Monday March 20, 2023
Movie Review: The Widow from Chicago (1930)
And a swastika satchel shall save her.
Commissioner Gordon is in the middle of molesting a young dime-a-dance girl when he spots his Nazi-emblazoned leather satchel in the corner of her bedroom and realizes something is up.
OK, so a few misleading parts to that sentence.
Yes, about a half hour into “The Widow from Chicago,” actor Neil Hamilton—who would memorably and comically play Commissioner Gordon in the 1960s TV series “Batman,” and who here plays mobster “Swifty” Dorgan—spots his satchel in the bedroom of dime-a-dance girl Polly Henderson (Alice White). And yes, it does have two prominent swastikas emblazoned on one side. But this was 1930, several years before the Nazis came to power in Germany, and, at the time, the swastika in the U.S. was basically a Native American good-luck symbol. Per the outer rim of these symbols, in fact, we see the satchel came from the “Swastika Hotel,” which was a chain, or at least a name, that really existed. There were many Swastika hotels and lodges throughout the western United States at the time. Other things were named for or emblazoned with swastikas as well: towns, avenues, companies. This began changing in the late 1930s—as this 1938 headline says—for obvious reasons:
The one thing that’s not misleading about my sentence above? “Swifty” Dorgan is about to rape Polly. He backs her into her bedroom saying “Chick-chick-chick-chick, shoo shoo” (super creepy), then grabs her and kisses her against her will. It’s only when he sees the swastikas that he stops. Thank god for swastikas.
Oh, he’s not the villain of the movie, either. He’s its romantic lead.
Edward G. Robinson, who does play the movie’s villain, Dominic, didn’t think much of “Widow.” A Broadway star of the 1920s, he’d made a few silents and had been courted by MGM’s Irving Thalberg but turned him down. “His eyes showed me that an actor was beneath contempt,” Robinson wrote in his 1973 autobiography. Instead, Robinson signed with Warner Bros., and “The Widow from Chicago” was his first film under that five-year deal.
It wasn’t exactly he wanted. Edward F. Cline, he said, was nice enough but no real director, star Alice White was “almost entirely without acting ability,” and he was full of doubts about himself. “What the hell did I know about a vice baron with a passion for nightclubs?” he wrote. Since his next picture, “Little Caesar,” made him famous for playing such “vice barons,” I assume that line is tinged with irony. It’s wrong, too. He’s great in this: measured, calculating, in charge. I’d add he was also wrong about Alice White. I don’t know if she could play Ophelia, but she’s great as a big-eyed, tough-talking flapper. Most of the actors in this movie are rather flat. The only ones that pop are White, Robinson, and Frank McHugh playing a comic-relief, Harold Lloyd-ish gangster. He’s so good in a silent film kind of way, it made me wonder if talkies came too early for McHugh. He might’ve been bigger earlier.
The story starts out convoluted and then gets nonsensical.
Two cops investigating Dominic’s gang confront a visiting Chicago gangster, Swifty, on a train, but he bolts over the side and into the river. Since no one in Dominic’s mob has ever seen Swifty, one of the cops, Jimmy Henderson (Harold Goodwin), pretends to be him. He keeps bragging to his sister, Polly (White), and talking himself up in the third person. “Something tells me I’m gonna get a big earful,” he tells her. He does. He’s shot in the street.
- What do the cops have on Swifty that he’d risk his life rather than simply talk to them?
- Does Dominic know he just killed a cop? (He does)
- Do the NYPD? They seem pretty blasé about losing one of their own. (Until the 11th hour)
Anyway, that’s why Polly goes undercover as Swifty’s wife, the titular widow from Chicago. But on the same day Dominic hires her as a dime-a-dance girl, guess who shows up? Swifty. Oops.
Except at this point she’s the known commodity—no one’s ever seen him—so in a way Dominic uses her to I.D. him, and Swifty plays it cool until he figures out what her game is. Back at her place, she says she’s just taking Dominic for a ride, which is when we get the “chick, chick, chick” scene; but after he sees his satchel (which he calls his “grip”), she comes clean. He wants to come clean, too—to Dominic—but doesn’t. Why? “It’s a lucky thing for you that you ran across a good guy like me before you stubbed your toe,” he says. Right. Near rape notwithstanding.
Suddenly, for no reason, she’s holding all the cards. He wants her to scram but she figures Dominic will need to see them together so they’ll need to maintain the charade. Not by living together, of course. She tells him to get a room someplace, and then use the back staircase to take her to breakfast every morning. After listening to her orders, he says, “This is just like being married.” Badda-bum.
Much of the subsequent tension is about the charade. Does Dominic suspect? Is he onto them? Meanwhile, Swifty goes undercover as a waiter at the nightclub of rival mobster Chris Johnson (Lee Shumway)—which is surely the blandest name of any Hollywood gangster ever. Dominic plans a midnight heist/hit on Johnson, but Johnson is warned away by Jimmy Henderson’s old partner, Finnegan, (John Elliott), who then puts a gun on Swifty. Polly to the rescue. She kills her brother’s old partner, and everybody lams it. Then she dismisses Swifty as a small-timer. Now Dominic makes a play for her but she’s wondering if he isn’t small time, too. It's all a ruse, of course, to get him to brag about the people he’s killed—including Jimmy—since the phone is off the hook and the cops are listening on the other end. When they descend (with Finnegan, very much alive, that was part of the plan, too), Dominic douses the lights in the joint, they search for him via spotlight, and when they finally spot him he grabs Polly—who for no reason is rushing through the nightclub. Then Swifty to the rescue.
Bozo with indigestion
Dominic is oddly jaunty in his farewell:
Oh, handsome. Don’t forget to invite me to the wedding. You better make it soon, I might not be here very long. [Salutes] Up the river!
That last part just means going to prison—as in “They sent him up the river”—but I’ve never heard it as a stand-alone salutation before.
I don’t know if playing Dominic helped Robinson land “Rico” Bandello—I’m sure it didn’t hurt—but the movie’s a mess. Apparently there were musical numbers, most likely in the nightclub, that were cut for the American release, because pre-“42nd Street” Warners decided Americans didn’t like musicals much. Those scenes are still extant in the European version. I saw the U.S. version, trimmed to a tidy 64 minutes.
But that’s not why the movie is a mess. It often doesn’t make sense from line to line. At one point Swifty is trying to get into Polly’s apartment, she discovers her door is unlocked, he tells her, “Well, think over what I told ya,” which is him basically saying “Bye!” and her response is: “Not tonight, Romeo. Go on.” Right, he was already going on. She does the same later with Dominic.
Dominic: You just bumped a cop, didn’t ya? Ever hear of a thing called an alibi? Well you better have one. Hmm. We all better have one.
Polly: You better get one yourself. Somebody might want to know where you were around midnight.
That’s what he just said. Was Alice White adlibbing nonsensically or was it just a shitty script by Earl Baldwin? In the same talk with Dominic, she also implies that she’s leaving New York and “heading for the big town…” Not sure what the big town is if New York isn't it.
At the same time, we do get good dialogue. The scene where Dominic constructs his alibi with the nightclub bartender is Michael Mann-ish in its economy:
Dominic: Hey, Benny, what time ya got?
Bartender: Twenty minutes after twelve.
Dominic: A little fast, aren’t ya?
Bartender: [Pause] You been here all evening, Mr. Dominic.
I also like this early back-and-forth as Dominic’s right-hand man Mullins (Brooks Benedict) is trying to get close to Polly, while Polly wonders over Dominic:
Polly: Who’s the little bozo with indigestion?
Mullins: Sssh. Not so loud.
Polly: What’s the matter—do ya know him?
Mullins: Yes. And he’s got a very bad temper.
Polly: [Laughs] Who wouldn’t have with a face like that?
A second later, we get an early movie reference. She says Dominic “looks like the heavy in ‘Way Down East,’” a famous D.W. Griffith film from 1920. Initially I was wondering if it wasn't supposed to be self-referential—“East is West,” Robinson’s previous film, in which, yes, he plays the heavy. Probably not. Both were different studios and “Way Down East” was much more successful.
James Cagney often talked up the comic chops of his friend Frank McHugh, and I’ve usually been like “Sure, whatever,” but, as mentioned, they really shine through here. A favorite moment is when the cops are running that spotlight through the darkened nightclub and land on Slug sitting alone at a table. He looks around, more embarrassed than caught, eyes blinking, hands fidgeting, and Keaton-like, puts on his bowler hat and exits. I laughed out loud.
And I love me some Alice White. Shame her career was truncated.
Saturday March 18, 2023
'Duke Snider, Besides Being an Actor...'
I think I came across this particular IMDb absurdity when I was doing research for my review of the Willie Mays doc a few months back. Mays was one of several baseball stars—usually Dodgers or Giants—who made appearances on family-friendly sitcoms in the 1950s and 1960s, and, on IMDb, I was checking exactly who was on what.
I was first struck by this bio:
So IMDb thinks Duke Snider was an actor? Known for that one episode of “The Rifleman”?
But of course not. IMDb doesn't think. The above is just a template IMDb/Amazon uses for lesser bios since apparently it's too cheap to hire anyone to write or police any of this. The template goes:
- [Name] was born on [date] in [place].
- He [is/was] an actor, known for [top 3 known fors].
- He is/was married to [wife/former wife].
- If applicable: He died [date] in [place].
That's how IMDb does the bios for Don Drysdale and Willie Mays, too. It's not how they do the bios for other sports stars like Joe Namath (“The son of a steel worker from...”) or Jim Brown (“Often mentioned as the greatest player in NFL history...”), but then both men actually starred in movies. They didn't just make a guest appearance on “The Donna Reed Show.”
Wait, I just checked a couple more. It's also not how they do the bios for Reggie Jackson (“Reggie Jackson is a baseball Hall of Famer nicknamed 'Mr. October'...”) or Ken Griffey Jr. (“Ken Griffey Jr. is considered by many experts to be the best player in baseball...”). And why is Junior's in the present tense, as if he were still playing? As if it were written in 1998 and no one's bothered to update it in IMDb's Amazon era?
Anyway, that's not the part I wanted to bitch about. This is. It's in Duke Snider's trivia section:
Besides being an actor, Duke Snider somehow played baseball, too? Wow. And apparently at a pretty high level!
Seriously, no one's minding the store.
Thursday March 16, 2023
For years Twitter had a blue checkmark system to verify “name” accounts. Basically it was Twitter telling us that this famous person—Barack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meryl Streep—is who they say they are. It's not some parody account or scammer. They're verified. That's why they have a blue checkmark next to their name.
When Elon Musk took over Twitter, he decided this vertification system smacked of elitism rather than common sense and announced that he was charging for the service. His original offer of $20 per month was lowered (during a hilarious real-time Twitter exchange with Stephen King) to $8 a month, but here's the thing: Anybody could buy it. Anybody could be verified. Anybody. Elon's Twitter did zero due diligence on the accounts, just took the money and ran. The checkmark verified nothing. That wasn't the reason I left Twitter but it was happening around the time I left Twitter.
Today, at work, I got the message below from Twitter about our work account.
You've turned off two-factor authentication for [account]
This means you'll no longer have this added protection when you log in to Twitter. Your account will be more vulnerable to compromise. You can turn on two-factor authentication any time in the Account > Security section of your Twitter settings.
I forwarded the message to our social media liasion, who informed me that it relates to the blue checkmark. Now, if you don't pay for the checkmark, you lose this extra layer of security that Twitter's own team put in place (pre-Elon) to protect us all from hackers.
What an absolute shithead this guy is. What a turd. First, he makes the verification system useless while simultaneously charging for it. Then, when not enough people jump, he says if you don't pay for my now-useless verification system we'll make your account “more vulnerable to compromise.” It's penny-ante extortion is what it is. The dude is just begging to be regulated. I hope it happens soon. I hope it leads more people to jump—off the platform. Permanently.
For what it's worth, you can find me on these platforms:
I'm a little bored with both, to be honest, since not enough people I know are on them. It feels like I arrived too early to a party and I'm just standing there with a drink wondering what the fuck. But at least I don't have to deal with the whims of that little turd anymore.
Wednesday March 15, 2023
Movie Review: Chicago (1927)
To the obvious question: How does it differ from the musical?
For one, Velma Kelly (Julia Faye) is barely in it—maybe five minutes. She calls Roxie “Peroxide” and the two get into a catfight until the female jailkeeper finally pulls them apart with a good line: “This is a decent jail—you can’t act here the way you do at home!” And that’s pretty much it for Velma. No second act. No “All That Jazz” or “Nowadays.”
Meanwhile, Amos Hart (Victor Varconi), Mr. Cellophane, might have a bigger part than Roxie herself. He’s the film’s sad-eyed moral authority.
But I’d say the biggest difference is this: We never really root for Roxie Hart (Phyllis Haver). She’s just too awful.
Last year’s hat
Why? Why do we root for Roxie in the longrunning Broadway musical, and in the 2002 best picture winner, but not here?
“Chicago” is based on a real incident—the murder of Harry Kalstedt by Beulah Annan in 1924. They were lovers, he was leaving her, so Beulah shot him in the back and then listened to a phonograph record, “Hula Lou,” for several hours before phoning her hapless husband, Albert, and crying burglar/rape. With the help of a high-priced lawyer, paid for by Amos, and a yellow press touting her as the most beautiful murderess in America, she was acquitted. Immediately afterwards, she dumped Amos and married another guy. A few years later, age 28, she died of tuberculosis.
In 1926, Maurine Dallas Watkins, who covered the trial for The Chicago Tribune, turned the story into a play, “Chicago,” and Beulah became Roxie Hart. Much of Watkins' drama played out as in life. She got away with it, she wasn’t sorry, justice didn’t prevail.
This 1927 silent film toes that line except she’s made to pay a little.
It opens on the Harts’ bedroom with its separate beds. I’m curious if this was a Production Code thing—fairly toothless in the 1920s—or a comment on their hapless marriage. Either way, Amos rises, looks lovingly at Roxie, then notices the underwear and high heels strewn on the floor. He gives a loving “Oh, you” look before picking things up. In the kitchen, he sees all the dirty dishes in the sink, shakes his head (it’s less “Oh, you” now), but still rolls up his sleeves. Then he serves Roxie breakfast in bed before going off to work.
Roxie can't stand him.
In real life, the man was a mechanic; here he runs a tobacco shop. One customer, an Al Capone-looking mug named Rodney Casley (the gravel-voiced Eugene Pallette, our future Friar Tuck), says he’s going to give his girl “the air”—i.e., dump her—and hey, he just happens to have the same kind of garter-with-a-bell-attached that Roxie wears. Does Casley know he’s talking to the man he’s cuckolding? I didn’t get that sense. It’s just happenstance. Either way, Casley visits Roxie, they fight over her spendthrift ways, he’s about to leave her, blam blam. And the player piano plays on.
When she calls Amos home, he recognizes his former customer, and, despite her line about a burglar/would-be rapist, begins to suspect her of both infidelity and murder. At the same time, he’s still willing to take the fall. When the law comes, he says he did it. Except the DA is suspicious, gets them in separate rooms, and he tells Roxie her husband pinned the blame on her. She runs into the next room and berates him: “You swore you’d stick!” A second later, she realizes she’s been had. “You couldn’t even trust the man who loves you,” sad-faced Amos tells her.
How scared is Roxie at this point? Not as scared as Renee Zellwegger would be in 2002. Mostly, she's just excited seeing her name in headlines.
Amos: Do you realize that you just killed a man? Are you even sorry?
Roxie: You’re just sore ‘cause I’m getting all the publicity!
Much of the middle of the movie is taken up by Billy Flynn (Robert Edeson): How to get him, how to pay for him, his efforts to keep Roxie in line. He has a good early line when she tries to bullshit him: “I’m not your husband—I’m your lawyer!” But he costs 5,000 smackers. In advance. So Amos: 1) empties his savings; 2) takes a loan on his life insurance; 3) pawns his valuables. That’s $2,500. Flynn refuses it. “Installments?” he says. “You must think you’re buying a Ford!” So Amos turns to crime. He smears grease on his face and robs ... Billy Flynn.
At trial, Flynn dresses up Roxie as an innocent and keeps reminding her to droop. Amos kills it on the stand:
DA: [brandishing negligee] Do you consider this proper attire for a married woman receiving a man visitor?
Amos: [after long pause] I consider as proof that his call was unexpected and unwelcome!
The jury takes four hours to acquit her. She’s free … and famous! Ah, but then the comeuppance. Almost immediately “Two-Gun Rosie” starts shooting up a different courtroom and all the attention goes to her. When Roxie complains, a reporter tells her, “Sister, you’re yesterday’s news and that’s deader than last year’s hat!”
Life sure moved fast 100 years ago.
Oh right, the subplot.
Two mugs show up looking for the money Amos stole from Flynn and accidentally knock over the potted plant where the rest of it—$2,500—has been stashed. But a nice maid, Katie (Virginia Bradford), to whom Amos had shown kindness, finds it and hides it. When they try to shake down Amos, wondering where his Ingersoll watch is—though what this proves I don’t know—she comes to the rescue, pretending her Ingersoll (which she got with coupons he provided) is his. And the men leave scratching their heads.
So there’s karma in this version. Amos’ good deed with the maid saves him. And Roxie’s wicked ways with everyone doom her. She winds up in the rain, where the headlines about her—the thing she cares most about in the world—are literally washed away into a storm drain.
I’d like to read the original play someday. The mass-media age was just beginning, but fame was already this huge lure, and there were plenty of moths. The play nails that—that fear that you don’t exist unless you exist in the public sphere. You could almost draw a straight line between Roxie and the various influencers and Kardashians today.
Anyway, to the question I asked at the top: Why do we root for Roxie in the musical but not here?
It’s partly when the stories were crafted. In the musical, created in aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate, you’re either on the make (Roxie, etc.) or being made (Amos), and who wouldn’t rather be the former? It was the age of antiheroes. Life’s a great gag, baby, get everything out of it you can. Plus the deck is already stacked against women. Men? They had it coming. I think that’s part of it.
There’s also proximity to the original awful crime. The further away we are from it, the more we can fictionalize it, the less it matters.
But I think the biggest reason may be this: The 1975 musical and 2002 film were written by men (Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb; Bill Condon), while the 1926 play and the 1927 movie were written by women (Watkins; Lenore J. Coffee). And women know how awful women can be. Why, given a chance, they could be almost as bad as men.
Tuesday March 14, 2023
Be Like Spielberg
Over the weekend, in “Hollywood: An Oral History,” I read the following about Steven Spielberg:
KATHLEEN KENNEDY: Steven has this ability to bring about an idea and then really open it up for discussion. It doesn't matter who's involved in the process. If they have a good idea, he's going to listen to it and he's going to add on it. When people are in an environment, a creative environment like that, and they realize that that isn't closed off to them, then I think people begin to get very creative and they begin to get very alive in terms of ideas. And he's very good at creating an atmosphere like that, and I think, consequently, it shows in his films.
That should be taught in Management 101 classes. It's the answer to so much. A moment later, we get this recollection from Spielberg's longtime collaborator:
JOHN WILLIAMS: I met Steven Spielberg at Universal Studios when he was a very young man. I think he was about, maybe, twenty-three years old, twenty-four years old. One of the executives there, Jennings Lang, said, “I want you to meet a young director who has a film called Sugarland Express. Would you like to have lunch with him?” I'd never heard of Steven Spielberg. Okay, so Mr. Lang's office arranged a lunch at a very fancy restaurant in Beverly Hills, and I was five minutes or so late to the restaurant. And I went over to the table, and here was this kid, he looked like he was seventeen years old. He stood up, and he said, “I'm Steven Spielberg.” And I felt like an elder, more or less immediately. “Oh!” And he was dressed like a very young person might. And the wine list came over. He looked at it, and I could see—I don't think he'd ever held a wine list in his hand before. And we had lunch and spoke about his film. I had no idea what he had done before, some television, I think. But I discovered five minutes into the conversation that this young gentleman knew as much or more than I did about film music. He started singing the themes of films that I'd written, subthemes, you know, that I'd forgotten about, and everything of Max Steiner or anyone else you wanna pick. He was really quite a scholar, an erudite, almost, in this area. Much more than I. And I loved that about him, of course, instantly. And we could sit and dish about film music, ones that I'd played for, the ones I liked, didn't like: “Well, why didn't you like it?” “Why do you like this?” An insatiable capacity to learn. A glistening intellect, obviously, in the first meeting with this kid.
What's the lesson? Learn as much as you can. Learn so much that when you meet a master he's impressed by how much you know. Hell, in some ways you know more than he does about his own stuff. And then keep going. Don't stop. Keep asking questions. You don't know enough. There's always more.
Monday March 13, 2023
‘Everything Everywhere’ Wins Every Oscar Everywhere
Hollywood loves a comeback story. Here's four of them.
Several people asked us if we were hosting an Oscar party this year, and … Well, even if we were leaning in that direction, there was that Movie Night we hosted mid-January—six people arrived, five got COVID—and that leaned us in the other direction. And then Patricia got sick anyway. (She’s negative thus far; probably one of those “cold” things we keep hearing about.) So it was just the two of us and Jellybean. Plus a lot of texting.
It was fun, actually. I thought the show was great. Jimmy Kimmel did a great job, the Will Smith aftermath was dealt with handily and with humor, it was emotional and fun and you had big names singing: Lady Gaga, Rihanna, David Byrne. A lot of underdogs triumphed—particularly Brendan Fraser and Ke Huy Quan—and the whole thing didn’t feel overlong. My sister’s childhood friend Bill “Billy” Kramer is the new CEO of the Academy, and I’m not saying it went smoothly because of Billy, but it totally went smoothly because of Billy.
The post-Oscar coverage has been a little spotty, though. I don’t think enough has been written about how huge this win was for “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
This is what it won:
- Supporting Actress
- Supporting Actor
How many movies in the history of Hollywood have won Oscars for all of the above? None.
You could remove Editing, Screenplay and Director, and it would still be none. Only two other films have ever won three of the four acting awards—“A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Network,” and neither of those won picture or director. “Streetcar” and Elia Kazan lost out to “An American in Paris” and George Stevens (“A Place in the Sun”), while “Network” and Sidney Lumet lost out to “Rocky” and John G. Avildsen (“Rocky”). Those earlier films only won four Oscars total: plus art direction/set direction for “Streetcar” and plus original screenplay for “Network.”
So this is unprecedented for “Everything Everywhere.” It’s not a Big Five win—picture, director, actor, actress, screenplay—which has just gone to “It Happened One Night,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Silence of the Lambs," but it may be deeper.
And does Brooks Barnes mention any of this in The New York Times? Of course not. He leads with the shift to “New Hollywood” in the late 1960s and how maybe we’re in the “New New Hollywood” era, which … I don’t get why exactly. What is that based on? Then he adds one of the oddest asides in the history of the paper of record:
The Daniels, the young filmmaking duo behind the racially diverse “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” won Oscars for their original screenplay and directing. (The Daniels is an oh-so-cool sobriquet for Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. They are both 35.)
As an editor, I would’ve struck “an oh-so-cool” and replaced it with “the.” Either say what you really mean in an Op-Ed or give us the news, Brooks. Stop hiding behind parentheses.
Sadly, there’s also been controversy about some of the names/faces that weren’t mentioned in the In Memoriam section, but I have to say—again—I thought that segment was handled well. John Travolta gave an emotional intro—for Olivia Newton-John, but one imagines he was also thinking of his wife Kelly Preston, who died in 2020—and the song Lenny Kravitz sang, “Calling All Angels” (his, not Jane Siberry’s), was quiet and powerful. Yes, some names were left off. And yes, I would’ve included Paul Sorvino, Tom Sizemore and Anne Heche. I would’ve given fewer seconds to Kravitz and more to the dead. But maybe that says something about my age. The telecast included a QR code/link for a more extensive list, and I checked it out, and holy shit, the names. And the faces. So many faces I instantly recognized that were not mentioned in the broadcast. Here. None of these people were mentioned:
- Taurean Blacque, the coolest dude with the coolest name from “Hill Street Blues”
- Robert Clary, who survived Nazi death camps to participate in a comedy about Nazi concentration camps
- Charlbi Dean, the shockingly beautiful model/actress from the Oscar-nominated “Triangle of Sadness”
- Melinda Dillon, the most put-upon comedic wife/mother in one of the best Christmas movies ever
- Bert Fields, one of the biggest entertainment lawyers ever
- Clarence Gilyard, Jr., who played the annoying computer-nerd terrorist in “Die Hard” (“Oh my God, the quarterback is TOAST!”)
- Gilbert Gottfried
- Clu Gulager
- Philip Fucking Baker Hall
- Estelle Harris, George’s mom
- Mike Hodges
- Bo Hopkins
- L.Q. Jones
- Burt Metcalfe, “M*A*S*H”
- Robert Morse
- James Olson, the put-up father in “Ragtime”
- Henry Silva
- Tony “Paulie Walnuts” Sirico
- Stella Stevens
- Larry Storch
- Joe Turkel, the bartender in “The Shining”
- Fred Fucking Ward
- David Fucking Warner
- Cindy Fucking Williams
I mean, these are the people they left off who meant something to me. And I don’t even work in the industry.
So I think we should all take a deep breath. In the end, the sadness is not how many people were left off but how many people have left us.
- “An Oscars Ceremony That Wasn’t Terrible” by David Chen
- “Oscar Ceremony in Review: 10 Moments to Cheer or Jeer At” by Nathaniel Rogers
Saturday March 11, 2023
Bud Grant (1927-2023)
Is there a more Minnesota moment than 88-year-old Bud Grant trotting out for the coin toss in the 2016 playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings? It was Jan. 10, outdoors in Minneapolis, so the gametime temperature was -6 degrees. And Bud was out there wearing a short-sleeved shirt.
Again: It was minus six degrees.
Bud Grant's 1970s Minnesota Vikings were famous for not showing off. They didn’t spike the ball, didn’t touchdown dance, and their coach on the sidelines never betrayed an emotion. But an octogenarian trotting out in a golf shirt for the third-coldest playoff game in NFL history? Yeah, that’s how Minnesotans show off. It’s not “Hold my beer,” it’s “Hold my jacket.”
As a kid, I thought Bud Grant was ancient, but, like Sparky Anderson, he was simply prematurely gray. He was in his early 40s when I began watching the team in 1971. Everything about him was steel: His hair, his eyes, his demeanor. Although according to the obits, he didn’t coach that way. He was not a martinet. He didn’t yell, he didn’t get into faces, he didn’t show players up. If he had thoughts to give it was mano-a-mano rather than a dressing down in front of the entire team. He believed in guiding but not dictating. He let the players find their path.
“We loved to play for Bud because he knew when to work us hard, but let us have fun at the same time,” Paul Krause told The New York Times in 1990.
This is an odd transition because it’s about a martinet. When I was a kid I remember reading a story about a baseball player for the New York Giants who was told by manager John McGraw to bunt but the guy saw a pitch he liked and swung away—and hit a game-winning homerun. His reward? Fined $50 for not following orders. Fran Tarkenton tells a similar story about Bud Grant here: Charlie West catching a punt on the 4-yard line—a no-no—and going 95 yards for a touchdown and the game. While the place is going crazy, Bud Grant quietly let him know: “Charlie, if you ever do that again, you’ll never play another down for the Minnesota Vikings.” What I like about that? There was no fine. And it wasn’t because West disobeyed a command. It was because he did something fundamentally unsound. And Bud told him so quietly.
He was a bit like Clint Eastwood, wasn’t he? Not just the stoic stare but the way he coached. Let’s be professional, let’s have fun, let’s be done by 5 PM.
He was also a helluva athlete. He played two seasons of professional basketball (Mpls. Lakers), two seasons of professional football (Philadelphia Eages), then something like 10 season of professional football in Canada, before coaching there, and then being coaxed back to the States to coach a moribund NFL franchise in Minnesota. Three years later, they were in the Super Bowl. They went to the Super Bowl three more times on his watch.
Yeah, yeah, I know: 0-4. It’s in the subhed of the Times obit: “…although he lost each time.” Classy, NYT.
He also played baseball. My father says that Bud once said he made more money playing town ball around Minnesota than he did for those two seasons with the Lakers.
Bud retired from coaching in ’83, came back for the ’85 season, finished with a 158-96-5 record. He was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
Seriously, who was more Minnesotan? When he wasn’t hanging out in shirtsleeves in -6 weather, he was sitting in a duck blind in the snow, or out on a lake, fishing. Godspeed. Raise a glass. Skol.
Friday March 10, 2023
The New Timer, the Absence of the Clock, and a Great Pirates Comeback
As soon as I heard about the concept of a “pitch clock” I was against it. Baseball doesn't do clocks. Baseball doesn't do time. Didn't Roger Angell say that? But better?
“Since baseball time is measured only in outs, all you have to do is succeed utterly; keep hitting, keep the rally alive, and you have defeated time. You remain forever young.”
He also said this:
“Baseball's clock ticks inwardly and silently, and a man absorbed in a ball game is caught in a slow, green place of removal and concentration and in a tension that is screwed up slowly and ever more tightly with each pitcher's windup and with the almost imperceptible forward lean and little half-step with which the fielders accompany each pitch. Whatever the pace of the particular baseball game we are watching, whatever its outcome, it holds us in its own continuum and mercifully releases us from our own.”
That's beautiful. And now the current lords of Baseball are messing with that beauty. They want to make sure batters step into the box within a certain number of seconds (or get an automatic strike) and pitchers pitch within a certain number of seconds (or get an automatic ball). They tried it out in the minors and this year they're trying it out in the Majors. They're ruining the game!
That's what I thought.
And then I read Joe Posnanski's piece, “Baseball and Time,” in which he was very much in favor of the pitch-clock change. And he won me over. I'm looking forward to the change now.
No. 1, it's increasingly kinda necessary. In my lifetime, games have gotten longer and longer, and players aren't going to police themselves—they'll take what they can get—and so they have to be policed. Apparently spring training games are a half-hour quicker this season: 2.5 hours vs. 3 hours. That's about what it was when I was a kid.
As for Roger Angell's great quote about baseball and time? Poz says it still applies:
But there's a bigger reason I believe both in a pitch clock in baseball and no clock in baseball — it's because I think we're talking about two entirely different things. I don't think the concepts clash at all.
See, by “no clock in baseball,” what I'm really thinking about is not time between pitches. It's all about how outs, not minutes, are the currency of time in the game. That's the magic. ...
If anyone tried to mess with that part of baseball, sure, I'd roar angrily. Three outs in an inning ... nine innings in a game ... this is the most elegant way ever created to time a sport in my view. There is no clock limiting your possibilities. You could be down six runs with two outs in the ninth inning and nobody on base, the way Pittsburgh was against Houston in 2001. If this were an NFL game or NBA game or NHL game or soccer game, there would have been no hope.
But baseball has no clock. And there was hope. And the Pirates came back and won. I'll have more on that game as we get closer to a certain book I've written.
Point is, there's still no clock in baseball. There's now a timer to make sure that guys don't just stand around and halt the forward momentum of the game. But you're still alive until the last out is recorded.
I like that distinction. Here's that Pirates game, btw, when they defeated time and remained forever young.
You know the fun thing about that game? Besides the obvious? After Pat Meares' HR makes it 8-4, the color announcer—is it Bob Walk?—says, “A lot of hoopin' and hollerin', but the horse is already out of the barn.” I probably would've thought the same. No chance for a comeback. But when they do come back, when Brian Giles goes deep to win it, the same color announcer offers a really nice, really smooth mea culpa. “Seven runs in the bottom of the 9th inning, he hits a grand slam homerun off possibly the best closer in baseball ... That is just phenomenal. Well, they went out and found that horse, put a rope around his neck, and let him back in the barn.”
Opening Day is March 30.
Thursday March 09, 2023
A Tale of Two Headlines: NYT
Here are two headlines from The New York Times. This was the lead story on their website when I woke up:
Raising taxes, wow. On you and me? Well, not really. That's the bit the headline leaves out. The proposed taxes would mostly fall on billionaires and corporate stock buybacks. The closest it gets to you and me is including earners north of $400k. But that's still a ways from me. Hope you're doing better.
Here's the second headline. It's one of the big stories making the rounds this week:
They shared a quandry, Gracie? What was that quandry? The subhed gets right into what the headline soft-pedals: “Fox hosts and executives privately mocked the former president's election fraud claims, even as the network amplified them in a frantic effort to appease viewers.” Yeah, that's a quandry all right. You push a narrative you privately think is nuts and dangerous because it's good for business; then that narrative helps lead to the gravest, most violent threat to the transition of power and American democracy in my lifetime. A “quandry.”
What do these headlines have in common? Both benefit Republicans. They push Republican narratives. The real story about Biden is beneficial to Biden. The real story about Fox is detrimental to Fox.
You can't help but wonder who's writing the headlines for the Times and what their marching orders are. I get the feeling there's a quandry there.
UPDATE: An hour later, the Times changed its Biden headline to “Biden's $6.8 Trillion Budget Doubles Down on the Power of Government.” But records showing Fox pushed a dangerous narrative it didn't believe in that resulted in Jan. 6? That's still a quandry.
Wednesday March 08, 2023
Movie Review: All My Sons (1948)
Let me give you the synopsis of an Arthur Miller play: A businessman with two sons and a doting wife has a terrible secret, and when one of his sons finds out their relationship is ruined. The family seems happy but is actually haunted—it’s dealing with ghosts—ghosts that went overseas. For a time, the father sustains himself with lies. But in the end, forced to confront his failures, he kills himself.
And the play isn’t “Death of a Salesman."
It was wild seeing “All My Sons” as the closing movie at SIFF’s 2023 “Noir City” Film Festival. One, it’s not close to being a noir, and two, it touches on many of the themes and plot points of “Salesman.” The ghost that haunts the family isn’t Ben, the older brother who walked out of the jungle a rich man at age 21, but Larry, the son who went overseas to fight the war and never returned. And the father’s secret isn’t an affair with a floozy; it’s shipping defective airplane parts that cause the death of 21 American pilots during World War II.
Directed by Elia Kazan, “All My Sons” debuted on Broadway in January 1947, ran for a year, and won Tonys for best author and best direction, as well as the New York Critics Circle prize for best play of the 1946-47 season.
Then it came to Hollywood.
The movie isn’t bad, but …
- Burt Lancaster as Edward G. Robinson’s son? I guess the wife did a lot of heavy DNA lifting there.
- Howard Duff as the moral authority? Enjoy it while you can, Howard.
- Louisa Horton as the girl you yearn for even though she reminds everyone of family tragedies? I guess?
Universal tapped Chester Erskine to adapt and Irving Reis to direct. Erskine was also producer so he had a say, but neither seems the A team.
The relationships here are interconnected enough to feel incestuous. Chris Keller (Lancaster) is courting Ann Deever (Horton), who used to be his brother Larry’s girl, and whose father is the business partner Chris’ father, Joe (Robinson), betrayed. Yeah, that’s some baggage with which to start a relationship. Worse, Chris’ mother, Kate (Mady Christians), keeps calling her “Larry’s girl” because she can’t abide any suggestion Larry won’t return—to the point where she seems a bit nuts. Meanwhile, Ann’s brother George (Duff) has just visited their father, Herbert (Frank Conroy), in prison, realizes how Chris’ father betrayed him, and arrives to take Ann away.
I like how even George has a secret—he has a thing for a married neighbor, Lydia Luby (Elisabeth Fraser), who’s on her third child. I also like how he shows up angry, ready to take Ann away, until he’s mothered into a good mood by Kate. (Kate, oddly, is at her best with George.) But he loses the good mood at dinner, when Joe begins bragging about how he’s never been sick a day in his life—even though a sick day was his excuse for why Herbert, and Herbert alone, was responsible for shipping the defective parts.
The second half of the movie is Chris realizing his father is in fact guilty. Eleventh hour, Ann brings out a letter Larry wrote the morning he left for his final mission. He says he was so distraught by his father’s actions that he planned to commit suicide by crashing his plane off the coast of China. All of which makes Joe kinda-sorta wake up and realize he shouldn’t have shipped the defective parts—that those boys overseas were all his sons. He says this as he goes upstairs. And then blam.
The movie ends with Kate shooing Chis and Ann out the door and desperately urging them to live … LIVE! I don’t know if that was an attempt at a happy ending but it comes across as the opposite.
Here’s what I don’t get. Why would Joe would ship defective airplane parts overseas when his son was a pilot overseas? He didn’t need to see every G.I. as his son, he just needed to connect the obvious dots. “Joe, what if your son winds up flying one of our defective planes?” “You’re right, Herb. Don’t know what I was thinking.”
Apparently all of this is based on a true incident. From 1941 to 1943, officials at an aeronautical plant in Ohio “conspired with civilian advisers and Army inspection officers to approve substandard or defective aircraft engines for military use.” Miller’s mother-in-law pointed out the story to him.
Interesting that the two big Warner Bros. gangsters, Robinson and James Cagney, both starred in film adaptations of award-winning plays in 1948. Cagney’s was the self-produced “The Time of Your Life” by William Saroyan, which won the Pulitzer in 1940, and in which Cagney plays “Joseph T. (who observes people).” Neither is great nor well-remembered. Cagney’s nearly sent him into bankruptcy.
This movie did make me think Robinson would’ve made a great Willy Loman. He’s what Miller envisioned the character to be: short, Jewish, charming, a perennial outsider.
Tuesday March 07, 2023
Tucker Carlson Hates Donald Trump Passionately
Via The Washington Post:
Days before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, Fox's Tucker Carlson texted producer Alex Pfeiffer about how badly he wanted to stop covering President Donald Trump and how he had come to loathe the president.
“We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights,” Carlson texted Jan. 4, 2021. “I truly can't wait.”
“I hate him passionately,” Carlson added.
MAGA nation, please reconcile this discrepancy amongst yourselves—if you can. And if you can't, please sell tickets.
Tuesday March 07, 2023
.350 Hitters By Decade
A few weeks ago, in his Pitchers and Catchers report, Joe Posnanski lamented the dearth of 140-RBI seasons by counting out their number per decade since the 1920s, and ending with this:
Yeah, that's right: zero. The most RBIs in a season was Miguel Cabrera's 139 in 2012, followed by Chris Davis' 138 in 2013. I love that Chris Davis and Khris Davis have two of the top RBI seasons of the last decade. But the point is that the big RBI seasons have mostly gone away. This is surely because fewer and fewer hitters are getting on base, batting averages have gone way down, Mike Trout and some of the other great hitters in the game can't stay healthy for a full season. But it's a little bit sad. I'm not a fan of using RBIs to judge a player's production, but I admit to getting a little thrill when I see a player with a BIG RBI total.
As with me and hitting .350. So I thought I'd do the same. To be honest, I thought I'd already done it, in the post “It's 2018: Do You Know Where Your .350 Hitters Are?” but I'd just counted up dearths, not decades. So here they are by decades:
- 1900-09: 25, led by Nap Lajoie's .426 in 1901
- 1910-19: 30, led by Ty Cobb's .420 in 1911
- 1920-29: 95!!!!!, led by Rogers Hornsby's .423 in 1924
- 1930-39: 50, led by Bill Terry's .401 in 1930
- 1940-49: 16, led by Ted Williams' .406 in 1941
- 1950-59: 8, led by Ted Williams' .388 in 1957
- 1960-69: 3, led by Norm Cash's .361 in 1961
- 1970-79: 8, led by Rod Carew's .388 in 1977
- 1980-89: 13, led by George Brett's .390 in 1980
- 1990-99: 18, led by Tony Gwynn's .394 in 1994
- 2000-09: 17, led by three players with .372
- 2010-19: 1, Josh Hamilton, .359 in 2010
- 2020-22: 2*, led by D.J. LeMahieu's .364 in 2020
First, how cool is it that Ted Williams had the highest batting average of the 1940s and 1950s? And it wasn't like it was 1949 an 1951. It was 1941 and 1957—a 16-year gap!
Second is that asterisked “2” for the 2020-22 years. Both occurred during the pandemic-shortened year when MLB teams played, at most, 61 games rather than 162. So do we count those? Not really. If you go by a full season, which is kinda what I do, no one's done it since Josh Hamilton in 2010.
But I'm thinking the new rules—particularly the banning of the shift—could swing the pendulum back again. Fingers crossed.
All previous entries
What Trump Said When About COVID
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Blonde Crazy (1931)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
Something to Sing About (1937)
Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)
Come Fill the Cup (1951)
A Lion Is In the Streets (1953)
Man of a Thousand Faces (1957)
Never Steal Anything Small (1959)
Shake Hands With the Devil (1959)