Wednesday September 14, 2022

Movie Review: Alibi (1929)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The crime at the center of the film—for which the titular alibi becomes necessary—involves a warehouse fur heist gone wrong, leading to the death of a passing cop.

Yes, it’s the same crime Tom Powers and company would commit in “The Public Enemy” two years later (and parodied two years after that in “Little Giant”). So did Bright and Glasmon lift the idea from screenwriters Roland West and C. Gardner Sullivan, who were adapting the 1927 stage play “Nightstick”? Or were warehouse fur robberies a big deal in the 1920s?

“Alibi” is one of the first gangster films of the sound era, so most of the actors speak in that odd, slow, dreamlike cadence of early talkies rather than the snappy patter of a Cagney or Robinson. But we get some great shots from director Roland West: the shadow of the detective outside the door while Soft Malone (Elmer Ballard) is being grilled; Billy Morgan (Regis Toomey in his film debut) drunkenly reaching for booze; the rooftop escape of Chick Williams (Chester Morris, nominated for an Oscar). 

Most unexpected? A pretty good mid-movie reveal.

Cops just don’t understand
It begins the way “The Big House” (also starring Morris) began a year later: with the robotic clomping of the feet of marching prisoners. One is singled out. He’s shown a piece of paper with his prison ID on it, “No. 1065,” and it morphs into his name, “Chick Williams.” When we next see him, he’s wearing a suit, rather than his prison grays, and shaking the guard’s hand on the way out. Nice bit.

Then we’re a nightclub run by Buck Bachman (Harry Stubbs), with the dancing girls and singers of the era. Chick is there with his girl, Joan (Eleanor Griffith), at a table with Buck and his wise-cracking moll Daisy (Mae Busch), and they’re talking about the bum rap Chick got. A drunk stumbles over. It’s Billy Morgan, boy stockbroker. He’s got an eye for Joan and engages in some shenanigans to get her address. Buck calls him harmless. We wonder.

For the first half, it feels like a wronged-man movie. Chick is courting Joan, the daughter of Sgt. Paul Manning (Purnell Pratt), but the old man hates Chick, whom he calls a jailbird, and wants Joan to marry Det. Tommy Glennon (Pat O’Malley). But Joan doesn't want to marry a cop. Some of her thoughts feel on the matter feel surprisingly contemporary:

Tommy: Now what’s the matter with policemen?
Joan: They’re man hunters. They’re cruel and merciless—always hounding some poor devil and sending him to jail. They think themselves great heroes.
Tommy: Well, we’ve got to uphold the law.
Joan: Law! Is third-degreeing—bull-dogging people into confessing crimes they didn’t commit—is that law?
Tommy: No, but... Oh, I don’t understand.
Joan: Of course you don’t. You’re a policeman.

Much of the film bears her out, too. When Dad finds out Chick and Joan got married, he literally locks up his daughter like she’s in a fairy tale. Then he tries to railroad Chick into jail again by pinning the fur heist/cop killing on him with zero evidence. When his own daughter provides the alibi—that they were at the National Theater that night—Dad sends Tommy to see if it was theoretically possible for Chick to have committed the crime. And it was! The show has an intermission between 9:55 and 10:05, and the cop was killed at 10 PM—just five minute away.

Which is when they start sweating witnesses, specifically Soft Malone, who was seen driving away from the scene of the crime. How do they sweat him? They threaten to kill him. Here’s Tommy:

You ever know what happened to Gimpy Jackson after he shot a cop? He just disappeared.

A few minutes later, he gets more specific: 

How’d you like to be buried next to Gimpy Jackson, Soft?

Holy crap. At this point, I’m thinking: Well, the movie was independently produced, by West, and distributed by United Artists, and it was pre-code, so cops didn’t have to be heroes. Even so, it felt revelatory: The cops are the bad guys! 

All that strongarming works, too: Soft gives up a name, and it’s Chick’s. So Dad got what he wanted. And now they’re going after him. 

Which is when we get our second reveal. 

The first reveal is that Billy Morgan, the drunk broker who finagles Joan’s address, is in fact an undercover cop, Danny McGann. The second reveal is that our poor put-upon hero is in fact a cold-blooded cop killer. Dad was right: Chick actually runs the gang; Buck is a flunky. When Chick discovers that Soft Malone has been pinched, he looks for a respectable citizen who might “verify” that Chick phoned him at 10 PM from the National Theater on the night of the killing. Guess who he chooses? Billy Morgan, boy broker. 

All of that is kind of fun. Everything is the opposite of what it seemed in the first half:

  • Put-upon hero is ruthless killer
  • Drunk lech is hero cop
  • Soft-voiced cop is tough hero
  • Outspoken woman is absolute idiot

Yes, that means the movie's hero, Tommy, also threatened to kill a witness in cold blood. But I guess you can’t have everything.

What cowards these criminals be
My favorite character is Daisy. She’s a smart cookie who’s stuck with Buck, a dull lump, and she gets off some of the best lines. After everything goes awry, he tells her to pack a suitcase, she balks, and he pushes her head-first into a door. (Makes a grapefruit-to-the-face seem loving.) Shortly thereafter, Chick arrives, sees Joan on the phone (unknowingly alerting the cops to their whereabouts), and starts yelling at Buck.

Chick: What do you mean letting her use that phone? I oughta break your neck.
Daisy: Oh please. Don’t talk about it. Do it.

As revolutionary as the movie seems early on, with Joan’s diatribe against coppers, it winds up at the other, more predictable extreme, with Tommy not only catching Chick but taunting him into proving what a coward he is. That said, Chick’s death is handled well. He escapes to the rooftop, jumps to another building, barely makes it, then loses his balance and falls silently to his death. I flashed on Roth’s death in Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead.”

It’s not a bad little movie, totally undeserving of its current 5.7 IMDb rating. Don’t think Morris deserved his Oscar nom, but I guess the mid-movie switcheroo impressed early Academy voters. Set design is crazy fun: those art-deco doors of early talkies, along with almost Dali-esque wallpaper.

Director Roland West is probably best known today for being a suspect in the 1935 death of Thelma Todd, his one-time lover and business partner (of Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café), whose body was found in West’s garage in a still-running Packard convertible. He directed several good Lon Chaney movies in the silent era, and obviously made the transition to talkies well enough, so I’m not sure what happened to him. His last film, as director or producer, was “Corsair” in 1931, starring Chester Morris and Thelma Todd. He also has several ur-superhero connections. His 1926 silent film, “The Bat,” was part of the inspiration for Batman, while West later married Lola Lane, one of the Lane sisters (“Four Daughters,” “Four Wives”), whose name, yes, helped inspire Jerry Siegel’s Daily Planet reporter.

West died in 1952, age 65. In his obit, “Alibi” is called “one of the greatest hits in motion picture history.” It wasn't, then or now, but it's better than 5.7.

SLIDESHOW


  • A publicity shot depicting the movie's main conflict: boyfriend vs. daddyo. In the first half, Dad locks up his daughter and threatens a witness with a gun. Guess what? Father knows best.

  • Just some minor witness intimidation. 

  •  West was still employing various silent-film-era visual effects that felt amost avant-garde. 

  • Like this. The guy behind the door is never explained. 

  • It's either Salvador Dali's rec room or an early go at the Partridge Family bus design.

  • Regis Toomey in his film debut, reaching for the bottle. He doesn't know his cover has already been blown.

  • Chick making his getaway.

  • And just before the fall.

  • As it must to all men. *FIN*
Posted at 07:15 AM on Wednesday September 14, 2022 in category Movie Reviews - 1920s   |   Permalink  

Tuesday September 13, 2022

Emmys Need an Enema

I watched most of the Emmys last night and tweeted some of my disappointment with the show. Not with the winners—although my vote goes to “Barry” for comedy, and my vote (and my heart) goes to Rhea Seehorn for “Better Call Saul”—but more with the show's presentation. Didn't much engagement from those tweets, but today I read Michael Schulman's piece in The New Yorker, “Cringe-Watching the 2022 Emmys” and felt seen. Example:

Despite celebrating the craft of television, the ceremony was ineptly written and paced. Thompson's comedy interludes had a wocka-wocka desperation about them, and the formerly low-key job of announcer went to the comedian Sam Jay, who stole focus with contrived introductions of the presenters. (“You've seen them on 'Black Bird,' but they've never been mentioned on Black Twitter. . . .”) For whatever reason, not all the presenters could be trusted to read off the nominees, which were sometimes announced before the presenters walked onstage, and the “In Memoriam” sequence was shot from angles that made it difficult to see the names of some of the departed. In the d.j. booth—because somehow having a celebrity d.j. has become mandatory at awards shows—was a fellow called Zedd, whose idea of wit was bringing up “Succession” 's Jesse Armstrong to “Shake Your Booty.” The play-off music, just as subtly, included “Time to Say Goodbye,” and kept things moving at a brutal clip. Instead of letting the winners build up to real emotion, the broadcast shooed them off to make time for the stars of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (tastelessly introduced as “two cops no one wants to see defunded”) to go on a chase for a stolen Emmy.

Agree on all of it. I don't need the house-party vibe. I don't need extra bits. I like comedy, I like songs, but mostly just celebrate the craft. Celebrate the people. That's why we're there. We like you, we really like you. So get on with it.

And next year, give a fucking statuetee to Rhea Seehorn. For God's sake.

Posted at 03:51 PM on Tuesday September 13, 2022 in category TV   |   Permalink  

Saturday September 10, 2022

Movie Review: The Criminal Code (1930)

WARNING: SPOILERS

My favorite moment is a line reading from Boris Karloff.

Three men are in a jail cell and the youngest, Robert Graham (Philips Holmes), gets hysterical after he receives word that—shades of “White Heat”—his mother has died. A guard, Captain Gleason (DeWitt Jennings), who is not so much sadistic as just a big fat jerk, wants to know what the commotion is. Jim (Otto Hoffman), the old hand, says they got the kid under control but Gleason isn’t satisfied. “No con under me can yowl that way and throw this pen into a panic—kick him over here.” At which point the camera focuses on Galloway (Karloff), who says, slowly and plainly, “Come in and get him.”

It’s not an overt threat, it’s just filled with underlying menace. I was like: Holy shit.

Earlier, before the telegram, as the other two talk, Galloway is mostly silent, reading his newspaper. Then we get his back story. He’d been sentenced to 20 years, got out after eight, and went to a speakeasy to wash the taste of the place out of his mouth. But he was spotted, ratted on, and sent back for the remaining 12. “Twelve years, for one lousy glass of beer,” he says. “The guy that squealed is in here, too. I’ve got an appointment with him—and 12 years to keep it.”

Gleason is the guy who squealed.

All of which made me think that even if Karloff didn’t become famous for “Frankenstein,” we still would’ve heard of him. Who knows, maybe “Frankenstein” unfairly stuck him in a genre, horror, that tends to the cheesy and slapdash.

A man must have a code
Karloff isn’t the hero of “The Criminal Code” but might as well be. He’s the guy who enforces the second kind of criminal code.

Yes, the title has a double meaning. To the lawmen, it’s the code against criminals—to throw the book at them, basically. To the prisoners, it’s the code of criminals, a code of honor, which begins and ends with: Don’t snitch. Galloway is the one who embodies this latter aspect. He kills the cowardly prison snitch, Runch (Clark Marshall), going after him slowly and stiff-legged, almost like a precursor to “Frankenstein”; and when Graham gets solitary for not snitching on the killing, and may get worse when other cons send him a knife, it’s Galloway to the rescue. “That kid don’t take no rap for me,” he says. “I’m going to keep an appointment.” The one with Gleason.

The ostensible hero, though, is Mark Brady (Walter Huston), who begins the movie as a crusading district attorney, unsuccessfully runs for governor, and is then appointed prison warden. Huston gets one good scene. He prosecuted a bunch of the cons himself, they’re plotting against him, and when they see him in a window they start yammering. Just a lot of noise. So Brady goes down to the yard himself. Outside, he lights a cigar, and walks into a sea of parting cons. The yammering stops. He stares straight at them, and then at one con in particular. “Hello, Tex.” Long pause. Tex bends his head. “Hi, Mr. Brady.” And that’s that. He’s won the day. I don’t buy the scene but Huston sells it well. 

I just didn’t like Brady. He’s the one who first annunciates the lawman’s version of the criminal code. The movie opens with an accidental murder by Graham (nightclub, jerk, bottle), and, looking at the evidence, Brady talks about how he could get the kid off if he were his defense lawyer. “It’s just a rotten break, that’s all,” he says. But when the kid’s out-of-his-element attorney suggests 10 years on a manslaughter charge is too much, Brady jumps down his throat:

Good lord, man, what do you want? There’s a boy lying on a slab in the morgue. That’s a big piece out of his life—all of it. Somebody’s got to pay for that! An eye for an eye. That’s the basis and foundation of the criminal code. Somebody’s got to pay!

These words are repeated throughout the film. Galloway uses similar ones when talking about Runch and the other criminal code: “He squealed, turned on his pals, and a man’s dead. Somebody’s got to pay for that.” Then when the kid is left holding the bag for Runch’s death, and Brady suspects his innocence and is trying to sweat it out of him, Brady’s original words are tossed back at him by the state’s attorney (Russell Hopton), who wants someone charged ASAP:

A man’s dead and somebody’s got to pay! An eye for an eye! That’s the basis and foundation of our criminal code, Mr. Brady.

Not a bad structure: the first-act criminal code puts a poor kid in prison, the second-act criminal code leads to the death of a prison snitch—for which that same kid might unfairly have to pay if the third-act criminal code is pushed forward. But it’s not. When the state’s attorney leaves his office, Brady lights a cigar, looks after him, and says “fathead.” He says it twice. One gets the feeling the second “fathead” is for his earlier self—the one without empathy.

There’s also a romance between Graham and the warden’s daughter (Constance Cummings, making her film debut), which isn’t bad, considering it’s a romance between a con and the warden’s daughter. 

How does it all play out? As Brady sweats Graham, one con (Andy Devine!) sends Graham a knife, Galloway says enough of that and gets himself tossed in the hole, too. There, after a failed shootout, he throws the gun out but grabs the kid’s knife and uses it to kill Gleason; then he’s killed himself. The warden then reunites his daughter with Graham—without even a shower for the kid—and they hug and kiss and profess their love, while Brady repeats the line he told Graham before sending him away: “That’s the way things break sometimes.” 

Right. At this point, I already miss Karloff.

The death of Runch: Frankenstein before Frankenstein.

Early QT
The movie’s got a good opening anyway. Two detectives are playing pinochle at the station, a call comes in about a fight at Spelvin’s Café, and they’re told to get going. They do, but their minds are hardly on the work:

Cop 1: By my rules you owe me 42 cents.
Cop 2: That’s you all over: arbitrary.
Cop 1: I don’t know what arbitrary means but you still owe me 42 cents!

Dudes on a case talking about everything but the case. It’s like Tarantino 60 years before Tarantino.

I also like an early scene in the D.A.’s office when the girl the fight/murder was over, sitting next to Brady’s desk, inches her skirt just above the knee to distract Brady. “Pull down the shade,” he says to her.

Howard Hawks directed this before he became Howard Hawks. (His next film was “Scarface.”) Seton I. Miller was one of two men adapting it (from a stage play by Martin Flavin), while James Wong Howe was one of two cinematographers on the project. Back then he was sometimes credited as James Howe but this is the only time his name was misspelled: “James How.”

Posted at 12:37 PM on Saturday September 10, 2022 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Thursday September 08, 2022

The Random-Nut Memo

“I remember, when I was reporting on the book, Mitt Romney said to me, 'One of the first things you learn in politician school is ”Don't say something that's going to inflame the random nut out there.“' And Donald Trump never got the random-nut memo.”

-- Journalist Mark Leibovich last week on the “Stay Tuned with Preet” podcast. Thought of it again reading Ruby Cramer's excellent piece on the threats on the life of Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and other Democratic members of Congress. And it's not just Trump. It's Fox, and right-wing talk radio, and that crowd. I remember after Obama got elected, how Fox News upped the rhetoric against him, and the concern I had for this very reason. Today, the nuts are much more numerous and much less random. 

Posted at 04:47 PM on Thursday September 08, 2022 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Tuesday September 06, 2022

Movie Review: Barbary Coast (1935)

WARNING: SPOIILERS

Didn’t a famous director once say that the drama on a movie set is often more interesting than the drama in the movie? I thought it was Hitchcock, and I thought it led to Truffaut’s “Day for Night,” but I’m not not finding any on that online. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place.

Whoever said it, you could apply it to “Barbary Coast.” The story in the movie is silly—dictated by its time and stars. A hifalutin dame, Mary Rutledge (Miriam Hopkins), soon nicknamed “Swan,” is set to land in gold-mad, 1850s San Francisco, the notorious Barbary Coast, to be the bride of a man she’d never met: Dan Morgan. Except Mr. Morgan, he dead. So she waits for the alpha dog to emerge. That’s Luis Chamalis (Edward G. Robinson), who runs the Bella Donna, a saloon/casino that cheats the prospectors out of their scraped-together findings. Swan, dressed in frilly white, does the same, while putting off the amorous advances of Luis. Then she falls in love with a tall, poetry-spouting prospector, Jim Carmichael (Joel McCrea), but lies to him about her background. When he discovers the truth—just before the boat back to NYC and his beloved Gramercy Park—he gambles his earnings, she cheats him of them, and they’re both like “Fine!” But in the final act—as citizens form vigilante squads and string up the gangsters—they find love again and are ready to leave the place. But no, Luis won't have it, and he wings Jim and is about to kill him when Mary convinces him to let them go so they can blah blah. And he surrenders himself to the mob to die. And the lovers blah blah.

Yeah, blah. But behind the scenes? Wow.

In his autobiography, Robinson writes admiringly of Jean Arthur, his previous co-star in “The Whole Town’s Talking”: “She was whimsical without being silly, unique without being nutty, a theatrical personality who was an untheatrical person. She was a delight to work with and to know.”

Next graph, he lowers the boom: “Miriam Hopkins, on the other hand, was a horror.” 

He enumerates the problems. She was always late, changed dialogue, missed her marks, tried to upstage her co-stars, particularly Robinson, and was generally theatrical and haughty. For her closeups, Robinson read with her; for his, she couldn’t be bothered and the chore went to a script girl. In one scene he had to slap her, and he wanted to rehearse it so it would look real and not hurt. She wanted it once and done, and told him to slap her for real. “I slapped her so you could hear it all over the set,” he wrote. “And the cast and crew burst into applause.” His implication is everyone else was sick of her, too, but who knows? Maybe they admired her dedication to the craft? Or that it was one and done?

Such tensions, I'm sure, aren't untypical. But this is what I’m getting at: 

In addition, the set of Barbary Coast was highly politicized. … [screenwriters] Hecht and MacArthur were liberals; Howard Hawks, Miriam Hopkins, Joel McCrea Walter Brennan and Harry Carey were not liberals. … F.D.R. was still in his first term, and anti-administration forces were calling the New Deal un-American, Bolshevik, communist and socialist. These inflammatory points of view were constantly being aired on the set …The wealthy, the celebrated, the successful (and, realize, I could now count myself among them), saw F.D.R. as an enemy trying to change the fundamental fabric of the Republic. On the other hand, we saw him as a man trying to save capitalism by dealing with the fundamental inequities in the nation.

Robinson doesn’t go into how this politicization manifested itself—probably with the usual arguments—but plus ca change, right? These forces are still trying to undo the latest progressive step: Obamacare, Obergefell, abortion. Some are still trying to undo the New Deal.

And just think of the relevance to Robinson. Nine years later, Hawks helped found, and Brennan became a prominent member of, The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a right-wing Hollywood org that worked in tandem with Hoover’s FBI and HUAC to help create the circumstances that led to the Hollywood Blacklist, which curtailed Robinson’s career. A liberal, he was attacked for speaking out against Fascism but not Communism, and was forced to appear before HUAC and trout out a confessional article “How the Reds made a Sucker Out of Me” for American Legion Magazine in 1952. He had to go hat-in-hand to Ward Fucking Bond to get work again. And even then it was B pictures.

That’s your story. “Barbary Coast” is bullshit in comparison. 

White woman
I first heard the phrase “Barbary Coast” in 1975 when William Shatner starred in a short-lived TV series by that name. I don’t think I watched it much, despite Capt. Kirk. It didn’t zip to me. It was stuck in the mud.

For some reason, in the mid-1930s, we got an influx of movies set there: this one (released Sept. 1935), Cagney’s “Frisco Kid” (Nov. 1935), and Clark Gable in “San Francisco” (June 1936), which updates things to the 1906 earthquake, and which was a runaway smash hit. So was it just that Hollywood tendency to do what everyone else is doing? Or a novel way to use modern gangster-actors in non-modern settings? Maybe the production code growing teeth in 1934 made producers look toward, you know, “simpler times.”

The “W” word is dropped early: white. Mary Rutledge creates a sensation because she’s basically the first white woman in San Francisco. When she’s rowed ashore in the fog by journalist Col. Marcus Aurelius Cobb (Frank Craven) and Old Atrocity (Brennan), we get this exchange:

Man: Who ya got there?
Old Atrocity: A white woman!
Man: Ah, yer lyin’!
Old Atrocity: No, I ain’t! She’s a New York white woman. Whiter than a hen’s egg!
Man: Whooo!

It’s New Year’s Eve, some white men are having fun cutting the pigtails off of Chinamen (as one does), and Mary and Luis toast each other. The next morning a deal is struck in the vague way of code movies. He offers protection, a position, and a way to make a mint. And she offers? I guess her plumage at the roulette wheel. In any non-code movie, he would also get her, i.e., sex, but this is code, so no. Plus it’s Robinson. He never gets the girl. He’s always desperately on the outside of that exchange.

McCrea doesn’t show up until about 40 minutes in. He’s good. He should’ve had more scenes with Robinson because they’re so opposite: tall, handsome, and an easy-going mark, vs. short, conniving, and having zero luck with the ladies. Could’ve done without the bad poetry, but I guess Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and probably Columbia, thought it high-class.

The movie never quite coalesces or resonates. In an early scene, the men in town carry the newly arrived Mary across the street so she doesn’t get mud on her dress, and unfortunately the movie does the same. It wants her innocent and mud-free when she’s more cutthroat than that. For half the film, she’s bilking the schmucks.

Older man
There’s also a subplot with Mary’s original protector, Col. Cobb, who decides to publish a newspaper in town. But when he tries to get involved with progressive reform, he’s killed by Luis’ muscle, Knuckles Jacoby (Brian Donlevy). I remember thinking, “Sure, Donlevy again,” but this was actually his first such role. Before this, he’d just been in silents and shorts. A string of 1935 flicks led to a long career expertly playing heavies. 

The actor who plays Cobb, Frank Craven, was an old theater friend of Robinson’s, and, despite being a rock-ribbed Republican, the two had a good time reminiscing. But Robinson noticed Craven had gotten older, and it made him realize that so had he. He was 41 now, with more past than future, and “I didn’t like it.” That said, a few years later, Craven got his biggest role yet, as Stage Manager in the original Broadway production of “Our Town,” a role he played in the movie version, too. So I guess it’s never too late.

Amazing with all the legendary talent in the room—Hecht, MacArthur, Hawks, etc., produced by Samuel Goldwyn, with costumes by Omar Kiam—that this was the result. “Frisco Kid” was much better, and it wasn’t particularly good.

Posted at 08:59 AM on Tuesday September 06, 2022 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s   |   Permalink  

Monday September 05, 2022

Repeat This Sentence Every Day Until the 2024 Election

“On December 18th, Trump hosted Flynn and a group of other election deniers in the Oval Office, where, for the first time in American history, a President would seriously entertain using the military to overturn an election.”

-- from “Inside the War Between Trump and His Generals: How Mark Milley and others in the Pentagon handled the national-security threat posed by their own Commander-in-Chief,” by Susan Glasser and Peter Baker, in The New Yorker. Recommended.

Posted at 11:01 AM on Monday September 05, 2022 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Wednesday August 31, 2022

What is D.W. Griffith 'Known For'?

How much is IMDb/Amazon warping our history? Here's D.W. Griffith's Wikipedia page, second graf. I mean it says it right there:

Griffith is known to modern audiences primarily for directing the film The Birth of a Nation (1915). One of the most financially successful films of all time, it made investors enormous profits, but it also attracted much controversy for its degrading portrayals of African Americans, its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan, and its racist viewpoint.

Here's an obit from 1948:

 

Here's a comparison of these four films using IMDb's own stats:

Rnk Movie Quotes Trivia Movie Connects Critic Rvws User Rvws Rating No. of Ratings
1 Intolerance 31 46 105 76 125 7.7 15,576
2 The Mother and the Law 0 3 1 1 4 7.1 210
3 The Birth of a Nation 26 79 260 80 380 6.2 24,748
4 Broken Blossoms 18 20 42 76 96 7.3 10,360

In terms of engagement/interest, “Birth” trumps everything. I mean, I'd go in this order: “Birth,” “Intolerance,” “Broken Blossoms,” and then maybe “Abraham Lincoln”? I'll leave the last one to true film historians or Griffith scholars. But “The Mother and the Law”? Which is simply a portion of “Intolerance” released three years later? Putting that ahead of “Birth of a Nation”? I'm intolerant of that. 

Yes, it's not as bad as IMDb's “Known For” for Thomas Dixon, but it's not good. I'm almost getting the feeling IMDb doesn't take its role as the repostiory of our online movie information very seriously.

Posted at 05:15 PM on Wednesday August 31, 2022 in category Movies   |   Permalink  

Tuesday August 30, 2022

Judge, Ruthian in His Solitude, Hits No. 50

I like the pitcher looking straight up. Nope, not there, kid.

Aaron Judge hit his 50th homerun in a 4-3 loss to the Angels in Anaheim last night.

Here's a breakdown of 50-homerun seasons by decade. See if you can spot the anomaly.

YRS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
20s Ruth Ruth Ruth Ruth                
30s Wilson Foxx Grnbrg Foxx                
40s Kiner Mize Kiner                  
50s Mays Mantle                    
60s Maris Mantle Mays                  
70s Foster                      
80s                        
90s Fielder Belle Mac Andrsn Mac Jr. Mac Sosa Jr. Vghn Mac Sosa
00s Sosa Bonds Sosa Gnzalz A-Rod A-Rod Thme Jnes Hwrd Ortiz A-Rod Flder
10s Bautsta Davis Stnton Judge Alnso              
20s Judge                      

Yeah. You could say it began with Fielder (Cecil) and it ended with Fielder (Prince).

I grew up in the '70s, when 50-homerun seasons were exceedingly rare-to-nonexistent. Harmon Killebrew always seemed to hit 49, and he led the league. Willie Mays' back in '65 was the last, and no one would do it again until George Foster in the expansion year of '77. Then nothing until 1990. And then everything. 

Related: Last night I went to Elliott Bay Books to see SABR's Mark Armour talk about his book, “Intentional Balk: Baseball's Thin line Between Innovation and Cheating,” with Seattle sportswriter Art Thiel. It was a small, nerdy crowd so I fit right in. My main takeaways: Everyone is still angrier at the 2017 Houston Astros than I am; many are less angry about the steroid era than I am; and the problem is still one of regulation. And the problem with that is that Major League Baseball doesn't really have an independent regulatory body. They have a commissioner, who is hired by and subservient to the owners. At some point during the evening I had this epiphany: Baseball will condone, or at least ignore, cheating as long as it's good for business (McGwire and Sosa in '98). Baseball will crack down on it if it's bad for business (spider-tack in '21) or if it becomes obvious or problematic (Barry Bonds in '01 and '07). The above chart is why the steroid era is still a scandal to me: the stain it left on the record books can't be washed away. It can't even be parsed.

That chart also underlines how, for much of baseball history, hitting 50 was a pairs thing. It was rarely just one guy. Both Foxx and Hank Greenberg did it in 1938, then nothing until 1947 when Johnny Mize and Ralph Kiner turned 50s. Mays and Mantle went 50 in back-to-back years in the mid-50s, and both Mantle and Maris threatened 60 in '61. In the steroid era it was McGwire and Sosa trading leads and mock-punches to the stomach. Even in the post-steroid era (if we're in that), Stanton and Judge sent them soaring together (in opposite leagues) in 2017.

When wasn't it two guys? Foxx in '32 was by himself: 58 to Ruth's 41. Ditto Kiner in '49: 54 to 43 for Ted Williams. George Foster hit 52 when the next best was Jeff Burroughs' 41. The greatest gap, of course, is 1920 when Babe Ruth remade baseball. First place, Babe Ruth: 54. Second place, George Sisler: 19.

This is another single-guy year: second to Judge's 50, at the moment, is Kyle Schwarber's 36. Judge is all alone up there. He's Ruthian in his solitude. The talk is whether he can beat Maris' record, as if it were still the record, or New York talks about whether he can beat Maris' Yankee record. But there's another big deal here. Judge might be the first guy since Ruth to hit 60 when no one else in Major League Baseball hits 50. 

Posted at 07:44 AM on Tuesday August 30, 2022 in category Baseball   |   Permalink  

Monday August 29, 2022

Weaponizing Americans

The other week I said Mark Leibovich's “Thank You for Your Servitude: Donald Trump's Washington and the Price of Submission” was easier to read than, say, Jane Mayer's “Dark Money,” because it's kind of fun finding out how painful the Trump era was/is to most traditional Republicans: the Reince Priebuses and Paul Ryans of the world. Example:

When Trump took office in 2017, there were 241 Republicans in the House, David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report pointed out. “Since then, 115 (48%) had either retired, resigned, been defeated or at that point had signaled plans to retire in 2020.” Anecdotally, the single biggest reason these members gave for walking away was they had no interest in debasing themselves in the service of Trump any longer than they had to. “You have a situation where the leader of our party models the worst behavior imaginable,” another outgoing Republican member of Congress told me. “And if you're a Republican in Washington, the idea is basically to make yourself as much of a dickhead as possible in order to get attention and impress the biggest dickhead of all, the guy sitting in the White House.”

I asked the outgoing congressman—very nicely, even a tad aggressively—whether I could attach his name to this excellent quote. “No fucking way,” he said. Why? “Because a lot of these dickheads are my friends. And I might have to lobby them one day, too.

”I know, it's depressing.“

Reading that and other similar comments, though, some part of my schadenfreude dissipated. Because I realized this on a deeper level: No one in American history has weaponized a greater segment of the American public than Donald Trump. No one. He's turned 35% of America into his private little goon squad.

This past week has underlined this fact. He has threatened to unleash his useful idiots if the DOJ/FBI continues its investigation into the Mar-a-Lago docs. Because after six, seven years, these people still believe his lies. They still attack and threaten those who search for the truth, or who fight to keep America—and them—safe. That's the irony and awfulness. They think Trump is their guy but he's only his own, horrifically his own. Yet they'll flip and flop however far he asks them to: from cries of ”Law and order!“ to cries of ”Kill the FBI!“ From ”Lock her up!“ to ”It's just papers!“ Never have so many been so devoted to someone so worthless.

Will they ever fall away? What would it take? It's a cult. That's the Republican party now: a cult propped up by cowards and opportunists. It's not just depressing, it's beyond depressing. ”I might have to lobby them one day, too." Sure, buddy. And when you look around from that lobbying, when you look beyond your own interests, exactly what kind of country are you standing in? That's the worry.

Posted at 10:02 AM on Monday August 29, 2022 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Sunday August 28, 2022

Trump's Not-Final Scorecard

Read this the other night while finishing Mark Leibovich's book on the cowards and opportunists in the Republican/Trumpian party. It's a sum-up as Trump is letting the door hit his ass on the way out:

Trump's always-low approval ratings—now down in the 30s—were the well-earned product of a toxic personality and now fully disastrous final scorecard: he would leave office as the first president in history to be impeached twice, the first since Hoover to preside over his party's loss of the House, Senate, and White House in a single term, the first president in history to leave office with fewer jobs than he entered with, the indirect cause of (conservatively) thousands of coronavirus deaths, countless international embarrassments, and a nation that felt far more divided and deranged than at any time in decades. Trump was easily the sorest loser, most prodigious liar, and most insufferable whiner in presidential history. And no commander in chief had ever departed the White House with as massive a legal and financial burden as Donald Trump would now face.

And it gets worse—for him. This week the affidavit that led to the FBI retrieval of classified and/or national security documents from Trump's private residence at Mar-a-Lago was made public in very redacted form. (The New York Times has a very helpful annotated version.) What does it show that we didn't suspect? Not much. But it shows it in plain legal language. All of us are learning our government acronyms, too: NARA for National Archives and Records Administration, the dept. that spent much of 2021 and '22 trying to retrieve the 15 or more boxes; NDI for National Defense Information, which was what was in those 15 or more boxes, including SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information), SI (Special Intelligence) and HCS (intelligence derived from human sources or spies). Trump was putting them all at risk—that's how NYT led with it the following day—but the big point is he might have already done so. Allies and operatives might already be dead because of him. He's a sloppy man who put top secret intel in a sloppy place, and the question is still this one: why.

Initially I thought it was just the sloppiness. It was the whiny baby in him who needed to say “MINE!” on the way out. That, by the way, is the best interpretation Republicans can make—that their man is just a whiny spoiled child who grabbed stuff as he pouted his way home. “Well, if you're not letting me win I'm going to take this!” That was my initial thought. But now I'm wondering. There's also vindictive Trump. Maybe he's trying to get back at us, the whole country, for “betraying” him by not letting him win. Then there's bad-businessman Trump, who never did a thing in his life without attempting to monetize it. Those documents had value to our enemies—who were often his friends. Could I perceive a scenario where Trump might think, “Why wouldn't I make money by showing my friends these papers that my enemies, who wouldn't let me win, think are important?” You bet. 

That final scorecard is still in play.

Posted at 10:31 AM on Sunday August 28, 2022 in category Politics   |   Permalink  

Friday August 26, 2022

SeaUsRise, Sewald Fall

94 middle-in: Not sure I agree with you 100% on your pitching work there, Paul.

Thirty-two year-old Mariners reliever Paul Sewald is having a great season. In 50 innings pitched, he’s got a 2.66 ERA, an amazing 0.69 WHIP, with 56 Ks against 13 BBs. Any team would want him.

So why do I always flinch whenever he trots in from the bullpen?

Here’s why: I’ve been to eight games this year, he’s appeared in six of them, pitched a total of 5 innings and given up 5 runs—all earned. In those games, he’s got a 9.00 ERA, a horrendous 2.20 WHIP, with 4 Ks against 6 BBs.

And it’s not just a consequence of one bad outing. In two of those games he didn’t give up a run but still gave up the game. On May 29, Marco Gonzalez was pitching a tight 1-1 game against the Houston Astros when he gave up a one-out double in the 8th. In comes Sewald. He gets a groundout, walks a guy intentionally, walks a guy uninentionally, then gives up the go-ahead (and ultimately game-winning) single. We lose 2-1. My next game, June 15, Marco Gonzalez is pitching a tight 0-0 game against the Minnesota Twins when he scatters a walk and single in the 7th. There are two on and two out. In comes Sewald. And he promptly gives up a single to break the tie and the Twins go on to win 5-0.

Again, those are the games where, statistically, he doesn’t look bad. The only game I’ve been to where Sewald trotted in and did what relievers (and he) tend to do was the 13-inning beauty against the Yankees in early August: three up, three down. Otherwise, in those six games, he’s been on the mound four times when the M’s gave up the lead.

That includes Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Washington Nationals—the literal worst team in baseball (41-83), whose two best hitters (Soto, Bell) are now with the Padres. Plus we were facing a pitcher with an ERA over 6.00. I assumed, OK, we got this. And sure, Mariners starter George Kirby gave up a run in the 1st. But this was the Nats, the literal worst team in baseball.

This is what we managed through the first six innings:

  • One-out single, erased in DP
  • Leadoff walk, bupkis
  • One-out HBP, bupkis
  • One-out walk, erased in DP
  • Leadoff double, stranded
  • One-out single, bupkis

It wasn’t until two outs in the 8th that Julio Rodriguez tied the game with a homerun to left—his 20th. Finally! Now we’re talking!

And in trots Sewald for the top of the 9th:

Cue Charlie Brown-ish sigh all around T-Mobile Park.

I guess the ump wasn't great throughout the game—J.P. even got tossed late—but that's bad placement from Sewald on a 1-2 pitch with two outs in the 9th inning of a tie game. If there's a general zone for hitters, he placed it exactly there. Charlie Brown could've hit it out. 

For the bottom half, we got a leadoff double and a walk. And with two outs Cal Raleigh soared one to center, the deepest part of the park. Caught at the warning track. It was that kind of blue-ball game. All promise and no follow-through.

So what to make of this statistical anomaly with Sewald. Am I just bad luck for the guy? I go to a lot of day games so I thought maybe he’s just bad at day games. Nope. He’s better during the day: 23.1 IP, 1.93 ERA, 0.64 WHIP. However, he is worse at T-Mobile. His home/away innings are all but split down the middle (25.2/25) but he's given up 14 of his 15 earned runs, and 6 of his 7 homers, at T-Mobile. His away ERA is 0.36. At home, it's 4.91. Wow.

Paul, my next scheduled game is Sept. 6 against the ChiSox. Give me a call if you’d rather I didn’t go. I’d understand.

Posted at 10:32 AM on Friday August 26, 2022 in category Seattle Mariners   |   Permalink  

Thursday August 18, 2022

'If It Were Anyone Else...'

“If it were anyone else but the president, a former president, they would be facing criminal charges now.” 

Former Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, a defense policy expert, on the national security documents retrieved from the safe of former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate by the FBI, on Stay Tuned with Preet (12:10 in).

Posted at 07:51 AM on Thursday August 18, 2022 in category Politics   |   Permalink  
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