The One Way Trump is Jeffersonian
“In 1806, [Pres.] Jefferson secured the passage of a Non-Importation Act, banning certain British imports and, in 1807, an Embargo Act, banning all American exports. During the ongoing war between Britain and France, the British had been seizing American ships and impressing American seamen. Jefferson believed that banning all trade was the only way to remain neutral. No Americans ships were to sail to foreign ports. He insisted that all the goods Americans needed they could produce in their own homes. ...
”The embargo devastated the American economy. Jeffersonian agrarianism was not only backward-looking but also largely a fantasy.“
from Jill Lepore's ”These Truths: A History of the United States"
Movie Review: The Mayor of Hell (1933)
Some kids are sent to a reform school that’s run like a corrupt prison, but two well-meaning adults—including a former gangster from the neighborhood—help save them.
Believe it or not, Warner Bros. made this movie three times in the 1930s—each time with their star of the moment. Here, it’s Cagney. In 1938, it was “Crime School” with Humphrey Bogart. A year later, Warners made “Hell’s Kitchen” with Ronald Reagan.
Wait, Ronald Reagan? As a former gangster?
Yeah, not quite. More on that another time.
The star isn’t really the star anyway—the kids are. Here, they’re somewhere between Our Gang and the Dead End Kids. They’re teenagers like the latter but diverse like the former. It’s a rainbow coalition of early 20th-century stereotypes: emotional Italian, money-conscious Jew, bug-eyed black kid.
This last is played by Allen Hoskins, who played “Farina” in the Our Gang comedies. The Jewish kid, Izzy (Sidney Miller), is just as outré but feels less problematic. Sure, he winds up running the company store, but his lines are the lines Jewish authors would give their characters decades later. “What I’m making in here I can put in my right eye” he says. “I’ll fix you, ya gonif,” he says. It’s a type produced from within rather than imposed from without.
You know what I liked about this one? The kids aren’t the only ones who start out on the wrong side of the law.
As Patsy Gargan, the new deputy commissioner, Cagney doesn’t show up until 25 minutes in. He rolls into the reformatory with his drunk pal Mike (Cagney foil Allen Jenkins) and Mike’s blonde moll (Sheila Terry), offers a drink to the movie’s villain, Superintendent Thompson (Duddley Digges), then wonders how “to make things look regular.” He asks Thompson to turn in his reports for him. He’s a crook—a cheap ward heeler, as someone calls him. His job is a sinecure in a corrupt administration.
What changes him? For starters, he runs into a younger version of himself, Jimmy (Frankie Darro of “Wild Boys of the Road,” who played the young Cagney in “Public Enemy”). He’s on the lam, gets caught, is whipped and ordered back into solitary.
But what really changes him, of course, is a woman, Miss Griffith (Madge Evans), the school’s pretty nurse. She insists Jimmy gets medical attention. Patsy agrees. She insists what’s truly needed in the school is self-government. Patsy agrees. Then he makes a pass at her.
Here are the books she owns:
- Fundamental Principles of the Juvenile Republic
- Self-Government for Juvenile Correction
Immediate thought: Was the screenwriter...? Yes. Edward Chodorov was a member of the Communist party. In 1953, he was fingered by Jerome Robbins and wound up blacklisted after he refused to cooperate with HUAC.
Delayed thought: Wait, self-government? Why does Patsy think this is a good idea? Isn’t he part of a corrupt government machine himself? I guess the key is the “self.”
Anyway, it works. The kids get real food, they clean the joint up, and even elect our titular mayor (Jimmy, of course). One kid, Pete, gets hungry and steals a chocolate bar from the company store. He winds up in front of the “Supreme Court.” Farina is his defense attorney and another tough mug is the judge. Justice is dispensed. It’s all super-cutesy.
Of course, the forces of corruption try to fight back but the kids are too strong. Patsy is the one who screws it up. One of his men, Joe, tries to take over his racket back in town, so he shows up to reclaim it. A gun goes off, Joe winds up in the hospital, Patsy’s on the lam. At the school, Thompson takes back the reins and it’s back to pig slop for the kids. Even Nurse Griffith resigns.
The ending is fascinating and menacing. Thompson forces Johnny (Raymond Borzage), a kid with a croup-like cough, into solitary after he doesn’t squeal; he dies there. When Thompson gets the news, he’s stunned, and rushes to the infirmary ... where all the kids are waiting. From director Archie Mayo (or Michael Curtiz, who did uncredited work) we get like a minute-long silent sequence in which Thompson stares at the kids faces—who are, by turns, sad, then increasingly angry—and, realizing his predicament, he struggles to get out as if fighting against the current. He makes it, but the kids know the tide has turned. It’s the tsar all over again.
If that scene reminded me of some part of “The Blue Angel”—the nightmarish quality of trying to move and being locked into place—the rest recalled “Frankenstein.” The kids, wielding torches, chase Thompson onto a barn roof, then light the barn on fire. Trapped, screaming, he jumps, hits a wire fence, bounces in the air, and lands in the slop of a pig sty—dead. I actually laughed out loud. Those commie writers don’t fuck around.
And where’s Cagney in all this? Hiding out. But he shows up at the end to convince the kids to put out the fire and face the authorities—who, in ultimate bow-tie neatness, declare it was Thompson’s own fault that he died. Meanwhile, Joe lives, Patsy gives him his racket, and he and the pretty nurse return to run the school. Ain’t life swell?
Come back to the five and dime, Frankie Darro, Frankie Darro
One of my favorite things about watching these movies is finding out about the players.
Frankie Darro is so good in this, so graceful and present, one wonders why he wasn’t bigger. Was it the fact that he never grew tall? Fifteen years later, he was still playing a newsboy in “The Babe Ruth Story.” But he kept acting, and he’s the subject of a biography published in 2008.
The villain? Dudley Digges? He not only played the original Casper Gutman in the 1931 version of “Maltese Falcon,” he directed “Alexander Hamilton” on Broadway in 1917. It was the biggest Hamilton play of all time ... until recently.
I think I got most lost in Sidney Miller’s story. In 1938 he played opposite Mickey Rooney in “Boys Town,” they became friends, and Miller wrote songs for him. (He’s got 28 soundtrack credits.) In the 1950s he helped revamp the first iteration of “The Mickey Mouse Club” and in the ’60s became a regular director of sitcoms: “My Favorite Martian,” “Get Smart,” “The Monkees.” (He’s got 38 directing credits.) He also kept acting (146 credits). I once saw him in an episode of “Barney Miller” in the mid-70s. He’s also the father of Barry Miller, who played the gay kid in “Fame,” and one of Travolta’s friends in “Saturday Night Fever.” IMDb can be such a rabbit hole.
At 90 minutes, “The Mayor of Hell” is longer than most of the early ’30s Cagney movies, but then Cagney isn’t in it much. But his ethos is. It’s the Warner Bros. ethos: Never rat on your friends. Sadly, it’s a lesson that Jack Warner, one of the first and loudest to testify before HUAC, never learned.
Thank God for David Simon
What booger-eating moron would stumble out onto the internet to attempt a thoughtless but-Obama moment and not remember that 1) That president accurately assessed Kanye as a “jackass” and 2) invited Common to the White House, whereupon white America squibbed shit in its undies? https://t.co/BEcnnOgm1v— David Simon (@AoDespair) October 12, 2018
What's Missing from ‘Fear’
I should probably write more about Bob Woodward's book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” because at this point I doubt I‘ll finish it. I’m about halfway through but I'm not a fan.
I don't doubt a lot of what happens in it. But I know I'm getting a skewed perspective that is being presented by Woodward as the perspective.
Woodward uses sources on deep background—as he did with Deep Throat during the Watergate investigations—but writes the book in the third-person omniscient. Everything is presented as fact, as “this is how it happened,” but it‘s, at best, a few people’s perspective, and at worst one person's perspective. It should be, “According to Steve Bannon...” etc. etc., but it isn‘t. Woodward seems to be putting us in the room where it happens but he’s actually putting us in Bannon's idea of that room—and without telling us. That's actually dangerous.
BTW: Between Bannon being a source for Woodward, and being a source for Michael Wolff in “Fire and Fury,” it's a wonder he gets anything done.
You know when I had to put the book down? It was post-Charlottesville, when Trump's tepid response to Nazis marching in America led to the resignation of Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, an African American, from Trump's American Manufacturing Council. Here's what Frazier said about why he resigned:
America's leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy. . . . As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.
The presidential response?
Within an hour, Trump attacked Frazier on Twitter. Now that Frazier had resigned, Trump wrote, “he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!” The CEOs of Under Armour and Intel followed Frazier, resigning from the council as well. Still stewing, in a second Twitter swipe at Frazier, Trump wrote that Merck should “Bring jobs back & LOWER PRICES!” On Tuesday, August 15, Trump tweeted, “For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place.” He called those who had resigned “grandstanders.”
I went, “Oh right, he's an asshole.” That's actually what's missing from the book: Trump's horrible voice. He's an idiot, sure, he doesn't know what he's doing, yes, he has no real structure to decision-making in the presidency, OK, and god he watches way too much fucking TV—and propaganda TV at that—but we don't hear what an awful bombastic bully he truly is. And that's the thing we hear every day. In a way, through all of these sources telling Woodward their story, and via Woodward's own toneless prose, Trump is insulated. He's muted. As awful as he comes across in the book, he comes across better than he is.
Lost and Foundations
“It's not just that the megaphones operated by 501(c)(3) groups and financed by a sliver of rich donors have gotten louder and louder, making it harder for ordinary citizens to be heard. It's that these citizens are helping foot the bill.”
David Callahan, the founder and editor of Inside Philanthropy, a website focusing on the good, bad and ugly of high-end giving. He's quoted in Elizabeth Kolbert's New Yorker article on the history of foundations and modern philanthropy. Worth reading. Worth thinking about. Much in this country has gotten twisted—even giving.
Movie Review: Hello, Mrs. Money (2018)
The actual title of “Hello, Mrs. Money” is “Li Cha’s Aunt” (《李茶的姑妈》). Transpose the name and you get the idea. It’s based on “Charley’s Aunt,” the 19th-century British farce that became a 20th-century Jack Benny comedy, which is now this 21st-century Chinese rom-com/finger-wagging reminder to China not to lose itself in its quest for riches.
Is there something about empires that demand comedies about falling fortunes and men in drag?
Whatever, it’s not good. Given the filmmakers’ track record, it’s not very popular, either.
Mahua FunAge was formed in 2003 to stage plays, then branched out into TV in 2013. Two years later, it released its first movie, “Goodbye, Mr. Loser,” a kind of remake of “Peggy Sue Got Married,” in which a loser goes back 20 years in time, and, with his knowledge of future pop songs, turns himself into a pop superstar. It grossed $226 million. Last year, Mahua released “Never Say Die,” a body-switching rom-com: $334 million. Earlier this year, “Hello, Mr. Billionaire,” the sequel to “Loser,” was released: $370 million. Boom boom boom.
Then fizz. This one is sputtering. No idea why. Would be interesting to get Chinese thoughts on the matter. I wasn’t a huge fan of the others, but they’re comedies and a lot gets lost in translation. That said, it’s definitely been a downward trend for me: most laughs (“Mr. Loser”) to least (“Mrs. Money”).
At a Sunday matinee show at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle (att.: 3), most of my time was spent waiting out overlong set-pieces and not-exactly #MeToo-friendly scenarios. Nothing funnier than a man in drag being sexually assaulted by a grinning lothario who won’t take no for an answer. Nothing funnier than date-rape drugs sprinkled into drinks. It felt a vague consolation that the powder was less sedative than Chinese aphrodisiac, and the people who drank it were already in relationships; but those relationships weren’t worth saving. The deer that lost its antlers or penis for the aphrodisiac is probably going: “Really? For this?”
Let’s see if I can break down the plot.
Andy Wong, CEO of a company that’s quietly going bankrupt, has two daughters. LiLi is married to Jerry (Allen Ai of “Never Say Die”), a corporate VP who has a roving eye; LuLu is pursued by Richard, the titular Li Cha, whom she can’t stand. But she agrees to marry him anyway to save her father’s business. Richard’s aunt, you see, is Miss Monica (Celina Jade of “Wolf Warrior II”), an expat worth tons, whom no one has ever seen. Everyone is awaiting her arrival at a lavish engagement party on some tropical island—I think maybe Macao, which I never thought of as a tropical island.
Except Miss Monica doesn’t show. Or she shows up in disguise—as a maid. She wants to see if the love is real.
Meanwhile, Jerry’s assistant, Huang (Huang Cailun), a flunky who dreams of riches, and who has set up everything perfectly for Miss Monica, spends a night indulging himself in her suite. When he’s discovered by the others in a bathrobe and with a towel wrapped around his hungover head, he’s assumed to be Miss Monica, and Jerry and Richard get him to play along. Antics ensue.
The most tiresome set piece has Huang running from one end of the island to the other, dressed as either Huang or Miss Monica, depending on the situation and demand. One time, of course, he shows up for Huang’s duties dressed as Miss Monica. Antics ensue.
The most problematic subplot involves Jerry’s father, who wants to kill himself because he, too, is now bankrupt. Instead, his son suggests he make a play for Miss Monica. The father’s idea of “making a play” is to be the grinning lothario mentioned above.
Increasingly absurd, the movie reaches a face-palm crescendo when both Jerry’s dad and Jerry’s boss threaten suicide unless Miss Monica (Huang in drag) marries them. So a wedding is staged where she agrees to marry both. Except she doesn’t. Instead, she (Huang in drag) counsels the crowd against the pursuit of wealth. I.e., the movie has everyone pursuing wealth and its message is: Don’t pursue wealth. And the message is coming from a company making hundreds of millions off so-so comedies.
That said, Huang’s (or the Chinese government’s) finger-wagging speech leads to my favorite part of the movie. Huang’s ex and her fiancé happen to be on the island, and both wind up at the wedding. After Monica’s/Huang’s speech about being true to yourself, the fiancé stands and applauds this important message—then quickly declares his love for Miss Monica and asks for her hand in marriage. This is followed by a flurry of similar offers from other guests, including one foreigner pushing his child forward and saying, “Say hi to your new mommy!”
At this point, with Monica/Huang in wedding dress pursued by a greedy crowd, there’s almost a “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” vibe to the movie. Would that it were that funny.
Cry Me a River, Tyler Kepner
There may be no greater sense of schadenfreude than following the social-media paroxysms of Yankee fans rending their garments and pointing their fingers after their team has been blissfully eliminated from yet another baseball season. As happened last night in the Bronx, 4-3 to the Boston Red Sox.
No one points fingers like Yankee fans. The title was meant to be theirs, and now it's not, and someone has to take the blame. The main scapegoat this year is 2003 ALCS hero and first-time manager Aaron Boone, who waited obscenely long, like until the 4th inning, to pull starting pitchers; and then, particularly in Game 3—the 16-1 debaccle—didn't go to his top-notch relievers. Also getting the brunt: first-timer Giancarlo Stanton, who hit .222 (with a .444 OPS) over the four Boston games.
But of course there are others. Here's an eloquent Yankee fan on the subject:
100 wins, third-best record in baseball, ALDS: What else could describe that but disgrace? It's shit. Fans deserve an apology.
The mainstream press in New York doesn't exactly try to tamp down these emotions, either.
Shame? Wow. I‘ll remember that in April. I’ll channel Batman ‘66: “Come back, Shame.”
Over at the Times, Tyler Kepner’s think piece seems more circumspect (“Against the Red Sox, the Yankees Simply Don't Measure Up”), but don't kid yourself. Here's the end of Tyler's second paragraph:
“That makes nine seasons in a row without a championship.”
That sentence just drips with a sense of entitlement. He's not even talking about a pennant—something two teams (Nats, M‘s) have never even seen. He’s talking championships. He's talking rings. Because to the Yankee mentality, that's all there is.
As a reminder—to me if not Tyler—here's the championship/title drought for every MLB team, and where the Yankees place on it:
* Have never won World Series championship
** Have never been to World Series
So 23 of the 30 MLB teams are in worse shape. And they don't have those oft-mentioned 27 rings and 40 pennants to keep them warm.
But that's why, of course, nine championship-less seasons seem an eternity for the Yankee fan. Indeed, since 1923, when the Yankees won their first World Series championship after buying Babe Ruth and most of the best of the Boston Red Sox, they‘ve only had two title-less stretches longer than this: 17 seasons (between 1978 and 1996) and 14 seasons (between 1962 and 1977). The fourth longest, eight seasons, also took place in this century: between 2000 and 2009. Now this one has surpassed that.
So as Yankee-hating goes, this has actually been a pretty good time. Start spreadin’ the news.
Quote of the Day
In case you‘re like some of my friends and don’t think this is of national import, the tweet below comes from the national correspondent of the Washington Post.
Happy Sad Yankee Fan Day!— Philip Bump (@pbump) October 10, 2018
Reading the schadenfreude on Twitter after the Yankees were eliminated by the Boston Red Sox last night, I have to admit: I didn't know there was so much of me in the world.