Thursday, June 25, 2009

You don't think punctuation is important?

After you read this, you might want to think again....

The reporter was apparently untethered, too

From The Associated Press:

"Like watching a hairy man reluctant to pull off a Band-Aid, reporters listened as (South Carolina Gov. Mark) Sanford -- apparently unscripted and untethered by aides -- apologized to his wife of 20 years, Jenny, and their four boys."

Monday, June 22, 2009

At the (old) movies: 'If I Had a Million'

Notes from another gathering of the local cinephile society….

Want to know whether you’re my age or older? Here’s a quick quiz:

Suppose I told you that a Mr. Michael Anthony was now on your doorstep. How would you react?

If your response was “Who? Get rid of him,” you are probably under 50.

If your response was to hide behind the biggest piece of furniture in your house and cuddle up with an Uzi, you probably are not going to get to be 50.

But if your response was to grin from ear to ear and say, “Great! Let him in,” chances are you’ll have a special interest in the movie I’m about to discuss.

Because back in the 1950s, long before Lotto, Michael Anthony was an assistant to a mysterious man named John Beresford Tipton, who each week would give Mr. Anthony a check for $1 million to be given to someone Mr. Tipton had personally chosen, on a TV series called (Surprise! Surprise!) “The Millionaire.”

Before you start Googling for Mr. Tipton’s address (the old guy would probably be dead now anyway), I should tell you that he and Mr. Anthony were fictional, and each episode would tell the story of the New Millionaire of The Week and how the huge bonanza affected his or her life. (Some of the episodes were directed by a then-unknown Robert Altman.)

Clever idea, huh? (Although one might wonder why Mr. Anthony, given all these chances – more than 200 episodes – never merely forged a recipient’s name, then took off for Tahiti.)

Anyway, this idea didn’t start there. It had its roots in “If I Had a Million,” made by Paramount in 1932, when it must have been a particularly appealing fantasy, especially for people who counted themselves lucky if the could find someone who could spare a dime.

Mr. Tipton doesn’t appear here. Instead we have John Glidden, a dying tycoon played with paradoxical but delightful gusto by Richard Bennett. Angered by relatives and other hangers-on who are awaiting his demise, he decides to give his money to strangers whose names he picks out at random from a city directory.

This leads to a series of episodes filmed by various directors and featuring various Paramount contract players, among them:

George Raft, who plays a forger who finds that because of his reputation he can’t cash Glidden’s check.

Gary Cooper, as one of three Marines who don’t think Glidden’s check is on the level.

Gene Raymond, as a man on death row, in a segment directed by James Cruze, who apparently neglected to tell Mr. Raymond that when it comes to playing a condemned man, less is particularly more.

Charles Laughton, as a meek employee, in a segment directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

Charles Ruggles as a china shop employee who keeps bumping into things.

Perhaps the movie is most famous for two segments, both of which screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz had a hand in, years before his directing days:

A prostitute (Wynne Gibson) uses the money to get a room in a well-appointed hotel and go to bed by herself.

Rollo and Emily LaRue (W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth) use their windfall to buy a long-dreamed-for car – which is then struck by a careless driver. They then buy a whole fleet of cars and use these vehicles to run other “road hogs” off the street.

This segment marks the first time Fields used the phrase “My Little Chickadee,” which Mankiewicz wrote into the script. I read somewhere that Fields paid him for any future use of the phrase.

I first saw this movie almost 40 years ago and hadn’t seen it much since; it doesn’t seem to be readily available on DVD.

I was looking forward to seeing it again – especially with an appreciative audience – and it didn’t disappoint.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Allowing for shrinkage

You know the drill: You’re at the doctor’s office, and it’s the prelim round: A nurse is taking your blood pressure, going over your meds and, finally, checking your height and weight.

If you’re like me, you’re more interested in finding out how much that big, old-fashioned-looking scale says you weigh. I mean, I already know how tall I am, right?

On this particular day, this past week, my blood pressure and my weight are just fine. Then, just for the heck of it (being in a dangerously jaunty mood) I ask about my height.

Five foot nine, the nurse says.

What?! Can’t be! Why, I’ve been five-eleven (OK, OK, maybe five-ten and three quarters, if you really want to get technical) ever since I was a teen, and maybe even a little before that.

OK, the nurse says, I’ll try it again.

This time I make sure I am standing really tall and straight.

And now I’m five-nine and a half.

Which is an improvement.

But still.

Somewhere I have lost an inch. Not only for that, for years I have put my height down on forms as five-eleven (I figure they’ll laugh at me if I am really technical and say five-ten and three quarters), and apparently for some time now the folks who have looked at these forms and then looked at me have been privately and quietly shaking their heads, pitying me for harboring such a grand delusion.

“Poor guy,” they must be thinking, “too proud to admit it. Oh well, at least he doesn’t dye what’s left of his hair, and that comb-over isn’t too ridiculous. Let’s humor him.”

As you might expect, part of me is mightily embarrassed.

But another part of me is wondering: What happened to that inch? (OK, OK, that inch and a quarter. Geez, you math whizzes are so insufferable.)

What’s worse, I don’t know exactly where I lost the inch. Or whether I lost it all at once or gradually. Did I mislay it on a bus? (I’ve been known to do that with umbrellas.) Or was it more gradual? And where is my missing inch now? Is someone who saw me lose it on that bus but didn’t speak up about it now mysteriously an inch taller? (Can’t trust anyone these days.)

Or should I be checking the cushions of my living room furniture? Maybe that lost inch is somewhere in a chair, along with 56 cents in change. Or maybe I left a quarter of an inch in my living room chair and the rest of it fell out over time while I was napping on the couch.


If you’ll all excuse me now, I have to get out the vacuum cleaner….

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I hate to have to break it to ya, Amelia....

On Thursday, NBC's "Today" show had a segment about a man who says he was the boy who disappeared from outside a bakery on Long Island in 1955.

The "Today" reporter called this "the ultimate cold case."

Which will probably come as a surprise to Amelia Earhart, Judge Crater, Ambrose Bierce, Jimmy Hoffa, D.B. Cooper....

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

At the (old) movies: 'My Favorite Blonde'

Notes from a recent get-together of the local cinephile society:

I’ve sometimes wondered what it felt like for people in this country to watch a World War II-themed comedy like “My Favorite Blonde” (1942) while they were smack in the middle of that war. Especially for people who had family members serving in that war – or who had lost family members int hat war. Did comedies like this relieve the tension some people felt? Did they make things worse for others?

I’m certainly not saying that films like this shouldn’t have been made. The best of them are still fairly amusing today, if dated. And maybe they did boost morale.

Anyway, “My Favorite Blonde” stars Bob Hope as an entertainer (big stretch there) who gets involved with a British agent (Madeleine Carroll) who is on a mission. It’s basically a chase movie (vaguely reminiscent of Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps,” which also starred Carroll) with typical Hope gags; you get the idea that he passed the script around to his team of writers, each member of which added a gag or two.

Some of the gags, as you might expect, are dated, but at least one still seems fresh in these times:

Carroll: There’s no time to lose. Do you know what it feels like to be followed, hounded and watched every second?

Hope: Well I used to, but now I pay cash for everything.

And of course there’s the obligatory “surprise” cameo by Bing Crosby.

Unlike “My Favorite Brunette,” made later in the decade with Hope and Dorothy Lamour, “My Favorite Blonde” doesn’t have a strong enough story line; the parts are greater than the whole, though amusing enough. And I can’t help wondering why the filmmakers, having obtained the services of two of the best heavies in the business – Gale Sondergaard and George Zucco as the main villains – didn’t make more use of them. I could be wrong, but I think Sondergaard has only one scene with Hope, and not much happens there. This seems like a waste of one of the screen’s best (and probably sexiest) villainesses. But Sondergaard and Zucco are always nice to have around.

Before the movie: a short comedy, “On the Wrong Trek” (Hal Roach/MGM, 1936), starring Charley Chase.

Not many people seem to know about Charley Chase today, but in the 1920s and 1930s he was kind of an early version of Dick Van Dyke, specializing in the comedy of embarrassment. A trained stage performer, he easily made the transition to talkies, and he made some pretty decent sound shorts (some of which featured songs he’d written), but somehow I prefer his silent films, such as “Mighty Like a Moose.”

Early in his career he performed in Mack Sennett films, and you can see him in a few of the early Chaplins, including “Tillie’s Punctured Romance.” He later went to Hal Roach’s studio, where he was a director for a while before going back in front of the camera. For a number of his silent films, his director was Leo McCarey (“Going My Way”), who later said he learned all he knew about comedy from Chase.

Why isn’t Chase better remembered? Maybe because he was featured mostly in shorts, though he appeared in a few features, most notably Laurel and Hardy’s “Sons of the Desert.” But although his style of comedy resembles Van Dyke’s, he either didn’t have Van Dyke’s depth or, if he did, didn’t get the chance to show it. His one attempt at a starring feature failed, and in fact, “On the Wrong Trek” (which includes a cameo by Stan and Ollie) was the last short he did for Roach before his longtime employer let him go. For the next few years he worked at Columbia, starring in shorts (sometimes remaking one of his silents) and even directing Three Stooges shorts, including “Violent Is the Word for Curly,” which features the song “Swinging the Alphabet,” written by Chase.

Chase was a heavy drinker. At one point he was in very poor health indeed. And he was warned that if he kept drinking, he’d die.

In June 1940 he died of a heart attack. He was 46.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

"I told 'em it was a Rolls. Oh, a Kia? My bad!"

Sign in a parking lot at a local apartment complex: