erik lundegaard

 RSS
ARCHIVES
LINKS

Saturday July 20, 2024

Bob Newhart (1929-2024)

Yep, Dad interviewed him, too, in the summer of 1980, as Bob (Newhart, not Dad) was headlining a weeklong run at the Carlton Celebrity Room in Bloomington, Minn. The gig had been planned for earlier but he ran into scheduling conflicts filming the Buck Henry comedy “The First Family” so he put it off for a few months:

“'I was originally supposed to come there in February,' he said, the telephone line virtually crackling from the dryness of his wit, 'and like a fool I made the film instead. I mean, who would conceivably come to Minnesota in June if they had the chance of going there in February?'”

The movie didn't open until December, so thankfully Dad's feature on Newhart doesn't have the awkwardness of a fun interview juxtaposed with a pan. (Despite the comedy credentials of almost everyone involved, Dad wrote five months later, “'First Family' is about as funny as the 5:30 news.”) The interview in June begins with back-and-forth on the upcoming election, which neither Bob is looking forward to, and includes great quotes and a deep dive into Newhart's background. He began on stage in Chicago as part of a comedy duo with longtime friend Eddie Gallagher but it never took off, and Eddie moved to NY to go into advertising. “Really, the telephone in my act became Eddie,” Newhart told Dad. “There's always somebody on stage with me, in a sense, because I'm either acting with someone or reacting to someone. Once a double, always a double, I guess.”

We get the Minnesota connections: playing in Freddie's Nightclub in Minneapolis at the start of his career; his record, “The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart,” being played over the airwaves for the first time by WCCO's Howard Viken, providing “the skyrocket for his career,” Dad writes, and remaining “one of the best-selling comedy albums of all time.” They talk about his comedy friendships with Shecky Greene, Buddy Hackett, and particularly Don Rickles, whom Newhart ribs for his many failed TV shows: “I tell him he's had more pilots than TWA.” Then they talk about Newhart's own successful sitcom. 

Back then it was just the one. Generationally, I'm a “Bob Newhart Show” guy. I don't think I ever saw an entire episode of his '80s sitcom, “Newhart,” which was equally critically acclaimed. But the other? My brother and I watched it every week for years. It was part of that killer CBS Saturday Night lineup: “All in the Family,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Carol Burnett.” The sitcoms were not only funny and brilliant, they were specific to place. “Family” was Queens, Mary was Minneapolis, Bob Chicago. Casting him as a shrink was a perfect move. Giving this balding, measured, stammering man the hottest of wives, Suzanne Pleshette, was another. The supporting cast was to die for: Marcia Wallace, Peter Bonerz, Bill Daily as Howard Borden, Jack Riley as patient Elliot Carlin (49 of the 142 episodes), John Fiedler as patient Mr. Peterson (17 episodes), forever fearful, a kind of Piglet in human form. (“And I said to her, I said, 'Doris...'”) Is it suprising in that era of spinoffs that nothing spun off of “The Bob Newhart Show”? “All in the Family” gave birth to “Maude” and “The Jeffersons”; “Mary Tyler Moore” led to “Rhoda” and “Phyllis” but there was no “Borden” or “Carlin.” 

“He was successful in everything he did,” Dad said by phone this week.

Well, movies. His run there was sporadic. I guess his quiet stammer worked better on TV. But he was Papa Elf in “Elf,” Major Major in “Catch 22,” ad exec Merwin Wren in the Norman Lear comedy “Cold Turkey.” His first movie, his “...and introducing” movie, oddly, was “Hell Is For Heroes,” starring Steve McQueen and directed by Don Siegl.

When he and Dad talked, Newhart was in his 50s and had been a name comedian for more than 20 years. He would have another 40.

Posted at 11:30 AM on Saturday July 20, 2024 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Friday July 19, 2024

Bernie for Biden

“Let me be very clear as to why I support President Biden. He is the first president in American history to stand with workers on a picket line. He has lowered the cost of prescription drugs, he's rebuilding our infrastructure, and we have put money into combating climate change. Five million Americans have student debt relief. He has a record to run on. The ideas he's talking about for his first 100 days if reelected I believe will resonate with the middle class in this country.”

-- Sen. Bernie Sanders last night on “The Colbert Show”

Posted at 02:33 PM on Friday July 19, 2024 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Friday July 19, 2024

A Few Human Hearts

“In fact, Martin, if you have desegregated anything by your efforts, kindly enlighten me.”
“Well,” King replied, “I guess about the only thing I've desegregated so far is a few human hearts.”

-- from a conversation between NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the (I believe) early 1960s, as recounted in Taylor Branch's seminal “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years.” The NAACP, remember, was not initially a fan of King and the SCLC. The former wanted to go through the courts, while King, after the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and then after a several-years pause, chose nonviolent direct action. There was probably also jealousy involved. I've always loved this quote because it's such a lovely and true sentiment that is also a lovely and true response to someone obviously trying to provoke him. It's also the underestimated portion of what leaders do. They can make us better or they can make us worse. I came across it in an old notebook and wanted to get it down here, since, unfortunately, we're all here now. 

Posted at 07:42 AM on Friday July 19, 2024 in category Quote of the Day   |   Permalink  

Thursday July 18, 2024

Movie Review: Who Is Stan Smith? (2024)

WARNING: SPOILERS

My father is a big tennis fan, and the other day I was telling him about the trailer to this movie, in which various hip and hip-hop people talk about the Stan Smith tennis shoe, and one of them (DMC from Run-DMC, it turns out) asks the title question. Because he has no idea. To him, Stan Smith is a tennis shoe, not a person.

I’m the opposite. I’m like, “Wait, Stan Smith is also a tennis shoe?”

My father, who was recovering from a stroke, was a little confused by this talk for a different reason. “There’s a movie about Stan Smith?” he said. “Is there enough material there?”

“It’s a documentary,” I said.

The doubt remained. “Is there enough material for a documentary?” 

Dad was right.

The Pilic boycott
When I was young, tennis suddenly became a thing—my parents began to play, and watch—and this was when Stan Smith, with his laughing eyes, moustache, thinning blonde hair and plain American name, was ranked No. 1 in the world. In 1971 he won the U.S. Open and in 1972 he won Wimbledon. Both times he leaped over the net in victory. (When did that practice stop?) He was at the top of his sport.

And then he wasn’t. The doc details his rise through Southern California tennis circles—winning the Davis Cup for the Americans with Arthur Ashe and company—but less the swift decline. What caused it? The change in styles? The switch to metal rackets? Age?      

The boycott probably didn’t help. In 1973, 81 of the top tennis players, including Smith, boycotted Wimbledon because a Yugoslavian player named Nikola Pilic had been suspended by his national lawn tennis association, and the newly formed Association of Tennis Professionals decided to stand by their man. So Smith didn’t even get a chance to defend his title. He never made the Wimbledon finals again. He made the semis in ’74 but in ’75 he got knocked out in the first round. Ditto the U.S. Open. He seemed to gather himself the following years, making it to the fourth round of Wimbledon in ’76 and ’77 before being bounced by Jimmy Connors both years. He was still highly ranked but not in the top 10. In 1981, 35 years old, he again made it to the fourth round before another brash American, John McEnroe, eliminated him in four sets.

The doc makes it seem that Smith and Bob Lutz dominated the doubles circuit even as Smith’s singles game fell off, but that’s not quite true. They mostly dominated the U.S. Open but at intervals, winning it four times: ’68, ’74, ’78 and ’80. They won Australia in 1970, but they never Wimbledon nor the French Open.

I do like drawing out the difference between the two men—particularly since from a distance Smith seemed like an early ’70s swinger. Opposite. Lutz was the party animal, Smith the churchgoer. He pursued a pretty blonde girl, they married, had four kids. I like the stuff about the birth of the Open Era in 1968 when professionals were finally allowed to play the Grand Slam tourneys. I like John McEnroe as talking head. I could listen to him on the history of tennis for a good long while. 

Ka-ching
But Dad was right, there’s just not enough material here. Or the doc keeps going in uninteresting post-tennis directions. They must do 15 minutes on helping that kid from South Africa come to America and become an author. It almost becomes a mini-doc about him rather than Stan Smith.

The shoe stuff is OK but incomplete. East Enders began to wear them because Bowie did, but why did Bowie begin to wear them? Why did Run-DMC like them? Why did they sing about them?

That said, when I got home from SIFF Egyptian, where the documentary was playing, I did order a pair. So I guess the doc served one purpose. Or its only one.

Posted at 07:31 PM on Thursday July 18, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2024   |   Permalink  

Wednesday July 17, 2024

Nothing Works: UPS Delivery

Last week I sent birthday presents, late, to my nephews in Minnesota. I used the nearby UPS store, which I've used many times, generally with no problem. The option I was given was something like $120 and it gets there tomorrow or $15 and it gets there on Friday. I opted for the latter.

Thursday evening I got a message from UPS—or from iShip_Services_520@iship.com—telling me the delivery of my package may be delayed. It was an odd message. It was specific to the package but generic as to the reason for the delay. This was its main message:

Ah, got it. At least they refrained from giving me the dictionary definition of delay.

And the package was delayed. For whatever reason. For three days. 

Monday I got the message that it had been delivered. Success! It included a link to the UPS website, and there you could see a photo of the package delivered in the right place. Except, after clicking to see the photo, I realized it wasn't the right place. Or ... it looked kinda right but still wrong. My sister's family lives in a residential neighborhood in South Minneapolis, with easy access to their front door, and this wasn't their front door. It took me a moment before I realized that it was their garage. The UPS delivery person had left the package by their garage in the alleyway, where anyone walking by could just pick it up.

Thankfully my sister nabbed it for her sons. I asked her, “Did they really leave it by the garage?” Yes. “Have you ever received a package there before?” No.

This is why Amazon wins.

Posted at 09:00 AM on Wednesday July 17, 2024 in category Business   |   Permalink  

Tuesday July 09, 2024

What is Cheryl Ladd Known For?

Here's Nos. 1 an 2, according to the brainiacs at IMDb:

Right? I remember when I had her poster (actually several of her posters) on my wall because of “Millennium” and “Poison Ivy.” Those movies were cultural phenomenons.

“Poison Ivy” is that Drew Barrymore/bad teen thing, or whatever, for which Ladd is fourth-billed, and it grossed $1.8 million, good for 158th in 1992. “Millennium” I've never heard of. This is its IMDb synopsis: “An NTSB investigator seeking the cause of an airline disaster meets a warrior woman from 1000 years in the future.” Fun! MST3K-style fun! I guess Ladd is the warrior woman? With Flock of Seagulls hair? That one actually did better at the box office: $5.7 million, good for 117th in 1989. Cultural phenomenons, as I said. 

Here's the rest of Ms. Ladd's known fors, per IMDb:

Psst: It's that fourth one. That's what Cheryl Ladd is known for, IMDb. That's what she'll always be known for.

Posted at 02:07 PM on Tuesday July 09, 2024 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Monday July 08, 2024

Movie Review: Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song (2021)

WARNING: SPOILERS

After my brother’s death last November I looked for ways to get through the days with less pain. The music of Leonard Cohen, I found, helped: that deep Old Testament voice, spiritually weary but spirtually seeking, trying to touch the eternal but settling for (or being distracted by) a beautiful woman. Then I found this doc and kept returning to it. I couldn’t watch much but I could watch this. I’ll always be grateful for it.

“Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song” is a clunky title but an accurate one. It’s half Cohen’s journey, half his song’s journey, and both journeys contain astonishments.

His music career, for example, began late, at age 32, in 1967—the very year his potential audience was shouting not to trust anyone over 30. But “Hallelujah” has even greater astonishments. I didn’t know that the album it was on, “Various Positions,” wasn’t even released in the U.S. His label, Columbia Records, paid to have it made, but then its president, Walter Yetnikoff, thought so little of it, and of Cohen, that they didn’t put it out. “Leonard, we know you’re great,” Cohen quotes Yetnikoff saying, “but we don’t know if you’re any good.” And there went that. The album, and the song, were buried.

Who unearthed it? The answer to that is less astonishing. You hear it and go, “Oh, of course.” 

Eight years
I’ve recounted my own history with Cohen and “Hallelujah” but here it is again.

In 1997, I was watching Julian Schnabel’s “Basquiat” on VHS, and over the closing credits a song played, and something about it stirred something in me. I loved the melody but it was also these lines:

There was a time you’d let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do ya?

And these lines:

Maybe there’s a god above
All I ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew ya

So I rewound the tape and listened to it again. And again. And then I searched the credits for the singer.

“I heard this great song last night,” I said to my colleague Jeff V. in the University Book Store warehouse the next day. “It was called ‘Hallelujah’ by John Cale.”

“Cale’s great,” Jeff, a local musician, told me, “but that’s a Leonard Cohen song.” Then he led me to the music dept. downstairs and showed me the Cohen collection. I think I bought two CDs—including “Various Positions.”

The doc, written and directed by Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine, goes into how long Cohen worked on the song and how many verses it might’ve had. 150? 180? They retell that great story of Cohen and Bob Dylan comparing notes in Paris. Bob complimented Leonard on “Hallelujah” and asked how long it took to write, and Leonard lied a little, undercut it a little, and said it took a few years. Then Leonard complimented Dylan on “I and I” off of “Infidels” and asked how long it took. “About 15 minutes,” Dylan replied.

Glen Hansard objects to Bob’s line, saying “Come down to earth,” or some such, but I love that story. It’s so Bob. It’s so both of them. Genius comes in all forms, and we talk about the Dylan type more often because it’s more mystical. It’s a lightning bolt, or, per Scorsese’s doc, tapping into the collective unconscious. Cohen just grinds it out. “Sometimes I think that I would go along with the old Beat philosophy: ‘First thought, best thought,’” Cohen says here. “But it never worked for me. There hardly is a first thought. It’s all sweat.”

He was a scion of Montreal wealth, and the grandson of a Talmudic scholar, who went into the arts. Why the shift from poetry to music in his early 30s? Because he saw that’s where the action was? The doc doesn’t really explore it.

He seems both hugely thoughtful (about existential matters) and fairly thoughtless (in some of his relationships). In the early 1970s, for example, he began to collaborate with producer John Lissauer, and they put out a great album with a great title: “New Skin for the Old Ceremony”; and then Cohen asked to collaborate with him—Lissauer writing music to Cohen’s lyrics—and they came up with eight or so songs for an album to be called “Songs for Rebecca.” Lissauer recounts, more amused than angry: “And he said, ‘All right, I’m going to go to Hydra for a couple of weeks to work on a book of poetry. I’ll call you when I get back and we’ll finish up.’ And I didn’t hear from him … for eight years.”

At least now I know why Cohen's next album, “Death of a Ladies Man,” never clicked for me. It was produced by Phil Spector, still pushing his wall of sound, and he was all wrong for Cohen. “Oh, the album is a disaster,” Cohen told an interviewer back then.

Did Cohen’s manager, Marty Machat, push Leonard toward Spector? It’s revealed Machat didn’t like Lissauer, so maybe, but either way Cohen returned to Lissauer for “Various Positions.” The album includes not just “Hallelujah” but “Dance Me to the End of Live” and “Night Comes On” (a personal favorite), but in the wake of the Columbia snub Lissauer got blamed. “It was like The Twilight Zone for me,” he says. “You do something you’re absolutely sure is one thing, and someone else sees it as reversed as possible. … I said, ‘Boy, I must have no sense of the music world: to be this wrong.’”

And Columbia buried “Various Positions” and with it “Hallelujah.” So who unearthed it?

Bob Dylan, of course. He recognized the genius of the song and began to play it in concert. Then Cohen went on tour and played it—with more secular verses. Then a tribute album was made in 1990, and for that John Cale chose to do “Hallelujah,” mixing the religious and secular verses. I still think Cale’s version is the best.

In the 1990s, Jeff Buckley did his cover, which was a mild hit, and in the early 2000s the Cale version was included in the movie “Shrek,” while a new Rufus Wainwright version was included on its soundtrack. Which got it out among the masses.

And that’s what really broke it. Both ways. There’s a hilarious montage of people on “American Idol” and “Britain’s Got Talent” singing their soaring, crap versions of “Hallelujah.” Apparently someone named Alexandra Burke won “X Factor” in Britain with her version of the song, and it was suddenly everywhere on the British pop charts. In one week, three different versions appeared in the Top 40: Burke’s at No. 1, Buckley’s at No. 2, and Cohen’s original from 1984, the one Columbia Records wholly rejected, charting at No. 36.

“There’s a certain mild sense of revenge that arose in my heart,” the aged Cohen says about this 11th-hour success. Then he adds, with a beautiful smile, “But I think people ought to stop singing it for a little while.”

His friend, music journalist Larry “Ratso” Sloman, thinks he’s joking. I’m not so sure. Go on YouTube, type in “Hallelujah,” and the first versions the algorithm picks are by Pentatonix and Burke. Who’s Lucy Thomas? Her version has 47m views. Zack Snyder used it nonsensically during an awful moment in his awful “Watchmen” movie, and the doc includes Eric Church talking about playing his crap version at Red Rocks. People die somewhere and it’s trotted out yet again. Just stop already. Or pause. Pause and see what else might work.

White man dancing
You know what’s missing from the doc? A name.

In the 1990s, Cohen ascended Mount Baldy outside LA and spent six years in a Zen monastery, where, along with trying to get right with himself, he wrote songs like “Anthem.” Then he came back and began recording again. And in the 2000s he was ripped off. He tried to take money out of the ATM and found he didn’t have any. His business manager had embezzled everything.

That’s the name the doc doesn’t mention: Kelley Lynch. Why don’t they name her? And why did Cohen hire her? And give her such access? And which songs of his did she sign away? The doc merely says this gave him impetus to go on perpetual tour in the 2000s—he needed money—but it doesn’t mention that he sued her in 2005, won a $9.5 million judgment (which she never paid), and which led to harassment. She sent him long abusive voicemails and emails, telling him he was sick and needed “to be taken out and shot.” She kept threatening his life. So in 2012 she was criminally prosecuted and sentenced to 18 months. I don’t know. Feels like that should be in here. Cohen’s post-trial comments alone are worth it:

“I want to thank the defendant Ms. Kelley Lynch for insisting on a jury trial, thus allowing the court to observe her profoundly unwholesome, obscene and relentless strategies to escape the consequences of her wrongdoing. … It is my prayer that Ms. Lynch will take refuge in the wisdom of her religion, that a spirit of understanding will convert her heart from hatred to remorse, from anger to kindness, from the deadly intoxication of revenge to the lowly practices of self-reform.”

Cohen died Nov. 7, 2016, the day before Donald Trump was elected president, and I like to think he saw where we were going and opted out. He’d already laid it out for us in his song “The Future” from 1992:

There’ll be a breaking of the ancient Western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There’ll be phantoms there’ll be fires on the road
And the white man dancing 

That's not singing “Hallelujah” but it ain't wrong, either.

Posted at 07:28 AM on Monday July 08, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2021   |   Permalink  

Monday July 01, 2024

Movie Review: Born Reckless (1930)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

“Born Reckless” is not good but it is intriguing. It’s another of those movies made before genre plots became codified, so it kind of goes where it wants to go and never quite gets there. It starts out as a gangster flick, veers into immigrant family stuff, and then we’re off to war. Except the war buddies there are hardly buddies (they have two unmemorable scenes together) and the tragedy of war is undercut by all the hokum. I’m curious: Did they get Edmund Lowe of “What Price Glory?” fame because of the war stuff, or is the war stuff in there because of Edmund Lowe? Anyway it doesn’t work. His character, Louis Beretti, is also supposed to be an Italian gangster and he seems neither.

It’s one of the first talkies from John Ford, one of the greatest directors of all time, and it’s poorly directed. Certain scenes are just characters gathering to say their lines in semi-stilted fashion, like grade school kids in a play. And it turns on one of the most improbable plot devices in movie history:

JUDGE SENTENCES GANGSTERS TO WORLD WAR I!!!

At the same time, it anticipates one of the great gangster movies, “The Roaring Twenties,” which came along just nine years later. By then, whatever was clumsy about this one was smooth.

Highways and byways
“Reckless” opens with an attempted jewelry store robbery, led by Louis Beretti, and when it goes awry and they make their getaway, he slips into working man’s overalls to fool the cops. Wait, or is it to fool his immigrant parents in the apartment above, so they think he’s got a regular job? I never figured that one out. 

In the apartment, he checks out his sister’s boyfriend to see if he’s a right guy, and he is. For some reason he brings him before the boys so they can give him the once-over, too. Why he would care what gangsters think of a civilian, I have no idea, but it’s not a bad scene. One guy—the guy who’s interested in the sister for himself—calls the boyfriend “Four Eyes,” and boyfriend tries to fight him. Beretti holds him back with amused admiration. “He’s got a little rooster in him at that!” he declares.

Shortly thereafter, he and some of his gang are fingered as the would-be jewel thieves and called before a judge in his chambers, with a fast-talking reporter, Bill O’Brien (Lee Tracy), present. I like how, when Beretti claims to be a trucker, a cop asks to look at his hands and dismisses him as never having done a day’s work in his life. So Beretti does the same with the cop: “No calluses on that hand, either,” he says. 

The judge—on what evidence?—keeps talking about sending them “up the river” (anticipating the title of Ford’s next film), but when their pockets are emptied of everything including draft cards, the reporter has a better idea:

Let ’em go to war. Great story: gangs, gunmen, turned loose, given a chance to do their bit! Patriotism, see? Safe for democracy. You’re a Democrat, aren’t you? You are. The primaries are next month, aren’t they? They are. Cardigan for City Court Judge: A Real Patriot. Get me?

He gets him.

Here's an odd moment: As they’re being led away, the Judge calls out “Wait a minute!” and Beretti says, “I knew there was a catch in it somewhere.” A catch? Dude, I think the catch is you have to go fight in a world war.

The comedy gets broader at training camp. Sgt. Ward Bond, in only his sixth film, is trying to figure out where to place a row of civilians into this man’s army. The dialogue feels like bits, punchlines, but they’re so specific to the time they go over my head. A ballplayer is made a noncom? A CPA becomes a horseshoer?

Sgt.: How about you?
Man: Lightweight.
Sgt.: Thug, huh?
Man: No, iceman.
Sgt.: [Turns to subordinate] Garbage detail.

No idea. 

One of Louis’ men, unable to think up a lie, admits his true profession, a “boiglar,” and they get excited and drag him away. When he returns, he says to Louis, “Lookit what they gimme,” and holds up a bugle. That one I got.

In the same overlong scene, we’re introduced to Frank Sheldon (Frank Albertson, the future Sam Wainwright), who seems cocky for no reason, and then Frank’s sister, Joan (Catherine Dale Owen, second-billed), to whom Louis takes a shine. Uncle Jim arrives, clothed in dark suit and pomposity, speechify about these fine young boys who have come “from the highways and the byways,”* until he realizes “Somebody swiped my watch!”

* “Highways and byways” reminded me of the opening narration of “Shazam!,” the 1970s Saturday morning live-action superhero TV show, and it made me wonder how long that phrase has been around. Per newspapers.com, it goes back to London in the 1820s. Its usage has faded, though: from 38k in newspapers in the 1930s, to 20k in the 1960s, to 15k in the 1990s to 5k last decade. And yes, some of this is because newspapers are dying. But so is the phrase.

In France, the jokes get worse. The boys play baseball and the French think the ball is a grenade. Louis tries to trade sugar for wine but his attempt to form the shape of a wine bottle with his hands is misinterpreted. Frank does a bit about “crossed ‘spoys” that he thinks is clever but no one else seems to get—including me. Everyone sings “Mademoiselle from Armentieres,” and when they are called into battle, “The Caisson Song,” followed by generic battle footage and a ticker-tape in NYC. And over there is over.

In the judge’s chambers, Louis tosses the medals of one of his men who didn’t make it, Donnelly (Mike Donlin), onto the table, but the moment is undercut by the fact that we don’t really know Donnelly. At home, Louis’ papa says Louis won the war, while his sister, Rosa (Marguerite Churchill), is wearing mourning clothes for her husband, who was killed, not in the war, but in a payroll robbery. From the gangster who liked the sister? Do we ever find that out?

Right, Frank/Sam Wainwright died, too, so Louis visits and commiserate with the sister. He’s just about to make his intentions known when she introduces him to her fiancé, played by a young, thin Randolph Scott. So that’s that. But he tells her: If she ever needs anything, she should come to him.

Believe it or not, we’re just 40 minutes in. Now Louis is running a swanky nightclub with his gang of toughs, including Big Shot (Warren Hymer), who’s been squealed on. After some back and forth, they figure out it was, OMG, Ritzy Reilly! Who’s that? You know, the spiffy ladies man who was looking at the French painting in the “Four Eyes” scene. Huh. Was he the guy who called the boyfriend “Four Eyes”? Nah, he was just looking at the painting.

The movie keeps doing this: trying to make us care about characters that have five seconds of screentime.

Ritzy winds up bragging about turning rat and gets a slug in the back, while Big gets the shortest prison term ever. Shortly thereafter, Joan’s child is kidnapped … by Big! What’s Louis going to do? Side with his lifelong pal or a woman he barely knows? Latter, of course.

It’s not all awful. After Louis gets the kid back, he confronts Big at his tavern in the wee hours, and we get a nice shot of Louis’ shadow crossing the swing doors. But then they do that slow-talking thing of early talkies (cf., Harlow in “The Public Enemy”), which serves as last-minute exposition that anticipates the Rocky/Jerry relationship in “Angels with Dirty Faces”:

Louis: I remember when we was kids together. The time I got that slug in the shoulder.
Big: All the other kids run away.
Louis: Yeah. It was you who took me to the hospital.
Big: You used to be a good guy, Louis.
Louis: Yeah. It’s tough.

When both men suddenly shoot at each other, the camera is propelled back out the swing doors—another nice shot. We hear a body drop and Louis makes his slow way out, clutching his stomach. Lee Tracy’s reporter shows up again—he’s been hanging at the bar a lot—to let Louis know the kid is safe and with his mother again. So Louis dies in peace.

Kidding. Both bartender and reporter realize Louis has been shot and call an ambulance.

Kidding. The reporter says “He’ll be alright” based on zero evidence, and calls for a drink for both of them, adding, with a knowing wink, “Hey Joe: Louis’ bottle.” And that bad joke ends our very spotty film.

Big shots
You see the “Roaring Twenties” comparison, right? Guy returns from Great War, opens a nightclub, has a thing for a girl who doesn’t love him, and risks everything to help her out of a jam. Eddie Bartlett dies onscreen, though, and given a literary sendoff: “He used to be a big shot.” Louis simply stands there, gut shot, amid winking jokes.

A lot of the film seems done on the cheap and it probably was. Fox Studios was overextended when the stock market crashed in Oct. 1929, which ultimately led to its merger with 20th Century Pictures a few years later. So Ford probably didn't have much dough to work with. In his book “Searching for John Ford,” Joseph McBride says a bigger problem was Ford’s co-director Andrew Bennison, “whose dialogue scenes are so wooden and tedious they make the entire film seem comatose.” Back then, studios didn’t know if their silent directors would work well with talkies and often subbed in newbies, and that even happened to John Ford. Turns out he wouldn't do badly with talkies.

Posted at 12:56 PM on Monday July 01, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Sunday June 30, 2024

Willie Mays (1931-2024)

I heard about the death of Willie Mays when I was beginning my third week in Minneapolis helping look after and advocate for my father, who’d had a stroke at the end of May. The next morning, visiting Dad in his small room at R. Hospital in Golden Valley, I read him the long obit in The New York Times, and we reminisced about all Dad used to say about The Say-Hey Kid as a tour guide at Target Field in the 2010s. 

In one of the rooms at Target Field, I think the “Legends” room, there was a giant photo of Willie playing for the Minneapolis Millers in the spring of 1951, and most of Dad’s stories related to that time period: how Mays was hitting .477 over 35 games when he got the call to join the NY Giants; how Mays was so beloved in Minneapolis that Giants owner Horace Stoneham had to take out an advertisement apologizing to Millers’ fans for “stealing” their star; how, when Mays told Giants’ manager Leo Durocher that he didn’t think he could hit big league pitching, and then owned that he was hitting .477 for Minneapolis, Durocher supposedly replied “Do you think you could hit .2-fucking-77 for me?”; and how, after he began his career hitless in his first three games, and he again felt he couldn’t hit Major League pitching, Durocher assured him that he was his center fielder for life. “You’re the best player I ever saw,” Durocher told him, or some reasonable facsimile of that, and at R. Hospital Dad repeated it with tears in his eyes.

Dad must’ve choked up five times during our Willie Mays conversation. That’s how much he meant to people.

To Charles Schulz, Mays was the symbol of perfection:

 

To Joe Henry, he was a sign of a better time for America: 

But that was him
I'm almost sure
The greatest centerfielder of all time
Stooped by the burden of endless dreams
His and yours and mine

He was the subject of songs, and biographies, and Saturday morning cartoons, and he was so omnipresent when I was young, so much the sky, that in 2012, when I was telling a story about him to friends, and one of those friends, Myriam, asked, “Who’s Willie Mays?” I didn’t even know how to respond. I just stared at her. Who’s Willie Mays? I should’ve said: One of two geniuses in the world, according to Tallulah Bankhead. The other was William Shakespeare.

Do we go into the numbers? I know most of them off the top of my head. 

660 is, of course, the homerun total, which would’ve been higher had he not played at Candlestick Park, but it was still the third highest-total in MLB history when he retired. He was only the second player to hit 600, nearly 40 years after Ruth, Sept. 22, 1969. There are now nine on the list. Half are suspect.

.301 is the career batting average. Some of his contemporaries, like Mickey Mantle, wound up dipping below .300. Not Willie.

24? Number on his back, number of All-Star appearances. The latter will never be broken, the former is worn all the time in homage.

Interestingly, the true greatness of Willie Mays—in numbers—didn’t reveal itself until decades after he retired, when WAR (Wins About Replacement) was created. It’s supposed to take in all aspects of a player’s game. Mays won two MVPs, in 1954 and 1965, but by bWAR he was the best position player in the National League for 10 seasons, and the best in the entire Majors for eight seasons. In the integrated era of baseball, no one’s close.

Then there’s the catch off Vic Wertz in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, now just known as “The Catch,” and the stories surrounding it. It was the top of the 8th, tie score, 2-2, and Cleveland got the first two guys on: walk, single. So Durocher called for reliever Don Liddle to face Wertz, who hit a shot into deep, deep center field. Mays runs back, his number 24 visible to all, and makes a catch “that must’ve looked like an optical illusion to some people,” according to  Giants’ announcer Russ Hodges. So Durocher makes another pitching change, and as Liddle hands the ball to reliever Marv Grissom, he shrugs and says, “Well, I got my guy.”

I also like the exchange between left fielder Monte Irvin and Mays as they trotted in after the Giants held the line.

Irvin: Nice going, roomie. Didn’t think you’d get that.
Mays: You kidding? Had that one all the way.

Sidenote: Wertz went 4-5 that day, with a double, a triple and two singles. He should’ve gone 5-5 in a Cleveland romp. He should’ve been the star player of the game and the series. Instead, he’s the sidenote: the guy who hit the ball that Mays caught.

In Donald Honig’s oral history “Between the Lines,” Irvin recalls another Mays catch, in Pittsburgh, that some say is greater:

He was playing in close and Rocky [Nelson] got hold of one and drove it way out into that big center field they had in old Forbes Field. Willie whirled around and took off after it. At the last second he saw he couldn't get his glove across his body in time to make the catch, so he caught it in his bare hand.

That one made the Times obit, too, for the practical joke Durocher played on Mays afterward. Leo told everyone in the dugout to not say anything, to ignore him, and so instead of back claps Mays was greeted with silence. “Leo,” Mays wound up saying, “didn’t you see what I did?” “No,” Durocher replied. “You’ll have to go out and do it again.”

The stories could go on forever. One hopes they will.

Posted at 09:19 AM on Sunday June 30, 2024 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Saturday June 29, 2024

Cheering Correa at Mariners Park

“Walks it off”: A nubber to the pitcher and an errant throw.

I found myself rooting for the Twins.

I spent most of June in Minnesota visiting my 92-year-ol father in M. Hospital or R. Hospital, where he was trying to recover from a stroke, and during that time we watched a lot of Twins games so I got to know them a bit. Meanwhile, I kind of lost track of my M's. Were they still in first place in the AL West? Apparently so. Nine games over .500. Had Julio become Julio again? No, he hadn't. And we still weren't hitting? No, we weren't. Pre-game, we were 29th of 30 teams in batting average, 25th in OBP, 25th in SLG. Among our regulars, Julio led in batting with a .252 average. We had pitching and not much else.

Meanwhile, the Twins had this kid, Royce Lewis, who couldn't sneeze without hitting a homerun. A few weeks back I checked and his SLG was .900. .900! For slugging. Barry Bonds looks at that and goes WTF? Twins also had superstar shortstop Carlos Correa who was beautiful to watch. Everyone on the field is a top tier athlete but some guys are just top top-tier and he was one of those. He made everything look smooth. I remember watching an at-bat in Minnesota where the ball landed in front of homeplate and Correa reached down and flipped it to the catcher in one smooth motion. The day before yesterday, I got worried when in the late innings of a Twins shellacking of Arizona, Correa got pegged in the forearm, grimaced, shook his forearm, and immediately walked off the field. He was injury prone but was finally coming back from all that. He was having a helluva June. So was he down again? No. Not a fracture. His hand went numb but feeling returned in the Twins locker room and he said he'd be in the lineup the next day, which was last night. He was. 

I went with my wife Patricia. We got there slightly late—Correa was already on first with a one-out single—which meant we'd missed the first round of boos. I should've anticipated that. I was loving Correa now but he'd been on the 2017 Houston Astros, who cheated by stealing signs with high-tech gear and sent signals via trash-can lids, and Mariners fans, and pretty much all fans, continued to boo the stars of that team. Even a guy like Kyle Tucker, who wasn't on the '17 squad, who didn't make his MLB debut until July 2018 and didn't play a full season until 2021, even he gets booed like he's Simon Legree. So it goes. Me, I'm already passed it. Plus it's boring. So when the M's faithful booed Correa lustily in his next at-bat, I took the opposite tack: I cheered lustily. I cheered even louder when, in the top of the sixth, with the M's ahead 1-0, Correa hit a 2-run homer into the bullpen in left field. The only one who said anything was a Twins fan sitting behind me. He looked confused, pointing to my M's cap. Yeah, long story, pal.

Correa, by the way, was the only guy on either team with an average north of .300, but the Twins had five guys with averages better than Julio's, which, again, is the best on the M's. Just embarassing. Our leadoff hitter (J.P. Crawford) was near .200, our No. 3 hitter (Cal Raleigh) just scaped above .200, while our cleanup hitter (Mitch Garver) was significantly below .200. Again, we're 29th of 30. Thank god for the White Sox.

Mariners Park was packed for the first time in a long time. Because they'd just gotten back from a successful road trip? No, they'd gone 3-6 against the Guardians, Marlins and Rays. Because it was J.P. Crawford bobblehead night? Maybe. It was also Filipino Heritage Night, so that helped. It helped make it a rare midsummer sellout. Just when I didn't want to be near people.

After Correa's homer, the M's went down 1-2-3 in the sixth and seventh, but in the bottom of the eighth they got the first two guys on via walk and single. Then bobblehead guy J.P. tried to bunt but popped it up to third. Then Julio hit a slow roller to third, which Twins third baseman Jose Miranda, cousin to Lin Manuel, rushed a throw to first, which first baseman Carlos Santana tried to dig out but couldn't. A run scored and the game was tied. It stayed that way until the bottom of the tenth when we scored our ghost runner on a groundout to short (moving him to third) and a nubber back to the pitcher, whose hurried throw home sailed past the catcher. So we won on two errant throws. So it goes.

The weather was nice anyway.

Posted at 09:15 AM on Saturday June 29, 2024 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Friday June 28, 2024

What is Jackie Chan Known For?

Jackie Chan: Who is he? What is he known for

This one is a little tougher than some of the other IMDb SNAFUs. In the States, Jackie broke with “Rumble in the Bronx,” so we missed out on his long rise from obscurity (small role in “Enter the Dragon”) to kung fu western stardom (“Snake in the Eagle's Shadow,” “Drunken Master,” “Young Master”) to early 20th century fare (“Project A”) to modern stuff (“Police Story”). In Asia, he kept breaking bigger and bigger. I wonder what this looks like on Asian IMDb? Can you see that? Can see that? 

Anyway, this is the U.S. version. 

Wrong. 

“Police Story,” yes. I'll even give you “Rush Hour” for the American crowd. But “Who Am I?” WTF? Who are you, IMDb? I'll tell you who you are. You're a bunch of fucking morons.

Posted at 12:24 PM on Friday June 28, 2024 in category Technology   |   Permalink  

Thursday June 27, 2024

Movie Review: The Harder They Fall (1956)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

Trivia question: What is Humphrey Bogart doing the last time we see him on a movie screen? 

  1. Walking down a lonely wet street in New York
  2. Dying gutshot in a lonely wet street in New York
  3. Sitting before a typewriter, pecking out a story
  4. Saluting a friend as he takes a bus out of town

Yes, this is Bogie’s last movie but I doubt he knew it. It was filmed in late 1955, he was diagnosed with cancer in January ’56, and he died a year later, in January ’57, age 56. Half a century later, the American Film Institute would vote him the greatest movie star in Hollywood history—a fate he certainly didn’t foresee when he was a sniveling villain forever being killed at the hands of Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney while wishing for a career like Paul Muni’s.

“The Harder They Fall” isn’t bad—it’s got a 7.5 IMDb rating—but it’s a dated social responsibility movie. Early on, we know what everyone’s doing wrong, and they keep doing it. For nearly two hours.

Dives for the short-end money
Bogie plays Eddie Willis, a respected sportswriter who lost his job when his newspaper folded, and who’s been pursued ever since by gangster Nick Benko (Rod Steiger) to be press agent for his stable of boxers. Eddie always turns him down. This time, Eddie says yes. And this time, he has someone to write about: Toro Moreno (Mike Lane), a 6’ 8” man-mountain from Argentina, who turns heads as he arrives in the U.S. over the opening credits.

Except, in the ring, Toro’s punches are weak and so is his jaw. Eddie still takes the gig. Why? He says he wants a big payout but why does he think this is it? The kid can’t punch. But maybe he knows the boxing game better than we do. Because they scam their way from one victory to the next, getting better boxers to talk a fall. That’s right, two years after “On the Waterfront,” Rod Steiger gets fighters to take them dives for the short-end money. But here it works. And here, there’s no guilt.

Not for Nick Benko anyway. Eddie, yes. Half the movie is Bogie’s face torn with moral anguish.

Eddie’s original take is a mere $250 a week plus expenses. But after Toro’s first suspect victory on the west coast, which leads to boos from the crowd and a potential boxing commission investigation, Nick puts Eddie in charge. And for his troubles, Eddie gets 10% of Toro. Now there’s real money in the banana stand. And off they go, riding from town to town, west coast to Midwest to east coast, in a tour bus with Toro’s outsized image on the side: NEXT HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD. And in each stop, Toro wins a fixed fight. Who knows they’re fixed? Eddie’s colleague Art Leavitt (Harold J. Stone), for one, who hosts a TV show, but Eddie gets him to keep it to himself. Eddie’s wife, Beth (Jan Sterling), figures it out, too. These two are the moral forces of this universe. They’re on one of Eddie’s shoulders, while Nick and the dough are on the other. And he keeps going for Nick and the dough. But with anguish. Always with anguish.

In Chicago, Toro takes on Gus Dundee (Pat Comiskey) for a title shot at heavyweight champ Buddy Brannen (1930s heavyweight champ Max Baer). Dundee had just fought Brannen and gotten his head knocked in—and he’s still suffering the consequences. So much so that Toro’s limp punches wind up not only winning the match but killing him. Toro was fighting a dead man. But now he feels guilty. Now he feels he’s too powerful.

We keep getting little minidramas. Nick keeps creating storms, forcing Eddie to calm the waters. Example: Before the Dundee fight, Toro’s Argentine manager wonders when they’re going to get paid, so Nick sends him back to Argentina, but then that causes Toro to run away. It’s Eddie who brings him back to the fold. After the Dundee fight, it seems like Toro is being corrupted—he’s boozing it up with a blonde—but that minidrama goes away when Toro gets a letter from a priest in Argentina, his mother’s priest, telling him to stop fighting since he’s killing men. Once again, Eddie returns him to the fold. Just this title fight, he tells him. Then he can go home a rich man.

The drama of the title fight? Brannen is angry because he thinks he should get credit for killing Dundee, not this powderpuff giant, so he’s ready to tear Toro apart. At this point, Eddie lets Toro know he’s not a killer but a fraud. “You don’t punch hard enough to bust an egg,” he tells him. What to do? They conspire with ring man George (Jersey Joe Walcott!!!!) to box in a style that keeps the damage to a minimum.

And then Toro doesn’t follow through. He tries to win, and at one point even knocks down the champ (like Rocky in “Rocky”), but eventually gets his face knocked in (like Rocky in “Rocky). Brannen even breaks Toro’s jaw. And in the aftermath, we get the best line in the movie, spoken by Jersey Joe Walcott:

Eddie: Why did he take that awful beating? Why didn’t he fight like you told him to?
George: Some guys can sell out, and others just can’t.

And Eddie is a guy who can sell out. Thus endeth the lesson, moviegoers.

Except it doesn't end there. There are more betrayals first.

Here’s looking at you, kid
Nick sells Toro to another promoter, Jim Weyerhause (Edward Andrews, the epitome of the mid-century white-collar criminal), who plans to take him on the road once the jaw heals. Meanwhile, the books have been cooked. The gate brought in more than $1 million, but after everyone, including Eddie, take their cut, Toro’s payout amounts to exactly $49.07. He won’t be a rich man returning home but a poor man in indentured servitude.

Which is when Eddie finally chooses a side.

He gets Toro out of the hospital, takes him to the airport, puts him on a plane to Argentina. For good measure, he gives him his $26k cut. Oddly, though Eddie decks one of Nick’s men en route, there’s no confrontation at the airport because Nick can’t imagine he’d take him to the airport. The confrontation takes place at Eddie’s apartment. Nick says Eddie now owes him $75k, but Eddie goes “Oh yeah, what if I tell the public what I know about you?,” and Nick goes “Oh yeah, then you're future ain't worth 26 cents.” But then he and his men just leave. Which is when Nick sits down and begins to write:

THE HARDER THEY FALL
The boxing business must rid itself of the evil influence of racketeers and crooked managers, even if it takes an Act of Congress to do it.

Yeah, not much of a lede.

This actually feels like the real drama of the movie—Eddie risking his life to tell the truth—but it’s where the movie leaves us. And it’s where we leave Humphrey Bogart for the final time: a lone man pecking away at a typewriter, his wife serving him coffee, as he rails against the kind of corrupt man he portrayed throughout the 1930s.

Here's looking at you, kid.

Our last glimpse of Bogie on a movie screen.

Posted at 07:11 AM on Thursday June 27, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 1950s   |   Permalink  
 |  Next page »

All previous entries