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August 2018

GoodReads meta-data is 780 pages, rated 4.17 by 115 litizens

Genre: Biography, Leadership

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Verdict: a good book but so much detail that the man is obscured.

William Morris (1834-1896) was a poet, essayist, novelist, and more who was and is best known as a decorative artist. (He is not the William Morris [1877-1963] of the Morris automobile.)

Morris was born into comfortable circumstances in Essex. One of six children, his father was a broker who invested in mining (copper and coal). As a boy young Morris played at knights and lords, and that made the man. Most of us grow out of children fantasies, whereas Morris grew into them.

Medieval Europe was Eden before the fall of industrialism in his mind. He found the remnants of this past in cathedrals in England and France, and also in other ancient, rude buildings. That they were rough hewn showed they were made by human hands, and this he always preferred. He found continuity with this time of yore in the rough and barren landscape of Iceland, where every rock, tree, and crag has a name, and a role in an edda.

Two overarching themes dominated his creative life. One was to bring the past into the present, and the other was to bring nature into the home. The past and nature are unsullied and so they refresh the soul. To drink their elixirs we must drill back through industrialism, through the Enlightenment, and through the Renaissance to El Dorado.

At Oxford he came into the company of friends who stayed with them for the rest of his life, like the English poet with an Italian name Dante Rossetti, painter Edward Burne-Jones, and architect Philip Webb. This the germ of the so-called Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, reaching back past Raphael to an earlier tradition, and it was a brotherhood. Male companions were an essential in his life though there is not hint of an erotic element.

Influenced by John Ruskin, as later was the singular Marcel Proust, Morris began to look closely at buildings. Thereafter he treated them as repositories of human creativity, imagination, ingenuity, and history. Well, some of them. Those made by hand with tools made by hand, and so on. He founded a society with some of his inherited wealth to preserve historic buildings, which was one of the precursors of the National Trust.

Morris began as painter of murals, and gouache works, migrating into interior design. Today to refer to Morris evokes a response about wallpaper with flowers and vines. Leaving aside many details, Morris was a cantankerous genius who made decoration into a fine art.

He threw himself into one thing after another, and mastered each from the ground up. To make wallpaper, first Morris made the paper. To make the paper he first made the presses and vats to make the paper. Only then did he devise the means to transfer his designs to the paper.

Morris wallpaper.jpg A Morris wallpaper.

Tapestry is the same story. First he made the loom, then he made the tapestry. Later in life when he took up bookbinding. He once again made his own ink, paper, and presses so that the results looked medieval, free from the corrupting influences of modernity.

He was sure that the product that results from such wholistic labour was more authentic and superior, i.e., closer to nature and to the past, but he could never articulate that. Indeed, one theme in the book is that Morris, despite the endless flow of words from him in essays, novels, poems running to twenty-four hefty volumes in the University library, was unable to communicate. He could talk, he could write, but he seldom got across his essential meanings. The weight of his verbiage drowned himself out. This was especially true in his private life.

He married Jane Burden. She was not his social equal in Victorian England, and to prepare her for marriage they had a year-long betrothal during which she was tutored to upper middle class ways. They had two children, girls. The tittle-tattle about Jane is endless, and MacCarthy shifts it all judiciously. What is obvious is that when Morris proposed, it was an offer too good (socially and financially) for her (and her parents) to refuse, so she took it. Rossetti circled her for years like a moth to a flame; MacCarthy concludes that is all it was. Later she did have a paramour, and Morris knew this in all but word. He hated it and accepted it.

Morris had a volcanic temper and he gave vent to it often. I first tried to read this biography years ago, after reading his ‘News from Nowhere’ (1890), about which more below. After a time, I quit because I found him an unpleasant companion, with his tirades, self-indulgent jags, and perpetual spoiled child approach to life. Having persevered this time I find that only in his sixties did he seem to grow up.

The author handles this well and leaves it to the reader to decide. I did. Many speculate that he suffered from this syndrome or that. As if giving the pattern of actions a name absolves him of responsibility. Hardly. That syndrome was Jerkism. Often encountered for which no treatment has ever been devised.

In the 1880s the priest found his vocation, and Morris became an evangelical vicar for socialism. What that word meant to him is elusive. Overtly it put him in the company of Frederich Engels, Edward Aveling (and his wife, Eleanor Marx), Henry Hyndman, and others. These early English socialists were so uncompromising that if five were in a room there were seven factions claiming the Truth. They were only united on two points. (1) The current order is corrupt and unjust. (2) It is so corrupt and unjust that it cannot be reformed but must be destroyed. Thus they shunned the Chartists, the Liberal reformers like John Stuart Mill, and later the Fabians and the early stirrings of the Labour Party with their sewer socialism that offered practical improvement to the lives of millions but did not promise a city on the hill.

Socialism meant everyone had sufficient wherewithal to live a dignified and meaningful life. That honest work was the highest value. These are the basics of Morris’s socialism. His commitment was, in any event, not intellectual but emotional and he went at it for ten years like a man possessed. He funded socialist publications. He traveled the length and breadth of Great Britain extolling it by preaching on street corners, and so on. He exhausted himself. He also outspent the firm, the running of which he left to others: alienated clients, exasperated his wife, mystified many longterm associates, and perplexed his employees.

The jockeying for position among the socialist factions came to a point where he was turfed from the socialist organisation he had founded and funded. The plotters assumed he would continue to fund it since the cause was righteous. Naiveté has many names. He did for a time just as he put up with Rossetti’s years of attendance on Jane, but even he had a stop button. Much of the Wikipedia entry charts the torturous evolutions and convolutions of these folks.

After a decade of public proselytizing Morris retired from the field and returned to his workshops. Age caught up with him quickly and by the later fifties he looked much older and frailer, partly the result of untreated diabetes, and the long term effect of gout. Daughter May became even more important in keeping a Morris involved in the business.

There is a matter not resolved in this copious volume. May did not inherit the business or any part of it, though she was instrumental in it. One wonders why. There was no estrangement, and she began compiling his collected works shortly after his death and edited twenty-four volumes.

He seldom practiced what he preached, it has to be said. The workmen he employed were paid just enough to attract and keep them. There was no profit sharing. They called him ‘Sir’ though he often worked side-by-side with him. Peter the Great did that, too, but his workmates often called him Pete. He made no effort to contribute to their social or home life, or to educate their children. Robert Owen, George Pullman, the Rowntrees, and many other entrepreneurs did those things, while engaging in the industrialism he detested, but Morris did not. When confronted by the gap between his words and deeds his response was that one man's actions were insignificant in the bigger picture. Immediate, practical, incremental amelioration did not interest him. It would only prop up the dreaded system. Never mind that such palliatives might enrich and save lives in the here and now. Rapture not relief was his ambition.

It is well to remember that he is not the only man to have inherited wealth. Unlike so many others he did something constructive with it and in so doing he also led others to do constructive work, too. In 2004 we visited Cardiff Castle in Wales, a lavish home, one of eighteen owned by the the Bute family who furnished it. Eighteen. The family spent no more than a week there in a year. Such riches, and yet not a day’s work done by any member of the family. That might be the comparison to keep Morris in perspective.

The book abounds in details. Sometimes more than enough is piled on for this reader. It is subtle in its interpretations with insight and clarity. The prose is supple. The book is a better companion than the subject.

Fi Mac.jpg Fiona MacCarthy

We saw a superb exhibit on the Arts and Crafts Movement in Barcelona in April 2018 and that inspired us to do a William Morris tour of Adelaide in August 2018. This book was my assigned reading for the Adelaide sojourn. By coincidence I also heard an ‘In Our Time’ program on Morris, which is recommended.

Post Script

His ‘News from Nowhere’ (1890 has a place in the canon of utopia theory. He was moved to write it in refutation of Edward Bellamy’s ode to industrialism in ‘Looking Backward’ (1888). The two books have been since forever wed.

Bellamy celebrated the creative capacity of industrialism in the United States. Labor is organised like the armies of the Civil War and production was so great that there came abundance for all in return for a minimum service in the Industrial Army, which waged and won the war on want. Several innovations dot the story, like music piped into the home, like the credit card. It is a Rip van Wrinkle story in which a sleeper awakes to find this new order in full swing.

Bellamy’s book had an enormous impact, and it was this influence that drove Morris once again to his pen. His socialism was millennial. The old order had to be destroyed and only then could we find our way to the New Jerusalem. Gradual improvements were illusory sops, not change. Abundance would be destructive rather than liberating. Of course, only someone who already has all the creature comforts can dismiss them so easily.

Morris recoiled from this materialism finding it without soul. His rejoinder is another Sleeper Awakes tale. This sleeper awakens to a post-industrial world which has reverted to cottage arts and crafts, and everyone is happier for it, including the anti-vaxxers.

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While Bellamy pictured the future as a continuous development with the present, Morris posited a rupture that overthrew the factory system and industrialism, and their attendant corruptions. Much of the book is devoted to the pleasures of arts and crafts, with nothing about tiresome necessities like clean water, sanitation, medical science, and communication.

Genre: Krimi

Goodreads meta-data is 282 pages, rated 3.64 by 11 litizens

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Verdict: Lifeless is the kindest thing to be said.

When Amazon’s mechanical Turk suggested this title, I was tempted because of the context, namely Westminster. That a Chancellor of the Exchequer might die -- murdered -- at the dispatch box delivering a budget seemed a neat set-up. So I acquired and started to read it.

I did finish it but only by some quick thumb work on the Kindle to flick through the pages and pages in which nothing happens very slowly. It is consists nearly entirely of conversations, many belaboured to be clever, I guess, but succeed better at being irritating, annoying, and distracting. Nor were the characters either well defined nor distinguished one from another.

Finally, the protagonist is intended to be colourful, I guess, but succeeds in being petty and pompous. His ‘violently coloured’ and occasionally ‘virulently coloured’ handkerchief is much flourished. Aaargh. Note that this is the seventh in the series.

While there is much going back and forth, this reader never got any sense of the geography or ethnology of the House of Commons, its nooks and crannies or its denizens, though it must have them by the dozens.

Then there are the many typographical errors. It is hard to believe they were in the original edition when copy editors prepared books for publication. The mystery is how they crept in. Via OCR software is one possibility without the mediation of a copy editor.

Hume-2.jpg J V Turner is a pseudonym for David Hume. Nor that David Hume.

I am sure that someone on GoodReads says it the best book ever published. Indeed among the eleven raters, there are two at 5.

IMDb meta-data is run time a snappy 1 hour and 1 minute, rated 6.2 by 151 cinemitizens.

Released on 1 December 1944.

Genre: Noir, Comedy.

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Verdict: All singing, all dancing gal pals do what has to be done.

To dispel superstitions about a mansion where a murder took place twenty years ago, the family puts on a party for family and friends. As the guests gather and cavort, the upstairs Blue Room, where the deed occurred is nonetheless kept locked.

Brash, a young suitor for Daughter, insists that he spend the night in the Blue Room to prove it is safe. This kNight errant hopes to win patronal favour for his matrimonial suit by this exploit. Sure, that is understood but safe from what?

Thereafter the plot thickens. The next morning, though the bell in the Blue Room rings for the butler, no one is there in the Blue Room when the ever typecast butler Edwards enters. Bernie OIds on loan from countless other cop shows, comes to investigate but makes no progress, apart from chewing on a toothpick. Brash has disappeared.

The sleuthing is taken over by the three Jazzy-belles on hand to entertain the guests. These wisecracking gal pals mix song with inference and dance with investigation. They are amusing. The music has zest. The dancing is Olympic standards. Very diverting. All so much better than say the Ritz Brothers, originally contracted for this film before they got a better offer.

Needless to say there is a villain, and it is a he, the one least suspicious. Of course.

For once Ian Wolfe as the eternal butler gets some good lines and moments on camera, and he makes the most of them.

The Jazzy-belles carry the picture, a scratch group assembled for this film, it seems: Grace McDonald, Betty Kean, and June Preisser. Two of them had short careers but McDonald continued in television into the 1980s.

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A rarity then for the time with these three as the principal players.

The screenplay confused the fraternity brothers. At one point, speaking of the death in the Blue Room, a member of the family says no one knows how the victim, her father, died. Later her brother says their father was shot. In both cases the attending physician is present along with several others. Throughout there is friendly ghost in attendance who is not integrated into the story but is there for comic irritation.

As this film made it way across the country, the newsreels that preceded it would have carried the news of the enormous and ominous reverses Allied Armies began to suffer in the Battle of Bulge.

'Early in the 16th century, Niccolo Machiavelli acted as chief political advisor to the ruling Medici family in Florence, Italy. The details of his counsel are well known because Machiavelli laid them out for posterity in his 1513 book, The Prince. The gist of his advice for maintaining political control is captured in the phrase "the end justifies the means." According to Machiavelli, a ruler with a clear agenda should be open to any and all effective tactics, including manipulative interpersonal strategies such as flattery and lying.'

That it the opening paragraph of ‘Machiavellianism’ by Daniel Jones and Delroy Paulhus, in 'Individual Differences in Social Behaviour' (New York: Guildord, 2009), pp 93-108.

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This is a standard reference work in social psychology. It is wrong on all counts.

1. Machiavelli never advised a Medici, and he certainly never drew a salary as an advisor to a Medici. Moreover, he never tried to do advise a Medici, despite the letter commonly printed at the front of student editions of 'The Prince.' That letter was intended as irony not as a fact, a subtlety lost on many. In fact, when the republican government Machiavelli served was overthrown, a Medici had him dismissed from office and had him imprisoned.

2. Machiavelli did not publish a book called 'The Prince.' He had no interest in posterity. That title was put on a manuscript he had blogged for years and which was then published long after his death. The publisher had a commercial motivation, nothing more.

3. In the manuscript that became the book 'The Prince' Machiavelli described but did not recommend the practices he had seen rulers use. In fact, he advises a prince against liars and flatterers.

4. He never said 'the end justifies the means.' Nor is this a distillate of his teaching. Read the passages about Agathocles to see why.

All these matters and more are dealt with at length in 'Machiavelliana' (Leiden: Brill, 2018) for those who must know more.

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These kinds of mistakes, constantly recycled, have created a mythical Machiavelli. Bad as they are, they pale next to remark quoted in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' recently of a judge’s remark in sentencing a child abuser by saying his misdeeds were of ‘Machiavellian proportions.’ While the phrase is meaningless, it once again drags Machiavelli’s name through the dirt of others. Ah so much for a law school education.

IMDb meta-data is runtime a brisk 1 hour and 18 minutes, rated at 6.5 by 1155 cinemitizens.

Genre: Noir, Mystery

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Verdict: Noir at its best.

Babe is a two-year widow who starts hearing his dead husband’s voice in the air without a BlueTooth headset. Oh Oh. This irritates Richard Carlson, her new suitor. She has an Ingenue sister who lives with her in a mansion on a cliff top. Where else?

Walking on the beach below one night, she encounters Mr X, who tells her about herself for he is a medium and sensitive to her vibrations. [There were snickers from the fraternity bothers at his point.] The Viennese Mr X oils his way into her life.

He is an utter cynic, having planted an accomplice as a maid in the mansion to glean information. His aim is to separate this widow from a lot of moolah. Ingenue falls in love with him and his oily ways. Widow is perplexed by it all.

A séance is arranged in Oily's wired up studio. The party is crashed by Carlson and the private dick he has employed. The crashers insist that the show go on; Oily tries to grease his way out of it to no avail. His hand is forced and the lights go down. Then….

The dead husband appears to all. No one is more amazed than the amazing Mr X in a star turn.

Seems husband has had several widows pining for him and he has plans to reduce the number. The plot twists even more, and Oily discovers, to his own surprise, that there are some things he will not do for money. Ingenue figures it all out and ….

It is a master class in creating an atmosphere heavy with mystery and peopling it with rounded characters yet including all the clichés, to wit, a crystal ball, a turban, and a raven. All in just over one hour of runtime.

The dead husband is menacing and ruthless. The private dick has a sense of humour. Carlson is so earnest that he made the fraternity brothers feel guilty. Ingenue is so enthusiastic it is hard to take. Babe is so perplexed that she must have been reading some of Martin Heidegger hieroglyphs.

But the real star of the show is the camera, and the lighting that emphasises the air of mystery and confusion. Harvard graduate Bernard Vorhaus directed. He is another victim whose career was blighted by the HUAC, the monster that roamed Hollywood off camera for far too long. He gave David Lean his first job in movies. After being black listed Vorhaus went to England with his Welsh wife and changed careers, working on home renovations. Our loss.

IMDb meta-data is Dali time of 1 hour and 10 minutes, rated a generous 3.0 by 837 cinemitizens.

Genre: Sy Fy, Horror, Boredom

Verdict: Incredible alright.

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Here is the deal. John Carradine wants to touch the bottom of his career and so manufactures a diving bell and sends four nitwits to the bottom in it, two of each. That sounds a lot better than it is.

The first ten minutes is stock footage of the ocean. Thereafter the characters line up against a semi-circular wall and talk. Sometimes the wall is supposed to be in the mansion sized diving bell, sometimes in a Titanic ballroom on the tugboat transporting the bell, sometimes in Carradine’s California Marine Institute arena, and sometimes in the Golden Caves of Arizona.

Lined up.jpg Now, no one move!

Once aligned no one moves so that the focus does not have to be pulled again.

Is it Post-Modern? It does not privilege intelligence or interest over static and boring.

The four descend and get stranded, but that is all right because they find submarine caves rich in oxygen. Forty minutes of stumbling around and they encounter Santa Claus whose sleigh went down over water. He says he got there the same way they did. Evidently he acted in an earlier Jerry Warren movie. Poor guy.

They stand and talk, talk and stand, and, for a change of pace, stand and talk. Then thanks to a cut away, they are rescued by the second diving bell Carradine had up his sleeve.

Never have the words ‘The End’ been so welcome.

There is no tension. That two nubile women and two virile men are about to die in the caves, produces nothing but boredom in them and in us.

Boredom.jpg They read the script.

That the bearded Santa spies on them and has strange ways, leads to nothing. That they are rescued is done off-camera so there are no heroics there. Indeed the only mystery is why Robert Clarke keeps taking his shirt off and putting it back on again. The fraternity brothers counted three times, but they may have missed one when the beer keg popped.

Carradine is as always Carradine of the compelling mien and voice, but there is nothing for him to do and he does it — nothing. Lois Lane is there with even less to do. For the rest of the cast, this is their ‘Best Known For’ entry on the IMDb.

Written, produced, and directed by Jerry Warren who enjoys the reputation on IMDb as the auteur of cheap and ridiculous horror movie quickies. His CV includes ‘The World of Bat Woman,’ ‘Teenage Zombies,' and ‘Terror of the Blood Hunters,’ each of which orbits a rating of 3, as does the waste of space at hand.

It was finished in 1957 but not even the Lippart Brothers would distribute it so it languished for two years before being paired with another turkey and released for the Drive In market confident no one would see it.

The fraternity brothers thought petrification happened to them while watching this drab and pointless use of celluloid.

‘How Charles de Gaulle Rescued France,’ ‘New Yorker,’ 20 August 2018 by Adam Gopnik.

This piece gets Le Grand Charles better than anything else I have read in English. It gives him credit for his major accomplishments which was rescuing France from itself in 1940, and then again in 1960. It also avoids the common errors, e.g., attributing De Gaulle’s resignation to the events of May 1968. But it fails to explain his distrust of les Anglais, and I think that I can. But before that, let us have a few words about the accomplishments to set the scene.

He arrived in London in June 1940 in his brigadier’s uniform. That’s it. No retinue. No luggage. No change of socks. No nothing.

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From that he created Fighting France which became Free France. Through sheer willpower, which infuriated the English and Americans, he raised a 100,000+ army that played crucial roles, usually omitted in English-speaking accounts, in North Africa, Italy, and Alsace. He also convinced the leaders of various Resistance factions to unite and they in turn recognised him as the figurehead behind which to rally. With annoying persistence he got France to sit at the table as an equal partner when Germany surrendered.

In 1960 he did the impossible and vacated Algeria. It was done reluctantly but he bowed to reality.

Finally, far from weakening his position, the turmoil of May 1968 strengthened it, but the journalists who dredge this matter up never do any research and simply repeat the wishful thinking promoted at the time by the previous fake newsers.

In fact, a subsequent counter demonstration supporting Le Grand Charles put one million followers on the streets of Paris, as compared to the 50,000 May Day demonstrators. In fact, his party made substantial gains in the following parliamentary elections later that year. In fact, in 1969 he proposed changes to make the Senate more electorally accountable, and this was defeated in a referendum by a combination of conservatives and communists, both of whom liked the sinecure that the Senate offered and still does. Then at age 78 he resigned.

Why the animosity to the English-speakers? In general, De Gaulle was never convinced of the British commitment to Europe. Brexit is now a case in point. Now for some specifics.

Free France was completely excluded from planning the D-Day invasion. Completely. Read every book on the subject listed by Amazon and there never is any participation in the planning by representatives of Free France. That a small contingent of Free French troops participated in the landing was a late addition forced on les Anglais by De Gaulle himself.

General Dwight Eisenhower’s plan called for France to be occupied by American, Canadian, and English military governors as though it were a hostile country. These designated governors had been selected, trained, staffed, and were ready to follow the invasion force. Neither De Gaulle nor any other Free Frenchman was consulted on this plan. (Dean Rusk was one of the architects of this plan, by the way, for those who know his subsequent career.)

De Gaulle, when he learned of this occupation plan he did what he did best: le beau geste. Eight days after the invasion, with a dozen associates he landed in Normandy without support, permission, or knowledge of Eisenhower, and as he walked through the rubble, the French followed him. He set about designating local officials.

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Ever the realist, Eisenhower saw that the occupation plan had been trumped and cancelled it at the hour of its implementation.

There were also other stabs. As the front line extend in late 1944, les Anglais took Strasbourg, aided in part by passive and active resistance from within. Then for strategic reasons, les Anglais withdrew from the city and region, and the Germans re-occupied it with a vengeance and murdered those who had earlier resisted to aid the les Anglais. Again the Free French were not consulted on this move.

Earlier, les Anglais tried at times to remove DeGaulle and replace him with a Free French leader who would be more malleable, like General Henri Giraud. Imagine if De Gaulle had lobbied Clement Attlee to replace Churchill or campaigned for Thomas Dewey against FDR, and that is the picture.

Giraud, Normandy, and Strasbourg convinced De Gaulle that he could never trust les Anglais.

Yes, Churchill, against the advice of those around him, was magnanimous to De Gaulle and the Free French. True. It is also true that De Gaulle insured that France paid back its war debt as a matter of honour, a fact seldom noted in the English-speaking accounts, leaving the implication that it was not done. It was. And quickly considering the circumstances.

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Jean Lacouture’s multi-volume biography of De Gaulle supplies the details.

Genre: Krimi

Goodreads meta-data is ‘The Flaxborough Crab’ is 176 pages, rated 3.98 by 110 litizens
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‘Broomsticks over Flaxborough’ is 192 page, rated 3.95 by 103 litizens.
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Verdict: No more.

I liked ‘The Flaxborough Crab’ for its mordant humour and sly exposition. A village doctor taking part in a clinical trial carefully prescribes a trial drug, and things get out of hand, or in hand. The drug has viagra side effects with the result that ….

Well, some of it is amusing. Some annoying, and some threatening. Despite the serious subject matter of sexual assault, not to mention murder, Watson manages to make it light hearted. No one is ever harmed because the codgers reacting to the drug are well past it try though they might. The palate darkens when the drug company intervenes to cover its error.

Especially amusing is the opening scene when a librarian deals with a would-be assailant by cracking his head against a tree. One to stop him and twice to get silly ideas out of what is left of his head.

After reading this guilty pleasure I tried ‘Broomsticks over Flaxborough.’ I found it less successful. It seemed padded with a parody of advertising speak that had nothing to do with either the place, the plot, or the principals yet on it went. The first few pages were amusing but the repetition soon put that paid.

colin-watson.jpg Colin Watson (1920-1983)

Watson’s characters are well drawn, but given too little to do, and there is virtually no policing. Just stirring around waiting for the villains to blunder.

There are ten of other titles in the series, and I am uncertain if I will continue with them.

Four of the Flaxborough stories were adapted for a short-lived BBC television series in 1977 called ‘Murder Most English: A Flaxborough Chronicle.’ There were seven fifty-minute episodes with Anton Rodgers in the lead. They are amusing, though sometimes hard to follow, and leaden in pace. Later episodes are enlivened a bit by Miss Teatime. The production values were Filene’s Basement. However the acting was superb from one and all, including the ever reliable Moray Watson. It was a precursor of ‘Midsomer Murders’ in its picture of the quaint English village as a satanic pit.


IMDb meta-data is runtime 1 hour and 5 minutes, rated 6.7 by 336 cinemitizens.

Genre: Noir, Horror, Comedy.

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Verdict: Spooky and snappy.

It was a dark and stormy night as moody, muddy, and misty camera angles play over the dark mansion when a gun shot is heard from within. The front door of the mansion opens and three men emerge from it hefting a bundle into the trunk of a car and drive off. Through the wind and lightning the camera follows. They extract a deadman from the trunk and bury him on the vast grounds of the estate, while in the bushes they are silently observed by a solidarity and soggy onlooker. Whew! All of this before a word is spoken.

While this is going on, excited Daughter returns to the mansion to announce her wedding, finding her step-mother distracted, as her damp father and his two retainers return from their secret nocturnal errand. Bubbling though she is, Daughter realises something is amiss, the more so later when a spectral figure fires a gun at her while she lies abed. In the subsequent fuss, Father, Step-Mother, and retainers deny a shot was fired, while casting side-long glances at each other.

Despite being treated like an hysterical child, Daughter knows what she saw, and off-camera she places a secret phone call to the 4F Michael Shayne. Who else!

There is fine cinematography of the old dark house, the constant rain with thunder and lightning, and most of all the spooky and spectral figure who keeps reappearing in the night, he of the title.

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There is much to’ing and fro’ing, mistaken identities, a bemused butler, a befuddled lawman, an intrigued undertaker, a pompous father, a scheming step-mother, a strange laboratory in the basement, plotting retainers, all in all it is a veritable school of red herrings in which Shayne fishes.

This is an entry in the Michael Shayne series started in 1940, starring Lloyd Nolan as the eponym.

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He made a career out of playing the New York City Irishman, following in Pat O'Brien's footsteps, though he was born and reared in San Francisco, attending Stanford University until catching the acting bug. He spent virtually no time in NYC, least of all Flatbush and Brooklyn, except for location filming. While his Irishisms are gratuitous in this film, he delivers them with an effortless panache. He is described as 'an actor's actor,' whatever that means.

The excellent screen play was by Arnaud d’Usseau, California born, but who took this name for caché, says inter-web gossip. He was later black-listed thanks to the efforts of Elia Kazan, which brought d’Usseau's career to a premature end.

Released on 1 May 1942, within a week Corregidor surrendered and 12,000 GIs became POWs to join a like number captured on Bataan. You would never know the war was on watching this film, which perhaps was the aspiration of the filmmakers, because none of the news at the time was good and it got worse. As the film travelled the country the news reels preceding would have covered Corregidor. The Bataan Death March was censored until 1944.

IMDb runtime an eternity of 1 hour and 2 minutes, over-rated a generous 6.0 by 1147.

Genre: Sy Fy

Dies Screaming@._V1_.jpg The earth does not scream.

Verdict: A quota quickie in every way but fact.

The set-up is a nice opening with a British Rail train, late as usual, ploughing off a bridge because the engineer is dead at the controls. (Union rules mean a dead driver cannot be fired.) Then an airplane does the same with a dead pilot at the controls. (Same union rule.) A bowler-hatted gentleman at a train station, who failed to notice the dead bodies littering the platform, keels over. There follows pan shots of village streets with folks who fell dead in their tracks, the newspaper delivery boy, a lady shopper at a green grocer, a bus driver, and so on.

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This is nice and there is no sound to distract. The silence makes it more ominous.

Into such a village of the dead drives Worster in a Land Rover, as he exits the vehicle he takes out an Enfield rifle. Whoa. He helps himself to food at a shop and then a drink in a pub, stepping over and around the littered bodies. As he sips in the pub he is accosted by Dennis Price, whom I could not take seriously as a villain, but villain he is. For a start he is in the company of a lady who is not his wife, but whom he introduces as his wife, and we know she is someone else's wife! Go figure. On this subject there is more tittle-tattle to follow. Read on.

Later they are joined by a young couple. Thus we have gathered in the village of Otranto the crew. Worster is an American among the Brits. Ok. He claims to be a test pilot with the Vertical Take Off and Landing project, the Harrier Jump Jet as it was later called. That was a nice topical reference, but, hey, Worster is forty-nine (49, for those who cannot read words) and long in the tooth and grey in the hair, and large of the waistline for a flyboy and it shows in his leaden movements. Then we have Dennis without menace. His companion is Old Virginie, and she is forty-five. They are joined by a couple in their late twenties. Thorley Walters and his companion are also there to add the buffoon touch to the gathering.

They make an uneasy alliance and try to infer what has happened. The conclusion is that there was a gas attack and those, like themselves who survived, were sealed up somewhere, the pilot in an airplane, the villain and his moll is sealed room, and so…(I forget what the others said). (This quarantine also figures in the superior ‘The Night of the Comet’ (1984) reviewed elsewhere on this blog.) The gas has now dissipated.

Ah ha! The pilot was in a plane, but one of those was shown in the lead-in...and he was dead at the controls. How come Worster did not cack it, too, chimed the fraternity brothers. Dunno.

The young woman is pregnant and Old Virginie is assigned to look after her because she is a woman and women know about such things. To her credit she denies such knowledge, but the chaps disregard this is the best style of the times. While they are drinking themselves into oblivion in the pub they see strange figures in the streets. The requisite hysterical woman in their number rushes out, and has to run after and after, in her six inch high heels, the Reynolds Wrapped creatures, who are oblivious to her until she grabs one. It is a nice moment when it turns and reveals itself to be … a Republican Congressman and zaps her.

Bot eyes 2.jpg

Another Brexit voter exits.

Brexit vote.jpg

Zap! The others observe this zapology from a distance.

Later in a twist some of the dead rise as white-eyed zombies and there is one nice moment of tension when Old Virginie hides in a wardrobe from one such zombie. Being dead, they have an excuse for their leaden motions. Along the way Thorley also gets zapped, or did he. Can’t remember. Dennis without menace is offed. That leaves the young and old couples, plus the newborn baby.

Later these Reynolds Wrappers move like lead, even slower than Worster, and seem to be deaf, dumb, and blind as well as Republican. If their mission is to finish off the survivors of the gas attack in a search and destroy mission they have failed the KPIs miserably. It turns out they are robots controlled by radio transmission from a conveniently located tower which Worster blows up (because as a test pilot he is also a demolition expert) and that frees the local area of this scourge. Whew!

What next? They will find a plane and fly around to attract the attention of other survivors. Huh? Won't that attract the attention of other Reynolds Wrappers, too? And the plane we see take off is a four engined Constellation that needs a long hard runway. It will not bob down to pick a few folk standing around an SOS sign.

The end.

Worster and Old Virginie (she being Brit) were married in 1951, more than a decade before they teamed up in this outing and they stayed married until her death in 1992.

It was not a quota quickie, as explained elsewhere on this blog, but it has some of the qualities in the cheap production and gratuitous insertion of an American actor from the C-list, and it was distributed by Lippart, a well-known bottom feeder. The chatter on the inter-web is that Old Virginie went back to England for family reasons and Worster came along and they did this film to pay for the trip.

It fits the Brit practice of Sy Fy in rural settings. Long before Midsomer Murders the English countryside was a strange place where strange thing happened to the strange people who are there. It was also cheaper to film that.

IMDb meta-data runtime is 1 hour and 27 minutes, rated way too high 7.0 by 1401 cinemitizens.

Genre: Sports, Comedy, Romance, Sy Fy, Nothing

Happens Spring cover.jpg

Verdict: Odd and off.

The set-up is this. Ray is a college chemistry professor engaged to the dean’s daughter, working on a consultancy to treat timber to repel pests, borers, fraternity brothers, insects, boors, and any and all of the above. This job will win the dean’s approval by bringing much needed funding to the college and so his consent for the hand and what is connected to it of his daughter.

Into this neat plan intrudes a baseball, hit through a window in the Chem Lab, that obliterates the project, including note books, etc. Depressed, Ray cleans up and notices that the baseball, which got soaked in a solution, is now repelled by wood. It just so happens that Ray is a baseball fan of the First Water and decides this is the way to fortune. He will become a baseball pitcher no one can hit, make dosh, marry daughter …. the end.

While the supporting players were dandy, including the very young skipper from ‘The Minnow,’ the story left me cold. Very cold. There were two reasons, one odd and the other off.

The odd one first to get it out of the way is this. When Ray got on the team in St Louis everyone refers to him as the Kid. He becomes Kid Kelly. Right. A 44 year-old kid, making him older than any other player on the St Louis rosters the time time. Yes, I checked for both the Browns and the Cardinals. Some kid. By the way, Ray was 44 and his romantic interest, Jean Peters was 23 at the time. Make of that what one will.

Kid Kelly.jpg The 44 year-old kid.

The off irritant is that Ray’s secret was ball tampering. Such ball tampering as Ray gets up to when he rubs the solution on the baseball was outlawed in 1920. End. Illegal. This dead obvious fact any baseball fan in the theatre would know is never broached, skirted, or implied. Huh?

That ball-tampering solution is what gets it a Sy Fy tick.

A slight redemption occurs at the end when Ray notes he made more money in one baseball game than a year of teaching chemistry. Think about that today when athletes make more money individually than entire colleges faculties put together and then tripled.

Ray seems hopelessly inept pretending to be a baseball player. Clearly, like Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, he had never played baseball in his youth. Yet Ray at least had been as sportsman in his native Wales, and become a member of the Household Cavalry in 1928. That is indicative of his horsemanship. The Great Depression ruined his family and he took to acting for a crust. It seems he slept his way into pictures. He wore a toupee from his mid-thirties and so would have sported it in this picture.

Jean Peters sparkles in this small role but she quit when she married Howard Hughes and disappeared into Santa Monica hills seldom to be seen again. Though the ever reliable Wikipedia has it that the hilltop life was boring and under aliases she did one or more degrees at UCLA.

But the best performance in this movie, and in most others he graced, comes from Paul Douglas whose blue collar approach seems so fresh and direct compared to the ever twitchy Milland. Blue collar Douglas came to affect, but he was born to a wealthy Philadelphia surgeon who sent him to Yale where Paul rebelled, as sons do, and instead played semi-professional football. That led to sports journalism, newspapers and then radio. He liked an audience and soon dabbled in amateur theatrics…and made his way to Hollywood. Many of his films involved sports, like the whimsical and much redone ‘Angels in the Outfield’ (1951).

My glance fell on some of the reviews linked to the IMDb entry and I am moved to remark again on the human condition. One opinionated reviewer huffed and puffed about the film, and was particularly critical of the title because it is never explained. That reviewer needs to get out from under the rock more often. What happens every spring? Even the fraternity bothers know that. Well, two things. One it is the mating season and hence Ray’s round-about courtship of daughter. More importantly here, the baseball season starts!

IMDb meta-data is runtime 1 hour and 1 minutes, rated 4.6 by 510 cinemitizens.

Genre: Horror

Revenge Z card.jpg

Verdict: Only for completists.

Set-up. Veda is dead. (What a waste since she is usually a corker.) But then John Carradine is her husband so maybe that explains her preference. He is Dr Max Heinrich von Altermann. Get it? Look at the release date, 17 September 1943. Max and Veda live in foggy Louisiana on the German Coast.

Veda’s brother, Stupid, comes to mourn her and vents his suspicious on anyone with a German name. He brings along Handsome. Neither one of these dorks can drive a car or carry a bag so they have Black Stereotype to look after them. There they find Gale Storm straight from secretarial school typing away, oblivious to everything.

Turns out Max has seen ‘Revolt of the Zombies’ (1931) and ‘King of the Zombies’ (1941) and mashed them together. From ‘Revolt of the Zombies’ he got the idea of an invulnerable (and cheap) army of the living dead and from ‘King of the Zombies’ he got a Germanic mad scientists to unleash such an army on YankeeLand, well, in this case DixieLand. Is that creative thinking, or what? Hmmm

So diabolical is Max that he is experimenting on Mrs Veda in life and in death. The fraternity brothers thought the worst. For them situation normal.

Now Stupid, Handsome, and Stereotype arrive to gum up the works. Stereotype realises almost instantly some creepy things are happening but when he tries to tell Stupid and Handsome they dismiss his reports as the hysteria, foolishness, and ignorance of a black man. The duty of being the butt for the arrogance of superior white men to kick often went to women.

Mantain M.dms Mantan Moreland

Stereotype investigates and finds out more and more but his information is rejected, ignored, and disregarded even while Stupid and Handsome investigate matters by smoking cigarettes. In this case it is very like, though no doubt unintended, ‘King of Zombies’ where the same black stereotype was far ahead of his white, superior masters.

Bob Steele is there, he of distinctive voice and mien that made him a delightful villain in Westerns, here partly in parody of that sort of role, as a double and triple secret agent to paper over the script holes.

Also in the cast are Uncle Remus and Madame Sul-Te-Wan who played maids, slaves, and natives in countless Hollywoodisms, going back to W. D. Griffith’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’ (1915) and ‘Intolerance’ (1916) and including 'King Kong' (1933).

Mantan Moreland has 130 credits on the IMDb. He and other black actors of the era were later reviled for embodying stereotypes as noted above. Madame Sul-Te-Wan said, her choice was to work as a maid and earn $7 a day or to play a maid in a movie and earn $70 a day. She found it an easy choice.

Even at 61 minutes, it seems padded. Carradine sleep walks through this one without any of the intensity and malevolence he could muster. There is not much Veda can do as a corpse,
Veda coffin.jpg
though she tries. The only energy comes from Stereotype. There are a couple of good one-liners but the fraternity bothers were dozing when they came. The ending in the swamp is neat but leaden in execution.

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