Saturday October 01, 2022

Stay Fair! 21 Long Years of Frustration End as Seattle Mariners Make the Postseason

A second later, everyone knew.

I was at the game. My friend Erika's husband got tickets from work, and they had an extra. Did I want to go? This was Thursday morning, I said “Yes!” then began to do the math. The M's had been so-so, middling to blah, since those great series against the Braves and Padres in mid-September, but the Orioles had been worse. In the past week they'd lost four of five and now the Magic Number for the M's was a mere 3. After Thursday's games (O's loss, M's win) it was down to 1, and the O's were in the Bronx against the mighty Yankees, 4:05 PST start, and we were playing the lowly A's, 6:40 start, and Logan Gilbert was going against a pitcher sporting a 7.15 ERA. Odds were pretty good, I thought, that I'd be at the park when the Mariners clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2001.

M's fans on social media yesterday were rooting for the O's. They wanted us to do it on our own, not back into it with another team's loss, but it was more of a shrug to me. I mean, yes, we should do it. At the same time, the M's had last been knocked out of the playoffs by a Yankee victory, Oct. 22, 2001, Game 5 of the ALCS, so it wouldn't be unseemly, and maybe even a little poetic, if we were knocked back into the playoffs by a Yankee victory.

I crunched other numbers just for fun. The last time the Mariners were in the postseason ...

  • The Dow was at 9,200
  • The #1 movie in America that week was “K-PAX,” starring Kevin Spacey
  • Mark Zuckerberg was captain of his fencing team in high school
  • Barack Obama was in the state senate in IL
  • TIME magazine was about to name its “Person of the Year” ... Rudy Giuliani

You could do this forever. Most of the guys in our starting lineup were toddlers, our starting pitcher was 4 years old, our rookie star wasn't even 1. I'm turning 60 in January and I was in my 30s the last time the Mariners were in the postseason. Twenty-one years is a long time, basically. It's a quarter of a life. If you're lucky. 

I arrived 20 minutes early. The seats were great seats, section 119, row 11, seat 10, close to the Mariners dugout, the area where Mariners players toss baseballs coming off the field. That gets a little sad. The greed. The battles for tossed baseballs. At the same time, I saw a few adults giving them to kids. That warms the heart.

In the Bronx, the Orioles were winning 2-1 in the 8th.

For a moment it looked like it would be a breeze. In the bottom of the 1st, Dylan Moore led off with a single, stole second, and Ty France drove him in with a double. 1-0. Nice. And then nothing. Then Ken Waldichuk turned into Roger Clemens. He struck out the next two, got a ground out. He allowed a leadoff walk in the 2nd and a one-out double in the 4th but no one even got to third. And in the 2nd, Logan Gilbert gave up a two-out, two-strike, towering homerun to rookie catcher Shea Langaliers that tied it.

And the Orioles won it in the Bronx.

By the time Waldichuk left after 5, he'd lowered his ERA by nearly a run. Each inning we got an A's pitcher with a better ERA and an equally ridiculous name: Waldichuk ceded to Pruitt, who was replaced by Puk, who gave way to Cyr. Thankfully, A's batters weren't doing much, either. Their No. 3 hitter Jordan Diaz led off the 4th with an infield single that should've been an E-6 (J.P. Crawford pulled Ty France off the bag), which was their third hit of the game, and which turned out to be their last hit of the game. Gilbert went 8 full. 

And in the bottom of the 9th, the A's brought in Domingo Acevedo, 6'7“, 240, a mid-3.00 ERA and a WHIP below 1.00. Leadoff hitter Mitch Haniger went to a full count before striking out swinging. Carlos Santana went down on three straight pitches. I'd been hoping for a homer, an emphatic final yes, but those were the guys to do it. The next hitter was Luis Torrens, our backup catcher, whom we'd sent down mid-year, and he wasn't exactly Johnny Bench. Erika and Chris said every game they'd been to this year went into extras. The M's won them all, but none of them finished after 9. It seemed like we'd get that, and the stupid ghost-runner rule, again.

And then Cal Raleigh came to the plate to pinch-hit for Torrens. 

From the looks of him, I'd always assumed Raleigh was a kind of journeyman, someone who'd knocked around for lesser teams in the N.L. for, say, 10 years, but no, he's just 25 and he's always been ours. We took him in the third round of the 2018 draft from Florida State, and he made his debut in July 2021. His debut year numbers don't exactly leap off the page (.180./.223/.309). and this year his OBP is still below .300; but he's great behind the plate and he keeps hitting homers. I read the other day that he's the first catcher with 1.5 defensive WAR and 25 homers in a season since Johnny Bench? Nice company. I'd wondered why he wasn't starting but apparently it was a thumb thing? 

Against Acevedo he got two quick balls on him and I was hoping, with that 2-0 count, that hitter's pitch, for a nice sendoff, but he swung through it. It's fun checking out the pitches against him and what he did with them. The slider was the trouble pitch. Cal swung through the first two he saw. On 3-2 pitch, he fouled off the third one. And Acevedo tried it one more time. 

If you look at the footage, he's almost on one knee. He was ready for it. He would not swing through it again. 

Off the bat, even from my unfamiliar seat, I knew it had the distance but I couldn't tell if it would stay fair. Rick Rizzs, with way better seats, thought the same. ”Stay fair!“ he cried. For once the baseball gods listened. And 21 long years of frustration was over.

That's Dave Niehaus' line, of course, from the '95 clincher against the Angels. His was 19 long years of frustration, and back then that seemed forever, even though I'd only been following the team and suffering with them for ... four years? Really only three years: '93 was when I became a true M's fan. But the M's had never made the postseason, and there they did, and miracles kept happening. And it was joy. It was pure joy.

So is this, but I feel slightly removed from the greater Seattle celebration. The M's finally made it back to the postseason with a pinch-hit walkoff homerun with two outs and on a 3-2 count. Not only doesn't that happen every day, it's never happened. The crowd went nuts, the team celebrated, they did their little circle celebration dance with like everybody, including trainers, or at least people in street clothes, and hardly any of the fans budged from their seats. They stayed and cheered. They wanted to keep celebrating. The team went into the locker room, they came out again, they high-fived fans around the park. But by then I'd already left. It was partly to beat the crowd, it was partly leftover pandemic concerns, and it was partly because, well, as great as the end was, the game was kind of frustrating. Playing the worst team in the A.L., facing a pitcher with a 7.15 ERA, we did nothing for eight innings. It's a reminder that, while the M's have good defense and a solid bullpen, they also have the third-worst batting average in the Majors. That's why they have trouble with the likes of Waldichuk, Puk and Cyr.

I guess it's like Joe Posnanski's rejoinder for people who say baseball is boring: ”Baseball is boring. Until it isn't." The M's are a frustrating team ... until they aren't.

Goodnight, Mr. Niehaus, wherever you are.

Posted at 01:19 PM on Saturday October 01, 2022 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Thursday September 29, 2022

Movie Review: Blow Out (1981)


Apparently this is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite movies. Back in the day, it was one of three movies he’d show women to see if it might work out between them.

Quentin: It never would’ve worked out between us.

I’ve watched “Blow Out” three or four times now, but my opinion is the same as when I saw it in theaters in 1981. It’s got beautiful shots, great atmosphere, a star turn from John Travolta, and a political thriller plot that mixes elements of the JFK assassination and Chappaquiddick into a storyline that’s basically “Blow Up” for sound engineers. It should work.

But it’s just too stupid.

We get competence from nobody: cops, newsmen, our hero. Even Burke, the superefficient assassin (John Lithgow), keeps screwing up. Doesn’t he have Sally (Nancy Allen) on the waterfront, with no one around, and suddenly he’s dragging her up the stairs overlooking the Liberty Bell Parade in downtown Philadelphia? Why? For the American flag backdrop? Or to give our hero a chance to regroup, since, like an idiot, he drove his jeep maniacally through the parade, crashed into a window display in slow motion and knocked himself out? For how long—10 minutes? Half hour? Long enough, anyway, for EMTs to extricate him and put him in an ambulance and hook him to an IV. And in that entire time, the assassin, whom we’ve seen kill two girls in seconds takes forever to kill Sally. Oh, and he only killed the first girl because he thought she was Sally—so he screwed up right from the start. Oh no, I’m stuck in a Hitchcockian/De Palmian nightmare-scape full of sexy doppelgangers! Should’ve been his first clue. 

The whole movie is framed around incompetence. It begins as a movie-within-a-movie, a low-budget slasher skinflick called “Co-Ed Frenzy” in which our point-of-view is the slasher spying on girls dancing in nighties, masturbating and fucking, until he finally gets to the girl alone in the shower, raises his long hunting knife, and she screams. Kinda. It’s a weak scream. It dribbles out. The sound man, Jack (Travolta), laughs, the producer (Peter Boyden) says we need to fix it, and it becomes this film’s running gag. The producer auditions three girls who don’t cut it. We see two girls pulling each other’s hair trying to dub it. And at the very end what does Jack use? The very thing that haunts him: Sally’s scream as she’s about to be killed by Burke. It’s the oddest of endings: shoehorning horror and tragedy into the running gag. Is it supposed to be funny? Poignant? It just lands sideways. It dribbles out.

It also means that these low-budget filmmakers can’t get a girl to scream right in a slasher flick. WTF? Jack has reels and reels of sounds but none for a scream? Better, after the screw-up is revealed, what is the producer’s directive to Jack? I didn’t like the wind noises you used. Get me more wind noises. Sure thing, Godard. So that’s why Jack is standing outside recording sounds when we get the titular blow out.

Is the incompetence purposeful? A feature rather than a bug? Because it’s everywhere. The highly placed political enemies of Gov. George McRyan, the man poised to be the next president of the United States, decide to catch him in flagrante, so they hire … local scumbag Manny Karp (Dennis Franz)? Then one of their members, Burke, goes rogue with his assassination idea. 

We do get one bright, shining moment of competence. A local anchorman, Frank Donahue (Curt May), does some digging and discovers that: 1) Jack thinks McRyan’s tire was shot out, and 2) Jack has a recording of it. Hey, Donahue got all the facts right! And he’s ready to listen to the story Jack has been trying to tell for half the movie! So of course, at this point, Jack pushes Donahue away. And when Jack finally decides to talk to him, it’s now Donahue's turn to be an idjit. This is his actual quote: “Great. Look, can I give you a call this afternoon sometime?” Think about that for two seconds. You’re a reporter tracking down evidence that the next president of the United States was assassinated, and one guy is ready to give it all to you, and your response is: “Twoish?”

But of course it allows Burke to do his Burke thing. Which leads to more incompetence. Burke, pretending to be Donahue, sets up a meeting with Sally (to kill her), Jack doesn’t like the smell of it, so he calls Donahue back to check on the details. Kidding, that makes too much sense. Instead, suspecting Donahue, he puts a wire on Sally so they’ll get the exchange on tape. “This is just like the police incident that turned me into a guilt-ridden hack, but let’s give it another go.” Meanwhile, waiting to kill Sally, Burke passes the time by killing another hooker. I guess he’s establishing a fact-pattern for the cops. Or writer-director Brian De Palma had a few more Hitchockian homages he just had to give us.

And after all of this incompetence, do you know who, besides Jack, is left standing? Dennis Franz. A true testament to our world. 

Loose ends
If none of this bothers you, I get why you’d like “Blow Out.” I love the gritty location shots around Philly, Travolta’s Sweathog charisma, Lithgow’s low-key villainy, the split-screens, the beautiful foregrounding profiles (owl, Travolta). But the other stuff bothers me too much. I also don’t dig Nancy Allen’s Sally. Apparently she envisioned her character as a rag doll? It shows.

I’ve long had a problem with movies—like “12 Monkeys”—where, when the male hero is shot down, the story basically ends. Everything the girl knows is about to die if the bad guy gets away, but no, cry at the body of the hero instead. Well, this is the other side of the same coin. Everything is about saving the girl, and when she dies, that’s all, folks. The cops conclude that Sally killed Burke while being strangled from behind by Burke. But is the story over? Donahue, you assume, would still be interested in the story—more so now that Sally has died. Manny Karp lives. And shouldn’t all of them be worried for their lives? Aren’t they all still loose ends?

Instead: “It’s a good scream. A good scream.” The ending that dribbles out.

Posted at 08:41 AM on Thursday September 29, 2022 in category Movie Reviews - 1980s   |   Permalink  

Tuesday September 27, 2022

Dreaming of Conan O'Brien

I was laying on my stomach on a lounge chair in an area outside of a building where there was a long row of chairs and lounge chairs. A group of us were there, and Conan O'Brien came over, and I sensed this was his territory and I was in his spot. But I didn't budge. Eventually, and not rudely, he told me to get out of his chair. “Really?” I said. “You think this is yours?” I was kind of joking and kind of not—it seemed a dick move on his part but I didn't really care about the chair. The group of us were watching TV, most of us sitting, Conan standing, and as he did so he blocked the sun. “That's why we need a tall person standing there,” I said. “So the sun isn't shining on the TV and we can see it better.” It was supposed to be a joke but Conan got huffy and began to go inside. “Conan...” I began. “Conan...” And just as I was telling him I was joking and he could have his seat, he turned on me angrily and said I was no longer invited to this place. Then he left. That was it, I was banned. The others sort of awkwardly moved away from me, and some part of me shrugged, oh well, but another part thought, well, that's a shame.

This was amid several dreams about the logistics of moving from different rooms/apartments in the last few days of a long trip, with the suitcase nearly empty of clean clothes. One of the rooms was in an old girlfriend's basement, and one of our group, an adult who seemed to know more about the world, was leaving her a tip ($50 or $100, I couldn't tell) paperclipped to a postcard on a small table. “Are we supposed to do that?” I asked. “Of course,” he said. I felt guilty over my breach of etiquette. How did I not know this?

Posted at 07:33 AM on Tuesday September 27, 2022 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Monday September 26, 2022

Movie Review: The Wagons Roll at Night (1941)


This is Humphrey Bogart’s last movie before “The Maltese Falcon” made him a star, and this is Sylvia Sidney’s last movie before a four-year hiatus from making movies. Bogart was about to break big at age 42 while Sidney was washed up at 31. So it goes.

This attitude is reflected in the film, too, in an exchange between Sidney’s world-weary Madame (Flo) Lorraine, the fortune teller, and Eddie Albert’s wide-eyed grocer-turned lion-tamer Matt Varney:

Flo: Please don’t call me Miss Loraine. It makes me feel kind of old.
Matt: Aw shucks, I bet you’re not much older than I am.

Not much, no. In real life, Eddie Albert was four years older than Sidney. Maybe that’s why Sidney gives him the doubletake. 

Little sister
“The Wagons Roll at Night” is a bad, boring movie. Nick Coster (Bogie) runs a traveling circus whose big attraction is Hoffman the Great (Sig Ruman), a lion tamer. Unfortunately, Hoffman is a rummy, and one day a lion gets loose. Local boy Matt Varney keeps it at bay so Bogie hires him for the week. Hoffman gets a little jealous, Flo gets a little sweet on the kid, Nick gets a little idea: Hire him full-time as Hoffman’s assistant, then maybe he can take over. Since Hoffman is such a rummy and all. 

As a boss, Nick is cynical but generally OK. Except for this part: Don’t ever talk about his kid sister!

Flo makes that mistake and he tells her to shut up. “She’s not like us,” he says. “We’re a lot of mugs, grifters, and riff-raff.” (“Mugs, Grifters and Riff-Raff” would make a good title for a book on Warner Bros. films. 

The conversation gets a little better when he calms down.

Nick: It’s just this sleazy game we’re in.
Flo: If that’s the way you feel about it why don’t you get out of it?
Nick: Yeah, wind up in a bread line. It’s the game I woke up in, the only one I know. But it ain’t for my sister. She’ll be a lady if I have to break her neck. 

The way he says “woke up in … only one I know” … just has that classic Bogie cadence. You can imagine Rick or Sam saying it.

You know what would be great? If a movie introduced an aberration like Nick’s with his sister and then completely ignored it for the rest of the film. Alas, not here. If you don’t see where this thing is going, I’d recommend a visit to an ophthalmologist.

Matt wins Hoffman’s job, Hoffman shows up again and starts a fight but gets mauled by Caesar, the most dangerous of the lions, who reaches a big paw out of the cage. (I was rooting for the lions.) Since a local yokel (Garry Owen) blames Matt for all this, Matt has to go into hiding. And since Nick isn’t around, Flo drives him up to Nick’s parents farm, where Mary Coster (Joan Leslie, all of 16), is just back from the convent, and as perky as Folgers. Shock of shocks, she and Matt fall for each other.

That sets up the rest of the movie. Nick tries to keep them apart, they can’t be kept apart, so Nick decides to put Caesar in the cage with Matt. That’s right, he decides to kill Matt rather than let the relationship with his sister play out. Except when sis shows up, pleading, Nick joins him in the cage, gets mauled, Nick drags him out. 

Does Bogie die? Of course. He’s still at that stage of his career. He made around 30 movies between “Petrified Forest” and “Maltese Falcon” and he died in probably 95% of them. The only one I know where he didn’t die was “They Drive By Night,” where he just loses an arm.

As his death scenes go, this one is pretty bad. “I was wrong, Mary, about the kid. Guess I was wrong about a lot of things.” And to Flo: “Do me a favor, will ya? See these kids get married … Throw ’em a swell party…”

Caesar endured.

Little Foy
Cast notices: Nick’s mom (and thus Bogie’s mom) is played by Clara Blandick, Auntie Em from “The Wizard of Oz, while Charley Foy, of the Seven Little Foys, is roustabout and comic relief. He has a couple of not-bad line readings.

The director is Ray Enright, who did 72 features between 1927 and 1953, none of them standouts. Only three of his movies have IMDb ratings above 7.0, and they aren’t exactly household names:

  • “Skin Deep” (1929), 7.5
  • “One Way to Love” (1946), 7.2
  • “Dames (1934), 7.1, co-directed with Busby Berkeley.

It’s not like Enright worked in B pictures, either. He got big stars, he just directed them in their least-memorable adventures: Marlene Dietrich in “The Spoilers,” James Cagney in “The St. Louis Kid,” Errol Flynn in “Montana.” Bogart here.

Don’t worry, Humphrey. A better world is just around the corner.

Posted at 08:15 AM on Monday September 26, 2022 in category Movie Reviews - 1940s   |   Permalink  

Sunday September 25, 2022

We Blow

I experienced a couple of leaf blowers this weekend—one across from Scarecrow Video yesterday, the other on my usual walk to Lake Washington today—and for some reason this time they just felt like the end of everything to me. We created this device that is super-noisy, fuel inefficient and just generally inefficient, whose purpose is not to clean but to move a mess from one location (yours) to another location (theirs) while bothering as many people as possible. And these things still exist and thrive after decades. They're indicative of what we're like as a species and why we'll end. 

Posted at 04:48 PM on Sunday September 25, 2022 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Saturday September 24, 2022


I'd say touch 'em all, Albert, but I think he knows the routine by now.

Four times in Major League Baseball history someone's hit a 700th homerun—three in my lifetime:

  • Babe Ruth, July 13, 1934, vs. Detroit's Tommy Bridges, 3rd inning, one man on
  • Henry Aaron, July 21, 1973, vs. Philadelphia's Ken Brett, 3rd inning, one man on
  • Barry Bonds, Sept. 17, 2004, vs. San Diego's Jake Peavy, 3rd inning, leadoff
  • Albert Pujols, Sept. 23, 2022, vs. Los Angeles' Phil Bickford, 4th inning, two men on

Interesting it's only been two months, and two innings. Everyone was pretty consistent on the inning until Albert showed up. To be fair, he also hit one in the 3rd inning yesterday. He hit two. He's the first guy to hit two homers the day he hit his 700th.

I don't really remember Aaron's, I just remember the pursuit. I wrote about it back then for Kid's Life (5th grade version), which I wrote about here when Aaron died. I believe I was on the east coast when it happened, maybe Rehoboth Beach, Del. That was the summer we spent about two months on the east coast. I might not even have seen the newspaper. We saw the newspapers less when we traveled, though I would've gravitated toward the sports section immediately if I had. But I might've missed that day.

Bonds' pursuit just filled me with dread. It felt inevitable and wrong and I hated every second of it. It felt like a crime. It still does.

As for Uncle Albert? Just a few months ago, for the Opening Day slideshow of active leaders, I wrote: “Albert's No. 1 [in active homers] with 679. Does he have 21 more in him? Last year, split between So Cal teams, he hit 17.” That was all I wrote because I had no idea. If I'd had to put money on it, I would've bet no. But he's had a helluva farewell season back in St. Louis. The Cards are smart. They're using him judiciously, most often against lefties, whom he's crushing: .355/.405/.764. Against righties it's tougher: .209/.297/.384. Bickford, though, is a rightie. No. 699 was off a lefty, Andrew Heaney, who ran into trouble in the 4th. Down 2-0, he got two outs but let two men on (walk, single), and I guess Dodgers' manager Dave Roberts didn't want to risk the matchup with Albert again. Which is smart. But it didn't matter. Boom. Cards take a 5-zip lead, all on Albert's back, and win it 11-0.

Was it too early? It's the wrong question, a spoiled question, but I'll ask it anyway. Not sure where the drama is now. He's fourth all-time in homers (has been for a few weeks since he passed A-Rod at 696) but he's not passing Ruth. Not in homeruns anyway. But RBIs? He's just six behind Ruth, 2208 vs. 2214, for second there, to Aaron, who's out of reach.

700 is a magic number, only slightly tarred by Bonds and Pat Robertson. Enjoy it. We won't see its like again for decades.

Posted at 10:52 AM on Saturday September 24, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday September 24, 2022

Movie Review: She Had to Say Yes (1933)

“I suppose it's just a matter of choosing the lesser evil.” 


I’d love to watch this with a group of twentysomethings just to see their heads explode.

First there’s the title, titillating back then, a lawsuit waiting to happen now, and not even true in terms of the story. Loretta Young didn’t have to say yes, and she didn’t say yes. And anyway there’s a better title—which I’ll get to by and by.

Please don’t
In the midst of the Great Depression, a New York clothing company run by Sol Glass (Ferdinand Gottschalk) uses “customer girls” to entertain out-of-town buyers. You’ve got to do what you can to survive, right? The problem is Sol is losing business because his girls are “worn-out gold diggers.” 

Let’s pause for a moment over the term “gold digger.” The original meaning was literal, of course, a 49er in the 1840s, say; but in the 1920s it began to mean a woman, usually unmarried, often a chorus girl, who uses her wiles to get men to part with their dough. It was the title of a silent movie in 1923, and became the title of a series of musicals at Warner Bros.: Gold Diggers of 1933, 1935, 1937. Here’s a chart of how often the term shows up in American newspapers from 1910 to 1950:

1933 was the peak year, with 21,201 references.

The problem with Sol’s girls isn't that they’re gold diggers; it’s that they’re bad gold diggers. A rep from “Beau Marche” (nice) is locked out of his hotel room in his underwear. That’s a gold digger? Not from Sol’s perspective, since he loses the dude’s business. Which is the point he makes at an emergency meeting: “Gentlemen, our customers must be entertained but never insulted.”

One manager, after a failed attempt at the high road (getting rid of customer girls altogether), says their girls aren’t just “worn out”; they’re the same. The out-of-town buyers have seen them before. Which is when up-and-comer Tommy Nelson (Regis Toomey) gets an idea: Why not use the girls from the steno pool? They’re new, cute, “and they got brains that work standing up, too.”

And hey, he just happens to be dating one of them: Flo (Loretta Young). And she’s willing to help the team, and big buyer Luther Haines (Hugh Herbert of the high-pitched laugh) certainly has an eye for her, but no, Tommy loves her too much for that. Tommy may seem like a crass jerk but he keeps doing the right thing by her.

Until he doesn’t. Then he’s cheating on her with Birdie (Suzanne Kilborn). And when a big shot, Daniel Drew (Lyle Talbot), comes to town, hey, could Flo show him around?

Talbot’s the leading man, so we assume he’ll be a nicer guy than Tommy. Not really. He puts the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door while plying Flo with booze.

He: You’re a funny little thing. C’mere, will you—
She: Oh, please don’t.

And later:

He: Yours is the penalty for being so lovely.
She: I suppose yours is the privilege for being so important.

And even later: 

She: I hate being pawed.
He: Maybe you’ve never been pawed properly.

Reminder: This is the movie’s leading man.

With the help of brassy friend Maizee (Winnie Lightner, the best thing in the film), Flo eventually learns Tommy is cheating on her and breaks up with him. Then Tommy shows up drunk and mashes her: “My money’s as good as theirs! Now you just close your eyes and pretend I’m a buyer.”

Seriously, half the film is Loretta Young politely and/or tearfully fending off the amorous advances of jerks. And when she tells Sol she won’t do the “customer girl” thing anymore, he insists, so she quits. She tells Maizee that she’s quitting men, too. But as soon as Danny “You’ve Never Been Pawed Properly” Drew calls, she’s back in the game.

It’s an awkward game. One moment he’s all over her, the next he’s professing his love. The latter scenes are actually worse. They visit the 86th floor of the newly opened Empire State Building, he says he feels on top of the world, then adds, “With you by my side, I’d get the same feeling in the subway.” Uck. She looks over the edge and says it makes her dizzy, and he looks at her and says the same. Uck.

And then he pimps her out! Kinda sorta. The guy holding up his high-priced merger is Luther Haines of the high-pitched giggle; and even though it makes her eyes dim with sadness, Danny asks her to use her connection to get to Haines. I guess she assumes the worst? Because she winds up using her beauty, and Haines’ lechery, to trick him into the merger. And then Danny assumes the worst—that she slept with Haines? Because he drives her to an out-of-the-way house and tries to rape her.

How long did you think I was going to fall for this wide-eyed stuff? Me with a reputation a mile long. And I fall as though I’d never met a little tramp before. 

Reminder: This is the movie’s leading man.

Hey, guess who’s outside the house? Tommy! The other jerk. He’s been following her because he needs to know the age-old idiot-man question—saint or whore?—and for a moment he believes the former again. Then her purse spills, he sees the $1,000 check for the merger deal, and assumes it was for, you know, whoring. Which is when Danny comes to her rescue. He can accuse her of whoring but no one else can!

Of course, silly!
That’s pretty much the movie: Men force women to use their sexual allure to get money from other men, then accuse the women of being tramps. 

I was curious how it would end. Would Flo just declare her independence? Could she and Maizee take to the road like an ur-Thelma and Louise? Of course not. Either way, she couldn’t wind up with Danny. Not after all he said and did. They wouldn’t force that on us, would they?

They would. Mel Gibson’s Jesus was less tortured this dialogue: 

She: Oh, why doesn’t a woman ever get a break? You treat us like the dirt under your feet—first Tommy, then you, and now Tommy again.
He: I guess I’m just thick, darling. I love ya, I really love ya. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have said those terrible things to you. … Will you forget all this, and forgive me, and marry me? I’m terribly sorry.
She: I suppose it’s just a matter of choosing the lesser evil.
He: Then you’ll marry me?
She: Of course, silly!

That's my suggested title: “The Lesser Evil.” Both of you are jerks, he’s a bigger one, so I guess I’ll live with you forever. Imagine poor Maizee when she hears the news.

The screenwriters (Rian James and Don Mullaly) and directors (George Amy and Busby Berkeley) manage to do one thing right. After the above, Danny says he needs to get his hat and coat, Flo whispers in his ear, and he picks her up and takes her inside. Fade out. We never find out what she says. That’s good—both in a “Lost in Translation” way and because we don't have to hear any more dialogue.

Posted at 09:30 AM on Saturday September 24, 2022 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Friday September 23, 2022

Dreaming of a High-Tech Retirement Home ... Or Is it????

I had moved into the new modern highrise where Patricia was living. It may or may not have been a senior living facility—that might have come later—but it was totally teched up. Patricia was able to come and go because of a chip they'd placed inside her, while I still had to sign in at security checkpoints and use a keycard at specific locales that she could just breeze past. There were also helpful roomba-like robots gliding around, being helpful, answering questions. 

One night we were returning to her/our place, and there was a key in the door. “Did you leave this in here when you left this afternoon?” I said, annoyed. “I must have,” she said, guiltily. (I know: key, high-tech. Anyway.) The door was unlocked but inside we could hear some voices, and in another room, a spare bedroom, my sister Karen and her husband Eric were setting things up. That's right, they were staying for a week or whatever, and we'd sent them the key. “You know, the key was still in the door,” I said. I was addressing Eric more than Karen, but his reaction was more of a shrug than a mea culpa. I tried to make them understand the import. “Patricia has all her stuff here, you know,” I said. “You can't ... It's just ... It could be dangerous ...” but I was getting nowhere. Blank stares. So I gave up. I thought about going to a neighborhood bar for a drink but remembered I was trying to drink less.

For a high-tech highrise, the place had a lot of byzantine hallways, and I was on the first floor, I guess near the kitchen, and was trying to get up to our room. An elevator door opened and I went inside and one of the roombas followed me in. But it was tiny, and as I turned to punch in our floor I saw there was only one floor you could go to. Like floor 28. I figured it was a service elevator. “Sorry, wrong one,” I said and tried to get off. But the roomba got in my way, and said, “No, this is the right one,” and the doors closed. And the roomba suddenly grew in size and grabbed me and told me all of these things I was going to do. It was in the middle of this list when it realized: “It doesn't have the chip in it.” And that's when I realized I didn't have to do all the stuff it was telling me, I had free will. So I began to punch it and punch it to let me go. It was tough, because it was metal, but I damaged it. Then I tried to figure out how not to go to floor 28. The roomba, damaged, could still be helpful. “Press the down arrow,” it said. 

In the hallways again I realized what was going on. The implants allowed them to take control of the residents, who would then sign over their wealth; and then they'd be killed or commit suicide and more rooms would open up. Did it begin as a way of dealing with a growing, aging population? And then it became this money-making enterprise? I was running through the hallways trying to find Patricia, who had a chip in her and was in danger. And now I was in danger. They knew that I didn't have the chip. And that I knew

I like how cinematic this dream is. That clues are mentioned early—me not having a chip—but in a way that made it seem like “Get with it, Erik,” rather than “This could be dangerous.” The most vivid part was the elevator scene, so cramped, and with the floor buttons, or button, around the left corner of the elevator, where it never is in real life, but where I expected it to be in this dream. I also liked how the movie went from horror (the roomba growing) to a kind of Will Smith action-adventure (me running through the hallways trying to find Patricia). Plus the grand lesson: I thought I was going to have to do all the things the roomba was telling me, but I didn't, because I still had free will. 

This was a middle-of-the-night dream—I think I woke up about 2:30, then went back to sleep—but still remembered it later. It didn't fade, as middle-of-the-night dreams often do. Possibly because, in subsequent dreams, I think I was telling people about this one. I think I was dreaming telling people about my dream.

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Posted at 07:39 AM on Friday September 23, 2022 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Monday September 19, 2022

What Is Boris Karloff 'Known For'?

No, not for one of the most famous screen incarnations of all time. Of course not. Why would he be?

Some might be mollified by the 1935 sequel up there in first place but not me. And that's knowing what I know. I know Karloff isn't known for “Frankenstein” per IMDb's algorithm because he wasn't the star of it. He was fourth-billed. Colin Clive was the nominal star, and, yes, per IMDb, he's known for Frankenstein. It's No. 1 for him. Ditto Mae Clarke as Elizabeth, Edward van Sloan as Dr. Wadman, and John Boles as Victor Moritz. They're all known for “Frankenstein” but the guy who played Frankenstein's Monster is not known for Frankenstein because he didn't star in it. He starred in other things afterwards because this movie made him a star. It made him known. And that's why he's not known for it.

See the cat? See the cradle?

This is the thing IMDb needs to fix. One of the things. You're missing the overall, as Deep Throat said to Bob Woodward.

Posted at 09:04 AM on Monday September 19, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Saturday September 17, 2022

Movie Review: Knock on Any Door (1949)


The main tension in “Knock on Any Door” is between its social-reform message—Nick “Pretty Boy” Romano (John Derek) got a series of bad breaks, and we as a society are as much to blame as him—and the fact that Nick is an unlikeable little shit.

Maybe it’s the character as written but I think it’s John Derek. Some actors (Cagney, Brando) can make bad men likeable. It probably has something to do with an honesty in their performance, which is exactly what we don’t get here. Nick feels false throughout. He pouts, he cries, he combs his hair. At least that last part was historically interesting. We have several scenes where Nick whips out his comb and spends 15, 20 seconds of screentime making it just so. In one, he’s wearing a kind of leather jacket, so even though the movie was released in 1949 it feels classically 1950s to me. It’s ur-Fonzie.

We almost did get Brando in the role, by the way. This the first film by Humphrey Bogart’s production company, Santana Pictures, so Bogie got to handpick his coworkers. To direct, he tapped relative newbie Nicholas Ray, whose debut production, “They Live By Night,” Bogart had seen and admired; and he also visited Marlon Brando during his “A Streetcar Named Desire” run on Broadway to pitch the role of Nick. Imagine that. Would’ve been a whole other movie if that happened. Instead, this.

What a loveable character
It begins well. There’s a robbery, a cop is killed, and in the aftermath we get a “Round up the usual suspects” moment as the cops nab anyone with a police record—including Nick. When Bogart, playing Andrew Morton, Nick’s lawyer, gets the phone call that Nick has been arrested, he initially begs off, because he’s sick of the kid. At home playing chess with his wife—we later find out she’s a social worker—she gives him a look. He defends himself, she gives him another look, and he keeps defending himself while admitting sure, maybe, OK. Finally, without a word from her, he gives in and agrees to talk to Nick: “Anything to keep you quiet.” Great bit. 

For a time, he investigates. He visits the old neighborhood and sees a character named Junior, old, stooped, selling newspapers.

Bogie: How is it, Junior? Ah, you look just about the same.
Junior: A little older, a little more tired, a little more confused.

I could’ve spent another 20 minutes with just them talking.

Instead the trial begins. And during his opening statement, Morton decides to tell the jury Nick’s story—so the prosecution can’t use it against him, and because he hopes to engender sympathy for the kid. Immediately I had a bad feeling: “Oh shit, this isn’t the movie, is it? This flashback?” No, but half of it.

Why is Nick a shitty kid? Well, his dad was a hard-working grocer who was railroaded into jail for defending himself against a customer coming at him with a knife. Morton was the guy who was supposed to defend him, but, busy, he passed the case to an associate who didn’t do due diligence. Dad got a year, and him with a bum ticker. Morton finds out four months into the stretch, and just as he’s visiting the family in their home, promising to get the old man out, they find out he died of a heart attack. And Nick gives Morton a searing look. Well, “searing.” Searing and pouty. 

The move to the “bad neighborhood” actually made me flash on Donald Trump, believe it or not. One day Nick’s bringing home groceries and two kids—one looking about 40—attack him. The blonde kid starts it. In the middle of a handshake, he yanks Nick toward him and they start pummeling. Trump used to do that yanking thing. Remember that? Even as president. Even greeting foreign dignitaries or SCOTUS justices. God, what an ass. I’d almost forgotten that part of what an ass he is. There are just so many parts.

For some reason, being attacked by juvenile delinquents turns Nick into a juvenile delinquent. While his family struggles, Nick combs his hair and hangs out with his jerkoff friends. They steal watches and hock them. (Cf., “The Public Enemy.”) But they’re soon nabbed and sent to reform school, where they’re forced to participate in something called a “burlap party.” I guess it was a thing back then? A basement is flooded and the boys are forced to dry it with burlap material that they constantly have to ring out. In the midst, the blonde kid starts coughing and you know he ain’t long for the world. Then Morton visits. It’s after the war, he lets Nick know his family is doing fine in Seattle, but Nick’s got a chip on his shoulder larger than the Pacific Northwest. Among the barbs he directs at a guy just trying to help him:

  • Don’t sing me lullabies, mister!
  • Oh sure, maybe you can get me a job. Winding an eight-day clock!
  • You wanna do something for me? Remember me in your prayers!

To which Bogart has the line of the movie: “Boy oh boy, what a loveable character they made out of you.” Yep. Nick’s the kid gone wrong you don’t care about at all. The problem is he doesn’t seem deprived, he seems spoiled.

When he gets out, he has a bunch of hangers-on while he gets a haircut—as if he’s already a gangster. He’s not. He makes dough knocking over candy stores. And he can’t even do that right because he falls in love with the girl running the store, Emma (Allene Roberts), who’s innocent and talks in an annoying whisper. For her, he tries to go straight. But then he overhears one of Bogie’s law partners expressing doubts about him, and he gets pouty-angry again, throws a bottle against a wall, and steals cash from Bogie’s wallet. In an alleyway, Bogie takes it back, and the kid tries to go straight again. He doesn’t, and he’s going to leave Emma (because she’s too good for him), even after finding out she’s pregnant; so, per mid-century melodramas, she turns on the gas oven.

Anyway, that's why he is the way he is.

In the present, in court, Bogie makes mincemeat out of the prosecution’s case. The DA with the scar down his cheek (George Macready), like he's central-casting Getapo, can’t get Nick’s friends to shake their story that he was with them at the time of the killing, but Morton gets a government eyewitness to admit he only IDed Nick because the cops told him to. Bogie’s got the case won … until Nick agrees to testify in his own defense. And because the DA badgers him, histrionically, and because Nick remembers Emma and all her goodness, Nick breaks down on the stand  and confesses—yes, yes, he did kill the cop! During the sentencing phase, Bogie lets us all know the movie’s theme (“Yes, Nick Romano is guilty, but so are we!!”) before filling us in on the meaning of the movie’s title: “Knock on any door, and you may find … Nick Romano.” At which point, in the gallery, we cut to a greasy kid in a T-shirt combing his hair. I had to laugh out loud at that one.

Despite Bogie's shared-blame strategy, the judge still sentences Nick to death. And when Nick’s doing the dead man’s walk away from the camera, with THE END prominently placed, we can see that he’s still combing his hair. Now that’s commitment to the bit. Even Fonzie didn’t go that far.

“Knock on any door and you may find ... Nick Romano.” 

Fast, young, good-looking
They must’ve known, right? That Derek wasn’t working? So why did Ray use him five years later in almost the exact same role (whiny little shit), and opposite another classic Warner Bros. gangster (James Cagney)? Derek helped ruin that one, too. Oddly, it was in Ray’s very next picture that he found the right actor for all these roles: James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” He made the screwed-up kid sympathetic.

Dean is also much more associated with a line that Derek repeats several times in this movie: “Live fast, die young, have a good-looking corpse.” I’ve heard that all my life, but apparently it originated here—or in Willard Motley’s 1947 novel, on which this is based.

Another historical tidbit. There’s a scene with Bogart in a nightclub, and there’s a piano player in the background. It’s Dooley Wilson, Sam from “Casablanca.” Nice to see Bogie the producer getting Dooley Wilson work. Nice to see Rick and Sam reunited in postwar America. 

Rick, Sam, play it again.

Posted at 08:43 AM on Saturday September 17, 2022 in category Movie Reviews - 1940s   |   Permalink  

Friday September 16, 2022

Roe, Griswold, Loving & Obergefell

“As the liberal Justices pointed out in their dissent, the Dobbs decision endangers other Supreme Court precedents. In particular, it leaves vulnerable the cases that established 'unenumerated rights' to privacy, intimacy, and bodily autonomy—rights that the Constitution did not explicitly name but that previous Court majorities had seen as reasonable extensions of the liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Many Americans have also built their lives on precedents such as Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case confirming the constitutional right of married couples to buy and use contraception; Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 case declaring bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional; Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case recognizing a right to same-sex intimacy; and Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case recognizing a right to same-sex marriage. Would Alito grant that these decisions have created reliance interests?

The anchoring logic of Alito's opinion is that rights not stipulated in the Constitution pass muster only if they have long been part of the nation's traditions. By this standard, what is to preclude the undoing of the right to same-sex marriage guaranteed by Obergefell? Tellingly, Alito furiously dissented in that case, saying that a right to same-sex marriage was ”contrary to long-established tradition.“ Indeed, Clarence Thomas, in his Dobbs concurrence, argued that the particular cases protecting same-sex marriage and intimacy, along with contraception, were very much up for reconsideration. (Thomas left out Loving, the interracial-marriage case.)

-- Margaret Talbot, ”Justice Alito's Crusade Against a Secular America Isn't Over," The New Yorker

Posted at 02:28 PM on Friday September 16, 2022 in category Law   |   Permalink  

Friday September 16, 2022

Cagney-Chaney Connect

I've long been confused by the above shot, which is part of a series of publicity stills for “The Public Enemy” in 1931. It mirrors nothing in the film. I guess Cagney's hair dangles in front of him like so after his brother pops him one in the early going, but otherwise, no. I never quite got why they went with that look for a publicity shot.

The other day I was watching Tod Browning's 1920 gangster film “Outside the Law” (as one does), and near the end we get this shot of Lon Chaney:

Not exact but close. I'm sure Warners publicity dept. in 1931 wasn't trying to ape or homage Chaney—his was a quick shot in an 11-year-old movie in which he's third- or fourth-billed—but maybe it was stashed in the back of someone's brain, a photographer or publicity goon, or maybe it was just an early gangster staple look. “Now if you could just snarl for me. Yeah, and muss your hair so it falls over your forehead. That's it!”

Cagney would play Chaney a quarter-century later in the biopic “Man of a Thousand Faces” but by then he was all wrong for the role. 

Posted at 11:24 AM on Friday September 16, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  
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