My wife cut my hair last night, and we decided on something new — instead of using a No. 7 guard on the top and a 4 on the sides, we went with 4 all over. A lot of white hair fell, I can tell you. This is probably the shortest my hair has ever been, at least since the Beatles came to America in 1964.
Afterwards, regarding myself in the mirror before showering, I thought I looked familiar.
Oh, yeah… Sam Elliott in “We Were Soldiers.” Except his hair was a bit longer than mine — the damn’ hippy…
By the way, unlike the sergeant major, I have no problem with being referred to as a grandfather. And I won’t kill anybody over it. I actually think being a grandfather is pretty great. That was just the first quote that came to mind. It’s at 1:20 on the clip below.
Just don’t try to tell me what a nice day we’re having.
Anybody notice that that bit of dialogue seems ripped off from “Stripes?” Never mind. If the sergeant major ever actually said it, he did it long before “Stripes.” And he had every right to. I wouldn’t have argued with him…
– “Who is your favourite person from history?”
– “Sherlock Holmes.”
– “Well, he’s fictional.”
– “Whoa! I think you’d better check your facts there. Fictional? Who took care of the business with the giant dog that was eating everybody? It wasn’t Watson. Don’t tell me, I suppose he was fictional too? Maybe there was no giant dog….”
— The IT Crowd
I was kind of excited, initially, about the interactive feature I found Sunday on my Washington Post app.
The headline was “Pick the best fictional detective,” and it was presented in an interactive graphic meant to evoke the NCAA tournament “brackets” the everyone (even I, despite my lack of enthusiasm for sports) filled out mere days ago.
So, you know, if you enjoy both mysteries and sports, it was extra fun. A cool idea.
But this is no proper way to figure out even who you, yourself, think are the best detectives, much less who the best actually are. (For instance, say two of your five best detectives face each other in the first round — that means one of your top five gumshoes won’t even make the top 32, assuming you’re starting with 64. That’s not right. No way it’s right. It’s a false system of selection. With basketball, it works. Not with detectives.) Another problem is that too few of my fave detectives were even on the bracket in the first round.
The only professional, scientific way to determine the top dicks is to draft an actual Top Five list, and then argue about it with everybody. Stands to reason. The immemorial custom of the blog, and so forth…
Coming up, I was never a big fan of mysteries. I wasn’t an Agatha Christie enthusiast. Nor was I into Conan Doyle, even though I always enjoyed the Basil Rathbone movies. I just wasn’t that much of an admirer of formulaic fiction. Just as I’m not big into blues, or reggae. To me, the songs just sound too much alike. One is fine, but not a whole album. I mean, you know, a blues progression is a blues progression.
Even with Edgar Allen Poe — I preferred the horror stories to “The Purloined Letter.” I got into Poe when I was about 10, and we 5th-graders shared the stories to chill each other’s blood. And “she was buried alive!” does that way better than “the letter was in plain sight!”
But then, things happened. I started reading books that broke the mold, such as Martin Cruz Smith’s wonderfully original thriller Gorky Park and Len Deighton’s alternative history novel SS-GB. And you know what a le Carre fan I am. Well, his first books about George Smiley cast him as a Christiesque amateur solver of mysteries.
And then, along came streaming, and my wife and I got hooked on a range of British murder mysteries and police procedurals. And entirely new forms, such as Nordic noir, and, believe it or not, Welsh noir.
Anyway, here’s the list. I’m sure I’m leaving out somebody awesome, but let’s get the party started:
Arkady Renko — The only Russian in the bunch — almost the only non-Brit, come to think of it — he just blew the doors off the genre when he arrived in Gorky Park, and kept it up over the next few novels. I love a book that puts you in an unfamiliar place and makes it real, and that novel made you feel you were actually in the middle of the Soviet criminal-justice system in the middle of the Cold War — even though Martin Cruz Smith had never been there (just as Patrick O’Brien had never been aboard a Royal Navy frigate during the Napoleonic Wars, but he could absolutely put a reader there). I also think highly of Renko’s American counterpart in the novel, William Kirwill, but it would be cheating to put him on the list, too. Just please don’t picture William Hurt from the movie when you think of Renko. That was a horrendous instance of miscasting. For Renko, you need a Daniel Day-Lewis, to invoke my last Top Five list. He would have been perfect, when he was about 35. Kirwill, however, was perfectly cast — when I was reading the book long before the movie, I was sort of picturing Brian Dennehy.
Sergeant Gerry Boyle — OK, I don’t understand the Irish Garda system all that well, so I’m not sure that Boyle technically is a “detective.” But he’s a good copper, anyway. And again, I’ve got my last Top Five list on my mind, because this was the wonderful, deeply flawed character brought to life by Brendan Gleeson in “The Guard.” The other night, I watched a few minutes of “48 Hours” — which frankly is about as much of the film as I ever could stand. Anyway, you know the rumpled, interesting character Nick Nolte is trying to play? Gleeson does it right in “The Guard.”
Detective Chief Inspector Gill Murray — The cop show we’re currently obsessed with is “Scott & Bailey,” but I couldn’t choose between Rachel and Janet. Of the two, of course, Janet is the grownup (usually), but I still didn’t want to choose. Anyway, even though she sort of gets third-place billing and isn’t even in the 5th season, Gill is far and away the best cop on the show. Possibly because the actress, Amelia Bullmore, actually wrote some of the episodes, but her character just gets smarter and smarter.
Christopher Foyle — This is the star of “Foyle’s War,” a cool series in so many ways. It’s historical. It’s about WWII. It’s about how life on the home front was affected, and not in the usual way, like folks saving tin cans or whatever. Also, it’s got Honeysuckle Weeks in it, and the fact that Foyle has her as his driver should qualify him alone, if only on the basis of her awesome name.
George Gently — OK, I really debated whether to put this one in the Top Five, but I’m doing it out of frustration as much as anything. It really ticked me off that Prime let us watch the first season “free,” and then cut us off. I hate that. And I’m anxious to see the rest. But he also makes the list because he’s probably the best of a type that you see so much in these productions: the world-weary old hand, filled with almost as much irony and cynicism as investigative skill — of which he has plenty. I just think he does this better than Morse, or Lewis in his modern-day iteration, or Tom Barnaby, or Foyle, or any of those guys. I also think Lee Ingleby — whom Aubrey fans will remember as Hollom in “Master and Commander” — does a great job as his troublesome young assistant.
HONORABLE MENTION (or, to be honest, the next five, because I couldn’t stop)
Gene Hunt — There are lot of reasons to say Gene is not a good detective, even the opposite of a good detective, and Sam Tyler mentions most of them at great length, and repetitively, on “Life on Mars.” That’s sort of Sam’s thing, other than being confused about whether he’s a time traveler or just a guy in a coma. But Gene has certain rudimentary, atavistic skills, such as fairly decent gut instinct. And awful as he is, fans of the show eventually get to enjoy Gene as a guilty pleasure. A very guilty pleasure, because he is awful. In fact, he’s so awful that I think it’s kind of a libel on the world of 1973 to say senior cops were like this and got away with it back then. But if you get picky, you won’t enjoy the show anyway. I should also add that this is kind of a Jayne Cobb thing. I call Jayne my favorite character on Firefly because as a grandfather I don’t want to admit it’s really Kaylee. In this case, for Kaylee, substitute Annie Cartwright. She does get to be a detective late in the series, but most of the time, she’s a WPC. I think this picture is of the moment when Sam asks her first name, and she says “Annie!” Which is when the viewer starts to love her.
John River — This is my first entrant from the world of Nordic noir. And the ways in which it qualifies as Nordic noir are confusing. It’s set in London. River is a London cop. But he’s played by a Swedish actor. Of course, what makes it noir is the tone. River, you see, talks with dead people, and they talk back. All the time. Which can be an advantage when you’re a cop, if not a fun one. Also playing a key role is Nicola Walker. She’s not a household name — I had to look it up right now — but when she pops up in any role she’s impressive. Here she is as a guest star — playing a pivotal role — on “Scott & Bailey.”
Jimmy Perez — This is the protagonist of “Shetland.” I went back and forth on whether to choose him or the semi-hero of the Welsh noir (it was actually originally in the Welsh language, but then released in English) “Hinterland,” Tom Mathias. Both are cops out in the boonies, trying to do a tough job under trying circumstances. Ultimately, I go with Jimmy because he’s more stable.
Jimmy McNulty or Bunk Moreland, you decide — I just had to get someone in from what may be the best American cop show of all time, “The Wire.” I thought I’d go with McNulty since he was kind of the star, and because his bend-the-rules detective work got the ball rolling in the first episode. But “McNutty,” as Bubbles, unquestionably the best fictional snitch ever, called him, was a screwup. So I’m offering his partner Bunk as an alternative. Of course, he could be a screwup, too. But they were great together.
Douglas Archer — Just to pull someone in from the weird world of alternative history. I initially read this as a Len Deighton (The Ipcress File) fan, but this kind of stands out from his other books. Archer of the Yard is a classic British detective, who in 1941 finds himself working for the SS because the Germans went ahead with their invasion of Britain, and it was successful. And because you still need to catch bad guys, right, even when you’re working for worse guys. This was a great tale — way better than weirdly similar stories like Fatherland (Detective Xavier March, a 1960s cop working in a Germany that did not lose the war, is a sort of combination of Archer and Arkady Renko). I’ve never seen the TV series, because it’s on the premium level of Hulu, and I’m just not going to pay for that. I’ll just say that the actor playing Archer doesn’t look right at all, based on photos I’ve seen.
Yeah, I know — all white guys, except for one lady-type person, and Bunk, who I know you’re already suspecting I snuck in for diversity’s sake. (But I didn’t. Bunk’s awesome.) Yeah, well…. I just couldn’t get into “Luther,” as great as Idris Elba is. Speaking of Bunk and Elba — the thing about “The Wire” is that the best characters were not the cops. In fact, by far the best character in the show was an armed robber. And Omar was not only black, but gay, if you’re keeping score. Unfortunately, this is a detectives list.
And I considered a bunch of women, and almost put Marcella on the list. She’s fascinating. But man, that series really took Nordic noir (although it was set in England) to some weird places, and we got to where we couldn’t watch anymore. And while I’m somewhat intrigued by Chloé Saint-Laurent on the French cop series “Profilage,” she’s technically not a detective, and I’ve only seen her in two episodes so far, so I don’t yet know how good she is.
And no, Jackie Brown, about whom I thought for a second, wasn’t a detective. If I were doing a Top Five Flight Attendants List, she’d be a great candidate. Along with Elaine Dickinson…
Oh, but wait! Back to “The Wire”… “Beadie” Russell was awesome! And she sorta became a detective during the course of the series, right? There are just too many fictional detectives out there for me to know where to stop. If I did this again next week, my Top Five might be five completely different people…
There’s a blog post I’ve been meaning to write in recent days expressing my great disappointment with the Disney+ TV series, “The Right Stuff.” It is a strange, flat, uninviting and even depressing retelling of the tale of the seven Mercury astronauts. That’s it, just the astronauts. Nothing about the context in which they came into being. Nothing about the culture of test pilots that produced them, and set the standard they wanted to live up to.
Chuck was the embodiment of the Right Stuff, and the whole world — the world of pilots, at least, knew it. Early in Wolfe’s book, he wrote about the way airline pilots act and talk — their matter-of-factness, their lollygaggin’ lack of concern about potential problems in flight (“I believe it’s that little ol’ red light that iddn’ workin’ right…”), their folksy accents — and traced it all to back to the influence that one man had upon the world of aviation, that man being Yeager. They all wanted to fly like him, they all wanted to be him, and failing that, they would at least sound like him.
Because he not only had the right stuff, he was the right stuff.
What, exactly, was this “ineffable quality” of which Wolfe wrote?
… well, it obviously involved bravery. But it was not bravery in the simple sense of being willing to risk your life. . .any fool could do that. . . . No, the idea. . .seemed to be that a man should have the ability to go up in a hurtling piece of machinery and put his hide on the line and then have the moxie, the reflexes, the experience, the coolness, to pull it back in the last yawning moment–and then to go up again the next day, and the next day, and every next day. . . . There was a seemingly infinite series of tests. . .a dizzy progression of steps and ledges. . .a pyramid extraordinarily high and steep; and the idea was to prove at every foot of the way up that pyramid that you were one of the elected and anointed ones who had the right stuff and could move higher and higher and even–ultimately, God willing, one day–that you might be able to join that special few at the very top, that elite who had the capacity to bring tears to men’s eyes, the very Brotherhood of the Right Stuff itself….
And at the top of the top of that ol’ pyramid was Yeager.
It’s not just about breaking the sound barrier. Yeager was just the ultimate pilot’s pilot. Yes, he was a natural stick-and-rudder man, and the wonderful movie version of Wolfe’s book back in the ’80s captured that and played it for all it was worth, but he also thoroughly understood the machine he flew on a fundamental level. He wasn’t an engineer — he had his friend Jack Ridley, and others, for that — but he was a guy whose reports the engineers liked to read, because he knew what they needed to be told.
And yes, he was a hero, long before breaking that demon that lived in the thin air. A fighter pilot was considered an ace when he’d shot down five enemy planes. Yeager did that in one day. He shot down Me-109s and Focke-Wulf 190s, and even one of those jets the Nazis built. He had sort of a superpower: With his unaided eyes, he could see the enemy coming 50 miles away. But mainly, he outflew and outfought them. Not that he was invulnerable. He got shot down behind German lines, but escaped back to England. That meant he had to go home — he knew things that could endanger the underground if he were shot down again and captured. But he bucked it all the way up to Ike, and Ike let him stay and keep fighting.
He hadn’t been to college, and wasn’t an officer when he started flying in the war. But he broke that barrier, too — he was a captain when he flew the X-1 into history, and his repeatedly demonstrated skill, courage and dedication took him all the way to the rank of brigadier general.
And now he’s gone, and we won’t see his like. As bad as it is to have a TV show called “The Right Stuff” without Yeager in it, now we all have to live in a world that doesn’t have him. Man is mortal, and bound to end up this way. But Yeager packed an awful lot of awesome stuff into the 97 years before that….
One of my kids asked me if I’d seen it, and until moments ago, I hadn’t realized it was out.
Anyway, I just saw it.
I’m not going to say what I think until I hear what y’all think, except to say this: So far, it looks much better than the abomination David Lynch unleashed upon the world in 1984. That, of course, was the worst large-budget motion picture in history.
Worse, it was the most significant betrayal ever of a ready, eager, trusting fan base. All those millions of people who (like me) ran to the theaters and bought tickets — finally, we were going to see Arrakis ourselves! And then to watch that nightmare unfold before our eyes. Frame after frame, Lynch must have stayed up nights screaming to himself, How can I screw THIS part up? And it’s got to be more extreme than the frame before it!!!! (Imagine him doing this in a voice like Bobcat Goldthwait.)
Don’t agree with me? I have two words for you — “weirding modules.” Enough said.
Oh, as for the made-for-TV series that came out in 2000… that wasn’t bad. I liked that they called it “Frank Herbert’s Dune,” to distinguish themselves from David Lynch’s horror. Probably the biggest letdown in that was the casting of William Hurt as Duke Leto, but then Hurt has been miscast in everything except “Altered States” (he was totally believable as that guy) and maybe “Broadcast News.” But it wasn’t bad. Still, in those days, TV wasn’t yet the medium it is now. So we’ve waited another 20 years for something to be attempted on the grand scale.
Which means at this point, my expectations are unreasonably high. I know this.
Anyway, tell me what you think of the trailer, and we’ll discuss…
And seeing it, I’m like, whoa! They got old in the past 31 years!
I’m not entirely sure this is going to work. I mean, the comedy was driven by these guys being utterly clueless, stupid kids. Is it as funny when old guys are this dumb? (I mean, I don’t find Trump funny. Do you?)
Of course, I’ll watch it anyway. But I’ll probably wait until I can stream it for free. Which will take, what — like a week or so?
Welcome to Trump’s America, where we all live in San Dimas!
It seems that “High Fidelity” is being rebooted for Hulu. And in this version, Rob is female.
Why do I love High Fidelity? Well, for one thing, it’s hilarious. And the pop culture stuff is fun, especially the Top Five lists. But those aren’t the reasons why I think it’s one of the most profound books written by a living author.
My reverence for the work stems from the fact that no one else has ever come close to expressing something essential about the relationships between men and women in the slice of history in which I have lived and had my being. In other words, it is to my time what Jane Austen’s work was to hers.
Rob’s problem — an inability to see that what is truly important in life is our relationships with other human beings — takes a form that is particular to young (and, perhaps, old) males in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Rob cares about, and devotes most of his mental and spiritual energy to, pop culture. Specifically pop music, but movies and other manifestations as well.
That’s the problem he has in his relationship with his typically far more emotionally mature girlfriend Laura.
SPOILER ALERT: One incident in the book illustrates the dichotomy beautifully. After their spectacular breakup (which finally was so painful that finally makes Rob’s Top Five list of worst splits), Rob and Laura are trying to make a go of it again, and whether they will succeed remains very much in doubt — on account of, you know, Rob.
They go to have dinner with some friends of Laura’s, a couple Rob doesn’t know. During the initial stages of the evening, Rob is really impressed. He likes these people. Laura observes this.
Then, when the couple is out of the room, Laura urges Rob to indulge his habit of inspecting his hosts’ record collection. And he is appalled. Their taste, in his exquisitely refined opinion, is horrible.
Laura knew this would be his reaction. And she watches to see if there will be an epiphany.
There sort of is, as Rob admits, but only to himself:
… that maybe, given the right set of peculiar, freakish, probably unrepeatable circumstances, it’s not what you like but what you’re like that’s important. I’m not going to be the one who explains to Barry how this might happen, though.
And feckless Rob, who is feckless in a particularly male sort of way, takes a tiny step toward maturity. But grumbles about it, accusing Laura: “You did that deliberately,” he says on the way home. “You knew all along I’d like them. It was a trick.”
It’s not that every male is like Rob, and every female like Laura. But the conflict between them, the gap between them, was colored by an essential difference that stated impressively true things about the relationships and differences between men and women.
Listen, sometimes it’s OK to change the gender of a character. It worked in the TV adaptation of The Night Manager, when Jonathan Pine’s case officer — who was a man in the book — is played by Olivia Colman. There were other changes that didn’t work, but that one was a great move. It gave the case officer/agent relationship an extra something that it didn’t have in the book.
But that book wasn’t trying to say something deep and true about the relations between men and women, and ways in which they are different.
High Fidelity was. (Actually, I don’t know that Hornby was trying to do all that, but he did. When I recommend the book to friends, I always describe it in those terms. That’s what’s impressive about it.)
I’ll try watching it, if it’s on the level of Hulu that I can get. (Some things, including some things I’d really like to see, aren’t.) But I suspect I’m not going to like it. It was a big enough leap that the original movie made the characters American instead of English. But it still worked because American males can be just as stunted as British ones, and in the same ways.
I decided to share what I put on the walls of some of my many bedrooms (as a Navy brat, I moved around a lot).
And the Web being what it is, I was able to find actual images of five of them. So we’ll just call those the Top Five — especially since I can only remember six, and I can’t find the Eric Clapton poster I had on my dorm wall at Memphis State, or even remember what it looked like.
The first two of these were on my walls in Tampa and Honolulu in high school, the next two from college, and the final one high school (I think):
Steve McQueen from the set of “The Great Escape” — That’s the one above, or close to it. I think maybe the poster I had included more of the frame, showing the sidecar. I found that image on the Web, but the file was of poor quality. Note that this is not an actual still from the movie, because he was nowhere near the Stalag in the motorcycle scenes. Of the posters on this list, it’s the first one I acquired (when I was in either the 10th or 11th grade, so sometime between 1968 and 1970), and easily my favorite. Which stands to reason since, when I was a kid, this was my definitely my favorite movie. Back when it came out in 1963, the scene where he jumped the barbed wire was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in a movie. Tame stuff today, but back then it was really something.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — See below. The very last frame of the movie, with our antiheroes coming out, blazing away, to their certain death. When I was in high school, I found that moment way existential. I thought no one could be more alive than Sundance was a moment before that, when he was out there in the plaza alone with two six-guns, spinning left, right and all around, firing at the adversaries who surrounded him, giving Butch covering fire. (From 00:56 to 01:24 in this clip.) Yeah, I was a dumb kid. My romanticization of that moment is all the evidence you need that teenage boys are candidates for protective restraint.
George Harrison poster from “All Things Must Pass” album — It came with the boxed-set album, which I loved, so of course I put it on my wall at Memphis State. This was George in his Garden Gnome phase, post-Beatles. That video that I embedded the other day, “It’s Johnny’s Birthday?” That was from the bonus third LP in the set.
The Hawaii State Flag — This was quite small, like a foot by a foot-and-a-half (or a bit less) and made of nylon. Not strictly a poster, but it’s the only thing I remember having on the cinder-block wall of my dorm room in the Honeycombs that one semester I went to USC, the fall of 1971. It was sort of a homesickness thing, because I was missing Honolulu, where I had graduated from high school the previous spring. There was an Englishman on my floor, a student from Manchester. One day when my door was open, he was passing in the hall and stuck his head in to ask why I had a Union Jack over my bed. I explained what it was, and he nodded and said, “Oh, yes. Sandwich Islands, Captain Cook and all that. Quite.” And he walked away on down the hall. I thought that was cool.
Bobby Kennedy in a flight jacket. This is an unusual-shaped and -sized poster — a full-length photo, almost life-sized, of RFK in a Navy flight jacket standing casually with a couple of dogs. I don’t remember where I got this, and I have no specific memory of where I hung it, although I vaguely recall it hanging somewhere. But I can tell you exactly why I liked it. There were two reasons. First, the jacket he’s wearing is exactly like my Dad’s. My Dad wasn’t an aviator, but some pilots he had worked with had given it to him as a gift, and he had given to me, and I thought it was way cool. Second, I had never given RFK much thought when he was alive. But I got really interested in him when I wrote a research paper about him for a high school civics class in the spring of 1971. And I can still remember how differently I perceived time back then: I thought of his life as being way in the past at that point — even though only three years had passed since his assassination. That’s a long time when you’re 17.
Actually, I changed my mind in mid-list. I ditched this Dylan poster, which was on my dorm room wall at Memphis State, because it never meant that much to me and I wanted to include the Hawaiian flag.
Whatever it is, I’m shocked at something I couldn’t remember today.
Someone had said to me that Steph Curry had played basketball at Davidson, which I knew was supposed to impress me, but all it did was cause me to go look up “Steph Curry.” (And it turns out he IS quite impressive).
Because, you know, I don’t do real-life sports. I do frequently enjoy fictional sports (I like the idea of sports more than the reality), so I can tell you all about Roy Hobbs and Bartholomew “Bump” Bailey and Willie “Mays” Hayes and (now that Bryan has me watching “Friday Night Lights”) “Smash” Williams, Tim Riggins and Matt Saracen.
So anyway, defending myself, I boasted that while I don’t know this Curry guy, I can name all the Hickory Huskers from “Hoosiers.”
But then, privately, I tried to do so, and without looking them up, all I came up with was this:
Can you name them? Not these guys, the ones in the book…
I love it when I find out that someone somewhere has, at least for a brief moment, obsessed about something trivial that had obsessed me.
It makes me feel… almost normal. Or at least, human.
In the past, as an illustration of the perverse way that my brain works, I have bragged/told on myself for remembering the names of all the characters in The Dirty Dozen, which I read when I was about 13.
The book, mind you. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to name the 12 in the movie, because the movie doesn’t fully introduce them all.
Oh, and the list is different. This is partly because, for whatever reason, Archer Maggot — played by Telly Savalas — was a mashup of three very different characters from the book. Maggot was a redneck career criminal from Phenix City, Ala., a really malevolent, violent guy. Calvin Ezra Smith was a prison convert who constantly quoted Scripture. Myron Odell was a shy little rabbit of a man who was scared of women, and supposedly had killed a woman who came onto him sexually (which he vehemently denied).
I’m not sure why they combined those three into one, but somehow Savalas pulled it off, so hats off to him. But then they had to make up a couple of names of characters to replace Smith and Odell. Then there was the fact that Jim Brown’s character was nothing like the one black character in the book, so they changed his name from Napoleon White to Robert Jefferson. White had been an officer and an intellectual (he and Capt. Reisman have debates about the writings of T.E. Lawrence), which I guess they thought didn’t fit Brown, so they made Charles Bronson the ex-officer.
They went on to change several other characters’ names — sometimes just the first names — for reasons that would only be understandable to a Hollywood producer.
Anyway, I’m going on about this because today, while looking for something totally unrelated, I ran across this Los Angeles Timesstory from way back in 2000. And it contained this paragraph:
Can you name all 12? Roll call: Charles Bronson as Joseph Wladislaw; Jim Brown as Robert Jefferson; Tom Busby as Milo Vladek; John Cassavetes as Victor Franko; Ben Carruthers as Glenn Gilpin; Stuart Cooper as Roscoe Lever; Trini Lopez as Pedro Jimenez; Colin Maitland as Seth Sawyer; Al Mancini as Tassos Bravos; Telly Savalas as Archer Maggott; Donald Sutherland as Vernon Pinkley; and Clint Walker as Samson Posey.
Wow, I thought. There’s someone else on the planet who has wasted gray cells memorizing the names of the Dirty Dozen! Worse, memorizing the names of the ones in the movie, not the real ones!
It gave me a fellow-feeling, if only for a moment, for this Donald Liebenson who wrote the piece…
I’m always getting unsolicited emails from mysterious parties wanting to “partner” with this blog in some endeavor or other.
Some are more interesting than others:
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Hey, I loved “Swingers.” Awesome movie. But I think they’re using the word a different way. Although it’s a bit unclear — “sex swing” is a decidedly awkward construction.
Apparently, in addition to bondage and other things, this site is into English as a second language. But not enough into it to get the nuances. Or even, in some cases, the basics.
And I wonder what sort of confused algorithm concluded that “We both of our websites are in very same niche.”…
I ran across it on Amazon Prime, where you can see it for free if you’re a subscriber. It wasn’t among the films and TV shows the service promotes on its main page. You know how if you call up a film, depending on your interface, you get a list of similar movies across the bottom of the screen — and then if you click on one of those, you get a list of things related to that? After you do that two or three times, you get to some interesting, and unexpected, stuff. Well, I was a click or two into one of those searches for arcana, looking for something to watch while working out, and ran across this.
But the blurb doesn’t really tell you what it’s like. It says, “A World War One soldier accidentally time travels to present day Los Angeles. Filthy, penniless, with no way to prove his identity, he struggles to find a way back to his wife in 1918.”
Actually, all of that has already happened when you meet Alistair, the British soldier. He’s been in the present day for about a month, and he’s already come to grips with the fact that it’s the 21st century and that he’s stuck here. He’s been living in Griffith Park, staying alive by trapping squirrels.
So there are no battle scenes, or flash-bang depictions of what time travel might be like, or anything. No “Back to the Future” action involving DeLoreans. In fact, it’s basically like what you’d see on an amateur documentary, because that’s what it’s supposed to be. Near as I can recall, you see nothing that’s not part of the “documentary” footage. It’s about as vérité as cinéma gets.
When the film started, I thought it was a promo for something else, one of those Prime routinely gives you at the start of a video, and only when the “promo” dragged out into extended scenes did I realize the show had started.
It starts with this nervous young woman named “Poppy” trying on different outfits before doing interviews on camera. Gradually, you infer that she’s a graduate student shooting a documentary for her master’s, with help from friends, about homelessness in Los Angeles. She starts by asking people on a city street about the homeless. After a couple of people mention all the homeless in Griffith Park, the crew goes there. They head off the beaten path and starting looking in a wooded area, and the first homeless guy they meet is the one you see below — Alistair.
When they interview him, he very matter-of-factly explains his situation. As I’ve said, he’s had time to adjust. So there’s none of the “Where the hell am I, and what’s happened to me?” drama you see in most time-travel films. He’s even unimpressed with the technology. Alistair dismisses such tropes as irrelevant to his situation or his goal — which is to get back to his wife in 1918. Later in the film, when one of Poppy’s friends sort of condescendingly asks him whether he’s amazed at the old flip phone Poppy has given him, he says, with a “what kind of rube do you think I am?” tone, “We have telephones.” When the guy says, yeah, but this has no wires, Alistair says, “We have radio, also.”
Alistair’s a pretty smart guy who defies the usual fish-out-of-water cliches. You know he’s a pretty smart guy because when they ask him what he did before the war, he says he wrote for a newspaper back in England (ahem!). He’s a guy who reads, and writes, and figures things out. In fact, after a “scientist” he meets fails to get him back home through a hare-brained stunt, he reads every book in the library that deals with wormholes in a quest to figure out how she got it wrong. (The film’s title is Alistair’s email address, which Poppy creates for him so he can communicate with the scientist.)
The film was written by Guy Birtwhistle, the actor who portrays Alistair. Told you he was a smart guy.
Anyway, I think you’ll enjoy this. You should check it out…
Back in the olden days, we had to stockpile “evergreen” stories for that period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when not all that much news happened, but the papers were humongous because of all the ROP ads.
The tradition of doing “best-of” retrospectives on the year are sort of related to that phenomenon. And even now in the post-print world, when editors are no longer haunted by the physical “hole to fill” problem, the tradition continues.
Which was kind of silly, and sort of had the effect of giving ALL the kids trophies. This, for instance, is an artificially democratic statement: “Eventually we found the best year in movies — all seven of them.” Yeah. Because everyone’s opinion is equally valid, right? Bull. What a pat on the head — you all tried so-o-o hard…
Basically, I think they tried a little too hard, and overcomplicated the subject. The proper question is sort of binary: Was 1939 the greatest year, or wasn’t it?
And the feature in the Post sorta acknowledged that truth by letting the lucky writer who got to represent 1939 go first. But then, to try to justify considering the other, lame years, the writer treats us to this:
It’s hard to view “Gone with the Wind” these days as anything but massively problematic. Slavery is presented in soft-focus. Rhett Butler carrying a struggling Scarlett O’Hara up the stairwell, intended to make the audience swoon, is now as likely to make them vomit. If it was never screened in public again, then frankly, my dear, I wouldn’t give a — well, you know.
Really? We’re going to dismiss a representative — excuse me, the representative cultural artifact of 80 years ago by current political standards? Yeah, we know: Slavery was bad. It was, in fact, our nation’s Original Sin. And the bodice-ripping genre leaves much to be desired. But, you know, this is Gone with the frickin’ Wind! We’re supposed to be made uncomfortable by, say, the role Mammy played in Scarlett’s world — while at the same time being impressed by Hattie McDaniel’s performance. Which, by the way, earned her the first Oscar ever won by a black performer.
As for the rest, though… really?
But all of this is to set up arguments that the greatest film year was actually… get ready for this… one of the following:
1974 — “The Conversation,” yes — certainly. And “Young Frankenstein,” which sort of stands in a category of its own. (I’m far less impressed by Brooks’ bigger hit that year, “Blazing Saddles.” If you disagree, try watching it again.) But no, I do not agree with all the hype about “Godfather II” eclipsing the original. It’s just not so. It was an uneven film with some inspired sections in it (all the De Niro bits). The original was a perfect, glittering masterpiece of film-making.
1982 — The argument starts with “Tootsie.” “Porky’s” is also mentioned. Let’s move on.
Yep. And with good reason. Sometimes, you see, when everybody says something, they’re right.
But OK, I can get into the spirit of this thing. I can go beyond the pat answer. So I’ll offer my own nominee for dethroning 1939. But first… please note that my embrace of ’39 is not a generational thing, like my preference for the ’60s-’80s in music. I know y’all think I’m old, but 1939 is WAY before my time — my parents were very young kids at the time. It’s more their parents’ time.
And “Gone With the Wind” isn’t even close to making any list of my favorite movies — not Top Five, not Top Ten, not Top Twenty. I’m not even sure it would make a Top 100, if I were to take the time to draw that up. But I recognize epic film-making. I recognize cultural significance. I recognize values other than my own, as a guy living in 2019. It’s not about me and what I like. It’s about the history of film, seen as a whole.
But what other year comes close? Here, I am going to go with one from my own lifetime: 1967. If 1939 was the peak year of Hollywood’s Golden Age, 1967 was the year that the revolution arrived — all over the place, everywhere you looked, in every possible genre.
“The Graduate.” Here, we are talking about what I like. Any Top Five list of mine would include this, “The Godfather,” “Casablanca” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the fifth will be negotiable. And among those, “The Graduate” is the most original, the most distinctive. Seriously, into what genre would you place it? “Satire” tends to be where most end up, but that’s still inadequate. Everybody was at peak in this, doing the most brilliant work of their lives — Mike Nichols, Buck Henry (especially as writer, but also as the desk clerk), Dustin Hoffman certainly (even if he’d done nothing more than come up with that beautifully weird little noise he made in Ben’s more stressful moments). Simon and Garfunkel at the very peak of their powers. And I believe Anne Bancroft IS Mrs. Robinson (and she scares me)! To say nothing of the Alfa Romeo! And… I’m not sure how to put this… Hollywood has caused us guys to fall in love with scores, hundreds, thousands of beautiful women over the decades, but Katharine Ross? She makes it work, just by looking the way she does and knowing what to do with it, in a minimalist way. If you say, “A guy falls in love with the daughter of the woman with whom he’s having a tawdry, soul-devouring affair,” you say “That’s sick!” and don’t believe it. But then you see Katharine Ross, and you can see how this would happen, to Benjamin or almost any other guy. Wanting to marry her is NOT a half-baked idea. It’s completely baked.
“Cool Hand Luke.” OK, so I went a bit overboard on “The Graduate.” I’ll try to hold myself in on this one. But it’s another that shattered conventions, that holds up over time, and would definitely make my Top Twenty. “Taking it off, boss.” “Any man loses his spoon spends a night in the box.” “Gonna be some world-shakin’.” And after my lack of discipline re Katharine Ross, I’m not going to mention Lucilllle. Nor am I going to get all deep about Luke as a Christ figure, or anything like that. But if 1967 is the best year, this is one of the ones that puts it over the top.
“Bonnie and Clyde.” There’s a lot in this one that kind of gives me the creeps, but wow. It’s original, it’s fresh, it’s groundbreaking, it smacks you in the face, and it works. And this film gave us Gene Hackman, which on its own would cover a multitude of sins.
“The Dirty Dozen.” I almost didn’t include this. I loved it at the time (I was 13). But it doesn’t hold up. It inspired me to read the novel at 14 (which was a little young, on account of the dirty parts, which I practically memorized), and I was impressed then and remain impressed now at what a missed opportunity the film was. The novel was really a great story, well told, and the characters were 10 times as interesting as the ones on the screen… with the possible exception of Victor Franko — Cassavetes pretty much brought him to life. He must have read the book. But, all of that said… flaws and all, this is a landmark film of the action genre. It’s not for nothing that in “Sleepless in Seattle,” Tom Hanks holds it up as meaning to men what “An Affair to Remember” means to many women. And it’s hard to imagine it being made before 1967.
“In the Heat of the Night.” I watched this again just this week on Amazon. You should go and do likewise. And always remember to call him MISTER Tibbs…
“To Sir, with Love.” Poitier again. And speaking of him, I could as easily cite “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” — also 1967, and also something hard to imagine in any other year. But “Sir” is another personal fave. It is, without question, the absolute best of the whole “lovable teacher who wins the hearts of the snotty punks he teaches” genre. Streets ahead of the rest. OK, Lulu — hit it!
“Blow-Up.” I’m cheating a bit here because it was technically released in the U.S. at the end of 1966, but I think of this as essentially a British/Italian film in sensibility, and it wasn’t released in those countries until ’67. It can be a bit of a hoot to watch now — see how cool this guy is; he has a phone in his car! — but talk about your cultural artifacts! Definitely a good candidate to put in a time capsule and tell people what the 60s were like. Or would have been like, were you an in-demand fashion photographer in Swingin’ London. Which is why Austin Powers takes the time to do an homage to it.
I’ll stop there. I’m interested to see what year y’all would pick. I just hope it wouldn’t be a year as lame as 1982…
“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” — Frank Capra really gets America. Or at least, he got the America of his day, and that means he got it the way I get it. (It feels like I was right there, in a previous life.)
“Young Mr. Lincoln” — If you don’t do anything else today, watch the clip above. You only have to watch the first minute and 18 seconds. It’s amazing, the best thing Henry Fonda ever did. I thought about Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” which is magnificent and of course has superior, modern production values. But I had another Spielberg flick below, and besides, this one’s awesome.
“John Adams” — Yeah, this one’s a TV show, which is why I added the parenthetical in the headline. I can’t think of anything better on how America became America. And as I keep saying, Adams is my fave Founder. He’s the one who rammed independence through the Congress. Jefferson just wrote it out — because Adams picked him to do it.
“Saving Private Ryan” — Yeah, I know — Bud and maybe others will say, “This isn’t Veteran’s Day, nor yet Memorial Day!” Yeah, well, freedom isn’t free. And this is the best film evocation of that ever made. I get chills, and misty eyes, during the cemetery scenes at the start and end. July Fourth message to us all: Earn this!
“All the President’s Men” — Because America. Because First Amendment. Because scrappy newspapermen taking down a corrupt administration. Best part — the scenes in which Woodward and Bernstein interview people who do not want to talk to them. They are wonderfully ragged and awkward, which is what it’s like in real life. I really appreciate the director leaving them that way and not trying to slick them up, Hollywood-style.
I found a new option on my Amazon account and clicked on something that said, “Brad’s Amazon.”
That led me to category after category that Amazon had decided, based on my activity in the past, Brad liked.
Above and below you see the movies that Amazon thinks I’m most interested in. Apparently, I really dig some 007. (But I assure you, I much prefer Sean Connery to Roger Moore.)
Y’all know me. I like that stuff, sure, but my tastes are a bit… wider. Why just the other day, didn’t I get all artsy-fartsy with that French romantic musical I went to see? That was pretty eclectic of me, don’t you think? And if I look at the stuff I’ve watched recently via Amazon Prime, it’s at least somewhat broader that these options.
I’ve been watching stuff like old episodes of “House,” and the Irish cop series, “Single-Handed.” And “The Last Post,” about British Army types in Yemen in the early ’60s. And that scandalous Hedy Lamarr picture, “Ecstasy.” (Or at least, I watched enough to tell you it’s not as racy as people let on.)
Actually, that’s not all that broad a selection, is it? Maybe Amazon knows me better than I know myself. Maybe I’m really, just an uncomplicated, macho, action-oriented kind of guy. So… somebody run get me a beer (and not light beer) while I watch James Bond use the ejector seat on that guy again in “Goldfinger.” I liked that part…
Having recently become members of the Nickelodeon, my wife and I on Sunday attended a special showing of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, ” the film that launched Catherine Deneuve as a star.
I’m not what you’d call a big fan of colorful romantic musicals of the early 1960s, but this one was unusual, if not unique. And not just because it was in French.
First, it was at first glance visually very much like Hollywood films of the time — very Kandy-Kolored, none of that somber continental auteur black-and-white stuff. In fact, the colors were sort of a foreshadowing of the later psychedelic portion of the decade. The wallpaper alone in some of the interior sets would make you suspect there were some very funny mushrooms in the vicinity of Cherbourg.
Then there was the fact that it wasn’t just a musical musical, in the sense of people suddenly and without warning breaking into song for no good reason. Every word of dialogue, down to the most pedestrian remarks, was sung. A bit disturbing at first, but this operatic device worked, even with me. In the opening scene, a guy who works with one of the protagonists at a garage sings that he doesn’t like opera; give him movies instead. I could identify, ordinarily. Anyway, it made for a nice little internal joke.
If you get the opportunity to see the film sometime — it’s no longer showing at the Nick — it’s worth it just for the moments when suddenly, you recognize a tune the characters are singing. I was delighted and frustrated by this, because these tunes were very much a part of the background of the 1960s — the grownup, Muzak, “standards” part that was always playing somewhere, even though it’s not what we kids sought out. Here’s a cover of one. I’m proud that I made the connection on this one before the film was over, when suddenly my brain replaced the French words with “If it takes forever, I will wait for you.” Here’s another earworm from the film.
I had never heard of the film back in those days, but I certainly knew the tunes.
SPOILERS to follow…
That warning seems a bit unnecessary, but I’m hoping that some of you who haven’t seen it will see it sometime. As for those who have seen it, I’d be interested in what you think about how the film turned out.
As happens at the Nick, there was discussion of the film there in the theater before and after the showing. At the start, we were told that this apparently light story was set within the context of France’s traumatic experience in the Algerian War. But… I didn’t see any heavy political subtext. The structure of the film was in three parts, the first being boy-meets-girl and the second boy-leaves-girl-to-go-to-war. It could have been any conflict, or some other cause. The point was that the boy went away. There was nothing special about the fact that it was to Algiers.
Madeleine — not only was there character in her face, but she had a sort of Katharine Ross thing going on…
Then there was the ending, which in a sense was the least Hollywood thing about the film. And this is the real spoiler. We’d been set up to think it would be a terrible thing if Geneviève and Guy didn’t get back together — in conventional Hollywood terms. But from the moment Mssr. Cassard and Madeleine made their appearances, I felt that they were better mates for our star-crossed lovers. Sure, in Hollywood-values terms, Deneuve was beautiful as Geneviève — being beautiful was her specialty, especially when she was older — but Madeleine was more my type, and Guy’s, too, I thought. Not only did Ellen Farner have a kind of pre-Katharine Ross thing going on (and it was a law of movies in the ’60s — if Katharine Ross appears, you the male viewer will fall in love with her), but there was depth of character in her face. This is the girl you marry, Guy. And Messr. Cassard was more the kind of mate Geneviève needed, despite — or perhaps even because of — his over-trimmed mustache.
Anyway, I guess that’s enough on the subject of a film you probably won’t see unless you go out of your way. But it impressed me and I wanted to share that…
The psychedelic wallpaper was well ahead of its time.
Some of you may think I was easy on Ralph Norman in that last post, saying he was only guilty of being uncool.
You forget that I’m a Baby Boomer, and Ralph Norman is, too. I look at him and I don’t see a member of my generation. I see a member of my parents’ generation, or maybe someone older than that. From his pictures, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn he is a Lawrence Welk fan. He looks like your parents’ friend who corners you at the party because he wants to share one word with you: “Plastics.”
Me in about ’73.
But eerily enough, he’s just a little more than three months older than I am. I looked it up.
And members of our generation asked little of life, beyond having other people see us as being cool. One of the things I love about the film “Almost Famous” — which is set in 1973, the year I turned 20 — is that it captured that facet of that moment rather well.
We didn’t seek to be rich, unless that just happened to us, in which case we wouldn’t object. We lived in a time of lowered expectations, with Watergate unfolding and America heading for the exits in Vietnam.
But we did hope, most fervently, to be cool. Or rather, as I said, to be seen as cool. Was that really too much to expect, we demanded of the heavens?
Anyway, it is against that cultural backdrop that you should consider the fact that Ralph Norman has been weighed, he has been measured, and he has been found to be decidedly uncool…
If you’ve seen “In the Line of Fire” as many times as I have, you’ll remember this part. Clint Eastwood and his partner are trying to track down would-be assassin John Malkovich, and are following a lead that takes them into the subculture of plastic modelers.
They’re talking to a friend of Mitch, the Malkovich character, who says see my expensive wheelchair? Mitch bought it for me. Then suddenly, he pulls out a semi-automatic handgun and says this is in case Mitch ever comes back — because he had credibly threatened his “friend’s” life.
The Secret Service agents sort of go “Whoa!” at the appearance of the gun. They do this not because they’re sissies who are afraid of firearms and other mean things. (Remember, one of them is Clint Eastwood.) They do it because there are times when it is uncool to whip out a loaded firearm, and one of those times is when you’re being interviewed by a couple of worried Secret Service agents.
Another such time is when you’re a member of Congress chatting with your constituents.