Saturday, April 17, 2021

BIG SLEEP, MURDER MY SWEET -- Powell vs Bogart

POWELL vs BOGIE — who’s the best Philip Marlowe, the Raymond Chandler tough guy PI in Murder My Sweet (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946)?  The Bogie-Bacall chemistry would favor BS but I like Powell’s off camera narration and interaction with Esther Howard and Mike Mazursky in MMS.  I watched both consecutively.  

Bogie has the best line in BS: “She tried to sit on my lap while I was standing up” in reference to the sexually aggressive Martha Vickers’ character.  Powell shows his disdain for conspicuous consumption in MMS when he strikes a match on the butt of a cupid statue.  Memorable in MMS is the drunken Ms. Florian character played by Howard when she advises Powell:  “Hold on to your chair and don’t step on no snakes.”  (Howard also appears in Detour as a diner waitress dismissive of the Tom Neal character.)

The Big Sleep is convoluted while MMS features Claire Trevor, a world class femfatale.  Yet Dorothy Malone is diverting with Bogie in BS.  Film noir moved into the mainstream with these two blockbusters from RKO Radio and Warner Brothers during the war.  Hold onto your chair!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

All American Coed, House on Haunted Hill, Across the Universe

 PICKLE FACTORY. In a spoof involving a Bing dummy and brother Bob Crosby, the later fondly recalls growing up in SPOKANE and “working in the pickle factory.”  For all I know there could have been a dozen pickle factories in the vicinity.  See the RKO 50s musical comedy Two Tickets to Broadway with Tony Martin and Janet Leigh.

“Nora, I think you’re a little upset.   Would you like a sedative?” 1958 HOUSE ON THE Haunted Hill is much better than the remake.  Besides creepy gags in the theater, the movie boasted great music and editing.  Elisha Cook Jr. is memorable.

Platinum bombshell Mamie Van Doren was nearing  the end of her movie career in May 1966 when she married the hapless professional baseball player Lee Meyer at the Ada County Courthouse.  Fred was the police and courts reporter so he picked up the marriage data from the court records and wrote a short story that was buried in the paper.  I had been a Mamie fan for years and I thought her wedding in Boise deserved bigger play even if it involved a third rate ball player.  No one on the copy desk seemed concern so maybe I was making a big deal over nothing.  According to her autobiography, Playing the Field, Meyer was 25 when he died in a car crash in California — a tragic end after separating from Mamie that included an arrest in Hawaii for trying to smuggle hashish from Southeast Asia.  The Palm Springs Desert Sun thought it deserved a bigger play.

“You’re taking me apart,” Tommy, played by James Franco, screams in “Disaster Artist,” which focuses on a challenged dramatic “genius” who made a bad movie, “The Room,” for $5 million. Tommy and his Baby Face buddy played by Dave Franco sally forth to make Hollywood tremble.   Why is this funny?  I’ve watched it three times.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE:  Perfect escapism back  to the Sixties with Beatles soundtrack.  Camera work is flawless with scenes of the seaside, Greenwich Village and Liverpool.  LSD trips are fun as well.  Although over 2 hours, there’s never a dull moment.  Saw it at at the Edina and bought the DVD at Target.  Also have the 2 disk soundtrack CD.

ZANY ZEKE frat boys infiltrate an all-girls school by enrolling one of the brothers in drag into a college that bars men entirely.  Broadway star Johnny Downs is at his best in this campy 1941 musical comedy from Hal Roach Studios with Alan Hale Jr. (Gilligan’s captain) in a supporting role.  Striking similarities between All American Coed and Some Like it Hot in 1959.  Available on the Movies TV Channel and on DVD from Alpha Video.

Monday, February 08, 2021


SANTA SPOILER.  Vernon Bisterfeldt, a Boise cop working off duty as a Santa, nabbed a shoplifter in 1965 at Welles department store on the Boise Bench.  I was doing rewrite on the Statesman night desk and wrote up a short story with a photo from a staff lensman.  Backlash came the next day when a reader called in to complain that I ruined the Santa story for her kids.  Sorry.

I can relate to being a stranger in strange land  during holidays because much of  65-69 that was me when I was a reporter for the Idaho Daily Statesman.  As the years went by I made friends in the community and would be invited out.  I think this has been a different kind of crazy for me with paranoia related to the virus.  In a month of two with the vaccine that could change too. 

SAFFRON. Hats off to Moinak Choudhury, University of Minnesota PhD candidate, who is teaching the U of M OLLI class on the products of Kashmir and Assam — cashmere, saffron and tea.  Saffron sells for a mere $5,000 a pound and involves labor intensive harvesting.  In a documentary we saw in class I now understand why it’s so expensive.  You might use it in a chicken recipe.  I assume it’s available at better super markets.

RETRO FOCUS.  Reading Eric Burns non fiction book “1957” prompted me to OD on all things from the 50s including “Rebel without a Cause,” “Untamed Youth” and “Don’t Knock the Rock.”  The last two feature very talented dancers grooving to a very athletic version of the jitterbug.   (I flunked Dance 101.)  Untamed Youth has the girl who invented rock ’n roll Mamie Van Doren in a campy calypso production number — not to be missed.  We shook, rattled and rolled our way through the 50s with Mamie, Elvis, Alan Freed and Bill Haley and the Comets.  

Burns book is subtitled “The Year that Launched the American Future” or at least the ’57 Chevy Bel Air which he thinks defines that year.  I beg to differ.  Richie Cunningham drove a Chevy in American Graffiti.  DIG IT!  

SLAVE TO MADISON AVENUE. Author Sloane Wilson’s 1953 novel The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is considered to be “prototypical of the fifties,” wrote Eric Burns in his nonfiction book 1957.  Also comedian Stan Freeburg on his 1958 CBS Radio show did a mashup of Suit and the cult horror flick I Was A Teenage Werewolf.  I concluded that Suit was another commentary on the vapidness of Madison Avenue, but actually it dramatizes the paucity of rewarding work for returning war heroes who suffer from post traumatic syndrome while trying to fit in.  Tom, the central Suit character, gets a PR job with a TV network and soon learns that the stress and demands of this work will make him crazy so he negotiates with the network chief for a less demanding job and gets it.  I find this unbelievable, having worked for less than two years in network TV news.  I also watched the Suit movie of 1955 with Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones, who is memorable as Tom’s wife.  Family life is sacrificed at the altar of Madison Avenue in the Suit novel and movie.

Friday, February 05, 2021


 TAKE A BOW “You’re a Big Boy Now,” is one of my favorite films with the nightlife scenes in the seedier parts of 1966 Times Square.   Couple that with frolicking in Central Park and you have a big wet kiss to Manhattan.  There’s also a nod to avant-garde theater and dance clubs with go-go dancers.  Elizabeth Hartman gets top billing as the fem-fatale heart breaker Barbara Darling but Geraldine Page playing the neurotic mom was nominated for an Oscar.  When Sun Coast Video opened in Southdale I bought the VHS tape.

AUTOCRAT.  Ben Gazzara is chilling in his 1957 film debut as a cunning viper out to destroy established authority at a military academy. The highly rated film also features George Peppard.  Docile fellow cadets sheep-like submit to his assumed authority.  Look for parallels with recent political events.  On the schedule for the Movies TV Channel in your city.

LOVE SENSATION.  A 70s disco hit from r&b singer Loleatta Holloway is my favorite morning workout music.  Feel free to share music that jump starts you in the morning. I scored the LP at the clearance basement sale at the Wax Museum in the early 80s.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Joan Didion, Master Story Teller

DIDION GEM. Regarding the San Fernando Valley in the 1960s, Joan Didion wrote: “This is the California where it is easy to Dial A Devotion, but hard to buy a book.”  Her article, “Lifestyles in the Golden Land,” is true crime reporting at it’s best and you can find it in a compilation of her non fiction work “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live.”

ABOUT HUGHES.  He was a hermit with money which gave him “personal freedom, mobility and privacy” which is what we want.  Right?  Journalist Joan Didion in ’67 wrote the definitive essay on the illusive millionaire Howard Hughes, “7000 Romaine Street,” Los Angeles. Hughes “communications center” was located.  It could have been the setting for a film noir with criminals lurking in every shadow.  Nearby was the RKO Radio Pictures at 780 Gower that Hughes once owned and mismanaged into extinction. See her book, “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live.”

Joan Didion in an essay on Haight-Ashbury referenced a song she heard on KFRC radio which was the “Flower Power” station in ‘67.  When I lived in the Bay Area in 64-65 KFRC was MOR, playing Jack Jones and Sinatra — my favorite station. According to the Bay Area Radio Museum site: “In the mid-1960s, KFRC changed to a Top 40 rock’n’roll format, and quickly became the dominant station in the region with that format through the 1970’s, featuring the tight, carefully programmed sound developed by RKO-General’s star programmer, Bill Drake.

In 1969 I wanted to be the guy who wrote brilliant articles about urban affairs, like Joan Didion’s 1989 article “Down at City Hall” where she highlights the inconsistencies about Los Angeles residents’ attitudes.  Most people in ’89 had enough of LA and would move to San Diego given the chance.  Most of them supported LA Mayor Tom Bradley who was mayor when the quality of life deteriorated yet he managed to hold together his Black-Jewish coalition.  By 1993 LA would be increasingly populated by LatinX and Asians, Didion predicted, and Bradley might be irrelevant.

When I lived in LA in 63-64 doing rewrite at UPI and answering the phones at NBC News, nominal Democrat Sam Yorty was the mayor and would take the air out of “news” by proceeding his remarks with “as I have said one-hundred times before.”  This frustrated NBC government reporter Bill Brown no end. Reference: “We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live.” 

Sunday, December 27, 2020


FRIGIA — (An outer space adventure fraught with imminent danger.)  Capt. Flash Zarkin reports that the expedition to the lost planet of Frigia had its anxious moments as the Electronic Stability Control (skid) light blinked wildly on the module of the Dodge space vehicle.  The air in the space capsule was quite “blue” as  Dr. Zarkor swore never to return to this remote planet lacking “any intelligent life.”   But that wasn’t entirely true since Frigia’s Princess Fria was hosting at Lund’s & Byerly’s deli on France Avenue.  The normally cheerful Princess muttered something about leaving this “frozen hell hole” for a more hospitable planet where icicles don’t hang from the eyebrows.  Could that be Mongo where the crazed Ming the Merciless rules until the third week of January?  Hello Mongo, goodbye Fria! (Next chapter: Zarkor Meets the Death Ray).


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Weber Book As Related to Urban Renewal in 60s

The University of Minnesota Mapping Project which documented systematic racial segregation through racial covenants and redlining has been “‘the single most important recent gift to Minneapolis,” according to Tom Weber in his book “Minneapolis, an Urban Biography.”  Having been a student in a summer’s class on this eye opening topic, I agree.  Furthermore, before it was Minneapolis it was Dakota land and “we newcomers have generally been rotten guests,” he added.

Urban renewal here resulted in demolition of the historic Metropolitan Bldg.  Whereas, Boise enhanced it’s ethnic downtown diversity (Basque block) and didn’t demolish any businesses that made downtown attractive. Less is more in the case of Boise vs. Minneapolis. 

Minneapolis: White and Black neighbors didn’t “just happen,” but were the result of long standing processes carried out thousands of local residents and overseen “by exclusive leadership in the city.”

Pain & Glory, Bundle of Joy, Mpls Bio

 Spanish director Almodovar’s 2019 film “Pain and Glory” could be autobiographical about the life of a gay movie director growing up in rural Spain and then experiencing first love in Madrid.  What hit me hard was the vibrant interior colors; orange, red, purple and green.  Very Mediterranean.  It’s a tonic for the pandemic grey day winter blues. 

CINDERELLA. It’s Christmas Eve, a time honored tradition where I watch America’s cutest couple — Eddie and Debbie — in RKOScope’s “Bundle of Joy,” a lovely Cinderella story for the holiday.  Our Debbie, a newly minted mom, has been fired from her department store job but is saved by the handsome prince, Eddie, who’s the son of the boss.  Several catchy tunes carry the story including a jitterbug contest with Debbie, 7 months pregnant then, flying through the air of the RKO soundstage.

Kudos to Tom Weber for his recent book, “Minneapolis, an Urban Biography,” with a chapter on local discrimination, which was infamous.  White and Black neighbors didn’t “just happen,” but were the result of long standing processes carried out thousands of local residents and overseen “by exclusive leadership in the city.”