon Vance version from audible - one word: superb.

Free download of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES from Project Guttenberg.

What was it about Victorian England, do you suppose, that brought out the foulest deeds and the nastiest, vilest villains ever to have slunk down a dark alley - not to mention, the creepiest crimes imaginable? Maybe it was all that pretense of perfection and decorum. At any rate here, the remarkable writer Lynn Shepherd (whose MURDER AT MANSFIELD PARK was/is an instant classic far as I'm concerned) takes several characters from Dickens' BLEAK HOUSE (The Solitary House was the books original title, by the way) and reveals a grim tale of hideous murder and chicanery. Need I add that this is the perfect tale for a chilly October eve?

I haven't listened to the audio of this one because I'm convinced it would be far too unsettling.

Kirkus Review of THE SOLITARY HOUSE.


One of the more perfect Gothic Romances of my youth, the second of Victoria Holt's books and still, I think, one of her very best after MISTRESS OF MELLYN (which I've recommended to you before as perfect October reading).

The Yorkshire Moors, a house named Kirkland Revels, an innocent young bride - sound familiar? Well, these things are a given when approaching a Gothic Romance (it's part of their accepted comfortableness), the rest is up to the writer's imagination and talent and Holt was one of the more talented writers of this sort of thing. The result is a very well conceptualized and intriguing mystery of family secrets, betrayal and death - the stuff that makes the world go round.

KIRKLAND REVELS on goodreads.

THROUGH THE TEMPESTS DARK AND WILD - A Story of Mary Shelley, Creator of Frankenstein by Sharon Darrow, illustrated by Angela Barrett.

Haven't read this yet, but it looks like something I will be adding to my library very soon. A beautifully illustrated account of the two years Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley spent in Scotland when she was a lonely teenager spurned by her stepmother and sent away by her father. Here the book supposes, the beginnings of one of the more famous horror tales ever written, FRANKENSTEIN, may have begun festering in Mary's vivid imagination.

Sharon Darrow writes the fictionalized account. The illustrations are by Angela Barrett, one of the more formidable talents working today. Do not miss seeing her work whatever you do. Her version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is remarkable, as are her illustrations for THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK , and ANNA KARENINA , among many other classics.

Not meant to be especially gothic but nevertheless it is exactly that as most of the action takes place at night at a dark estate called Pemberley. Wait, Pemberley? Yes, Pemberley, the family seat of the Darcy family once upon a time. Not that this book has anything to do with Jane Austen's classic - except for the setting. And why that should be I leave to scholars of T.H. White to try and figure out.

This is White's first and only mystery novel and to my way of thinking, he should have gone ahead and written many more. But for whatever reason he didn't. But he left us a doozy of mystery debut worth the reading and re-reading. We know going in who the killer is but that doesn't stop the mysterious doings and skulking about in the night. A shivery book, perfect for a dark and stormy night in October.


Okay, here's a book that doesn't take place in England but upstate Northeast or Midwest, America. It is from the queen of the 'had I but known' school of mystery delights, Mary Roberts Rinehart. Naturally enough, we have a big old country house full of secrets and dark imaginings - the kind we all love. Also naturally enough, the rural electricity is faulty - hence the family must resort to flickering candles at every opportunity which, of course, make all the odd sounds and disturbances in the night that much more eerie and scary.


And just in case you need an actual, hard copy notepad to make lists and such - what better than an Edward Gorey version?

Not all these are forgotten or even overlooked, but still, I'm featuring them as part of the FFB meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, Pattinase. Don't forget to check in.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten Film: THE BIRDS (1963) starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette, Jessica Tandy

Not a film that is 'officially' forgotten, for sure, but what the heck. It's one of the more perfect Chilly October viewing pleasures and always worth talking about. In fact, I can envision a Halloween party with everyone dressed as one type of bird or another, all siting around eating wings (ha!) and watching the Hitchcock classic - although perhaps the liquor content should be kept to a minimum lest some birds get carried away with the film's theme of anarchy and destruction.

At any rate, THE BIRDS (1963) is directed by Alfred Hitchcock, from a screenplay by Evan Hunter based on a story by Daphne Du Maurier and starring Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy. It is a film that these many years later, still retains the ability to shock and awe. The gifted Hitchcock, more a master of mystery, suspense and spy thrillers and not especially known for this sort of thing - special effects and 'end of the world' scenarios - still manages to adorn THE BIRDS with his own peculiar touches in between murderous avian attacks.

Haven't seen the film recently, but sometimes that's the best time to write about a movie -  I've been thinking about various scenes which have remained (despite old lady memory) in my mind. It's funny how that works, some movies you forget completely - or almost - others, like THE BIRDS, continue to live for one reason or another.

THE BIRDS: Sounds and sights I remember (off the top of my head).

Playful Hitchcock: The pet shop scene in the beginning with the two quiet little parakeets (or canaries) in a cage. So sweet. So non-threatening. Not happy to be caged, but surely...

The blond society deb, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), spontaneously deciding to follow hunky Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) - wouldn't you? And into the pet shop they go. She, assured of her icy allure, he instantly intrigued by it. In Hitchcock films, blonds get away with all sorts of forward behavior.

But what is is about sleepy Bodega Bay, California that attracts the sudden influx of avian life to its shores? Curiously, down near the water, a bunch of sea gulls seem to be holding a class reunion.

Speaking of classes, there's the scene of a bunch of screaming kids being sent home from school - chased by birds. Horrific. Children in a Hitchcock film are rarely safe.

Remember the jungle gym covered in birds perched and waiting?

Then there's the brunette (and therefore automatically sultry) Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleschette), small town Bodega Bay teacher who resents the influx of a sophisticated deb with eyes for the guy she's got a crush on. Poor Annie. Her gruesome death I've always seen as more a Hitchcockian comment on brunettes with romantic dreams than anything else. I mean, how dare she aspire to the hero when Tippi (with a decidedly elegant French chignon) is in town?

The vivid gas station explosion which, to my mind, suddenly catapults the film outward in a very vivid way makes for an unforgettable scene. Hitchcock knew that fireworks would be required at some point and this comes out of the blue.

Later, the barricading of the cozy, private house (Jessica Tandy lives there for goodness' sake!) against the assaulting forces of nature. The birds in the chimney. Beaks piercing through the wood door. Obviously more is at work here than just birds run amok. But what?

Yeah, pretty good stuff and I'm really happy that, far as I know, this is one film that hasn't had a modern day re-do.
(See Di's comment below for additional data on that score.)

Perfect Chilly October viewing.

To read more specifically about the film itself, I like this excellent post by iluvcinema 

Madame Alexander doll - source

Sometimes you just have to shake your head.

Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in later at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten and/or Overlooked Films, Television or other Audio/Visuals, other bloggers are talking about today.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Salon: The Gothic Imagination in Artwork: Being That It's October and All

Austrian artist/illustrator/print-maker Alfred Kubin (1877 - 1959) - source

French painter Robert Delaunay (1885 - 1941) - source

Canadian/French artist/illustrator Nicholas De Lort - source

British illustrator Louise Brierly - source

American painter/illustrator Mark English / Dracula - source

Ukrainian painter Sigismund Ivanowski (1879 - 1944) - source

American painter/illustrator Aaron Westfield - source

Danish illustrator John Kenn Mortensen - source

German Painter Casper David Friedrich (1774 - 1840) - source

English painter and illustrator Frederick Walker (1840 - 1875) - Theater poster art for Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White - source

This is my Part One of a two part post - the Second Part will feature the Gothic Imagination in books perfect for Chilly October Reading. You know the sorts of things I mean but stay tuned anyway.

And if you, like me, can't get enough of all this gothic gloominess, here's a link to my Pinterest board: A Gothic Imagination.