Something for the weekend. Edelweiss, from The Sound of Music. A show tune written for the musical it refers to the sturdy mountain flower, which in the 19th century became a symbol for the people of the Alps. In 1907 it became a symbol of the elite Alpine troops of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The song is a good reflection of the quiet Austrian patriotism of a most remarkable man: Georg Johannes Ritter von Trapp.
Born in 1880 he was the son of a Commander in the Austro-Hungarian navy who had been elevated to the nobility in 1876. This gave his son Ritter (Knight) status, allowing him to put von in his name and to be addressed as baron. His father died when Georg was four, which did not deter him from following in his father’s footsteps by entering the Austrian naval academy in 1894.
He enjoyed a colorful career in the Austrian navy, including participation in quelling the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, which earned him a decoration. Always fascinated by submarines, he transferred to the infant Austrian submarine service in 1908. When he took command of the U-6 it was a double red letter day for him. His ship was christened by Agathe Whitehead, the granddaughter of the English inventor of the torpedo. Georg went on to marry her in 1910. They were very happy together and had seven kids. When their daughter Maria was born, she sent her husband who was on patrol and could not receive personal missives, a coded message advising him that the SS Maria had been successfully launched! Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott by the Statler Brothers. A 1974 lament of how tawdry the movies had become, it fastened on Randolph Scott, king of B-movie westerns, as an icon for a better day when kids could be taken to the movies without parents being concerned about what they would be exposed to. I heard this song endlessly when it came out, my parents’ radio blaring it most mornings in the kitchen in 74 in the hour before I and my brother got up to prepare for yet another day in high school.
Scott was born as far from the West as it was possible to be in Virginia and raised in North Carolina. His family had money so he was educated in private schools. During World War I he served as an artillery observer in France, a highly dangerous post. (After Pearl Harbor, the 43 year old Scott attempted to enlist as a Marine, but was rejected due to his bad back.)
After his service in World War I, he worked for a time with his father in the textile industry in North Carolina. In 1927 he moved to California to embark on an acting career with a letter of introduction from his father to Howard Hughes. The next few years saw him develop his acting skills with bit parts and small roles. In 1931 he had his first leading role in the film Women Men Marry. In the film Heritage of the Desert (1932) Scott played his first leading role in a Western, the first of ten films he would make based on Zane Grey novels.
Until the conclusion of World War II, Scott starred in a variety of film genres, but after the War he concentrated solely on Westerns. Scott was a modest man and always underestimated his considerable skill as an actor. He was comfortable in Westerns and decided to stick with them. It was an inspired choice. As he aged his handsome features took on a weathered, stoic look, and helped make him a Western icon.
Scott did not financially need to make films after the War. Shrewd land purchases in California helped make him a multi-millionaire, and he increasingly looked upon his acting as a hobby. By 1962 he was ready to retire, but he was convinced to make one last Western with his friend Joel McCrea. McCrea and Scott had much in common: both had become very wealthy through land purchases and neither needed to work in film, post World War II McCrea had gravitated to B Westerns, and both he and Scott were staunch Republicans.
The film that they made in 1962 is now regarded as a classic. Ride the High Country was the second film to be directed by Sam Pekinpah. It tells the tale of two former Old West lawmen who have fallen on hard times. Steve Judd, Joel McCrea, has been hired by a bank in the early years of the last century to bring back 20,000 in gold from a mining camp. Judd is elated because this is the first lawman like job that he has had in a very long time. He runs into his old friend Gil Westrum, Randolph Scott, who is making a meager living running a shooting gallery in a circus. Judd invites Westrum and his young friend Heck Longtree, Ron Starr, to join him in the job. They agree, Westrum and Longtree planning to steal the gold. As the film proceeds it becomes obvious that Judd still holds to the same code of honor and honesty that he upheld as a law man. Westrum does not, having grown bitter with age and viewing the gold as his reward for his courage as a lawman, a courage that was not rewarded monetarily and has left him facing a hard scrabble old age. Ultimately Judd realizes what Westrum is up to and disarms both him and Longtree, planning to put them on trial for attempted robbery. The plot is complicated by Elsa Knudsen, Mariette Hartley in her screen debut, who the trio rescue from a miner she has just married who plans to have her serve not only as his bride but also as the “bride” of his four brothers. Longtree grows to admire Judd for his courage and stubborn honesty while Westrum escapes, only to ride to the rescue at the end of the film to help Judd. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Scotland the Brave, from a video clip of the movie The Devil’s Brigade (1968). Officially the First Special Service Force, the Devil’s Brigade earned its name from their German adversaries in Italy. An 1,800 man elite brigade of Canadian and American troops, the troops were originally trained for a hare-brained mission behind enemy lines in Norway. General Staff officer Lieutenant Colonel Robert Frederick warned that the mission as planned would inevitably lead to the death or capture of all the troops involved. Frederick ultimately succeeded in convincing his superiors that the mission in Norway was a mistake and he was assigned to command the brigade. In fighting in Italy and Southern France the brigade performed superbly, carrying out missions thought to be impossible, and inflicting 12,000 casualties on the Germans and capturing an additional 7,000 Germans. The brigade suffered high casualties, by the end of the war having an attrition rate of 660%. Frederick had intense loyalty from his men, always leading from the front and exposing himself constantly to enemy fire. Both the US and Canadian special forces units trace their lineage from this unit. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Killing me Softly with His Song , written by Charles Fox with lyrics by Norman Gimbel. Out of the musical wasteland that was the Seventies, this is one of the few songs that I enjoy. Sung by many artists, this version by Roberta Flack is the standard. The song had an interesting genesis if one believes one version of how it came about.
Don McLean, he of American Pie and Vincent, was singing and folk singer Lori Lieberman had an emotional reaction to his song Empty Chairs. She wrote a poem and the song was based on the poem. She sang the song in 1972 a year before Flack’s version. Here is her version: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The theme song from The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). A combination of the Colonel Bogey March and the River Kwai March, performed by Mitch Miller.
Yesterday, taking a mini-vacation with the family, we were stuck in traffic for forty-five minutes due to bridge repairs south of Joliet on I-55. Temperatures topped 100 and my faithful Transit Connect Wagon decided this would be a splendid time to give me my first mechanical difficulties in three years by overheating. It was touch and go but we managed to get off the interstate and stopped at a convenience store. I let the engine cool down and then put coolant in with the able assistance of the store manager, an Indian immigrant who turned down my offer to pay him for his time. I gave him my card and asked him to call on me if he ever needed legal assistance gratis. I try to never forget a favor. We drove home without further incident and I will have the vehicle checked by my mechanic. I suspect it is a blown fuse on one of the electrical fans cooling the radiator, but we shall see.
In any event this heat drenched adventure convinced me to post a song where the setting is quite hot and the theme song from the Kwai film fit the bill. For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, it is magnificent. Alec Guinness plays Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson, absolutely indomitable in the face of the most savage treatment from his captors. Ultimately he wins his war of nerves with his captor, Colonel Saito, over the issue of whether British officers must work in other than an administrative captivity, but fails to understand that by building the bridge he is collaborating with the enemy. Nicholson is a man of rules and discipline and in many ways he is a heroic figure, willing to die to uphold what he perceives as civilized standards, and is beloved of his men who he also loves. However, he is a tragic hero in that he fails to see that following what he thinks are the rules in his circumstances will benefit the enemy by building them a strategic rail bridge. He rectifies his mistake at the cost of his life. The film is an absolutely riveting character study of both Nicholson and Saito, stunningly portrayed by Sessue Hayakawa, a Japanese immigrant to the United States, who fought with the French Resistance during World War II, helping downed Allied fliers. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The things you find on Youtube! I loved this album and this song, Ghost of Bras d’ Or, when I was a kid. Part of my Mom’s Newfoundland record collection. I always thought that Dick Nolan sounded like Johnny Cash, and I see that he was called the Johnny Cash of Newfoundland. I am sad to also see that he passed away in 2005, but his music endures. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Mister Here’s Your Mule! The Civil War had a great many comic songs and one of the best was Mister Here’s Your Mule which was popular with soldiers on both side. Written in 1862 by C.D. Benson, the song swiftly became a campfire favorite.
Something for the weekend. American Civil War Fantasy. Written in 1971 this piece attempts to convey the emotions of the Civil War. From a description of the composition: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Palm Sunday Gregorian Chants. Holy Week is our lives writ in Eternity. We begin with a burst of joy in our birth, and as sure as we were born we die, with the sorrow that death inevitably brings. Thanks to Our Savior Christ, that is not our end, and we can share with him the everlasting joy of Easter.
Something for the weekend. Pontifical Anthem, sung in Latin, of course. Written in 1869 by Charles Gounod, who also wrote Ave Maria, for the silver jubilee of Pio Nono. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Irish Americans and Irish immigrants distinguished themselves in battle throughout the Civil War, whether they fought beneath the Stars and Stripes or the Stars and Bars. In 1865 one of them who fought for the South wrote this song to the tune of The Wearing of the Green. A brave defeat to the Irish is always more cherished than a victory.
Something for the weekend. As we approach a conclave and the choosing of a new pope I think a fitting musical interlude is the Prelude from the Agony and the Ecstacy (1965). Charlton Heston is magnificent as Michelangelo, but Rex Harrison steals the movie as Pope Julius II. Harrison plays the soldier Pope with a force and a wry sense of humor that dominates every scene in which he appears. Julius is shown, with all his flaws, as a man completely dedicated to God and His Church.
Something for the weekend. In the middle of winter it is no accident, as the Marxists used to say, that I have chosen for our musical selection the theme song from Lawrence of Arabia (1962). One of the last great historical epics, the film tells the tale of Colonel T.E. Lawrence’s involvement in the Arab uprising. It is largely historically inaccurate, although a magnificent story. One reason for the historical inaccuracy, other than the usual transmogrification of history in the hands of filmmakers, is that it relied too heavily on Lawrence’s war memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence was a brilliant writer and a talented leader of guerrilla forces, but he never let a little thing like truth stand in the way of a good yarn. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The forgiveness song from El Cid (1961). I have always loved this retelling of the legend of El Campeador, starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, who purportedly despised each other during the filming. I think the etchings of the intro capture something of the spirit of believing Spain, always waiting for the next great Crusade.
Here is my favorite sequence from the film: Continue reading
Something for the weekend. As With Gladness, Men of Old seems appropriate for an Epiphany weekend. It was written by William Chatterton Dix in 1859 on Epiphany. By profession Dix was the manager of a marine insurance firm. He wrote many hymns during his lifetime. He started to do so when he was confined to his bed as a young man suffering from a near fatal illness. Out of his depression he fastened his faith on the Alpha and the Omega, his hymns being a lasting testament to that faith. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. There can only be one song on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception: Immaculate Mary. A Lourdes hymn, it was probably first sung in 1873. No one really knows who wrote the lyrics of the hymn although it has been attributed to Abbe Gaignet, a priest of Lucon. The melody is from a traditional Pyrenean song. It has long been a favorite hymn of Catholics in America.
The belief that Mary was conceived without the taint of original sin had its champions long before it was proclaimed as dogma of the Church in 1854 and some of the supporters, er, are unexpected! Continue reading
Something for the weekend. After the election results this week, I suspect that O God Our Help in Ages Past, sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford, will be of consolation to many of us. Written by Isaac Watts in 1719 it is a magnificent hymn based on Psalm 89. (Psalm 90 in Protestant Bibles.) The hymn is sung to the tune of Saint Anne written in 1708 by William Croft. Here is the text of Psalm 89 which reminds us of the omnipotence of God in spite of the transitory events of this life that preoccupy us: Continue reading