erik lundegaard

Saturday April 13, 2024

What Is Joe Flaherty Known For?

If you ask my in-laws, apparently, it would be nothing. During Zoom calls, we often mention celebrity deaths, and this week I brought up Joe Flaherty and got stares. They knew SCTV, kinda sorta, just not him much. 

The New York Times obit has it correct, though:

Yes, first and foremost one of TV's most influential sketch shows; and then, yes, a short-lived but beloved and influential sitcom from 2000. Right? Right. Done and done.

What's that? IMDb has something to say about Joe Flaherty? OK, go ahead:

I guess I should be happy that “SCTV” made the cut at all amid all those cameos. One wonders why these cameos and bit parts rate when others don't. Mae Clarke's, for example. Grapefruit in the face from James Cagney? One of the most iconic moments in early Hollywood history? Nah. We'll take “King of the Rocket Men” and “Daredevils of the Clouds,” two late 1940s, low-budget Republic pictures barely anyone has seen or remembers. Although I guess the former did inspire 1991's “The Rocketeer.” 

Obits are often when attention must be paid. For IMDb, it's just another sign of its grand inattention. 

Posted at 08:28 AM on Saturday April 13, 2024 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Friday April 12, 2024

Stumbling Toward Vegas

In his Friday column, Joe Posnanski takes questions from “brilliant readers” as he calls them, mostly about the start of the season. Are the Astros really this bad? Are the Royals really this good? I was going to say something snide about Pos staying away from any mention of the Seattle Mariners, his dark horse to win the AL West, even as they started the season 4-8 (and looked worse); but then he included a takedown of Oakland A's owner John Fisher that just made me smile:

Will the A's ever play in Las Vegas?

I'm putting the percentage chance at 50. And falling.

It is stupefying—utterly stupefying—just how badly A's owner John Fisher has bungled things every single step of the way. I mean, you would think he would get something right by mistake. The latest fiasco involves the A's decision to play the next two years or three years or four years or 100 years in Sacramento, in a 14,000-seat, minor league ballpark that they will share with the Giants' Class AAA River Cats.

Sure, it takes quite the mastermind to cut a deal to play Major League Baseball in a shared minor league stadium in Sacramento. But, beyond that, Fisher had to share his excitement about how everyone in Sacramento (a few thousand at a time) would soon be able “to watch some of the greatest players in baseball, whether they be Athletics players or Aaron Judge and others launch home runs out of this very intimate, most intimate park in all of Major League Baseball.”

There are so many incredibly dumb statements in those few words that, honestly, I'm kind of in awe.

Pos adds that MLB should have forced Fisher to sell the team long ago but sadly that shipped has sailed. Joe's gut tells him the A's won't wind up in Vegas, but adds, “John Fisher does seem to have fully developed his failing upward act, and I'd say there's probably a 50-50 shot that by simply being super-rich and owning one of 30 big-league clubs, and being part of a sport that seemingly wants to go all in on gambling, he will somehow stumble his way into Vegas.”

Stumbling Toward Vegas would make a good title for a book on Fisher's ineptitude. Maybe wrap in some Yeats while you're at it.

Posted at 01:00 PM on Friday April 12, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Thursday April 11, 2024

Joe Flaherty (1941-2024)

Murderers' Row: Flaherty, Levy, O'Hara, Thomas, Martin, Candy.

I heard about Joe Flaherty's death when I was at the Minneapolis airport flying back to Seattle after a week of sorting through my brother's possessions. Perfect timing, cosmos. This is one of those deaths I wish I could talk over with Chris.

We watched SCTV religiously—tough to do since the place of worship kept changing. I think we first saw it in syndication, Friday nights at 6:30 PM on some local Minneapolis station. This was in the Harold Ramis days, and it was funny and oddball, and what the hell was it? What was it mocking? Everything? Where was it from? How come nobody else knew about it? Then it disappeared and wound up on PBS, sans Ramis, John Candy and Catherine O'Hara, and with Tony Rosato, Robin Duke and Rick Moranis. Finally it went over to NBC for a much-ballyhooed 90-minute show late Friday nights, at which point they jettisoned Rosato and Duke, kept Moranis, got back Candy and O'Hara, and eventually added Martin Short.

Talk about your all-star rosters. Over the years, Chris, Dad and I talked up our favorites. Dad usually went Eugene Levy, case closed. Chris might've gone Candy? I sometimes went Ramis, sometimes Dave Thomas, but I remember a few times choosing Flaherty. His Count Floyd alone, man, the hapless host of “Monster Chiller Horror Theater,” emerging from a crypt, clad as a vampire, and forced to talk up the latest “scary movie” they'd booked, which usually wasn't scary at all. “The Odd Couple,” for example. “Aooooooo! ... It stars, uh, Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. And they play two roommates. One guy's real clean and the other guy, uh, is a sportswriter ... that DRINKS BLOOD!” I loved both his bad lies (in Bela Lugosi accent) and his eventual angry admission (in his own). Has anyone listed all the movies they booked? Yes, of course, it's the internet age: It's everything from their parodies of schlocky '50s 3-D movies (House of Wax/Cats/Pancakes/Stewardesses) to Dick Cavett interviewing Bobby Bitman about his latest vanity project. My favorite may be “Whispers of the Wolf,” which sounds scary, but is in fact an Ingmar Bergman parody, with O'Hara as “Leave Ullman” visiting her sister in Room 1313 (tarten tarten) of a hotel, and getting into the usual Bergman oddities. Cut back to Count Floyd, who maintains his composure for about five seconds before dropping the Lugosi to demand, off-camera, “Who booked Bergman!”

The initial premise of “Monster Chiller Horror Theater,” a send-up of local horror shows (for me, “Horror Incorporated”), was funny enough. But then add the nonsensical bookings as well as the never-mentioned in-joke that Count Floyd is in fact superserious newsman Floyd Robertson with a magic-marker widow's peak? Classic.

Flaherty also gave us half of “Farm Film Report,” the unctuous and untalented Sammy Maudlin, a brilliant satire of William F. Buckley, and a pitch-perfect Bing Crosby counseling Moranis' Woody Allen on how to deal with an irascible Bob Hope (Thomas) in “Play it Again, Bob.” Not to mention station president Guy Caballero, appearing in white suit and fedora, and sitting in a wheelchair—but occasionally getting up to perch casually on his desk because, as he states baldly, he only uses the wheelchair for sympathy. For years I was able to crack up my father doing Guy mid-SCTV telethon: “We need $10,000 ... PER PERSON!”

Flaherty's post-SCTV career didn't quite break the way it did for the others. Candy, Short and Moranis starred in movies, while Levy, O'Hara and Andrea Martin had strong supporting roles in big hits. Flaherty kept popping up mostly in bit parts, notably “Stripes” (Czech border guard), “Back to the Future II” (western union man), and “Happy Gilmore” (jeering fan). His biggest post-SCTV role was probably in the short-lived “Freaks and Geeks,” as Harold Weir, the father of Lindsay and Sam. The name alone, perfect.

Because of “SCTV,” I always assumed Flaherty was Canadian. Nope. Born and bred in Pittsburgh, PA. A lot of tributes from the famous and not-so-famous on social during the past week, including this one from Adam Sandler: “Oh man. Worshipped Joe growing up. Always had me and my brother laughing.”

Amen.

Posted at 10:29 AM on Thursday April 11, 2024 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Saturday April 06, 2024

The Bane of Feedback Emails

I got this email the day after I sat for three hours in 50-degree weather watching the Mariners lose 8-0:

We hope you had a great time at the game? You see the score there? Does your left hand know what its right hand is doing, or are you fumbling around as much as the Mariners' defense on Wednesday? 

I know, I know, every corporation does this now, but you'd think they might pause now and again. But I imagine whoever is running this dept. wants/needs engagement, for quarterly and annual goals, and it doesn't matter if it's negative engagement or engagement that in the long run sours the customer on the product, as long as they get their short-term clicks. Short-term numbers trump long-term viability in the minds of every middle manager in every American corporation. It's why we're all doomed.

I get these from my insurance company as well, Cigna, after doctor visits. “How was your visit with Dr. A?” A week later: “REMINDER: How was your visit with Dr. A? Your feedback in IMPORTANT!” OK, here's some feedback. How about go fuck yourself? Your feigned solicitiousness isn't fooling anyone. Hell, I get these from Ticketmaster, fucking Ticketmaster, getting all chummy with me: “ERIK: What did you (really) think of Silent Movie Monday?” The parenthetical is the nails on the chalkboard for me. Yeah, just a couple of girls chatting and spilling the tea. Me and Tick.

OK, I'm making a list:

  • Ticketmaster
  • Cigna
  • Seattle Mariners

Just STOP. You assholes. Just fucking stop.

Posted at 06:18 PM on Saturday April 06, 2024 in category Business   |   Permalink  

Thursday April 04, 2024

Pos: Mariners Will Win Division! M's: Not So Fast

On the day that Joe Posnanski predicted the Seattle Mariners would be the fifth-best team in baseball, I attended my first game of the 2024 season, where the Mariners did a brilliant job of showing Joe he's not exactly Nostradamus.

We trotted out young ace George Kirby, who finished eighth in Cy Young balloting last season, and began this season by shutting down the Boston Red Sox in a 1-0 victory. Here, against the Cleveland Guardians (nee Indians) in the first inning, Kirby gave up a seeing-eye single to Steve Kwan, an HBP to Andres Gimenez, and a ringing double in the right-field corner to Jose Ramirez. 1-0. Then our defense fell apart. Josh Naylor grounded sharply to Ty France at first, who stepped on the bag but lost control of the ball—bloop—trying to complete the DP at home. 2-0. Will Brennan then grounded to drawn-in second baseman Jorge Polanco, our “big” off-season acquisition, and bloop again: the ball shot up in the air. 3-0. Brennan stole second as backup catcher Seby Zavala (part of the Eugenio deal) aired it into center. Kirby got the next batter, Bo Naylor, to strike out, but the ball bounced away from Zavala, and Naylor took first. Mercifully we got a pop out and a groundout to end it, but the next inning they got two more. In the 4th, they got three more, 8-0, the first on another Ramirez double. The Guardians kept repeating themselves that way. The most obvious example is when Bo Naylor struck out again in the 7th but got to first again when the ball bounced away from Zavala. I rarely see that once in a game anymore—taking first on a dropped third strike—let alone twice by the same player.

Mariner bats, meanwhile, strung together two doubles and three singles over nine innings and never managed to get a guy to third. The highlight of the game, for Mariners fans, was the top of the 9th when backup infielder Josh Rojas (part of the Sewald deal) pitched. I first noticed when a curveball floated in at 64 mph. Apparently he'd pitched last season with Arizona, two one-inning stints, getting shelled the first time, giving up a hit and no runs the second. Yesterday? No hits, no runs, just a walk, then a foul out (to himself), and a 6-3 DP. What remained of the crowd roared its approval.

So we're having Salmon Runs this season? That's the innovation? A between-inning race between four dudes dressed as different types of salmon? And this is how many years after Milwaukee was doing brat battles?

After the game, I listened to the latest Poscast and their 98.6% accurate predictions, in which Joe, again, said the Mariners would win the division. Then this admission: “I just want it so badly. I might not even be thinking straight, but I want Julio to win the MVP, I just want that team to be great.” Yes, it's pretty to think so.

Posted at 07:27 AM on Thursday April 04, 2024 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Wednesday April 03, 2024

Movie Review: The Conspirators (1944)

WARNING: SPOILERS

We finally get to see Victor Laszlo in Lisbon!

OK, so not quite. Paul Henreid isn’t playing a Czech freedom fighter here but a Dutch one, Vincent Van Der Lyn, and he doesn’t have a deep past with a Swedish beauty but a new romance with an Austro-Hungarian one (Hedy Lamarr, yowsah).

Either way, you understand what Warner Bros. is trying to do: So whatever worked with “Casablanca,” um, can we repeat that?

No, you can’t.

Play it again and again and again and again, Sam
Van Der Lyn is a one-time teacher in the Netherlands whose student wrote the words “Long Live Liberty” (or its Dutch equivalent) on the chalkboard, and for that he was killed by the Nazis. Van Der Lyn was then imprisoned but escaped, and he became such a famous saboteur he was given a nickname: The Flying Dutchman. Now he’s arriving in Lisbon so he can travel to Britain to fight the Nazis head on. Though … why? Isn’t he more valuable where he is? I mean, aren’t the Allies trying to drop spies and saboteurs into Europe to do exactly what he’s doing? So why is he going the other way?

Hold onto that thought.

We get the “Casablanca” echoes right away. In Lisbon, there’s a police captain named Pereira (Joseph Calleia, looking very much like a young Cesar Romero), and you don’t know which side he’s on, but he winds up being on the right side. He’s basically Capt. Renault without the rascally charm.

At a restaurant and casino, Van Der Lyn meets a beautiful woman with a past. She’s married to a German, Hugo Von Mohr (Victor Francen), who rescued her from Dachau. And no matter how she feels about Vincent, she just can’t leave Hugo. She's Ilsa without the sense of deep love.

Van Der Lyn is Rick without the cool. In the 36 hours he’s in Lisbon, a neutral city, where he’s supposed to meet a replacement named Jennings—there are passwords about pawn shops—he mostly just wants a good meal and maybe a romance. He’s about to get the former at a nightclub when the latter, Irene, sits at his table. She’s running from the law after her underground contact in a back alley is shot by the police. He flirts, she doesn’t, then she says she has to make a phone call and sneaks out the backdoor.

He pursues—to Casino Estoril—but, in the pursuit, seems more annoying than charming. The next day it’s worse: He finds out where she lives and basically kidnaps her. Inexplicably she warms to him. They even kiss. But then he discovers the hubby backstory.

Meanwhile he meets Lisbon’s underground leader Ricardo Quintanilla (Sydney Greenstreet), who introduces him to an international assortment of resistance fighters: Polish (Peter Lorre), Norwegian (Gregory Gaye) and French (Louis Mercier). Which is when Quintanilla warns Van Der Lyn—privately—about a traitor in their midst. Talk about your tossed-in plot points! If I’m Van Der Lyn, I go, “Wait, why did you introduce me to everyboy? Aren't you putting me at risk? Shouldn’t you be cleaning house first? Also—and no offense—aren’t you a little pale for a Ricardo?”

Eventually Van Der Lyn meets Jennings … lying dead in Van Der Lyn’s room. A second later the cops shows up and Van Der Lyn goes to prison. He immediately assumes Irene traduced him, based on no evidence, and berates her when she shows up. After he escapes and returns to the gang, he find Quintanilla now suspects him. “Wait, didn’t you think there was a traitor in your midst before I arrived? So how could it be me?” is what he doesn't say. Instead he relays Jennings’ dying words, something about an eagle, and for whatever reason that allays Quintanilla’s suspicions.

Then the two set a trap for the traitor: a last-minute (but fake) meeting with Jennings’ replacement. Now let’s see who contacts the Germans with the intel. Will it be:

  • The dull Frenchman
  • The dull Norwegian
  • Peter Lorre
  • Hedy Lamarr
  • Hugo, Irene’s German husband, whom we’ve just learned is actually with the resistance

Ready? The person secretly working with the Germans is … the German.

We get a shootout, Pereira proves himself a righteous dude, a Capt. Renault, and Van Der Lyn decides to become his own replacement. That’s right, he’s returning to occupied Europe. The whole trip—the whole movie—was a mistake. Except for the love! On the beach, as Portuguese fishermen get ready to row him back to France, he says his heartfelt goodbyes to Irene. Why doesn’t she go with him? I guess because they needed a goodbye like the goodbye in “Casablanca.” Except Lamarr isn't Bergman and Henreid isn't Bogie. There’s no fog, no passion, no poignancy. No looking at you, kid.

Geography 101
“The Conspirators” is directed well enough by Jean Negulesco—a Romanian artist who would go on to greater success in the technicolor 1950s with “How to Marry a Millionaire” and “Three Coins in a Fountain”—and it helps that his cinematographer is Arthur Edeson, who’d been filming since 1914 and was DP on “Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon,” and “Frankenstein,” among others. The problem is the script, which is derivative, all over the place, and not clever. The pawn shop line is the best line.

This is one of the first Hedy Lamarr movies I’ve seen, and she’s a knockout, but I don’t know what kind of actress she is. The love scenes went nowhere. She seems more distracted than anything. She’s much better at casting a dismissive eye at the clumsy advances of men. I’m sure she had practice.

Final thought: How many WWII-era movies begin with a map like this one does? War, what is it good for? Geography lessons. 

Posted at 08:42 AM on Wednesday April 03, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 1940s   |   Permalink  

Sunday March 31, 2024

Movie Review: The Regeneration (1915)

WARNING: SPOILERS

A lot of the tropes of early gangster flicks are here. I’m assuming they began here since there’s not much before here.

Start with those tin pails for beer drinking and transportation—the original growlers—which turn up in the Frankie Darro scenes of “The Public Enemy.” That’s more historical convention than movie one, but it’s still cool that “Public Enemy” got the historical details right.

We get a version of the 1904 General Slocumb disaster, New York’s biggest mass killing before 9/11—as seen in the 1934 Clark Gable gangster flick “Manhattan Melodrama,” the movie that ended John Dillinger’s life.

How about a hunchback/little person as attaché to the gangster? He turns up as Humpy (John George) in “Outside the Law” (1920) and Miller (Snitz Edwards) in “The Public Enemy” (1931), except those guys were snitches for the bad gangsters. Here, Hughy the hunchback helps redeem the gangster hero, Owen (Rockliffe Fellowes), not only by encouraging his relationship with the social reformer Marie (Anna Q. Nilsson), but by killing the bad gangster himself.

Oh right, the basement hideout. It’s an almost exact replica of the hideout the Dead End Kids will use in “Angels with Dirty Faces.” Or theirs was a replica of this.

Most important, anticipating “Public Enemy” and “Angels with Dirty Faces,” “The Regeneration” gives us a gangster’s coming-of-age story as sociological study. We see Owen at ages 10, 17 and 25, with the child father to the man. He’s not a bad kid, he’s just given a bad break. Or a series of them. Or a series of awful ones. The beginning of this movie should be required viewing for libertarians. To show them what life was like before any sense of governmental regulation. To show them what dumb shits they are.

Drinking beer
This part: When Owen’s mother dies, the authorities arrive to cart away her body and … that’s it. That’s all they do. “Hey, what about that barefoot, 10-year-old boy (John McCann) in rags in the dilapidated apartment upstairs? Any reason for us to check on him?” “Nah, he’ll get by.”

Except it’s not exactly by the kindness of strangers. Maggie, a fat neighbor lady, muses a bit, then says to her drunk husband, Jim, “The kid’s alone now. I’m going to bring him in here.” Is it a kind gesture? Not really. Owen is immediately put to work and slapped around. He’s sent to fetch more tin pails of beer for the old man and his drunk friend. He’s less son than servant.

“And then years pass,” we’re told via title card, “and Owen still lives in a world where might is right—and where the prizes of existence go to the man who has the most daring in defying the law…” That’s what the title card says. What the movie shows us? On the waterfront, when a bully mocks a hunchback, Owen, now 17 (Harry McCoy), beats him up. It’s not exactly “defying the law.” Not exactly gangster stuff.

To be honest, Owen is never much of a gangster. We’re told he becomes a gang leader at 25 because of “a complete assortment of the virtues the gangsters most admire.” And what are those? That we see? Well, he bullies one guy into paying for their beers. And he drinks beer. That’s about it. He’s not far off from Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. 

But DA Ames (Carl Harbaugh) pledges to sweep the city clean of such trash! One night, he attends dinner with the Deering family, which lights the imagination of social butterfly Marie (Ann Q. Nilsson), who declares she wants to go seean actual gangster. It’s socialite-slumming a la 1929’s “Chinatown Nights,” but Ames proves an unheroic chaperone. His picture’s been in the paper, the gang doesn’t like it, and when he has to go back for Marie’s wrap he’s set upon by the gang. Marie is horrified. Her eyes plead with Owen—who’s been making eyes with her—and win. Owen stops the bullying. The next thing you know, Marie is involved in the social reform movement at the Settlement House.

At this point, the movie turns episodic. Marie lets the gangsters join their group aboard a boat, and Skinny (William Sheer), Owen’s eyepatching-wearing right-hand man, tries to impress some girls. They remain unimpressed, so he flicks his cigarette into a pile of ropes. It starts a fire. This is the General Slocumb-esque disaster, and we get several minutes of panic while the patina of the film changes from yellow to red.

Then the Settlement House has a problem with a brutish husband, so they send the little bespectacled guy. Nope. So Owen goes. That works. Afterwards, he sees GOD IS LOVE on the House chalkboard and leaves. He knows he doesn’t belong in such a place.

But Marie thinks he does. She goes to the gang’s hideout, where he’s doing his usual midday drinking, and points out a nearby drunk sleeping it off, with insects crawling on his face. Is that what he wants for himself? That’s when Owen joins the social reform movement while Skinny takes over the gang. Done and done.

Except Skinny ain’t exactly smart. His first act as gang leader? Knifing a cop. His second act? Pleading with Owen to hide him. The third? Attempting to rape Marie. Making a lot of friends, isn't he?

Why Owen hides Skinny is interesting if you’re a Cagney fan. It’s more than gang loyalty. Owen flashes back to when they were younger, getting chased by the cops, and Skinny trips and is caught—but doesn’t squeal. It’s basically Rocky and Jerry from “Angels with Dirty Faces.”

Though the cops don’t find Skinny, Marie finds his cap, can’t believe Owen lied to her, and retires crying. The DA, who’s shown up again at the 11th hour, cackles with glee, while Owen—and, again, shades of Father Jerry—visits a priest. Meanwhile, Marie overcomes her grief and tries to find Owen. Instead, she finds the gang, who eye her menacingly. Then Skinny tells her Owen is upstairs. He ain’t.

The real hero is the hunchback. He alerts the cops, he alerts Owen to Marie’s predicament, and Owen goes after Skinny. Fleeing, Skinny fires at Owen, misses, and hits Marie hiding in a closet. In the hospital, surrounded by Owen and others, Owen vows vengeance, but she points to an image floating above her bed in Biblical tablet form:

VENGEANCE IS MINE, SAITH THE LORD
ROMANS 12-13

I think she’s saying let God handle it.

He seems to abide by her dying request. Tossing the gun aside, he goes after Skinny to bring him to justice rather than kill him. He comes in through the skylight (another great early trope), they fight, and just as Owen is about to strangle Skinny he sees the distraught image of Marie counseling goodness.

So how does Skinny get it? Surrounded by cops, he tries to scale the clothesline to another building, but the hunchback spots him and shoots him down. Then he and Owen commisserate over Marie’s grave.

Just who is this diminuitive hero who keeps doing the right thing? I mean, who is the actor playing Hughie? I don’t know and I can’t find out. Nobody seems to know. He’s not listed in IMDb, Wiki, AFI. Go back via newspapers.com to contemporary reviews and still nothing. Somebody somewhere must know, I’m just not finding it.

Irish rose
Apparently the film was lost for many decades until it was ressurected (or, you know, regenerated) by the Museum of Modern Art in the 1970s. Not sure how/where they found it. The movie is of particular interest not just because it’s an early gangster film, and not just because it’s one of the first features from famed director Raoul Walsh, but because it was filmed on location and often used Lower East Side gang members as extras. It’s truly historical.

Nilsson, an early Swedish import, had a long career, appearing in more than 200 films—mostly in the 1920s, when she was a star—but her best-known modern role is probably as one of the silent-era “waxworks” playing bridge with Norma Desmond in “Sunset Blvd.” Her last film was an uncredited part in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” She died in 1974, age 85.

And the fellow with all the extra “e”s? Rockliffe Fellowes of Otawa, Canada had a shorter career (62 credits) and a shorter life (he died in 1950, age 65), but I was delighted to find out I’d seen him before. He played Joe Helton, a retired gangster, whose daughter is kidnapped by a rival in the great Marx Bros.’ film “Monkey Business.”

He’s not a bad straight man, but for some reason, two years later, his film career was over.

At the end of this film, over the graveyard, Owen says Marie was the noblest and purest thing he ever knew, and then calls her “my Mamie Rose.” That sounded off to me. Made her sound like his mother. But that’s actually the title of the memoir on which this movie is based, published in 1904 by Owen Frawley Kildare. Wait, not novel? Memoir? Yes, Kildare claimed Owen’s story as his own, though some say he was born to wealth in Maryland but fled and became a newspaper hawker and itinerant everything before becoming “the Kipling of the Bowery,” as newspapers of the era called him. “My Mamie Rose” wound up being adapted for the stage in 1908, though Kildare didn’t much like the actor playing him. At least he didn’t have long to fret. Shortly thereafter, he fell in the subway, suffered a series of breakdowns, and in 1911 died in the Manhattan state hospital for the insane on Ward’s Island. In one newspaper, news of his death is next to an article on the continued incarceration of the murderer Harry K. Thaw. Does that name sound familiar? Yep: “Ragtime,” which was the last screen role for James Cagney. Full circle.

SLIDESHOW


  • Here's young Owen getting a tin pail of beer for the old man. Not even the old man. The crappy neighbor who's vaguely raising him since there's no governmental agency in place to make sure he doesn't starve. Owen will wind up drinking the beer and thumbing his nose at the dude. These tin pails (not the same ones, one hopes) will reappear in the Frankie Darro section of “The Public Enemy.”   

  • Here's Owen grown up—Rockliffe Fellowes, the man with all the extra “e”s. The title cards tell us he's got the traits that gangsters admire but we wind up admiring them, too.

  • As does Marie, the socialte who becomes a social reformer.

  • Owen and his gang. The guy to his left is the hunchback who will save the day—but nobody saw fit to mention the actor's name.

  • Yes, scandalous, that these gangsters listen to Black music. 

  • Director Raoul Walsh used a lot of local waterfront guys as extras. This has gotta be one, right? Look at that mug.

  • The gang hideout that looks a lot like the Dead End Kids' hideout in “Angels with Dirty Faces.”

  • Saving the kids from the General Slocumb-like disaster, Marie and Owen cast eyes at each other. They do this a lot of casting. 

  • Skinny as gang leader leaves something to be desired: first he kills a cop, then he forces Owen to aid and abet, then this. 

  • The dead Marie warns Owen that vengeance belongs to the Lord.

  • Or to the hunchback. *FIN*
Posted at 07:06 AM on Sunday March 31, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - Silent   |   Permalink  

Thursday March 28, 2024

Opening Day 2024


  • SLIDESHOW: Opening Day! Whooo! ... OK, so technically it was last week, when the Dodgers beat the Padres 5-2 in Seoul, South Korea. Great idea, poorly executed. I barely heard about it until it was over. But now that everyone is playing, let's figure out who our active leaders are. We don't have Albert and Miggy to kick around anymore. Also: No Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, Adam Wainwright, Eric Hosmer, Andrelton Simmons and Mike Zunino, to name some of the official retirees. Then there's the question marks. Is Evan Longoria done? Zack Greinke? Will Joey Votto rehab that ankle injury and make the Blue Jays roster? Either way, a lot of NEW! faces on the active leaderboard. Let's get to it.

  • NEW! BATTING AVERAGE: Altuve (at .307) finally took the title from Miggy midway through last season, so even if Miggy hadn't retired it would've changed hands. Altuve still gets boos for his part in the trash-can scandal but I'm a fan of the short and scrappy. Sad fact? There are only two other actives in the .300s, and one of those, Mike Trout, isn't much of a threat to Jose—less because of the .300 BA than because he doesn't hit .300 anymore. (Just once in the last five seasons.) The other guy, Freddie Freeman, at .301, is a threat, since he's been hitting at a .328 clip since joining the Dodgers. After them it's: Trea Turn at .296, Charlie Blackmon at .295, Mookie at .294. 

  • NEW! ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: Last year I assumed Juan Soto would get the 333 PAs needed to reach the qualifying 3,000 career and take the mantle from Trout, and he did just that. Shame about the new uniform, though. Like with BA, there are just three actives above the magic number: Soto (.421), Trout (.412), and Joey Votto (.409). Then it's Judge, Harper, Goldschmidt, Freeman, Acuna Jr. 

  • NEW! SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: I guessed Trout might get usurped here, too, by Aaron Judge, and lo and behold. If BA and OBP have few actives at the benchmark number, SLG isn't suffering: 17 active guys are above .500: Judge (.586), Trout (.581), Acuna Jr. (.536), Stanton (.529), Arenado (.527), Betts (.526), Soto (.524), etc. Though he's fallen a bit from his lofty heights, Trout is still the only active with a career .300/.400/.500 line.

  • OPS: Which is why he's on top here at .993. Judge is about 10 points behind (.982) and Soto about 40 behind him (.945). Then Votto (.920), Acuna Jr. (917), Harper (.911), Goldschmidt (.907), and Freeman (.902). Those are our only .900+s. All-time, Trout is 12th. That includes the recently adde Negro Leagues, otherwise he's ninth.

  • NEW! GAMES: Counting numbers! Who had Elvis Andrus on their bingo card for this one? Not me, but he's atop the ... Whoops, no, the D-Backs released him. OK, so then it's Joey Votto at 2,056. Is he still with the Blue Jays? He's followed by Andrew McCutchen at 2,007. Those are the only guys above 2,000. After them it's Carlos Santana, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Jason Heyward. 

  • NEW! HITS: This is the first year since 2010 we don't have an active member of the 3,000-hit club. Votto's total (2,135) is actually the lowest active since ... wow ... 1952, after Joe DiMaggio retired and Stan Musial took over with 2,023, on his way to 3,630. That's assuming Votto's active. Second active (or first, depending) is Freddie Freeman at 2,114. The way Freeman's come on, I'm reminded of my feelings about Adrian Beltre from 10-12 years ago: from “Great career, but probably not HOF...” to “Wow, maybe,” to “JFC, the guys' first-ballot.” Be interesting to see where FF's numbers finally land. 

  • NEW! DOUBLES: Freeman is also a doubles machine. He's led the league four times, including last year when he nearly became the first player in 80 years to hit 60, falling one short. Career, he's at 473, and 88th all-time. Barring catastrophe, he'll become the 65th player with 500 career doubles. Could he become the 19th player to 600? Or the fifth to 700? Goldschmidt's second at 413, Altuve is third with exactly 400. 

  • TRIPLES: For most of the 10+ years I've been doing this, the triples numbers have gone down down: from the 120s (Carl Crawford, Jose Reyes) to the 90s (Ichiro) to the 80s (Dexter Fowler) to, last season, the 50s with Charlie Blackmon. The good news? Blackmon is still hitting triples at age 37. Last year he ripped five more for a total of 63. Kevin Kiermaier is second at 57, with Starling Marte and Mike Trout tied for third with 52.

  • NEW! HOMERUNS: Giancarlo hit his 400th career homer on Sept. 5 and finished the season with 402. He also finished with a .191 BA after hitting .211 the previous season, so one wonders how much longer he's going to be around. He's been having so many troubles he has me rooting for him. Trout is second among actives at 368. Then it's Goldschmidt (340), Arenado (325), and Freddie Freeman (321). Where's Aaron Judge? Believe it or not, 12th at 257. 

  • NEW! RBIs: Albert retired No. 2 on the all-time list (2218), and Miggy went 13th (1881). Which leaves? It would be Evan Longoria, 183rd, with 1159 RBIs, if he signs with anyone. Then it's Joey Votto, at 1144 if he makes a team. And if it's neither of them, then it's ... Freddie Freeman at 1143—a guy who's batted No. 2 most of his career. When was the active RBI leader above the No. 3 slot in the lineup?

  • NEW! RUNS: The top (or second) RBI guy actually has more runs scored, too: 1217. After FF, it's Andrew McCutchen (1173), Votto (1171), Goldschmidt (1134), Trout (1106). 

  • BASES ON BALLS: Can you guess No. 2 on the list? It's Carlos Santana, now with the Twins, at 1231. He's about 150 behind Votto but younger by 2 1/2 years, so this might be his title soon. Career, Votto is 34th while Santana is 60th. That's right: In BBs, Carlos Santana is just behind guys named Dave Winfield and Ty Cobb. How cool is that? 

  • NEW! STRIKEOUTS: I will always be grateful to Giancarlo Stanton for being on top of the world, 59s HRs and 1.000+ OPS in 2017 with the Marlins, and then going to the Yankees and vastly underperforming. He's also our active leader in Ks with 1820. It's not the title Yankee fans want, but it's the title they get. They haven't had the K title since A-Rod's final season. Before that—Reggie? No, he was with the Angels when he took the crown. Gotta go back to Mantle in '68. No. 2 is Goldschmidt (1706), then McCutchen (1642), Freeman (1536), and Trout (1458).

  • STOLEN BASES: Last year I didn't know if Dee Strange-Gordon was done (he was ... I think), and this year I don't really know if Elvis Andrus and his 347 steals is done (he got cut by the D-Backs March 22). So let's just assume, with Baseball Reference, that the active leader is Starling Marte (338). Whither Billy Hamilton (326)? Two plate appearances last year for the ChiSox, no hits, cut in August. Altuve is fourth (or third, or second) with 293. Then it's the man with the smoothest slide in baseball history: Trea Turner at 260.

  • HIT BY PITCH: Anthony Rizzo is eighth all-time here, with 213, but yes it was an HBP too far last season and he lost half of it with a concussion. Wait, no, that was a pickoff attempt, right? That's some irony. All these HBPs but it's a Fernando Tatis hip that does him in. No active player, btw, is close to Rizz. Second is Starling Marte (154), and if you can guess the third active on this list, kudos. Ready? It's Mark Canha. Of Detroit. Used to be with Oakland. Then the Mets. Canha. I know.

  • NEW! DEFENSIVE WAR: With Andrelton Simmons gone (whoosh), the active leader is ... NOT Nolan Arenado? That's weird. No, it's high-wire act Kevin Kiermaier with 19.9 bWAR (and four GGs), followed by Arenado at 19.1 (and 10 GGs). Then: Sally Perez (15.5), Brandon Crawford (14.3) and Manny Effin' Machado (14.0).

  • WAR FOR POSITION PLAYERS: Not exactly news, but Mike Trout is already in the Hall of Fame. His 85.2 bWAR is the 33rd greatest ever for position players, ahead of the likes of Ken Griffey Jr., Rod Carew and Joe DiMaggio. Is Mookie in the Hall yet? He's second active with 64.8. Paul Goldschmidt is at 61.5 but he's five years older than Mookie. Even so, a few more 3 seasons and he might get there. Then it's Freddie Freeman at 56.1.

  • WINS: A few years back, when he was at 226 victories, Justin Verlander said he would win 300. I guess never doubt the man who won the Kate Upton sweepstakes. He's now at 257 and playing for a team that wins. After JV, it's a bit of a dropoff: Max Sherzer has 214, Clayton Kershaw has 210. Then it's a BIIIIG dropoff: Gerritt Cole is fourth with *140*. Where are all the wins going? To middle relievers, I guess. There are only 10 actives in triple digits and one of them is Kyle Gibson. Exactly.

  • ERA: No surprises, really, among the top six: Kershaw (2.47), deGrom (2.52), Sale (3.10), Scherzer (3.14), Cole (3.16) and Verlander (3.24). Then a few surprises, at least to me: Zack Wheeler is seventh at 3.44, followed by Sonny Gray (3.47) and Kyle Hendricks (3.47). I would've thought No. 10, my man Luis Castillo (3.54), would've been ahead of them.

  • STRIKEOUTS: In the 1970s, Minneapolis kept flipping mayors. Republican Charles Stenvig was replaced by Democrat Albert Hofstede, who was replaced by Stenvig, who lost it to (yes) Hofstede. Leading to a great cartoon by Dick Guindon: a middle-aged man in his doctor's office. Doctor says, “You need to lower your stress level. Why don't you run for mayor?” Well, Verlander and Scherzer are the Stenvig and Hofstede of the active strikeouts title. Verlander had it in 2021, Scherzer in 2022, Verlander again in 2023, and now Scherzer. And no, I'm not going to update his photo.

  • BASES ON BALLS: JV has been No. 1 in this non-hit parade for several years now but he's 146th all-time with 925. He barely walks anyone anymore. Then it's Scherzer at 746, Charlie Morton at 722 and Kershaw at 669. The best don't walk anyone anymore.

  • WHIP: Three qualifying players have career WHIPs below 1.00: Addie Joss (.967), Big Ed Walsh (.999), and sandwiched between them is the oft-injured Jacob deGrom (.993). God, if he could only stay healthy.

  • NEW! COMPLETE GAMES: Verlander is at 26 and Kershaw is at 25, and one wonders if they're the last guys with 20+ complete games in baseball history. Our great hope is the Marlins' Sandy Alcantara, who has 12 at 28 years old, and is usually among the league leaders. Scherzer also has 12, while Chris Sale has 16. They're the only actives in double digits. I'd tell you where Verlander's 26 is on the all-time list, but Baseball Reference's career list only goes to 1,000. It's literally off the charts.

  • HIT BY PITCH: In which category did Charlie Morton just pass Cy Young? Hint: It wasn't complete games. Yes, Morton, with 168 HBPs, is now 12th all-time and fourth among post-WWII pitchers. The recents ahead of him? Two guys you wouldn't mind getting hit by, Charlie Hough at 174 and Tim Wakefield at 186, and one you would: Randy Johnson at 190. Randy's fifth all-time. Who's No. 1? The great Gus Weyhing! Among actives, three other guys are 100+: Sale and Scherzer (111) and Verlander (109). Where's Kershaw? 33rd! Clay don't play that.

  • NEW! SAVES: There are two guys at 400+, Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel (420 and 417), three at more than 300 (+ Aroldis Chapman at 321), and four at more than 200 (+ Edwin Diaz at 205). And that's it. Jansen and Kimbrel keep racking up saves, Chapman seems pretty much done with that portion of his career, Diaz, we hope, is just getting started. BTW: I don't think we talk enough about this: Aroldis was with the Yankees longer than any other team (seven seasons), but to get rings he had to pitch for the Cubs and the Rangers. When was the last time something like that happened? Never.

  • WAR FOR PITCHERS: It's the big three, Verlander (81.4), Kershaw (76.8) and Scherzer (74.1), Hall of Famers all, and then a big drop-off to the oft-injured (Sale and deGrom at 47.2 and 42). Gerrit Cole, shockingly, is back at 40.7 despite having pitched more innings. Is bWAR off? Or how off is bWAR? Last season, the Braves' Spencer Strider led the league in wins, strikeouts, and FIP, and he didn't finish in the Top 10 in Pitcher bWAR. He didn't even crack 4.0! Seems wrong. Should be more of a conversation around this. Maybe there is.

  • EXIT MUSIC (FOR A SLIDESHOW):  That's the NEWS from Lake Woebegon. See you in Section 327. *FIN*
Posted at 06:40 AM on Thursday March 28, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Tuesday March 26, 2024

Rise vs. Surprise: What's Good for Baseball?

Joe Posnanski is in the midst of counting down all the MLB teams from worst (Rockies, right? Right) to best (Braves, probably), and today he landed on No. 14, the Arizona Diamondbacks. With each team, he starts out with an anything topic that's usually fun and fun to read before getting to the nitty-gritty: who's good, who might be good, what's working and what isn't. The anything topic is just where his mind goes with that particular team, and today it went to: Were the D-Backs the most suprising team this century to win the pennant? No other pennant winner this century has had a negative run differential, for example, so they're certainly in the running. Last season, they eked into the post, had a good run—through Brewers, Dodgers and Phillies—and made it to the Series. Pos then goes into our two baseball seasons: the long, 162-game one, where the best teams rise, and the short sprints of October, where teams like the D-Backs can surprise.

And he asks: Is this good for baseball? 

He asks because he doesn't think it is. Those two types of seasons are fine for other sports, but other sports always get to play their best players (unless injured), and that's not baseball, certainly not with pitchers. He writes:

If you're going to make baseball a playoff sport, then do it—140-game season, eight playoff teams in each league, 15 seven-game series filling September and October, just go all in. This will allow more teams to try and have Diamondback-like runs to glory.

And if you want to keep the 162-game season at the center of the sport, and better reward the teams that play well throughout, then scale back the playoffs to four teams in each league and have them play a seven-game series in October.

I'm with Joe on this, but I think the current Lords won't cut back on either revenue stream (reg. season or playoffs), and so won't fix the problem. 

Posted at 01:48 PM on Tuesday March 26, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday March 25, 2024

Movie Review: Dune: Part Two (2024)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Is Dune the text at the fulcrum of popular culture? Feels like it. It’s the midpoint of the journey of our heroic journeys.

Which go something like this. 

In David Lean’s 1962 Oscar-winning film, “Lawrence of Arabia,” a blue-eyed member of the elite goes native in a desert community and prospers; he winds up attacking his own empire and is exalted by the desert people. They chant his name.

Three years later, Frank Herbert published his novel, “Dune,” in which a member of the elite goes native and blue-eyed on a desert planet. He learns mind-control and the desert people exalt him as the long-lost messiah. They chant his name. He is deemed The One as he takes on the Empire—only to realize that he is related to his enemies.

Twelve years after that, in George Lucas’ “Star Wars,” a boy on a desert planet learns mind-control in order to take on the Empire—only to realize, mid-journey, that he is related to his enemies.

Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” movies really underline how much Herbert’s story owes to T.E. Lawrence, and how much “Star Wars” borrows from it. But the journey of our heroic journeys feels less than heroic to me. Once upon a time, our stories were grown-up and historical, rooted in life on Earth; then they gave way to childhood fantasy.

But these are good movies. This is arthouse “Star Wars.”

How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mr. Death?
My favorite moment of revenge, by the way, didn’t have anything to do with the demise of Baron Harkonnen (though the insects on his corpse were a nice touch), nor making Christopher Walken’s Emperor bow and literally kiss the ring (because, like in “Star Wars,” the Emperor was unseen in the first film and a last-minute addition to the second). No, it was when Paul used THE VOICE against the all-powerful and shrouded Rev. Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling), the seer who orchestrated most of the tragedy we’ve been watching for the past three years:

Rev. Mother: Consider what you are about to do, Paul Atreides …
Paul: SILENCE!
[The force of the voice knocks down the Reverend Mother]
Rev. Mother: [fearfully] Abomination.

God, that was great. And maybe my reaction is indicative of the true power in this universe. It’s not with this bloated man, nor that decrepit old one, nor the young, bald psychopath. It’s with the women. The seers. The Bene Gesserit. And now a man has joined them.

“Dune: Part Two” totally worked. It’s a great story, the visuals are amazing, and while it’s long (nearly three hours) I felt like it wasn’t long enough. I felt like, to truly tell this story, you need a miniseries. Maybe we’ll get that someday. Though I do recommend watching the first movie again before you see this. Unless, of course, you already know the story. I just know it helped me.  

Hell, even with rewatching it, I missed the part where Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) survived. I thought he bit it along with Leto (Oscar Isaacs) and Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa).

So, in our last episode, the Atreideses were assigned by the Emperor to replace the Harkonnens as fiefholders on the desert planet of Arrakis, the source of “spice,” a psychotropic substance that also allows for interstellar travel. It’s as if LSD also powered automobiles, I guess. But it was less promotion than set-up. The Emperor feared Leto’s growing power and wanted him eliminated. The Harkonnens do just that. But Paul Atreides (Timothy Chalamet) and his Bene Gesserit mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), escape into the desert.

There, they meet, and are almost killed by, the native Fremen peoples, who know how to fight and survive in the desert. Jamis, the warrior, challenges Paul, Paul wins. That’s where we left off.

Now they’re going native. And as Paul goes through various rituals and adopts the name “Muad’Dib” (Desert Mouse), and his eyes keep getting bluer from the spice and he keeps outfoxing Baron Harkonnen’s inept nephew (Dave Bautista), we periodically cut to other planets, where we see:

  • Baron Harkonnen plotting ponderously amid the mudbaths designed to excrete the poison inhaled in the last movie
  • Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) journaling, and realizing that Paul Atreides may be alive, and that her father, the Emperor, caused the whole fiasco
  • The rise of the youngest Harkonnen nephew, Feyd-Rautha (Austin Butler), who is pale, hairless, brutish and insane

Lady Jessica also goes through rituals, drinking yadda yadda, and oh no, she shouldn’t have done that when she was pregnant! But whatevs.

Increasingly, and via Fremen leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem), amusingly, or maybe heartwarmingly, the natives think Paul is the return of the Messiah. This is particularly true in the south, which is why Paul doesn’t want to go there. Lady Jessica does. She figures, hey, nothing safer than being considered the Messiah. But Paul is disturbed by visions: millions dying in his father’s name. He doesn’t want that. Or that Paul doesn’t want that.

I’d forgotten he gets corrupted. Is that why I never finished the trilogy? The hero stopped being the hero? Watching this, I was also disappointed when Paul reunites with Gurney Halleck. I liked him alone with the Fremen.

Eventually, though, he’s forced to flee south, where for some reason he drinks the Water of Life, goes into coma, comes out of it, and now he’s less Paul than he was before. He can see the future clearer and he believes in the prophecies more. Or does he merely use them? I’m unclear. How much is calculated and how much is he buying into everything? Or maybe he should be buying into it all, since he is what he is. 

Anyway, massive forces move against each other, Paul and the Fremen overwhelm the Harkonnens and retake the planet, and Paul kills the Baron. Then he agrees to fight Feyd-Rautha, who, I don’t think, the movie played up enough. His one big battle before Paul is with three creatures in an arena, but the decks are stacked—two of them are drugged. He seems less menacing than pampered. Or he’s menacing for being pampered. Either way, he proves a tougher battle for Paul than anyone else in these movies. But he loses. 

A lot of what happens in the last hour I was confused by. Why does he demand Princess Irulan’s hand in marriage? To unite families? He’s already defeated her family. Is he trying to avoid the holy wars he sees in his visions or doesn’t he care about that anymore? Maybe he’s a big fan of journaling. 

Books of Thomas, Paul, Luke
I shouldn’t make fun. I liked it. I particularly liked Javier Bardem’s Stilgar: the crumbling of his curmudgeonly nobility as more and more he wants to believe. Chalamet is great, too, in a tough role for such a skinny malink. Zendaya works as Chandi, the Fremen guide and love interest. Lea Seydoux is in this too? What a cast. Anya Taylor-Joy even shows up in a vision as Paul’s grownup sister. Yes, like Luke, Paul has a sister. Maybe this one will prove more useful. (Sorry, Leia fans.) 

I’m interested in seeing where this goes. Maybe it goes to places the “Star Wars” movies should have but didn’t. And I’m curious how this, the outsider in the desert, the T.E. Lawrence story with superpowers, became the heroic journey of all of our voyeuristic lives. Not enough has been written about that.

Posted at 10:37 AM on Monday March 25, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2024   |   Permalink  

Sunday March 24, 2024

The First Trump Lie in the NY Times Appeared in 1973

The first time Donald Trump's name appeared in The New York Times, back in 1973, in an article about his father entitled “A Builder Looks Back—and Forward,” it was accompanied by a lie:

The Donald graduated first in his class at Wharton? Impressive!

Yeah, no. From The Daily Pennsylvanian, a student newspaper, in 2019, in article entitled: “Mary Trump says 1968 Wharton graduate Donald Trump cheated on SAT to get into Penn”:

The Times still hasn't corrected their 1973 story. But don't worry: There's way more where that came from.

Posted at 08:42 AM on Sunday March 24, 2024 in category Media   |   Permalink  

Saturday March 23, 2024

Movie Review: The Maltese Falcon (1931)

WARNING: SPOILERS

There’s a surreal quality to watching the original 1931 version of “The Maltese Falcon.” It’s like explaining a dream to a friend: You were you, but not really you. Here, Sam Spade is Sam Spade, but not really Humphrey Bogart. 

Actually, not at all Humphrey Bogart.

All his teeth
He’s Ricardo Cortez (nee Jacob Krantz), a wannabe Valentino by way of Zeppo Marx, and his Sam Spade isn’t exactly the cool, professional hero of John Huston’s 1941 classic. He’s a lothario—leering at the pre-code women with all his teeth.

At his office he kisses goodbye to a midday tryst (legs only) before nuzzling the neck of his semi-resistant secretary, Effie (Una Merkel), who then ushers in the movie’s femme fatale, Ruth Wonderly (Bebe Daniels), with the familiar line, “You’ll see her anyway—she’s a knockout.” In the midst of this he gets a call from Iva Archer (Thelma Todd of Marx Bros.’s fame), the pain-in-the-neck wife of his partner Miles Archer (Walter Long), and yes he’s banging Iva, too.

All of which makes us aware of the great lie in the ’41 version: Sam Spade is a skunk. Sure, no midday tryst, and he and Effie banter like pals, but he is banging his partner’s wife. That shit ain’t cool. But Bogie gets away with it because, well, he’s cool. He doesn’t leer at anyone or nuzzle anyone’s neck; he’s a professional throughout. Plus he’s friends with everyone in town: this cop, that cab driver, the other hotel dick. It’s the ’41 Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan) who acts the skunk—checking out Ruth Wonderly and all but going hubba hubba. “You’ve got brains—yes, you have,” Spade tells him sardonically, and next thing you know Archer is killed in cold blood and no one cares. He had $10k in insurance, Spade says, no children, and a wife that didn’t like him. Plus, we could add, a partner who couldn’t wait for the body to get cold before taking his name off the door.

The ’31 version of Archer is way more sympathetic. True, he’s got a face like a Mack truck, but when he overhears his wife confessing her love to his partner we feel his pain. Once Ruth leaves, we figure he’s going to wipe the floor with Sam. Instead:

Archer: Any phone calls for me, Sam?
Spade: Ohhhh, yes. Your wife called.
Archer: Yeah? What did she have to say?
Spade: Ohhhh, wanted to know when you were coming home. And she said she missed ya an awful lot!

Is that an unintended irony of the Production Code? When you sweep sex under the rug, you lose accountability. You lose morality. You kind of make it OK to covet thy neighbor’s wife. Way to go, Catholics.

Here, Archer’s body is found in a back alley near a chop suey joint—rather than down a construction site—but like with Bogart’s version Sam has no time to check on it. Unlike in the Bogart version, he stops and exchanges a few words of Cantonese with the owner of the chop suey joint, Lee Fu Gow. This is crucial info, it turns out. Spade now knows (even if we don’t) that Archer was killed by a woman. None of this was in the Huston version, by the way, because none of it was in the Dashiell Hammett novel. You can thank the ’31 screenwriters: Maude Fulton (“Other Men’s Women”), Brown Holmes (“I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang”) and an uncredited Lucien Hubbard (“Smart Money”).

There’s a lot of such little differences between films. We get no opening title cards about the Knight Templars of Malta and Charles V of Spain, we don’t see Archer being killed, there’s no shaking Wilmer's tail or booting him from the lobby of the Hotel Belvedere. Wilmer doesn’t even show up until the big meeting with Casper Gutman, and that meeting is a one-fer. Gutman begins it, then Joel Cairo shows up in the next room, returning to the fold, as it were, with intel that the black bird is arriving on the ship La Paloma, docking that day. So we better understand why Gutman slips Spade a mickey—he doesn’t need him anymore. What we don’t get is why Joel Cairo bothers to return to the fold. If he has the intel, why share it with the Fat Man?

Overall, there’s less playfulness with Cairo. Or the playfulness is Effie’s rather than the movie’s. She tells Sam he has a gorgeous new customer, and as Sam gets ready to sink his teeth in, in walks Joel Cairo (Otto Matieson). There’s no “Gardenia,” no lilt to the soundtrack, no supposition that he’s gay; and after Sam knocks him out there’s barely anything in his pockets. Just the wallet. Lorre has the wallet, three passports, foreign coin, a ticket to the Geary Theater and a scented handkerchief. (Cue lilt again.) He has a storyline in his pockets. He has a life. Plus he’s played by Peter Lorre. (No offense to Matieson, a Dane who played Napoleon Bonaparte several times in the silents.) Gutman, meanwhile, is played quite sweatily by Dudley Digges, who is memorable as the evil “boys prison” warden in “The Mayor of Hell.” Wilmer? That’s Dwight Frye, the original Renfield in Universal horror flicks, as well as Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant (Fritz/Karl) in the first Frankenstein films. They’re no slouches, in other words. They're also not Lorre, Sidney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook, Jr. Not close.

One improvement? While Mary Astor is great at playing a school-marmish type who can suddenly get into a catfight with Lorre’s Joel Cairo, I have trouble seeing Bogart’s Spade losing his heart to her. She’s not the “knockout” she’s made out to be. Bebe Daniels is closer to that, and Cortez’s Spade doesn’t really fall for her that hard. It’s more lust than love. Daniels, who played the star who has to break her ankle so Ruby Keeler can rise in “42nd Street,” was 30 years old at the time, but had been acting in movies for more than 20 years. In 1910, in just her second movie, she played Dorothy Gale in a short version of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” One wonders if she was destined to play roles that, in later, better productions, would be made more famous by someone else.

Repping SF
And the hits keep coming—if slightly off-key:

  • “We didn’t believe you, we believed your $200.”
  • “You’re pretty good. As a matter of fact, you’re very good. It’s chiefly your eyes, I think, and the throb you get in your voice when you say, ‘Oh, be generous, Mr. Spade.’”
  • “A statuette. The black figure of a ... bird.”
  • “Permit me to remind you, Mr. Spade, you may have the falcon, but we most certainly have you.”
  • “Why, I feel toward Wilmer exactly as if he were my own son.”
  • “You palmed it, Gutman. ... I said you palmed it.” 

Each line is great, but you miss Greenstreet’s harrumph, Lorre’s whine, Bogart’s cool.

The ’31 version is directed by Roy Del Ruth, who directed some good early Cagneys (“Blonde Crazy,” “Taxi!”) and crappy later ones (“West Point Story,” “Starlift”), and it’s still early in the sound era so the camera doesn’t do much. Everything feels two dimensional. It’s straight-on shots, often with just one person in the camera frame. There’s no sense of humor to the movie, and no sense of tragedy. When the Falcon is finally uncovered, there’s nothing monumental about it. You don’t lean in the way you do in the Huston version. And that great ending, where the elevator gate clangs shut on Mary Astor like the bars of a jail cell, and then descends as if into hell while the soundtrack pounds, well, there’s nothing close to that here. Huston ended it like the best of Hitchcock—ripping the Band-Aid off—while this one just keeps going. Spade, now the chief investigator for the DA’s office, visits a disheveled Ruth/Brigette in her cell, and she tries to coax some of her moxie back. No go. Afterwards, he privately tells the female guard to give her everything she wants. When the guard asks where to send the bill, his mood becomes oddly buoyant: “The district attorney’s office!” he practically shouts. Not exactly “The stuff dreams are made of.”

Oh, another difference? How they open the film. How do you let viewers know we're in San Francisco? Huston opens with a nice shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course. They don't do that here or the simple reason the Golden Gate Bridge didn’t exist in 1931. They began building it in ’33 and it opened to traffic in ’37. So what repped San Francisco in 1931? The Ferry Building.

SLIDESHOW


  • I've always loved the Vitaphone logo—looking, as it does, like a '20s cheerleading megaphone. Sound, yo! Not to mention the touting of books, a popular convention at the time, during the opening credits. When did that stop? When was the last time the book on which the movie is based was seen in the opening credits? 

  • Girl #1: a midday tryst. We just see the gams and the arms.

  • Girl #2: Effie is younger in this one and resists Spade's entreaties throughout. Smart. Una Murkel plays her with the proper amount of professionalism and cynicism. She knows what Sam is, and loves him less than other Effie does Bogart.

  • Girl #3: Iva Archer is younger, too, and played by Marx Bros. favorite Thelma Todd. She also garners less sympathy.

  • This Miles Archer garners more. He knows what's up between Spade and his wife. He's got brains he has. He lays bare what a skunk Sam Spade is.

  • Girl #4: Bebe Daniels, the original Dorothy Gale, and our film's femme fatale. I guess all the women were younger here. 

  • Where Bogart has cool, Cortez has teeth.

  • Pre-code shenanigans. No woman's money is safe...

  • ...unless she knows where to hide it.

  • This is how this Spade first hears about the black bird. I think '41 Spade first hears it from Joel Cairo...

  • ...played here by Danish actor Otto Matieson. He's not bad, but he's got no backstory, no lilt, no hint of gardenia.

  • Caspar Guttman played by Dudley Diggs: less monumental, more sweat.

  • Wilmer is tougher, and less of a joke than Elisha Cook Jr. He's played by Dwight Frye, the original Universal horror right-hand man: Renfield in “Dracula,” Fritz in “Frankenstein.”

  • It's almost disconcerting hearing these familiar lines spoken by unfamiliar voices.

  • The uncovering of the Falcon. Huston leans us in, Roy Del Ruth stays static.

  • I can't help but hear Lorre's voice. I say this line to myself weekly.

  • An odd game Spade played while they waited on the Falcon. Anyone know what it is? It's basically the original iPhone app.

  • We get more resolution than in the Huston version. Not saying Gutman doesn't deserve it, but he also deserved continuing his search forever and never finding what he was looking for.

  • Ruth jailed. Huston gave us this as metaphor, Del Ruth bangs us over the head.

  • Here's a resolution this Spade deserved. *FIN*
Posted at 09:28 AM on Saturday March 23, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  
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