As faithful readers of this blog know, I am a film buff. I therefore was pleased when Dr. Peter Dans, a friend of mine and commenter on the blog, brought to my attention his book Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners. Peter is a medical doctor and a former professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins. Go here to learn about his professional activities. He is also a faithful Catholic, a skilled writer and an all around good guy. However, I am here to review the book and not to review the author!
Published in 2011 by Sheed & Ward, the book is a fairly comprehensive look at how film has portrayed Christians and Christianity from 1905-2008. The book proceeds chronologically with chapters devoted to films of the silent era, films of the forties, etc. The chapters open with a general overview of the film period being discussed and then a look at selected films. The films are not limited to those self-consciously religious, but also those in which religion is a major plot element. Thus the Oscar winning film Sergeant York (1941) is included because of its examination of the religious conflict that World War I hero Alvin C. York had to resolve before he could in good conscious fight for his country. Dr. Dans also looks at the impact of the films examined, for example in regard to Sergeant York he mentions that the film was denounced by the isolationist Senator Nye as propaganda to get America into World War II. Some of the facts that the author discusses were news to me. For example I have watched the film Song of Bernadette (1943) about Bernadette Soubirous and Lourdes but I was unaware that it was based on a book written by Franz Werfel, a Jew, who made a vow to write a book about Bernadette when he and wife were hidden from the Gestapo by nuns and families at Lourdes. In regard to Going My Way, 1944, Dr. Dans reveals that Pope Pius XII was so taken by the film that he granted a private audience to Bing Cosby and credited the film with helping to spur priestly vocations. I like it when a book gives me information that I was unaware of, and this book accomplished that task.
The book is not limited to films that have become well known. For example there is a section devoted to one of my favorite westerns, Stars in My Crown, 1950, in which Joel McCrea portrays a Union veteran who becomes a Protestant minister and his travails as he brings religion to a town and fights the Ku Klux Klan.
Something for the weekend. The score from the movie Twelve O’clock High (1949). A film shorn of any Hollywood glamor or heroics, it tells the story of the fictional 918th bomb group as it pioneers daylight precision bombing in the early days of the Eighth Air Force in England and suffers harrowing losses as a result. Veterans of the Eighth Air Force applauded the film for its stark realism and its demonstration of the impact of war on the men called upon to fight it. Anyone who has not seen this masterpiece should do so as quickly as possible.
Here is the opening of the film:
Over the top and entertaining which is how I like commercials if I have to endure one. I like Mexican food but I have never liked Chipotle as the menu is too limited and their massive burritos leave me cold. Just as well, as those things weigh in, on average, at a 1000 calories, which makes their wholesomener than thou commercial hilarious. Yeah, we treat the animals we slaughter for your plate in a kinder and gentler fashion as we serve you their remains to make you obese!
I do appreciate however that Chipotle burritos can apparently double for plastic explosives in a pinch: Continue reading
I love fake trailers that completely twist a movie and the above is a fine example of the genre:
Don’t run away! This modern trailer recut for “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is just about the most awesome thing that happened on the Internet this week. Because, come on. It’s not every day that someone goes and makes “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” seem like a high-budget medieval Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster. (Instead of, you know, just a bunch of guys running around Scotland with coconuts.) Kudos to Stefane Bouley for putting this gem together and for nearly resisting the temptation to include any humor.
Another example: Can the world survive Rambo, the Musical?
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
(I originally posted this in 2009 when the blog readership was much smaller. The Caine Mutiny has always been one of my favorite films and I am taking the excuse of my vacation from the blog to repost this review.)
For my sins, perhaps, I have spent my career as an attorney. Over the past 31 years I’ve done a fair number of trials, both bench and jury, and I am always on the lookout for good depictions of trials in films, and one of the best is The Caine Mutiny. Based on the novel of the same name by Herman Wouk, who served in the Navy as an officer in the Pacific during World War II, the movie addresses the question of what should, and should not, be done in a military organization when the man at the top of the chain of command is no longer in his right mind.
The cast is top notch. Humphrey Bogart, an enlisted man in the Navy during WWI and a member of the Naval Reserve, he tried to enlist again in the Navy after Pearl Harbor but was turned down because of his age, gives the performance of his career as Lieutenant Commander Philip Francis Queeg, the captain of the Caine. In the hands of a lesser actor Queeg could easily have become merely a two-dimensional madman. Bogart instead infuses Queeg with pathos and demonstrates to the audience that this is a good man who sadly is no longer responsible mentally for his actions. Van Johnson delivers his usual workmanlike job as Lieutenant Stephen Maryk, the “exec” of the Caine, a career officer who does his best to remain loyal to an obviously disturbed CO, while also attempting to protect the crew of the Caine from Queeg’s increasingly erratic behavior. Robert Francis, as Ensign Willis Seward Keith, is the viewpoint character, too young and inexperienced to make his own judgment he relies on Maryk and Lieutenant Keefer. Fred MacMurray is slime incarnate as Lieutenant Thomas Keefer, a reservist who hates the Navy, spends all his time writing a novel, and eggs Maryk on to take command away from Queeg. Finally, in a typhoon, reluctantly and only, as he perceives it, to save the ship, Maryk, with the support of Keith, relieves Queeg from command.
In the ensuing court-martial of Maryk and Keith, lawyer Lieutenant Barney Greenwald, portrayed with panache by Jose Ferrer, reluctantly agrees to defend them.
What I admire most about the film is the realistic way that the defense is depicted. A legal case consists of the facts, the law and people. 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
Apparently it is possible to underestimate the taste of the American people:
The SyFy movie about flying sharks and bad weather was seen by just over 1 million people. It had a 0.4 rating in the 18-49 demographic in early Nielsen numbers. That’s not just a bust by cable standards. It’s a bust by SyFy original movie standards. “Most Syfy originals have an average viewership of 1.5 million people, with some getting twice that,” Claire Suddath reports.
The peculiar thing about this bust was that it was a social media blockbuster. There were more than 600,000 tweets sent about the movie between 8pm and 3am last night (fewer if you go by Nielsen’s numbers), which is two tweets for every three people in America watching Sharknado. That’s particularly strange since Syfy original movies have an average viewer age of 52, and fiftysomething guys are a bit off the key demo for Twitter. Continue reading
When I am not in the law mines, attending to family matters or blogging, I can often be found playing grand strategic historical computer games. I have gotten quite a bit of enjoyment out of the Europa Universalis games put out by the Swedish game company Paradox, which allows you to lead virtually any country on the globe from the Fifteenth Century up to the Napoleonic period. Go here to download a demo of Europa Universalis III.
On April 1, 2013 those wild and crazy Swedes at Paradox released a video, above, detailing their plans for Europa Universalis the Musical! Ah, if twere only true. Nerd Heaven!
I look forward to seeing this play Freud’s Last Session when I have an opportunity:
Toward the end of the play Freud’s Last Session, a fictional conversation about the meaning of human life between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis concludes,“How mad, to think we could untangle the world’s greatest mystery in one hour.”Freud responds, “The only thing more mad is to not think of it at all.” The combined sense of the limits to human knowledge and the unavoidability of the big questions is one of the many impressive features of this dramatic production, the remote origins of which are in a popular class of Dr. Armand Nicholi, professor of psychiatry in the Harvard Medical School. Nicholi penned a book, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life, which the playwright Mark St. Germain turned into an off-Broadway play, now in its second year in New York and just beginning a run in Chicago.
I had a chance recently to see the successful New York production, directed by Tyler Marchant and starring George Morfogen as Freud and Jim Stanek as Lewis. The play is not perfect; some of the dialogue is wooden, the result of the attempt to squeeze elements from the major works of the two authors into their conversation. Nicholi does a better job of this in his book, largely because he is free from the dialogue form. But the theatrical revival of the dialogue is what stands out in this production. In this case, the theater is an arena for the contest of ideas. There is a healthy reminder that philosophy itself has taken on various dramatic and literary forms; indeed, philosophy as a theater of debate hearkens back to the very founding of philosophy in the Platonic dialogue. Something of that original sense of philosophy as a live debate between interlocutors whose views and lives are at stake is operative in Freud’s Last Session. Continue reading
A guest post by commenter Fabio Paolo Barbieri on one of the legendary comic book artists, Jack “King” Kirby, his greatest comic book creation, Captain America, and Kirby’s trip through American history with the Captain:
With Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles we at last reach a masterpiece within the meaning of the act. The Marvel Treasury Edition format in which it was published, though suffering from the same bad production values as the regular titles, tried for a more upmarket and collectable air: instead of slim pamphlets with floppy covers, padded out with cheapo ads, they had 80 large pages, no ads, and more durable hard(ish) covers. On the whole, it was an unhappy compromise without future, but Kirby, who had seen formats and production values decline throughout his career, grasped the opportunity of more elaborate work than the regular format allowed. (Artists of Kirby’s generation are often heard commenting on the quality of paper and colouring available to today’s cartoonists, even when they don’t read the stories; bad printing had been such a fundamental reality to their period that improved paper stock and technology are the one thing that stands out when they see a new comic.)
That is not to say that it is flawless everywhere; few details of title, packaging and secondary material could be worse. That anyone could come up with such a title as Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles would be incredible had it not happened; its clanging, flat verbosity belongs more to the kitsch of 1876 than of 1976 – “Doctor Helzheimer’s Anti-Gas Pills”. The pin-ups that pad out the awkwardly-sized story (77 pages), with Captain America in various pseudo-historical costumes, are positively infantile, the front cover is dull and the back one ridiculous. Nothing shows more absurdly the dichotomy between Kirby’s mature, thoughtful, even philosophical genius and the bad habits of a lifetime at the lowest end of commercial publishing coming on top of a lower-end education; the nemesis, you might say, of uneducated self-made genius. The Kirby who did this sort of thing was the Kirby who filled otherwise good covers with verbose and boastful blurbs, who defaced the English language with “you matted masterpiece of murderous malignancy!” and the like, who cared nothing for precision and good taste – in short, the man whose lack of education lingered in his system all his life. Kirby went into his work with less inherited “baggage” than any other cartoonist, and was correspondingly radical and revolutionary, but he also had little share in common taste and standards.
I know that the Marine Corps will be here forever; this administration won’t.
Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey
One of my favorite character actors is R. Lee Ermey. A gunnery sergeant and drill instructor in the Marine Corps, he was honorably discharged from the Corps in 1972 as a result of injuries he sustained in two tours in Vietnam. Since that time he has built an acting career, playing off his DI personae and his flair for comedy. Recently he was a spokesman for Geico, but was fired for giving vent to his views about the current administration during a Toys for Tots program in Chicago last year.
After being asked about his GEICO commercial wherein he played a psychiatrist calling his patient a “jackwagon,” Ermey said, “GEICO fired me because I had, I wasn’t too kind about speaking with the, about the administration, so the present administration. So they fired me.”
Here is the program and a transcript of what he said.
I got to tell you, folks, we’re having a big problem this year. The economy really sucks. Now I hate to point fingers at anybody, but the present administration probably has a lot to do with that. And the way I see it, they’re not going to quit doing it until they bring this country to its knees. So I think we should all rise up, and we should stop this administration from what they’re doing, because they’re destroying this country. They’re driving us into bankruptcy so that they can impose socialism on us, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. And I’m sick and damn tired of it, and I know you are too. But I know the Marine Corps is going to be here forever – this administration won’t. Semper Fi. God bless you all. Continue reading
The reviews of the film had been dismal, but I felt duty bound to watch it, and give the film a review. On July 3, having closed my law office for the afternoon, my family and I went to the movies. While the rest of my family, not sharing my duty to report on the film, joined the folks seeing Spider-man III, I strolled over to see the Great Emancipator dispatch vampires. The viewing was rather like a private showing. The audience in the vast theater consisted of me and one individual in the back. I found this aspect of the film quite pleasant. Alas that is the first and last positive aspect of this film that I can report. Intrepid souls who wish to can follow me into the bowels of ALVH below, the usual spoiler caveat being in force. Continue reading
Time to refresh my creds as Chief Geek of the blog. Season 2 of the series Sherlock is debuting in America on Mystery tonight on most PBS channels at 8:00 PM Central Time. The series is a grand bringing of Sherlock Holmes into the present century. It is wittily written, part send up of the original Holmes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and part homage. The improbably named Benedict Cumberbatch is superb in the title role, playing Holmes as a genius as a detective and a moron in dealing with all of humanity, but for Dr. Watson. Dr. Watson, Martin Freeman, is a British medical officer, fresh from traumatic injuries due to his service in Afghanistan (yes, the more things change, often the more they stay the same), who blogs about Holmes’ exploits as part of his therapy. I highly endorse the series for anyone who likes to either think or laugh.
Sherlock Holmes is a prime example of a literary creation that completely escapes from his creator. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle grew tired of Holmes and attempted to kill him off, only relenting to bringing him back after his “death” at the Reichenbach Falls due to unceasing demands from Holmes’ devoted, if not crazed, fans. Doyle tended to look down his nose at Holmes: “If I had never touched Holmes, who has tended to obscure my higher work, my position in literature would at the present moment be a more commanding one,” he once wrote, which is a hoot since his other writings were the most forgettable drek imaginable. Doyle wrote the last of his Sherlock Holmes stories in 1926 and died in 1930. Since that time not a year has gone by without authors trying their hands at new Holmes stories, and placing Holmes in every setting imaginable including the distant future, outer space, fantasy realms, etc.
The continuing popularity of Holmes is something of a mystery, which is appropriate. It is hard to attribute it to simply love of mystery stories, since most mystery sleuths are dead as soon as their creators shuffle off this vale of tears. Perhaps it is because Holmes, through his powers of observation, can so simply and swiftly glean the truth. What an all important ability to possess! Alas the same could not be said for his creator, Sir Arthur. He deserted Catholicism for spiritualism (seances and that sort of rubbish) which is akin to feasting on a rich mud pie and then developing a fondness for eating actual mud. GK. Chesterton, who drew illustrations for an unpublished, during his lifetime, edition of the Holmes story, upon learning of Doyles’ conversion had this memorable quip: It has long seemed to me that Sir Arthur’s mentality is much more that of Watson than it is of Holmes. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. The theme song to my favorite television western of the Sixties, The High Chapparal. Broadcast on NBC from 1967-1971. Set in the Arizona territory in the 1870’s the series was well acted by regulars Leif Erickson, Cameron Mitchell, Mark Slade, Linda Cristal and Henry Darrow. The scripts were literate with a more realistic feel than was common at the time. Here is a longer rendition of the theme song:
Back in 2011 I reported that Mel Gibson was working on a screenplay about the Maccabean revolt. Go here to read the post. I hoped that this movie would help Gibson work out the personal demons that afflict him. Alas, such is not the case. The project has been shelved, and the screenwriter of the play Joe Eszterhas has unloaded on Gibson in a nine page letter that may be read here. (Caution as to strong language.) Mel Gibson is the most prominent Catholic of his generation in Hollywood. His Passion of the Christ is a masterful film that inspired, and inspires, huge numbers of people around the globe. To see him destroy his life and reputation since then has been painful. Gibson needs our prayers and a swift kick in the hind end.
Update I: Hattip to commenter Chris P. Go here to read Gibson’s response to the Eszterhas letter.
Update II: Go here to read Eszterhas’ response to Gibson.
Something for the weekend. Stubby Kaye gives a show stopping performance of Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat from the film adaptation of the play Guys and Dolls (1955). My daughter’s high school is putting on the Guys and Dolls play this semester and my daughter has the role of the Salvation Army General Matilda B. Cartwright. My wife and I viewed the film a few weeks ago. It had been decades since I last watched it and I had forgotten just how much fun it is. A better time in America’s cultural life. Continue reading